a senior staffer is inviting junior staff to her house for drinking parties

A reader writes:

One of my senior staff members is going through a divorce. She’s been open about how she’s happy to be dating and even shares stories about her dates. This has started to cross the line of what is appropriate to share in the work place (lots of details and very long, drawn-out conversations are happening).

She has also been inviting lower level employees to her house to drink. She is not their manager, but she does assign them work at times and is senior staff, meaning she does has some authority.

I know I need to talk with her about the oversharing and the parties. My question is, what do I say? I can’t control what my employees do during their free time, but I’m concerned this dynamic is unhealthy.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Job applicants using a company’s live chat service
  • Hiring for jobs that are always open
  • Approaching employees of a competitor that’s shutting down
  • College students keep addressing me as “Mrs.”

{ 203 comments… read them below }

  1. Firecat*


    I remember this transition being odd because in highschool it was overwhelmingly Mrs. so and so. It became my default until college when I got a kind reminder that Ms. is the way to go unless otherwise specified (but frankly outside of a few regions people prefer no title at all. Just their names)

    1. quill*

      After elementary (went to high school in the ’00s) we were mostly told to go with Ms.

      Though that was also about when you started getting teachers of a certain fame / infamy who were known as The Warbleworth instead of Ms. Warbleworth.

      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        I graduated from high school in the 90s, and at that time, almost all of the women teachers were Mrs except for the youngest ones. I think it’s a lot more common for adults to be unmarried now than it was back then.

        1. quill*

          I think it may also be regional. The older you got (when and where I went to school) the more likely you wee to get teachers who were significantly older (more likely to be divorced, widowed) had experience in other industries (slightly more likely than people of the same age who had only ever been teachers to never be married) or to be men!

          Also the younger unmarried teachers were more likely to go by Ms. because as the age gap narrows between you and your students, some form of formality might help them take you seriously.

        2. DataSci*

          It’s also very common for adult women to decide that they don’t want to be treated as though “Are you married?” is the first thing anyone needs to know about them.

    2. M_Lynn_K*

      Yeah, also at that point adults switch from being authority figures to being your peers! When that happens, it’s much more common to use folks’ first names. Pointing this out is a great learning moment for young adults to be conscious about the switch. During college is a weird murky area with professors and college administrators, but they should definitely be attempting the change as soon as they graduate.

      1. Yorick*

        In college, always default to Dr. rather than Ms/Mrs. Sure, some aren’t PhDs, but you’d rather get it wrong that way than the other way.

        1. quill*

          Rule of thumb: if you’re a freshman, it’s Doctor or Professor. If you’re a senior, it’s “Hey Warblesworth” and if you’re in grad school it’s “Hey Waukeen check out this horrible bit of lab gunk I fished out of the drain!”

          1. H2*

            Hmmmm, I disagree. Grad students can absolutely call their advisor and some profs by their first name. But undergrads should all be using Dr, period. I’m a woman in a male-dominated STEM field and maybe I’m sensitive to it, but a senior isn’t really different from a freshman in terms of their relationship with me. “Hey Lastname” would get a senior some serious side eye from me.

            1. quill*

              I mean, I was in a small college and in a relatively informal program, so maybe that’s the difference?

              Hey Warblesworth did tend to be more of a “professors we worked with in the field or were direct lab assistants to” thing. But because my whole cohort did field sampling together we had a lot of “hey warblesworth what kind of fish is this?” moments.

              1. AnonPi*

                Same with me, but rocks instead of fish, lol Only one insisted being addressed by Dr., one used Dr. with the non-majors and his first name with the geo majors, the rest of the profs went by first name. We were a small program too, and about half the students were as old or older than the profs, so I think that made a difference.

                Like with never assuming a woman is pregnant, never assume you can call a professor by their first name. Always wait for permission.

            2. UKDancer*

              I think it depends on your university. I went to a good red brick and we wee definitely all on first name terms with everyone from the chair of the department downwards. I think the main thing was that we used first names with everyone regardless of gender. I think the ethos was “we are all adults sharing the journey of education.” The only person we called by a title was the visiting German academic who insisted on being Professor Dr Dr Schmidt. We laughed at him but it was his right to choose it if that’s what he wanted. If any of the others had insisted on our using Dr Z I imagine we would have done but it would have been anomalous.

              Mind you at the time everyone called the chancellor of the university by a diminutive for his first name despite the fact he had a knighthood because it was his preference. So I don’t know if it’s typical of British universities.

              1. Anomalous*

                My graduate program was very informal — professors used their first names exclusively with grad students and post docs. And these were very high powered folks — National Academies, Royal Society, and even some future Nobel laureates.

                We had a German professor with some German post-docs. When they spoke in English, they always used his first name, but when they switched to German, it was always “Herr Professor Doctor Lastname”, because using his first name in German just didn’t seem right.

                1. Linley*

                  When I was at university in Austria, it definitely was Herr/Frau Professor Doktor. Even with the ones I had close relationships with. To do otherwise would have felt inappropriate.

              2. Forrest*

                First names are typical in every (British) university I have worked in, but my partner lectures in German and has been a strong proponent of being Frau Doktor Name + Sie with her students just because otherwise it’s a *big* culture shock when they go to Germany and have to get used to Siezening their lecturers.

              3. Magenta*

                Same here, at my red brick uni for my bachelors and the newer London Uni I went to for my masters 10 years latter it was always first names for everyone. I’ve not used title and surname for anyone since school, it seems so stuffy!

            3. Metadata minion*

              I think this varies a lot by college. Absolutely, you should default to Dr. if there’s any doubt, but I went to the sort of tiny liberal arts college where we frequently had freshman asking “Where is Dr. Jones’s office?” and getting a reply of “Dr…OH! You mean Indiana! Yeah, third door on your left; watch out for the spike pit”.

            4. Ace in the Hole*

              This depends a lot on regional, institutional, and departmental culture. My experience has been at relatively small public schools in rural parts of the west coast. The overall culture here is very informal, which carries into the schools. And the fields I was studying (art and wildlife/environmental science) tend to be fairly informal as well with lots of studio time or fieldwork… many of the professors told us they preferred to be called by their first name, my faculty research advisor introduced herself to me as “Daniela, I’m only Dr. Warblesworth for publications and conferences.”

              This also may depend on the age of the students though. I’m 30 and tend to speak with professors similar to how I would speak with a professional mentor or senior colleague. When I was 18-20, I felt much more of a visceral gulf in status between me and a teacher – I would have been uncomfortable using a professor’s first name even if they asked me to.

          2. X-Man*

            In my senior year most of my professors said some variation of “PLEASE call me Linda, I’m only Dr. Smith to the freshman…”

            1. ecnaseener*

              And it was great when they actually said it, because then you had permission!
              The ones who never said anything and signed emails with just their initials…gah! How is a 20-year-old supposed to know when they’ve Reached That Point with their advisor?

          3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Worked in a lab, can confirm.

            (We even ran a PCR gel on one particularly interesting bit of gunk to try to figure out what it was. Still no idea.)

        2. H2*

          Yes, or “Professor” if appropriate.

          I try to explain to my students that “Mrs” is a social title, not a professional one. I go by “Dr” professionally but “Mrs” socially (in my field only certain types of people use Dr socially). I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the times that I’ve been called Mrs, honestly (but I also live in the South where it’s overwhelmingly common for kids to call adult women “Miss Firstname”.

          1. Filosofickle*

            The “if appropriate” part is interesting to me. When I started college (a long long time ago) my campus had a weird culture where you could only call someone a Professor if they had the official title and many of my instructors didn’t have the title or a PhD. We couldn’t even call them Professor if they were an Associate Professor. Only a full Professor. I remember instances of us calling instructors Professor by default my first year and they would awkwardly say, I’m not a Professor please call me X. In my program, it was all first names but that wasn’t true across the board.

            It was odd. Some sort of sharply enforced hierarchy and competition among the faculty.

            1. Lizzo*

              Having worked in academia, and having been a student at several institutions over the years, can confirm that this weird culture is not limited to your campus.

            2. Foxgloves*

              So to me, this isn’t a weird culture thing because here in the UK, “Professor” is a very specific rank and you absolutely do NOT call someone Professor unless they are of that level. It’s like how you wouldn’t call someone Dr until they’ve achieved their PhD- it just continues up the ladder. But then, here you are explicitly told to use first names for all faculty, because it isn’t school- you’re all adults, so why do some go by Title Surname and others just first name?

        3. Nesprin*

          I tell my students that Dr. NesprinLastName, Professor NesprinLastName, and NesprinFirstName (for upper level+ lab classes with a ton of interaction) are all fine, and Miss, Mrs., or Ms. NesprinLastName are absolutely not.

          1. noncommital pseudonym*

            The ones that drive me crazy are the student that email me saying, “Hi Mrs. Pseudo, Dr. Such and Dr. So (my male colleagues) said….”

            My Ph.D. is as good as theirs, and, in fact, I’m the Dept. Chair, and they report to *ME*.

            It happens relatively routinely and makes me *crazy*.

        4. Rachel in NYC*

          That’s always been my position. Better to call someone with a Masters, Dr. than someone with a Ph.D., Mr/Mrs/Ms- it’s fine if they don’t care. But if you do…it’s never worth it.

        5. Lenora Rose*

          I think in my university, the default was “Professor”, not “Doctor”, because the folks with Masters Degrees who taught classes were professors and were not doctors and informally, even a TA who was teaching a class alone could be counted a professor by the more general definition.

          Either was preferable to Mr./Ms./Mx., though.

          1. After 33 years ...*

            Same at our place … some non-PhD ‘professors’ have been teaching for many years.
            It’s better if the Head/Chair/Senior people use the same form of address for all their colleagues, regardless of their seniority/gender/anything else, when they speak to students (especially first-years). This can help with the pervasive issue raised by “noncommittal” above.

        6. Birdie*

          I generally default to “Professor” unless I knew for sure they have a PhD. I started that as an undergrad but continued it into my career in higher education because I personally find it awkward to correct people when they call me Dr. (I don’t teach but it’s not unreasonable to assume someone in my position would have a doctorate, and I do not.) If we are talking about an instructor, “Professor [Last name]” covers all bases.

    3. Teapot Repair Technician*

      There was a time when “Mrs.” was used for women in professional leadership positions even if they had never been married. See “Mrs. Patmore” and “Mrs. Hughes” of Downton Abbey.

      Is it possible the students at this college arrived in a time machine from the 1920s?

      1. LunaLena*

        In a timely coincidence, today’s edition of Now I Know (a daily short article of random trivia I subscribe to) was titled “Where’d the R in ‘Mrs.’ Come From?” and explained that “Mrs.” is actually a contraction of “mistress,” the counterpart to “master,” as in someone who has mastered a subject (the word “metier” derives from the same root) or is the master of a domain. Similarly, “mistress” was the term for a woman who was a leader in her field or domain, and when “master” evolved into “mister” and then “Mr.”, “mistress” became “Mrs.”, which then became “missus,” as pronounced in lower class dialects. So calling a woman in a professional leadership profession “Mrs.” is technically correct, and predates the 1920s by several centuries, even though we don’t pronounce it with the “t” and “r” any more.

        The contraction “Mrs.” was used mostly for married women, to differentiate them from the more general “mistress,” and eventually “Ms.” was coined in 1901 by a newspaper to prevent people from addressing women improperly.

      2. Firecat*

        Don’t you think the more plausible situation is that most of their teachers were married women and this they got use to defaulting to that? It’s not 1920s old fashion to refer to your English teacher as Mrs. Last name. I was doing this in 2006. My friend who taught until 2020 also went by Mrs. Lastname.

      3. Ace in the Hole*

        This is hardly time-machine levels of dated. I graduated high school in 2009. Many of my high school teachers went by “Mrs. Lastname,” and it was far more common than “Miss Lastname” or “Ms. Lastname.”

        This is in a fairly casual part of the US too.

    4. Library Lady*

      I have a couple younger employees (high school age) that refer to me as Mrs. Library Lady and while Mrs. is technically correct, it’s not my preferred title, and we use first names at my job anyway. It’s taken a few instances of me having to tell them to explicitly use my first name to break the habit, and even then I sometimes have to remind them.

      1. DeweyDecibal*

        Same here! We’ve settled on Miss First Name for the ones who really can’t get over it. I have this problem with some of my sweet old southern ladies too- first name for their boss just seems to be a huge hang up for them, even if I’m decades younger.

      2. Anon for this, colleagues read here*

        When my son was in elementary school, the kids would call me “Mrs. Wakeen’s Mom”. (His dad was “Mr. Wakeen’s Dad.”) Yes, it’s the south. I thought it was charming.

        For family friends when I was growing up (OK, boomer!), it was Mrs. Sarah or Mr. Dave. Any other adult it was Miss or Mrs or Mr Lastname.

        For my students (freshmen), I tell they can call me Firstname, Ms. Lastname, Dr. Lastname, or Dr. First-initial, whatever they feel more comfortable with. They are not allowed to “Hey” me, and they can’t call me Mrs. Lastname (that’s my mother’s name).

    5. Double A*

      As a teacher I get Mrs. a lot even though I prefer Ms. I’m married but kept my last name so I don’t think Mrs. is technically correct but defining a woman’s title by her relationship to a man is so dated anyway.

      I don’t usually correct my students but maybe I will just so they know that Ms. is the best default.

      1. Majnoona*

        I correct them especially since I and other female faculty have noticed they never call male faculty Mr. And you’re always safe with “Professor”

        1. Esmeralda*

          Yes, and they need to learn to call people by their preferred name. Don’t Mrs. someone who wants to be Dr.

    6. Koalafied*

      but frankly outside of a few regions people prefer no title at all. Just their names

      A few days ago there was a mention on this blog about customer service reps asking, “May I call you ?” Whenever someone asks me that, my gut reaction is always something along the lines of, “…of course? that is literally what names are, they are what you call people??” for a few seconds before my thinking brain kicks in and I realize they’re asking about using Firstname instead of Title Lastname.

      1. Koalafied*

        Whoops, formatting fail – the question should have been, “May I call you Firstname?”

  2. STEM researcher*

    re “mrs” – another related dynamic is that in fields where PhDs are common, for some reason it’s a fairly common thing for students to default to “Dr” for men, but “Ms” for women, which is also icky. So if it’s that kind of field, telling students to default to using the correct title in an initial correspondence is also useful advice! (Most PhDs I know will then tell you to use first names, but I think using title in initial correspondence is a safe bet).

    1. Clisby*

      In my 27 years of working (as a computer programmer) for a nonprofit publisher of scientific information, first names were the norm. Most of the scientists working there had PhDs, but they’d have been laughed out of the place if they had insisted on being called “Dr. X.”

      I get that that can be a thing in academia, though.

      1. KHB*

        I’m a PhD-holder at a nonprofit that sounds similar to yours. To us, there’s a sharp line between people you work with regularly and people you don’t (usually because they’re outside the organization). To all my regular coworkers, I’m KH, and it would not go over well for me to insist on being called Dr. B. But if you don’t know me and you’re emailing me for the first time, etiquette would have you address me as Dr. B.

        But this is neither here nor there, because LW5 says she’d be fine with the students calling her by her first name. It’s just that if they’re going to use a title, they should use the correct one.

      2. Mantis Tobaggan, PhD*

        I have a PhD and work outside academia. I’ll only insist on Dr. if someone addresses me as Mrs. Even if I was married I’d be offended, Mrs. just feels uncomfy.

        1. DataSci*

          SAME. First name or Ms is fine. If they want to go for the “all that matters is whether you’re married” approach, they can use Dr. instead.

      3. Artemesia*

        There is a reverse snobbery with ‘Dr.’ for academic degrees. Places which everyone is assumed to have a doctorate usually don’t use it and that goes triple socially. Small colleges where many people don’t have doctorates make a big deal out of it and often they are used socially as well.

        A research organization where the scientists have doctorates would be a classic place where the title is not used except by the pretentious.

        If the person teaches then Professor is always appropriate — the various degrees of professorhood are not distinguished and adjunct. professors can use it too.

        1. Nina*

          I’m not in the US and something that American exchange students at my alma mater were VERY confused by is that here ‘Dr’ is always the safe assumption, but ‘Professor’ is NOT, because ‘Professor’ is an actual academic rank that is very hard to attain; it’s not just a generic descriptor for a person who teaches. In my country you cannot, cannot, be a Professor without first being a Dr, usually for many years.

    2. Justme, The OG*

      I work in a field in HIED with not a lot of female faculty. We have a lot of male adjuncts, too. They are almost always referred to as Doctor in emails and the female (who is a Dr) is addressed as Professor.

    3. NotBatman*

      Yes to the gender issue! I’m a female Ph.D. married to a male Ph.D., and I could paper a small house with the correspondence we’ve received for “Dr. and Mrs. Lastname.” I also get a ton of students calling me Ms. (which I don’t bother to correct) and Mrs. (which I do). Generally I just smile and say “it’s doctor” and then continue on with what I was saying to show them they don’t have to apologize, but they do have to remember.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes. My cousin and her husband are both (medical) doctors. They get a lo of stuff addressed to ‘Dr and Mrs S” (which is actually doubly wrong, as her husband is now a consultant which means that the convention is that he is Mr S, while she is currently still ‘Dr’ .

        1. Forrest*

          (only if he’s in surgery– Mr/Miss denote a surgical specialty, not reaching the level of consultant. All medical and psychiatry consultants are still Dr.)

    4. Foxgloves*

      I work in HE and get a lot of emails addressed to Prof Foxgloves or Dr Foxgloves, which I find deeply amusing as a) I don’t have a PhD and am certainly not a professor and b) I’m in the UK, where it’s more common to say Dr Surname or Prof Surname, so Prof FirstName is extra fun to me. It makes me sound like a character in Cluedo!

  3. Patrick*

    There’s nothing inherently wrong about employees getting together drinking outside of work. I would not say anything to her about this as you’re kind of crossing the line here

    1. Paige*

      I mostly agree, except for the fact that they’re being invited to her *house*. Getting drinks in a neutral/non-personal location is totally fine, but having people you oversee over for drinks at your house is crossing a line. Especially if when it’s possible that because they’re junior to her, they think they can’t say no to it.

    2. Nanani*

      But it’s a senior person inviting junior staff – do the junior people really feel they have room to say no? Do they think this is how business is supposed to work? DOES it work like that – as in, do people who say no get less preferred assignments or anything like that?

      It’s a flag.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I thought the same things you both did. If a more senior staff member invited me and a select few to their house, I’d worry that declining their ‘hospitality’ could come back to haunt me. I’d probably go because I would feel obligated, not because I wanted to. It’s a much more targeted invitation.

        If that same senior staff member sent out a memo saying, ‘Let’s have a team happy hour this Friday between 4 and 7 pm at Trixie’s Bar and Grill, hope to see you there…’ that’s different. No one is targeted, it’s a group event.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Exactly–as the more senior person, keeping the appearance of favoritism to a minimum is so important. You can do this by keeping events to public places, or limited, obvious reasons for hosting at your own home (like, “I have a fire pit, so I would like to host you all for a cookout”). Also, making them open to everyone at a certain level–so, all entry-level people in Marketing for an opportunity to ask questions and get to know their leadership–is more appropriate. And finally: limit the drinking! Things like a coffee afternoon or a board game night so people who don’t drink still feel able to avail themselves of the opportunity if they’re so inclined.

        2. Koalafied*

          Exactly. Senior staff can invite junior staff to an event with alcohol in their home, but the power dynamics dictate that this is inherently a Work Event and not a Social Event. I had a leader who hosted our holiday party in his home every year. But different standards of behavior and expectations apply to a Work Event than a Social Event. A Work Event requires more professionalism, and there may be a greater expectation that someone will attend even if only to “put in an appearance” for a much shorter duration than would usually be worth going to a whole place over. (“Ain’t no party like a Liz Lemon party, because a Liz Lemon party is mandatory.”)

      2. Pennilyn Lot*

        I mean, is it? Senior does not mean management. The dynamic at my workplace is similar to the one the LW describes, except I’m the junior employee. There are people at my work who are not my bosses but who are more senior than me and have the ability to assign work to me. We are also the same age and have similar interests and backgrounds and have naturally developed a friendship. The divorce talk might be inappropriate but there’s not really anything in the letter to suggest that the senior staff member is doing anything wrong in a socializing context, it sounds like having friends. Honestly it just seems like LW does not like this person – “drinking party” is rather judgmental language for what sounds like the not particularly scandalous or uncommon occurrence of adults having a drink together at someone’s home.

        1. Nanani*

          I mean, that’s why it’s a flag and not definite shady shenanigans. You flag something in order to look into the situation more and add information. Could be dislike, could be really shady.

      3. Sara without an H*

        This. The OP says that this Senior Person does have “some authority” over junior staff. While the SP may deny that she would penalize anybody who declined her invitations, the junior staff have no real way to know that.

        Some years ago, I worked for a Large State University (you’d recognize the name), where one department’s mixed-rank parties (tenured faculty, junior faculty, grad students) eventually blew up into sexual harassment complaints, law suits, and months of bad publicity. Admittedly academia is a different world, but I’d still have real questions about Senior Person’s judgement.

    3. Stina*

      If she’s inviting only junior employees and has any power over their career (reviews, wages, promotions, etc), this senior manager is creating a potential liability for the corporation. It also isn’t clear if these are large parties or small or very small ones which adds to the power inequality issues.

        1. Lynn*

          It sounds like that distinction could make a difference in some companies, but not in this one. She’s noted as a “senior staff, meaning she does has some authority” and she does have the authority to assign work.

    4. Teapot Repair Technician*

      I think it depends on what exactly a “drinking party” is. If someone invited me to a “drinking party,” I’d decline because it sounds like something that ends with everyone passed out on the floor.

      On the other hand, if “drinking party” is LW’s slightly overwrought way of describing a normal party, I see no problem with that.

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, I also wondered whether we’re talking about, like, a kegger (inappropriate), or a party where adults have a glass of wine (probably fine). “Drinking party” seems like an odd and judgmental way of putting it, and I wonder if the LW disapproves of alcohol in general and if that might be skewing their view of the whole thing.

        I mean, I don’t think any of this is IDEAL, since it could look like favoritism or junior staff could feel pressured to attend. But the presence or absence of alcohol in itself is not necessarily the problem and I think the LW should not focus on that if they talk to the senior staff person.

    5. New Mom*

      I had multiple jobs in my twenties where my coworkers and I drank with people senior to us. The time that it was a problem was when I worked at a place where all the coworkers would party at our job location after we were done working and we had to do this with our manager who was a JERK. They had kegs at the location and we could only have free beer with permission, and the permission only came if a manager was joining us (this seemed normal at the time – I was in my early 20s and loved the free beer perk).
      The manager was a jerk during working hours but a few times when we were all drinking together he was so awful and there was nothing to do. For a random example, one night he took my jacket and put it on and wouldn’t give it back to me so I ended up staying there a lot longer than I wanted to, and then he spilled red wine down my jacket and said he would pay to have it cleaned. But when I asked him about it in the following days he got huffy with me. We had no HR so really the only option was to quit.

  4. Lemon Zinger*

    I work with young people too and frequently get “Mrs.” or, more rarely, “Ms.” I respond to these emails with “Please call me Lemon!” and that usually resolves it. I don’t want anyone to use an honorific with me.

    While I love Alison’s script, I have been chastised at work for giving business advice to the young people we assist, so I don’t want that to happen again. (It was related to advising an individual to use a more professional email address— they were using something close to effyou @ yahoo dot com.)

  5. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Thank you for encouraging LW#5 to correct those who call her “Mrs.” I am divorced and “Mrs.” is a painful reminder of an unpleasant time in my life. “Ms.” is appropriate without getting into any part of my personal life.

  6. Meep*

    If she wasn’t already divorced, I would think this senior staff member belonged to us. Recently a client complained that she spent 2+ hours talking about hot firemen to them instead of business. I wouldn’t say anything about the social gatherings, because you have no say outside work, but I would maybe have HR tell her to pare down the inappropriate comments about men.

    1. Boof*

      Disagree that just because something happens outside of work, it’s out of limits; someone with authority doing drinks with junior staffers is a yellow flag for all kinds of things allison hints at in her answer (making jr employees feel pressured to join even if they don’t want to, potential for favoritism, potential for harassment, etc)
      I think all senior staff should be very careful about how the fraternize with those they have authority over and adding alcohol seems like a huge risk

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        That triggered my sense of danger, too. I couldn’t have backed my gut instinct up nearly as well as Alison articulated the problems with it, though.

        1. Stina*

          Especially as the LW didn’t say if they were large group parties that included other senior managers or if they were smaller parties with only a few (same?) juniors at a time (big big red flag)

        2. Stitching Away*

          I had a manager tell me that a going away event for a departing team member that was being held during work hours, with only employees invited, was not a work event, and thus there was nothing wrong with it being held during a time when I was the only person on the team when I couldn’t attend.

          And sure, if this was a one time thing, not a problem. Except in the entire time I worked there, there was not a single “social” work event that was held during a time I could attend. And it caused huge work problems for me, because I didn’t get the face time, in person or virtual, that everyone else on the team did.

      2. Meep*

        They should be careful, yes, and if something work related happens that needs to be addressed then it should be addressed but you cannot stop people from socializing outside of work, as questionable as it is. If they commit a crime or an ethical violation you, unfortunately, deal with it after the fact. Just like we cannot arrest people for thinking about stealing a car.

        The same coworker I mentioned above attempted to alienate my from all my coworkers and wouldn’t let me talk to them about even work-related things. She even told me to stop talking to my mother. She only wanted me talking to HER, HER, HER. So I get it. At the end of the day, as unsavaory as it is, you cannot control other people’s free time.

        1. Boof*

          Hmm, I think there’s a middle ground between “controlling people’s free time” / “arresting people for thinking about stealing a car” and “our policy is staff need to maintain a professional atmosphere and particularly senior staff when interacting with junior staff” – then issue a warning if things seem to be getting out of hand. Employers can also certainly discipline your coworker for making inappropriate demands of you and insist the behavior stop or they face increasing consequences.

  7. Elizabeth West*

    #5 — The woman in question may also be married but is using her previous name for a variety of reasons—she didn’t change it, she’s already established professionally under that name, etc. Ms is neutral and it’s just easier to default to it.

    I think Alison had a letter a while back about someone using Mrs. LastName in the workplace and it was pretty unusual.

    1. Clisby*

      Or maybe never changed her name. From time to time, people call me Mrs. X, when X is my last name but not my husband’s last name. Maybe this is old-fashioned etiquette, but it used to be that you used “Mrs. X” only for a married woman who had changed her name to match her husband’s, not for any married woman. Because the correct term was “Mrs. John Jones”, not “Mrs. Katie Jones.”

      1. doreen*

        I hate when that happens- especially since many people who call me Mrs. Jones know that my husband’s name is not Jones. It’s as if they think “Mrs.” either simply means “married” or is appropriate for all women over a certain age.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I am so curious about how this would work if your husband changes his name to yours! My husband did that, so could I technically be “Mrs. Fergus Green” even though he took my name? (I realize the answer is that that wasn’t supposed to ever happen and I never use Mrs. anyway, but I still want to know.)

        1. doreen*

          It worked that way for other name changes ( Houdini’s wife was known as Bess Houdini even though his birth name was Erik Weisz ) so I can’t see why not!

          1. Arabella Flynn*

            Likewise, the model Iman, newly-married to David Bowie (born David Jones), was asked once if she’d prefer to be Mrs Jones or Mrs Bowie. As I recall, she said either was fine “as long as you call me Mrs.”

            1. banoffee pie*

              ouch! The equivalent of French people calling you ‘vous’ coldly after you tried to call them ‘tu’. Cringe

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I think you’d just apply the married masculine title to the shared last name for him–Mr. Green. I don’t see why you wouldn’t be Mrs. Green as well–you’re married, and Green is your last name.

          However, if this were a real-life situation, I’d just ask each of you how you would like to be addressed. Anything but thou is on the table.

          I really dislike Mr. and Mrs. Fergus Green. A ladies’ identity shouldn’t fold into her husband’s… but that’s 100% my preferences leaking out.

          1. banoffee pie*

            Apparently in the past women could get very offended if you didn’t address letters to ‘Mr and Mrs Jack Smith’ or whatever, so I suppose they were changing their whole name to their husband’s? But they still expected to be called their own first name – I can’t imagine they would have been too pleased if someone had called them Jack to their face! I guess in those days very few people would have used your first name anyway, just family and close friends. I’m quite annoying so I am always tempted to call those sticklers for Mrs Whatever Jack and see what happens ;)

            I don’t understand why changing your last name to your husband’s is still so popular in this day and age, it boggles my mind. The whole idea has always really annoyed me tbh

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Apparently in the past women could get very offended if you didn’t …

              I’ve run into that, too, and don’t understand it, either.

              1. banoffee pie*

                I think it’s because in the past women derived most of their status from being married and were very offended if you thought they hadn’t been ‘chosen’ by a man. In very old books (eg Austen etc), a big deal is made of married women taking their place ‘ahead’ of unmarried ones and in Poldark I remember one poor character constantly being bumped down the heirarchy as other girls in the family married so she kept getting pushed further and further down the table. Grrr

              2. Bagpuss*

                At one point it was an indication of status.

                Mrs. Jack Smith was married to Mr. Jack Smith. Mrs. Jane Smith was divorced from Mr. Smith.

                Since divorce was not socially acceptable, being referred to in a way that implied you were divorced rather than married would be seen as offensive.

                Also, Mrs. Jack Smith distinguishes you from your sister-in-law, Mrs. Robert Smith, and your Mother in Law, Mrs. Edward Smith

            2. allathian*

              I changed my name to my husband’s, because I was already pregnant when we got married and I wanted all of us to have the same name. I’ve also always disliked my maiden name, because it’s unusual enough that most people can neither spell nor pronounce it.

              That said, I’d be deeply offended if anyone dared to address an invitation to me and my husband as Mr. and Mrs. his firstname lastname. It’s never been a thing in my culture, though.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          My brother gets called Mr wife’s last name all the time at work social events for my SIL (she didn’t change her name as she was 3/4 of the way through her doctoral program at the time – and she is picky with students about using the correct honorific for everyone as well). My brother just laughs, says it’s a perfectly fine name, but actually I’m Mr Blahblah. I will acknowledge that SIL also corrects people politely as well – they talked out strategies before getting married as they knew it would happen.

        4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Husband changed his surname to a hyphenated version with mine. According to his (now sadly deceased) grandmother that meant any cards addressed to me MUST be to ‘Mrs (husband’s original name)’ because that showed respect for his family, but cards to him were under his new name.

          Fun times!

  8. Scott*

    For the Ms./Mrs. question, I’d argue that avoiding any sort of gendered aspect to the name is wise in this day and age. Just because a name seems clearly gendered doesn’t mean it is now that they/them has been normalized.

    1. DAMitsDevon*

      Yes! I’m a woman, but my name is pretty gender ambiguous and it irritates me when people default to assuming I’m a man and refer to me as Mr.

      1. Nanani*

        If only I had a dime for every “Dear Sirs” I’ve fielded when everyone involved in the case is a woman *stares into camera)

        1. BubbleTea*

          I got really annoyed by this from a particular firm which I had been communicating with about a client (female) from my work address which had my name on it (also female). They kept writing “dear sirs”. Eventually I sent a pointed request that they stop doing this, as no one involved was male. The next email was addressed to me by name.

        2. Joielle*

          Once when I was part of a hiring committee, we rejected an applicant for addressing a cover letter to “Mr. Hiring Manager” when the hiring manager, the admin, and the entire hiring committee were women. It would have taken about 10 seconds of looking at the org chart on our website to figure that out. Or if you can’t even do that, just don’t use a gendered title!

      2. Mister Lady*

        I’m a woman and I wish wish wish we could just use “Mr.” for people of all genders. Or something else entirely, something wholly neutral. “Honorable Lastname” would suit me just dandy, lol.

        1. Persephone Mongoose*

          I’m non-binary and use the prefix Mx (pronounced “mix). I really like it, but boy is it a task to get people to actually use it!

    2. Pennilyn Lot*

      Yeah I have to email people I don’t know literally all the time for work and I always just use their full name without a title, though I will include honorifics if I know to use them. Hasn’t ever posed a problem for me.

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      This reminds me of the thing that went around social media a couple years ago, purportedly from someone describing how their teacher called everyone Mr or Ms, then rolled around to the writer’s nonbinary self. The teacher came up with ‘Colonel’ as an honorific for that student, and called them “Colonel Smith” for the rest of the year. That normalized it for other students, and made for a better academic year for the writer.

      1. darcy*

        maybe the individual student was okay with it but this seems really othering to me and is a bad way for teachers to approach this :/ (unless they’d had a private conversation with the student first)

    4. Vienna Waits for You….*

      Ughhh – I deal with this all the time. I interface between community providers (specialists in medical fields) and veterans agencies. It annoys me to no end that almost 90% of the practices will ask for “HIS NAME” or “TELL ME HIS DATE OF BIRTH” as if women haven’t been serving in the military since the birth of our country – and openly serving since WWII.

      Grrrrr – getting off my soap box now…..

  9. Pest*

    2. I hate cases like this, especially when they waste a load of time before stating their query. I would go MUCH much further. Seek permission from someone higher up (explain clearly that they are taking up waaaay too much time and it affects productivity). If they give you permission then do the following:

    Put up a sentence in bold red with nothing else stating: ‘this role has nothing to do with hiring candidates. If you are interested in a job please check this link.’ Then force them to click a box to accept it. Once they’ve clicked the box add another message stating ‘if you attempt to go against this you will immediately be put on a list of ‘never hire this candidate’. So if they proceed the consequences are dire.

    Then do it. Once the person mentions a job you say ‘we warned you in a plain sentence not to do it. You are now on a black list and won’t be considered for any role’.

    If I was management that is exactly what I would do.

    1. Cant remember my old name*

      The threatening to blacklist seems heavy handed and is likely wasting as much time as it’s saving.

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      I’m the director of sommunications in my organization and I would not allow that unless this is happening really often, and even then I’d try to find another way to reduce the instances than that sort of language.

      This happened once and it’s a nice question. But don’t respond to one annoying instance by creating off-putting messages that everyone using the chat will see. It’s like handing out business cards saying “Don’t ask me about X, Y, Z – not my job.” No – don’t present your company like that in the world.

      Just have some nice boilerplate ready, And if it happens more often, do a milder version of what Pest describes – “Live chat for product information” Requiring a check box to accept that? C’mon.

      1. Caliente*

        Yeah, I would feel like a company with a big ol’ aggressive message like that maybe wouldn’t be the one for me. And I’m not a shrinking violet who needs to be coddled through things, but that just seems a little nasty and aggressive.

        1. Artemesia*

          It reminds me of businesses that post ‘sorry for the slow response but nobody wants to work anymore.’ That business goes in the nope category immediately. A nasty response like that on a chat would do it too. A boilerplate response that could be dropped in ‘the chat is used for product information only; use the process identified in the job posting to apply for or inquire about employment’ and then ignore any further attempts in that modality.

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            (I took some time to understand that message – I thought the writer meant “sorry for being slow, we’re all exhausted right now and not at our best”. I didn’t realize someone was being nasty about “those *other* people….)

      2. Joielle*

        Yeah, I think the person answering chats should be empowered to end a chat with anyone who doesn’t have a relevant question (after providing any information they can, like a link to the jobs website). But no need to write a rude and aggressive message.

        1. banoffee pie*

          Yes, just end chats on a case-by-case basis. An aggressive message that everyone using the website can see could put people off the company

    3. Free Meerkats*

      If they keep pushing the hiring questions, just pivot to hard sales. “What can I do to get you to buy the owl-head wrench today?” “What’s your price point for the wrench?” etc. Keep it up until they disconnect on their own.

    4. BRR*

      This would be incredibly unappealing to me as a customer or potential customer. It’s a real nuclear option for a one off scenario

    5. Forrest*

      What data do you envisage me giving you in a Chat window that you could use to blacklist me from a job?

  10. Susana*

    A couple of these letters make me uncomfortable because there’s this underlying sense that the company owns people, or can direct their private lives. 1) You don’t have to feel bad about “poaching” an employee from another company, because second company doesn’t own them. If they are interested, thy’ll respond. It’s employment and it’s a two-way street. It’s not indentured servitude.

    As for the TMI senior staffer – yes, sure, speak to her to make sure in-office chatter does not criss a line. but she can socialize as she likes. If she’s not in a too-intimate relationship with someone she managed, it’s no one’s business.

    I think a lot of the goes to a sort of caste system company management wants to maintain – the worker bees and the overlords, and the fear that if the Was aren’t intimidated by the OLs, mayhem will ensue. Same thing about companies wanting to control friendships/love affairs among colleagues. They’re really worried about unionization, formal or not.

    1. EPLawyer*

      but she is senior management and has authority. It’s the “appearance” of impropriety that is often the problem. Can this person adequately address any issues that may arise with any of the junior people she socializes with? Do the junior people feel pressured to hang out with her because they fear retaliation if they don’t? It’s better to draw these strict lines than let them lead to problems later on. This is not owning people this is being a professional.

    2. Yorick*

      What makes a relationship “too-intimate?” Frequent socializing at each other’s houses could fit that description.

    3. Uranus Wars*

      I don’t think the feelings, in general, of poaching are because companies think one owns their employees in the literal sense, but when you have a relationship with a company there is some level of wanting to salvage the relationship with that company/not burn a bridge in an industry if word gets around that you poach employees from vendors.

      In this case, though, it almost sounded (to me) that OP in that case was more worried about the employee than the employer and not wanting to put them in a weird or tenuous situation while working out until the end of current companies window.

    4. Artemesia*

      A supervisory employee inviting juniors to her home repeatedly for drink/gossip is pretty awful though. If she is just another employee okay if gross; if she is a manager nope.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – if it was the before times I would recommend shifting Happy Hour to some local bar – removes the weird feeling of being at the bosses house and the potential “Work Event” conflicts. Nowadays in Covid times with a new wave flaring, I would suggest a Zoom/Teams/Virtual happy hour just to keep distancing up (but then I’m very cautious about risks).

    5. banoffee pie*

      In theory you should be able to hang out with who you like, and it’s a shame if these people can’t spend time together if they really do get on well/are kindred spirits etc. But these kinds of things can lead to problems. If you’re not in the in-crowd who is invited to these parties, you feel you’re missing out and possibly getting out of the loop in your workplace. But if you are invited, you could feel the pressure to go to your boss’s party rather than do something with friends from outside work, and before you know it your social circle is shrinking and your job is kind of taking over your life. It’s hard to tell if these junior employees really want to go to these parties or whether they feel it’s somehow ‘expected’ of them or ‘part of the job’.

    6. Stitching Away*

      For the TMI staffer, it’s not about controlling her, it’s about protecting the people she’s managing, because she has power over them and they can’t freely consent to her demands.

  11. ManBearPig*

    Should we still default to gendered appellations? I know we don’t have a great gender-neutral option in English, but with an increased focus on gender identity this seems tricky

      1. MissBliss*

        Yes, but I think most people (or maybe I’m just speaking for myself) would think of Mx. as being a title for people who have opted to use it because of their gender identity – not as a gender neutral alternative for when you don’t know a person’s title. I think that’s what ManBearPig means when they said we don’t have a great gender neutral alternative.

      2. Yorick*

        Most people won’t know what that is, will think the sender is making sloppy typos, etc.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I agree; if I didn’t read this blog, I’d have no idea what to do with Mx.

      3. raktajino*

        Isn’t that more specifically for individuals who have chosen to use it than “I’m not sure what appellation to use here”? I guess that’s a fine line: Ms. was more of an individual choice thing and now it’s become a default.

      4. Pennilyn Lot*

        I wouldn’t say so really – it’s mostly used by people who want a gender neutral pronoun to reflect their gender identity as someone who is neither a man nor a woman, rather than a default gender neutral title for anyone/people you don’t know. It’s also not that widely known yet, so I think a lot of people will both not understand it as a title, and also actually feel as if they are actually being misgendered in some way.

        1. banoffee pie*

          It’s becoming more widely known; it’s now an option on Open University forms (and probably other universites too).

    1. Random Internet Stranger*

      I personally love using first names, in part, because it removes the question about gender! I’ve assigned students I was working with interviews with folks in the field and sent them to a male *traditionally female first name* and another male *traditionally female first name*. I cringe at the idea that they may have used Ms. LastName for either when they reached out. First name is safe.

      I know not everyone will love first name or will see it as a sign of disrespect, but I’d love to tear down that status/hierarchy thing anyway.

      1. Pippa K*

        I wish we had better ways to distinguish between formality and hierarchy, though. There’s a place in public life for “I wish to indicate general respect for you” or “we have a valued business relationship, not a friendship.” My bank’s emails beginning “Hi, Pippa!” don’t strike the right note – it’s not meant to be a chummy informal relationship.

        If people have to guess about correct title and they happen to guess wrong, that doesn’t bother me unless the “wrong guess” was a product of sexism or racism, for example. That’s why it’s so grating when my students call me “Ms” and my male colleagues “Dr.,” but being called “Ms” in other contexts is not a big deal.

        1. Artemesia*

          Very good point. Can seem racist or sexist or both. I have many a time been in a group of men without terminal degrees and had them called Dr. while I was Ms. – the only person in the group with a doctorate. And black people are sensitive about being first named as that was a pointed way to deny them dignity. In a context where everyone is being referred to that way it is different, but in an email or business letter, they may not know that everyone is being referred to that way.

      2. PT*

        If you’re white, you have to be super careful addressing non-white folks like this. It can make you look like you are being intentionally disrespectful out of racism and saying that they are not worthy of honorifics and titles.

        1. Filosofickle*

          While I am totally on the side of only first names, no honorifics, no gender…this is the one aspect that gives me pause. I am a white woman who nearly always has felt respected in the world, so it’s easy for me to be cavalier about it. I do understand why this means so much to folks who have historically felt disrespected and honestly I don’t know how to balance that against important reasons not to use those kinds of titles.

          It came up in a project last year, where we’d assembled a largely non-white working group. Kind of like a task force. For our creative processes and culture, my team uses only on first names and intentionally flattens the hierarchy. We had to ask permission of participants to use their first names and even though they agreed to it it was obviously not their preference and some referred to each other as Mr/Ms regardless. I had to be super careful about my mimic tendencies, because I’d pick that up and start to say Mr for one person and then realize I wasn’t saying it for everyone! And that’s really bad.

      3. JM60*

        I would love to ditch using last names altogether, except when needed to differentiate between people with the same first name. If society at large made this switch, not only would it solve the problem in the letter, but it would also get rid of the transition period between addressing people with first vs last name that occurs between being a high schooler and being a young adult. It would also lessen incidences where someone feels disrespected because someone used one name when the person preferred another.

        Personally, I’ve always thought it was a bit stupid of society to associate the use of the first name as disrespectful to use in some circumstances (a child toward an adult, sometimes one adult stranger to another), while considering it the appropriate name in other circumstances.

        1. allathian*

          That association doesn’t exist in all cultures. I’m in Finland, and here kids call teachers by their first names, or indeed nicknames routinely. Nicknames that the teachers themselves have chosen, not ones that the kids have invented (those exist, too, but they are obviously inappropriate to use when talking to your teacher). I don’t think this leads to disrespect in the classroom, the teacher’s still the teacher and the student is a student. When I spent a year in the UK, I called my male teachers Mr. Surname/sir and my female teachers Mrs./Miss Surname/Miss (regardless of marital status) like all my classmates did. That never felt odd to me, but it took me almost the whole year to get used to the teachers yelling all the time to keep order in class.

          1. allathian*

            When talking about my friends’ parents as a kid, I’d say “Anna’s mom” or “Mike’s dad”. We rarely use names when talking to people except when we want to call someone’s attention. As a culture, we go to extraordinary lengths to avoid addressing each other by name, and this also applies to kids who talk to their friends’ parents. This is also one reason why sales calls that keep repeating your name feel so extraordinarily intrusive here, it’s an Anglocentric way of attracting people’s attention that simply doesn’t work for most people in my culture. I do know that many English-speaking people also despise this habit.

          2. JM60*

            I’m in the US, but for a few years I went to an unusual (for the US) school where students referred to teachers by their first name. It didn’t lead to disrespect.

      4. Meep*

        I have been called Mr. LastName before. My name is unisex but predominately used by women (think Taylor) and I am an engineer. I don’t care too much but I typically use the signature line of

  12. Lora*

    Oh wow. Pre-Covid I used to have BBQs and board game nights and so on for colleagues (at all levels, not just junior) and made it clear they were 100% optional but since the whole Amy Chua thing happened I am sort of rethinking that.

      1. ccprof*

        Unless you have a spouse who has been ordered not to socialize with students at their home because of a pattern of sexual harassment, the Amy Chua case should not be considered precedent.

        1. Lora*

          I’m not saying this is legal precedent; companies make decisions all the time that don’t have to be justified in court (and some do, but most do not). I’m saying Yale Law had some good points about the appearance of favoritism, the creation of an in-crowd and cliquishness when it comes to senior managers and their decisions about who gets promotions and plum projects.

          1. kiki*

            Yeah. I feel you, but I do think that part of what made Amy Chua’s situation more dubious (in addition to her spouse) is that her invitations weren’t extended to all her students or every student in a group. She made her invitations exclusive, which makes it seem less above board than inviting all your coworkers or teammates over for an open BBQ.

            1. Lokifan*

              Plus the level of power a PhD or dissertation supervisor has over your life and career goes well beyond that of a typical boss.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think if they are 100% optional, everyone is invited, and *not too frequent* it’s probably okay

      If you do it a lot then you might run into the issue you worry about below of perceived favoritism or unconscious bias if you end up with certain people coming regularly and some people never attending.

      But if you just do a couple times a year or something I don’t think that would be inherently problematic.

  13. iamapatientgirl*

    for Letter #4 about the company closing down, I’d also suggest seeing if your recruiting team can reach out to their HR team to maybe even propose having a career fair or something like that – If their HR team cares at all, they might be interested in helping their people find their next job – especially if it’s clear that all job offers would begin after their company’s needs conclude.
    It’s a slightly different situation from that, but my company had basically a vendor that shared some of our manufacturing space and decided to close a portion of their business that included everyone on site. We held career fairs and had information sessions and invited their employees to talk and learn about how their experience could translate to our business. I think it reflected well on their leadership and ours to show how much their experience was valued.

    1. Love WFH*

      When a competitor was closing down a factory, we did a job fair, too. Hired some great people.

    2. Captain of the No Fun Department*

      I’m HR and I’ve done something very similar when I was hiring and a similar local company was laying off employees… actually this has happened a few times. I either reach out to their HR or they’ve reached out to me.

  14. Susie Q*

    Ironically, I have a coworker who would be offended if you called her Ms. not Mrs. I tend to avoid honorifics such as Mr./Ms./Mrs. unless the person is a Phd or MD then I will use Dr.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Yeah and those people get REALLY bent out of shape when you don’t say Mrs! But I’d much rather offend them than perpetuate an outdated focus on marital status or gender, period.

        1. Marge*

          Bahahah so you ended up stuck with my old coworker – my apologies. I was patronizingly chided for “Mrs” sounding too much like Ms over the loudspeaker, because “Missy I earned that title” (shocker she is like 30+ years older than me)

            1. allathian*

              By getting married… It wouldn’t surprise me if she also likes her marital status more than she likes her actual husband.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I do prefer being called ‘Mrs’ as a title instead of ‘Ms’ or similar but I won’t get offended by it, just gently correct people once or twice. Then let it go.

      (It’s a long series of reasons, including that I get a full body shudder at ‘zzz’ noises. My brain is weird though)

  15. Delta Delta*

    Mrs./Ms./Dr./Whatever – I always just ask that people call me Delta. I’m an attorney and I’m a professor. Students always want to call me Dr. Delta or Professor Delta. I’ve had a few very formal clients who always want to call me Attorney Delta. For clients and students and other lawyers, I always just ask that they call me by my first name. I think with students they’re often trying so hard to do the right thing that they sort of over-do it on being proper.

    That said, I am in my mid 40’s. I ran into my childhood best friend’s mother and immediately said, “Hi, Mrs. FriendMom!” She said something like, “for heaven’s sake, you’re in your 40s, call me Lucinda.” But I kind of can’t do that because she’s always Mrs. FriendMom in my head. *shrug*

    1. not a doctor*

      When I was in college, I had several professors that were “Professor SuchAndSuch” to 90% of students, but flipped over to first names for alumni and students they were particularly engaged with (advisees, etc). My capstone advisor tried to make this happen and I just could not wrap my head around it at all — to this day, I address emails to him as “James” or “Jim,” but in my head he’ll ALWAYS be “Professor Advisor.”

    2. allathian*

      Maybe you should remind yourself of your own reaction to your friend’s mom whenever you feel you’re getting annoyed with students who call you Dr. Delta or Professor Delta. Granted, they don’t have the history with you that you have with your friend’s mom, and no doubt find it easier to adapt as they get used to their adult status.

      I’m guessing that having a 40-something call her Mrs. FriendMom makes Lucinda feel old, so it would be a kindness to give it your best shot to change the way you address her. Even if it comes out as “Hi, Mrs. FriendMom! Oops, Lucinda!”

  16. animaniactoo*

    I know you might be thinking about your next move since Acme is shutting down

    I might phrase this as “If you don’t have your next move lined up once Acme shuts down,…” because it acknowledges and respects that people may be well beyond the thinking phase. Particularly if they were already looking because the company was in trouble and they were nervous about their jobs even though there was no official shutdown announcement yet. So they already have their plans or are far enough along in their search that they’re expecting to have an offer any moment now and are not really up for jumping into a new application process.

  17. alioelj*

    You don’t happen to work at Yale Law School with Amy Chu and her creepy husband, do you?

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    In the business world generally do people still even use Mr/Mrs/Ms etc? I can’t recall using anyone’s last name like that other than a doctor or teacher…

  19. OliveJuice90*

    Regarding letter 1. I once had a senior staff member at a high end bakery that I worked at fresh out of college who regularly invited over certain coworkers and hung out socially with staff that she liked. She did not have authority to fire anyone but she could assign duties and essentially tell you what to do during your shift. She was finally fired for boatloads of unprofessional behavior and large portions of that stemmed from her inability to separate herself professionally from junior employees that she considered friends. It was incredibly demoralizing to those of us who weren’t in her social circle and it did not go unnoticed that many of the people who were not in the friend circle were the employees who came from clearly marginalized backgrounds.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I had a similar thought about assigning duties…even if she doesn’t fire/discipline can she give those who she hangs out with preferred or “fun” projects instead of more menial tasks? Or assign the social group with higher exposure tasks based on their relationship rather than skill set or whatever the usual method of random assignment is?

  20. Anon for This*

    I’m a cis female college professor who looks considerably younger than my actual mid-40’s age, and I do insist on being called Doctor Lastname. This is for a couple reasons:

    1) I have many non-traditional students who tend to assume they’re older than me, and so sometimes assume I have nothing to teach them/they can order me around/they can dismiss me/etc. I want some reminder of that formal distance. (I also make a point of addressing my age during the first class).
    2) The colleagues who tell me, “Oh, you should just let students call you by your first name or whatever they want to call you!” are hypocrites who insist their students call them Dr. Lastname. Yeah, I don’t have to do it just because you think I should.
    3) When I did let students call me what they wanted, it didn’t even go to Mrs.; it went to “Miss Lastname,” first name, or “Miss Firstname.” Sometimes they would write emails that began, “Hey Firstname,” and shout it at me in the halls. They also tended to dispute grades and be stunned when they failed or when I wouldn’t grant them extensions on assignments for ridiculous reasons like, “I decided to go on a last-minute vacation for three weeks and never bothered telling you.” The most common reason given was, “A friend wouldn’t do that!” Yeah, well, I’m not their friend.

    I respect students’ wishes to go by their middle names, nicknames, etc., when they want to; there have even been students who wanted me to address them as Mr. or Mrs. Lastname, which I’ve honored. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to ask them to respect my preferences, as well.

    1. Pippa K*

      Co-signing all of this. One of the aspects of working as a professor – at any rank – is that with regard to students, your purpose is to be an authority, not a peer or a pal. I don’t mean “the only authority,” or “unquestionable authority,” and certainly not “arrogant.” One can be authoritative and warm – in fact women faculty are routinely penalized for not performing warmth or caregiving enough – but if you take a stance that is all friendly warmth and no authority, you’re likely to be treated dismissively. Standard formality/informality cues are one of the ways we communicate relationships, and not all relationships should be the same.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Right. Students often have a hard time understanding the difference between friendly and friends. Although this is easier now that I’m waaaaaay older than they are.

    2. allathian*

      You have solid reasons for insisting on a formal address. Your hypocritical colleagues need a slap upside the head: “Oh, they can use my first name when you permit your students call you by your first name. That’ll be the day…”

      I’m in Finland, and I’ve grown up using my teachers’ first names or even nicknames. I did the same when I went to college, but the relationship was still formal in spite of the informality in address. I went to a Swedish-language college, where some classes were given in English to accommodate our international professors and students. The policy of the college was that all professors/lectors/TAs should be addressed by their first names, regardless of language or background, but I could tell that some professors and international students were really uncomfortable with that. So in some classes that were conducted in English, students routinely addressed their teachers as Doctor or Professor in class, but at least the Finnish students used first names when speaking 1:1 with Finnish professors who were teaching an international course.

      I went to France as an exchange student, and there teachers used the formal “vous” with their students, and vice versa. In one course, our teacher was in her first teaching job, only a few years older than her students, and really wanted to be addressed by her first name and “tu”. This was utterly impossible for all of us, it simply felt wrong to do so. I was on first name terms with an admin assistant at the international students’ office, because she’d been on exhange to Finland herself, and it felt like she was granting us a favor by insisting on it. I was careful to use “vous” when non-Finns were present, though. Switching between different formality levels was instinctive for me and felt very natural.

  21. what's in a name anon*

    I work in an elementary school and it seems like ALL adults can be Mrs. to the kindergartners–once upon a time, we had a really small computer lab that was in a really small room adjoining my library. Because of an imbalance in the number of prep periods our 4-5 teachers get (because of French) compared to the K-3, the older grade teachers do prep covers–they use one of their preps to take one of the younger classes.

    Anyhow, one day Mr Smith was in the lab working with some Kindergartners and I hear him say, “My name is Mr. Smith. Mrs. Smith is my mother.” (his wife kept her last name). I laughed.

    And a few years ago, one teacher I worked with was definitely MS Jones–kids, staff, even principals were corrected (often by her students). It was small town and folks knew her husband….some of the kids called him Mr. Jones, even though he’d kept his last name.

    I use Miss or Ms. I don’t really care and honestly don’t care if the youngest students call me “Mrs.” , they do eventually learn. Heck sometimes my coworkers use Mrs. In the scheme of things in my life, it’s not that important–but I am certainly respectful of other people’s choices and use whatever they prefer. I will correct students if they use the wrong last name or if they (and this has happened a few times) call me “Library”. As in “Hey, Library.” I tell them that my name is Ms B–and that they expect me to know their name, they need to learn mine. And given I have around 550 students–all whose names I learn–and they have a signficantly fewer names to remember, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

  22. Mitford*

    During college, I was a part-time bank teller working 4:00 to 7:00 every day at the drive-through window. The lobby closed at 4:00, and all of the other workers went home once they’d settled out for the day and locked their cash drawers in the main vault. Because I worked by myself on the later shift, I was supposed to leave my cash drawer in the small vault behind the teller line, shut that vault and spin the dial to make sure it was closed, and then do a bunch of end-of-day tasks before departing that included turning off lights and, most importantly, turning on the alarm system.

    Well, one day, I forgot to make sure that the small vault was well and truly shut before turning on the alarm system, which caused a silent alarm call to be made to the county police department. I exited the building just as three county police cars came tearing into the parking lot with their sirens on and their lights blazing. I immediately put my arms up in the classic “don’t shoot me” position and got to hear six burly police officers talk about the idiocy of 19-year female bank tellers. They had to take a report, because businesses could be fined for too many false alarms, and escort me into the building so I could shut that damn vault and re-set the alarm.

    All this is by way of saying that, if there wasn’t a police report for all the incidents listed above mine, did they really count, LOL?

    1. Mitford*

      Oh, lordy, I somehow put this in the wrong thread. Now I am truly mortified all over again. Sheesh.

  23. Pennilyn Lot*

    Maybe I’m a total minority here but I would much rather than a workplace err on the side of not intervening enough in employee socializing than intervening too much. What right does the LW or her employer have to tell staff that they can’t hang out together or be friends? Everyone here seems to have decided that the person LW wrote in about is a manager, when LW says explicitly that they are not a manager. I am a junior type employee at my workplace and literally everyone is senior to me in some context. Would it never be appropriate for me to be friends with someone at my workplace and hang out in their home, just because they can assign me work?

    1. banoffee pie*

      I see what you mean and it’s never nice to be told you can’t be friendly with certain people while others more senior can. But it could become a problem if she starts to show favouritism in the workplace to some of her cronies, and others aren’t awarded the same perks. If the senior person is a fair and decent type, it should be able to work in theory, although there can be a perception of favouritism even if it doesn’t really exist.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        I really would like everyone to be much less inclined to take action based on the appearance of some problem when the problem doesn’t actually exist. Yes, favoritism is bad and requires action, but the appearance of favoritism, in most occupations (exceptions: C-level executive, elected official…) does only require action against the (incorrect) appearance, if there is no actual favoritism.

        Humans are messy! A lot of people find their life partner in situations where we don’t want to have a free-for-all for dating because there’s a significant potential for abuse. A lot of people end up building successful, beautiful relationships with partners that are from a different social class or have a significant age gap. At the same time, age and class gaps are frequently exploited. So how to square the circle? But looking at the details of the situation at hand and acting when there is an *actual* problem, rather than the potential for one . The whole life consists of potentials for problems.

        I’m all for discouraging situations that get frequently out of hand, but this doesn’t mean we have to have hard and fast rules. Personal mentorship and generosity by someone more senior can be career or even life changing for a junior employee with not much social capital. Cliquishness and forced intimate talk, on the other hand, needs to be stopped. I think that in the majority of cases it’s pretty easy to tell one from the other.

      2. Pennilyn Lot*

        I honestly don’t see what right my workplace or any other would have to tell me that I can’t be friendly with coworkers or do what I want with my time outside of work. Like if there’s favouritism in the workplace, sure, deal with it, but up until that point, it seems like a huge and unjustifiable overstep to preemptively shut down private socializing outside of work among non-management employees.

    2. allathian*

      I haven’t invited coworkers to my home since my high school graduation. My parents held a reception at our house and I invited a few coworkers. One of them was a shift supervisor, so more senior to me but not by much, in that she could assign work to me but had no control over shift assignments, never mind hiring and firing. These were all people I’d had after work drinks with (drinking age 18).

      In subsequent jobs I’ve never been close enough to my coworkers to invite them to my home, or go to theirs. There’s no expectation here of managers hosting employees at home, either. I guess this is at least partly because all my employers have been fairly large organizations. The expectations might be different at a smallish startup.

  24. Olive*

    Re: Chat
    While job searching, I’ve noticed lasted a lot of company websites have the online Chat box ON the Careers/ hiring page. They will auto pop-up, “Can we answer any questions for you?” or such, so I can see candidates thinking it might be ok to use (but not for such detailed, personal questions, lol).

  25. Jennifer Juniper*

    Oh lord. The senior staff member in that first letter is not ruining her own reputation, but those of her direct reports as well, especially the female direct reports.

    People can, and will, make crude assumptions about a woman’s character if she has a reputation for hosting or attending drinking parties with co-workers.

    Yikes yikes yikes!

    1. Pennilyn Lot*

      Hi, time traveler from the 1950s! We are actually generally okay with women consuming alcohol, socializing, and existing nowadays. “Crude assumptions about a woman’s character” good god lmao

  26. Jennifer Juniper*

    Oops. I meant “not only ruining her own reputation, but those of her direct reports as well, especially the female direct reports.”

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