my coworker keeps crying in meetings, my boss only wants to hire friends, and more

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

1. My coworker keeps crying in meetings

A few years back, I was early in my career and one of the more junior members on a small team. One of my coworkers, “Mary,” would regularly cry during internal meetings about really routine stuff. Mary was senior to me, but wasn’t management and worked in a support role.

This would happen a couple times a month and wasn’t related to work stress or projects she was working on, but more just that she was a Very Emotional Person and didn’t do a good job keeping it in check. As an example, if the group was discussing a document we were writing about, say, sailing, she might jump in to share her opinion. She would start in a matter-of-fact way and then get teary eyed, start to cry, and interject something like, “I’m sorry, you know how emotional I get. My dad was a sailor and this issue is just really close to my heart!” It was always sort of sweet (she clearly was passionate about our work!), but felt inappropriate and out of place in a team meeting, especially given it was so often and about such routine stuff. Everyone would get visibly uncomfortable when it happened (shifting in their chairs, looking down at their hands, etc.) and a couple of coworkers mentioned it to me over the years. No one ever addressed it directly in the moment; there’d be some awkward silence until someone jumped in to get the conversation back on track. This continued regularly for the several years I was at this job, and I never got any indication that anyone talked to her about it directly.

I never brought this up with my supervisor because it just felt … silly? It did take the meetings off track, but didn’t really present any major problems. I was so junior, I think I felt like this was out of my lane or it would be “tattling” or maybe even insulting to my manager that I might be insinuating she wasn’t managing her staff well. It also just didn’t feel worth expending political capital on at the time. For what it’s worth, Mary was okay but not great at her job and was very nice but also a little quirky, and could be kind of difficult to work with (though more in the “bumbling/doesn’t always know what they’re doing” than “unpleasant and incompetent” camp). How would you advise handling something like this? Should I have brought this up with my supervisor? Or was my “I have a quirky coworker I have to deal with and it’s not a big deal” instinct right?

If Mary were doing this in one-on-one meetings with you and your meetings were regularly getting off-track because of it, you could have brought it up with your manager in a “this is happening / what’s the best way for me to handle it?” way. But in group meetings where you were one of the most junior people, it made sense to leave it to others to decide whether or not to flag it. That’s not because you would have been insinuating your boss wasn’t doing her job well if you raised it, but just because a junior person without much capital isn’t responsible for addressing this stuff. (Or — was your boss in the meetings where this was happening? If so, she wasn’t doing her job well, but if you were more senior you could still have raised it in a “do you think you could talk to Mary? this keeps happening and derailing our discussions” way.)

For the record, in general: Getting teary in a meeting once, it happens. But regularly crying in meetings can be disruptive and is something that person’s manager should check in with them on.

2. My boss only wants to hire from my coworker’s friends

I’ve worked in this small (only five people) company for over three years. Last fall, one coworker was let go and my boss (who owns the company) decided to hire a new employee who would partially take over my position, allowing me to spend more time on other projects.

He decided to hire Lisa, who was friends with my other coworker, Jane. She was culled from Jane’s Facebook friends list and hired almost immediately after completing the required background check.

Lisa was hired to work a specific part-time schedule: five days a week, give hours a day. She is consistently late, does her makeup at the front desk, spends a majority of her time having social hour with Jane, and has yet to learn anything of substance to help her do her job. She’s been here five months.

Recently, she put in her notice. On the surface, I’m fine with this; it means I am no longer holding her hand through basic tasks or listening to her chit chat for hours at a time while neglecting actual work. However, the issue now is that Boss 1 and Jane are again culling through Jane’s Facebook friends list to find another new employee to take over. This makes me livid. I do not want a Lisa 2.0 situation where the new employee is buddy-buddy with Jane and does not get any work done. I don’t want our office to turn into a social hour; I just want to get my work done in a timely manner with few distractions.

How can I express to Boss 1 that I think he needs to go through traditional channels to post a job listing, and not rely on Jane’s friends to apply and fill the position? Is it even worth it?

Yeah, this is a terrible practice, and it would be a bad idea even if Lisa had ended up being an excellent employee. Hiring only from one person’s network is far too limiting; it means the bar for the role will only be as high as her most qualified (and interested/available) friend even if there are more qualified candidates out there, you’ll only be assessing applicants against a small pool, and you’re likely to end up with pretty homogenous candidates. That’s before even getting into the fact that Jane is apparently happy to spend a large portion of her work time socializing with any friend who’s hired, and your boss is apparently willing to allow it.

I don’t know how much influence you have with your boss, but ideally you’d say something like, “Could we advertise the position this time so that we have a deeper pool of people to select from? I think there are some really talented people with the qualifications we need, and we’d likely get a stronger and more diverse pool if we advertise.” You could add, “Since I’m relying on this person to take over ABC so I can do more XYZ, I want us to be able to make the strongest hire we can.” (Any chance your boss is doing it this way because he doesn’t want to sort through a ton of applicants? If so, does it make sense for you to offer to do that part of it?)

If you have pretty good rapport with your boss, you could also point out privately that hiring Jane’s friend didn’t go well last time. You could say, “Of course anyone from Jane’s network could throw their hat in the ring if they’re interested, but I feel really strongly that we should consider other candidates too.”

3. My boss doesn’t believe I’m not going to leave

I have a good relationship with my boss. A few months ago, I was dealing with a serious issue at work involving someone who reports to me. While my boss was supportive and tried to help, they had to defer to HR. The HR person managed this very poorly and made the situation much worse. After several weeks of inappropriate comments and actions by the HR and ongoing issues with the employee, I was exhausted and demoralized. So I resigned.

My boss talked me out of resigning and helped to correct the issues with HR. I don’t know exactly what happened, but the HR person was terminated.

Now my boss seems to feel as though I’m still a flight risk. They have made several comments about “when you leave.” It’s to the point that they are hesitant to let me start new projects because “who will lead this when you go?”

I’ve reassured them that I’m not leaving. It might be true that I hadn’t given them enough of a chance to address the problem before I resigned, but I also feel it probably was finally taken seriously because I did resign. But now it feels like they are just waiting for me to resign again. They know that I have opportunities elsewhere (my position is in high demand). However, I really don’t want to leave.

Do I talk to them again when I can’t promise anything? I plan to stay, but who can promise that they won’t ever leave a job? I suspect that my telling them again that I intend to stay won’t have any greater impact.

What your boss is doing is odd! If they’re concerned you have one foot out the door, they should sit down and talk with you about it. Since they’re not, you should initiate that conversation. Say something like, “You’ve made several comments implying you think I’m likely to leave in the near future. I wouldn’t have agreed to stay on if that were the case. Obviously nothing is written in stone, but I have no plans to leave and don’t see that changing any time soon. Can we move forward with the understanding that I’m just as committed to staying as I was before all this happened?”

After that, if your boss continues to say things like “who will lead this when you go?” you should address it right in the moment by saying something like, “Whoa, what’s making you worried about that?” or “I think we’re on very different pages about my plans. I don’t plan to go anywhere and would like to take on projects like this! How can we figure this out?”

It sounds like your boss is worried you’ll leave the next time something happens that you don’t like. That’s not entirely unreasonable, but refusing to give you any new projects because of it is. If direct conversation (along with the passage of some time) doesn’t resolve it, you’ll have to start assessing whether the situation feels salvageable.

4. When should I tell job candidates I’ll be on maternity leave soon after they start?

I am currently hiring for my first-ever direct report. We have just about finished the first round of interviews and it has me wondering when I should inform potential new hires that I’m pregnant and will be taking maternity leave. Because all interviews are phone/Zoom currently, it’s not obvious I’m pregnant and I’m carrying very small so even in person it would be hard to tell for certain. Depending on start date (and obviously the will of the baby), I’ll have three to four months with them to get them onboarded and comfortable. But it still seems like something I should disclose before they’re hired so it’s not like, “Happy first day! By the way, I’ll be out for three months after your first three months.” Am I overthinking? Or when/how should I bring it up?

You can probably find a natural opening for it in interviews — like if you’re describing what the person’s training would be like or what you’d expect them to accomplish in their first year, that’s a good place to mention it, along with how it will affect their job (for example, who they’d report to in the interim or whether there’s anything of yours that they’d be covering). But if it doesn’t come up before you’re making an offer, definitely mention it as part of the initial offer conversation. You could just say, “By the way, I want to mention that I’m pregnant and expect to be on maternity leave from X-Y. We have plans in place for coverage, but I didn’t want you to be surprised by it when you start.”

5. Applying to a company when I turned down their offer a few years ago

Three years ago during a job search, I was offered positions from two different organizations. There were many things I liked about Company A, but the pay was too much lower than I was making at the time. The pay wasn’t listed in the ad, so we were a bit into the interview process before I learned the salary. I let the hiring manager know the salary was the main reason for not accepting the offer.

Instead I accepted the position with Company B, which had higher starting pay and an opportunity for advancement. This job has been okay – I’ve learned a lot and the work is interesting. But there are cultural and leadership issues that are less than pleasant, though not quite toxic.

Company A now has a position advertised that is several steps higher than the one I turned down several years ago. It’s a bit of a stretch position. I have many of the qualifications, though not all. This time, the pay rate is listed in the ad so I know it’s a salary I would accept.

Should I address in the cover letter that I’d previously turned down a job offer in this same department? It wasn’t the work or the people that deterred me, it was solely the pay. How do I word that without sounding like it’s all about money? I evaluate job offers based on multiple factors, but sometimes the economics needs to be the deciding factor. Or has this bridge been burnt?

Turning down an offer doesn’t burn a bridge! Go ahead and apply and say something in your cover letter like, “Several years ago you offered me a role on your team. I wasn’t able to accept at the time, but remained interested in your work and I’d be thrilled to connect with you about the X role now.”

That’s it — you don’t need to get into your reasons for turning down the previous offer. If they want to know, they can ask about it but this is enough to get the ball rolling and also remind them that they got to know you a bit previously. Also, if the hiring manager from last time still seems to work there, after you apply email her a note reminding her of your past conversations (you can use similar language to what’s above) and let her know you’ve applied for this new role. (Attach your application materials so she has them with your email too.) Since they liked you enough to offer you a job last time, she might be excited to hear from you.

{ 248 comments… read them below }

  1. Observer*

    #3- Maybe you should re-consider and look for a new job. Here is what I’m seeing. You ran into a serious problem. Your “supportive” boss refused to push back on terrible HR until you got ready to walk and now they are acting like you are some un-engaged and uncommitted traitor who will desert him without notice.

    Why do you think you didn’t give them enough time to fix the problem? If that’s coming from your boss, that’s seriously manipulative, and just not honest. I mean they claimed that they “had to defer to HR.” Why would any reasonable person expect that sitting around letting time pass would cause anything to change? On the other hand, I have no doubt that you are correct that your resignation was the thing that forced them to act.

    And lets be clear here. HR was obviously terrible, or they would not have been terminated for their role. And your boss plainly had more agency than they were letting on, or the termination would never have happened. But instead of acknowledging that they were not proactive enough and HR messed, but now they’ve learned their lesson and HR has been straightened out, they are acting as though you were acting like the kid who decides to take their ball and leave the game because they didn’t get the position they wanted.

    1. GNG*

      OP3, I’m sorry this is happening. I would also suggest looking for a new job. If I were you, I would feel like Boss hung me out to dry with the terrible HR person. I would and lose my trust in them.

      Even now, to me, your boss doesn’t sound very supportive right now. Actually it sounds like they’re undermining you by questioning your intents and not giving you new projects.

      1. Cmdrshpard*

        I don’t know if that is exactly what happened. The way I interpreted was the boss was supportive but had to defer to HR and was out of options to press the issue more. But it wasn’t until OP resigned that the boss was able to go to someone above them and convince them to fire HR person and hire OP back.

        But i do agree that the boss now is not acting in a very professional and supportive manner and driving OP away.

        It will be too bad but the boss is creating a self fulfilling prophecy. Op does not want to leave, but boss is talking about how OP is going to leave, forcing Op to find a new job. Once OP leaves boss will have been right all along.

        1. Medusa*

          I think with everything you said. Boss didn’t realize how serious the situation was, but when they did, they had OP’s back. Boss’s actions now are unreasonable and unprofessional. I hope the situation works out for OP, whether that’s getting Boss to back off and assign them work, or finding a better job.

          1. The vault*

            Unfortunately, it shows that the boss didn’t believe how serious it was despite the OP telling them so. They only had OPs back because they were resigning and the boss didn’t want that, but should have thought about that before not taking enough action.
            Employers shouldn’t wait until someone resigns. It’s often too late at that point.

            1. GNG*

              This is my take as well.

              Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but “While my boss was supportive and tried to help, they had to defer to HR.” also gave me a little pause. Where I’ve worked, HR usually make it clear their role is to advise and support managers in staff performance or discipline decisions, and not to take over the process. Managers are still responsible. Makes me wonder if Boss had stepped in as much as they could have before it got to this late point.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I thought of two SOs in a LTR, where the one SO keeps telling the other SO that they “know” the SO will leave them.

      Finally the accused SO just leaves. They get tired of having to prove they will stay. And they also think about Projection and wonder if the accuser actually wants to leave but won’t say so.

      How to drive people out the door:
      Step 1. Keep telling them that you know they are going to leave.

      OP, I’d simply say, “Boss, if you cannot find it in yourself to believe me, then there is little I can do to fix that. Only time will prove it to you that I have not left yet.”

    3. OP#3*

      It was the HR person that was manipulative. She at first appeared professional and sympathetic. Boss was on top of this in the beginning and once he saw she was on it, he did back off a bit as it appeared that it would be handled. Unfortunately, the HR person quickly became inconsistent, walking back on things she said, and started to subtly insinuate that I was at fault. It took me a minute to realize what was happening and that she was gaslighting me. She was also very smart about making sure nothing in our emails was a problem for her. She denied it when I called her out, and would tell me sweetly that “I misunderstood her”. She would turn it around to seem as though I was the problem. She had also been at the company a long time, especially compared to me. My boss knew at that point that I didn’t have confidence in her and that she was very inconsistent, but not the full extent of what she was doing as I thought she was right that I would seem like the crazy one in this situation. I quit because I didn’t see how it would end well for me. He was upset that I was willing to leave without giving him a chance to fix this which he ultimately did. The HR person was suddenly gone, but nothing is being said as to what happened. What he is doing now is weird and not like him. I think this entire situation may be poisoned and therefore my time there maybe as well. It really sucks.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        You have REALLY good insight. Is it possible that you can talk to the boss the way you are talking right here?

      2. Lacey*

        Oh that sucks! I hope you’re able to have a frank conversation with your boss so that’s he’s not creating a self-fulfilling prophecy situation, but if not, I hope you find a better place to work!

      3. EPLawyer*

        Please explain your thought process to your boss. This wasn’t a case of “wow this situation didn’t go the way I wanted, so I am leaving.” This was a “I think I am being forced out so I better leave” I think if the boss hears the difference he will understand. Especially if he is as supportive as you say he is.

      4. EmKay*

        Are you comfortable enough with your boss to tell him this? Everything you’ve said in your comment here, does he know about it? If he doesn’t, that could explain him acting cagey now. Is there any way you can just lay out the timeline of events for him very simply like you did here?

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        This all sounds extremely frustrating! But honestly I don’t find your boss’s behavior as surprising or odd as other people here seem to–to me it seems kind of similar to something discussed here frequently about one of the risks of taking a counteroffer and how your boss may then worry you are going to leave. This is obviously not the same situation! But they share one important similarity: a person who said they were going to leave then ends up staying. It may not be reasonable, but I don’t think it is unusual that your boss is worried you are going to decide to quit after all.

        I think it could hopefully be cleared up with just one clear conversation where you tell him plainly that you are satisfied with how the situation was eventually resolved (if that’s true), that you are happy with your job and while you obviously can’t promise to stick around forever you have no plans to leave and would really like to get back to the way things were before.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It kind of is a counter offer! Just not one with money involved. The boss said instead of leaving stay and I’ll fix the problem.

          Which is to say a lot of the same psychology still applies.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Good point! I definitely see how the boss has slid into that mindset.

            Not to say that it is okay–just that if OP otherwise likes their boss and feels okay about how he handled this situation, then I wouldn’t hold this against him. (If they don’t otherwise like him or how he handled the situation then that’s a whole different conversation though).

      6. HigherEdAdminista*

        This is a really good insight. I would not be surprised if the HR person was telling your boss or others that you were the problem and showing the emails to be like “look at how reasonable I am” and part of him sort of bought the gaslighting. He wonders if you aren’t really the problem all along, and he made a mistake and will now lose you any time.

        The thing is he is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where he is going to continue to make you feel pushed out and uncomfortable and then when you find a new job, even if it is years from now, he will say “I knew it!”

        Has anyone been hired to take the HR person’s place? Has this been going on a long time? Part of me wonders if she is more on a leave and not actually fired.

      7. LTL*

        Oh wow, this explains a lot.

        If your boss doesn’t understand what compelled you to resign without speaking to him, then his worry of you leaving makes sense (though the way he’s handling it is still odd). I think you need to have a frank conversation with him. You were being abused by the HR person. Tell him that the HR person made you doubt that anyone would support you and gaslit you. You were afraid that your reputation was at risk, so you resigned. Going forward, you’ll definitely come to him first if anything like this happens again (but only say this if it’s true). It’s also worth asking him why he keeps insinuating that you’re planning to leave since you say it’s out of character.

      8. MadisonB*

        One of my biggest work regrets is not directly discussing an issue with my last supervisor (which occurred during a long notice period, so I was already moving toward the door…the door just hit me a few dozen times on the way out). He did X, and I interpreted it as Y. I did A, and he interpreted it as B (or so I think…we never talked). Neither of us gave ground. The situation spun out of control; my grandboss ignored my concerns as “reading into things; everything’s fine”; and, although my supervisor ultimately showed himself to be incredibly petty and vindictive, it would have been far less traumatic and existentially jarring *for me* if we’d sat down and had a “what the heck’s going on?” conversation at the first signs of misunderstanding/out-of-character “weird and not like him” reactions. It might be worth the conversation. Good luck.

    4. LTL*

      And your boss plainly had more agency than they were letting on, or the termination would never have happened.

      This is an assumption. OP’s manager saying, “listen, OP has resigned over this so it needs to be fixed” has more teeth than “listen, this needs to be fixed.” It’s not clear that OP’s manager could have fixed the issue prior to OP’s resignation.

      1. OP#3*

        They were definitely presenting it as me being the problem despite lots of documentation on my end. Fortunately, I have a good reputation here. I know others have had difficulty with this HR person, but more like “she was no help” rather than “she’s evil”. She didn’t seem evil at first, actually she seemed lovely. That’s why it took me a while to catch on that she was gaslighting me. I will talk to my boss again. I do believe that he tried to help me, and I think he used my leaving as a method to get the immediate attention of the people in the organization who actually could do something about this. I really am unhappy that I am now associated with this mess.

        1. LTL*

          Was this reply meant for my comment addressing Observer’s post, or the comment I posted above (in reply to yours)?

          Don’t worry about not catching onto the HR person’s antics. Gaslighting can be very insidious and hard to catch on to. It’s not easy. I’m glad that you’ve been able to gain perspective on the situation.

    5. I Need a New Name*

      I think the boss is more concerned about having the manager leave on better terms. If the manager just quit without notice, it might be better for the boss’ ego than resigning with cause because of the boss’ inability to manage a bad situation. Especially given the very passive excuses used about why things weren’t rectified sooner, and the passive-aggressive language to the manager—i.e. “when you leave…”, which is meant to speak their wishes into existence, so to speak. Bottom line, the boss probably had their ego bruised after you resigned and now wants the whole situation to be forgotten, which would be helped greatly by you leaving on your own and not because of something the boss did.

  2. Megan*

    4 – years ago I worked in a non-profit doing very close work with a government department team. 3/4 of my workload was with this team and I became very chummy with several of the employees, including the manager. When I was looking to leave the non-profit, I confided in one of the employees and said I’d noted that the exact same government department was hiring in another region and I was thinking of applying (so same work, but not with the team I knew). She in turn confided in me that just this week one of the team members had resigned and if I could wait while the government got their act together re putting out a job ad, I should apply with the team as they all love me. I sent my resume to the employee who sent it to the boss; the next time I saw the manager at a meeting we talked about me applying and she told me all about the work she would assign me. It was really positive. Anyway I ended up interviewing and getting the job.

    My first day came and I was told the manager was retiring in 2 weeks. I was blindsided, and to be honest a little pissed as I really really wanted to learn from this manager and work for her. It wouldn’t’ve made a difference in terms of me applying there as I would have even had I known she was retiring, but it would have been nice to get a heads up.

    Years later, we were told that our work was being moved to another government department. This started the process of either transferring to that department, or staying with our current department but in a different role. We hired for a position of a woman who was actually a former employee of this team, and on her first day she was told the work was being moved and to make a decision if she wanted to follow it to the new government department or be redeployed. She was so angry that during the entire recruitment process they knew what was happening and didn’t tell her. She had said if she had known, she would never have come back.

    I guess my point is you don’t know who is applying for the job to work for you specifically so be upfront if you can!

    1. Kara*

      These are quite extreme examples though.

      People leave jobs. People go on leave. Nobody should ever take a job just for one person. Yes, it’s good to mention this upfront – but it’s not the same as someone retiring.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Extreme examples happen, though.

        I took one job where in the first four months I had five new bosses. (It was one position but five people passed through that position in four months.)

        Granted it’s a judgement call in the end. I chose to stay. Wrong choice. When companies show you how they are, it’s okay to believe them. I thought I was being strong and rolling with the punches, etc. In reality TPTB thought we were stupid and gullible.

      2. Recruited Recruiter*

        I took an internship at a company with a bad reputation because of the manager for the internship. Long story short, she was pushed out halfway through my internship for refusing to fire someone for a protected health issue, and I had 3 different bosses over the rest of my 6 month internship. The first half of the internship gained me a valuable mentor, and the second half gained me a valuable lesson in the real world.

    2. Your local password resetter*

      It is good to be upfront.
      But since it’s only a three month leave I dont think they need to mention it very early on. Especially since they do get some time beforehand to set things up.

      1. Koalafied*

        This is where I stand on it. If they make a good hire than 3 months should only end up being a blip in the person’s overall tenure.

      2. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

        I agree – something more permanent may need to be brought up earlier (like a retirement or job change) but a shorter leave can wait. It also depends on the amount of time – my boss when I was hired for my current role (B) went on leave 2 weeks after I started and I think it was handled quite well. No mention was made in the initial HR basic interview/screening call but was brought up in my phone interview with B. Then when I went in to interview B, she addressed it immediately (by literally using the phrase ‘elephant in the room’ and gesturing to her bump – she had twins so there was absolutely no hiding it lol), including by having her boss (R) interview me briefly as well, as he would be my primary contact while she was out, and showing me a list of specific contacts for other topics. Obviously I don’t know if this was shared with everyone or just me since they thought I was a strong candidate, but I appreciated that they put the time/thought into this kind of prep for an interview and it reassured me that I wouldn’t be left hanging right after starting the job. For obvious reasons it was also a quick hiring process – application to offer letter was less than 2 weeks, then another week for the paperwork/background check/reference check to be completed. At that point I put in my 2 weeks at the previous job so I started just over a month after I applied for the role. After I started, it was clear everyone had thought about how to prioritize tasks so I got as much time with B as possible before she left. Everyone also stepped up really well in her absence and R extremely supportive and much more involved than I thought an SVP would actually be in training/guiding me.

    3. Smithy*

      While these are quite extreme examples, I think that even in less extreme cases – being upfront with candidates is a good opportunity for an employer to convey that they’re being thoughtful and strategic.

      I was once hiring for a direct report when in the middle of the process a restructure happened. This meant that the position would no longer focus on A & B, but just B. In sharing this information with candidates, no one dropped out, but it was a great way to make sure they were aware they were joining a team in the midst of a restructure. The fact that the restructure meant that about 75% of our onboarding materials were no longer relevant was a nasty surprise for all of us on the other side of that process, but at least there was some trust between my new direct report and me that I wasn’t trying to hide anything.

      And on the flip side, I started a new job during COVID working for a supervisor who went on maternity leave a few weeks before I started. Not that it was the easiest way to start a job, but it was talked about during my interview process and something I was well aware of.

    4. CommanderBanana*

      I was hired by a woman I was really, really excited to work for – then a week after I was brought on board she announced she was taking another job. I was so disappointed; she was a big part of the reason I wanted to take the job in the first place.

  3. MassMatt*

    #2 your boss the owner clearly stinks at hiring. Going back to the same source that produced a terrible hire is likely to result in a WORSE hire than before. Unless your coworker has suddenly gotten more professionally friends, this one is going to be someone that didn’t even make the cut the first time. You need to decide whether this really matters to you or not, if you are really going to need to rely on this person to do your job maybe it’s worth making a stand for a better hire r start looking for a more professional place to work.

    1. WS*

      +1, if your first choice from this pool was so bad, the second choice is unlikely to be an improvement.

    2. Naomi*

      Given that Lisa was the one to give notice, I’m not sure the boss even acknowledges that she was a terrible hire…

      I wonder if the boss aspires to be a “we’re like a family here” kind of employer, and is prioritizing that over hiring people who can do the work. Hence ​the search for new hires among Jane’s Facebook friends. Alison is right that it’s shortsighted to limit their search to one person’s network, but more to the point, this isn’t even Jane’s professional network! If they were searching her LinkedIn, there might be some sense to it, but looking on Facebook really suggests to me that the desired qualification is “someone Jane can be pally with.”

      1. Need a WFH policy*

        Reading the letter, I wondered if there was more going on between the boss and Jane which is why Jane’s FB friend list is the potential employee pool. It just seems really odd.
        It still wouldn’t be good practice but due to the size of the company, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the boss had asked all current employees for recommendations for their friends to fill the position. That they are only asking Jane strikes me as a something more to the relationship thing.

        1. EPLawyer*

          I thought that too. Why ONLY Jane’s pool of friends? Why not ask LW or any one else if they have friends they would like to have work there? Jane and Boss seem too interested in making this place their little club.

          LW — the bees are starting to swarm. Get out before the place fills up.

        2. generic_username*

          Could be that he didn’t even ask Jane though. Like, she might just be like “Oh, I went to school for something in this field so I have so many friends who are qualified” and it’s just easier for the boss to defer the decision to Jane (still not saying it’s a good hiring practice).

          1. Teapot Repair Technician*

            I wonder if it would make more sense if we knew what kind of business it was.

            If the key qualification for the position is a rare skill, it might not make sense to advertise for it on Indeed or Craigslist, and it’s possible that Jane really does know every person in the area with that skill.

        3. SophieSassypants*

          This is EXACTLY where my mind went when reading the letter. It’s just… so bizarre to me this is the direction the boss is going in. He hired letter writer, and hired Jane, so he knows there are other avenues to pursue.

          And that’s not even touching on how useless the first hire was.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I see “stinks at hiring” and raise it to “afraid of hiring”. Instead of learning something about hiring good employees the boss found a “shortcut” and it allows the boss not to address his knowledge gaps.

    4. Greg*

      I mean, he very clearly isn’t hiring for the qualifications of the job. He’s going through Jane’s friends and pointing at the ones he finds attractive and says, “What about her?”

      1. ecnaseener*

        Well, we don’t know that. As generic_username said above, it could be that Jane has a lot of friends in this field and boss is taking her word at “this friend of mine would be perfect.” Obviously he still isn’t looking closely *enough* at the qualifications, but nothing in the letter suggested it was about looks.

        1. Greg*

          The culling the Facebook page, her bona fides weren’t really examined all that closely, and the fact it is a front desk employee are the telling tidbits for me. I wouldn’t be referring to someone’s Facebook page for their fit in my organization based on a recommendation from a current employee. So while nothing about the employees looks is specifically mentioned this is the simplest answer for me.

    5. LilyP*

      My guess is he’s thinking that with such a small staff it’s more important to hire someone who will get along with everyone/fit in with “the culture” than to hire the #1 best performer possible (part time + front desk make me think it’s a relatively junior role too, so he might feel it’s less important to have a superstar), and where better to find someone everyone will like than people’s existing friend set? (Obvs I think he’s wrong but that’s my guess at the thought process).

  4. Marian*

    Jeez, OPs 1 – 3, ALL these bosses sound horrible!!

    OP #1, it sounds like you no longer work there, if you no longer work there, what were the other reasons for leaving? It honestly sounds like Mary’s manager wasn’t doing their job by letting her being disruptive. Working in that type of environment where certain people aren’t held accountable and continue acting however they want is extremely demoralizing.

    With my current team, there is 1 team member who is disruptive and feels the need to interject with EVERYTHING. And her voice is super grating. But I’m not comfortable addressing it with my boss, because I actually addressed other issues regarding her to him awhile back, and he blew me off and made excuses for her. Bleh.

    1. OP #1*

      OP 1 here: You’re right, I no longer work there! And you’ve definitely correctly picked up on the fact that Mary’s manager (also my manager and the head of our department) was not great at holding people accountable, in general. There were a number of other issues related to organizational culture (as well as being underpaid) that led me to leave, so the Mary situation is really a sort of amusing blip on the radar at this point. Totally agree about how demoralizing it is to be couched in a context where managers don’t know how to/refuse to actually manage – hope your situation improves or you’re able to find an out soon!

  5. NeutralJanet*

    Any advice on how to handle it if you’re the cryer? I have a hormonal imbalance, and a few years ago, I had a phase where I cried at everything–if I thought about a sad line from a song I hadn’t heard in four years and had never liked, on went the tap, though I wasn’t actually any sadder than I would normally be in that situation. I’m on medications now that have stopped the crying, but I’m wondering if there was anything in particular I should have done at work. I did tell people that I had a medical condition that might cause me to cry and that they should ignore it, but I’m sure it was disconcerting nonetheless, maybe especially because I tend to speak in a bit of a monotone and don’t naturally make facial expressions (think, well, Neutral Janet).

    1. WS*

      I had a similar problem, also due to a medical condition, and I would excuse myself briefly and go wipe my eyes, blow my nose and get it together. Preferably in the bathroom, but if that wasn’t an option because it was in a meeting or we were working together, I’d just turn away and take care of it. After the first few times when it was obvious that I was actually okay, it became a non-event. Which was good, because it took over a year to get the thyroid medication right!

    2. Forrest*

      I think be as clear as you can that it’s just an involuntary thing, like a tic or something, and you want people to ignore it.

      Crying is only really disruptive if everyone feels they have to Do Something, and stops talking, looking awkward. Tell them to treat it like a sneezing fit or something, where they register that you’re crying, but politely ignore it and keep going, and it doesn’t have to be a problem.

      1. Ganymede*

        I’m amusing myself by the idea of getting a little notice on a stick that says “Treat it like a sneezing fit”, and holding it up when the tears flow. Possibly not a solution for all workplaces!

        I do sympathise, I have worked for a long time with someone whose tears were very ready – I just learned to ride through it and it was always fairly fleeting. I think she appreciated that we understood but weren’t making a drama about it.

        1. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

          I’m picturing this Wile E. Coyote style with a literal fountain of tears and the little hand-written sign.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I agree in being clear that’s involuntary so people don’t feel like they need to tiptoe around the person crying. To me, there’s a big difference between someone who cries involuntarily because of medication and someone who cries at every little perceived slight, problem, frustration or whatever. I can deal with the former. The latter is really tough to deal with and makes me want to completely avoid that person. I managed someone like that and it was horrible. It made me want to avoid her, which is really a bad thing when you have to manage the person.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            I did, multiple times. I inherited her from another manager and that manager tried to address it many times, too, but ultimately the employee was allowed to skate by with no consequences. Some issues she had were personal and home-related, which bled over into work; some were how she treated and interacted with coworkers; and others were just who she was in general (manipulative, lots of drama, passive aggressive, “everyone hates me”). Most people avoided her, or if they did speak to her they were extremely careful about what and how they said things. Eventually she quit without notice.

        1. Mockingdragon*

          That’s interesting… to me, crying because of strong (or even not so strong!) emotions is just as involuntary. Does it help to still frame it as something that’s just happening, if it’s because they’re a little frustrated rather than for no reason at all?

          1. LTL*

            I think the difference is that when someone’s crying because they’re truly upset, a lot of emotional vulnerability is introduced into the space. It’s also difficult to continue with business as usual when someone is expressing distress or intense sadness.

            If someone simply cries easily because of a medical problem, it’s easy to say “oh they’re not super upset, it’s just their tear ducts doing funny stuff” so it doesn’t feel like strong emotions are now a part of the meeting.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        This.

        years ago I had a weird reaction to some medication I was taking and would cry over the silliest thing. I just kept saying, “I’m fine, it’s involuntary, ignore me,” until people got used to it (and I was done with the meds).

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Sometimes crying has it’s roots in a physical issue as you have found. I like the suggestion of telling others to just ignore it. If you wanted to you could add that you were getting help with it and it would get better in a bit.

      When my father died, I went through Random and Unprovoked Crying. Part of my solution was some B vitamins for my heart/circulation. But the other part was to have set cry times each day. Tear ducts will run dry, I learned this. The set cry times were tedious. And sometimes I just cried because I had to have set cry times to cope with life stuff. I did burn it out of me eventually. It was about four months and then I noticed I was not experiencing Random Crying so much.

      That was almost 30 years ago and a lot more life stuff has gone on. I have made peace with the idea that sometimes I can read or hear stuff that will just cause the tears to come up. I try to just remain low key and just feel the feeling. “Yes, I am sad because of this [news article/friend’s illness/threatening storm/whatever].” It’s important to acknowledge our own feelings. Typically we scold ourselves and say things like “stop it!!!” and some how this causes MORE crying. That is because scolding ourselves is denying our own feelings. It did not work when we were young and our elders said “stop it”. It still does not work now when we tell ourselves to “stop it”, either. Decide when in a private moment, you will allow yourself to feel the feeling.

    4. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I personally know of no medical condition that causes my taps to be at the ready at the drop of a hat, and it is massively annoying to not be able to explain.

      I might be happy
      I might be upset
      I might be horrified
      I might be attempting to NOT murder someone
      I might be angry
      I might be feeling extremly loved

      Any possible emotion can cause this and it is FRUSTRATING as hell. I have had some luck with explaining “I’m not upset, its just not acceptable to murder people in the office over their stupidity so I’m crying in frustration” once or twice with an appropriately humored audience.

      1. Mimi*

        Oh, I HATE frustrated/angry crying! It makes me look unprofessional and really undermines a message of “This is completely unacceptable and you need to stop.” And unfortunately we have no social script for “I am leaking because I am SO FRIGGING FURIOUS AT YOU.”

        I’ve observed that, for me, actual crying at work correlates with not getting enough sleep (and some other stressful situation), but while enough sleep makes angry crying less likely, it’s not a sure-fire way to avoid it.

        I will also leak if I laugh to hard, but that’s easier to deal with.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I used to tear up at work when I got angry or frustrated, too, and it was so demoralizing. Also, my ex could handle my anger but he was never good with tears. So it really freaked him out when I was leaking like a faucet but still fighting and angry with him.

          Dumping the ex and menopause seems to have cured my angry crying, so there’s that.

        2. generic_username*

          SAME! I always hate crying out of anger during a fight/argument because then the person apologizes for making you cry and I get more frustrated because now we’re off topic and that isn’t what I wanted an apology for. (Thankfully I don’t tend to get angry at work – or when I do, I excuse myself until I’ve gotten my emotions in check – so this is only a personal issue instead of a professional one)

        3. OtterB*

          A line sticks in my head from an old pulp science fiction novel. One of the characters says something like “Women cry so they won’t swear, and men swear so they won’t cry.” Which is gender-biased as all get-out (I personally, a cis-het woman in my 60s, am more inclined to swear these days) but still makes the point that the angry, frustrated feelings need to go *somewhere*.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Same. And it sucks because “frustrating” is actually the feeling most likely to put me in tears I can’t stop, so then it’s a terrible cycle where I become frustrated with myself as well and just want to cry even more.

        [Also, this may not be the case for you but figured I’d share for anyone else in my shoes that I actually got diagnosed with ADHD last year and I was extremely surprised to learn that emotional dysregulation was a major symptom of that. So I do at least know the *why* now… not that it actually changes anything for me.]

        1. LC*

          Wow, this thread is really calling me out. :-)

          Also diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. Also emotional dysregulation is one of the more annoying and least medication-responsive symptions (therapy helps, but man I wish I’d made as much of an improvement with that as with most of my other obnoxious symptoms). Also can cry based on a wide range of emotions, and frustration is absolutely one of the most frustrating.

          No words of wisdom or anything, but you’re very much not alone in this.

          1. JustaTech*

            I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and I literally learned about the emotional dysregulation last week. Ugh, why didn’t anyone (several doctors/therapists) tell me about this sooner?

      3. LC*

        Yuuuuuup it’s remarkable the range of emotions that can make me cry.

        Frustration is one of the hardest ones for me. I always feel like it undermines whatever I’m (rightfully!) upset about and then I’m just the girl who’s crying.

        If I can keep it to just tears and not actually crying, it’s easier to do the “I’m not sad, it’s just a physical response, please let’s carry on and listen to what I’m actually saying” thing, but the second my voice breaks or my breath catches, I feel like I lose all legitimacy (in other people’s eyes).

    5. Lacey*

      Letting people know what’s up helps a lot. Even if it’s not a medical situation. A number of years ago I had a coworker who was losing it at the drop of a hat. I was pretty baffled and uncomfortable, but after a while she deputized a coworker to let us all know she was going through something awful (no specifics) and that it wasn’t anything work related. Just that extra context made it way less awkward.

    6. Observer*

      I did tell people that I had a medical condition that might cause me to cry and that they should ignore it,

      That makes a real difference! Mary was not only crying, she was kind of making it everyone’s problem by saying that she is emotional and that this particular thing was actually evoking strong emotions. Which would be one thing if it were about ONE particular thing. But when it is about pretty much everything your group does, that’s just too much emotion to lay on people.

      Tears that you essentially are framing as a leak are still uncomfortable in the moment because that’s the way we are primed. But at least no one has to figure out how to deal with all these over-the-top emotions and walk around on eggshells.

      1. Luke G*

        Yes! It sounds like she was trying to defuse the situation by clarifying that she wasn’t reduced to tears by the sheer beauty/awfulness of someone’s meeting proposal- but by centering her emotional reason for crying she was just hanging a lampshade on the issue and really drawing attention. Tears will always be off-putting as a non-standard meeting behavior, but a single disclaimer of “hey, this happens sometimes, can’t really control it, please just keep things moving and ignore me” without the additional commentary would probably defuse better.

    7. Koalafied*

      I’m a very easy crier as well, like I cry at 15 second Subaru commercials on the reg. I’m able to control this behavior around others because I’ve had cognitive-behavioral therapy and so I understand thatfeelings, which I can’t control, make me tear up, but continuing to think about the thing that made me tear up is what keeps me crying, and I can largely control what I think about so I choose to redirect my attention to something that doesn’t make me want to keep crying. (Sure, unsolicited thoughts pop in as they do with everyone, but ruminating/dwelling is something you do consciously and can choose not to do.) It’s the while philosophy of notice the feeling, accept the feeling, let the feeling pass over you. Feelings are fleeing chemical responses that only persist when you keep thinking about them. So if I start to tear up in inappropriate places I immediately redirect my attention.

    8. cubone*

      I think there’s good comments here about how you could’ve informed people at work, but I think one of the greatest skills is learning how to not make crying worse/being able to shed a few tears and move on. Basically being able to feel the cry coming on, not resist it, but not give into it either. I haaate crying in public so for a long time if I felt that throat choke feeling, I would start panicking in my head, which just makes it so much worse and harder to pull back from.

      Learning deep breathing techniques (and also just general like, emotional acceptance and self-compassion) helped me accept that it’s okay to cry, and now I can more easily shed a few tears and then take a few deep breaths (or leave, or whatever else I need to compose myself) and keep going. It’s been really helpful. I’ve accepted that I can just be a bit of a crybaby, but I don’t feel like I’m giving into it or trying to hide it either.

    9. TootsNYC*

      I often hear: look up. Supposedly that makes it physiologically harder to cry.

      there are also mental exercises you can do–biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy–that might help minimize it.

    10. EmmaPoet*

      I tend to dig my nails into my palm and practice 4 count breathing to get it under control- inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4. This works if I’m not the one talking. Also, I just own it. I had to do an informal presentation recently on what to do in an active shooter situation, and I told the group that I might get a little choked up, but not to worry. I did, and nobody minded.

  6. JustSomeonw*

    #4–I was the person you’re talking about: the new hire where I was my supervisor’s only direct report and she was due do go out on maternity leave about 3 months after my start date. The organization was very upfront about it at the final interview, and we actively discussed what those circumstances would mean during the offer stage. I was very aware of what coverage I would be providing and what support was available, etc. The transparency made me feel extra good about accepting the offer.

    And then, on the very day that I started, my brand new supervisor started having some complications.

    1. JustSomeone*

      Oops, I was trying to fix a typo in my name and accidentally hit submit.

      Anyhow, my brand new supervisor wound up coming into the office precisely once before being put on bed rest for her final trimester. She ultimately delivered a healthy baby girl, took her planned duration of maternity leave, and then accepted a position elsewhere.

      It definitely didn’t go as anyone had planned, but thank goodness they were upfront with me and had a plan in place! It would have been unbelievably stressful if I’d gone into that job with no idea any of that was even a possibility.

      1. too young to die, too old to eat off the kids' menu*

        I liked the accidental post. It added a nice amount of suspense to your story

        1. INFJedi*

          Yes, it was a nice cliffhanger.

          (well, not for the person in question though, but storywise it was good)

        2. SpellingBee*

          Agree, great cliffhanger! “And then, on the very day that I started, my brand new supervisor started having some complications.” (Cue dramatic music: dum dum DUM, and cut to commercial of happy people picnicking and playing in the park, accompanied by cheery music. “Do you suffer from (insert ailment here)? Ask your doctor if Bibopsil is right for you!”)

    2. Medusa*

      Yeah, I personally as a job seeker wouldn’t need to know about this on the first interview. I would want to be told if there was another round of interviews or they were making an offer.

      You should get career in TV writing with the cliffhanger game.

    3. Iamapatientgirl*

      Our company has a really good maternity/paternity leave policy (16wks/7wks full paid) and when I’m on interview panels I like to mention it because I think in general they are very goood about not letting that leave time interfere with ppls careers – i had a colleague promoted to my manager a week before her leave, I saw another team formed and their supervisor immediately went on parental leave while someone else got the team up and running. I, in fact, got promoted while I was on my maternity leave. The topic is so fraught in general and I feel like by poking it out of the shadows we can give ppl both a heads up about changes situations like that, but also reassure them that if they find themselves in the same situation it’s not the end of the career track.

    4. JB*

      Agreed. I was in a similar situation when hired for my last position (although thankfully the senior coworker in question who was pregnant – not my supervisor, but the only person qualified to train me in our very specialized position – didn’t have any complications and was able to come in for the entire anticipated two-month-ish period before her due date – IIRC she actually got an extra week in). I very much appreciated that they were up-front about it in the interview and let me know what to expect. It gave me time to ask questions about the plans, etc right then and there, which helped me be prepared once I was actually going into the job. If they’d waited until the offer stage, I wouldn’t have felt like I could ask any questions – and I don’t know that I would have been able to, really, since offers are extended by HR at our company, not the hiring manager, and HR barely knows what that position does, let alone how they were planning my training.

  7. august*

    I remember being under quarantine on the first week of a new staff and it fortunately went well. It was probably a weird week then since our boss was in the hospital and I was a close contact so I was working from home and only the staff were left. It was also just my first few months in the company and being without a boss and not knowing who and where to ask questions and advice was hard. Sometimes things happen but it can get disconcerting for the new hire, so yes please do tell in advance.

    1. JustaTech*

      Yeah, I’ve got a new person starting in my group that I’ll be training (not supervising) and I’m also at a virtual conference the first three days (starting at 5am, wee!).

  8. A.N. O'Nyme*

    LW 3’s boss would probably get my “return weirdness to sender” response.

    “Blabla when you leave…”
    “Wait why would I leave? Am I getting fired? Why are you firing me?”

    I’m not saying he is actually planning on firing you, but I would still be weary. And who knows, maybe such a response can jolt him into realising he really does say that a lot and it’s not a good look.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I got the impression he was saying/thinking it because in his mind, OP is likely to resign again next time there’s a problem (maybe it’s a particularly problematic company….) – unrelated to the current issue but just “next time something comes up”.

      1. A.N. O'Nyme*

        That’s the impression I get too, but I still would be weary of this boss. This, frankly, sounds like LW3 is being pushed out (whether or not it is intentional on the boss’s part).

        1. BubbleTea*

          Do you mean weary as in tired, or wary as in apprehensive? I ask because both are appropriate, I’d be thoroughly fed up of constant references to when I leave and worried I might get pushed out.

          1. I edit everything*

            “Wary” and “leery” often get combined and come out “weary” for some reason.

            1. A.N. O'Nyme*

              Seems like I’ve done that so often my phone now autocorrects “wary” to “weary”. Woops.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It’s definitely a symptom of a break down in trust. The boss no longer trusts the employee to stay with the job.

        Worse yet, it seems that there is nothing OP can say that will console the boss and help the boss let go of this idea. And that can be a deal breaker.

    2. Nanani*

      This.

      “When you leave” might very well mean “when we push you out (because we have no intention of changing the problems)”

  9. Kara*

    #3 I don’t think you have a good boss there.

    A good boss would be talking to you about how to improve your working life going forward, not making these ridiculous comments.

    I would be job hunting. You don’t have to stay just to prove them wrong.

  10. The Wall Of Creativity*

    #3 sounds to me like the usual outcome from accepting a counteroffer. In your case the counteroffer didn’t involve a pay increase (just sorting out HR and people problems) but it was still a counteroffer. Accept and they assume you’re going to leave anyway. Once they’ve had time to think about recruiting a suitable replacement, they start working on that and pushing you out.

    Been there.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I resigned from a job because of my oppressive workload and 70+ hour weeks, not because I hated my job or boss, or because I was underpaid. My boss understood why I was burned out but had not been successful in realigning our team or getting additional staff, and I know she tried. She asked me to trust her one last time to realign based on my specific situation, saying I was valued and our ELT wouldn’t want to lose me. Against all logic, I decided to stay and she was true to her word. I didn’t ask for a salary or title change, and she didn’t offer, and she never brought up my resignation or held it over my head. My team was laid off ~2 years later but I never regretted staying.

      If a friend or colleague did what I did, I’d have told them they were making a huge mistake accepting a counter-proposal/offer. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen this work in over 30 years, and don’t have enough hands to count how many times it failed. But there’s always a possibility, I guess.

  11. MsSolo (UK)*

    I know we’re not meant to nitpick language here, but i’m confused about the use of “culling” in #2. I’m used to seeing it used to mean removed in terms of social media (coming from culling, say, deer in Scotland, meaning to kill a bunch to reduce the population because they have no natural predators to do so), so I read the first paragraph as Lisa was removed from Jane’s fb friends after being hired to disguise the friendship, but the second time it’s used it appears to be in the context of, I don’t know, ‘browsing’ Jane’s fb friend list? Has the usage changed and I’m just out of date, or is it a US/UK dialect thing?

    1. linger*

      “Culling” has both meanings. Its core meaning is “extracting; selecting from a specified group”, which, depending on context, can be either “thinning; selectively removing (e.g. by killing)”, or (as here) “choosing for some purpose”.

      1. linger*

        OTOH the noun cull is more specifically used for “selectively killing, e.g. for purposes of curating a population”.

    2. Forrest*

      I was also wondering this! I’ve never seen “cull” to mean “to select positively”. And it also leaves me confused about whether Lisa was chosen from Jane’s FB or kicked off it when she got hired!

      1. BubbleTea*

        I initially read it with the remove meaning, and thought “great, a recognition of the need for appropriate work boundaries!” then read on and realised… this was not it.

    3. elle*

      As someone who literally culls livestock from my farm by slaughtering them, I found that misuse of the word to be particularly jarring. When used in its normal form – ie, removing from the group (for negative reasons) it isn’t so strange to see, but the combination of the metaphorical meaning and the misuse was just too much for me.

      1. linger*

        So how do you react to the even more traditional meaning “harvest by cutting (e.g. flowers)”? Selection for positive purpose is neither a misuse nor a new use (for the verb), just a less common use. The ambiguity has always been there from the word’s origin (it has the same root as “collect”), with variable focus either on the individuals selected or the population managed as a result. Appropriately enough for this site, what the word cull consistently denotes, in either use, is a notion of management by selection, or curation.

  12. Green great dragon*

    #1 some people do tear up more easily – not ideal of course, but sometimes hard to stop. I’m not clear why the meetings went so badly off track – was Mary sobbing too much to be talked over, or did everyone just sit around awkwardly for a while? It sounds like someone jumping in more quickly could have minimised the disruption a lot – “My dad was a sailor and this issue is just really close to my heart!” “Of course, Mary. And I agree a knot-tying course would be excellent, shall we [relevant work comment]”

    Not that I would have done that in my first job – that’s parenting experience coming through.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It can be a powerful tool to carry on in a normal voice. The crier can use that normal voice tone to pull themselves out of where they are at. I think of it as a matter of fact tone but that phrasing can have negative connotations.

      It’s something like this: “Yes, the ceiling fell down in the past. But maintenance came and fixed it. If it falls again, which is unlikely, we will just call maintenance again. So we will be okay here.” I’m advocating for a even tone with some reassurance in the message.

      1. Green great dragon*

        I like this, though to quibble, I’m not convinced anyone needs reassurance here. I got the impression Mary just needs a moment to pull herself together.

    2. generic_username*

      Yeah, letting Mary’s crying derail meetings is on everyone in the meeting, not just Mary. Unless Mary was a dramatic person who would have drawn attention back to her crying if not given the appropriate amount of sympathy

    3. OP #1*

      I think you’re totally right that had someone jumped in in the way you described, it would have really minimized the disruption and made things way less awkward! I think, over time, that type of redirection could have also helped Mary identify that she was taking us off track (especially if it was paired with a kind conversation from her manager). Mostly people did just sit around awkwardly – it wasn’t really *sobbing* per say, but Mary was pretty gregarious, so would go on for a long time if not interrupted (this was also true for any comments she made in meetings, even if she wasn’t crying). Occasionally, someone would interject, but more in the vein of trying to make her feel better, rather than trying to redirect and get the conversation back on track. It came from a place of most people there being actually nice and wanting to show that they cared about Mary’s feelings, but I think just had the effect of incentivizing the issue to continue

      1. Nanani*

        Whoever’s in charge should really just carry on with the meeting and let her cry. Some people are criers, and that’s okay.
        IF Mary is deliberately grinding things to a stop and demanding attention, that’s a problem. But Crying is NOT automatically a demand for attention.
        Your boss or whoever is in charge of the meeting needs to step up and move the meeting along whether the delays are from crying, tangents, or shiny things in the window.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, and if this is just the way Mary is an it’s not something she can easily control, then I’m not sure what exactly a manager could do about it. I mean, if Mary is tearing up more than usual it would be good for the manager to check in and make sure she’s okay. But if Mary’s response is “I’m fine, I just cannot control the fact that I tear up easily” then what is anyone supposed to do about that? It sounds like she’s just tearing up and not like audibly crying so it seems to me the best thing to do is just redirect the meeting and try to ignore the tears.

  13. Forrest*

    I have a bit of a thing about the framing of crying as disruptive since that quote from the British scientist saying that women don’t belong in labs because they cry— the implication was that crying was just so DREADFUL and TERRIBLE that it rendered poor Prof Scientist utterly unable to continue a thought, make a decision, push forward on a difficult conversation etc. I don’t feel like there is anything about crying by itself which is inherently disruptive: water coming out of someone’s eyes doesn’t oblige you to stop what you’re doing and attend to that person’s needs, and the more often it happens, the more someone just needs to take the lead on moving the conversation on and letting Jane have a few minutes to figure out whatever she needs to do.

    If someone is crying in a way which is deliberately disruptive and trying to derail a conversation, that’s one thing, and it certainly needs to be addressed. But if someone just responds to situations of stress or tension with tears but is otherwise focussed and able to continue to the conversation, or just needs a minute or two to get themselves together whilst others continue the conversation— I just don’t think that needs to be stigmatised particularly? To me, it’s such a gendered thing and such an involuntary physiological thing — I don’t think “everyone sits and stares awkwardly until someone fixes it” is a necessary response, and I think there should be more focus on people recognising the difference between “distress that needs to be attended to” and “simple crying” rather than crying being seen as inherently disruptive.

    1. Actual Vampire*

      It sounds like these weren’t situations that were stressful or tense, though, just situations that reminded Mary of her personal life. I have had to deal with someone like this in my personal life and it does become quite disruptive when a seemingly normal conversation leads to tears. As Allison said, once or twice is fine – but I don’t think it’s reasonable to make employees deal with the constant stress of not knowing when they will tip Mary off. Nor do I think it would be reasonable to tell them to just ignore that stress.

      1. Green great dragon*

        But that’s part of what Forrest is saying. Mary isn’t using tears as a weapon, or sobbing as soon as she’s criticised, and she’s not crying *at* anyone. ‘Constant stress’ because Mary tears up sometimes is a very outsized reaction to something that doesn’t actually have to be that disruptive. Of course telling them to ignore it won’t help, but any co-worker who’s struggling that much with this could do with some coaching here in my opinion.

        I think Mary could have handled it better, definitely, though she does seem to have tried to convey ‘it’s my problem, don’t worry’. But the co-workers (and Boss) could have done much more to make it less disruptive.

        1. OP #1*

          I think the example I gave in my initial post was probably not the best. I tried to keep it as vague as possible for the sake of anonymity, but that maybe made it sound like these situations were quicker and breezier than they actually were. As some folks are saying , if Mary had sent the “it’s my problem, don’t worry!” message, I think it might have felt less disruptive, but it was definitely more of a constant centering of her own personal feelings and need to process in real time. Mary was a really nice person, so I definitely don’t think this was in any way purposefully manipulative, but it did still have the effect of turning regular, everyday work conversations into Mary’s personal therapy session.

      2. Forrest*

        It’s more that I want to unpick why Mary crying is seen as stressful. Mary cries. It’s a thing she does. If Mary insists that the meeting stops and everyone to attend to her tears, that’s disruptive. But if she just wells up, gets a bit choked, drops out of the conversation for a minute or two and then carries on, I don’t get why that has to be framed as stressful. For me, it’s more like knowing a colleague has Tourette’s or something. There’s no need to stop and be me a big deal of Jim’s tic, or get stressed out about it: you can just acknowledge that it’s happening and keep moving.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          It reads to me as more disruptive than that. I had a co-worker like this, so maybe I’m projecting, but if Mary cries every time she speaks and then talks about how important the issue is and how emotional it makes her… that strikes me as attention-seeking in a way that involuntary, random crying does not. My co-worker would cry and keep talking about how invested she was and how emotional she was and we were left sitting there waiting for her to stop and tell us when her tasks on the project would be completed. It was uncomfortable and stressful because it was manipulative and time-consuming.

          There’s “I’m an easy crier, don’t mind me”, and there’s “I’m crying because I care so much and I need you to focus on my emotions rather than the task at hand.” Mary strikes me as the latter, which is 10 times more bothersome than the former.

          1. Colette*

            Yes, if she were just welling up and not drawing attention to it, it likely wouldn’t have been an issue. But if she’s sobbing, or if she makes a big deal about how affected she is by the conversation about widgets, that’s expecting others to do emotional labour they didn’t sign up for.

          2. Green great dragon*

            That’s interesting – I interpreted Mary’s comment as trying to say ‘just a personal thing – nothing you need to do here’ – pretty much the opposite to you!

            1. I edit everything*

              Except she said it every time, explained every time, interjecting the explanation into the conversation. If she’d explained once, then when it happened simply faded out of the conversation for a sec to deal with the emotion/tears, then stepped back in, I’d be more sympathetic.

          3. Observer*

            There’s “I’m an easy crier, don’t mind me”, and there’s “I’m crying because I care so much and I need you to focus on my emotions rather than the task at hand.” Mary strikes me as the latter,

            This is exactly it.

          4. Butterfly Counter*

            This is where I land, too.

            If the crying is just happening and Mary seems happy that people are ignoring it: carry on.

            However, if the crying is performative and Mary seems to want recognition in some way for her emotions, that can get really uncomfortable.

          5. Dust Bunny*

            This. She’s not saying, “Don’t mind me–I just tear up easily,” she’s explaining why something is significant enough to her to make her tear up. That’s not how you avoid drawing your coworkers into your emotional business.

          6. OP #1*

            This is exactly what it was (to the point that I’m wondering if Mary was also your co-worker? lol). It felt incredibly attention seeking (again, I don’t think this was intentionally manipulative, but that was the impact). It was very much a call for everyone else to stop talking about the actual work and start focusing on how invested/passionate Mary was, and ultimately for others to attend to her emotions in a way that just didn’t feel appropriate for a work setting. The issue definitely wasn’t only Mary – the whole group just sitting there awkwardly did not make it better! I started to talk about this in a previous comment above, but if anyone did interject, it wasn’t in an effort to get the conversation back on track, but rather to jump in and try to soothe Mary, which only took us more off track and made it feel like I was a spectator in a therapy session, when I was actually in a work meeting.

            FWIW, I totally agree with Forrest about how toxic it is that emotionality in general (and crying, specifically) gets framed as “unprofessional,” particularly because of the way that emotional vulnerability is gendered and how that negative connotation is directed at exactly the same people who experience other forms of workplace discrimination (and sexism outside the workplace, too). IDK that this really matters that much, but all the staff at this job (it was a small team of about 8-10) were women. I said this in a different comment too, but I think the example I gave in my initial post wasn’t a great one. Mary was definitely not in the camp of “responding to situations of stress or tension with tears, but otherwise focused and able to continue the conversation.” It was almost never a situation of stress or tension and she could not at all focus on the task or conversation at hand. It was less of a “give me a minute while I get myself together” and more of a “everyone pay attention to me while I put on display how committed I am to this work and talk about how important this issue is even though you just asked me which title I liked better for this article.” I wouldn’t say she was *deliberately* disruptive in that I don’t think she went in thinking “how can I derail this meeting today?” or even that she was deflecting from not wanting to talk about the progress of her actual work, but I do think she was unintentionally manipulating the whole group to focus on her feelings because she liked the attention and it did have the effect of derailing the conversation. That said, I think this whole situation was really more on the manager/director because, as others have said, there were so many opportunities to interrupt/redirect in the moment and/or to have a kind conversation with Mary in private that were never acted on!

          7. Splendid Colors*

            I don’t know what I would do in a work situation with a couple of people I know who go into lengthy, detailed descriptions of why [random ordinary thing] is VERY VERY TRIGGERING BECAUSE LET ME TELL YOU HOW IT REMINDS ME OF THIS NSFW STORY ABOUT ABUSE BY MY EVIL EX. They have zero filter for “this is a story for therapy sessions” vs. “this is a topic I can bring up at Thanksgiving/birthday/mall” and wonder why they have trouble making new friends. “Everyone is so shallow! They don’t want to have Real Conversations!”

            These are not people I invite to staff my craft fair booth. I’m not a “Positive Vibes Only!” person but I don’t need people airing their NSFW laundry in front of the other vendors and customers.

        2. Duc Anonymous*

          This can be helpful to Mary, too. I have Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was pretty good about being able to walk away during a panic attack (more internal vs. anxiety, which manifests more externally), but recently, I just… couldn’t. I don’t have attacks *at* people and I understand that they can be disruptive, but really — moving on helps me to come down more quickly. I’m not having them because of a circumstance or *at* anyone, it’s just a thing that happens. Like a sneeze.

        3. Sylvan*

          I think most people respond to a show of distress with concern and find it hard to keep moving as if it’s not happening.

          I’d probably have a hard time being around this.

        4. Observer*

          But if she just wells up, gets a bit choked, drops out of the conversation for a minute or two and then carries on, I don’t get why that has to be framed as stressful

          Except that this is not what’s happening. She is NOT dropping out of the conversation. She’s not saying “Don’t mind me.” She actually making a THING out of it and calling more attention to it. Saying stuff like “you know how emotional I get. My dad was a sailor and this issue is just really close to my heart!” keeps the attention on her and HOW EMOTIONAL she is being. Also, she wasn’t just getting teary eyed when someone else was talking. She would interject and then not be able to finish her thought because she was being “so emotional about a cause that’s so near to her heart!” She was being disruptive, and her boss should have called her on it.

          You can’t help getting teary eyes? OK. You can’t finish your sentence? You either need to get that under control or find another way to present your thoughts. As for interjecting and then turning on the waterworks? That’s not good – talk to your boss or the meeting coordinator about a better way to deal with it. And if / when the tears come, don’t “explain” why this thing makes you cry. Just step back and let everyone else get on with it.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Bingo.

      I see lots of talk about crying and some people faced with a crying person themselves seem to have a different kind of melt down.

      There’s no need. I rather deal with a crying person any day than deal with an angry, yelling person. Someone starts yelling at me then I am done with that conversation, period.

      1. Observer*

        This is not a binary choice. Sure, Mary was not THE WORST. And if I *had* to choose, I’d choose Mary, too. But why should I have to choose?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Right, it’s not choice A or choice B. It can be a sliding scale. And different circumstances can change the decision.
          As a starting point, I am more apt to try to talk things through with a crying person. But there are crying people who cannot be helped. Going the other way, sometimes helping a crying person consists of ignoring the tears and moving forward anyway. It varies.

          Technically speaking no one *has to* chose anything. But if a person walks away from every bump in the road they will do a lot of walking away. And that too is a form of meltdown.

      2. Simply the best*

        I’d rather vomit on myself than crap my pants in public. That doesn’t mean I want to do either. This choice you’ve suggested is the same.

    3. Colette*

      If I were talking about a normal, not-particularly-stressful project at work and someone started crying, it would be disruptive and possibly feel manipulative. It’s really not OK for someone to be regularly crying at work, particularly when others are noticing and feeling uncomfortable. You can feel how you feel; you can’t make your feelings something other people have to work around.

      1. Forrest*

        What I hear over and over again is “crying is disruptive because it makes me uncomfortable”. I just don’t necessarily agree that the discomfort some people feel when someone cries falls into the “so we have to stop the crying” category rather “you have to learn to deal with your discomfort” category.

        1. Colette*

          Crying is a sign of distress. People are pre-disposed to find it something that needs to be dealt with.

          If the issue were that they were at a funeral for Mary’s husband, the answer would be “this is normal, deal with it”. But they’re in a work meeting, talking about nothing personal or distressing, so the problem is Mary. She needs to get it under control.

          1. Mimi*

            Crying is a sign of distress, but not all crying indicates distress. There can be medical causes of crying, or some people just cry easily, without necessarily feeling particularly distressed. I get that our cultural framing here is predisposed to “Mary is crying, ergo Mary is distressed, ergo we must react,” but I think that there is room for both “Mary tries to cry less” and “Mary’s coworkers work to de-couple their assumption that Mary crying requires a reaction.”

            1. Colette*

              If Mary were trying to cry less, and leaving the room when she started crying, that would be a different story than the one we’re discussing. In that case, it would be reasonable for her coworkers to carry on.

              But I don’t think that, in general, it’s a good idea to train yourself not to react to crying, nor do I think anyone should have to tolerate someone openly sobbing or talking about how she’s crying because she cares so much in a work meeting.

              1. Mimi*

                I agree that the “I just care so much!” is out of line. I do think, though, in the abstract, that it would be possible to have a well-functioning team in which someone cries easily and the rest of the team knows that it’s no big deal and gets on with their lives, and I don’t know that I feel that it’s incumbent on the crier to remove themself from the situation. Certainly I would find Susan getting up and leaving a meeting in tears to be more disruptive than Susan mopping her eyes with a tissue and blowing her nose a few times, and waving a hand to indicate that everyone else should keep going if someone stopped to pay attention to her.

                1. Observer*

                  Which is all good and fine. But that is not what’s happening.

                  Essentially what your argument winds up being, although I realize you may not mean it that way, is that we shouldn’t criticize Mary because if she were behaving differently, her behavior would be ok. But she’s NOT behaving differently – she IS engaging the behavior that you admit is out of line.

              2. Green great dragon*

                Colette, I think you are picturing a very different situation to me (and some others here). I read it as close to your first para -she may be trying to cry less, and sitting still may be less disruptive than leaving and returning, and I do think it would be reasonable for coworkers to carry on. Conversely I agree making her tears the focus of the meeting would be unacceptable, if she is doing that. We don’t know which it is, of course.

                So I do think it’s useful to train yourself to have a much more nuanced reaction to crying – is it more like the first or the second? Does the person need a moment to themselves while the conversation continues around them, to go home for the afternoon, a pause until they’ve pulled themselves together so the conversation can continue and/or a firm discussion on appropriate behaviour in the office?

                1. Colette*

                  Here’s what the OP said:
                  “… get teary eyed, start to cry, and interject something like, “I’m sorry, you know how emotional I get. My dad was a sailor and this issue is just really close to my heart!”

                  That’s not someone who is welling up – she is full-on crying and drawing attention to herself.

                2. Mimi*

                  Colette, I think half of us in this thread aren’t talking about OP’s situation anymore. Forrest’s initial post was an abstract situation about crying in a meeting, not this particular manifestation of crying in a meeting.

                  I certainly agree with you that the situation OP describes is A Lot.

                3. Forrest*

                  I think this is for me one of those situations where not reacting and moving on is the right move either way— if Mary is embarrassed and trying to downplay an involuntary reaction, it’s a kindness; if she’s trying to get attention and make the meeting All About Her, it’s frustrating the attempt and making it very unrewarding.

            2. Observer*

              Crying is a sign of distress, but not all crying indicates distress. . . . I get that our cultural framing here is predisposed to “Mary is crying, ergo Mary is distressed, ergo we must react,” . . “Mary’s coworkers work to de-couple their assumption that Mary crying requires a reaction.”

              So the thing is that it’s not necessarily a good thing for people to decouple the crying from the need for a reaction, because it often leads to a desensitization. Especially since the reaction is NOT just cultural. It’s pretty hard wired as a function of empathy.

              Now, if it were just a physical thing or something like that and Mary EXPLAINED that, and encouraged everyone to just “carry on”, that would be different. People would be far more likely to decouple the tears from the need to do something. But not only is she not doing that, she’s actually highlighting her distress. That’s her problem not the problem of the people around her.

          2. not playing your game*

            That’s easier said than done though. Sometimes all it takes is a McDonald’s ad, or one of those wretched dying animal commercials… What has helped me is to redefine the moisture as watery eyes. I don’t cry, my eyes water. Damn allergy season don’t mind me. I can no more stop the damp eyes then you can stop the rain, but I do what I can to signal that this is a non event.

            1. Colette*

              Damp eyes/a few tears shouldn’t be an issue, and if that were the case, I’d suggest her coworkers focus on their work and not Mary. But she was openly crying and drawing attention to it: …get teary eyed, start to cry, and interject something like, “I’m sorry, you know how emotional I get. My dad was a sailor and this issue is just really close to my heart!

            2. generic_username*

              Lol, as an easy crier myself, that’s what I do too. I blame allergies and my contacts.

            3. Luke G*

              My allergies do cause watery eyes, sometimes VERY watery eyes… I’ll never forget how mortified I was in a slightly-contentious meeting and some well-intentioned soul suggested a quick water break, only to come ask me if I was OK. Turns out I appeared to be in full-on frustrated tears, when it was really just summer heat and lots of pollen resulting in a red nose and water streaming down my cheeks. I’m so used to my allergies I hadn’t even noticed.

          3. Spearmint*

            Exactly. It’s the normal, natural reaction to feel uncomfortable when people cry. At work, I think it’s the obligation of professionals to manage their emotional expressions, not others to make themselves comfortable with them.

            By analogy, imagine someone who had poor volume control of their voice and frequently raised their voice in meetings. We wouldn’t just tell the people who felt uncomfortable or intimated by that to just learn to stop having those reactions. We’d tell the voice raiser to learn to control their reactions.

            1. Colette*

              Or if someone regularly got angry and started throwing yelling. We wouldn’t say “anger is normal, people should just deal with it”.

              1. Sylvan*

                +1

                (Although, actually, I did have a coworker who had shouting-and-throwing-things tantrums. Our manager treated them as normal, but our manager saw them through a window in another room while I saw them from a few feet away. It wasn’t super easy to keep working like nothing was wrong lol.)

              2. generic_username*

                But tears are a biological response; throwing something is an action. And anger is normal – throwing things and yelling are not healthy or appropriate responses to anger. This isn’t a good analogy….

                1. Colette*

                  But visibly crying and then going on about how it’s because you just care so much is not a biological response. If she were tearing up and making an effort not to disrupt things, that would be a different story.

                2. Actual Vampire*

                  Anger is biological, too. People who have anger management problems can’t just decide to not express their anger. But they (hopefully) learn to manage their physical response to anger in a way that doesn’t impact others.

                  It sounds like Mary has an extreme emotional response to seemingly minor triggers that she then relieves by crying and venting to others. It’s possible she truly can’t control it, but I think it’s more likely that she hasn’t had a reason to develop other coping mechanisms because no one has set boundaries with her.

                1. Dasein9*

                  That is an astoundingly unhelpful reply.

                  But it would have to be; crying is an involuntary reaction.

                2. Unfettered scientist*

                  Adding onto this, CBT can be helpful. IMO, it’s less about stopping yourself from feeling upset and more about learning how to redirect your thoughts to something else so you don’t fixate and feed into the positive feedback loop.

                3. Colette*

                  @Dasein9 – there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Some people might need therapy; some might need medication. But if you can’t figure it out on your own, you need professional help.

        2. SoloKid*

          Crying is a social indicator that something is wrong, and it’s natural to want to attend to the problem. Of course we can learn to deal with someone’s chronic behavior over time but overall people will just have sympathetic reactions to seeing someone cry.

          1. Forrest*

            I don’t think the framing of crying as “disruptive” is sympathetic, though! I mean, that framing is about centring the observer’s discomfort, which is IMO is the opposite of sympathetic.

            I think one of the things here is that I *don’t* find someone crying particularly disruptive, or discomforting, and that’s something I’ve learned. Years ago I was in a training session where we were given the prompt “you are giving a fmsifficult piece of feedback to a student about her progress, and she starts to cry”, and asked what we’d do. Firstly, one older man said that he would just leave the room. Secondly, a younger woman said, “Well, I’m Canadian, but I’ve been in Britain long enough to know that tea solves everything! So I’d make her a cup of tea and then we’d carry on.”

            Making someone a cup of tea will not always be possible, but what I took away from that is that crying does not have to be the end of a conversation, and a truly sympathetic response centres the person crying rather than my discomfort. That means figuring out whether this is real distress (quite likely if it’s a difficult conversation, or someone who never normally cries reacting in a surprising way); someone who uses tears in a manipulative way; or someone who just has a very light trigger for crying. All three of require different responses, but I don’t think treating your own discomfort as the most important thing in the room really helps any of them.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              If someone you’re teaching is reacting to negative feedback, being empathetic and caring about their feelings makes sense. If someone is crying about stuff in meetings that isn’t about them on a regular basis, having to halt the meeting to soothe them is kind of a problem.

        3. rural academic*

          I agree with this, so much.

          I admit I cry easily myself (actually, most often from frustration than actual sadness), and I also work with students who sometimes cry (not because I am harsh with them, but just because they are overwhelmed). From both sides, I think the best response is just to be calm and neutral. Usually crying is an involuntary response that the person doesn’t have much control over, and I hate that it is so stigmatized.

        4. Observer*

          I just don’t necessarily agree that the discomfort some people feel when someone cries falls into the “so we have to stop the crying” category rather “you have to learn to deal with your discomfort” category.

          Human beings living in a society have some level of obligation to think about how their actions affect others. That doesn’t mean that you “set yourself on fire to warm other people.” But asking people to reign in inappropriate overt emotional displays does not fall into that category at all.

          Keep in mind that the discomfort people have when someone cries is actually a GOOD thing. I *want* people to be concerned and maybe even a bit uncomfortable when someone cries. Because I don’t want someone’s actual pain to be something that people just shrug off and “well, what about those TPS reports?”

          When people show distress, in a humane and decent society that causes people discomfort (and one would hope an effort to help). But that means that people need to try to not signal distress when they rally are not in distress. And if you genuinely get distressed by mundane, minor, run of the mill events on a regular basis, then you have an issue. What you do about your own distress is your business. But when it affects others that’s a different thing.

          To be clear. I am NOT advocating that no one gets to ever be emotional at work. And if the thing that’s causing distress is caused by your employer’s or coworker’s (mis)behavior, then it’s on the employer / coworker to fix the problem, not on the person in distress to “control their emotions.” But for the kind of thing under discussion? Adults need to think about their impact. That includes their physical behavior AND their emotional regulation.

        5. Dust Bunny*

          Mary could learn to deal with her crying by not foisting the reasons behind it onto her coworkers, though.

          Yes, people could learn to live with more of the discomfort, but, at least in this instance, the cryer could do a better job of minimizing it.

          1. quill*

            What Mary seems to need to learn is not “how not to cry” but “how not to take work meetings off topic to an explanation of her dad’s favorite hobby / whatever tangent has caused her tears.”

            One can be an easy crier without interrupting the meeting to overexplain your tears, just like one can learn to quickly move on from other biological interruptions like sneezing, stomach gurgling, etc.

            1. Observer*

              One can be an easy crier without interrupting the meeting to overexplain your tears, just like one can learn to quickly move on from other biological interruptions like sneezing, stomach gurgling, etc.

              I think that this is the core of the problem.

        6. OP #1*

          For me, it was less “crying is disruptive because it makes me uncomfortable” and more “this situation is disruptive because the constant crying is centering this one person’s feelings in a conversation where 8 or 9 other people also have thoughts and feelings to share and work needs to get done.” The frustration/discomfort (at least for me in this particular situation) was a result of constant derailing and attention-seeking behavior that the manager wasn’t addressing. The crying was really just the specific way that was playing out in this situation and not the thing that made me uncomfortable in general.

          The other thing I didn’t mention in my initial letter, that I think adds important context, is that Mary was a white woman (I also am a white woman and so was the manager). The group was mostly white women and about 2-3 women of color. The content of our work focused on social issues, and racism/oppression were often involved in our framing (think a small organization working on housing discrimination issues). So, the situation was often that of allowing a white woman to take up a ton of space to be performative about how passionate she was about an issue that didn’t directly affect her. Crying absolutely gets gendered in a way that is sexist, but intersectionality is also important and white lady tears often serve a different and particularly manipulative purpose. (Obviously none of that was in any way obvious in my initial letter – the situation was much more complex than I initially framed it because…nonprofit life :D)

          1. Forrest*

            YES, totally agree about the racial dynamics of crying— and wow this particularly situation sounds *so* toxic, and definitely one where a manager should have both modelled a more assertive approach to keeping the meeting on track and spoken to Mary about this tendency in a one-to-one.

          2. linger*

            Ouch, yeah, that needed to be shut down. The emotion would serve a purpose for the meeting if and only if Mary were intending to make some contribution to the discussion. If it’s purely performative then it is derailing and needs to stop. So maybe the most appropriate manager response in the moment would have been to redirect in that direction, e.g. “Thank you Mary, and what was your substantive point?”

            1. OP #1*

              Yes, agree with both of these comments! Unfortunately, I don’t think the manager really picked up on this dynamic and I definitely don’t think she would have been able to model a better approach – lots of other problematic stuff at this place :D To be fair, it was a tough situation because it was sometimes this type of toxic thing, but other times it was just that she was emotional about a weird random thing where this dynamic wasn’t at play, so she was kind of all over the place in a way that probably would have been hard to manage even for someone who was more astute/tried. TBH, I don’t know that I picked up on all this nuance at the time either! I think it was more of a “wow this thing is weird and is making me uncomfortable in a non-specific way that I can’t totally pin down” and it wasn’t until coming back to this more recently that I could identify all the dynamics at play.

              1. Observer*

                The truth of the matter is that your boss should have shut it down even if that dynamic had not been in play. In a real sense, the racial dynamic is not relevant because even if everyone were white or everyone were black, the behavior you describe would have been out of line.

                Which makes this added layer so much more infuriating. Because she could have shut it down without all of the uncomfortable conversations that would probably have ensued had Manager called out the racial dynamic. And really people who are at the front line of an issue should not have to deal with the performative “grief” of someone who is *not* in that position because they are “so passionate”.

                Of course, in an ideal world, Manager would have handled it in a better way which would have included calling that out. But I’m a pragmatist. So, I’d rather this just get shut down and your Black colleagues not have to deal with this nonsense, even if Mary never gets called on the racist issue.

        7. fhqwhgads*

          Learning to not find another human crying disturbing is basically saying “turn off empathy at will”.

          1. Forrest*

            I really disagree! For me, centring my own discomfort and refusing to work through it is the opposite of empathetic. Being able to acknowledge and set aside my discomfort, then look at other cues and the wider context in order to decide what this person and others need is the much greater use of empathy.

      2. JB*

        This response is very bizarre to me because it seems to be asserting that people can make themselves cry on demand, or, conversely, stop themselves from crying when it’s inconvenient.

        Is this actually your experience with crying? I’m not a frequent crier myself, but (except when I’m actively grieving) I can’t just make myself cry on demand. I’m not seeing how an uncontrollable physiological response could be manipulative.

        1. nothing rhymes with purple*

          This. If I could cry on demand I’d leave the jobs that make me cry and go into acting.

        2. Colette*

          Yes, I can control crying to some degree, especially in situations like this one where there is nothing out of the ordinary going on. And if I can’t, I remove myself from the situation. Mary’s not grieving, or getting bad news, or dealing with anything other than regular work. If that is so much that she can’t help crying and making it all about her, she needs professional help.

        3. Observer*

          Some people can control their crying. And some people can control themselves to SOME extent. But almost every functional adult can generally control how they MANAGE and REACT to their crying. And that’s the really big problem here. Mary is choosing to behave in a way that totally magnifies the effect of her crying and turns it into a performance that’s All. About. Her.

      3. anon for this, I think*

        It took me literally years, working with two doctors and trying multiple different medications, to get it down from “cries over nothing at all, or things I myself think are trivial, annoyingly often” to “tears up more easily than most people, for identifiable reasons, and not every day.”

        I was still capable of good work, even when this was at its worst; you wouldn’t have wanted me working in sales, but I didn’t want that work even before this issue came up.

        And now I’m wondering about an ADA process for accommodations, since this is a medical thing (complete with formal diagnosis).

        1. Colette*

          I doubt there’d be an ADA accomodation for Mary’s behaviour, which includes going on about how she just cares so much. There might be an accomodation for being able to leave meetings to get crying under control.

    4. LKW*

      I agree. It’s one thing if you pull a Linda Richman and get a little verklempt when discussing a subject. It’s an entirely different scenario if there is sobbing and snot.

      I had a report that could not take negative feedback. At all. The comment “If you tell me the document is done, I expect these documents to be client ready, spell checked, formatted, page numbers, etc. This document is not yet done.” would send her over the edge. She would go into sobbing hysterics. I’d ask her to calm herself before returning to the team space. And she would, mostly, but then she’d come back and quietly sob in her seat making everyone uncomfortable. I had to send her home a few times because she could not manage her emotions. And upper management was convinced that I must be driving her to this – so they brought in another manager who approached her even more gently and had the same experience. So a pathetic vindication on my part. That was disruptive.

    5. I edit everything*

      I largely agree with you (being an easy crier myself, and attention just makes it worse).

      In this instance, however, Mary wasn’t able to stay focused and continue the conversation, from the way OP describes it: she “interjects,” pulling the attention to herself. If, instead, she had simply quietly wiped her eyes with a tissue or handkerchief and carried on, then the onus would be on the others in the meeting to temper their reactions and get over their discomfort. And she would apparently explain it every time–they all knew, by her own admission (“You know how emotional I get”), that she gets overly emotional, and yet she would stop the meeting to give a detailed explanation (“my uncle was a sailor blah blah blah”). If she were trying to minimize and really wanted people to ignore it, she’d either say nothing or excuse herself for a moment to regroup.

      It sounds to me like Mary specifically was putting on a show and wanting a reaction.
      Not every easy crier is Mary, and not every reaction to crying in the workplace should be the same. Angry/frustrated tears shouldn’t be treated any differently than, say, a red face or clenched fists. They’re just different outward expressions of the same emotion.

      1. generic_username*

        I read the letter as Mary begins talking and while she’s talking she starts crying and interjects at that point. So she isn’t interrupting someone else to mention her own crying but rather trying to explain why she has started crying during her sentence. Maybe this explains why some of us have a more forgiving response to the crying – because yeah my sympathy and understanding for Mary differ greatly in these two scenarios

    6. Shark Whisperer*

      I think I disagree with you. For the record, I am a woman who cries fairly easily. I have cried multiple times at work over the course of my career. I wouldn’t characterize any of those incidents as disruptive. Alison also points out that crying one or twice at work isn’t a big deal. I think frequency is really important here. Crying is a display of strong emotion. In general, I think any strong emotion is ok at work if it happens every once in a while, but it is generally disruptive if it happens frequently. It would definitely not be ok to be noticeably angry or annoyed at several meetings a month. I think it would also be disruptive to be over the top excited at several meetings a month. We are social creatures and we respond to each other’s emotions. It’s really hard not to react to a visual display of emotion. I do really like the suggestions about of letting people know to treat your crying like a sneezing fit, if you are especially prone to crying. But people need that prompting to know not to respond.

      So, I guess, I agree with you that crying, itself, isn’t inherently disruptive, but I think there is some nuance in this situation.

      I will also say, I do appreciate you making a point of how gendered it is and I know women do get looked down upon for crying. I don’t want to negate any of that. But in this instance, *this* crying is disruptive.

      1. Colette*

        I think the circumstances matter, too. If Mary cried once when a project she’d worked tons of overtime for got cancelled at the last minute or when she got negative feedback, that’s different from crying in routine meetings.

    7. nothing rhymes with purple*

      Thank you. I can see there are already 60 comments so I can just imagine the response you’ve gotten to this, but I wanted to thank you for saying it. I always dread the conversations about CRYING THE WORST THING EVER.

        1. Pepper*

          Ok, so:

          Coworker 1 knows Cowroker 2 has, say, had a miscarriage. All day Coworker 1 makea snide comments around Coworker2 about being too weak and fragile to carry a child, poisionng themselves with coffee, how cute Coworker 1’s friend’s new baby is, etc etc etc. Finally Coworker 2 snaps and says, “stop needling me about this painful experience!” and bursts into tears.

          Coworker 2 is the only, sole, and unforgivably terribly unprofessional one here?

          1. Mannequin*

            No, it’d be the manager who allowed Coworker 1 to bully Coworker 2 to the point of tears that would be the unprofessional one here.

            But I suspect you already know that, and were trying to set up a gotcha with this bizarre hypothetical ‘what if?’ situation.

    8. JustaTech*

      Tangential to the OP, but related to your comment about the British scientist: working in a lab can be hard and stressful, but it shouldn’t regularly push folks to tears. Except that there is a strain of academic scientist who leads with what they would describe as an “assertive” or “strong” leadership style and the rest of us would call “bullying and abusive”.
      Probably Prof Scientist didn’t like being reminded that he was being cruel and abusive to his staff, so he only wanted to work with people (men) who had ben strongly socialized to never, ever cry.

      Which is just a horrifying brew of sexism and terrible leadership.

  14. Panny Fack*

    It sounds to me like the boss of OP#3 is needy and insecure, and is looking for reassurance that OP#3 won’t leave by way of corrections every time he makes a comment that includes “when you leave.” I’d be tempted to answer the question literally, as best as I could, with no corrections so he wouldn’t get that reassurance – which isn’t helping him anyway – and may force him to finally be more direct and question OP#3 outright about leaving.

  15. Julie*

    #4,

    I’d let them know soon because it’s better to not be surprised. Let them know what the plan will be when you are out.

    In grad school, I applied for this weekend job. The woman who hired me was retiring right before I started. I did not find out until my first day. There was no plan for who I reported to. This was working with residents on a memory unit at an assisted living. There were so many problems when I started, and I had no one to address my concerns/questions, many involving safety of residents. I quit after a few weeks by leaving a voicemail to someone in HR(again I had no idea who I reported to and it was a weekend gig with limited people actually there).

    So yes, address it when you can so people are not surprised!

  16. kiwidg*

    OP#4: I started my current job when my manager was pregnant (she was not in any of the interviews, that I remember). She had complications, and was out earlier than expected for maternity leave. I was left manager-less. For that matter, even when she was in the office, I was often left rudderless, trying to figure out how to do my job in this new organization.

    The reason I say this is that I managed to complete my first big project anyway, but it wasn’t pretty. I just did what I could with what I had the way I knew how to do it. If she had just assigned me a Big Sister/senior coworker who could have helped coach me through navigating the path, it would have gone so much easier. It’s one reason I’m a strong advocate of giving all new employees a senior “buddy” who can coach and provide the invaluable “oh, you should go talk to Jane about that” kinds of advice. While it’s not a complete replacement for a manager, the buddy is a safe place to ask questions you may not want to ask a manager.

    And, FWIW, it’s going to be obvious at a certain point that you will be out on maternity leave. I really don’t think you have to address it in the interview stage, but do have a plan and let people know what it is as soon as you can. But if the person is pretty new, getting overseen for a few months by another manager should be something they can handle. (They probably don’t know the internal politics enough yet to be able to evaluate the difference.)

    1. Risha*

      The “will be obvious” part is not necessarily true, fwiw. (I’m not disagreeing with anything else you’re saying, this is just an aside!) I’m quite fat, and carried pretty small and not at all the kind of high and round and protruding we associate with pregnancy, so there were any number of people in my apartment building who saw me when I was 9 months pregnant and were still very surprised when I showed up with a baby.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I was hearing occasional baby noises downstairs and assumed the family was babysitting because I was positive none of them (mother or daughters) had been pregnant. Oops! The mom was pregnant, I just couldn’t tell!

      2. Cat Tree*

        I never showed and also didn’t talk to my neighbors much because of Covid. I have large breasts that always stuck out more than my stomach, and I always wore baggy sweatpants and t-shirts while WFH anyway. I was hoping that it would eventually become obvious but it never did. My neighbors were very surprised when I brought home a baby, and some even asked if I adopted her.

        1. Risha*

          Haha I had three or four of those. First came the relatively direct question to establish that I wasn’t just babysitting. Followed the awkward attempt to find a polite way to ask if she had actually come out of my body or not.

  17. AnnDisaster*

    Why oh why in 2021 is it not a law that job postings must include salary or a range of pay? Sooooo frustrating, especially being in a creative field where ones worth varies greatly by company. In my year long job hunt I have interviewed for jobs (all pretty similar) that have paid $14/hour to $52/hour but I didn’t know this until I invested time tweaking & customizing my resume, writing completely custom cover letters & doing basic research on each company. It’s so frustrating to waste that much time on a job I couldn’t afford to take but I also can’t afford to be entirely picky so it’s a gamble I have to take but it flat out sucks & really should be shared.

    1. generic_username*

      Yeah, it would be so nice if companies would just be upfront with potential applicants on pay instead of “commensurate with experience” or whatever.

    2. Recruited Recruiter*

      This is now the law in Colorado. It’s heavenly from a seeker’s perspective. It’s kinda nice from the hiring side of things also, because since there’s a range posted, people will self-select out before I waste time on them, if they were never going to accept our wages to begin with.

    3. Just my Opinion*

      Unless the job description sounds amazing and for a company with a good reputation, I won’t apply without the salary range posted. I’m to busy to take time off work or away from my family for a company that doesn’t value either of our time. Plus, job hunting is a job. It’s exhausting and emotional. I spend time customizing each cover letter. I use the salary range as a way to weed out what companies I have time for.

      1. A Person*

        When I’m looking for my next contract gig I am often *wading* thru recruiters (often 8-10 different recruiters for the same job). If they don’t tell me the hourly rate right up front, it’s the first thing I ask for. A lot of those idjits try to come back without salary information. If I’m feeling generous with my time, I’ll point out that they didn’t answer the ONE question I asked. If I’m not feeling generous, I just don’t reply. They’re working to make a living same as me. My question shouldn’t be a surprise.

    4. Alexis Rosay*

      Yes. I take revenge by refusing to disclose my salary. Usually that stops me from moving on in the hiring process but I’m fine with it.

  18. I'm A Little Teapot*

    #4 – This just happened to me! I started a new job this year. When I interviewed, one of the managers was pregnant and would be going on leave about 2 months after I started. Everyone I talked with was pretty open about this, it was just a fact and no big deal. Of course, my field is one that is more matrixed than I have a direct manager, but still this woman being out for a few months is a big deal.

    It worked out fine. She had the baby (a month early!), was out, and is now back at work.

  19. Decidedly Me*

    #5 – For most of the people that turned down my offer, I would be thrilled to see them again. I still hope to :) The only one I wouldn’t want to see again is the one who got an offer, asked for a few days to think it over, and then stopped communicating entirely.

  20. twocents*

    #5: Just a question for the readers here… do you even have to mention that you’ve previously declined a role at the company? Before this letter, it never would have occurred to me to mention it. I’m not sure I’d even reach out to the hiring manager now (if I was OP), even if the new role was coincidentally the same hiring manager as the old one. But I’m thinking of the managers I’ve worked with over the years, and I honestly don’t know, with all the hiring they do, that they’d remember someone they interviewed once three years ago.

    1. generic_username*

      I think it’d depend on where you were applying and how their hiring is structured. But I wouldn’t want to reapply without mention and then have the same person see my resume/cover letter and be like, “this name sounds familiar…..” Also, I think being previously offered a position is a good thing worth mentioning – it means you’ve been deemed hirable once and may give you a leg up (for instance, I’d automatically interview someone who had been offered a position before, where I might have not even advanced them to the interview stage if they didn’t have all of the qualifications)

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      They might, or it might be in a record somewhere, and on the chance that happens it would be odd not to mention it. Also it might work in LWs favor to have been someone who got to the offer stage – they obviously liked LW before!

    3. Alexis Rosay*

      Depends. I personally would remember someone who declined an offer from me, but I have a very good memory for people. I would absolutely expect the person to address it if their resume came back across my desk. However, with turnover and whatnot, I think there would be an equally good chance at many companies that no one would remember.

      1. what am I, a farmer?*

        It probably depends on how much hiring you do. I usually hire 1 or 2 direct reports maximum per year, and am significantly involved (on the panel, reviewing applications, or some other important role in the process) with 5-6 more. Getting to the offer stage is a big deal for us — our hiring process can be kind of a hassle — so if someone says no, it’s definitely memorable. By then I will have interviewed them multiple times, seen samples of their work product, etc., so their name is likely to stick in my mind and I’d want to understand what would make this time different

        On the other hand, if a predecessor in my role tried to hire someone and I wasn’t involved with the hiring process, I’d have no idea. The most I’d know is that we interviewed them and it didn’t work out.

        I would definitely not hold it against someone explicitly, though I’ve noticed that sometimes if a candidate says no, management will construct a post hoc rationalization for why they actually weren’t the right person for the role anyway and the person they did hire was much better :)

    4. MadisonB*

      I was on a hiring committee that very nearly didn’t interview someone because of a prior interview two years earlier. It happens. The hiring manager was the same and the applicant was applying for a similar role in the same department. IMO, I think it would usually depend on the size of the company and how hiring is structured (e.g., different hiring committees for each position?). FWIW, there was no way to see who the hiring manager was upon application; it all went through an anonymous application system to HR and then to the committee.

  21. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    #1
    I want to point out that there is a neurological disorder that makes people cry uncontrollably. It doesn’t sound like that is the case with Mary. But it is a real disorder that people don’t really know about. I could even see someone in Mary’s shoes using the excuse that they are emotional to cover for their disorder. It would also explain why it looks like the boss is not addressing the crying. Someone in Mary’s shoes may have spoken to their boss and it but boss is not going to tell the others why.

    Not armchair diagnosing at all, but I wanted to make people aware of it.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think that matters. She’s still being disruptive. It’s not the potentially involuntary crying that’s the issue; it’s how she’s handling it.

    2. Observer*

      But why is it relevant?

      *IF* there were such an illness going on, neither the Boss nor Mary would be handling it in the appropriate way. Mary can leave, she can just wave at people to go on with the meeting, she can jump in less frequently. She has choices here. Yet her choice is to talk about HERSELF and how WONDERFUL (ie “so passionate”) she is.

    3. anon for this, I think*

      Even with the diagnosis, I might have preferred to say “I cry easily, just ignore it” rather that tell an employer that I have a neurological diagnosis. Past tense because I have another neurological disorder, which I can’t ignore, and means I can no longer work even close to full time.

  22. TootsNYC*

    #3: one thing you can say is that the final outcome has made you more likely to stay–sure, HR screwed up in the beginning, but the company as a whole did the right thing, and especially your manager.

    And that going to a new employer means you have to start all over again figuring out if the employer and your manager have your back.

    They’ve earned some loyalty! Sure, five years from now, you don’t want to be held to a promise, but they’ve made you feel valuable, and safe. And you thing that’s owed something.

    1. OP#3*

      I agree. My boss has been very good to me thus far. I’m not sure what is making him think I’m still going even when I said I’m not. I hope time will help this, but I may have to accept that this is it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        my point was that you could perhaps specifically say that.
        I once was offered a shot at a job–not quite “this is yours if you want it,” but pretty darned close.
        I didn’t want it.
        I came back to my boss and said, “I was offered this job, and I didn’t take it. I want you do know why. You’ve made our workload and our work processes work so much more smoothly, and the new place would probably be a lot of late nights, etc. You’ve done something that earned my loyalty, and I wanted you to know. I want to reinforce your efforts, and reward you so you keep doing it. And also so you feel good that it has worked.”

        I got a bonus out of it.

        But mostly, I wanted to reinforce that effort.

  23. nothing rhymes with purple*

    Ah, Crying At Work. The Worst Thing Ever. Throw items, swear, punch someone, none of that’s nearly that bad as crying.

    For the record, by turning every work meeting into a discussion of her ~feelings~ Mary is being ridiculous, but that’s about a lot more than crying. Here’s my experience of crying at work.

    1) Inciting incident. Coworker brings back 60 packets I just assembled, says “there’s a typo on page 3”, and throws them all in the trash. I say, “can’t I just replace page 3?” and they say “no, you probably misspelled everything, use spellcheck next time.” (I used spellcheck.)

    OR
    Person on phone calls me a “stupid [ethnic slur][female slur]” and I hang up on them.

    OR
    Nurse yells at me, “you stupid cow! Why is Patient X in Room 3 in the computer! I put them in Room5!” (this is the first I’ve heard of this move?)

    Things like that.

    2) I react. My throat tightens, my eyes start to water, I get up to retreat to the staffroom to compose myself.

    3) my supervisor or someone else with authority over me comes up to me physically and backs me into my chair, demanding an explanation. “X told me you didn’t spellcheck the document! Why not?” “Why did you hang up on that valued customer?” “why are you putting all the patients in the wrong rooms?”

    4) Me: “please let me just leave the desk for a minute” *bursts into tears*

    5) Supervisor/boss/nurse/whomever adds, “you’re crying! that is completely unprofessional and disruptive!” potentially appending, “I am going to write you up/have you written up if you don’t stop crying this instant!”

    6) I sit down, still sobbing, wiping my face, and try to get back to work while pulling myself together.

    7, Optional) Boss/supervisor/nurse/etc stands over me and keeps yelling at me for a bit longer.

    So, people who are always professional and never cry: How do I de-escalate this situation when I’m being prevented from leaving my desk to regroup? How do I prevent myself from crying, an autonomic response I cannot actually control, which covers my face in body fluids and ruins my makeup and makes me even less sympathetic-appearing than I already was? How do I never ever cry at work no matter what?

    I would frankly love to know. I never want to live through the above pattern again.

    (ETA: don’t suggest therapy, it takes too long and I don’t have the money.)

    1. Forrest*

      All of the situations you’re describing are abusive, and absolutely outside what you should be able to expect from your colleagues and managers. Nobody at work should be humiliating you, berating you, calling you slurs, physically intimidating you, or any of that.

      I’m really sorry— I feel like that’s a disappointing answer because you want something you’ve got control over! But this isn’t something you can fix, because you’re not the one who is doing anything wrong. Crying is a totally normal and appropriate response to being humiliated, shouted at and bullied. Alternative responses are to get angry and shout back, or freeze and disassociate. Neither of these are “better” or “worse”.

      Do you have a union or an EAP or anywhere else you can go for support?

      1. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

        Honestly, I am relieved by this answer — after I wrote this and went away for a bit I said to myself, “self, people are going to do nothing but defend that managment style to you and say you deserve it.” Thank you, very much.

        The thing is, I’ve summarized four jobs across two decades here. I don’t know if I have a face that attrracts bullies or what. Maybe it’s my fault for picking my line of work. I’m not sure.

    2. Just a Thought*

      You need to think about changing jobs — this seems to be a place where stress is simply pushed down the line.

      But until then….
      “I appreciate that we need to correct the issue but I need you to back up (if physically to close).” If they don’t back up, take a very deep breath and say “Are you aware that you are standing over me and yelling. It is terrible and does not help me do my best work.”

      Later to Boss/Supervisor/Nurse “I take issues and problems that you bring to me very seriously. But there is no reason to yell at me and in fact, you do not get the best from me when you do that. Please refrain from yelling at me in the future.”

      Just keep saying it — you will get better at it. But you might need a new job.

      1. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

        Thank you for these scripts. I don’t know — I’m summarizing four jobs across two decades here, though this definitely happened the most often at the hospital job. I find these patterns keep repeating. I’m not sure if this is just how people feel entitled to treat front desk staff or if it’s just me.

    3. Observer*

      Ah, Crying At Work. The Worst Thing Ever. Throw items, swear, punch someone, none of that’s nearly that bad as crying.

      No one is saying that, nor is anyone even IMPLYING that.

      You are in an abusive situation. And you don’t need therapy for that – you need a new job. Which is easier said than done, of course. But the sooner you start, the sooner you will find something. And when you get out of there, do seek out therapy. Because your norms really are warped. It’s not your fault, but some help getting this straight in your own mind is going to be very useful.

      And none of this has anything to do with people like Mary. She is being ridiculous and unprofessional. She’s not reacting to abuse, she’s putting on a performance. There is a HUGE difference.

      1. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

        The thing is, people have treated me like this in several jobs. across two decades. It may just be Standard Management Practice for front desk workers, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s my face. I’m trying to get out of here but I’m not hopeful the next job will be different.

        The reason I broke and wrote a rant is that, according to from what I see here of Commonly Agreed Upon Workplace Rules, one person is allowed to prod and taunt and bother another person until the second person snaps and starts rage-crying. Most of the commenters here would then say that the second person, the one crying, is a terrible disruptive employee and entirely in the wrong. I just couldn’t help but think of all the times this has been done to me, and other people I’ve seen it done to. I still don’t think it’s fair.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I had a boss suggest getting mad instead.
      Of course, I was not a target at the time, and I wasn’t being attacked by someone with the power to hurt me, like a supervisor. But I did find that fighting back the emotion actually made me cry more.
      When I focused on controlling and channeling my expression of anger rather than blocking it completely, it helped a lot.

      I’ve also heard people suggest you literally look up, with your eyes. That rolling your eyes to look up blocks tear ducts or something physiological.

      And you might think of home versions of cognitive behavioral therapy exercises. My coach had me revisit a stressful situation, mentally, and summon up the emotional response at 10% of intensity. And then immediately do a mental exercise in self-strengthening or self-soothing. (I first did those self-strengthening or self-soothing exercises several times so that they were easier to access.)

      Those exercises were often something like, recognizing my value, telling myself how valuable I was, etc.

      As a result of those exercises, I found it much easier to switch mindsets under the stress of the negative emotion.

      Look into DIY cognitive behavioral therapy. I found it very effective.

      1. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

        Oh man, I wish I dared get mad. I might yell and they’d probably call Security on me.

        That said, thank you, not least for the suggestion of the cognitive behavior therapy exeercises. I’ll research them.

    5. A Person*

      What happens if you stand up and walk away? Even while someone is standing over you? You say you’re being prevented from leaving your desk, but *what happens* if you just stand up and walk away? (My guess is that you haven’t tried it because most people won’t, in that setting.)

      This is weird, but: people can often hear you even while they’re talking. So while they’re berating you, say “I need to go wash my face now” and don’t wait for their permission. You aren’t yelling, and you aren’t just leaving. You’re taking steps to pull yourself together, as they demanded.

      Is there HR at your workplace? Because the others are right: this is bullying. This is abuse. This is not professional workplace behavior, and it’s not how people usually react to a coworker crying at work. Change jobs as quick as you can, but in the meantime *please* let someone who actually has professionalism know what is happening. (And when you do that, name the actual behaviors, the same way you did here. “Joan is rude to me” carries much less weight than “Joan backs me up into my chair and yells in my face”.)

      1. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

        My current desk, like two of my previous workplace desks, is closed at one end forming a corner useful to back people into. If I pushed past someone they’d likely claim I shoved or hit or otherwise assaulted them.

        I… in my experience, HR works for the company, and managers on up count as ‘the company’, not replaceable cogs like me. The first time at the first job where my supervisor wouldn’t even let me leave my desk I called HR and they scolded me for my insubordination. My manager wrote me up and when I refused to sign she threatened me with firing, so what could I do, become homeless? That was three jobs ago and they’ve all been like this. I sometimes wonder if this is just what I can expect from managers, or if this is something I attract somehow.

        I dunno. Still, thank you for encouraging me. I will try to hope for the next job.

  24. banoffee pie*

    If people are standing over you and shouting that’s not normal. If people try to back me in corner and shout at me I say “excuse me” and make it clear I want to get past. If they don’t move I just push/barge past. I’ve never got in any trouble for this, but it was never in a workplace to be fair (pubs etc). You might not be able to do this at work, but might be worth a try? What are they going to say, I was trying to hold her hostage in her chair and she dared to push past me to escape? It sounds like a toxic workplace to me. Sounds like you’re dealing with bullies who get worse when they see they’ve upset you. Sorry you’re having to put up with it :(

    1. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

      I am a bit afraid that if I try to push past someone they’ll accuse me of assaulting them and I’ll get hauled out by security.

      But that said, thank you a lot for the sympathy. When I realized what I’d written I was convinced I’d come back to a bunch of comments about how this is recommended management behavior and I must have done something to deserve it.

      1. banoffee pie*

        No way. Decent people aren’t going to say you deserve that terrible treatment! Your bosses sound awful. If they get security to haul you out, they have to find someone else to do your job, or leave the front desk unstaffed (maybe? unless someone else can step in). So they might be afraid to do that to you. I wouldn’t be surprised threats of security guards are a bluff.

        I kind of hesitate to give too much advice cos I’m based in the UK and it seems from reading this site that workplaces are very, very different in the UK. But in a UK hospital I cannot imagine hospital security hauling out a crying receptionist just because a manager told them to. I’ve rarely seen a security guard in a hospital here, maybe they’re hiding there somewhere though.
        Oh and definitely don’t blame “your face” or anything like that for your bad treatment. Some people are just bullies!

  25. Raxhel*

    LW 5 – this could be a good thing! I was in your exact situation recently and it meant that in my application and interview I could talk about exactly what I liked about the company culture from my previous contact with them. Don’t focus on the reason that it didn’t work out – focus on the reasons it would have done if the pay was right.
    (I’m starting my new stretch goal job next month, so it worked for me!)

  26. Malika*

    #2: I have worked at places where the workforce was mostly recruited from the same university department/student fraternity network/local rugby club. In best-case scenario you get a worrysome level of groupthink. The most basic solutions elude the group because there is not a healthy amount of perspective or opinion clash. Nothing really innovative gets developed, and it can feel like you are working in a 50’s village. In worst-case scenario happless hires get introduced because Johnny at the rugby club after a few beers decided he wanted to dabble in Marketing so why not become VP thereof. It will add to your workload not to have an equal partner to pick up the slack and i hope you are able to wrangle some truly external hires. Signed, person who turned down pa position during height of pandemic because only other pa in the company was a friend within management’s golf club who had no knowledge of Microsoft programs but had such a good network. In 2020.

  27. Raida*

    #2 I’d suggest going to the boss and telling them that through training the last person and helping them for six months, you’ve got a really good grasp of the key abilities that the role should have.
    And offer to help do the hiring, since you’ll be training them up and their go-to person with questions.

    Then also point out, “LastPerson wasn’t great, so I know some things we definitely don’t want this time around! (Oh, on social all day, refusing to do training because she knew I’d pick up the slack, she just never got any better)

    BUT this part in the brackets is fraught with the Boss saying that YOU should have TOLD HIM about the issues

  28. Raida*

    #3 “Do you know something I don’t?” And nail them down on if they are suggesting you are in danger of losing your job. Because obviously that’s the only reason this would be a concern!
    Changing this narrative into their issue, not yours, can help manage the conversation

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