false affair rumors, a boss who talks of self-harm, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How to handle false affair rumors

Your recent post about the suspicious boyfriend reminded me of something that happened to me six years back, and I’m curious how you’d handle it.

At the time I was new to the company and being trained by Sansa, a young but knowledgeable employee. Training needs meant we spent a large amount of time together at work. We didn’t socialize or interact outside of the office. One day we both happened to come in five minutes late. It was a pure coincidence — I missed my alarm and she got stuck in construction traffic. But a rude coworker quipped, “Sansa’s never late for work. Y’all must have had a good night.”

The out-of-line coworker left before I could respond. Sure enough, people started looking at us funny when we’d sit down for training and I had a frank discussion with Sansa that we should keep the training sessions short to avoid damaging both of our reputations. Going to management did nothing — the offending employee was a 30-year-veteran and no one wanted to hold her accountable for anything.

Obviously denying the affair rumor and moving on is the direct solution, but it doesn’t work for obvious reasons (as politicians demonstrate). Working with a social microscope on your behavior over a false rumor of impropriety is upsetting, but it seems anything one can do to mitigate it just makes the problem worse. What’s the best approach to handling this scenario with a minimum of disruption and career impact?

If it were just the one comment and then some funny looks, in some ways that’s harder to deal with than if the comments had been ongoing — because at least if then you’d have an easy opportunity to address them and shut them down. But also, a single joking comment doesn’t usually lead to weeks of suspicion, so I wonder if your coworker said some additional things outside of your earshot (or, alternately, that you read too much into the looks you were getting and no one was really thinking about it at all).

With the benefit of hindsight, it would been good to have called your coworker on it right when she made the inappropriate remark. Ideally, as soon as she mentioned your “good night,” you would have looked shocked and said, “Excuse me, what do you mean by that?” and “No. Don’t say things like that about me again.” But it’s easy to realize that afterwards and much harder when you’re taken off-guard in the moment.

Assuming she didn’t continue to make comments, though, there wasn’t much you could do afterwards besides just continuing to be professional. And I’m not sure anything more was needed anyway! It’s annoying to have colleagues possibly speculating on your private life (and your management should have spoken with your coworker about her comment), but unless it came up in other ways, it might not have called for any action from you.

2. When a boss shares thoughts of self-harm

My wife, Pam, is an executive assistant to a senior vice president. Her boss, Michael, has a history of being dramatic, a hypochondriac, and over-sharing. He has significant health issues, which doesn’t help when paired with his anxiety and reluctance to ask for help from actual professionals. Outside of his wife, Michael basically doesn’t have a social life outside of work, so his direct reports tend to fill in for his lack of close friendships.

Today, Michael was telling Pam the details of his recent visit to the doctor. His concerns were based on the experience of one of their other coworkers who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Michael felt he shared a number of symptoms with this coworker, so he went in for testing. During the appointment, Michael did not tell his doctor about his changes in mood, nor his thoughts of self harm, though he did go into some detail with Pam about methods he has devised for taking his own life. And he told her that sometimes he just goes home and lays on the couch thinking about doing it.

Given Michael’s history, it is possible he is just doing this for attention. However, Pam is concerned by the level of detail he gave and the fact that he hid this information from his doctor and his wife. She doesn’t want him to hurt himself but doesn’t know what, if anything, she can or should do here. Going to someone at work to express these concerns could cause Michael to feel like she betrayed his confidence. This is made more difficult by the fact that one of Michael’s work friends is Toby in HR. (The only other person in HR is Meredith, who has garnered several complaints for spreading gossip.)

But if Pam doesn’t tell anyone what’s going on and he harms himself, then she will be stuck with the guilt of having known but taking no action. It feels like a bit of a lose/lose situation for her. Do you have any advice on if or how she should address this?

This is awful. I feel for Michael, but this is far above Pam’s pay grade and it absolutely cannot be on her to listen to her boss’s suicidal thoughts or try to parse out how serious he might be. That’s not fair to her and it’s not fair to Michael, who needs to talk with someone who can truly help and who isn’t constrained by the power dynamics he has with Pam.

Ideally Pam would talk with HR and ask them to intervene, but if that’s not an option*, is there someone else she can speak with? My first choice for that would be Michael’s boss, but she could also talk with a peer of Michael’s if the person has good judgement and seems like they’d handle it well. Whoever she chooses, the goal is for that person to then figure out next steps and move this away from Pam, who can’t be responsible for her boss’s mental health.

* But are you sure Toby isn’t an option? His being Michael’s friend doesn’t necessarily rule him out (in some cases it could even make him better suited to handle it, but only if he has good judgement and some degree of skill).

3. Should my resume include that I was a National Merit Scholar?

Can you please settle an ongoing dispute for me? My mother thinks that I need to indicate on my resume, LinkedIn page, etc. that I was a National Merit Scholar to “show that (I’m) smart.” I think that I’m beyond that point, and based on reading your website, suspect that like SAT scores and high school extracurriculars, such awards are no longer relevant more than a few years past graduation. I’m in my late 20s, though due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, the jobs I’m applying for are still more or less entry-level. Do I need to listen to my mom and post this award near and far, or should it be quietly forgotten at this point?

Yeah, it doesn’t belong on your resume at this point. Nothing from high school should stay on your resume once you graduate college, or at least after a few years post-college-graduation. At that point employers want to see what you’ve accomplished as an adult, not what you did in high school.

4. I’m being reprimanded for following the chain of command

For context, I work for a small public agency. We had a new director come onboard in January and we had a lot of hope for her, but she’s turning out to be kind of a nightmare. The transition process was slow, as she was coming over from another agency and had to wrap up there before coming over to us. I didn’t have my first conversation with her or the deputy she brought with her until mid-April.

While she was transitioning, my main point of contact was our deputy director, who was acting director until she came over, and who remained acting director for a few extra months because of the length of the transition. He recently resigned for greener pastures, and now the current director is re-litigating directions that he gave us, saying that we should have gotten approval from her directly since he was only the deputy director at the time, although he was the only person from our office she was regularly communicating with and, since we were below him in the organization, it just made sense to take direction from him. Going around him to get her approval would have felt wrong and insubordinate.

I’m baffled by this. If my supervisor tells me to do something, why would I go above him to see if that’s okay? I’m not crazy, right? For context, he wasn’t even my direct supervisor; he was another level up from my direct supervisor, so even more reason why I would follow his directions. He’s been contacted by other employees who are having the same issues and has stated he’s willing to back us up and I have, like, CVS-length receipts for every action I’ve taken (I started compiling a thorough CYA file as soon as this issue began), but none of that seems to matter to her. Someone once said you can’t use logic to talk someone out of a position they didn’t use logic to get into, and that seems to be the case here. Any advice?

Yep, this is bizarre. But since your perfectly reasonable logic doesn’t seem to work with her, can you have one blanket conversation that covers the whole issue — for example, “Until you came officially on-board, I’d been following Ned’s directions, as at the time my understanding was that was the chain of command I needed to follow. It’s only recently that you’ve shared that you would have preferred I communicate directly with you. That means that we’re going to uncover quite a few things that you weren’t in the loop on and which Ned directed. I will of course consult with you going forward, but that’s the history on this and why it’s unfolded that way.”

That said, if the issue is less that you’re being reprimanded and more that she’s having you undo past actions and redo them differently … generally that’s her prerogative as director (unless there’s an unusual situation in your agency that means it’s not).

5. Is there a way to say “please don’t tell my boss I’m applying” in my cover letter?

I work for a small company that’s based in a co-working space. If I’m interested in switching jobs, many of the best companies in my industry are in this same location. Should I include in my cover letter that I’d appreciate them not telling my current company I applied, or is it just a given and I’m being paranoid?

It’s usually understood as a given, but if you want to be extra safe, you could include something like, “Since we work in the same space, I should note that my current employer does not know I’m looking and I’d appreciate you treating this application as confidential for now.” It’s likely unnecessary, but no one should penalize you for including that.

{ 218 comments… read them below }

  1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    I feel badly for OP2 – this is all way above Pam’s pay grade. However I’m going to throw out three suggestions:
    1) National Suicide Hotline (sorry I can’t remember their phone number)
    2) almost every state has a Crisis Hotline as well (check the local state website for contact info)
    3) Employee Assistance Program (EAP for short) of the company has one available.

    Also, sometimes the medical insurance your get through work has a suicide crisis line. I would also think about talking to Toby – yes he’s a friend of manager’s, I’m sure he’d be very concerned by what Pam heard, and Toby as HR may have access to extra resources that Pam as an EA just doesn’t.

    Speaking as someone medical adjacent – take all threats of suicide/self harm seriously. You never know when what sounds like a joke is actually incredibly serious.

    One final thought – if there is a major hospital system (as in one hospital with many locations about the state) in the area they may also have additional resources or a crisis line that Pam can reach out to.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Clarifying: this isn’t and shouldn’t be Pam’s responsibility to deal with – but those resources may have other resources that can assist Pam in dealing with the manager.

    2. Gammagirl1908*

      1-800-273-8255.

      Say what you will about that song from a couple years back, but at least it plastered the number everywhere.

    3. Harper the Other One*

      I was going to suggest similar resources as you did, because they can also be very valuable for people dealing with another person’s thoughts of self-harm. They can usually either help you work through your emotions/next steps when you hear from someone that they’re considering hurting themselves, or direct you to appropriate resources.

    4. AnonEMoose*

      Please, please take this seriously. I lost a friend to suicide a couple of years ago, and it was an awful time for everyone who knew and cared about them. Does your employer have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program)? That might be another place to reach out for help/advice. I know it’s scary to think about doing “the wrong thing,” but in this situation, doing nothing could be worse.

    5. Generic Name*

      I agree. My suicide prevention training says to take all talk about suicide very seriously. If someone expresses suicidal ideation, ask them right out: are you thinking about killing yourself? There’s a myth that asking outright will put ideas in people’s heads that weren’t there before, and that’s not true. If they say yes, you can encourage him to call the EAP or otherwise get help and also give him the number for the national suicide hotline: 800-273-8255. Don’t worry about over reacting if he doesn’t really intend to kill himself. It’s far worse to underreact.

    6. Zephy*

      Pam should also check the mandatory-reporting laws in her state – in most places they generally concern adults who have direct contact with vulnerable populations (minors, disabled people, the elderly), but there are some places with more expansive mandatory-reporting statutes, like I think New Jersey makes all adults mandatory reporters even if they don’t work with children/the elderly/etc. This is her boss, a fellow adult and not a “vulnerable person” in the specific context of his relationship with Pam in particular, but she should still know what if anything she’s legally obligated to do when someone tells her they’re thinking about committing a crime.

      1. Anne Elliot*

        Chiming in to second this. Obviously there are concerns for Michael, but in the context of this letter my chief concern is for Pam. It is not within her job description or her relationship with Michael to have to deal with this, and it is completely unreasonable (and borderline unkind) for him to offload his mental or emotional issues onto his subordinate at work. So in terms of extricating Pam from this — and foreclosing Michael from continuing to use her as his personal security blanket — I second pulling in all resources immediately and formally reporting a potentially dangerous situation. If Michael feels like that constitutes “betraying a confidence,” hopefully it will also occur to him that he should never have taken Pam into his confidence about that sort of thing in the first place, and will discourage him from doing it again.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          I agree with this completely.

          I know when it comes to employment, there are a lot of reasons to want to stay where you are and just hope things get better. However, this is a terrible environment. If Pam does the right thing and is fired for it, in a way, it can be a blessing in disguise. She’s done the right thing and she can move on to what is hopefully a better working situation.

          I know this seems like this can only be a win-lose situation (the win being keeping the job and/or reporting Michael and the lose being losing the job and/or Michael acting on his musings), but with the perspective of this currently being a TERRIBLE job for Pam, this is a win-win if she reports, no matter what. She’ll have done the right thing in getting help and either she’ll be out of this toxic environment OR the help she has alerted can change things for Michael that can bring about a change for the better in the work environment.

      2. My Brain is Exploding*

        I’m going to push back gently at using the phrase “committing a crime.” First, because suicide is not a crime in all countries or states. Second – and this is something I learned not that long ago – the current preferred language regarding suicide would be something like “attempted suicide,” “died by suicide,” etc. Bereavement groups in particular are trying to eliminate the use of “committed suicide.” https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resource/suicideandlanguage/

        1. Zephy*

          OK, that’s fair. I wish these comments had an edit button, I’d revise my last sentence to “Pam should know what her legal obligations are when a person tells her they’re thinking about hurting someone.”

          1. My Brain is Exploding*

            Oh, I would sure LOVE to have had an edit button in the past! :) I understood your meaning and your intent.

    7. JayNay*

      Yes, I really feel for Pam! I would suggest sending an email with those resources along with a note like “I was really concerned about what you mentioned recently” etc. Seeing in writing that his comments caused concern could be helpful to the boss.
      I also want to encourage Pam to find a way to extricate herself from those oversharing conversations with her boss. Talking about details of your symptoms and doctor visit seems like A LOT for work conversation. I’d suggest redirecting almost all these conversations to essentially “that’s really concerning / I feel for you / are you making sure this is being taken care of?”
      Again I’m so sorry, it sounds hugely distressing for Pam. Please don’t feel you have to be this person’s entire support system. There’s lots of resources available to get support (both for the boss but also for Pam!)

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I suggested the resources so that Pam could also get the support she needs. Many times resources for things of this nature have help for both the person directly involved and for those around that person.

    8. veryanonforthis*

      Having been Pam, it’s great to have resources, but offering them means the person thinking of suicide comes to you MORE, not less, and it’s miserable. It’s a no-win situation of being sucked into somebody’s mental health crisis and spending time talking them off the ledge and worrying when they’re not in contact/late for work/etc. I would say the hell with Michael’s privacy and pull in as many resources as possible asap because this stuff is crushing.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I was thinking of resources more for Pam for advice on how she can escalate things, because this is very much above her pay grade.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yes, I think these kinds of hotlines aren’t just for people contemplating suicide, they’re also for people who know people contemplating suicide. If Pam called they would hopefully give her helpful advice about how to deal with this situation, which I would hope would be about how to tell other people who could actually help Michael instead of how she should help Michael (because I agree, this is way above her paygrade to deal with directly).

          And I want to second all the advice here about the fact that even if Michael is joking, Pam should at least do something about it. If he indeed is joking, her taking it seriously and having others call him on it would be a wake-up call that suicide is not something he should be joking about.

          1. Admininja*

            This. The best answer is to take them seriously. If they’re serious deep down, you might save a life. If they’re not, they usually realize how serious it is & clarify/recant. I don’t mean that I dial 911 every time someone puts a finger gun to their head, but if they seem serious I reply, “That’s a really serious & alarming thing to say. Are you being serious right now?” I then offer either help or a polite warning that it hits too close to home & that I will take it seriously every time.

            It was never my BOSS, though. That’s so far out of line that I’m not sure what to do with it beyond reporting it to someone (even if anonymously) & getting help processing my own trauma. In the moment, maybe you could say something like, “That’s really alarming & well outside my role! Is there someone I can call for you?”

    9. Koala dreams*

      I was thinking about suicide hotlines too. Often they have advice to bystanders. The letter writer or Pam could call a hotline for advice.

    10. Nesprin*

      My approach to discussions of suicide is pretty simple- I’m sorry, I can’t help you with this and I’m going to call the EAP/hotline/911 for you right now. If it’s a joke about suicide, same response.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree. Here OP is talking about the boss having a detailed plan. This isn’t good. Time to bring the pros in to help.

        I think the overall template I would use is, “Okay, this is something that is beyond my ability to be of effective help. We are going to call A, B or C right now. Which one would you like us to call?” I’d have the numbers lined up before I said this. If I hit heel dragging, “oh I dunno…” then I’d say, “If you do not pick one, then I will.”

        I had a relative whose boss suffered some life events and became despondent and threatening self-harm. My relative sat down with the boss and said “Here’s a number you need to call. And you need to call today.” My relative was scared to have this conversation as not only was the boss not likable, the boss was also formidable.

        In an odd twist, the boss DID call and get help. And the boss spent the remaining years randomly thanking my relative over and over for having that conversation. It changed the relationship dynamic as the boss began to show respect for my relative. I think part of the reason is no one else in the boss’ life even bothered to care enough to talk with her.

    11. Velawciraptor*

      I’d also note that some professions have a resource within their professional association you can put to for things like this.

      For instance, many state bar associations have a Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP) or something similar to which people can make anonymous calls about judges and lawyers about whom people have concerns about issues that may be negatively impacting their professional capacity (alcoholism, mental health issues, etc.). Upon receiving such a call, people who are trained in dealing with issues like this will visit privately with the person (Michael, in this case) to express the concerns and help direct them to resources. If LW2 and Pam work in a profession with a similar professional organization, this might be the most delicate way to hand things off to someone equipped to deal with the situation.

    12. lala*

      As someone who answers the suicide hotline [the 800 number, through a local crisis center] the level of detail in the planning would be another boxed check as I evaluate the urgency of a situation. And for those not aware, we often get ‘third party’ calls where someone is calling concerned about someone else they are concerned about and seeking advice, in some cases a hotline may even arrange a call to the person at risk if the third party caller agrees and shares their number, not that Pam should be managing this. I agree this should be shifted off Pam! By choosing to share these thoughts/plans at work, he loses the privilege of privacy there when someone is trying to help him.

      1. Admininja*

        Thank you for the insight into the other end of the hotline!

        I agree that talking about it at work removes the right to privacy, but Pam being Michael’s subordinate means sharing it risks backlash, especially if he hasn’t confided in anyone else. As a long-time admin, I think many people would be shocked at how much some bosses tell their EAs- private thoughts they don’t share with anyone because we become extensions of themselves in their minds (sometimes manifested in the gross invisible-help way). Not everyone has the financial buffer, good health/non-employer insurance, life situation, etc. to take that risk, no matter how heavily it may weigh on them to make that choice.

    13. Soggy Taco*

      OP2, speak to whoever for your own sake, but please don’t call the authorities on Michael. As someone who has spent a lot of time on forums for suicidal people, one of the most common reasons for people not seeking help is the fear of being involuntarily committed… and of being committed AGAIN. Contrary to popular belief, being forced into a mental hospital isn’t as helpful as most people think. Many people remain suicidal after getting out, just with fresh trauma and a newly shattered trust in mental health professionals. (Look up “psych ward trauma”; it’s extremely common.)

      A lot of people seem to think that their friend/family member/coworker/etc could have been saved if only they had spoken up and gotten help, but the truth is the reason they didn’t speak up is because they knew what “help” really meant. All those stories of people being grateful are the result of survivorship bias – those who were harmed generally don’t talk about it because they’re still suicidal and have learned to hide it at all costs. If our society wasn’t so keen on putting suicidal people in the mental health equivalent of prison, more people would speak up. It’s that very desire to force help on people that causes them to hide. Please don’t contribute to that trend.

  2. Tiger Snake*

    #4 –
    New director + deputy leaving suddenly + sudden re-iteration that certain directions should have come from her directly/should have been confirmed with the director = I’m pretty sure that the deputy gave wrong instructions somewhere that did/would have led to very bad times for the agency (likely either government scrutiny or fines).
    I’ve had that rodeo before. Especially in govt, the emphasis in the word overreaction ‘reaction’ to something that happened or that they unearthed.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Maybe. The LW’s issue seems not to be with the actual directions, but their being couched as “You should have come to me rather than following deputy’s directions” rather than “This is how we are going to do it from now on.” This could be nothing more than a communications failure, or it could be a sign of blame to come.

      1. Anonym*

        Which is seriously a weird position to take for the new director. I don’t check my boss’ directions with my grandboss. No one does unless things are highly, highly abnormal.

    2. MK*

      That doesn’t change the fact that the new director apparently is trying to blame the employees for following the wrong directions. Which is really crappy, given that it was her own absence from the workplace that made it impossible for them to do anything else.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I thought this sounded like a possibly insecure new director peeing on the fireplug. I hope I’m wrong because she’ll be a nightmare for everyone if that’s the case.

    4. Observer*

      deputy leaving suddenly

      It doesn’t sound sudden. A new director was coming in after a drawn out transition. That’s a very common time for people in that type of position to leave.

      sudden re-iteration that certain directions should have come from her directly/should have been confirmed with the director = I’m pretty sure that the deputy gave wrong instructions somewhere that did/would have led to very bad times for the agency

      I don’t buy it. Most importantly, this was NOT a “reiteration” of standing procedure, but a totally new thing sprung on people after the fact. And regardless of whether or no the old Deputy gave bad instructions or not, rehashing the same issue repeatedly makes no sense – especially when what they are complaining about really makes no sense.

      1. Not Today Satan*

        Yes. This sounds more like an insecure new director.

        Something very similar happened in my organization. The interim/deputy director was suddenly let go. With no counseling. No meetings with the new director. The only reason given was the organization was “moving in a new direction.” Yeah, not really. The only thing that moved is the new director trying to change policies that are in violation of the law. We had to remind her she couldn’t do X.

        Fortunately the deputy director landed on her feet and her new organization is convinced mine is crazy.

    5. Anoni*

      It doesn’t feel like that. The OP would have mentioned if the things she was told to do would have been bad for the agency (and generally staff know that). This is more about the new director being weirdly controlling over past decisions that were made in a standard way.

  3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #4 – I once worked in an operations area where the management would set up “gotchas” – damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

    We had a team meeting and decided what we would do, when we were being set up for a “no right solution” situation involving work – GO FORWARD AND DO THE WORK IF YOU WEREN’T SPECIFICALLY TOLD NOT TO DO IT.

    Do you get your rear-end chewed out for NOT doing your job, or for doing it? We chose the latter, making our idiot manager look like a fool when he yelled at us for completing our work. Once you get wise, management eventually wised up and realized they couldn’t get on our case for doing what we were supposed to do.

    As far as damned if you do/if you don’t situations, once you let them know that you’re aware of the game they’re playing, they stop.

    1. nnn*

      Sometimes (although not always) I’ve had luck with asking management “If this happens in the future and I’m not able to get a decision from you in time, do you want me to err on the side of X or Y?”

      Example: “If we’re ever in a situation where overtime needs to be done to meet a deadline and a manager isn’t available to approve the overtime, do you want us to err on the side of starting work or waiting for approval?”

      Interestingly, as you noted, it most often came down to “err on the side of getting the work done”.

      1. SweetestCin*

        And even then, a red flag might appear under these circumstances. I’d say that if you do all of this, follow what your supervisor says, get the work done….and you still can do nothing right in the eyes of your supervisor, at least deeply assess whether or not you have a future under that supervisor.

        Been there, done that. When I could suddenly do absolutely NOTHING right, I talked myself out of actively looking for another job. Except I should have followed my gut, as I was laid off in a “mutual parting of ways”.

  4. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP2: bit of background, I’ve been that one telling people about my really rather at the time unstable and highly dangerous (to me, not others) mind thoughts at work. There was a large part of me being younger and untreated and another part that…kinda wanted my coworkers etc. to see how, I dunno, how this kinda stuff could happen to anyone if that makes sense.

    It is not in any way shape or form bad to say to someone in that situation that you are the wrong audience for those kind of thoughts though. Saying that they really need to talk to a professional isn’t harsh, isn’t uncaring and actually might be enough of a wake up call for a ‘hey, maybe they’re right’ moment.

    (I’ve been in hospital as recently as 2020 for the destructive stuff my own brain can do to me. Generally though things are a lot more stable after I got proper assistance and stopped telling others about e.g. the voices)

    1. Viette*

      I so agree. (I’m sorry for what you went through then and also more recently!) Pam is not a good audience for Michael to tell those things, and the fact that Michael is isolated from other people doesn’t make her into a good audience. Also, he has resources. It’s not as simple as this, but he’s choosing to tell her and no one else. He could tell an appropriate person instead of putting Pam through this.

      Which is what he is doing! Often people in Pam’s situation feel responsible, like if Pam turns Michael away then any harm he does to himself will be Pam’s fault — but she can’t help him so she’s trapped and afraid. I hope Pam can remember or understand that what Michael is going through is awful, but what he’s putting *her* through is also awful. She is not unharmed by being sucked into this.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Very wise comment. I know there are people who feel guilty that they didn’t stop my decline but it’s needless because it’s something that needs a professional and there’s not much a bystander could have done.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is also valid (extremely valid). It takes a very specific type of person to work at those hotlines/crisis centers. I have some compassion for Michael, as he seems a bit like a frantic drowning man flailing for resources to prevent the drowning. But in no way does Pam need to sacrifice herself to save Michael.

    2. LTL*

      This. It’s perfectly reasonable to set a boundary around this kind of talk. If Pam is really worried, maybe say something like, “I don’t think I’m the right audience to talk to about thoughts of self-harm, but x, y, and z are really good resources. I hope things get better!”

      And then stick to that boundary. Sometimes it takes a while for a boundary to get through so it’s important to keep communicating that it’s important. If Michael rationalizes (“I wasn’t talking about self-harm, I was talking about my doctors appointment”), “that’s fine but I’m still uncomfortable with the mentions of mental health. so how about [different subject]?” If he brings up something similar later, “I’m not comfortable talking about personal mental health subjects at work.” Rinse and repeat.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        And added to anyone in this situation: do try not to feel bad if the only response you feel able to give to someone in pain is ‘I’m not the right person for this – you need a professional’.

        It can help to practice such lines to yourself if you’re going to have to use them. Personally I like running through scenarios in the car and practising my lines and found it makes it easier to reinforce those boundaries later.

  5. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – are you actually being reprimanded, or are you being criticized, or is the new manager expressing frustration with the way things were done before she got there? There’s a big difference.

    In the first instance, that’s a formal process and you can document that you were following OldManager’s instructions, and point out that NewManager wasn’t even on the job yet.

    If it’s criticism (as opposed to a formal write up), I would point out to NewManager that you were following the chain of command, weren’t in a position to go outside of it, and that you are happy to make revisions to work as she directs. You would not circumvent her instructions as your manager now, and you ask that she respect the fact that you were not in a position to circumvent OldManager’s instructions before NewManager was on the job. If she feels this is not a sufficient response, request that she take this up with HER manager.

    If NewManager is simply expressing frustration, I would agree that it’s frustrating that things were done a different way before she arrived, but that now she’s here, you’re happy to do things her way. Then redirect her to focus on what needs to be done, either by asking her or making suggestions (or a combination of both).

    1. Smithy*

      I think that this difference is key – because often those conversations can be received as criticism or a reprimand, and lead to a more antagonistic conversation. If NewDirector is having a few of those more antagonistic conversations a day, that can bleed into more frustration/anger.

      If that is what is going on (as opposed to actual formal reprimands), then bringing in the CVS style receipts may be received as defensiveness as opposed to being cooperative with the NewDirector’s vision and changes. Being more of a proactive partner in the sense of “under OldDeputy, this was the direction – but going forward I want to make sure I’m aligned with your vision” may be far better received.

      It may be NewDirector’s style is just different – or that NewDirector was brought in to implement changes – but more often than not I’ve seen new leaders in those positions receive a lot of push back on changes which can amp up their frustration and shortness. If there’s any true formal reprimand in play, the OP has the documentation to explain why. But if this is just more anger from NewDirector – I think there’s a lot of room to take a more optimistic, team player approach that may be really helpful.

    2. Meep*

      I kind of wondered if it was more so the new manager wanting to prove herself and taking it out on a smaller fish.

      If LW is a woman it would also explain it. I have found that women in power often are harsher to other women because they had to claw their way up.

  6. LizM*

    #4, was this change in directors due to the election results? This is my 3rd federal transition, and even when well planned, they’re chaotic, and it’s not unusual for the new political appointees to look at “holdovers” with suspicion. They don’t always understand that career employees are not politically aligned, and most of us will work to support the agency’s mission, regardless of the party in charge, but they come around once they get a chance to know us and we deliver on the work they’ve assigned us. From what I’ve heard from my friends in state government, it can be just as messy at that level, so this comment isn’t limited to the national, federal transition.

    It’s frustrating, but don’t take it personally and give it time.

    I’d try to stay out of what may be a messy power struggle between her and Ned. There may have been politics (with a small p or a big P) that you weren’t aware of, and depending on how aligned he was with the previous administration, his retirement may not have been entirely voluntary. It’s also possible that she perceives Ned as having taken advantage of her distraction to keep doing things that she didn’t want him to do, but he’s not here to be mad at.

    In addition to the script that Alison suggested, I would also ask if she has any specific concerns about the direction that your program is going or your priorities? Have you had a chance to provide her or her deputy an overview of your program? Maybe open up a bigger strategic conversation, and show a willingness to listen to her, adjust priorities based on her new direction, and show that you can be an asset as she moves forward to implement her vision.

    1. LizM*

      Also, reading this, you’re 3 or 4 layers down from the director, correct? Your direct supervisor should be protecting you from this. Have you talked to them about this dynamic? In my experience, it’s not unusual at all for political appointees to not respect the chain of command the same way career employees do, and the senior career employees need to run interference to protect the people on their team.

      1. HipsandMakers*

        Yes, the senior career staffers should be creating buffers for their teams. Are these widely disseminated emails expressing general dissatisfaction (bad, but not necessarily requiring a response on #4’s level), or is the new director actually contacting section-level or contributor-level employees (a case where the career managers should be coordinating any response)?

  7. Tussy*

    OP2: She needs to go to HR. This goes beyond betraying any confidence because his wife and doctor needs to be told. It doesn’t matter if he is work friends with HR, in fact that probably makes it easier.

    When someone says something like this with that level of detail, it is better to take them seriously than assume they don’t mean it or are being over-dramatic. Because the consequences are incredibly dire if you get it wrong. And if someone is saying that and not meaning it and saying it for shock value, then honestly maybe it would do them well to experience the consequences of saying those things.

    I “betrayed the confidence” of someone over the same thing and I have never ever regretted it.

    Seriously, for the love of god, please please please tell your wife to go to HR so they can contact his wife.

    1. Gammagirl1908*

      I agree. This is so so so far above her pay grade, literally and figuratively, but the consequences for not sharing are exponentially greater than the consequences for sharing. I think at a minimum, she should share the information she has with HR. She should do what gets the situation off her conscience, because she at least tried to help.

      Please note, I don’t mean that she should do the bare minimum to get the situation off her plate; I mean that she should do *something* versus doing nothing. If her choices are do nothing or tell HR? Absolutely tell HR. She can’t do everything, but telling the person who can share more widely is what is within her power to do that is helpful.

    2. Forrest*

      >>if someone is saying that and not meaning it and saying it for shock value

      People who experience suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm but don’t act on them aren’t “not meaning it” or “saying it for shock value”: they are usually people in profound distress experiencing thoughts of self-harm and suicide. This doesn’t in any way make it OK to express those thoughts to your colleagues, but it’s really important to recognise that self-harm and suicidal thoughts *are harm in and of themselves*, not only when they are realised as physical harm.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Tussy addresses a very common fear: the worry that people are overreacting by taking someone’s threat seriously. These fears might sound trivial, but they are real (remember the letter where a boss thought someone might have been in a diabetic coma and really she was having an NSFW day-off? No one wants to be that employer!).

        While I largely agree with what you’re saying, we can never objectively know the truth of another person’s mind, so discussions about what someone really means can quickly become circular and serve as roadblocks.

        Sometimes looking at the ‘worst case scenario’ can be good mental tool for letting us know how we should proceed. Tussy is pointing out that even supposing this person didn’t need mental health support, these steps would only result in communicating that mental health and suicidality are topics that the office takes seriously. That’s not such a bad worst case scenario.

        1. Forrest*

          I’m not sure what part of my post you’re disagreeing with — I’m fully endorsing taking it seriously and acting, but just pushing back on the idea that people who express suicidal or self-harm thoughts do it for “shock value” or are being “over-dramatic”. Someone who talks a lot about self-harm or suicide is in distress regardless of whether they have an intention to physically harm themselves.

          1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            I’m arguing that seriously addressing the “what if someone is just saying it for shock value” question is helpful, especially for people who feel large amounts of social anxiety or decision paralysis.

            We don’t actually NEED to know what’s really going on in Michael’s head in order to take a course of action.

            1. Observer*

              We don’t actually NEED to know what’s really going on in Michael’s head in order to take a course of action.

              This. 100%

            2. Admininja*

              Agreed. My friend is a bit histrionic, totally pessimistic, & as attention-seeking as they come (she has good qualities, too), but she was going through a legitimate Bad Time a few years back. Trying to figure out if she was serious when she said she wanted to die would have been impossible, so I just took her seriously. She turned down all the offers of help & said she wasn’t going to kill herself. To this day, I’m not sure if she was actually contemplating suicide or being melodramatic.

      2. Cj*

        Sometimes people do threaten suicide to manipulate someone. But those are situations where their partner says they are leaving them, etc. There is no reason for Pam’s boss to tell her about his suicidal ideation other than that it is real.

        1. GothicBee*

          Yes. I had a friend who left her abusive ex and he threatened to harm himself (and actually, he contacted me at one point and made similar comments). I’m not saying he didn’t have problems, but he was an egotistical jerk who was absolutely trying to get pity and manipulate her into staying at that point.

          Agree that’s not happening here though. If I were Pam, I’d pass it along to Michael’s friend in HR unless I was positive there was some reason that would do more harm than good, and then enforce boundaries if Michael tried talking to me about it again (“You need to talk to this with someone close to you or a professional who can help you”/similar sentiment on repeat if needed).

        2. Allie*

          I had an ex girlfriend who would threaten suicide as a way to keep me from breaking up with her. It was not great and it definitely happens.

          1. Forrest*

            yeah that’s fair— I definitely didn’t mean to deny that kind of manipulation and abuse happens. I just think it’s important not to describe suicide/self-harm ideation that doesn’t lead to actual physical harm as not serious / for shock value / for attention because it’s real and bad in itself, not just when it leads to physical harm.

      3. Observer*

        , but it’s really important to recognise that self-harm and suicidal thoughts *are harm in and of themselves*, not only when they are realised as physical harm.

        That’s true, but that’s a separate issue from the possibility that the person is not actually considering self harm. That does appear to happen on occasion. But from the outside it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between “trying to get a reaction from people” and “actually thought about it and then never followed through”.

        I do agree that it’s important to realize that the latter happens and is a problem in and of itself, even if the person does not wind up hurting themselves. It’s an additional reason for Pam to toss this to someone who has some possibility of being able to address this.

      4. LTL*

        I’m not sure if Tussy was implying that someone who doesn’t act on the those thoughts is automatically saying it for the shock value. I interpreted her post to mean that there just are some people who say those things without meaning it. They’re rare but it’s occasionally used as a manipulation tactic. I say this as someone who has had those thoughts but never acted on them.

        In any case, it doesn’t affect the advice for the OP since no one can say with certainty what’s going on in Michael’s head.

    3. Cj*

      I was in a situation where a direct reports of mine was on the verge of being let go do to poor performance, poor attendance, etc. Most (all?) of this was because he was an alcoholic.

      He told me one day that he had attempted suicide by cutting his wrists, but chickened out and called an ambulance. The cuts weren’t very deep, and he told several people (friends, not co-workers), so it was probably a cry for help. (For context, he told me this because we considered each other almost family, as we had worked together for 25 years, and prior to selling the business that we both went to work for and me becoming his supervisor, he had been my mentor and we were business partners.)

      I tried to talk him into contacting our EAP, taking FMLA to get treatment for alcohol, etc. He didn’t, and a couple weeks later he was fired. I did *not* tell my boss and HR about his suicide attempt, but did say when he was let go (and perp walked out of the building), that I wanted to tell his sister, who was also my direct report, that he had just been fired and she could leave to go be with him if that’s what he wanted, because I was extremely worried about how he would take it. HR caught on immediately as to what I was getting at, and said people who threaten that sort of thing don’t do it.

      He was given 2 weeks to let the company know if there was a reason for his poor performance (they suspected, but didn’t know for sure, that he was an alcoholic, and this was meant to give him time to tell them that and go to treatment and not lose his job).

      But two weeks later, he was dead due to a combination of a benzodiazapine and alcohol. I’ve never been certain if it was actually suicide, or if he took too much of them together due to the stress of being fired, but it has haunted me ever since wondering if I should have done more. Like straight up told him what the company was getting at with the two weeks to give them a reason. They didn’t want me too, because they really wanted to get rid of him, so were intentionally vague when they told him this.

      Even if his death was from an accidental overdose, getting in treatment could have prevented it.

      1. Observer*

        but it has haunted me ever since wondering if I should have done more.

        No. There really was not anything you could have done. Your friend had an opportunity to work with the company, even if it wasn’t laid out crystal clear. What makes you think that he would have taken the opportunity if you had been more explicit? After all, they may not have said “We are offering you a chance to turn this around” in those exact words, but he WAS given two weeks to let the company know if there was a reason for his poor performance. He could have done that but he did not.

        You say that getting him into treatment might have saved his life. That’s true – But what makes you think that being more explicit with him about the job would have caused him to do that? You tried to convince him to get treatment before and he refused. His family and friends knew he was an alcoholic, and it sounds like you gave his sister a heads up that you were worried about his reaction. So, she had an extra clue. Yet she couldn’t get him into treatment either.

        The bottom line is that there is absolutely no reason to think that anything you could have done at that point would have made a significant difference.

        1. Cj*

          Logically, I know that, and I’m sure you are correct. It’s still just really hard because we were so close personally, and his death, especially under these circumstances, was extremely difficult for me.

        2. Cj*

          I know he didn’t *want* to quit drinking, so, yeah, nothing anybody said or did would probably have gotten him into treatment.

          His doctor was also an occasional golfing buddy, and had to know how much he drank. If not from being with him on social occasions, it wasn’t exactly a secret to anybody in town, never mind that if he had blood tests, his liver function had to be extremely compromised. So I also get upset that his doctor prescribed ativan in the first place, since it is so dangerous to take that with alcohol.

          1. Observer*

            So I also get upset that his doctor prescribed ativan in the first place, since it is so dangerous to take that with alcohol.

            *IF* it was his doctor who prescribed it, that sounds like malpractice to me. I hope it haunts him!

            But, I would think it’s quite possible that he was either using someone else’s prescription or he got the prescription from elsewhere.

    4. AnonToday*

      I had to do the same at my work/study job in undergrad, and don’t regret it either.

      My supervisor went through a downward sadness spiral over the course of a few months, which they shared with me. Unfortunately it escalated to them messing with my time sheet and accusing me of bizarre things like coming in at night to steal printer paper.

      When they had a multi-hour personal call at work in front of me expressing suicidal ideation several times, I let someone higher up at the school know. I won’t say it didn’t damage the relationship, but I do know that assistance was offered.

      I hope Supervisor got the help they needed and is in a better place, and even though it was awkward and scary at the time, I think I did the correct thing by letting someone know.

  8. Anonfornow*

    Hey, OP2, most states have crisis counselors who can respond and complete a risk assessment (I’m one in oregon!). Google mental health crisis plus your county for contact info. We don’t bill insurance and you can report anonymously (though no guarantee he won’t figure it out). Generally, we try to avoid responding to workplaces, but can if we have to. Just throwing out another option. Sending all the best.

    1. Beezus Quimby*

      Sounds like a super useful resource. Just out of curiosity, why do you avoid responding to workplaces?

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Having a mental health crisis team show up at a workplace can unfortunately leave an employee stigmatized for the rest of the time they work somewhere. Even companies that seem to be very forward-thinking when it comes to mental health can respond poorly to an employee utilizing a crisis team.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      This is great informaton. If nothing else, Pam could look for something that could help her for herself.

  9. Wendy*

    OP#3, there are a very few careers where general academic excellence is relevant past college. Writing textbooks would be one example :-P Even then, though, being a National Merit Scholar is less important than what college you went to, what your GPA was, and what you’ve done since then! (I was a National Merit Scholar too, and while the extra $8K grant was nice, it’s not like the title opened any new doors for me…)

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Yeah, I’d say to include it if you’re doing something like… tutoring for the PSAT/SAT because it shows that you performed very well on it, but outside that, I can’t see it being a compelling enough thing to use the limited space on your resume for. I’d say for Linked in if you wanted to keep a very short note at the bottom of the page, it would be fine. A lot of people keep a longer career history on linkedin than they would put on any particular resume, so while it will be dated, it will also be at the bottom and likely appear as something you added when you were young and it was more relevant and hen just never removed.

      1. EPLawyer*

        It does not belong on LinkedIn either. It is not a career accomplishment. It just means you took a test once and did really well. Putting it on anything professional will seem really odd.

        1. Mouse*

          I completely agree with you, but for the record, it’s more involved than just doing well on a test. Test scores get you to National Merit Semifinalist status. After that you have to apply with a resume, essays, letters of recommendation, etc., almost like another college app, to reach Finalist/Scholar status.

          1. quill*

            Yeah, I still would not list it past, I dunno, two jobs in your field? Because it’s great for college applications / college summer research applications / your first internship but beyond that people are looking for something more specific than general academics.

            1. Former Child*

              I’d think listing it under “Education” is OK, because why is college relevant but this honor isn’t? Or including it in the cover letter ALONG WITH other info. about work ethic / honors / and other areas that apply to the job.
              IF you can connect it to other personal traits that apply, it could show you’re the “type” who’s got certain traits. But it has to be integrated well or you look petty.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Because this is an honor from high school, and the convention is that high school stuff doesn’t belong on a resume once you’re out of college.

              2. ecnaseener*

                Ultimately it’s something you did as a teenager, and I don’t think people really care that you were an impressive teenager (unless you’re still quite young). People change SO much in young adulthood, being smart and hardworking at 16 (or whatever other personal traits you can connect to merit scholarship) doesn’t mean you will still have those traits even at 25. Maybe not at 22.

              3. No Longer Looking*

                Didn’t they try to make nearly everyone a National Merit Scholar? Maybe it was just everyone in the honors program, but I don’t think I knew anyone in HS who didn’t get an NMS letter.

                1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                  Not in my experience – I was the only semifinalist from my high school my year. (I know because my school gave me the entire packet sent to them by the National Merit people rather than just the part that was supposed to go to each semifinalist, so I got to see things like that my friend would have made it except that he was ineligible as a 10th grader and other things that I probably shouldn’t have known. I think my school wasn’t used to having anyone qualify most years and didn’t realize that some of the information in the packet was school-level rather than student-level.)

                  Of course, I went to a pretty non-academic-focused high school. (I was one of those kids who was smart but not interested in “playing the school game”, so I went to alternative schools with more flexibility for middle and high school.) We didn’t even have letter grades, let alone some kind of honor society, so it was only the students who particularly had 4 year colleges in mind and thought they might qualify for National Merit who did things like take the PSAT.

    2. Allie*

      I was also a National Merit Scholar, and yes, leave it off. (Sadly, I didn’t even get the extra 8k, they just reduced my need based grant by that amount). Ultimately it’s based on scores on a test you take at at 15 or 16. It already gets an inflated importance because colleges like to brag about the number of National Merit scholars. But it really doesn’t belong on a resume, employers will not care.

      I’d say this is pretty typical parent bad resume advice.

      1. SomehowIManage*

        OP3: I actually disagree here and say it’s ok to leave the fact that you were a National Merit Scholar on for a little while longer. in my experience, people in their 20’s are still being hired a little because of their potential, as opposed to their experience. This is particularly true for OP, who doesn’t appear to have found firm footing in a career and is applying for entry level jobs. This award is well known enough and prestigious enough to signal potential.

        1. BRR*

          The lw is in their late 20s and hs accomplishments have a very short shelf life. If I was looking at candidates this wouldn’t strengthen someone’s candidacy and if anything would weaken it because it would come off as poor judgement.

        2. quill*

          I think it depends less on your age than on how new you are to the industry. My hard cutoff would be at 2 jobs in your field / 2 years out of college (At which point a test you took 8 years ago, since most people take the test that qualifies them at about 16 / 17, seems less relevant) / age 25/26.

      2. OP #3*

        That’s pretty much what I figured, but I wanted to be sure that the advice was bad, especially given how my mother kept bringing it up… I’m a bit tempted to send this page to her, but that might be a bit on the nose :P
        And that’s too bad about not getting the extra money! Though I actually didn’t get the full amount I could have either–I had the option of $2500 from the National Merit people or $1000/year from my college of choice, went with the former thinking I might end up transferring, ended up loving the college I went to and staying all four years and thus missing out on $1500.

        1. Cat Tree*

          Your mother is naturally proud of you, but I think that is coloring her advice. But you don’t have to convince her of anything. It’s your resume and she had no reason to even see it. You can politely tell her you’ll consider her advice, then consider it and decide not to follow it. She doesn’t need to know the final outcome and she still gets to be proud of your accomplishment.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      Strong disagree. Sure, you took a test in high school and did really well on it.

      But I’m not hiring a high school student. I’m hiring the adult version of you. What have you accomplished since then? If you’re still dragging this accomplishment out, you’re just riding your own coat tails. Surely you’ve accomplished something since then?

    4. Dust Bunny*

      National Merit Scholar here: It’s just not that big a deal. It definitely didn’t have anything to do with how good a student I was (I wasn’t; I have some learning disabilities that weren’t diagnosed until college and was a not-awesome student for most of my school career). I just happen to be a good reader and good at taking tests. It did help with college scholarships, but that’s pretty much the end of its relevance.

    5. Pants*

      Anytime I see a GPA on a resume or awards that are specific to when the applicant was in school, it reads as “I have nothing else to put here.” It kinda turns me off the person. However, I’m basing this on resumes that are not entry level. If you have the experience on your resume to apply for positions other than entry, GPA etc. looks almost unprofessional to me.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        THIS! ^^^^^^^

        It very much reads “I peaked in high school and it’s all downhill from there” or “I just can’t get over my high school experience”.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          To be fair, I *did* peak in high school, and it pretty much was all downhill from there for the next 20 years, until I finally bounced and started upward again with support of a really good manager who appreciated my good qualities enough to help me mitigate or overcome my bad ones. That’s not the sort of thing one wants to admit on a resume, though…

      2. OP #3*

        That’s one reason I wasn’t sure, because my case is a bit odd–I’ve worked a variety of part-time jobs, but have yet to really establish my career. I still have enough else to put on my resume that I doubt it’s worth the space, though, even if my mother insists otherwise.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          Given that, it’s even more important that you avoid any reference to high school stuff. You don’t want it to seem as if you’re going to be living in your parents’ basement forever.

        2. Pants*

          I listed part-time jobs on my resume when I was first starting out. I feel like it showed I have some experience with customer service, dealing with people, adapting, etc. We all have to start somewhere! (Ultimately, it’s all subjective, your mileage may vary, some assembly required, and various other disclaimers.)

          I think my issue with GPA, etc. is that it often gives away your age or age range. That opens you to bias, conscious and unconscious. While you may be perfect for a particular position, someone may see the signs of being really green still and bypass you. Your job history may hint at your age but you don’t need to confirm it for them.

          Similarly, now that I’m a dinosaur (triceratops, pleaseandthankyou), I don’t list the year I graduated college and my employment history only goes as far as will fit on two pages tops. I do prefer one page but sometimes that’s not feasible. I got my degree in 1997 so you can imagine how long my resume would be if I went all the way back to the beginning.

      3. Gumby*

        I was irritated when interviewing for my first post-college jobs that some employers (mostly consulting companies) asked about my SAT scores. Like, what? Seriously? You could ask about college grades, college courses, the multiple part time jobs I have held while in college, or *anything* else. Heck, ask about my GRE score. Why do you care about test scores which, frankly, felt irrelevant to me as soon as I was accepted into college? So before HS graduation. I… kind of held it against the companies that asked.

        Though I wouldn’t hold it against most people who put National Merit Scholar on a resume in any concrete way, it would seem a little odd to me.

        1. Pants*

          Your SAT scores? Standardized testing is not a way to evaluate people! Also, the scoring of the SATs changed a good while back. My SAT scores then would not be my SAT scores now. Also, I don’t remember. How silly…. I’d hold it against them too.

    6. quill*

      I was national merit and I didn’t even get a good scholarship! (Because mine was connected to a corporation, lol.)

  10. Delta Delta*

    #3 – there are some high school age-achievable accomplishments that could probably stay on a resume because they’re truly outstanding and unique. I’m thinking – Olympic medals or winning the National spelling bee (while also being a Guinness record-holder!). National Merit scholarships are great but not to the level that they ought to stay into adulthood.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I still don’t think these things would go on a resume – unless your job is in sport or spelling, in which case you are likely not applying directly but being recruited.

      1. Bagpuss*

        There might be situations where they were relevant in displaying a transferrable skill – e.g. ability to focus and perform well under pressure, where it might be relevant to include them to demonstrate those skills, especially if the actual job history is short and perhaps in entry-level jobs where there were fewer opportunities to develop or use those kills.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        I can see them being in the “other stuff” category at the bottom. I regard this section (which is optional) as conversation fodder for the interview, making you stand out by having something unusual and interesting.

      3. Hiring Mgr*

        If I won an Olympic medal, I’d figure out a way to shoehorn that into my resume for sure!

      4. Forrest*

        I think that’s a really limited view of how resumes work, to be honest! I don’t know enough about the spelling bee to know what it means, but an Olympic or Paralympic medal comes as a result of an enormous amount of training, leadership, organisation and teamwork. There are just an enormous amount of transferable skills there separate from “can run fast” or whatever.

        1. MK*

          I am sceptical about the transferable skills, but the reality is that an Olympic medal is prestigious enough that including it is probably a plus.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            I too am not sure about transferrable skills, but an Olympic medal certainly demonstrates work ethic.

          2. Delta Delta*

            Serious athletes are generally coachable, disciplined, and focused. And for athletes on teams, there’s often high levels of teamwork and respect for defined roles, as well as the ability to see several steps ahead in order to quickly analyze and plan the next step or play. It seems to me that these are all skills that could make someone a good coworker or employee.

            1. Forrest*

              I’ve done a bit of work with people with elite sports careers, and even if you’re doing a non-team sport, you’re almost certainly training as part of a team and working with physios, nutritionists, trainers, psychologists, analysts, experts in technical equipment, etc. If it’s sufficiently high-profile sport, you might also be involved in sponsorship deals and managing brands. It’s also very likely that you’ve been training or at least mentoring people junior to yourself in the sport. Just tons of stuff!

          3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I was going to respond to something along the lines of: dedication, hard work, coach-ability, teamwork, and quick thinking. All of those can be hard screen for at times – but a successful Olympian would have them in spades.

        2. Allie*

          I once interviewed a guy who put that he’d been on a dance TV show on his resume. This had absolutely nothing to do with dance but it was kind of neat and memorable. We probably would have hired him anyway but it did make him stick out in a positive way.

          1. Forrest*

            We interviewed an intern who’d previously been a pro-wrestler! Apparently at the end of every interview he ever had, someone would go, “So, that’s all our questions, but I have to ask— the— the wrestling?”

            He was genuinely interesting about it too! He’d quit because at 6’1” he was never going to be big enough to be one of the greats, and also someone did a move wrong on him and ran over him: “I mean, literally ran over me— broke both my legs— I can send you the YouTube link if you like.”

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Used to work with someone who was part of two Paralympic Teams (placed fifth in their event at the 2016 Games actually). They had such great answers to questions about getting along with people who are different than you and working through situations where there may be misunderstandings. They were trying for the 2020 games in Tokyo – haven’t been able to find out if the qualified this time because of the delays.

      5. calonkat*

        not on a resume, but you could work it into a cover letter perhaps, about the discipline and work it took and how you will bring that drive to a new position.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Nope, not applicable. I’m hiring the adult version of you and I want to know what you’ve accomplished as an adult when you’re running under your own power. What you did as a kid with your parents’ support is still irrelevant.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      Winning the Nobel Peace Prize? But for Malala, I think that’s really a career accomplishment.

      1. quill*

        I mean, activism IS her career.

        But I don’t know if being a world curling champion is a positive or negative or neutral when I’m trying to hire a beverage taste-tester. It WOULD explain my inability to get industry-related info when googling your name though.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        Yeah I was thinking of like Malala or Greta Thunberg when I read this question. Or there are high schoolers that invent crazy awesome things sometimes.

        Surely there are things some extraordinary people do in high school that could still be relevant years later… although someone like Malala has so much name recognition she probably wouldn’t need a resume. But on the other hand, resumes are still supposed to be short and highlight your most important/relevant achievements. While inventing something at age 13 is super impressive, that same kid will hopefully have done additional impressive things by the time they’re 30 that fit better on their resume.

      3. anonymous 5*

        I think if it’s something that would be a major accomplishment no matter *how* old the person was, there’s much more of a case for including it (possibly in “other interests/experience” or something, in a case like the pro wrestler mentioned above) than something that is a) very specifically a high-school achievement and b) a relatively generic one, since the first screening is a standardized test.

    4. Red Swedish Fish*

      I am on the fence on the spelling bee champ since most of us (at my work) talk in text I could see this being both an asset and a annoyance. Just being in the Olympics at any time would be an awesome thing to include, not really work wise but it would get you noticed and talked about.

      National Merit for me kind of falls into the I made over a 1500 on my SAT, where no one outside of your mother really cares after you get into college. Sadly if someone brings up SAT scores my mother will proudly tell them about how smart I am that on my 3rd attempt I got a 1360, its been over 15 years she won’t let it go.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        After I took the test they added the writing section making the max score 2400 instead of 1600, so I feel like these days its extra tone-deaf because a 1360 sounds like a really low score.

        1. OP #3*

          They actually changed it back, I believe, but I was in that weird camp of a few years where I got a score of over 1600! My mother still occasionally mentions that I probably could have gotten a perfect score on the SAT or the ACT if I took them repeatedly, but there was no real reason to do that besides the bragging rings. Methinks she might just be a little obsessed with how well I did in school and is overlooking what’s happened since…

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Do you have friends/mentors in the field you are trying to get started in? I would reach out to people like that and see if they can help you take the skills and experience you have from the part-time jobs and turn them into a resume that showcases the you of now – and why your a great fit for an open job.

  11. AnAffairNotRemembered*

    OP1 – I’ve been EXACTLY there. I am a mid-level manager in my 30s, and he is the CEO in is late 40s. We worked closely together and got on well. There was no hint of anything romantic whatsoever.
    When it got mentioned to me by a female Executive who made a snidy comment about it, I responded by laughing in her face. And then asking her why on earth people would assume we were having an affair just because we were a man and woman. I questioned if the same assumption would be drawn that I was having an affair if the CEO was a woman. I told her how difficult it is for women to build relationships in the workplace if every time they have a lunch meeting with a man, they are accused of having an affair. And finally I asked her if she was going to relay this to the CEO. She was horrified and said she couldn’t possibly site her sources (I think she just made it up herself). I said I’d mention it to HR as I was so concerned about this gossip. She asked me not to. I never did because I think I shut it down very quickly. I recently left the company but I enjoyed telling the CEO the story about the “rumor” before I left – and we laughed about it a lot.

    1. UKgreen*

      I have also been there in an OldJob – and went through a similar conversations about heteronormative assumptions that ‘man + woman = must be having an affair’ with a number of colleagues who simply could not GET than we were friends.

      As it happens, my former colleague and I are still very good friends now we’ve both left the company, and someone we used to work with spotted us together in a coffee shop recently. I hear the rumours are still going strong. Clearly the folk in our old company have NOTHING better to gossip about. How sad!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Left firm in 2016 – people still remark about the ‘affair’ that went on between me and Dave (not real name).

        We were, and still are, friends. He stayed at the firm, I didn’t. But a woman having lunch with a bloke and a few laughs pretty much morphed into “they must be shagging” and the more I tried to deny it, the worse it got. Ignoring it was all I could do (as in literally acting like I hadn’t heard what they just said – total non response). A HR person I spoke to about it said that maybe I should stop doing anything that gives the impression of an affair- no lunches together, no saying anything about Dave ever, never be alone with him…which, I didn’t do so I can’t say if it would have stopped the rumours?

        1. Allonge*

          Gee, what a great idea from the HR person. I suppose you should have tolerated a year of questions on when you broke up with Dave and, jsut, never ever talked to him again (very professional, that), and all is resolved! /s

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            It was…a weird moment to be sure. 7-8 years ago I let things go like that because I was usually too shocked to reply and/or cared more about keeping the peace.

            Dunno what changed when I got further into my 40s but it’s not like that now!

            (Dave still works there though I don’t know if that HR bod does. He says he just ignores daft comments about his ‘affair’.)

            1. AnAffairNotRemembered*

              I think somewhere alone the line, the frustration outweighs the shock! I think it never bothered me that much because *I* knew it wasn’t true and we have a fab HR who would back me up in this kind of rubbish! I think for me the biggest issue was that no one had the nerve to confront him on it so if there was any backlash it would all come to me. And as you say, these rumors can follow you around.

        2. Blackcat*

          “But a woman having lunch with a bloke and a few laughs pretty much morphed into “they must be shagging” and the more I tried to deny it, the worse it got.”
          I apparently started all sorts of workplace rumors for my friend when I was in his city for a conference. I met him at his office and we went for lunch right near by so a fair number of his coworkers saw us. For WEEKS, he was asked things like “Bro, I hear you’re going to be a dad?” (I was visibly pregnant at the time) and people ignored his insistence that I was just a friend.

      2. UKDancer*

        Have been in a similar position. In my previous company I got on quite well with a colleague who was known to be a bit difficult so everyone assumed we were having an affair. We weren’t but we just had a good working relationship.

        It’s very annoying and heteronormative the way people assume there must be an affair going on. My mother and a male family friend are both into underwater basket weaving. She and the friend often go to basket weaving events. My father doesn’t go because he considers it really dull. At least 2 other friends have tried to tell my father about having seen Mum and friend together as though it was something secretive or worrying. Interestingly nobody notes or comments when Dad goes for country hikes with friend because that’s perceived as normal male bonding. My parents are firmly of the view that people should keep their noses out of other peoples’ affairs.

        1. Just delurking to say...*

          Annoying and heteronormative – my current gripe with my current coworkers. There’s been a rumour going around for months that I (female) and a colleague (male) are an item because … uh, we’re opposite gender and single? Despite the fact that we can go weeks without saying one word to each other and when we do it’s entirely work-related.

          Proof that avoiding any possible suggestion of an extra-curricular relationship isn’t going to stop people who are starved of entertainment.

          1. Cj*

            It seem hetronormative because it is usually a rumor about opposite sex friends/co-workers, that are (at least as far as anybody knows), hetrosexual. But I’m not so sure the same thing wouldn’t happen if two men who are known to be gay, or two lesbians, went to lunch, we’re close inside and or/outside of work, etc.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          One of my first bosses was abrupt with many people and he asked me to be his assistant. We were both introverts and I didn’t take it personally if he didn’t greet me in the morning and only spoke about work-related issues. Co-workers asked how could I work with him and my response was he behaves like a professional. Because he was a grump and we got along it didn’t mean that we were having an affair. (shrug)

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I do remember laughing at one coworker who told me that as a married woman I should never be seen alone with someone who I could be possibly attracted to. I’m pansexual, not sure who I was ever allowed to be friends with!

            1. knitcrazybooknut*

              There’s gotta be a standard flowchart for this. Does demi get to have any friends at work??

        4. AnAffairNotRemembered*

          A few questions about underwater basket weaving.. are they in a pool? In scuba suits? How does it work?! I’m fascinated by this!

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      In my case it was the boss spreading rumours. At a party to say good-bye to a director, he actually said he wanted to see me dancing with the young lad (who was completely smitten with me and had asked me out and been rejected).
      I just screamed “what???”, and everyone else just laughed nervously. I didn’t actually care what anybody thought, and kept my knowledge of the boss’s affairs to myself.

    3. I'm just here for the donuts*

      In an old job, the admin made a comment to the effect of “Of course she wouldn’t be having lunch with (male colleague)”, as if it suggested something inappropriate. So for years, I (female) made sure they both received identical generic gifts for the holidays, so as not to create “the wrong impression”.

      In another job, a rumor started that I was a lesbian, and from then on, no women wanted to be alone with me.

      I never found suitable solutions to either because I was not the problem.

      1. AnonForThis*

        I’m not super good looking, so when I started my job in IT, I immediately was asked if I were lesbian.
        When I said no, colleagues tried to push me on one of the guys to find out in he was gay… I refused that, too.
        Years later, I married (a man), and informed HR of my change in tax status. HR always broadcasts happy news like that to the entire company with no regard of privacy (a problem unto itself)…
        …and my colleagues started to awkwardly refer to “my wife”.
        I was so pissed off I left said colleagues in their belief – can hardly wait for the next company party post-Covid.

        And the kicker is – I’m pansexual, but very very private about it.

    4. SheLooksFamiliar*

      A round of applause for you, AANR, you handled your co-worker perfectly. I especially liked this: ‘And finally I asked her if she was going to relay this to the CEO. She was horrified and said she couldn’t possibly site her sources (I think she just made it up herself). I said I’d mention it to HR as I was so concerned about this gossip. She asked me not to. ‘

      Yeah, I bet her heart skipped a beat. You called her bluff, and she knew if HR asked the right questions of the right people, she’d be exposed as both gossip and source of same.

      1. AnAffairNotRemembered*

        Thank you – it felt very good. Although admittedly I felt pretty shaken after!

        In all aspects of life – not just work – I often think, What Would Alison Say? And then I say a less eloquent, more flustered version!

    5. Ana Gram*

      I mentioned to a coworker once that I planned to go to lunch that day with another coworker. She looked uncomfortable and said that he’s married and his wife might not like that. Yeah, he’s married alright…to me. Sigh.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I would have had a hard time not having fun with that.

        “We have her permission and blessing.”
        “It’s alright; she’ll be there, too.”
        “It was her idea!”

        1. quill*

          A classic example of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” when that questioner has bitten off more information than she can chew.

        2. Ana Gram*

          “Not only am I going to lunch with her husband but I’m wearing her clothes!”

          I really missed an opportunity here…

    6. Quinalla*

      I have luckily only dealt with comments meant truly as a lighthearted joke, but I shut those down hard too. As a woman in a male dominated industry, I have no option except to network, have lunch with, etc. men and even if I had other options it wouldn’t matter, women and men work together all the time – it does not mean there is an affair if they are friendly, alone together, etc. But there are still far, far too many people who believe that any man/woman pair that spend too much time together are going to at minimum be attracted to each other and that it is just tempting fate. Utterly ridiculous, but I’ve dealt with this all my life and I see it reinforced still today all the time. Every time someone watches 2 year old boy and girl playing together and jokes about them dating. That nonsense basically starts at birth (or before) and goes on forever, so shut it down whenever you can and try not to fall into doing it yourself – it is so easy, we all grew up with it.

      1. Sara without an H*

        +1. The attitude is sexist, stupid…and kind of Victorian, when you think about it.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        My ex used to gripe about me spending time with male co-workers, saying I was tempting them and being tempted by them. He didn’t believe me when I told him most of my male co-workers were easy to resist. They were jerks, and if I didn’t have to work with them I’d probably never talk to them.

        Turns out my ex was cheating on me with a couple of women at work and was projecting big time. When I found out, he said – among other things – ‘What do you expect? We work together all the time, it’s only natural that things are going to happen.’ To him, it was a foregone conclusion that something would happen, because adults can’t possibly control themselves at work.

        Nope. We’re not that powerless.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Just came here to say that I loved your answer to that female Exec. All of it, from beginning to end – mentioning HR was an impressive way to wrap this to make sure she’ll never forget.

      I had something similar happen to me way back in my early 30s, and it wasn’t exactly without cause – the boss kept coming on to me, getting told off, promising he’d stop, doing it again… over and over through two years and two different jobs, until he finally found someone else to have an affair with. He’d developed rapport with me first and we became friends, and had also quickly moved himself into the mentor role at my first US job, and I really did need a mentor as I was starting over in a new career in a new country, with a whole new set of corporate rules and ethics that I knew nothing about. A former coworker called him, asked to meet for coffee after work, to warn him about my supposed habit of… having affairs with managers in order to get raises and promotions? (I did not have a single affair in the 22 years I was with my now-ex husband, with a manager, peer, random person on the street, mail delivery person, anyone. I got the raises and the promotions on my own merit. And they were not that outrageously high that only an affair would explain them. My starting pay was 20K for an entry-level developer. My first raise was 4K, bumping me up to a whole 24, in the late 90s. Like come on.) (Can you tell I’m still mad?)

      Over the years that followed, I used this experience to nip that kind of assumptions in the bud whenever they arose about other people. I’ve had work friends of mine talk about “why was X promoted to director? Bet she’s banging someone in the leadership. Or at least leading them on making them think they someday might” etc, and I would always reply with “as someone who once had that kind of rumors circulating about me, I do not appreciate this line of thinking at all, yes it is possible for a woman to move up the ladder without sexual favors being involved, in fact it’s pretty much always the case” and such, and the rumors would then stop, or at least never mentioned around me again. Sometimes X wouldn’t even be someone I liked or respected the work of, but I feel that this line of thinking really does need to die in a fire. It’s 2021 and we are not living in a season of Mad Men. Let’s leave the sexist garbage in the last century where it belongs. I really hope my comments to my coworkers using my own past experience, helped move away from it at least a little bit.

    8. Clogerati*

      This happened to a friend of mine! Except the other party wasn’t the CEO, he was just a higher-level manager. They both got covid within the same week and when she came back to work everyone thought that they had been having an affair, she didn’t even know that he had covid as well!

  12. Forrest*

    >> Given Michael’s history, it is possible he is just doing this for attention

    I want to challenge this way of thinking. There are three different things here:

    1. Physically harming yourself
    2. Thinking about suicide or self-harm
    3. Expressing thoughts of suicide or self harm (in this case, to someone not appropriately qualified by either profession or personal relationship to deal with them)

    There’s a school of thought that says 2 & 3 don’t matter “if they’re just for attention”; that is, the person doesn’t have a real intention to hurt themselves or doesn’t go on to hurt themselves.

    The thing is, ALL THREE MATTER. If someone is thinking about suicide or self-harm, those thoughts are harmful in and of themselves, and need to be taken seriously regardless of whether they express a real intent. Even if it’s “for attention”: someone who talks about suicide and self harm “for attention”, needs attention. Attention is not an illegitimate thing to want.

    And Pam matters! It’s not just “what if he hurts himself and I couldn’t stop him”: her distress at hearing these things is absolutely real and matters. Her goal here shouldn’t just be, “how do I help him in case he hurts himself”. “I need to be able to work without someone telling me about their suicidal and self-harm thoughts” is ALSO a completely legitimate and reasonable thing to want.

    If that has an effect on the advice, it’s that it’s ok to tell Toby *even if* he’s Michael’s friend, because Pam isn’t telling him a secret about Michael, she is telling him a very real and important fact about her working environment and the fact that it’s a scary and stressful place right now. You should b able to rely on Toby to take action regardless if his friendship with Michael: that’s his job. And whilst it’s great that Pam wants respects Michael’s privacy, she should not do that at the expense of her own mental health or working environment. Please encourage her to see this as something where she’s allowed to act on her own behalf, not just looking to do a altruistic thing to help Michael. IMO it makes some of the options easier.

    1. Pen keeper*

      Yes, all of this! And, it might also make it easier to re-frame it as just the natural consequences of Michael´s actions. No matter if he has the actual intention of hurting himself, he decided to talk about it with Pam, and so he took the action himself to put this information out there, knowing full well (because I would assume he is not a stupid guy) that people cannot sit alone on this kind of information. If it would be so detrimental for him to have HR/his boss know about that he has these thoughts, then he should not have talked about it at work (yes, I get that he doesn´t have much of a social life, but still).

      I know it´s always a lot blurrier when you are in the situation yourself, but it´s not about whether Pam is the one taking action here, because Michael already did so by telling her about it, and her forwarding this information to someone that can help (Toby?) is just one step in the chain of events that Michael started.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      +1 to all of this. Plus a reminder that making threats of self-harm “for attention” is often a way of trying to communicate just how bad your mental health currently is, but in a way that you can plausibly deny. It is a symptom in its own right that things are no going well.

    3. I'm just here for the cats*

      I would say Toby is in a very good position to know that Michael has suicidal thoughts BECAUSE he is his friend. I think it would be more awkward if he was just someone in HR.

    4. WFH with Cat*

      Thank you for this response. You covered a lot of aspects that some of us (myself included) might not have thought of or picked up on. *appreciation*

    5. Quantum Hall Effect*

      someone who talks about suicide and self harm “for attention”, needs attention. Attention is not an illegitimate thing to want.

      Thank you for this

  13. Bagpuss*

    Re: #2 – I agree that Pam absolutely should be speaking to HR.

    This is something which they need to know, both about Michael and for Pam’s own sake, as he is putting her in a really difficult position and one which impacts her working environment.

    Hopefully, Toby will be professional in how he deal with it but if he is not, due to his friendship with Michael, that’s absolutely on him, it is not Pam’s fault nor is it her responsibility to navigate.
    If Pam feels that she cannot speak to Toby then she needs to speak to Michael’s own boss, but she she needs to peak to someone in authority .

    It would also be perfectly fine for her to speak to Michael in the moment to encourage him to confide in his wife and his own doctor, and to offer him links for relevant resources, if she feels she can, but those are not things which are Pam’s responsibility.

    Finally – don’t think of it as ‘Michael may only be doing this for attention’ – that makes it appear as though it’s not real or serious. It may be that this is Michael’s way of reaching out because he recognizes he needs help, saying (in effect) “I’m not OK and I need help” is serious – focus on that fact that it is about the fact that he is not OK, not about what he may or may not do as a result of that.

  14. TimeTravlR*

    Sometimes we just have to do what’s right. And in LW 2’s case, talking to Toby is what’s right. Michael might get upset with Pam but that’s too bad.
    True story: My son’s friend was talking in a roundabout way about suicide. Son cued into what was he thought was actually being said and chose to go to the school guidance counselor. The counselor called in the friend and his parents. Friend indeed had been planning suicide but this got him the help he needed.
    My son was concerned about how this would impact the friendship but he decided better for his friend to live and them not be friends than for this to happen. Spoiler alert: They are still friends. And things are much better for the young man.
    Always always always say something.

    1. Harper the Other One*

      When I was writing a piece for my work about teen suicide prevention I came across an excellent phrase: a mad friend is better than a dead friend.

  15. Bubbles*

    #1: I’ve been there in a way, except it was at a university of graduate students who couldn’t be professional to save their lives. The only difference if they thought a STUDENT was having an affair with a professor to the point of putting it on a PowerPoint presentation during their annual formal dinner. The student was devastated as she was engaged. The catch was that I was the one involved with the professor (not a student, but a low level faculty member) and no one had a darn clue what the truth was. I tried to shut down the nastiness whenever I got the chance, but the dean wouldn’t do anything about it.
    I’m so sorry this is happening.

    1. SweetestCin*

      re: the PowerPoint presentation – what in the name of Mean Girls level bullshit was this?!? They publicly “outed” an affair and were completely in error, if I understood that correctly? Please say there were ramifications for these arseholes.

      1. WFH with Cat*

        + 10,000

        I can hardly imagine … At a formal annual dinner. For a University. There were very likely donors and high-ranking leadership present, so how in the world did they think that would go over? Even if in the context of a fun public “roasting,” outing a rumored affair would be completely, absolutely, impossibly wrong. (Heck, outing a proven, acknowledged affair would still be wrong. There is just no excuse.)

        1. quill*

          A “roast” is about “hey, do you remember the time Geology George put so many rock samples in the back of the van that it broke down on the highway?” and other work related but LIGHTHEARTED and NOT PERSONALLY DAMAGING snafus.

          A roast about people’s sex lives, orientations, medical history, etc. is just bullying at a fancy dinner.

    2. Dwight Schrute*

      Wha… I’m speechless! What did they put in the PowerPoint?? How terrible for everyone involved

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I’ve been in higher ed for 15 years and I’ve never seen or heard of this level of nope. WTF, that’s just gross. I wouldn’t be “devastated” if I was that woman, I’d be making a SCENE at the dinner over a POWERPOINT!

        1. quill*

          Not just higher ed, a coach at my high school was in the news for coordinating an awards ceremony for her athletes that gave out mock awards based on their bodily appearance and sex lives a few years back.

          It was baffling and there were MANY alumnuses not-entirely-jokingly planning to TP her house.

  16. Sleepless*

    #2, excellent choices for names for the boundary-stomping boss, the helpful admin, and the useless HR. This was one of the easiest stories to follow I’ve read here in awhile. :-)

    1. Rainbow Unicorn*

      Ngl given the gravity of the situation, referencing The Office felt a bit icky to me…

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Oh – I just thought that OP picked random names…..but then I don’t get time to watch “prime time tv” because my shift at work ends after all those shows have gone off.

  17. Shirley Keeldar*

    OP #4: I think you should ask New Director if she’d like you to confirm all of her instructions with her boss or grandboss, as that seems to be the new procedure. And to hold off on taking any action until you’ve done so.

    I mean, don’t. But enjoy thinking about it a little if you’d like.

  18. Exo*

    OP2- My advice is going to differ somewhat from Alison’s here. I work in mental health and a lot of my work is around advocating for people who are involuntarily hospitalized due to mental health concerns. Direct your boss to HR, his wife or doctor, EAP if you have one, and whatever crisis line in local to your county (these tend to leave people on hold less and have better insight to available resources than the national suicide line). Let him know you can’t be a listening board for this. And I’d you decide to tell HR or anyone else, tell your boss that you’re talking to them. Like others mentioned if can feel like a huge breach of trust and you owe him the courtesy of knowing first-hand who has information about his mental health.

    1. Exo*

      Actually, thinking about it a little more the EA should not involve HR with this. If she’s going to tell someone it should be boss’s wife. Involving someone’s workplace in their mental health (or any medical information) without their consent is a pretty horrible thing to do. The fear/concern around the potential of suicide is very real and justified, and it shouldn’t be an excuse to treat someone like a child by taking away their ability to handle their own affairs as they choose to. Get in contact with his wife, who will know better than any friend or HR rep how to best support her husband.

      I know this flies in the face of Alison’s usual advice that coworkers should not be contacting family members, but I think preserving as much of someone’s privacy (especially for medical/mental health) as possible and respecting that even suicidal people have the capacity to make decisions for themselves is more important in this case.

      1. Forrest*

        I quite strongly disagree with this, because it is something that is happening *at work*, and involves Pam. Michael vocalising his suicidal and self-harm thoughts to his staff isn’t “his own affairs” any more: it is now very much part of Pam’s working environment. This needs to be escalated to someone who has the power to change what is happening in the work environment, whether that involves directly addressing Michael’s need for medical treatment or doing more to support Pam from its effects.

        Michael’s wife does not have the power to protect Pam from retribution, nor the ability to make Michael get medical treatment or sick leave, nor the ability to address how he addresses Pam in the workplace. Toby has the power to do all of these things.

        We all owe one another discretion and care around mental health, but when someone discloses suicidal or self-harm to someone they manage and have power over, that person does not owe them confidentiality.

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          I agree with Forest. It would be inappropriate for her to go to michaels wife. For one, we don’t know what their relationship is like. Has she met his wife?
          If she did go to his wife Michael could very easily blow it off. “oh she misunderstood a comment I made” or “she must be angry about pulling her off of X plan and now is just trying to get me in trouble.” Granted he could say these things at HR too, but a good HR person would keep an eye and ear out for how Michael treats Pam.

      2. Koala dreams*

        I’m not sure how this advice relates to the situation in the letter. The boss didn’t tell his wife but told his employee. He already involved his workplace. I don’t think it would be wrong to tell the wife if Pam thinks it’s a good idea, but it would have nothing to do with “respecting that even suicidal people have the capacity to make decisions for themselves”.

      3. Observer*

        but I think preserving as much of someone’s privacy (especially for medical/mental health) as possible and respecting that even suicidal people have the capacity to make decisions for themselves is more important in this case.

        Maybe he has the capacity, maybe he doesn’t. That’s not for Pam to decide. All she knows is that he he at risk and she has absolutely no ability to evaluate how high that risk actually is. Given that reality I think it’s ridiculous to expect her to prioritize his current privacy over his actual life.

        If he’s competent to make appropriate decisions for himself, then he should NOT have chosen to dump this information on her.

        1. Soggy Taco*

          “If he’s competent to make appropriate decisions for himself, then he should NOT have chosen to dump this information on her.”

          That’s quite a stretch. It might be an extreme topic, but it’s not that far removed from people who complain about their physically abusive spouses but refuse to leave them. Should they be considered mentally incompetent too?

        2. Exo*

          I absolutely agree that he should not have told her. It’s boundary crossing and inappropriate. Unfortunately competent people make bad decisions all the time, but they should still be treated with respect, dignity, and kindness.

          It is usually super valuable to follow workplace norms/chains of command at work. And I think mental health crisis is one of the exceptions where is make sense to put workplace relationships aside for a moment and remember we’re a interacting with real people, not just roles like “boss”. Crisis response requires a different course of action than inappropriate workplace conduct does, and if someone is worried about somebody who is possibly in crisis then they need to set aside “workplace mode” for a minute and switch over to crisis response instead. Workplace norms and addressing the inappropriate conduct of boundary crossing can come later, once he is actually safe.

    2. Observer*

      Like others mentioned if can feel like a huge breach of trust and you owe him the courtesy of knowing first-hand who has information about his mental health.

      Nope. She doesn’t owe him that at all.

      Either he’s at a point where he really can’t help himself. In which case Pam needs to do what she can to get him help, but that doesn’t include an obligation to make her life more difficult than it already is. Or he is perfectly competent and capable of making his own choices and directing his actions. In which case he is choosing to burden Pam with his issues. He doesn’t get to dump this kind of information on her -something TOTALLY outside of her role and outside of any reasonable expectations – and then expect her to make an effort to keep his information secret.

  19. Oof*

    #1- I’m not sure how I would feel about someone I was training talking to me about preserving our reputations. Hopefully this won’t happen again, but if it does follow alisons advice, but don’t ask to change your training schedule. I’d ignore it entirely.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Agreed. The strange looks from coworkers may have been more related to the OP acting strangely with Sansa than to the original bad-taste “joke”. Women don’t actually need to preserve their “virtuous” reputations anymore.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      You win the thread. Just when I though I was over Macho Grande…

  20. RagingADHD*

    OP2, Pam needs to talk to David Wallace.

    That’s not just a joke. If the microcosm of her office is dysfunctional enough to earn parallels from The Office, surely there is someone level-headed a tier (or two) up who is holding things together.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      Not to get morbid, but at first i thought you meant David Foster Wallace, the writer who also took his own life

  21. Long Furby*

    #5, I was recently navigating a job change in a relatively small industry and got to the referral stage. I gave two previous supervisors and a current coworker. After they were called, I was asked for a follow-up call and directly asked why I didn’t offer the hiring committee my current supervisor’s information unprompted. I was a little caught off guard, but tried to levelly explain that I didn’t tell my supervisor I was job hunting and my employer was in the midst of layoffs, so I was trying to avoid putting myself in a vulnerable situation (or something to that effect). They indicated that had researched my employer enough on their own to be aware of this situation and had taken it upon themselves to call around to people they thought might know me outside of the references I provided, which it seems like definitely could have included my current employer, but perhaps the layoffs gave them pause as well. They seemed satisfied enough with my explanation to offer me the job, but all this is to say – even though Alison is right, there are definitely employers who will step out of the norms. My opinion on the matter from here on out is now better safe than sorry!

    1. Lauren*

      #5 – Honestly, I never get the cover letter – only the resume from HR. So stating that you want confidentiality doesn’t help in my case. I have to pull teeth to get the cover letter, and I discovered that most of the candidates didn’t even apply to my open req. They applied to a different department, but stupid HR thinks – all marketing is the same – even though we are an agency and we legit have 15 very different departments. I had no idea why these candidates seemed so uninterested and I finally knew why – they never applied! Half of the resumes were just collected from a school event too and they needed reminding of what company I was calling from – 7-8 months after the fact.

  22. I'm just here for the cats*

    #1 I feel bad for both of you.
    It is the 21st century why can we (as a society) not recognize that this is so damaging to people. Why must we think that if a man and a woman are spending time together that they must be having an affair while ignoring that they are colleagues and that one is training the other. This is so damaging, and especially for women.
    People should be able to complete their training and not have everyone think they are having an affair, just because the trainer is the opposite sex.

  23. Observer*

    Going to someone at work to express these concerns could cause Michael to feel like she betrayed his confidence.

    And the downside to that is? I’m serious. She’s not betraying his confidence, so there is nothing for her to feel bad about. On the other hand, if you are worried that he might make her life miserable over this, that’s a good reason to go to HR rather than anyone else. Not to gossipy Meredith, but to Toby. If Toby is at all professional, they will handle it appropriately, even though Boss and Toby are work friends.

    If you are concerned that HR is going to be really unprofessional about it, then it might be worth your wife’s while to start searching. I realize that “just get a new job” is easier said than done, but your wife’s skill set should make her pretty employable and she doesn’t need a new job THIS MINUTE. This is a plan B in case things don’t go well.

  24. Rage*

    #4 – wow, I had something similar happen to me once. I was informed that a peer, Sansa, had been promoted to assistant supervisor of the department, and I was told “you follow her direction as if she were Catelyn (the supervisor)”.

    One day, a customer came in and, in the middle of completing his paperwork with him, a surprising issue arose (think: there was no “end date” for this service). As I started to ask for more information, Sansa came up and said, “Oh, are you [insert name here]?” Upon his affirmative response, she turned to me, “I know all about this situation. I’ll take it from here.” OK, sure. I left her to it and assisted other customers. No problem, right?

    Wrong. Because my name was on the paperwork (since I started it), when it came to light that the situation Sansa “knew all about” was something she had done without any approval from higher up (the “no end date” was a major problem), and I GOT BLAMED FOR IT. Actually got a formal written performance notice in my file because I “did the service without an end date”. I explained what had happened, that Sansa had told me she knew the situation and would handle it from here, and she was, after all, my supervisor? Why was I being punished for following the seemingly-reasonable request from my supervisor?

    Because I should have known it wasn’t right. Yep. I should have somehow known that she had done this on her own, and immediately checked in with HER grand-boss to notify her of the issue. I was told that, going forward, I should always clear ANY request or situation that is out of the ordinary with the top manager.

    That started some malicious compliance on my part that REALLY ticked off the top manager (calling her on a Saturday morning to clear that I was told to work in a different area than I was originally assigned, and that’s out of the ordinary so I need to clear this with you…), but I just waved a copy of my write-up in her face with those very instructions and there wasn’t anything she could do. Finally, she told me I really just needed to use my best judgement in these situations. (Seriously.) I stated that I *had* done that originally, but was written up for it anyway, so either the write-up goes or I continue to follow the procedures as outlined.

    The write-up was destroyed.

    1. AnonInCanada*

      Reading your comment made me shit-faced grin from ear to ear! Bravo! Maybe you should also share this with the r/MaliciousCompliance subreddit. I’m sure you’ll get plenty of upvotes!

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      Good for you for doing EXACTLY as they told you to do. I love malicious compliance!!

  25. Unicornia*

    For OP2-I’m so sorry that your wife has found herself in this position. As an LCSW there are steps that I would encourage her to take. 1. Tell Toby ASAP, 2. Tell his wife ASAP. 3. If her boss starts talking to her about this again then she should ask him if he is currently feeling like taking his life. I know this may be difficult, but it would be much harder for her if he actually does commit suicide and she took no action. There would be lifelong emotional consequences for her and, of course, for him. If he says yes, then she needs to call 911 and tell them that she is with someone who is feeling suicidal and has a plan. This type of situation can’t wait. Giving him referrals, if he is at this point, most likely won’t help. ((hugs))

  26. Nanani*

    #1 – it’s probably damaging Sansa’s reputation more than yours (assuming you’re a man because this sort of garbage rumour is usually heteronormative)

    Can you just talk up Sansa in general, when it makes work sense to do so?
    Like when the thing she trains you on comes up, mention how great she was with it, that sort of thing.
    Help create a “Sansa is good at her job” image.

    And if anyone responds off-colour you have a chance to snip it in the bud.

    1. Lizzo*

      +1 to this. OP1, if you are a white, cisgender, straight male, then you have the power to shut all this crap down before it damages Sansa’s reputation. Do it, and do it now.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        He doesn’t inherently have the power to shut it down.

        However, it is decent and proper to try to do so.

        Regardless of the demographics.

  27. Meep*

    #4 I had something else in mind when I read the first half of it but it might be applicable.

    We have a manager who gets ticked off if you email the boss anything. It doesn’t matter if you are responding to him, she will get annoyed. She is insecure and doesn’t feel like she is in charge, but hides behind the shield of “he is too busy to worry about this.” (Even for stuff he explicitly asked for!)*

    I wonder if she got into this position and feels the need to “prove herself” while feeling a bit insecure she wasn’t included in the process. I would give her grace and copy her on aallll the emails so she is “in the loop”. Chances are she won’t bother to read most of them and will meddle in the ones she does read without knowing what the heck is going on (again from experience), but she cannot fault you for her lack of ignorance.

    *she is also a bit of a gossip and very two-faced so she thinks everyone is talking behind her back because she is talking crap about everyone else.

  28. Lizzo*

    OP1: I’ll reiterate another comment above that the most damage that will be done by this gossip is to Sansa’s reputation, so if this is going to get shut down, it’s up to you to do the heavy lifting on that.

    It’s a damn shame that we live in a society where men and women can’t be friends–nay, can’t be great colleagues who are in very in sync with each other–without people assuming romance is involved. Unfortunately, unless your workplace has a “zero tolerance for gossip” culture that is enforced by leadership, you’ll need to prioritize dispelling the gossip as best you can and maintaining unquestionable professional appearances over cultivating this relationship.

  29. ElleKay*

    OP4- It also sounds like this might be the new boss trying to “take control” or “exhibit leadership” by proving that she’s now in charge instead of your old boss/deputy director.

    If this is mostly just talk (“You should have checked that with me!”) rather than actions (“You’ll have to re-do X in a fully new system since that’s what I would have wanted”) this might be display behavior (think of silver-back gorillas drumming their chests to prove who’s bigger and better) and a verbal acknowledgment might be enough until she gets settled (“Ok, sorry about that; I’ll be sure to check with you in the future” Which, *of course* you will since she’s the boss now but maybe she needs to hear that?)

    If it’s actions that she wants changed… this sucks and is much more annoying.

    OP5- Yes, what Alison says! I looked at a resume this week from someone that works at an org I know well and had to stop myself from calling my contacts there since I don’t know if they know she’s applying to other jobs. That said, if you get an interview and reach the “calling references” stage sometime this flies out the window. If I’m sure enough of you as a candidate that I’m moving forward and there are connections between your resume and my network there is no requirement or expectation that I ONLY call the references you provide.
    So, if they tell you they’ll be checking your references next, *then* you want to be sure to say “My current employer doesn’t know I’m looking so please don’t call them.”

    (Some places will, eventually, require a contact from your current employer but they *should* be willing to do that last as an extra precaution for you)

  30. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

    LW 2 — whew, that is heavy. I mention the following as a thought, possibly for Toby, since he’s a friend already, and especially since Michael was just seen by his doctor. A few years ago, my mother started dropping comments similar to Michael’s. My sister and I decided that I would call her doctor and say, “I know you can’t tell me anything, but I need you to know that X is going on.” According to my mom a few days later, the doctor called her in for a “follow up” and broached the subject then after saying something like “I noticed you’re seeming a bit anxious/sad/not yourself…”. She got help and is doing much better. Perhaps this could be a good way to help get the ball rolling.

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