my employee won’t speak to me

A reader writes:

I have an employee who recently lost her mother to cancer. We’re a small team, and we covered for her extensively while she took the time to care for her mom at the end of her life. Understandably, she’s still very upset, and we try to be accommodating as possible.

However, a couple weeks ago, my brother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. The rest of my team has been supportive, but this one employee has stopped speaking to me almost completely. Her office is right next to mine, but there are days that she will not say a word to me. She told me that it was because my family’s situation “hits too close to home.” I understand that it’s painful for her, but we still have to work together (and I have to supervise her). I’m not walking around the office weeping or talking all the time about my brother’s cancer. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around her. What can I do to improve the situation?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My manager calls us pet names
  • Is it time for me to get promoted?
  • When should I mention the impact that a brain injury has had on my writing?
  • People keep trying to get me to leave my home-based business

{ 153 comments… read them below }

  1. BedFace*

    How would you handle #4 if it impacts a person’s ability to complete the interview stage credibly without that context. “Tell me about a time when…” is such a common interview question and if that storytelling function is disrupted, it would be in the LW’s best interest to call it early, no?

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I was also wondering about that. I thought the LW was asking about how to deal with interviews when their specific medical condition precludes them from being able to answer certain types of interview questions. Seems to me that LW should disclose the situation at that point, but I am not an expert so I can’t say for sure.

    2. FD*

      I thought that too–that the LW was trying to figure out how to navigate needing accommodations for the interview process.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I might have! I was focused on the writing piece and the person losing their job because of writing issues, and glossed right over the “tell me about a time when…” storytelling portion for the interview.

        1. Exhausted Employment Attorney*

          I had a similar reaction – that your answer was really to a different question.
          In addition, I was discomfited by the fact that the LW did not specify whether they were interviewing for jobs which require writing proficiency as a fundamental element of the position. If their disability is that they cannot perform that type of task AT ALL – with or without an accommodation – they should not be pursuing jobs where it would be considered an essential requirement. You don’t get all the way to the offer stage, say that you have a disability, and then ask for an accommodation that consists of “I shouldn’t have to do this [fundamental] part of the job.”
          So, if the question is “when do I bring up this disability in order to find out if the job requires that I perform these things that I cannot do,” then the answer is in the interview!

          1. Amaranth*

            If OP’s problem is that it takes a long time to come up with a response to something like ‘tell us about a time when’ then maybe the answer is to write out and memorize a couple of stories. A lot of us have an example in mind for those stock questions but might speak off the cuff a bit more in interview than would work for OP.

            I agree with you, OP shouldn’t be applying for jobs where writing is a primary function.

        2. TeaCoziesRUs*

          In that case what would your interviewing advice be, Alison? Should LW disclose it earlier by mentioning the storytelling aspect of their brain is offline, but have index cards or the like that give them the answers without searching? (I’m not sure how much impact the injury has on memory to be able to memorize the answers.) Are there ways to answer the interviewer’s questions that won’t disclose the necessary accommodations?

    3. Pixie*

      In my line of work (government employee, non-USA based), a common question when you get offered an interview is whether you require any additional accommodations. I would expect something like #4 to be brought up then – especially because we’re very transparent about the form our interviews take, and while the form is pretty strict, the methodology can be adjusted slightly.

      Say, for instance, the question was ‘tell me about a time when you had to resolve a conflict’ – if all the *points* are there (the applicant says what happened, what they did, and the result), they could still receive full marks even if the ‘story’ part of it wasn’t there. I’m not sure how much the storytelling aspect was affected by the brain injury, but if they can cobble together a bullet point list, maybe it would work. Also, depending on the area, the applicants get the interview questions anywhere from 10 minutes to 24 hours before the interview (yeah, the non-standardization sucks, but more and more people seem to be leaning towards the 24 hours), so you’re not getting blindsided by the questions.

      Granted, this doesn’t help for industries where you *are* blindsided by the questions, but maybe a reasonable accommodation would be to receive the questions in advance – like getting more time for a test in school. I’m not super familiar with the ADA, especially in the context of interviews, but it makes sense to me.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        I think it’s a great idea for companies to mention the whole “let us know if you need any kind of accommodations for the interview” thing in advance. Whether it’s for something like this, or a visually impaired person needing a guide through an unfamiliar building, or a need for a chair without arms in order to sit comfortably, it makes sense! It allows all candidates to have equal footing and to stand on the merits of their candidacy, rather than penalizing some for issues that wouldn’t affect the job.

    4. Autistic AF*

      I’m obviously not Alison, but my flavour of autism includes need extra time to process so I really feel for LW4. I’ve done well in job interviews by preparing extensively – I create a document with answers and I rehearse them. Most are common interview questions, but I also use the job posting to develop specific questions. I use that behavioural “tell me about a time when you…” prompt and write answers for various skills. For instance, if “must have strong presentation skills and be comfortable with public speaking” is mentioned, I might write 2-3 sentences about webinars I’ve given and feedback I received from the agency that contracted me. This also helps to keep me from rambling!

      I also list questions for me to ask. I print the list in a larger font so I can read it more easily and highlight key words of each answer to help jog my memory. Handwriting those key words is another good tool there.

      As Pixie mentioned below, the interview questions can be requested in advance, in which case it’s even easier to prepare. It’s not necessary to disclose what the disability is, just that you need an accommodation. Job Accommodation Network is a great resource for possible accommodations as well – it’s US-based but I have still found it helpful from Canada.

  2. What's in a name?*

    I imagine it would be hard to get through an interview well without having the ability to “tell about a story when…”. I feel for LW4.

    1. Artemesia*

      Could they prepare 3 typical stories ahead of time e.g. a project accomplishment story, a dealing with a co-worker issue story, etc. So they have something ready to go?

      1. photon*

        This is a good idea for virtually anyone to do before an interview. I have a document where I keep these kind of stories and questions to review before interviewing.

  3. Snarkastic*

    I love a specific nickname, but I don’t particularly enjoy general terms of endearment. Please don’t call me “mama”, “chica” (unless Spanish is your first language), or “girly”.

    1. HelenofWhat*

      Same. At my first job I had to tell an older employee who started shortly after I did to stop calling me those things. It just me so uncomfortable, especially as some I strongly associate with a romantic relationship: hun, honey, sweetie, sugar, babe, etc.

    2. nonbinary writer*

      Agreed, and as an AFAB nonbinary person, I cannot tell you how much I dread the inevitable “hey girly!” or “hey lady!”

      1. quill*

        I used to run club meetings with a crowd who I greeted as various things. I think we went from “Hey nerds” to “hey gremlins” to “hey vertebrates.” None of these are exactly professional, but such was college.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      Remember when Dolly Parton went off on Mr. Hart in 9-to-5? Not quite a nickname situation, but still one of my favorite movie scenes.

    4. Well...*

      Off topic, but in my old job in Spain I’d sometimes get the opposite of chica. My boss would refer to my husband as “your boy,” I’m guessing with some nuance lost in translation since she speaks at least four languages.

      1. CmdrShepard*

        If it was “tu chico” like “como esta tu chico?” I would say it is more like saying “How is your guy doing?” rather than referring your husband as a boy. Chico/chica can refer to actual girl/boy but also be used to refer to adult men/women. Similar to saying “How are you guys doing?” when referring to a mixed gender group of people or even an entire group of women.

        1. Well...*

          We spoke English at work, so this was literally what was said in English. I think it’s probably roughly coming from a Spanish translation, though like I said she spoke so many languages it’s hard to tell.

    5. Bubbly*

      I can’t stand to be called “Miss FirstName.” It feels demeaning and when I asked an employer to stop calling me that she got rather angry about people needing to be “respectful” by using a form of address I hated. We were in New England so it’s not like the deep South or anything.

      1. Caboose*

        Being called “Miss FirstName” is cute when it’s little kids doing it, or someone joking around. But for adults talking to other adults?? It’d drive me bananas!

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I’m not in the deep south, but I get this a lot at my doctor’s office. Feels like they’re trying to strike a balance between formal and informal. Can’t say I’m a fan, but it doesn’t really bother me either.

          1. Amaranth*

            I’m still baffled why doctors use ‘we’ all the time. “How are we doing today?” …I have to firmly step on smart-ass answers.

        2. banoffee pie*

          I’ve never heard adults call each other MissFirstName (or kids, come to think of it…)

          1. Clumsy Ninja*

            Totally happens all the time in the south. I hated it during the time we were there. I’m more the “Call me FirstName or TitleLastName” person.

            1. banoffee pie*

              Oh yeah, I definitely believe you that’s it’s a thing in the South. Just doesn’t seem to happen much here (UK). Even kids will generally call adults either Firstname or Mr/Mrs/Ms Lastname

              1. Chocolate Teapot*

                Or if it’s an adult with a close family connection “Uncle” or “Aunty” Firstname.

          2. Jumping on a gnat*

            Oh yeah it happens if you work in a school. Especially if you work with students with special needs in ALL grades. Coworkers and specialists and parents do it to so, of course the students do.

          3. TeaCoziesRUs*

            I do it when I speak about other adults to my school-age children, as I expect them to honor their elders by calling them Ms. or Mr. First Name. (I have yet to interact with anyone I know is openly trans or nb… and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. My current intention is simply to ask how they’d like to be respectfully addressed after explaining that all adults in my kids’ world are honored by either title or Mr/Ms… and I don’t know which is the most respectful to them or if they prefer to be called another honorific entirely. Feel free to correct me if my intention would cause unanticipated hurt.) I also do it when I speak to my elders, like our next door neighbors / honorary grandparents. We also “yes / no, ma’am / sir” when given direct commands, both for our kids and if our elders direct us. “Cozies, grab me some tea.” from my dad gets a “Yes, sir!” without snark from me 90% of the time. *shrug* Hubby and I are both military and Southern-adjacent backgrounds (Oklahoma / Kansas).

            1. Mannequin*

              I’m 54 and female, and would be aghast if someone told their children to refer to me as “Ms FirstName” or honestly even “Ms LastName” instead of “plain old first name, no honorific”, even “Auntie FirstOrLastName” would be better than that! I’m not their teacher, I’m just another human being, and don’t need to be addressed with a title. Merely getting older doesn’t entitle me to unearned deference from other people’s children!
              My own parents felt the same, and they were both born in the 1920s. They encouraged all our school friends to call them by FirstName only, and those who were comfortable with it did.

        3. Panhandlerann*

          My mother, who is 89 and in very poor health, gets called “Miss Bettye” by her (paid) caregivers. It’s pretty obvious their agency tells them to address clients that way. It seems, I suppose, to provide a combination of respect and warmth.

        4. Robin Ellacott*

          I have an unfortunate remote colleague whose actual, given, first name is Miss.

          She often goes by something else that sounds like an unusual but recognizable first name (let’s say Una). For the first several months I wondered why everyone referred to her as Miss Una and ALSO thought there was another person called Una, when in fact all they were doing was the normal thing where sometimes you say Jane Smith and other times just Jane.

      2. Anononon*

        It’s not necessarily only geographic but also cultural. I’m in Philadelphia, and I’ve noticed it’s relatively common in black communities here.

        I don’t think it would be an issue to ask someone not to use it if you work with them daily/often, but I think there needs to be some degree of acceptance if it’s strangers you’ll never deal with again/people you rarely work with. The issue is that, for many people, using “Miss/Mr. FirstName” IS a sign of respect.

        1. MassMatt*

          I noticed this when working taking transfered calls in a call center. Protocol was for the transferring agent to ask how to introduce me, I would give them my first name. Some of the black staff would always make it “Mr. Firstname”. I was confused why they were doing it at first but figured it was a cultural thing, they were trying to be respectful as opposed to being dense, so I just rolled with it.

      3. Clisby*

        Even in the deep South, I don’t think it would be common to call a co-worker “Miss Firstname” unless she was (a) 80 years old; or (b) you all work in a nursery school, and that’s how the students are taught to address teachers.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          Eh. I work in the deep south and at 42 get “Miss First Name” from both older and younger natives. I just let it go; it bugs me but not enough to plant a flag.

        2. Crazy Dog Lady*

          I sometimes call my clients Miss Firstname and Mr Firstname but my clients are dogs not people.

      4. Watry*

        I am in the deep south and as far as work goes, I’ve only ever seen Miss FirstName used for older coworkers, like 60-70 and up kind of older. And of course, if they asked us not to we’d stop immediately.

        1. banoffee pie*

          It reminds me of Miss Ellie in Dallas. But for some reason Jock was just Jock, not Mr Jock

      5. RavCS*

        In my field there is a lot of discussion about “Rabbi First Name” vs “Rabbi Last Name” and how this plays differently when gender gets factored in. For example, when the male is always “Last Name” and the female is “First Name” or when the culture has always been “First Name,” but someone new coming in wants to be “Last Name.”

        1. Kit*

          Ooh, this has been a change at our shul – our rabbi emeritus is Rabbi Lastname and his replacements are spouses, so it’s Rabbi Malefirstname and Rabbi Femalefirstname, in order to distinguish which one you’re talking about. Fortunately, the need for disambiguation has helped smooth the transition a bit…

          1. Sled dog mama*

            This sounds a bit like my department in grad school. We had a married couple as professors. If you were addressing one it was simple Dr. Smith but if you were trying to specify one or the other (ex in answer to “who are you TAing for this semester”) the convention because to call them Dr. Mr. Smith and Dr. Smith.
            We called her Dr. Smith because she taught intro classes that were taken by undergrad students from outside the department. He only taught upper level undergrad and graduate level classes so outside the department a lot of people had no idea he existed. She taught upper level classes too and was a way better teacher than him

        2. fhqwhgads*

          Ooooh interesting. In the congregations I’ve belonged to it was Rabbi Lastname for the head rabbi, and Rabbi Firstname for the assistant rabbi. Cantor Lastname too.

    6. Luna*

      I don’t think “chica” is any different coming from a Spanish speaker, isn’t it still using a diminutive term? If “girl/girly” bothers, it follows “chica” should too.

      1. nonbinary writer*

        From my point of view, it’s more that non-Spanish speaking women using “chica” to other non-Spanish speaking women adds an additional layer of cringe.

    7. Jurassic Park Ranger*

      Yes! It’s so frustrating. I once had a boss gave nicknames to everyone and when asked about why she did that she said (word for word) “My therapist says I do it to assert dominance over people”

      1. Bagpuss*

        Ew. I once had a boss do this, but it backfired on him. I grew up in a large family and then spent time in noisy shared houses as a student , I had got very good at ignoring / filtering out noise that didn’t relate to me, so I literally didn’t hear or register that he was trying to talk to me if he used his nickname for me rather than my actual name.
        He did once say “I’m talking to you” and being young and not very experienced in business norms, and not being aware it might be wiser to be a bit more tactful, I replied “No you’re not, my name is [name], not nickname”
        He stopped doing it( at least to me) I don’t know whether it was as dominance move on his part , or a clumsy attempt to be friendly, or possibly even an attempt to flirt.

  4. Elle*

    I have been a grieving employee before, and I pulled back on a lot of socializing that I had done in the past during the height of the grieving process. I feel for the employee in this situation, but it’s just not reasonable to decide you won’t talk to your boss. If the employee is struggling this much, they may need to consider a leave of absence, FMLA, or some other kind of help to manage this. Perhaps if there is any kind of Employee Assistance Program that offers any counseling, the manager could provide info to the employee. But I might hold back on that until they see how an initial conversation goes.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I was the same way when I lost someone very important to me. I didn’t socialize with colleagues for a long time. But it never occurred to me to stop talking to anyone, least of all my boss.

      OP1, you sound like an understanding person, please continue to be patient with your employee. If seeing you brings a flood of feelings, she can’t help that initial reaction. But she can do something about what happens after that reaction, and your expectations about work-related interactions are reasonable.

      I hope your brother is in better health very soon, and that your employee finds a way to manage her grief.

      1. TardyTardis*

        And think about that program for yourself. You deserve to be supported during this time, too.

  5. Purple Cat*

    It feels like the answer to #4 was a bit incomplete. LW might need to disclose the injury *during* the interview. 1) to address why she can’t answer the “tell me about a time” questions but also 2) to discuss why these great writing skills she had in the past are no longer available.

    It seems like both of them are highly relevant to performing well in the interview, and making sure the company isn’t hiring you for a skillset you no longer have….

  6. Kitts*

    I despise nicknames. The only people I allow cheerfully to call me by nicknames is 1) my husband and 2) the waitress at the diner that has been working there for 20 years. Everyone else gets a firm “My name is _.” And then a followup: “I really don’t like nicknames. My mom named me ____ and it means ‘gemstone’ and it’s prettier than any nicknme I think.” If anyone persisted beyond that I think I would get cold and firm.

    1. Mister Lady*

      I have recently come to realize how much I *hate* it when people use my name a lot, and I’m wondering if a generic nickname or even generic greeting would be preferable. I don’t know why I hate it! Maybe tied to some pop psychology thing, like “use people’s names a lot to trick them into trusting you.” Especially if it’s just you and me in this Zoom call or whatever, holy crap you do not need to inject my name into every sentence, I assure you that I assume you’re talking to me!

      1. pretzelgirl*

        I totally understand where you are coming from. I don’t like it when people over use my first name either. I don’t quite know why either. It makes my skin crawl.

        1. Sinister Serina*

          I hate it because it reminds of a certain type of saleperson-one who likes to remind me that they heard my name and now they’re going to keep using it in order to build nonexistent trust.

        2. Autumnheart*

          I’m totally cool with it when people use my name to get my attention, which is completely normal, but if someone is like, “So Autumnheart, blah blah blah. But Autumnheart, you should also consider yadda yadda yadda. And finally, Autumnheart, blah blah blah.” Like, I didn’t forget who I was during the course of the conversation. If you’re speaking directly to me, there’s no need to reiterate my name. It does feel like “cheesy sales pitch” with a side order of “badly written dialogue”. Like the umpteen repetitions of “Jack! Rose! Jack! Rose!” in “Titanic”.

          It’s more natural in a group discussion, like “Audrey, let’s have you focus on XYX. Then Thomas, could you take a look at 123 and then follow up with Benjamin?” In a 1-on-1 conversation, it’s just weird.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        It always feels really artificial to me! It rubs me the wrong way, too. It makes every interaction feel like a sales pitch even if it isn’t.

        1. banoffee pie*

          I think sometimes they’re trying to prove they haven’t forgotten your name (if they’ve met you before). For some people I honestly think it’s just an irritating habit, they don’t even know they’re doing it

      3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        and it’s not *necessary*. I went 7 years without ever calling my ex-in-laws ANYTHING. (They really wanted me to call them mom and dad, I really didn’t want to.) I don’t remember the last time I used my husband’s name when talking to him either.

        1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

          I feel the same, I use names very little in conversation, especially when it’s one-on-one. We’re the only ones here, who else would I talking to?
          I have a couple of chosen nicknames that I’m fine with, but my actual first name is more for professional/stranger usage, and I often find it jarring when used socially.

      4. Xenia*

        I believe it’s a cheap sales trick, though I don’t know where in the murky depths of sales and marketing it originated, and is supposed to show that the salesman is thinking of your personal needs by remembering your name. In practice in 99% of situations it feels cheesy or slimy.

        1. Sales Geek*

          In relatively modern sales training you’re taught to do that primarily as a tool to help you remember customer names/faces. I always struggled with this; if you’d tell me your name I’d forget it several minutes later without some kind of tool to help with the memory part.

          Really old school sales tools (Dale Carnegie) teach that the flip side of this where it’s to help build a relationship with the customer.

          And yes, this can be overdone to the point of cheesiness.

      5. The vault*

        I hate when people respond to an email back and forth conversation with my name each time.

        1. banoffee pie*

          I do that if it’s been a few days or a week since the last email, but if I’m emailing them multiple times a day I wouldn’t. For some reason I use names a lot in emails but never when I’m speaking to people, not sure why!

    2. Expelliarmus*

      I don’t mind it if friends, family, or my SO gives me nicknames, but that’s about it.

      1. banoffee pie*

        My problem is I have two shortened nicknames from my full (long) name, like Kate and Katy. I’ve told some people to call me Kate, and others Katy, because my family uses both interchangeably. Then I can’t remember who was told what! Yes, I’m dopey

    3. Aggretsuko*

      I answer to a lot of versions of my name, but I don’t like “sweetie” and crap like that because in my experience, a lot of people will call you “sweetie” when they’re breaking bad news or trying to snow you. It’s a huge Red Flag Word to me.

      I suspect George R.R. Martin has a similar issue.

    4. Mannequin*

      My rule is 100% call someone whatever they want to be called- full name, shortened version, nickname, new name, whatever. I don’t know why this is hard for people.

  7. ResuMAYDAY*

    I’m wondering if it makes more sense for the employee to disclose the brain injury when accepting an interview. A possible accommodation could be knowing the interview questions ahead of time, in order to prepare and write out the answers.
    If someone says that’s not a fair accommodation, I would argue that this accommodates the delivery of the responses, which is not unfair. Everyone is able to review and practice an infinite amount of interview questions posted online but someone with a brain injury wouldn’t be able to file away and then pull up immediate responses.
    I understand the necessity of preventing potential discrimination, but it sounds like a ‘traditional’ interview would be an insurmountable barrier. I truly, truly wish OP the best success.

    1. HelenofWhat*

      Honestly, if it’s not necessary for the job to be able to tell a story on the spot, there’s no reason not to give candidates questions ahead of time. And some companies are moving to doing this by default and if they need the ability to give extemporaneous answers for the actual position, they tell the candidate the individual will include a couple questions that aren’t listed.

      I went through part of a process that included questions in advance and it was refreshing!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve seen quite a few job posts where it says at the bottom to ask if you need any accommodations for applying or interviewing. Granted, I can’t speak to any particular company’s ability to be completely neutral in considering a disabled worker—as one myself, I suspect most of them are not—but it can be an option.

      1. Xenia*

        On the flipside, those companies that know about a disability and are good about handling it during the hiring process are that much more likely to be good places to be long term for someone with ADA needs.

  8. duinath*

    …i understand that grief is a painful and difficult thing but “your brother’s aggressive cancer is too painful for me” seems. less than empathetic. like, wow.

    1. Firecat*

      That’s not what the OP said she said? Saying a situation is hitting close to home isn’t belittling the others person experience at all.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Right, Firecat is clarifying that the co-worker never said “your brother’s aggressive cancer is too painful for me,” just that it hit too close to home.

    2. Momma Bear*

      It sounds to me like the person who lost her mom is grieving and may benefit from being directed to the EAP and grief counseling. To not want to talk about cancer is one thing but this person is not talking to the OP at all. I would have to have a direct conversation about the impact of this silence on work. You don’t need to mention cancer when going over the Teapot Painting Report. One can both be sympathetic and still need to get the job done.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, I agree about the EAP.

        A person really can’t refuse to talk to the boss, maybe if the boss communicated mostly by email for work stuff that would relieve some pressure on the situation.

        The reason given for such drastic measures is concerning to me. It’s hard to tell if this is a general approach with everyone or if this is just the approach being used with the boss. So many people I know have a loved one battling cancer that I am wondering how the employee is getting through the day. It could be that the employee just needs some additional bereavement time – just time away from work.

        Going in the opposite direction, I have seen two people agree not to discuss their concerns with each other so that each can keep working. This can sometimes have an unexpected result as each person tries to come up with thoughtful ways to make the workday easier and never really mentions why.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      At one point everyone in my work group had a sick/dying parent. Can’t imagine a workplace where we all weren’t talking to each other over that one.

      1. Oy*

        Yes, and it’s spectacularly unempathetic for someone to think that she’s the only one who has experienced tragedy.

        1. WS*

          There’s no evidence at all that the employee thinks that. She might not even be doing it deliberately, just trying to avoid a distressing reminder as much as possible and not realising how far it’s gone.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, I agree. I think this is far more likely.

            Granted, these are old posts, so I’m really curious how this was dealt with.

  9. Rachel in NYC*

    OP 4, if your resume has sections that reference your writing ability, I wonder if you should edit those out.

    Just because right now, that isn’t a skill set you are looking to bring to the table. And if an employer sees that previously you provided the copy for a website (for example), they’re going to expect have certain expectations v. if those skills just aren’t listed.

    1. Koalafied*

      I’d look into this as well. If writing was a huge component of your previous job you may not be able to get around it without making it look like you didn’t accomplish anything there, but hopefully it was just one part and you can highlight the others.

      I actually have been doing this, but it’s because I’m sick of writing and it’s just one of the many things I do. So as I’ve been casually applying for a job or two here and there, I’ve submitted a version of my resume that highlights all the accomplishments relevant to the kind of work I want to do and leaves off the kind of work I no longer want to do.

      An eon ago when I was job searching for what ultimately landed me in this role, I did something similar. I was working a hybrid job that was half marketing/half office management. That split wasn’t obvious from my title, which only referenced marketing, and I did not list a single accomplishment related to office management in my resume, because I hated that part of my job, and the fact that it had turned out to be roughly half my hours instead of the 10-15% I had originally been led to expect is why I was job searching. The way I saw it, there was no compelling reason to highlight anything I’d done well in that domain if I didn’t want to be expected to produce similar results at a new job. (I didn’t hide that it was part of my job – I freely explained in cover letter and interviews that I was looking for a job with less unrelated administrative work that would allow me to devote myself fully to marketing. I just didn’t try to use any of that unrelated admin work as a selling point, even the things that I did well despite hating them.)

      1. A Person*

        Yup! This is just like the advice women used to give each other back in the day when secretaries and assistants were way more common: do not volunteer that you know how to type. If you don’t want to do the thing, don’t volunteer to strangers that you know how to do the thing.

        1. gyrfalcon17*

          My mother gave me that advice! Learn to type, because it’s useful, but don’t tell interviewers you know how.

  10. Mental Lentil*


    It is amazing how effective a short statement, delivered multiple times, with very little inflection or tone in your voice, can be. Some people only need to hear it a few times, other people need to hear a few dozen times, but the message does eventually get through.

    Source: I taught middle school.

  11. Mental Lentil*

    For #2, would it be inappropriate to suggest that the employee could take a leave of absence? Because it doesn’t sound like she’s done processing her grief. (Not that you’re ever really done, but it sounds to me like she’s far closer to the beginning of the journey than the middle.)

  12. Just @ me next time*

    Anyone else get the feeling that LW #5’s “home-based business” might be an MLM?

    1. Mental Lentil*

      No. There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that. A home-based business could be one which is very much performed outside of the home, only without the expense of a business location, such as housecleaning or lawn maintenance.

      Even if it were, how is this helpful to LW? They are happy with the choice they’ve made. They’re just tired of everyone around pestering them about it.

      1. nonbinary writer*

        Because encouraging someone to get out of a scam that specifically targets and exploits women who lack financial independence is very different from encouraging someone to stop their custom cake pop shop. If people are telling the LW “stop doing this because it’s unethical, risky, and harmful,” that’s something the LW should listen to and take seriously.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          Not to mention the fact that, often, to make whatever quotas they have, MLM victims often hit up friends and family to make up the difference in their sales numbers. Thinking about what Alison said about why so many people are nagging her about it, it could be a response to such a pattern.

          1. HotSauce*

            That was my thought as well. I have a couple of friends who are “boss babes” who constantly nag me to buy their overpriced junk, pressure me to join their downline and act like cult members in general. I’ve never offered them a job, but I have thought about doing so on many occasions, just so I could stop getting harassed to buy tea, shakes, nail art, oils & other scams.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              I have a business that is definitely not an MLM but I have known people who have been suckered by MLMs. It’s really aggravating when they try to sell me overpriced products I don’t want. I haven’t suggested anyone go get a job instead because I don’t typically give unsolicited advice, but I could see how people would do that.

              But people also tell ME to go out and get a job and it’s really frustrating. Yes, there are ups and downs in my business, but I typically get the MOST unsolicited advice about getting a job when my business is doing fine. And it’s really frustrating that it’s not even good job advice. Everything from “lifting 75-lb crates in a warehouse” to “selling insurance” to “hospital lab tech”, none of which I am able to do or interested in doing. Yes, I have a master’s in biology, which means I’m qualified to look at nematodes under a fluorescence microscope. I don’t want to handle other people’s bodily fluids all day, every day. So I’m not going to run up MORE student loan debt in the hopes that I would manage to get a job doing something I don’t want to do. If I did get a job, I’d probably get fired again for “making people feel uncomfortable” or “not socializing enough” or whatever anti-Autistic excuse they felt like that week.

      2. twocents*

        It’s just that it would explain why so many diverse people keep suggesting she get a different job.

      3. Malarkey01*

        The thing is everyone I know that runs a business out of the home says “I run a lawn car business” or “I’m a travel agent” or “I give music lessons”. The only ones that say a home based business are MLM or social media influencers. That could be purely my locality or antidotal but that’s what I thought they were saying in the letter.

    2. MadLori*

      I came here to say THIS. If she’s got a lot of people telling her “Hey, Herbalife is a SCAM, yo” then…they should keep doing that.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Not really.
        They should make their point clearly once.
        After that, they’re not giving their friend any new information. Adults get to make their own decisions.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          When you’re genuinely close to someone who’s in a bad situation (bad relationship, MLM, etc) you get to try more than once to talk to them about it. It can be counterproductive to hassle them about it or to bring it up every time, but you get to make an effort proportionate to the harm they’re courting. Adults get to make their own decisions informed by the warnings and advice of others.

        2. nonbinary writer*

          That only works if the seller makes their pitch once and then takes “no” for an answer, which folks in MLMs are explicitly taught NOT to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are offering LW other work as a gentle way to get her to stop trying to sell them stuff they don’t want or need.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            I’m distinguishing telling them “You should find another job” from telling them “Stop trying to sell things to me”.

            The first really only needs to be said once.
            The second can be escalated as needed.

    3. TiffIf*

      That thought did cross my mind. But that’s because where I live the vast majority of home-based businesses are MLMs so I’m primed for it.

      And this is even with my own mother having a home based house cleaning business–my mind still jumps to MLM as the first option.

      1. quill*

        Honestly the fact that it was worded as “home based business” is what threw up my alarm bells that it could be an MLM. Yes, it could be to be less identifiable, but most people who are self employed are either contractors or might broadly give their field (AKA home based catering, home based tailoring…) rather than being as coy as I find most MLM participants are about things like “home business” and “my own boss.” (Because MLMs will have you call yourself everything but sales…)

    4. Dorothea Vincy*

      I don’t think it has to be. On the other hand, I do wonder, as Alison said, why so many people are nagging her about it. Maybe the way the LW talks about it to those people makes it sound like she’s unhappy with the business or it’s taking a huge toll on her. We don’t always realize how much stays in our heads and how much we expect other people to infer from our words.

    5. Cat Boss*

      My exact thought! And that is very possibly why her family and friends are trying to convince her to find a more sustainable career. It’s not necessarily their place to do so but it would explain their concern.

    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      I did wonder if that was a possibility, simply because it explains why so many people want her to get out of it. (Obviously there are other possibilities too.)

    7. Joielle*

      Yeah, the phrasing made me think that too. I’ve never heard “home-based business” used to refer to a regular company that you run from home, only an MLM.

      1. nonbinary writer*

        Yup, and businesses that involve working in other people’s homes are usually referred to as part of the care industry (nannies, cleaners) or as a trade (electrician, plumbing). The only industry that I’ve seen use that language is MLMs.

    8. Expelliarmus*

      I can see why you concludes this, but I honestly was picturing something more like an Etsy or eBay business.

      1. quill*

        also a possibility but I would assume someone would refer to those as an “online business”

      2. Llama Llama*

        I thought this too but the comments have me thinking that an MLM makes a lot of sense since people seem so emphatic that the OP stop what they’re doing.

    9. Chris*

      Absolutely! That came to mind for me immediately. It would also explain why her friends and family are trying to convince her to take another job. I know a number of people, including my husband, that run a business from their home. None of them have people trying to convince them to stop, and none of them use the term “home based business.” Sure, it could be something else…I wish them the best in any case.

    10. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      My brain immediately went to mlm, but I was struck by the fact that she said she’s had this business for years and she’s “happy and satisfied” with it. That doesn’t sound like the typical nightmare mlm experience that we hear so much about. If this business is an mlm, I wonder if the LW might be one of the very few who actually has managed to be successful (however that may be defined) with one of these things. I believe such cases actually do exist, few and far between though they may be.

      And whether it is an mlm or not, Alison asks that we take LWs at their word, so if this one says she’s happy and satisfied, maybe we should just take her word for it?

      Although that still leaves the question of why so many people seem to be hellbent on getting her to try another line of work, and the points people have made here about how mlms encourage their reps to bug the crap out of everybody they know would certainly provide some logical answers. *throws up hands*

      I really wish the LW had clearly stated what kind of business this is, as well as the reasons people have given for trying to get her to change jobs. It would be so much easier to make meaningful, helpful comments if we didn’t have to hypothesize and speculate so much.

  13. Paige*

    #1 I went through a similar situation to the employee last December when I lost my father. My team went above and beyond to take all work related things off my plate completely until I was ready to come back. It was incredible. My entire job was handled and I got to be present and deal with my grief. When I came back to work, I was so grateful to my team and manager that it instilled a sense of loyalty in me that I’ll carry on for a long time. While grief is a unique battle for everyone that should not be minimized, it’s not appropriate to cease conversations with your manager, just because their presence reminds you of your loss. I think Alison’s approach to “what can I do to make this more comfortable for you” is a great way to frame it up, while still clarifying that conversations will be required. Perhaps suggest a weekly/bi-weekly touchpoint where all pertinent items that require conversation can be covered, and allow the employee to choose the day of the week/time of that meeting so they can schedule it during a time when they may typically feel “better.” For example, I found that my mornings are typically when I felt best at work, because afternoons can be more challenging after I’d take a lunch break and stop focusing on work. Allow the brunt of communication to be in a scheduled touchpoint, and then maybe direct all other items to instant messaging/email as much as possible, if it’s the managers physical presence that is upsetting the employee. I feel for both parties, but definitely think that as an employee, you do have to put your grief aside while being paid to do your job, as much as you can (understanding that there will be times where you just need to cry). If the employee isn’t able to do that, a FMLA leave, leave of absence, or something like that may be the better option. I also work remote since the pandemic and that has been huge. If this employee isn’t already remote and could be, it’s a lot easier when I can not have to put a face on all the time, the way I’d have to if I was in the office.

  14. Policy Wonk*

    #2 re nicknames – please push back!

    There is a great scene in the movie Tootsie where the main character goes off on her boss about how the men are all called by their names, and that hers is Dorothy, not tootsie or babe or hon, but Dorothy. Google Tootsie – my name is Dorothy. It gives a good template of how to respond.

    Given how old that movie is (1982) it is incredible that people still do this!

    Please, push back!

    1. calonkat*

      Love that movie, and what a great tribute to the character that we all refer to Tootsie as “she” and “her”.

  15. Ann Nonymous*

    Re #2, I can guarantee the boss is a man, not a woman (as Alison [rightfully] defaults to when no gender is mentioned).

      1. Clisby*

        Oh, for sure. I live in the deep South, and I’d expect this to be much more common coming from women than men.

        1. A different Voice*

          Re: the grieving employee….

          I must be an outlier here. I get that grief is complicated and that the manager has to think of the employee’s feelings and be sensitive.

          At the same time, managers have feelings too. We don’t like to talk about it but it’s true.

          It seems a little bit selfish for an employee to accept all the support and help going through the loss of the employee’s mother… and then believe that the appropriate response to someone going through a similar trauma is to not only NOT be compassionate, but to ALSO actively shun the person.

          Whether it is a manager or not, I find that behavior troublesome.

          I’m sure I will get lots of comments about how the manager needs to be the bigger person and focus on his employees and how I’m being insensitive.


          OP, I’ll deal with those comments because you need to know I’m sorry for what you are going through, and I think your feelings matter too. This is a lot to have to weigh.

          1. A different Voice*

            Looks like I accidentally posted this as a comment under a different problem; I intended to post it as a separate comment. If it’s possible to move this, please do. Thanks!

  16. OyHiOh*

    #1 – A few years ago, my family dropped everything and ran to me, when my husband was dying. A week ago, when I was getting ready to stage a play at a community festival, I heard (from other actors in the group) that one of their number had missed a final rehearsal because their spouse had just learned of the death of a parent and the actor needed to take spouse to hometown. My response was something along the lines of “I would hope X would help spouse out!” and when the actor arrived, I asked if they wanted a hug. That’s what you do – not aggressively ignoring a person and situation.

    1. Brent*

      OP’s coworker is clearly still grieving her mom’s death, which happened recently and not “a few years ago.” The wounds may be too fresh for her to be logical and do the “should do’s”

      I hope some kind of leave is available for OP’s coworker and that she would take it.

  17. OP #1 for this*

    Hi, everyone. I wrote #1. I just realized I never sent in any updates to my original letter. That year turned really awful. My brother passed away 4 months after his diagnosis. Thankfully, my boss was wonderful and took over managing my employees for most of a year. That gave my grieving employee the space she needed and gave me the space to be able to take care of my family (we were also going through a major illness with my father-in-law at the same time) and eventually grieve as well. In the years since, we’ve both taken advantage of EAP, and our relationship over time has gotten much better.

    1. Caboose*

      Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss. But I’m glad that you and your employee have both been okay at work, and that your boss stepped up to the plate!

    2. Asper Usual*

      I’m so sorry to hear that. I am glad that you and your employee managed to reach a stage where you were able to have a better working relationship.

    3. photon*

      I’m sorry to hear about your brother, and hope you and your family are healing as best you can. I’m glad your boss was supportive!

    4. Not So NewReader*

      This is some of the rougher stuff in life. I am glad you posted an update here and I am glad you both are in a better spot.

    5. allathian*

      Thanks for the update, I’m so sorry for your loss.

      I’m glad your boss was so wonderful and that you were able to take advantage of your EAP, and that your relationship with your coworker has improved.

  18. Mimmy*

    #4 – At work, I’ve been doing occasional small-group discussions on the ADA for the students we work with (blind and visually impaired adults), and I typically tell them to disclose a disability to an employer as soon as you believe you’ll need an accommodation, even if it’s at the point of applying for a job. For many disabilities, I agree that it is best to wait until the offer stage. However, there are some disabilities where an accommodation may be needed during the interview stage, as a few posters above have noted.

    I know this is an older post, so I hope the OP’s interview went well and that they are in a job with the right accommodations!

  19. palmtree*

    #1, I’m really sorry this is happening. I really feel for both you and your employee. My deepest condolences during this difficult time!

    As someone who has dealt with a manager who wouldn’t speak to staff before (for a ridiculous reason that had nothing to do with the staff, and everything to do with the manager himself, that I am not going to go into here), never underestimate the value of email and text message correspondence. You’re still communicating what you have to, but without having to be in front of their face, or even speak with them verbally.

  20. CoveredInBees*

    About the nicknames. On the one hand, I don’t like those nicknames as, when I have been on the receiving end of them, there’s often a gender element at play. Either there are different nicknames for women and they tend to be diminutive (sweetie, honey, etc) or they are only directed at female employees.

    On the other hand, I have truly horrible name recall. My brain can grab onto and produce biographical details very easily but I draw a complete blank. Even with people people I see on a regular basis at work or elsewhere. Sure, I know your cousin is head of the pony rescue society at Teapots University, but it takes much longer to recall that your name is Jessica. It gets worse when my brain decides to fill in the blank with some other name because then my chances of remembering the correct name plummet. For me, I think it is a combo of my own brain quirks and social anxiety disorder, which causes my mind to go blank in even simple social situations.

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