employee lied for months about his work, coworker wants me to turn down my radio, and more

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

1. Employee lied for months about work he wasn’t really doing

I have a small team of developers working under me. We were working on building a new product for our start-up. The main full stack engineer who was building the web interface had been working on it for two months and regularly giving us fake status updates. During this time, we even sponsored him to come to our country from Peru. Now after two months of living here, he just came up yesterday and says that he is leaving for a much better company. And he says that he didn’t complete anything on that web portal in the last two months.

I realize that I have dropped the ball here by not checking out the demo and I shouldn’t have just believed him. But we are working in a very small start-up so there is a huge load divided among us. I am not sure what my options are now. I know I can’t stop him from joining that company. Can we as the company take legal action here?

No. Not doing work that you tell your boss you’re doing isn’t illegal. It’s crappy and it makes him a bad employee, but there’s no legal action to take.

But yes, the lesson for the future is that you need to look at people’s work product often enough that you’ll spot it early on if this is happening — or if something less nefarious is happening, like that your employee is just envisioning something completely different than what you thought you assigned (which is another thing you really, really don’t want to only realize two months into the work).

2. Employee has “bugger off” sign on his door

We have an employee who has a sign that says “bugger off.” One of my coworkers says that it means “F off.” Is that correct? Should he be allowed to have this on his door?

The literal meaning is the same, but the connotations are less … intense than with “F off” (at least here in the U.S.; I can’t speak for other places). But it’s still much too hostile and aggressive a sign for someone to have on their door at work, and it’s beyond reasonable to (a) tell him to remove it and (b) talk to him about what on earth is going on that caused him to put it there.

3. Coworker wants me to turn down my radio

We returned to work in July. First it was one day a week, now it’s two. I have coworkers who try to control the office. One asked me to turn down my radio. I did. She constantly bugs me about it. And takes it upon herself to come into my space to turn down my radio. No one else has mentioned it. She also closed our manager’s door without asking him. She said he was too loud. I think this lady needs to take a chill pill. How can l respond nicely without getting nasty?

“I’m sorry about that, and I’ll use headphones from now on.”

It’s pretty inconsiderate to play a radio at work, unless it’s a group decision that everyone has bought into and everyone agrees on what’s playing (or agrees on a system for choosing what’s playing, like taking turns). Otherwise it’s a type of noise pollution in other people’s work environments — and if your coworker is constantly bugging you about it and turning it down, that’s a clear sign that it’s disrupting her and so you need to use headphones. Her ability to focus on her work trumps your desire to listen to the radio.

4. How do I respond when my manager is disappointed in her own work?

What’s the best way to handle it when your supervisor has messed up or faced some disappointing outcome at work, and is clearly upset about it?

For context, I’m an attorney in a litigation role. The cases we handle are not terribly emotionally sensitive or political, but it’s not uncommon that my supervisors will be visibly upset (still in a work-appropriate way) after a particularly tough oral argument, especially if they feel like they made a mistake.

I’m not sure what to say/do when a supervisor comes to me and says something like, “I really messed up my response to X,” or “I shouldn’t have conceded Y,” especially when sometimes I think they’re right. I don’t think they’d appreciate a white lie like, “No, I thought your response to X was great!”

The approach I’ve been taking so far is just to say something in the moment like, “I’m so sorry, but X was a really tough question — we prepped a lot, but didn’t have any way of anticipating that they’d focus on X so much. It happens to everyone. For what it’s worth, I thought you did really well on A and B.”

Is there anything more that I can/should do other than that? If it was a colleague my same level, I’d feel more comfortable reaching out with supportive emails containing gifs of baby animals or something, but it doesn’t feel like I have the standing to do that for my supervisors.

The language you’ve been using is good! I might drop the “I’m so sorry” just because it hits me as a little too pitying. And maybe the “It happens to everyone” too, depending the context. But the general structure of “X was really tough / didn’t see that coming” and sometimes adding “A and B went really well” is a good one (as long as you can do the latter without it seeming patronizing).

5. How long should I hold onto equipment from a former job?

I had a side hustle that was initially halted in the initial pandemic lockdowns. When “normal” life “resumed,” I decided to quit the gig. I used equipment that belonged to the company I worked for, and when I resigned, they said that they wanted it back. However, their headquarters are in a different state, so they asked me to hold onto the equipment until they hired a new person in my local area. Then they would have me pass on the equipment to the new hire.

This was about 14 months ago. I still have the equipment and have not heard from them about it at all. I did reach out by email around Easter about it, but I did not hear back. It’s not a big problem for me to store, though it would have been were I still living in a small apartment. I’m just wondering what’s a reasonable amount of time to hold on to it, and whether I should be more assertively trying to return it, or if it’s really theirs to chase down at this point. Also what if they never follow up? What do I do with it then?

Contact them and say, “I was happy to store this while you were hiring a new person in the area, but it’s been 14 months and I’m concerned about continuing to be responsible for it. Can you make arrangements for me to get it back to you in the next two weeks?”

If it’s something you can ship, ideally the company would set up a shipment where they’re covering the charges. If it’s not shippable, it would be reasonable to give them a little more time to figure something out (like a month, not another 14 months). In that case, just be clear about what you need — for example, “I do need the space back, so can you make plans to pick it up by the end of October or let me know if you’d prefer I donate or dispose of it?”

If they never respond or if they say they’ll handle it and then don’t, at that point you send one more communication: “I haven’t heard back from you so this is notice that I plan to dispose of the equipment unless you arrange otherwise by October 30.” If you really want to be safe, you can send that by certified mail.

{ 744 comments… read them below }

  1. Renee*

    #3 – your coworker is a saint. I don’t know how your radio is still in the office as most places I’ve worked it would have been in the bin & everyone would have denied destroying it. They’ve been polite, they’ve been more direct; they’ve been totally direct. You need to join the rest of us in 2021 and wear headphones at work.

    1. Cinderella Sparklepants*

      Yes! I used to sit next to someone who played a radio all day. It didn’t matter that it was quiet, it drove me up the wall, not to mention that I hated the music. He was actually a really nice guy and had been with the company for a long time, so I decided it wasn’t worth spending capital to make him stop, but if it had been someone newer than me, I would have told them to wear headphones or get rid of the music.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Quiet is almost WORSE than clearly audible, when it comes to music. When it’s really quiet and just on the edge of hearing, you’re always straining to hear it, whether you want to do so or not.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          I find whispering a lot more distracting than loud talking for exactly this reason! People think they’re being considerate, but it’s actually more of a problem when I’m trying to concentrate.

          1. Belle of the Midwest*

            YES. I play piano for church and honestly, the whispering during offertory and preludes is far more distracting than if they talked aloud. I’d just play louder and drown them out!

          2. Exhausted Trope*

            Yes! Pre-Covid, the whispering in my office drove me batty. I could make out a word or two but not hearing all of it broke my concentration. I kept straining to hear and wondering what they were keeping from me.
            I consider whispered conversations in office rude. If someone needs to relay confidential information, close the dang door!

          3. Allison*

            Oh GOD yes, back in 2016 I was in a very open office where people would whisper a lot, probably because they were trying to be considerate, but it produced this unbearable hissing noise and it always made me wonder, are they just keeping their voices down or are they talking about sensitive information that could impact me or other in the office? I kept telling myself that if it was sensitive information, they’d get a conference room and talk privately, but that didn’t help my anxiety a whole lot.

            1. Rayray*

              This drives me crazy as well. I think partly I have misophonia issues with whispering cause it is so hissy and spitty sounding but it’s also so distracting because I also wonder if they’re talking about me or some other secret, and I guess I’m just super nosy cause I will absolutely try to listen. If they speak at normal volumes, I’m not paying any attention if I’m not a part of the conversation.

      2. Pricilla, Queen of the Desert*

        Same. I had a coworker who used to listen to live concerts of very religious singers, on repeat. So it was music style that I did not like, with a message I did not want to hear, played over and over.

      3. MissBaudelaire*

        Worked for a year with a woman who insisted on *blaring* a radio. Okay. We tried to set up a rotation. Top 40 station in the morning so we could play along with trivia. Country station after that. Rock station after lunch, Back to top 40 station so we could play afternoon trivia.

        She. Would. Not. It was always set to the country station, which had a rotation of about fifteen songs that were popular. No begging, no pleading, no nothing got her to change it. The radio went ‘missing’ for a few days and she got the message.

    2. PollyQ*

      Yes, by playing music that’s audible to others, LW is the one who’s trying to control the office, or at least what the office is listening to.

      1. Ive*

        And, indeed, showing some nasty contempt and disparagement when people resist those attempts.

        No, your co-worker isn’t being controlling and doesn’t ‘need to take a chill pill’. They just have different sound needs levels from you, which is a thing people are allowed to have.

        You need to learn that ‘It makes me happy’ does not mean it’s a universally positive thing that only bad people dislike. Yours are not the only valid feelings in the world, you know?

        Switch off your effing radio, OP, or wear headphones like a grown-up.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      Further, while this coworker may indeed be a little overbearing, what with closing people’s doors and such, that’s all very different from trying to “control the office.” Controlling the office to me says that they are asking you to do something unreasonable, like never eat during the workday or be within their eyeline at all times. That’s ridiculous and unreasonable and insanely controlling.

      But expecting coworkers not to play sound that others can hear in a workspace that is open is not unreasonable. That isn’t about control, it’s about expecting you to be considerate of others in the space. You have multiple options for ways to enjoy your music / news / podcasts without disturbing others, and asking you to use those is not controlling.

      In 2021, the standard is that if you are playing something audible in public (including at work; also including on a plane or bus or in a store or restaurant, et cetera) for your personal consumption and enjoyment, you need to be prepared to organize it such that others are not forced to hear it, even at a low volume. Being asked to do so is not controlling.

      1. Myrin*

        I mean, it’s possible that coworker is indeed very controlling in general and that OP provided that as background information for the one situation that directly affects only her.

        But IDK, the way the whole letter is written makes it seem more like OP means it in the way most of us seem to have read it – that her coworker is controlling and one way that manifests is by turning OP’s radio down. And certainly the two can intersect but it just so happens that coworker is in the right in this case.

        (Admittedly, I also simply feel for the coworker on a personal level. I’m intensely sensitive to noises and sadly have really acute hearing so I can indeed be driven half out of my mind by certain kinds of noise. I can totally see someone thinking I’m “controlling” because I have and will ask someone every day to do something about [noise] because it affects me that much. It’s weird how some people seem to think that if you ask them about something once, it really only bothers them that one specific time instead of, you know, always. In any case, it’s possible that coworker is a control freak in general but she isn’t wrong here.)

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Agree fully that Coworker may well be controlling separate and apart from this … but the fact that LW thinks it is their prerogative to play a radio out loud in a workspace, and thinks it is unreasonable to be told to turn it down / off, and seems to be resistant to headphones, REALLY undercuts her point. Whether the colleague is controlling, LW is 100% the unreasonable and controlling one here, so any of Coworker’s actions that could be controlling are paling in comparison. LW is the pot here; Coworker is the kettle.

        2. SwingingAxeWolfie*

          It’s something that people who don’t suffer from noise sensitivity (much or at all) understandably struggle to grasp, and I think they reach out for the explanation they can relate to: the complainers just don’t *like* it, so trying to lessen or stop the source of the noise seems like an overreaction or controlling.

          PSA for anyone reading this: it’s not just a dislike, it can genuinely make a person feel *very* stressed very quickly (especially when they’re trying to concentrate), so much so that it can take a while to calm down even after the source of the noise is taken away.

      2. Alice*

        And OP said the coworker came into her “space” rather than her “office” – is this an open office? Of course you shouldn’t distract people in am open office.

        1. EnfysNest*

          I’m also curious if that means that LW left the radio playing when they were away from their desk. If not and the coworker came in and, like, leaned over LW to mess with the radio while they were sitting right there, then that’s not an acceptable way to handle it. But if LW left for a meeting or something and the radio was still on while they were gone, I definitely don’t see a problem with the coworker switching it off while they were away.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Closing a door when sounds are interfering with your work is just logical. It’s also entirely possible the manager has previously said “please close my door if I get too loud!”

        1. Shhhh*

          I closed my manager’s door at my last job all the time. He would get phone calls and forget the door was open and I sat right outside of his office, so I would just roll back in my chair and pull his door closed. To be clear, it was something we had talked about and he had asked me to do, which I recommend to anyone considering doing the same.

        2. Triplestep*

          I used to routinely close people’s doors when they started conference calls on speaker phone with doors open. The office “walls” were glass and sound reverberated. I would just get up, lean in, smile, nod and close. Usually they looked sheepish, which was the correct response.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            A manager at Exjob (not mine) would do this and it drove me nuts. He wasn’t ordinarily loud, but when he took a call on speakerphone, he would turn it way up and then the volume of his voice would increase to match that of the speaker.

            1. Miss Muffet*

              I was once in an office where most people had individual offices, but the walls didn’t go allll the way up to the ceiling. And we had one of those loud speaker-phone guys (who would just not change his habits, no matter who or how nicely he was asked). When some space opened up in a nearby section where the walls DID go to the ceiling, he was the first to be moved! And (relative) quiet reigned again in our section!

            2. Dezzi*

              Before we went remote, the director of another department had an office next to me, sharing a wall. She took ALLLLLLLLL her calls on speakerphone, including when she had to do things like call Amazon customer service. It came in handy once, when I was able to go interrupt her and tell her she needed to hang up because the caller was a scammer, but other than that it drove me absolutely BONKERS. Because she’s a director and I’m not, there wasn’t much I could do besides close my door and schedule all my meetings in the conference room so no one coming in to see me would have to listen to her yelling…

              1. ThePaleOne*

                I agree that OP is being very inconsiderate with the radio but saying music should never be played at work is pretty short sighted. Not everyone works in an office and needs to focus. If you work someplace boring and ear buds aren’t an option safety wise, we’re all listening to the same music regardless of whether someone is bothered by it. That’s just the nature of the job. Not everyone works in a nice, climate controlled office and has the option of headphones or interesting work.

                1. Solea*

                  Huh? It looks like you either replied to the wrong person or you are reading a lot into what’s being said here. (Maybe both?) Who said music was “never” okay? What does the temperature of the workplace or the interest level of the work have to do with anything?

          2. Amethystmoon*

            Eh, conference rooms are better than desks. I’ve worked at a company where people would take calls at their desk on speaker phone, and they were manager or higher level, so people were afraid to ask them to turn it down. At least one manager frequently raised his voice while he was on the phone, and you could hear him from across the office floor.

          3. Az*

            I work in an office with thin walls where we often do phone or video meetings (most of the rest of our staff is remote, besides the 5 of us who are based out of the office). We all have an agreement that if there is an echo from multiple people being on the same call, or if it’s just loud out in the open area between our offices, that other people can close our doors. No one takes offense.

          4. katertot*

            Yes same! And I wasn’t going to interrupt their call to be like “hi! can you close your office door?” no- I’d just close their door. Haha.

        3. ThatGirl*

          At my last office, people would start meetings in nearby conference rooms, often with phone calls, and seemingly be oblivious to others trying to work nearby. I always got up and quietly closed the door in those cases because it was obnoxious.

        4. WantonSeedStitch*

          I definitely know people who have said that! Most managers I know would rather have their employees able to focus on their work, than have their door open.

        5. Olivia Mansfield*

          I’ve closed my boss’s door many times, usually when I could hear that the conversation would be one where he would likely want privacy, and he has appreciated it when I’ve done it.

          I did it for a coworker once, too, and she was appreciative (context: she had her truck-driver husband on speaker phone for whatever reason, and the conversation turned to our work, and I could hear him about to say something unflattering about another of our coworkers, and my coworker was saying, NO! Nooo! so I snatched the door closed and said, “You’re welcome!” to my coworker, and we laughed about it later.

          TL; DR — sometimes closing another person’s office door is appropriate and appreciated.

        6. LunaLena*

          I’m actually wondering if this letter was written by someone at one of my previous work places! The office was fairly open with a few cubicles, and the manager (who did in fact always say “if I’m too loud and I forgot to close the door, please close it”) was one of the few with an office. One long-time employee was in the habit of playing the radio at top volume and listening to Rush Limbaugh-type shows all day every day. Everyone else wore headphones, though even headphones didn’t quite drown it out. This same person was in the habit of deliberately making non-PC and uncomfortable statements to get reactions – not quite hostile, but definitely bordering on it (for example, I’m Asian, and when I joined the office, at the very first team meeting they brought up an outdated Asian stereotype while watching me). But they had also been there forever and it was obvious they would never get fired because they were extremely good at their job, so everyone just kind of put up with it. I didn’t speak up since I was just a temp and wasn’t staying long anyways. But I can totally picture a new person coming in and getting sick of it, and this person getting upset that someone is actually challenging them.

        7. iglwif*

          Yes, this was the case in my last in-office job. If you had a call scheduled you’d close the door ahead of time, but sometimes someone would just call you, and in those cases it was considered 100% acceptable for someone else to close your door for you if the call went on for more than a minute or two.

      4. Librarian of SHIELD*

        And please, for the love of all that is good and right in the world, wear headphones if you’re doing anything with sound in a doctor’s office waiting room.

        1. It's Growing!*

          The worst in doctors’/hospitals’ waiting rooms is the TV!!! Political news, soap operas, it’s just stressful being forced to listen to the jabber-jabber. Although, once while I was waiting for an MRI, I got to watch Paula Deen make a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich as an after school “snack.” All I could think was the office was trying to drum up future business.

          1. Nodramalama*

            From previously working in a doctors office, the reason they often do that is because the walls can be thin and they don’t want people to hear what’s going on outside the waiting room.

            1. TeaCoziesRUs*

              That makes so much sense!! THANK YOU! I just wish they’d let us change the channel. I can only handle news channels if any ilk for so long.

      5. Nethwen*

        “In 2021, the standard is that if you are playing something audible in public (including at work; also including on a plane or bus or in a store or restaurant, et cetera) for your personal consumption and enjoyment, you need to be prepared to organize it such that others are not forced to hear it, even at a low volume.”

        I’ve been curious for a while to see if this will hold true. I think it’s good manners, but based on all the adults I see in public having sound come out of their phones and all the children in grocery carts using a device with the sound turned up and all the people in public libraries playing music/videos/speaker phone without using headphones, I wonder if large swathes of the population will grow up thinking it’s normal to have your private sound accessible to everyone. I mean, clearly, many adults already don’t have a problem with it.

        I’ve heard several people argue that sound coming out of a device is no different from people talking, so if people are allowed to talk, then others should be able to play their music/videos/etc. at the same volume as a speaking voice.

        I also wonder if the “keep your sound to yourself” stance is related to economic class or family background. My understanding is that poverty is noisy because often there are many people living close together. People I know who come from large families think nothing of having the radio and TV on while watching YouTube while talking on speaker phone. Obviously, my experience is a small sample size, but it makes me wonder about things I think of as polite or normal.

        I also am not equating large families with lower income. I’m just saying that these two separate things make me wonder how social norms around letting others hear your sound will develop by the time our children are adults.

    4. Nic the Librarian*

      I had a supervisor once who, for the entire opening hour, would play Spotify on her phone. She finally stopped when I mentioned that having music playing made it difficult to count out the cash trays because of the concentration required…

    5. L'étrangere*

      People have different sorts of jobs, some of which require more concentration than others. And different people need different things in order to achieve that, like some can write in a busy cafe while others can only tolerate the quietest of libraries. When they share an office, it’s customary to use whatever standards will be the least distracting. Generally that means no radios at all.
      And we won’t even mention the inevitable differences of tastes in music. Think of it this way – would you enjoy having a co-worker impose their favorite food for your lunch, their favorite color for your wall or your shirt?

      1. onco fonco*

        Yeah – if anyone’s trying to control the office, it’s the person who decides that everyone is going to be listening to THEIR personal choice of music. Meaning that no one who wants silence can have it, and no one who wants to listen to something else can do so without the radio noise leaking in around their ear buds and clashing with their own stuff.

        1. NinaBee*

          I’ll never understand people that are oblivious to the fact that nobody wants to hear what they’re playing out loud (including people on trains etc). Just because they enjoy it doesn’t mean we want to hear it? Not a hard concept to grasp.

          1. The Magpie*

            My husband and I went to the park on a rare nice day after work to sip beers and read our books as the sun went down. A woman nearby was just playing her Top 40 list via her tinny phone audio, juuuust quietly enough that your ear kept unintentionally straining to make out what was being played. We shot her several dirty looks, which she definitely noticed but pointedly ignored. We didn’t say anything to her directly because you never know how people are going to react, and her drunk boyfriend was with her so we didn’t want to possibly start a fight, but good lord was it annoying. Just use headphones – there were several other groups there, trying to enjoy the evening. I guarantee NONE of us wanted to have the sunset wrecked by her Spotify list.

          2. it's me*

            Me neither. Someone at the opposite end of my breezeway plays bass-heavy music so loud I can hear it over just about everything — dishwasher, AC, TV, headphones. No escape from it anywhere in my apartment. You can hear it when you pull in to a parking space at the front of the building. Can’t understand not only why they feel free to do that but how they can stand it.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              The neighbor in the house catty-corner to my former home sold out and moved, but unfortunately, the house was purchased by one of OldCity’s slumlords, a notorious fellow who didn’t care who rented from him as long as he got paid. Soooo much fun getting out of bed to go tell the dude in the boom car waiting for his meth delivery to please turn down his radio because I had to work the next day. Not to mention the police raid at three in the morning. >_<

            1. Venus*

              I get irritated by loud cars, but at least they are passing by and only there for a few seconds. A radio playing at any volume would be so much worse.

            2. AnonaLlama*

              Oof…..um, sorry.

              Signed,
              Person in the convertible with music up loud enough to hear over wind and road noise

              1. Llama Llama*

                Yeah I don’t have a convertible but I do not have AC in my car so I drive all summer with the windows down and the music loud enough to hear it over the windows being down. And I don’t really feel bad about it. It’s kind of a completely different thing than playing loud music at your office job. If I remember I turn it down at stop lights.

                1. Kal*

                  My biggest issue with it is when they have the music loud enough to be over the sound of fast driving, but then don’t turn it down when they get to the slow-driving neighborhoods, so they’re just blasting bass at every home they pass, no matter the time of day or night. I’ve got one neighbor who does that, and is a bad parker so he takes forever to pull into his garage. He basically blasts the entire neighborhood with his music for a good 15 minutes straight every time he leaves or returns from hishouse. The garbage truck right below my window and poorly maintained lawnmowers pale in comparison to that guy – the only thing noisier in the neighborhood is the biker gang doing burnouts out of the bar and the time some fighter jets flew overhead. He’s the kind of guy who gives car music a bad name and makes people have strong reactions to it. If you adjust your music to just be able to hear it over the sound of driving, you’re probably not that guy.

              2. Ive*

                Yeah, don’t do that. You never know what the people you blast pass are dealing with, and you could be the last straw.

                Signed,

                Person who spends a log of time around sound-sensitive people on their last nerve

            3. ErinWV*

              I think this is acceptable behavior. I don’t love everyone’s music, but there are no rules about noise on public roads, and I like to drive with my windows open, weather permitting. If you can’t concentrate on your driving without being distracted by outside noise, you probably should not be behind the wheel.

              I once was listening to a podcast which let forth with a loud, pointed f-bomb and saw the woman in the car next to me hurriedly crank up her windows, and I felt a little bit bad. But not bad enough to stop doing it.

              1. Kal*

                I will note for anyone reading this that there not being noise rules on public roads is going to be one of those highly location dependant things. Where I am, there are noise pollution laws that apply to both the noise produced by the vehicle itself and music coming from vehicles on public roads. So cars with missing mufflers such that they make a ton of noise can be deemed not road-legal.

                So make sure you check out your local laws before cranking the noise up, and probably try to be a bit considerate of the people around you, particularly when you’re driving in a residential area where people might be sleeping or just trying to enjoy their day in peace, since music distracting other drivers isn’t really the complaint when it comes to noisy cars.

              2. louvella*

                People also live on public roads, even in neighborhoods that don’t seem residential. (Are there businesses on the street? Look up! Those might be apartments! And there might be someone in there on an important work meeting, or who has an easily scared pet, or who has sensory issues and is going to burst out crying if the windows start vibrating again. It’s me, I am all three of those people.)

            4. louvella*

              As someone who lives on a busy street, I hate this. Especially when they park for 30 minutes and keep blasting their music, which happens a lot, but even passing by is enough to wake me up if I’m sleeping, and it freaks out my cat.

          3. Good Vibes Steve*

            Even music I like is unbearable when I’m at work. Some music I love is horrible to concentrate, other coming through someone’s radio across the office will be mostly bass when it gets to my ears which is the worst (my brain automatically focuses on that, trying to fill the blanks).

            1. Belle of the Midwest*

              Yes, plus I don’t necessarily like listening to music I love when I am at work. I start associating it with work, and then I don’t like it anymore. Same with my “housecleaning” playlist.

              1. Not Today Satan*

                There are snacks I can’t eat anymore because I ate them at terrible jobs and now they make me depressed, lol.

          4. MusicWithRocksIn*

            Or people who play games on their phones in public with the sound turned up. Dude, you do not need that noise to play, how on earth do you think everyone else at this restaurant wants to hear it?

          5. londonedit*

            I will never understand people who hold their phones out horizontally from their mouths and have the conversation on speaker while they talk into the end of their phone. It’s a phone! Hold it to your ear and then the rest of us won’t have to listen to your conversation! Hearing one end of a loud conversation is bad enough, but hearing the tinny speakerphone responses makes it even worse.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              When I have phone interviews, I put them on speaker so I can type while we’re talking, but I follow the phone etiquette rule to ask first. My cell phone sits in a holder. There is no one else in the room to bother.

              If I were responsible for conducting phone interviews at work, I would close my door or, lacking an office, go into a conference room and close the door.

            2. Amethystmoon*

              Some phones have very sensitive touch pad screens that get messed up when you hold them to your ear. However, I still wouldn’t do it at work.

              1. ErinWV*

                Any headphones that you can connect to your cell phone, you can use during a call. I do this when my mom calls, because we tend to talk for awhile and I don’t like that feeling of a smartphone smushed up against my ear for extended periods of time.

                1. Amethystmoon*

                  I don’t have headphone with a microphone for my cell phone. But yeah, I only do this at home since I live alone. I wouldn’t use my phone at work like that, and really we’re only supposed to be making personal calls on our breaks anyway.

                2. ErinWV*

                  You don’t actually need a microphone – I don’t have one. I hook up the headphones and then I just talk into the phone’s receiver, the way you would if you had it on speaker.

            3. Foxy Hedgehog*

              Oh, especially at the gate in airports. There is always somebody who has to bellow into the speakerphone at their 3-year-old grandchild instead of having a phone conversation like a normal person, or watching some police drama on full blast.

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                My Mom is incapable of just using a phone. She will not type into Google on it. She will not speak unless it is on speakerphone. So all day, I hear “Car mechanics near me” being shouted into Google, or her half screaming at her friends that are hard of hearing.

                That’s fine. I can manage. It makes the phone accessible to her. She does have a hearing problem that means she *cannot* hear correctly if phone is against her right ear, so she just uses speakerphone instead of her left ear.

                But I get on her case all the time when she sits in the living room and proceeds to scream into her phone while we’re trying to watch television. No, you step outside or into another room. You don’t spoil our show with you conversation about what Susan said to Jimmy.

          6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I had a next-door neighbor who left for work at 5:30 every morning, and parked his car in the driveway, within ten feet of all three of my house’s bedrooms. When it was cold outside in the morning, he’d idle his car to warm it up; for a few minutes in cool fall weather, and for up to a half-hour in winter cold. In the winter, he’d go outside at five am, start the car, leave his headlights on, leave the radio on, leave the car door open, and go back inside for a half-hour; and my entire family would be left smelling the exhaust fumes, and listening to the car engine running, the 80s rock music blaring over it, and the car beeping because a door was open and the keys were in the ignition. Yes we talked to him about it shortly after we moved in next to him. His response was basically “you cannot tell me what to do with my car in my driveway.” I sold that house six months ago. I am wishing the new owners the very best of luck as we are approaching the cold time of the year. This same neighbor would also play that same 80s radio station on his boombox whenever he did yardwork in the summer (also hugely annoying. I never thought I’d come to hate Hotel California until I started living next to that guy), so they should be somewhat know what to expect by now.

            1. Sam I Am*

              You can check out any time you like but you can never leave, indeed!

              Unless you sell the property, I guess!

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              I had a neighbor who would fire up his stereo loud enough so he could hear it over his yardwork. Which was lawn mowing. Same guy?

            3. mcl*

              HALF AN HOUR???? Dude’s car would be stolen in my city in like 5 minutes. There’s always a rash of car thefts in the winter, usually because people are “warming up” their cars by leaving them in the driveway running and unlocked. Also, you only need to idle your car for 30 seconds in the winter, it’s not good for the engine to idle it for long periods of time, at least for modern cars.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                Ehhh… Depends. My car needs 5-10 minutes in the winter to unfreeze condensation. Otherwise, it’s a trip to the mechanic.

                But his car would get stolen where I live. And nobody in their right mind would leave the door actually open while warming up a vehicle. Unless you want your butt frozen to the seat when you get in. Or maybe you enjoy snow being inside your car.

                1. Llama Llama*

                  Yeah leaving the door open is the most baffling part of this comment. If you want your car to be warm inside…why…why would you leave the door open?

                2. EchoGirl*

                  @Llama Llama — The one reason I could see for doing this is if the car has some kind of automatic system that would cause the doors to lock otherwise (my husband and his coworker once locked the keys in a company van because they didn’t realize it did that). But the radio bit is just obnoxious and there’s no possible logical reason to need to do it that way.

                3. Kal*

                  The other reason for the open door could be a car like mine that has a fault where it might just arbitrarily lock itself when cold. But my way to deal with that is to just stay in the car as it warms up. I had to leave one door slightly open or a window slightly open so I could reach in if it did lock itself (since the keys were in the ignition) while I was brushing off snow/scraping off ice, but I kept my music down low enough that I couldn’t hear it myself from right outside the car. Staying out there with the car while it got warm was a good incentive not to idle it longer than absolutely necessary.

              2. Valancy Snaith*

                Yeah, my car needs more than 30 seconds of idling to be warmer than -25 inside, and to get all of the ice off the windshield.

              3. Allison*

                I live in an apartment building in Boston, it would NEVER occur to me to go out, start my car, and then go back inside while the car just runs. Not only would it be at serious risk of theft, it would likely be very annoying to my neighbors to have the car running and producing fumes for more than a few minutes. This was especially true when I had a parking space right by the building, with my headlights pointed directly at someone’s window!

                I don’t see myself turning on the car just to warm it up until I’m living in the suburbs, with my car in the driveway of my private home. And only if our neighbors aren’t right next to us.

                1. Llama Llama*

                  A remote car starter fixes most of these problems. (The doors stay locked but the car is on you do have to remember to turn off the lights and radio the night before when you park). But that said I live in the frozen fricken north and only let my car go for about 5 – 10 minutes before I’m out there clearing off the windshield. And even then it’s only when it’s really cold/icy/snowy. Most days I don’t plan ahead that much!

                2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                  I live in suburban Boston – where some years we have brutal winters, and other years, no winter at all. But I have a driveway and I’m in a “safe” neighborhood. So I will start/warm up the car when it’s necessary.

                  Only ONCE has anyone attempted a car theft, and on an early fall night. I had a relatively new VW Jetta Diesel. I’m not sure if I had paid it off, but I had been up on automatic payments. That afternoon – an automobile transport truck with out-of-state plates had driven up our dead end (cul-de-sac) street and stopped in front of our house, only for a moment.

                  They came back at 9:30 PM or so and stopped, lingered in front of our house. We are not on a main thoroughfare, not even close! So, OK — I’m in my underwear.

                  I grabbed the biggest kitchen knife I can find. and a hockey stick, turn on the light and walked out into my front yard. I advised my wife – if it gets nasty, call 911. But the transporter crook’s jaw dropped when he saw me, and he took off.

                  Looking back to when I was in college – a tow trucking-chop shop was stealing cars from our campus – and was caught – while the crooks were trying to put the car on the hook, three students slashed their truck tires. The police had been called. And the students were nice enough to give the crooks a can of beer each – it was the last one they were gonna have for awhile.

              4. KoiFeeder*

                I am just evil enough that I think someone should have driven the car to the end of the block, turned it off, locked it, and left the keys on the doormat for him.

            4. TM*

              My annoying neigborhood car dude sits in his car for hours, playing his music at top volume and talking on his cell phone. I have no idea why he does this, but I hate him with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns.

            5. Elizabeth West*

              Modern cars do not need to be warmed up unless you’re in the Arctic Circle, and then you have a heater on the engine that you leave plugged in all night. If he’s trying to warm the inside of the car, it makes no sense at all to leave the door open. This guy is an ass.

              1. Llama face!*

                100% agree that this guy is a terrible person for the blaring music and door beeping but hereabouts* you definitely need to warm up any car for a good 15 min at least or else you end up with the lovely death-risking situation of driving away and then having the not yet warmed up air system suck in snow or wet air and immediately frost over all the windows on the inside of the vehicle so you can’t see out. (Nearly got in an accident in this exact situation so I am speaking from experience. I had to roll down my window and drive with my head sticking out the driver’s side window until I could get to a place I could pull over safely.)

                And yep we have block heaters but that is more to keep the engine from freezing up so bad that the car won’t start; it doesn’t mean the air system heat starts working right away.

                *hereabouts=a part of Canada where we sometimes beat Siberia for cold temps in winter

                1. banoffee pie*

                  That’s interesting, never thought of that but then it’s never that cold here. But presumably the guy didn’t need to leave the radio on, that’s just a dick move

                2. Tessie Mae*

                  Agree 100% Llama face! I’m not in Canada, but I’m in a northern state of the US, and yes, I need to warm up my car for at least 10 minutes to be able to safely drive on most winter days.

              2. iglwif*

                I would never leave a car idling long enough for it to warm up inside, but I know a lot of people do (I’m in a not-particularly-cold part of Canada, where nobody uses a block heater but it does sometimes get quite cold). I don’t get it–if I’m leaving the house, I’m dressed for cold weather, so I’m not gonna freeze to death in the few minutes it takes for the interior of the car to rise above zero. That said, some cars do need some time to adjust so that the driver’s view isn’t blocked by condensation on the windscreen–that’s a safety issue for sure!

                None of which in any way excuses leaving a car running for HALF AN HOUR with the RADIO ON.

                1. Llama Llama*

                  I think it depends on if you have to scrape off a bunch of ice. Having the car on and the defrosters going really helps.

                2. EchoGirl*

                  Another thing that can happen (and has to me) is if you have a door that’s frozen shut and you try to open it, then you have a situation where you have to wait for the door to thaw out, because trying to open it is often just enough to dislodge the latch while also not giving you the ability to re-close it because you can’t get enough force behind it since the door won’t move. I’ve had instances before of having to sit and wait with the car running until the door unfroze so I could open it and close it properly. (That one you learn, though; if you have a door that consistently freezes, you learn to take preventative measures and/or to just not open that door — assuming it’s an option — if conditions are right to cause a freeze.)

          7. Western Rover*

            Years ago in my open plan office the young contractor who came in periodically to water the plants asked why we didn’t have any music playing. I did a quick poll of everyone’s favorite music, which ranged from classical to prog rock to metal and I don’t remember what else, and I turned back to her: “You see the problem?”
            She seemed utterly gobsmacked that we didn’t all like the same kind of music. I was gobsmacked that she was.

          8. Windchime*

            It’s becoming a thing in restaurants around here. Twice recently I’ve been in a chain restaurant trying to enjoy a conversation and a meal, only to be distracted by a nearby diner calmly eating his/her lunch while listening to loud yammering of a podcast or video on speakerphone. Why on earth do people think we all want to hear that?

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Right, my workplace has a “must use headphones” policy, and then it can’t be so loud that your cubical neighbor can hear the music. I’m surprised this isn’t standard by now.

      3. Lenora Rose*

        I’m someone who often concentrates better with music on… and I absolutely love having earphones so I don’t annoy people around me. I have played music aloud when the earphones were detrimental (eg, filing when I didn’t have a place to tuck the phone) *and* I had a space to myself, but my musical tastes are weird and I *assume* I would annoy people if I chose the tunes for an office. I definitely don’t see “I love/need music as a good enough reason to play anything in an open office space.

        Alas I’m currently working a job with a lot of phone calls incoming so neither music nor earphones are really acceptable, even my bone conductor phones that don’t cover my ears. I make do with listening before and after work on the commute.

    6. EventPlannerGal*

      Lowkey lol at the combination of “I turned it down” and “she constantly bugs me about it”. So… either you didn’t turn it down very far or you just turned it back up again? OP, once you’ve been asked to keep it down it has to stay down – that’s the point where it stops being inconsiderate and starts being intentionally quite rude.

      1. Expiring Cat Memes*

        I wonder if by “radio” the LW means regular old commercial radio? Because the ads are like 3 times the volume of the music and 3000 times more irritating.

        I worked from a client’s office for a few months where someone had a commercial station on all day. Hearing the same top 20 over and over and over was already torture, but the mindless DJ drivel and the constant ads? It almost broke me.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          I worked in an office many many years ago where someone listened to AM talk radio all day. Out loud, of course, no headphones. That was torture.

          1. Cat Tree*

            Way back when I was intern, a different intern played Howard Stern every day. I think that alone is not appropriate for a workplace. But the nature of radio talk shows (not necessarily the AM kind) is that they are extremely repetitive under the assumption that most people will tune in for only an hour during their commute, not the entire 4-hour show. Apparently someone had made some kind of complaint about Howard Stern around this time, so I got to hear him whine about it over and over and over for 4 solid hours every day.

          2. Bubbly*

            I had some admins who listen to talk radio that had lot of aggressive and hateful speech. When I asked them to turn it down because I couldn’t concentrate on my clients or take phone calls they ramped it up and put the radio outside my office. They knew I would shut my door and make my boss angry (can you tell how toxic this place was already?) and I literally heard these adult women GIGGLING about harassing me. It was hell on Earth.

              1. Bubbly*

                I would have loved to, but my boss would have punished me like a wayward teenager. These two were his favorites and could do no wrong. I can’t believe I worked there for 3.5 years. I ended up pretty depressed and feeling absolutely trapped by my extensive non-compete. Eventually I found a new job in a different area of my job qualifications and peaced out. Boss was VERY angry.

                1. Alex*

                  Glad you got out! I had a similar radio-location power struggle at an old job and I’ve decided it’s a personal red flag for me (even if it wouldn’t be for everyone)

              2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                Okay, not saying to do this but there was a guy at reception years ago who loved to listen to the radio all day. Ask him to turn it down he’d comply for 5 minutes. Management wouldn’t interfere.

                Not a great idea when reception is right next to an IT department. 5 minutes with a screwdriver and a soldering iron and weirdly the radio couldn’t be turned up from ‘whisper’ volume.

          3. MusicWithRocksIn*

            I didn’t mind the music the folks in accounting used to listen to, because I only had to be in the room 20-30 minutes at a time. Until of course the radio station they liked went over to all xmas music all the time for three fricken months, and then I actually stayed late at work to do all my filling after they all went home because that is how badly I didn’t want to listen to constant xmas music. It isn’t only the people that sit right next to you that can end up annoyed.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              As skaters, we would start picking Christmas music for the ice show around Halloween, to allow for choreography time and secure the song we wanted before anyone else got it. I got so sick of listening to it by the time the actual holiday rolled around. Having it on all day at work too would have driven me batty.

              1. On Fire*

                Similarly, at Old Job I was responsible for coordinating a huge, public Christmas extravaganza. We started working on Christmas in June. By the time I left that job, I was barely decorating a tree at home (and that was under protest), and it took me *years* to enjoy anything about the holiday again.

          4. CoveredInBees*

            Yup. I had a coworker who did that and the first two hours a day were religiously-themed that involved a very emphatic preaching style (extra hard to tune out) and regularly preached against people like me (Jewish and queer). This was a government office although members of the public were never anywhere near us. For internal political reasons, no one was allowed to tell her to turn it down and she spent 85% of her day not working. Meanwhile, I got remarks and looks when I wore headphones to block it out and concentrate on my work.

        2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          Potentially worse than listening to DJ drivel is listening to half of the DJ drivel, then trying to figure out if you missed something that was actually funny. (Especially when it probably isn’t.)

          When I was in high school, there were about four of us who spent our study hall in the computer programming lab. (There was no class in there that period, and the teacher had a class in the adjoining room and trusted us to be in there.) We kept a radio in there (with permission), and all of us had pretty much the same taste in music. We deliberately listened to our second favorite station because our favorite station was still playing its morning show when we were in there, and we knew we’d miss half the jokes! (And at that time, our favorite station’s morning show was pretty reliably funny, which you can’t say for a lot of morning radio shows.)

          1. MusicWithRocksIn*

            My very favorite thing about XM radio is I can listen to music all the way to work without having to listen to DJ’s hyena laugh at each other. I can stand it during other parts of the day, but just after waking up hearing DJ’s is the most annoying thing to me in the world.

              1. CoveredInBees*

                Do you do it to drown out the droning of your husband, Mr. Collins?

                (I am in the middle of a Pride and Prejudice reread.)

                1. Run mad; don't faint*

                  I am sure dear Charlotte would have invested in a discreet pair of wireless earbuds to wear anytime Mr. Collins came in from visiting Lady Catherine de Bourgh or working in his garden. After all, Charlotte wisely did not hear most of his more embarrassing remarks!

                2. no phone calls, please*

                  Yes! For whenever he isn’t “in the garden” for his “health” at your behest, Charlotte. P&P is the best.

          2. Iris Eyes*

            Fortunately many of those actually funny shows put out CDs so you can relive the memories. But they are also a good barometer for just how much public opinion has changed about some things. It boggles the mind the kind of jokes they used to tell.

        3. Lady_Lessa*

          That’s one reason I like classical music. My local station is now a public station, it used to be commercial, and there is such a wide range of music, you rarely hear the same thing twice in a short period of time. Even though I swear that I heard the Lenora Overture # 3 twice in a day. (I listen while I drive to and from work)

          1. Tessie Mae*

            Hey, that’s me! Or it was when I actually commuted to the office. I absolutely detest morning DJ drivel and my go-to station for commuting was our local classical station. I now can actually recognize more classical pieces than the “usual” popular ones. The best part: at 7:15 am they play a Sousa march (Your Morning Sousalarm). I have some favorite marches now.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Different artists and different times are encoded at different volumes, too. Going from Enya to Deep Purple can be a bit of a jolt.

    7. londonedit*

      I agree. I cannot imagine bringing a radio to work and playing music out loud at my desk. I’ve worked in small offices where we’ve collectively put the radio on now and then, but that was only when everyone agreed, and if the phone rang or someone said ‘Sorry, I really need to concentrate on this for a bit – could we turn the radio off?’ it was totally fine. I’d never play music out loud in an office with other people – headphones, fine, but not out loud!

      1. onco fonco*

        Yes, I used to work in a tiny office and we had an agreed rotation of CDs (it was long ago ok), and if anyone wanted quiet they could just ask for it, no one would have dreamt of arguing. It worked because we liked a lot of the same stuff and were considerate.

      2. Quinalla*

        Yup, when we were in the office, we used to on Fridays have someone play music for the office in the afternoon. We rotated who was in charge so we all got a chance to play what we liked best and of course if someone had a phone call we turned it off for that or if someone really didn’t like a song it would be on to the next one. It worked because we all agreed to it and we all had veto power. I’ve also been in offices with someone who wants to play a radio or music at their desk in an open office. Years ago, no everyone had headphones for every device. Nowadays though, there is no excuse, buy some headphones/earbuds if you for some reason don’t have them already and use them! Those of us that need quiet to concentrate thank you.

    8. Joie de Vivre*

      Glad I saw this post today. I was thinking about taking a radio to work – but I can’t wear headphones.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Are earbuds acceptable? You could put one in and still listen to the radio as well as what’s going on around you.

        1. PostalMixup*

          That’s what I do, too. I use the earbud in my “bad” ear so I can hear what’s going on around me. Of course, I don’t work in production or anything; I’d imagine the rules might be different for different levels of workplace hazards.

      2. lilsheba*

        Once again I am so glad I work at home. I play spotify music/podcasts/youtube all day and it’s just me. And I do it on a bluetooth speaker that sounds amazing. I can’t wear headphones all day it causes ear pain.

    9. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Someone used to sit near me and not only play the radio but *leave it on* when she left her desk even for hours. I frequently asked her turn it down and to turn it off when she left. I started turning it off if I saw her desk empty. She was furious and couldn’t understand why no one else had sympathy.

      1. banoffee pie*

        That is so aggressive to make you listen to it even when she wasn’t there. Like some kind of a power trip maybe?

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Hmm. Wondering if you’re my coworker? Not only did she leave the radio playing when she was away from her desk, but she put a sticky note on it saying “do not touch.”

      3. Sleet Feet*

        Ugh. Reminds me of college. I lived in on campus mini apartments and the ones who lived upstairs of my suite would frequently turn on their music insanely loud and then just … leave. We would have the RA turn it off after knocking and getting no answer. Annoying AF.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          In college, one RA I knew had a key to the circuit breaker and the room’s electric draw would flip the breaker every time loud music was left on and no one was there to turn it down.

        2. LunaLena*

          I had a college roommate who did that. It drove me insane, especially since I spent a lot more time in our room than she did. She also needed five staggered alarm clocks to wake her up in the morning that she always forgot to turn off when she went home for holidays, so a lot of my weekends started with me having to turn off all her alarm clocks and hunting for the multiple digital watches scattered around the room that went off at random intervals. I fantasized about pushing the clocks out the window SO MUCH that year.

          1. Llama Llama*

            I would rather work next to someone listening to the radio all day than live with someone who sleeps through multiple alarms.

            1. LunaLena*

              I think I only survived because we had opposite class schedules! I always tried to schedule my classes in the morning, so I could work, do homework etc in the afternoon/evening. She always scheduled her classes as late as possible, so she could sleep in (I once came home at 4 p.m. to find her still in bed), so I’d usually be gone long before the alarm clocks started going off. The only times we were in the room together was late evening, night, and some weekends, especially since I had a job and she didn’t. Usually I got home before she did, so I’d just be doing my own stuff when she would run in, throw open the window (which was usually only closed because it was winter in the Midwest; otherwise I’m a fresh air fiend who keeps windows open as much as possible), turn on her music, and then run out again to hang out in her friends’ rooms.

              After that putting up with that and more for a year, I insisted on and made sure I got a single room until I graduated.

          2. Nana*

            Coming in late, but…in college, I had a friend whose roommate had two loud alarms. She warned the offender once…and then opened the window and threw out BOTH alarm clocks!

      4. f*

        Same. Coworker would leave the music on in a small room shared by 5 workers, shoulder to shoulder. And then she’d throw a self-righteous fit if someone turned it off while she was gone. “Who turned off MY music? Don’t touch my music!”

        The crazy thing is, she’s a lovely person other than that. But I hated her during the time I sat next to her in the office.

      5. Triplestep*

        I sat next to someone who did this with conference calls! She didn’t want to be seen as having left the call, so she just threw her headphones on the desk then packed up and left for the day. We of course could hear the meeting continue through the headphones and there was no turning the volume off. Eventually we’d hang up after she left.

        1. Salsa Verde*

          That is BOLD!! and a little brilliant, but there’s no reason she couldn’t have muted the sound, since she wasn’t listening anyway.

      6. Le Sigh*

        Not quite the same, but had a coworker who would leave her cell phone at her desk during meetings … with the ringer volume on full blast. And she got a lot of calls. It was so irritating. One day she was in a 2 hour meeting and it was ringing every 2-3 minutes (not an emergency, just work calls mixed in with spam calls). Someone FINALLY just went in there and messed with it until we got the volume off. And she was SO MAD that we touched her phone, even though she’d been asked to silence it.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I had a boss in the 90s who shared an open office with about ten of us. His favorite thing to do was to put a CD of his favorite band into his computer’s CD drive, turn up the volume, lock the screen, and go off into a meeting. I’m still traumatized. Apparently it was a good band that many of my friends like (Great Big Sea), but I will never be able to enjoy it after this.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              That is actually a real possibility! It was a late 90s startup and the workplace environment was… odd compared to what we’ve come to expect in 2021.

              Rob, if you are reading this, we all hated your music, I’m sorry!

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          My former boss had the most irritating ringtone in the world and a very needy teenager who would call her multiple times a day and never leave a voicemail. If they called while she was away from her desk, they would just keep calling again and again and again until we managed to find her and tell her that her phone wouldn’t stop ringing.

        3. Cat Tree*

          Oh I would silence that phone and then act like I did her a favor.

          I had a coworker who had his IM set to ding with every single message and left his computer volume on in meetings. Doing that in the open office is selfish but not egregious. Doing that in a meeting made it very hard to hear the actual speaker. A different coworker once leaned over to mute his laptop. He never even noticed it or cared. This was also That Guy that clipped his nails at his desk, and not just a quick snip to deal with a hangnail.

        4. Dr Logen*

          A lot of faculty in my hallway like to leave their phones in their offices while they’re in class. Which I think is weird because I’m attached to my phone and it always comes to class with me. But whatever, it’s fine except… I can still hear your phone ringing from my office and your ringtone is annoying! Last week a colleague’s phone kept ringing while he was in class and his ringtone sounds like crickets! It took a couple of us like 20 minutes to realize that it was a phone and not a bug infestation.

      7. MusicWithRocksIn*

        My dad was like that. He would turn on not one radio, but every single radio in the house to the same station, then leave the house for hours. I would get home, turn off the radio, still hear the same music, then have to go hunting though the house for all the music in order to get some peace and quiet. We had five different radios btw, and on three different floors. Sometime there would be a sixth one outside on nice days.

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          My FIL likes to turn on the TV in his living room and his office, and leave them both on (despite the fact that the rooms are right next to each other). Sometimes it’s the same channel with a .5 second delay, sometimes it’s a completely different channel. Either way it’s maddening.

      8. Dust Bunny*

        What.

        I play music but we all have our own workspaces and mine is turned way, way, down. Like, *I* can barely hear it and the speakers are literally right in front of me, on my computer monitor. Nobody else can hear it. And I know some of my coworkers also play music but I can’t hear theirs, either. But you don’t do that in an open-plan or shared space.

      9. Zee*

        I had a coworker who did that too! She got mad when I turned it off when she wasn’t there. I think she even left it on all night. It was so bizarre!

    10. JB*

      Take from someone who has suffered early 2000’s Australian pop music, that cover of How Far I’ll Go and Ed Sheeran, easy listening radio in a work environment should be classed as torture.

      1. R o u s*

        Even “good” radio can be torture in a work environment. A few years ago I worked a job where they pulled in a former employee as contract coverage during a tough season. She was great at her job, and easygoing. But she listened to the radio ALL DAY. It was a station I frequently enjoy, but trying to do client calls and detail oriented work with it on was torture.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Exactly. I love music – when I’m out on a walk, or working out, or doing housework. I cannot think with a source of sound (other than white noise, traffic etc) going on in my space. If there are two conversations happening in my space, my brain tunes out of both, so I wouldn’t be able to have work-related conversations with teammates, be on conference calls, etc without being distracted to the max. Eventually having to strain to concentrate while The Desks Are Alive With The Sound Of Music! will trigger my migraine. That’s how I function. Sorry, it is what it is.

      2. pagooey*

        In dinosaur times, I worked as a temp doing data entry, in an office that piped in Muzak (so, extremely cheesy instrumental covers of pop hits) that could. not. be. turned. off. Other reoccurring dramas involved how the window blinds were adjusted, whether we could have any photos or other personal effects displayed on our desks (no), and the Nylons Police enforcing the dress code. I’m just glad I didn’t become a serial killer.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Worked for a fast food joint that had a subscription to Sirius. We were mandated to only play *one* station. And it had the same–ten or fifteen songs? Or so? If I worked a double, I wanted to scratch my ears out by the end.

          A few times I begged so nicely the manager just turned it off.

    11. Cat Tree*

      I always wondered what was going through the minds of those who play a radio at work. It’s fascinating to get this glimpse into their thought process. But doing something this intrusive to everyone else is just so foreign to me that I almost feel like an anthropologist studying this behavior.

      1. Cringing 24/7*

        THIS! Whenever I read this perspective, I want to sit with them and, like a toddler, ask “Why?” thirty times in a row to try to get to the root cause of this behavior!

      2. Ive*

        Seems to me there actually isn’t much thought. It’s just, ‘I like it, therefore it’s good, therefore if you stop it you’re bad.’

    12. Lacey*

      Yes. I do not understand the people who think that everyone else just prefers headphones and they get to use the radio because it’s their preference. No. No one prefers headphones. We’re ALL just being polite. Except for that one guy.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Yeah, the best thing about working from home is I can play my music on Alexa without headphones. Though not too loudly, as I live in an apartment.

    13. Busyness of Ferrets*

      Eh. Depends on the place. I work prepress so it’s an office but it’s also pretty industrial.

      I shared a wall with a gentleman who had a radio. He would pop up over the cubicle every morning “good morning, is my radio too loud”

      “Can’t hear it at all, Martin. Thanks for asking.”

      Good group.

      If I had a meeting and I could hear it I’d stand up and point at it and he’d turn it off. The. When the meeting was over “ok! You can turn it up again”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Martin is very polite and I love him.

        A coworker at OldExjob sitting near me used to sing under his breath. He would make up funny lyrics and have me in hysterics. I don’t know why that didn’t bother me but a radio does.

        1. La Triviata*

          Years and years ago, at the height of Napster (remember that?) popularity, we had two young women in the OPEN office who had accounts or whatever. They had different tastes in music, so one would start her music and the other would put hers on louder in an attempt to drown out the first one’s. Then the first one would increase the volume to try to drown out the second’s music. And so on, until you couldn’t hear yourself think. If I was on the phone with a member or someone important, I’d have to ask if I could call them back, since it wasn’t possible to hear them.

          Eventually, the powers that be in the office decided that headphones/earbuds were mandatory if you wanted to listen to music in the office.

    14. Elle by the sea*

      To be honest, I love radios at work or anywhere. But not everyone does. So, OP should be more considerate.

    15. Hacker For Hire*

      Alison’s reply is top notch. LW#3, what the hell are you thinking?!

      I used to work with a guy like this. He appointed himself as the DJ of the office and was permanently playing techno through his speakers. Asking him to use headphones was useless – after all, his music was meant to be heard by everybody. This, plus the fact that the guy was wildly incompetent and unprofessional, plus a toxic and dysfunctional workplace, made me leave the job after just a few months.

    16. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yep! Nobody wants to hear your radio, OP3. Don’t believe me? do a search on this site for all past letters complaining about a coworker’s radio being on in a shared office. It would’ve been a massive distraction to me. And yes, to Renee’s point, at my first US job, I sat next to a coworker whose radio was on all day, but that was 1997. This is 2021. All kinds of headphones exist.

      Also, mad props to OP3’s coworker for closing the manager’s door. My whole year of 2016 would’ve been so much more peaceful for me if I’d had the backbone to do that. My then-manager had a habit of having his friend come into his office at multiple times during the day, for both of them to loudly discuss the one presidential election candidate that they really did not like (who happened to be the one I voted for), going on at length about all the reasons why they disliked her. Every day. All day. And his office was directly behind my cubicle. I was afraid to say something. It made me want to dread coming in to work every morning.

    17. Roscoe*

      While I understand your point, I’d also ask what exactly management has been saying. If management is ok with it, I can understand coworker being annoyed that someone is doing this. Because, while OP could use headphones, I’d argue the coworker could also use headphones to avoid the noise. And if management has ok’d the radio use (makes me think of Office Space), I do think coworker has overstepped here.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Headphones aren’t always effective for blocking outside noise. In a shared space, it’s just more polite not to turn on audio that other people in the space haven’t agreed to listen to.

      2. banoffee pie*

        I’m not sure OP wants to be the Milton in this ;) also wasn’t he allowed to use it for half an hour a day, not all the time?

      3. JB*

        Using headphones to block out noise is a very different proposition. That would mean coworker is also blocking out any OTHER noises – like someone trying to get her attention, etc.

        And rude, disruptive behavior doesn’t become less rude or disruptive just because management has said it’s okay. The radio needs to go.

    18. Mbarr*

      +1
      I listen to music at work… But with headphones. I don’t like working to the sound of music that has words – it’s too distracting. All my music is usually instrumental that I can tune out.

      As for closing the manager’s door… I’ve done that before. The manager was pulled into an unexpected call and was talking very loudly. A few of us were distracted by it, so I quietly closed it on their behalf. I wasn’t being dramatic or anything. I just did it softly so as not to distract them.

    19. Miss V*

      Exactly. We have a radio at work, but that’s because it’s been discussed and agreed on by our department of three and we’re stuck back in an area away from anyone else. When it’s all three of us we listen to the oldies station. Just my manager and I, we put on showtunes. I think my manager and coworker put on country if I’m not there.

      But we all want music, it isn’t disturbing anyone, and everyone has veto power. That works. What LW is doing is rude.

      1. Moonhopping*

        Veto is key. My husband loves music and it has been his life line during lockdowns. I enjoyed music but after 18 months of it with no say in when it was played what was played and at what volume I can’t stand any music. Why no say during a pandemic he was upgraded to fist responder and this was his main way of dealing with stress so I just gritted my teeth for him out of love. But for a coworker I would not have had the patience. It has gotten to the point I no longer listen to the radio in the car, even on a 5 hour drive. I used to have it on all the time. I used to listen to music cooking and cleaning but not anymore. I do think if I had been able to say not today or this band instead it would not have been so bad.
        To OP it may not seem like a big deal but to others I can be a pebble in their shoe. I also think the radio may factor into the need to close the managers door. I can only tune out a limited number of distractions at a time. If Co-worker was not tuning out the radio the noise from the bosses office may not be such a bother.

    20. quill*

      The only place you are allowed to play the radio that I have ever worked was when I did hours of lab work per day, and even then, we had strict rules about playlists and stations because most of the ones we could get drove at least one of the lab cohort crazy. (Some had precisely 1 hour of songs in the rotation, some had the most annoying ads, etc.)

      The only reason we did it? We were trying to stay awake at hour 12 of an experiment, and we couldn’t wear headphones.

      HEADPHONES FOR THE WIN.

    21. Marion Ravenwood*

      I mean I will say one thing I like about WFH is I can listen to my own music without headphones, but on my day in the office you best believe that the headphones go in before Spotify goes on. (Plus I’ve given the office an accidental blast of my musical tastes once before and would rather not repeat that…).

      I think closing the manager’s door is a bit over the line, and there might be a point to be made about the co-worker’s tone of asking – although it’s not clear whether it was more like ‘can you turn your radio down please?’ compared to – ‘turn that thing off now!’ – but asking OP #3 not to use a radio is definitely not controlling to me.

    22. LifeBeforeCorona*

      This brings back awful memories in Cubical Land with a co-worker who kept their radio slightly off-tune so there was music alternating with static. I swear they did it deliberately as passive/aggressive torture because they hated their co-workers.

          1. JustaClarifier*

            AMAZING reference. +100 from me, as well. For those who don’t know – “What We Do In the Shadows” TV show. It’s hilarious, even if you’re not a “vampire person.”

    23. generic_username*

      YES! I used to work with someone who played the radio quite loudly in the office. I was an intern and didn’t feel I had standing to say anything, but I’d have internally cheered if someone else did. Just because no one else has mentioned it doesn’t mean they don’t mind.

    24. Meep*

      Seriously. I like listening to music while I work, but dang, the fact LW#3 didn’t get the hint when staring the issue directly in the face is something else. Their other coworkers are probably laughing behind their back at how ridiculous they are.

    25. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I don’t know why but I assumed OP is listening to talk radio, in which case it’s 1000 times worse than even the worst music channel. Even leaving out the inflammatory nature of most talk radio, trying to work when someone’s talking in your ear (or worse, at a level you can’t quite hear) is torture. If the coworker is sensitive enough to voices that she closes the boss’s door, I can totally see how a radio would be intolerable to her.

    26. Jenny screams out and it's no joke*

      I had a coworker who kept playing the same playlist from the Michelle Branch/Vanessa Carlton era day in and day out. This was in a workplace where we weren’t allowed to wear earphones, and also a “we’re like family” sort of place where everyone masterfully hid their contempt with a smile and spent half of the time worrying if so-and-so was mad at them.

      I’m so glad I’m out that place. That coworker had ruined White Houses for me.

    27. Allison*

      Seriously, I can’t imagine playing ANY kind of noise at my desk or in my cubicle – if I have any music, podcast, or YouTube video playing, I have headphones on. I think at one point I had a cube neighbor who played music without headphones and it drove me absolutely crazy, but she was older than me and I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything to her. Thankfully, it didn’t last long.

      Even if I had my own office with a door, I would be super careful not to play music that could be heard outside the office, which would likely mean continuing to use earbuds.

      I’m reminded of when I was a kid, and had this colorful tape player/recorder doodad that I carried around with me, and listened to tapes out loud, in the car, no headphones. I cannot believe my mom and dad let me do that, it must’ve been so annoying!

  2. Person from the Resume*

    I’m an American so bugger off does t hold the same meaning for me, but I think to a Brit they’re fairly similar.

    Assuming an American put up the sign, he could know it’s the equivalent and is enjoying getting away with it or he doesn’t know and thinks it’s cute and fairly innocent. Whatever, Alison has the best action b/c it should go.

    1. Xenia*

      It might be less offensive than F off but I wouldn’t really want an employee with “Go Away” on a sign either. It’s unnecessarily anti-communicative in a workplace environment.

      1. Alianora*

        Agreed. I think the sentiment here is actually more of a concern than potential foul language. I have worked places where it’s normal and accepted to have, like, coffee mugs with “don’t talk to me” on them. But honestly, it makes things harder for people who don’t know the office culture and/or have a hard time telling if it’s meant literally. I don’t think the joke is worth that.

        Tangentially: Does this mean that in Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card essentially named the antagonist alien species “fuckers”?

        1. Bird bird*

          Even more specific than that, as buggery is more synonymous with sodomy than the generic word ‘fuck’. That book was a weird read, the first time!

          1. Alianora*

            I knew “bugger off” was a rude way of saying “go away,” but I didn’t know it also meant a specific act until I looked it up just now.

            And I only knew the general meaning from spending time on the internet. Otherwise, how would I know? It’s not a term we use in America.

            1. pancakes*

              From books, magazines, movies, TV, travel, etc. Yes, there are many Americans who aren’t familiar with this particular phrase, or any other random phrase popular abroad, but the internet isn’t only way for people to gain a broader perspective on the world beyond their own day-to-day lives.

              1. Alianora*

                Uh, thanks for the weirdly condescending speech informing me that magazines exist? All I’m saying is that Americans don’t automatically know this phrase.

                1. pancakes*

                  Not my intention to be condescending; I just think it’s odd to speak as if the internet is the only way people learn about the world!

              2. Loredena Frisealach*

                Like Alianora I’ve seen it used often enough (in my case in British setting books) to gain its general meaning. But from context alone is not actually sufficient to know its precise one!

                1. OhNo*

                  Agreed. I read a a good number of UK-based books, so I’ve seen the phrase before, but it’s not like books, magazines, movies, TV shows, or people on the street when you’re traveling will say “Bugger off! By which I mean, of course, that you should go **** yourself in the rear in an act of male-to-male homosexual intercourse.”

                  Context matters, as does connotation. It’s a bit weird to assume that either would have been thoroughly grasped by most Americans who ran across the term casually.

                2. pancakes*

                  That seems weird to me too. I’m not quite sure how we got here! My point was not that all or even most Americans are or should be familiar with this particular phrase. (I also don’t think it matters, with regard to answering the letter, whether they are or aren’t). My point was the comment I replied to doesn’t ring true. I don’t think most people are in fact so incurious and insular as to live entirely online.

            2. billytea*

              I’m Australian, where ‘bugger’ barely registers on the vulgarity meter, but lived in the States for four years in my thirties. I fondly recall one time I was participating in an internet forum with a number of fairly strait-laced people, and used the word as a mild expletive. One of them – who unlike the others, knew its literal meaning as she’d lived in England – called me on it, and suggested that I shouldn’t use such dreadfully offensive language. (For some reason, they thought I was a teenager, presumably using the word for shock value.)

              I don’t remember the exact text of my apology, but I did manage to hit every euphemism for buggery I could think of, including ‘not meaning to slip anything in through the back door’. I signed off with ‘Roger and out’.

              They told me how touched they were with the sincerity of my apology, and obviously I really was a polite young man.

              1. Anon for this*

                Bonus points because last I checked, to be “rogered” is *ahem* a more forward way of accomplishing the same thing, if you get my meaning.

            3. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

              Same here. I thought it just meant “leave me alone” in the sense of, like, a curmudgeonly old person telling kids to stop throwing things on his lawn.

          2. The Prettiest Curse*

            As a British person who lived in America for many years, I can confirm that it isn’t really a phrase that’s used in the US and therefore most Americans don’t know what it means. Though as you can gather from the letter writer here, even if folks don’t know what it means, they can work out that it’s rude.

            1. Elle by the sea*

              I agree! I was surprised that anyone in the US would use it non-ironically. I have heard people use it to caricature Brits, often directed at me. It was so awkward, especially the fact that it was accompanied by exaggerated “stiff upper lip” kind of face expressions and weird hand gestures.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              I mean, we do use “bug off” to tell someone to go away. Even if we don’t usually use this phrase specifically the meaning is pretty obvious.

              But I wouldn’t have a “bug off” sign on my door at work, either, even though it’s pretty innocent. It’ still pretty rude.

          3. Anomalous*

            The first time I ever heard the word was in my early 30’s, when I was visiting Australia for a month long work trip. I can’t remember ever hearing it used in the US (except when I say it, of course).

          4. A Library Person*

            American here, and I learned the definition in a kind of funny, kind of awkward way.

            I first heard the word, to my recollection anyway, when my coworker was looking over a Revolutionary War-era document about a couple of soldiers who had been punished for buggery, which is obviously a pretty interesting and unusual find and one definitely worth a casual “hey look I found this” in that office culture. The vibes got weird when I obviously didn’t know what it meant and I felt even more residual awkwardness when I looked it up after getting home. Yikes!

          1. John Smith*

            Though buggery does refer to “unnatural” sex acts (including bestiality) in its original form, it’s not exclusive to homosexuality. It’s also quite archaic in its original form and I’ve never heard anyone who has used the word in a homophobic manner.

            1. GraceC*

              Yeah, no, someone as virulently homophobic as Orson Scott Card (including actively campaigning for anti-gay laws – this isn’t just a casual thing) just completely coincidentally naming his antagonist species after a somewhat old-fashioned slur for gay men? Not buying it.

      2. Varthema*

        That’s true! This reminds me of how when I was little, the words “shut up” were verboten in my house, to the extent that I thought they were swear words. But it’s not the words themselves, it’s the aggression behind them.

        1. Lacey*

          My house was the same way, because it was about not being rude or demeaning to people. Not the swears themselves

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            In my house we use some swears but we don’t call people stupid or tell them to shut up. Children are school age. It’s absolutely the tone and intent that matters.

      3. Heffalump*

        Many years ago I was working as a typesetter in the advertising department of a large insurance company. You could say the department was an island of creativity in a pretty buttoned-down environment. When I’d been there a few months, I found a placard in a gift shop. It had some sort of whimsical graphic and the legend “Get off my back.”

        I had my own office, not because I was high on the food chain, but because the typesetting machine was noisy. I taped the placard on my door. Within 30 minutes my manager swung by and said the placard had to go. I asked who’d said so, and he said, “Someone who matters.” He was nice about it, and I don’t think I did myself any long-term damage.

      4. Elenna*

        Yeah, this is basically what I was thinking – it’s somewhere between “F off” and “Go away”, we can debate exactly where it is on that range but it doesn’t really matter, because “go away” isn’t acceptable either.

      5. James*

        Depends on the worker and the situation. At a field office or a jobsite, with certain people, yeah, I can see it. Such places are pretty rough-and-tumble, and the occasional swear word is considered normal. In Cubicle Land? Not so much.

      6. Allison*

        Right, it seems super unprofessional. I can see putting up a sign saying “please do not disturb” if there’s something I seriously need to focus on, but I certainly wouldn’t have it up all the time.

    2. Off with you!*

      Bugger off – a rude way of telling someone to go away (bug off – slightly less rude)

      Naff off – a rude way of telling someone to go away, with the addition of contempt (a favourite of royalty)

      Sod off – a ruder way of telling someone to go away

      F*** off – a very rude way of telling someone to go away

      (From a Brit)

      1. John Smith*

        UK here too. “Piss off” is another phrase that can be used and tends to have a bit more venom about it.

        I don’t think bugger off has quite the same level of rudeness as do other versions, but it has lots of uses:

        “Oh bugger!” – oh no!
        “That’s buggered” – it’s not working properly.
        “That’s well and truly buggered” – it’s completely broke.
        “Well, I’ll be buggered!” – what a surprise! (equivalent to “fuck me!”).
        “I’ll be buggered if John thinks I’m doing his report for him” – no way am I doing John’s report.
        “Writing this report is a right bugger” – this is a difficult/arduous task.
        “I’m absolutely buggered” – I am very tired.
        “Johns buggered his project up” – John’s project is a mess.

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          Naff is polari, which is a historic ‘code’ language used by oppressed groups like travellers and, more recently, the gay community. It’s an acronym that stands for Not Available For F-ing (i.e. a straight person). There’s a story of pleasing symmetry with bugger and sod off, in that respect!

          1. Lemons*

            This etmology isn’t substantiated. Could be Army slang, could be Polari derived from a different source, (acronym origins are overwhelmingly facetious, they sound catchy but words generally don’t form that way). It is frustrating when the origins of a term are unclear, but for slang at least there’s rarely a solid derivation.

            Btw. This comment got detached from its parent as I was typing it, but I noticed before submitting and re-nested it. Looks like it was due to a nearby and refreshing or loading new content. Could be something to look into since there have been so many misplaced replies lately.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes, Polari is an interesting one as some of the words have caught on in mainstream language (manky for example or using scarper to mean run off) but the origins of some of the words are not quite clear and some of them are not obvious. For example “nelly fakes” for earrings.

              When I was growing up an older gay gentleman I knew found it amusing to teach me some of it (because I like languages) but it’s dying out now because secret codes aren’t usually needed any more for most gay people in the UK. I was chatting to some young gay colleagues at work and they’d never even heard of it.

            2. Worldwalker*

              Yeah. VERY few words (and none of them the ones ascribed to that by folk etymology) are derived from acronyms. The ones that are overwhelmingly have a military or tech connection. (radar, snafu)

        2. Asenath*

          In my part of Canada, years ago, it was common to use “You little bugger!” when addressing a child. It meant that you – I mean, the child in question – wasn’t behaving well, but had a half annoyed, half amused connotation. I was quite surprised when I learned the sexual meaning of the word – from my reading; I’d never heard it in speech, but I read about it used in a different context, and then consulted a dictionary.

          But putting up a sign saying “go away”, in any phraseology, is not good at work.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            Also Canadian – It’s still used that way in my family (sort of a synonym for brat, but with a more mischievous connotation) but I don’t hear it used often. I’ve assumed it’s part of some retained Newfoundland slang.

          2. Quaremie*

            I’m from Canada too, and that’s how I’d heard it. My mom used to say that (in a joking way) if we were low-grade naughty. Then one day, as a teenager, I said it to my younger sister, and that’s when she decided to explain to me what the word really meant, haha.

          3. Lacey*

            Yeah, I’m American and that’s how we use it as well. I’m just learning today that there could be another meaning to that word!

          4. Gothic Bee*

            Yeah, I’m in the US and I’ve heard my grandfather say something like “little bugger” usually directed at an inanimate object that was being annoying, lol. I’ve heard “bugger off” in British media, but I didn’t realize the meaning was literally along the lines of F- off. I just figured the sentiment was similar but it was like one of those fake swears (like “dang” or “darn”).

          5. JB*

            Is it that surprising? I’ve definitely heard American parents call their kids a ‘pain in the ass’ (or ‘pain in the butt’) to their face, and that has basically the exact same sexual root.

            1. Ive*

              That seems … a bit of a reach? I mean, you can call someone a pain in the neck, but it doesn’t mean you’re calling them an incompetent chiropractor.

        3. Grey Coder*

          “He knows there’s a problem but has done bugger all about it” — he has done nothing about the problem.

      2. Tara*

        You may be a misinformed Brit, then. Bugger is as rude as F—- because it means a… similar act.

        Sod is not better, it is short for sodomy.

        1. misspiggy*

          I’d say bugger off isn’t that rude, it can even be friendly. The term on its own is rude, but the phrase isn’t very.

          Definitely not work appropriate though, although it might have been considered funny in something like a university lab in the past. In a jokey work setting, it might not even be telling people seriously to go away, more denoting an amusingly grumpy work persona.

          1. Liz*

            Agreed. Telling a Brit to f- off is a lot more offensive, but it seems to be the opposite way around to Americans.

            I’ve lived in a couple of areas of the UK, with friends from some of the central areas (Manchester, Brum) and most of them would use “bugger” almost affectionately. Saying something was f-ed up was an escalation, and generally meant printer-bashing would shortly ensure.

        2. Bamcheeks*

          Yeah, but typically you’d get a warning look from your parents for bugger off, a sharp reprimand for sod off, and an actual punishment for fuck off.

          1. Adereterial*

            I am also a Brit. Bugger off is definitely not as rude as f**k off. So is ‘sod off’. It’s rude, but it’s not offensively rude, and it can be friendly depending on the context and tone. Even f**k off can be, frankly.

            What definitely is rude is telling an actual Brit that they’re misinformed about how a phrase would be viewed in their own country.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Cosigned, British. Words don’t have the same taboo force just because they’re semantically similar. “Poop” doesn’t have the same force as “turd” nor “shit”.

              I could use the phrases “sod off” or “bugger off” in front of (obviously not *to*) my mother-in-law, but I wouldn’t dream of dropping the f-bomb.

              I’m also pretty sure there’s recently updated Ofcom guidance on this, where the first two can show up on TV children might see, but f–k shouldn’t be aired until 9pm. I’ll go searching and add link as a comment if successful.

              LW doesn’t specify a location so this may be irrelevant anyway.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          Not to get into a Brit-off or whatever but I am also British and think both “bugger off” and “sod off” are significantly less rude than “fuck off”. I believe that both of the former can be said on TV pre-watershed, for example.

          1. banoffee pie*

            Yeah bugger off and sod off are not as strong in a way, but I never say them in case it looks homophobic. Fuck off is seriously rude but not homophobic so I’ll use it if necessary (I’ve only ever used it when feeling physically threatened)

        4. London Lass*

          I am also British and I know what the literal meanings are. However, the word ‘bugger’ has significantly less of an edge to it when used colloquially here, and is therefore less likely to cause offense. These things aren’t always logical!

        5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          There’s a vast, vast difference in severity depending upon what part of the UK you are in. (For non UK people we have accents that can change 30 miles up the road – words the same).

          In the part I’m in (M4 corridor) it’s not anywhere near as rude as the f word – I can call someone a lazy bugger in front of my mother and not get hit with a cushion.

          A sign saying ‘bugger off’ at work? I’d tell someone to take it down. There’s a time and a place.

          1. londonedit*

            Joining the Brit-off – I’m from southern England and I can say ‘bugger’ in front of my mother, no problem, but there’s no way I’d say the f-word or even ‘sh*t’ in front of her. Yes, we know the etymology of ‘bugger’ but it’s a fairly mild swear word where I’m from, and as someone mentioned above, it can have all sorts of uses from ‘well that’s buggered’ to ‘oh bugger’ and ‘bugger off’.

            However I still think it’s rude to have a sign saying ‘bugger off’ on your office door, simply because any sign saying ‘piss off’ or ‘go away’ would also be rude in an office situation.

            1. The Prettiest Curse*

              Yeah, I agree that this sign is inappropriate in a work environment, as is swearing at work in general.
              And if the person who has it in their door is trying to put one over on their colleagues who might not realize what it means, that’s just really obnoxious.

              1. londonedit*

                Ah, well, swearing at work is fine where I work (in general parlance, not swearing at someone) but it just seems like a hostile sign to put up. Or if it’s meant to be a joke, it’s not one that will land well with everyone.

                To update my previous post, I’ve just heard a lorry driver from somewhere in Europe being interviewed on BBC News and he said something along the lines of ‘…they just want us to help out and then bugger off when we’re not needed anymore’. So it’s acceptable for the BBC at 9.30am!

                1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                  Think I saw the same one (I’m stuck at home today because I have no petrol and nowhere to get more) and yeah, I think that’s a common kind of word to hear on the news when they’re interviewing disgruntled people. Think Auntie Beeb has a list of words that can’t be said before the watershed.

                2. londonedit*

                  Another example – you probably wouldn’t hear ‘bloody’ on Radio 2 but I listen to 6 Music a lot and it’s definitely acceptable for presenters there to drop in the occasional ‘bloody’ here and there (my favourite, now sadly no longer on the station, Shaun Keaveny used to have a thing where he’d sing along to the Hill Street Blues theme tune going ‘Hill Street Blues, it’s bloody Hill Street Blues’, for example!)

            2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Yup, I’m 100% for a ‘do not disturb’ sign, not a ‘go away’, ‘piss off’, ‘bugger off’ etc sign – I’m okay with those things being *said* out loud in my team (not with other departments around) but a sign up is in your face the whole day.

              1. UKDancer*

                Yes definitely. I don’t think it’s a problem saying “bugger off” if you work in an informal setting. My office tends to the more formal so I probably wouldn’t use it in a lot of work situations. I do think having it on a sign comes across as unduly hostile and adversarial. Do not disturb is a lot better in that context.

              2. Grey Coder*

                Scotland here. Generally my work environments have involved widespread use of, er, colourful metaphors in casual speech, but I agree that somehow having it written down on a sign is a different level. It’s the sentiment more than the words in this case.

            3. Quidge*

              So, I AM someone’s mother, and in my house they’d get a bigger dressing-down for bugger than fuck, because our rule is ‘no hate speech, no swearing AT people’. (Blasphemy also strongly discouraged, because it is offensive to a specific population, but erasing OMG from your lexicon is HARD.)

              “Fuck” and “shit” are equal-opportunity swears. Bugger (and sod, and fag/faggot, and and and…) are rooted in homophobia, and are absolutely still used against LBGTQ+ Brits today. Most people just don’t notice because they are ‘mild’ swear words, much like they don’t notice mild everyday classism or racism when it’s not directed at them.

          2. Green great dragon*

            Yes, but the exact phrase matters too – I suspect telling your mother to bugger off might be at least cushion-worthy? My own mother is fighting a rear-guard action against Oh my God, so I have poor calibration here.

            1. londonedit*

              I think tone also matters – you can tell someone to bugger off in a way that makes it clear you’re saying it in a warm, joking way, or you can tell someone to bugger off with force. If I told my mother to bugger off with a straight face, she probably would smack me with a cushion. But if I said something like ‘Oh bugger off, you! I’m trying to concentrate here!’ with a warm tone, it would be completely different. I told one of my friends to f*** off yesterday – he was taking the piss and I said ‘Oh f*** off, Wakeen!’ but my manner and tone and body language all conveyed that it was a joke said in the same way as his joshing.

            2. Varthema*

              “My own mother is fighting a rear-guard action against Oh my God, so I have poor calibration here.” This made me laugh out loud, thanks for that on a Monday morning! :D

            3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Sympathy mate! My mother still gives me the Parental Glare of Death for the word ‘bloody’.

            4. school of hard knowcs*

              Hysterical. My Mom would have a fit at any type of swear word… however she would ‘using polite words’ say horrible things about people. Odd, isn’t it.

            1. Magenta*

              I didn’t know that one! Just looked it up. The usage over time is interesting, I guess Only Fools and Horses has a lot to answer for!

              1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                Good rule of thumb is that Brit slang terms tend toward the bodily parts/scatalogical/blasphemous origin.

          1. Magenta*

            Yeah lets not, although that is another word that means different things in the UK and the US, I think it is more often aimed at men here in the UK where as in the US it is seen as very misogynistic.

            Very few people know about the origin of the word berk and see it as a funny, harmless insult, a bit like muppet. I wonder if the Berkshire Hunt still meets since the ban on fox hunting with dogs?

            There are quite a few words from cockney rhyming slang that have entered every day use, like “butchers” (butchers hook = look) I had a friend from Nottingham try to argue that it wasn’t a cockney word because they use it up there.

            1. The Prettiest Curse*

              Ha, if you REALLY want to confuse Americans, use cockney rhyming slang. Our new puppy had his first session with a dog trainer recently and she called him a tea leaf (thief) when he tried to steal some treats from her bag. I had to explain the meaning of that one to my American husband – he thought she was just using some weird random insult!

              1. Bluesboy*

                Can’t really blame a dog for that. They’re always Hank Marvin, they’ll half-inch any in the nude they can get in their north and south.

                More on topic…as another Brit I can confirm that ‘bugger’ is offensive or not based on context. Said with a smile to a mate, no problem. Different context, different interpretation. If I saw it on a door in an office I wouldn’t be offended by the choice of word – I’d see it more as ‘get lost’ – but I’d certainly think it was wildly inappropriate to have on an office door!

            2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Again, depends on the region. Berk is really common in the area where I live and is a generic term for anyone being a bit of a wally.

        6. Ferret*

          Etymology isn’t the same thing as meaning though and bugger absolutely isn’t as rude as fuck in any context I’ve known. That’s like saying that twat, berk, and cunt are all the same level of insult.

          I say this as someone who who has been using ‘bugger’ as a generic swearword since I was 6 (blame Terry Pratchett for that one). And I have been told off/ had bad reactions from other words so I don’t think it’s just an unusually permissive environment

        7. Ferret*

          (I’m assuming the swearing got my other comment caught up which I should have thought of)

          Etymology isn’t the same thing as meaning though and bugger absolutely isn’t as rude as f*** in any context I’ve known. That’s like saying that t***, b***, and c*** are all the same level of insult just because they all derive from the same body part

          I say this as someone who who has been using ‘bugger’ as a generic swearword since I was 6 (blame Terry Pratchett for that one). And I have been told off/ had bad reactions from other words so I don’t think it’s just an unusually permissive environment

          1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

            To remember the meaning in British English, you have only to look to Pratchett’s contribution to folk-song history: “And the hedgehog can never be buggered at all…”

            1. quill*

              I read enough brit lit that I’d absorbed the context, if not the definition.

              The hedgehog song taught me the definition.

        8. Pickle Lily*

          Nope, Off with You is not a misinformed Brit. Bugger and sod off are far less rude than f**k off in the UK.

          As misspiggy says you might even use the first two in a friendly context when your friends and family are being mildly irritating towards you… of course tone is important. For example, I told my brother to bugger off the other day when he tried to steal some grated cheese from the top of a lasagne I was making – it’s that level of friendly, jokey interation. He didn’t take offense and also got some cheese!

          I think the origin of the words are no longer relevant to modern British society, they have evolved.

          1. UKDancer*

            I’d agree as a Brit. Bugger off is much less rude than f*** off. I’d use bugger off if someone were annoying me. For example I had a pigeon covetously eyeing my sandwich when I was having lunch in the park last week and I’m pretty sure I told the pigeon to bugger off. Not that it took much notice but I wouldn’t have a problem using the word in a public setting.

            The f word is a lot ruder in the UK in my opinion.

        9. RowanUK*

          It might technically mean a similar act, but it’s used for such a variety of situations that a lot of the sting has been taken out of it.

          The media regulator, Ofcom, did a list of offensive swear words a few years back and it classes it as a mild swear word alongside words like “bloody” and “arse”, while the f**k is on the most offensive list.

        10. Ozperson*

          Bugger is regarded as so innocuous in Australia that it has been used by Prime Ministers and in Toyota advertising.

          1. linger*

            NZ also.
            PM Jim Bolger: “Bugger the pollsters!”
            And that 1998 Toyota Hilux “Bugger!” ad was filmed in NZ (albeit with an Australian actor in the lead role).

        11. Mongrel*

          Another Brit here, it’s nowhere near as rude as F* off and for most people has lost it’s sexual meaning (as has sod) unless they’re being dictionary pedants.

          Here’s some information about the UK watershed (rules about when what can be shown on terrestrial TV)
          “Other less offensive language for example “shit”, “bugger” etc. must not be used before the watershed unless it is justified by the context”
          https://www.channel4.com/producers-handbook/ofcom-broadcasting-code/protecting-under-18s-and-harm-and-offence/offensive-language – NSFW language

        12. onco fonco*

          Yeah no. I’m British too, I know what bugger and sod actually mean, but regardless of that they are milder words than fuck, or in my experience even shit. Usage trumps everything, and that’s how they’ve been used in every corner of the country I’ve lived in so far.

        13. Paperdill*

          In Australia “bugger off” is pretty common and definitely not on par with “f**k off”. I know a lot of British people would would be if the same opinion. Just because a word’s original meaning is something, it doesn’t mean that that’s what the contemporary colloquial meaning is.

        14. Hello, I’d like to report my boss*

          It doesn’t really matter what it’s short for or the old use of it, what matters is current use and understanding.

          Eg I don’t get annoyed about people saying “goodbye” to me. It’s short for “God be with ye” and I’m not religious, but the meaning’s changed.

          “Oh bugger” is mild where I live and grew up. (Southern UK). It’s about as strong as “crap”.

          1. londonedit*

            Similarly ‘blimey’ is about as mild a word as you can get, the sort of thing people would say instead of swearing, but its origin is from ‘God blind me’ (which is also why ‘cor blimey’ is a phrase, though it’s rather old-fashioned these days). I imagine centuries ago ‘God blind me’ was quite a bad thing to say, but now ‘blimey’ is completely inoffensive.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Got me a guy working for me who quite obviously comes from a cockney region – now that’s a masterclass in euphemisms.

            2. Bamcheeks*

              My mum told me off for saying “blimey!” when I was about 8 or 9, so I still feel a bit naughty saying it!

          2. banoffee pie*

            Interesting. I think bugger is stronger than crap here (northern ireland). I really should stop saying crap all the time, come to think of it

        15. ceiswyn*

          Are you British?

          Nowhere I have lived in the UK (from Scotland to the Home Counties to South Wales) has ‘bugger’ been anywhere near as rude as ‘f***’. It’s a mild swear – f*** is a not-so-mild swear.

        16. Phil Gyford*

          Handily Ofcom (the UK regulator for broadcasting) released the results of a survey on offensive language only last week. They asked people to rate various words as to whether they were Mild, Moderate or Strong.

          They didn’t include the “Bugger off” or “F*** off” variants, but “Bugger” alone was rated as Mild, alongside words such as “Bitch”, “Cow” and “Pissed”. “Sod off” was also rated as Mild.

          On the other hand “F***” was one of only two words in the General Swear Words category to be rated as “Strong” (the other being “M*****f*****”).

          The entire report (a PDF) can be found here https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/225335/offensive-language-quick-reference-guide.pdf

          1. fhqwhgads*

            In the context of the letter though, what really matters is not whether it’s equally (or anywhere near) as bad as “fuck off” but whether A) a sign literally saying “go away” is unacceptable, which I’d argue it is and B) if “bugger off” is worse than “go away”, which I’d argue it also is.

          2. banoffee pie*

            That’s odd, only two words made it into the strong category? What about the c-word? And no way is ‘bitch’ mild when you’re being called one by an aggressive man, I always hate that :(

        17. Heffalump*

          I think Princess Anne once told reporters to “sod off.”

          I’ve had a pen pal in the UK since 1979, and I visited him in 1991. He met me at Heathrow. We walked to the car park, and a minute after we got in the car, he realized he’d forgotten something and said, “Oh, bugger it, bugger it, bugger it!”

          I laughed and said, “Now I know I’m in England.”

          1. UKDancer*

            I think she actually said “naff off” because she was a bit fed up of the reporters etc following her around. She’s always had a reputation for plain speaking.

      3. Caroline Bowman*

        and of course piss off, which can be used to tell a friend to go away, it’s has generally more collegial connotations!

      4. Edwina*

        “Bugger” is the act of sodomy. Bugger off, and sod off (shortened version of “sodomy”) are both really quite rude.
        “Bugger off” is now fairly divorced from its meaning, and can be used without offense. Used as an adjective (“this buggering project is driving me mad”) it is a little more potent.
        “Sod off” is really extremely rude in a business context.
        “Fuck off” is also very rude.

    3. Phil*

      In Australia, it’s so harmless, Toyota had an iconic ad in the late 90s featuring the word used multiple times. If someone had that sign in my workplace I’d probably have a chuckle, but my company is a little more informal. I guess results may vary from place to place though.

      1. I heart Paul Buchman*

        Yeah, when I read it I wondered if he’s Australian. It’s such a common phrase here my Nana used to use it and she would have soon died as said F____.
        If he’s Australian he probably doesn’t realise it’s offensive to you (I didn’t know that anyhow).

    4. Let's be reasonable here*

      It really depends on the workplace and region. In Australia it’s really not uncommon for language to fly around – I work in an agricultural industry and the other day our Workplace Safety officer said to me when I dropped in after WFH for several weeks: “we had a cu*t who used to work here who looked exactly like you” – he was saying that playfully. I previously worked at a Catholic school and that sort of language got dropped in the staffroom all the time.

      It also sounds like the LW wasn’t actually offended until a coworker implied what it meant. If no one is actually taking offense, I don’t think it’s really a big deal. And I’m someone who never swears and generally avoids listening to music that arbitrarily sticks those words in.

      1. Lewis Spears*

        It’s like the Australian comedian who had to stop beginning his videos with “G’day c*nts!” It’s basically a term of endearment here.

        1. Sassafras*

          It really depends on context though! I’ve never heard that word in any of my workplaces and my friends and family don’t use it. I wouldn’t want to mislead any tourists who might arrive in Australia and think they can casually say it to anyone they meet.

          1. Mami21*

            Agreed, it’s not anywhere near as common or accepted in Aus as everyone seems to think. It’s usually bogans or young guys trying too hard to be adorably ocker who use it lightly.

            1. Ozperson*

              I draw the line at c*nt because it is often the most extreme expletive some men use, and I take exception to a man using a part of female anatomy as the worst thing they can say. They also use it to insult women. I’ve never heard an Australian woman use c*nt as an insult, swear word or greeting.

              1. short'n'stout*

                Thank you, yes, I also find it highly offensive that people equate my genitalia with a loathsome human.

                1. Pippa K*

                  In principle, yes, but in practice it’s so often used in a way equivalent to “dick”, and (at least in the contexts where I hear it) used in a fairly de-gendered way. Contrast with “bitch” which I almost always hear as a woman-specific gendered slur.

                  There are 3 language contexts (2 English language, one non-English) in which I hear c*nt used, and it’s a very mild swear in one, a medium/contextual swear in another, and totally obscene and unacceptable in the third. Language is fascinating.

                2. Ariaflame*

                  My usual response to people attempting to use that word as an insult towards someone, especially if I agree that the person referred to is not a good person, is to disagree and point out that they have neither the warmth nor the depth.

                3. Nodramalama*

                  I don’t mind it, and kind of think it should be normalised and should be thought of as the same as dick.

              2. WS*

                I have, but I live in a very rural area so things are either 100% clean or 100% swearing here, depending where you are.

              3. Seeking Second Childhood*

                It’s why I prefer my expletives to be ass- and excrement-related–totally unisex. Equal Opportunity Offender, as it were.

              4. Bluesboy*

                Agreed, it’s the one swear word I don’t use in English.

                Although in the language of the country where I live, the word used for the male genitalia is used informally to mean that something is small or unimportant, but the word used for the female genitalia is used to say something is cool. Weird the way these things differ between countries.

              5. Let's be reasonable here*

                “I’ve never heard an Australian woman use c*nt as an insult, swear word or greeting.”

                You’ve never met my ex-wife, who I think I have heard all three. :)

                I’ve heard a number of women use it – not many, by any means, but it’s not like they don’t.

            2. banoffee pie*

              I can’t imagine going on holiday to Australia and just letting the c-word fly everywhere and expecting people to find it hilarious!

        2. STAT!*

          Lewis, I hope you mean “bugger” is a term of endearment here, not the C word … coz the latter definitely isn’t. (Also who was the comedian?)

        3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I learnt that in some parts of Scotland it’s also used to refer to your mates. Bit of a culture shock at first! But man I love Scotland.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            Haha when I was in grad school in Scotland it was the one thing I *loved* about the language – the c word is my favourite curse word (I love the strength in the letters/sounds, it’s the only slang name to vaginas that matches the linguistic strength that we give to penises, the other names all include sounds we associate with weakness). So moving somewhere and having it suddenly be not only acceptable, but a good thing to be called was so fun. “Oh, you’ll like my brother, he’s a good c***.”

          2. Scotlibrarian*

            I worked in a prison with young men, in Scotland. I can totally confirm that the c word was used constantly to mean mate or bloke. Bit surprising on my 1st day. Only had 1 guy say it near me to see what I did (and he was the only distinctly creepy bloke I met in there) – I found his attempt to intimidate me a bit pathetic tbh, I mean, I grew up on the West coast of Scotland and I’m in my 40s, I’ve seen some stuff. But a sign at work telling me to ‘anything at all’off is inappropriate

    5. river*

      Coming from a country that uses the phrase quite freely, i’d say it’s like having ‘Get Lost’ on your door. Still too hostile for work.

        1. Expiring Cat Memes*

          Even “Kindly remove yourself before you consider entering, thank you!” on a door would be inappropriate for work.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Yup… if the sign-poster were reading, I’d recommend a statement of WHY they don’t want interruption. (On deadline. Month-end. Client call in progress. Writing your reviews.)
          Followed by “emergencies only”.

    6. L'étrangere*

      No matter what the geographic nuance in the relative degree of offensiveness, it’s offensive. And I’d add that the willfull obfuscation about it makes it doubly offensive

    7. Hornswoggler*

      I get the impression sometimes that some Americans thing that a ‘bugger’ is someone who bugs you. That’s sorta logical isn’t it? But I think it means that some people use it it without realising the connotations.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        As a child I infamously told my mom an annoying kid on the bus was a bugger and got several minutes of lecture about bad words/homophobia before she realized I was extrapolating “person who bugs me” to “bugger”!

    8. NinaBee*

      ‘Bugger off’ sounds Australian to me, where ‘bugger’ is used like a lighthearted ‘oh crap’ type of word. Bugger off is more like an annoyed shrug off, where as FU is quite aggressive in tone.

    9. BritChick*

      Bugger off isn’t really offensive. It’s like something your irascible grandad would say. Bit old fashioned. I wouldn’t say it in the workplace but it’s a lot milder than F off.

    10. Aquawoman*

      One thing occurs to me about the “bugger off” sign–is it temporary or permanent? We have folks who have regular type of “do not disturb” sign that they’ll hang on their doorknobs if they’re in an important call or especially a telephone meeting. And other people just use post-it notes. If it’s permanent, that’s just sort of hostile, but if it’s a temporary but “humorous” do not disturb sign that he sometimes hangs on his doorknob, maybe the humor doesn’t land but the fact of the sign itself is not as egregious.

    11. MyLlamaPeggyHill*

      When used as a verb (to bugger) in the UK it means sodomize. I always thought it was kinda homophobic so I’m surprised everyone here thinks it’s harmless. Like I know that’s not what people are thinking when they say it but the word isn’t divorced from its historical context. Same with saying something “sucks,” which disparages women and gay men even though that hasn’t been the intent for decades.

  3. Alianora*

    LW 5: It’s not clear to me from the letter if you’ve tried calling them before, but that would definitely be a step to try if you’ve only been contacting them via email.

    1. k8*

      in a slightly similar situation to L5 (have had my old work laptop for 3 months, tried sending it back using the FedEx label oldjon sent me but it was returned to my apartment) and unfortunately, there is literally no public phone number to call. customer support isnt even over the phone. even the email addresses i used to use to talk to workplace services/operations no longer work for me because i no longer have an internal email address. it’s a fairly large, well-known startup and the only way to contact the office externally is through a “contact us” form….guess us millennials truly do not like talking on the phone!

      1. k8*

        (which reminds me, guess i should reach out again…. it’s been over a month since i was last told IT would be contacting me about it )

    2. Anonariffic*

      Yes! It’s entirely possible that whoever you dealt with 14 months ago is no longer at the company and no one is at the other end of the email address you’ve been contacting. Even if you thought you sent the message to a shared HR mailbox, maybe they laid off the entire HR department and just outsourced payroll to save money- who knows what kind of internal restructuring the company might have gone through in the last year+

    3. L'étrangere*

      Oy. The company itself may no longer be in business. Maybe escalate to the phone, or eventually good old registered letter before you ditch the stuff? Just to cover your legal derriere if they wake up in 2 years

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Certified, not registered. Both prove you sent it and that it either was received or delivery was attempted. The difference is that registered also carries insurance, which is unnecessary for a letter. And of course it costs more.

        And I would totally do the certified mail routine before disposing of equipment.

  4. EC*

    LW 3 your coworker is right and you are wrong. Why would you ever think a radio at work was okay? Of course you should be wearing headphones and not making a bunch of distracting noise!

    1. lost academic*

      I noticed in a former workplace that certain staff (administrative and financial) with individual offices and not particularly thin walls, in very separate area from the rest of the building (academia) would very quietly play a radio and in later years stream stations online. You could not hear it unless you were in their offices and it was a very quiet wing overall. I noticed this in multiple departments and it seemed pretty normal, but at the same time if they had been working in anything resembling an open layout or where they could easily be overheard I strongly doubt they’d have continued. This was also at a time where the use of headphones while working would have been really frowned upon and looked terrible – that’s seemed to have changed significantly in the last 5-10 years. But if someone can hear your nonwork, unnecessary activity, you need to stop it.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        Yes, I have a private office near a public area. Since Covid, I keep my door closed so I can take my mask off. I play Sirius XM in my office and have checked that it cannot be hear beyond my closed door. I turn it off when someone needs to come talk to me; which happened while I was writing this. But if I was in a shared work environment, I would use headphones for sure.

  5. JSPA*

    Buggery is, well, more orifice-specific. Bit odd that “bugger off” has, over centuries, come to be as mild a term (in standard usage) as it actually is– closer to “shove off” than F-off (and for that matter, F-off is far milder than F you.)

    Non brits have been known to adopt it as a quaint Britishism. Or assume that it’s got something to do with bugs, as in bothersome insects.

    That’s probably the tack I’d take: “regardless of how cheekily charming you may intend this to be, “buggery” and “bugger” have literal meanings which make this sign unacceptable here, and in most professional workplaces.”

    1. AcademiaNut*

      Thank you for the phrasing “orifice-specific”. I was trying to think of a non explicit way to describe the meaning. But yes, it has a specific sexual meaning, and is not appropriate for your office door.

      Also, the etymology of the term is unexpectedly delightful. Except, perhaps, for the Bulgarians.

    2. London Lass*

      I don’t think you even need to get into the etymology though. They might just argue that no-one is offended by the word if it is used routinely there. The point is the message. Having a sign that said “Go Away” wouldn’t be acceptable either.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I agree with this. It’s quite possible to extremely rude and use nothing but words you could say in the politest of company.

        “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!” contains no profanity/blasphemy/swearing, but it’s still not a polite thing to say to wandering Grail knights who’ve stopped by your castle on their quest.

        1. No Sleep Till Hippo*

          Someone once explained the full meaning of that line to me and it blew my mind: “Your mother was a hamster (in that she had as many offspring as a hamster does) and your father smelt of elderberries (a popular ingredient in wine at the time – i.e. he’s a drunk)!”

          Leave it to Python to craft a deeply classist insult that sounds like non-sequitur silliness.

          1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

            I did not know that! That is very cool!

            (However, I am not at all surprised by it. If anyone can pull that off, it’s Monty Python.)

          2. ThereAreThoseWhoCallMeTim*

            Not just a drunk. Elderberries were specifically used in peasant-grade wine, so “your father smelt of elderberries” is calling him a CHEAP drunk, at that.

  6. EC*

    If the new company asks for a reference you should be honest about the employee’s lack of performance. But there isn’t anything you can do legally.

    1. staceyizme*

      Agreed, sadly. This is a “you” thing more than a “them” thing, unfair as that may seem. In your shoes, though, I’d be very tempted to discreetly contact the new company, if feasible. What you’d have to share is true, relevant and might justly impact his reputation there, even if it doesn’t affect his offer.

        1. TechWorker*

          If you ‘work’ for a company for 2 months and do literally no work, whilst attending meetings and claiming to be doing work, then I don’t think you should be surprised if that affects your professional reputation. It’s ‘vindictive’ sure but it’s not exactly come from nowhere…

          1. EPLawyer*

            Yes but the reason the person was able to do no work for 2 months and lie about it is because no one checked. So this is more the OP needs to learn more about how to supervise people than to go out of her way to complain about an old report who got away with something she let him get away with.

            At this point, he is someone else’s problem. OP owes no loyalty to his new company to tell them anything.

            1. EmbracesTrees*

              Yes, this is poor managing. I’m not sure how you see that as exonerating the “employee’s” actions?

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Proactively reaching out to a new employer to torpedo someone you failed to supervise? No, it is, and I think would reflect worse on the LWs character than the employees.

            1. NeutralJanet*

              But the issue here isn’t that he was inadequately supervised and so did bad work, which is something that could very well be resolved at another company—it’s that he lied for two months about doing work that he did not do at all, which suggests that he has some fundamental character flaws that are going to follow him everywhere. I would probably not contact his new employer, but I don’t see any issue with it.

              1. EPLawyer*

                If it is going to follow him everywhere, the new company will figure it out. Not the OP’s job to proactively reach out. There is no duty to another company to warn about bad employees.

              2. Artemesia*

                And two months is not a hugely long time to go without detailed supervision. It is obviously needed here, but in professional contexts where projects take awhile, believing that someone is doing the work for two months because they are SAYING so is not egregious failure to supervise. It worked out that way, but in most situations you can trust a professional’s word on where they are on a project.

                1. bubbleon*

                  Yeah, we don’t know what “regular fake status updates” means, but it’s clear they were in communication with him at least and weren’t just sitting in silence. If I was getting detailed updates from my team on “I’ve done X and Y so far, here are some things I found and some questions I have. Next week I’ll get started on Z, here’s a timeline”, I would consider that pretty detailed supervision and might not push to see the thing they’re working on.

                2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  And two months is not a hugely long time to go without detailed supervision. It is obviously needed here, but in professional contexts where projects take awhile, believing that someone is doing the work for two months because they are SAYING so is not egregious failure to supervise.

                  To me, that’s one of the failings of having non-technical people supervising programmers (and I’m not saying that’s OP’s situation). If I were in charge of a team, I’d be very interested from a technical perspective of how the work’s being accomplished. I’m always on the lookout for better ways or opportunities to expand my skill set. But if it’s all Greek to me, more stock must be put in what the programmer asserts to be true.

          2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            This person has poor character. I don’t think it’s “needlessly vindictive”.

            That’s not the problem. The problem is that you can’t prove this allegation without compromising your own employer’s confidentiality, and without proof it’s just as easily vengeance against the employee for leaving as it is trying to make sure the consequences for their actions are not evaded.

            1. Submarine*

              +1

              Reference checks are not an excuse for former bosses or employers to get their own back at ex-employees who they think were in the wrong, or whom they didn’t like.

              This entire problem could likely have been avoided entirely if OP1 had actually done their job and managed and supervised the employee.

              1. NeutralJanet*

                No, reference checks are not an excuse for former bosses to get revenge, but they are a time to give an honest report of how an employee performed, which in this case would be “very bad”. This entire problem could definitely have been avoided entirely if the employee weren’t staggeringly, horrifyingly dishonest and had even a tiny bit of integrity.

                1. ThatRandomCommenter*

                  +1
                  This wouldn’t be an example of “getting back” at the employee, this is about sharing pertinent information with the new company. OP doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t!) give the new employers the full story, but letting them know that the employee requires significant oversight and frequent demonstrations of their accomplishments in order to succeed in a role is something I would very much like to know if I were hiring someone. OP could even kick it off by genuinely saying their thrilled [employee] found a role they’re excited about – since at this point I assume OP is glad to be rid of them lol.

                  I really don’t love the sentiment here that OP accepting the updates from their employee as factual and honest is somehow an example of egregious mismanagement. As a manager I want to trust my team to get their work done and keep me up to date without me needing to look at every little thing and as an employee I want a manager who trusts me to do my job without having to always *prove* that I’m working. Do I think OP should have set aside time to inspect the work before this all blew up? Yea, definitely. But I can’t agree that this whole situation is a result of their choices.

                  This isn’t just someone who did poorly at their role and would perhaps thrive in a different situation, this is someone who not only lied about doing any work, they took advantage of a company that spent time and money to sponsor their entry from Peru.

                  Also, this employee is playing a risky game because (at least in the US) this could come up at a citizenship interview and if there’s any chance USCIS thinks the sponsorship process was fraudulent (such as USCIS feeling that the worker and the employer never intended for the worker to permanently work for the employer) then the employee, and even potentially OPs company, could be in some real hot water. On paper, sponsoring an employee and having them produce no work over two months and then quickly finding a different job does not look great… And the US isn’t exactly known for its benefit-of-the-doubt immigration policies.

        2. EmbracesTrees*

          Vindictive? Mayyyybe. But “needlessly”? Not at all. This person lied repeatedly and for an extended period about something they knew was deeply important (iow, not “uh, yeah, I filed that paperwork [that’s actually sitting on their desk]”). They have taken payment for work they didn’t do.

          They have demonstrated that they are at best wildly irresponsible and unreliable, and at worst, capable of blithely committing what amounts to fraud. If I had any connections in the industry, I would make sure that my peers knew about this behavior so they didn’t hire someone who was a horrific employee (and person). I don’t think that’s vindictive.

    2. tg*

      To be honest I think the are pretty lucky that it only went on for 2 months (even though that meant the effort of getting the visa was wasted). Given the lack of oversight it could easily have gone on for 6 months or a year.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, if this person hadn’t announced they were leaving, at what point would OP have realized? This was an expensive lesson, but seems like it could have been even worse!

    1. pcake*

      And send a follow-up email after the call to cover your butt that includes something like “as we discussed on the phone today” as well as the info you discussed.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Yep, this is exactly the kind of situation where a simple phone call might resolve the whole thing.

  7. JSPA*

    They paid / sponsored someone to come from another country, presumably to be “in person” (though i suppose it could have been for tax reasons). It got them nothing, for their efforts.

    1. PollyQ*

      True, although “nothing” is possibly slightly better than 2 months of buggy, hard-to-understand code that might have taken more time to clean up than to rewrite from scratch. But 2 months without any kind of code check or review is pretty dang negligent, too.

      1. Smithy*

        Yeah – my situation wasn’t code/engineering related, but at work I was put on a two month research project where I was let loose to do a desk research project for the department. While I certain did work on what I thought was wanted of me, it was very clear that literally everything from my research question to my methods were not what they wanted.

        It ended up being a case where my boss and another member of the senior leadership team looked terrible because they had been saying “oh, we’re going get research that shows us XYZ” – and had they checked in at any point from the beginning around the design let alone through the process, they would have discovered that my understanding was very different. I certainly had work product so no one could say “nothing had been done” – but this nothing that something is better than nothing really is not always correct.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah, my thought on reading #1 was, I want to know if he hadn’t *completed* anything or hadn’t *done* anything? Because these aren’t the same thing. Maybe he left behind clean code that needs some finishing touches, that took him two months and that he still had not moved out of dev because he wanted to make sure it was done right. Or maybe he left nothing behind. He was hired by a much better company, that supposedly also agreed to sponsor him – that makes me give him the benefit of the doubt.

    2. MK*

      Call e cynical, but I doubt companies sponsor foreigners out of the goodness of their hearts instead of just hiring in-country.

      1. Cassie*

        Can you elaborate what you mean?

        In the UK, it costs thousands for companies to get a sponsorship license and the sponsorship process is very bureaucratic in fact you used to need to essentially prove that you couldn’t have found a better candidate in the country. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s out of the goodness of their hearts, they do it because they want who they believe is the best person for the job.

        1. MK*

          The UK used to have the entire EU as a candidate pool, since EU citizens didn’t need sponsorship ( I an not sure how this works after Brexit). I have to say, I am a bit skeptical about whether the whole “there is no equal candidate in the country” is applied rigorously, because I know plenty of people who got sponsorship in the UK and the US and their qualifications weren’t unique or extraordinary for their field. And whatever the sponsorship costs, the employer probably makes the money back immediately if they are offering a lower salary.

          In any case, I found the original comment’s tone a bit off, as if this person owed a debt of gratitude to the company for sponsoring them. Presumably the employer brought this person in because they needed him; in most cases, it is about cheaper labor, not because they found a unicorn candidate who happens to live in Timbuktu.

        2. Artemesia*

          I am more cynical than that. Companies routinely import workers for many reasons besides they can’t hire locals.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Here to point out that, at least when comparing to the US, something many of the “foreigners” bring to the table is college degrees from strong schools in their countries, that they (or their US teammates) could not possibly afford the equivalent of in the US. None of these people’s fault, but this is what they are all up against. It is not always as simple as “three developers for the price of one”.

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

      I was wondering if there was a potential “using the position to get visa sponsorship” implication here. (I’m not suggesting turning him in! but I wondered if that played a part).

      I do wonder why it’s not actionable in some way as fraud on the employee’s part though.

      1. PollyQ*

        IANAL, but my bet is that even if it’s technically actionable, the cost of pursuing the suit would far outweigh the 2 months of salary they might get awarded.

    4. L'étrangere*

      I agree MK, I doubt the deal offered by the OP’s company was entirely to the employee’s benefit. But if you hire blind and cheaply you’re taking your chances. Eh. And no matter who is supposed to do the work, or how busy you are, not even glancing at a demo site for months is sheer negligence

      1. Scarlet2*

        This. What the employee did was absolutely crappy, but not taking a single look at his work for that long was extremely risky. There was a very high risk that the work wouldn’t have been up to par for a whole lot of reasons. Sometimes it actually takes longer to correct bad work than to start again from scratch.
        And yeah, it does sound like they hired someone overseas so they could get cheap labour. I know a lot of companies do that, but it makes quality control that much harder.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I have to remind myself OP said this developer was “lying about progress.” Because I can easily imagine a frustrated employee leaving for “a better company” when they received inadequate/inconsistent specs for the website and had no response to their questions or drafts.

        1. Rach*

          Very good point. I work with many sponsored co-workers (we are engineers) and their work ethic is impeccable. Plus they have to worry about keeping their status. It is all very complicated and the original comment here is a bit gross.

          1. Vanilla Bean*

            Same. I must have worked with at least 80 different developers working on visas in the last few years. Out of 80, 1 has been lazy. Most of them work far harder than most of their American counterparts.

      3. Smithy*

        I deeply understand the OP’s desire to save face and highlight what was bad faith by the employee….but it really doesn’t let them off the hook for their own part of this.

        I mention upthread a months long desk research project I did with zero oversight starting from the point of framing the research question. And when the final product wasn’t what was wanted…..to see a lot of senior leaders yelling at me for designing and executing a design a project that hadn’t read their minds….. Had my bosses at the time written into AAM, it would have been “we assigned this project that was supposed to be our presentation to the Board, now two months later after never checking in, it’s unusable and we look bad – how do we punish this person.”

        It may very well be that this person was being less ethical than in my situation, but the end results are very similar. And the OP just lashing out likely is only going to help for so long.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I don’t see how the situations are comparable. You were working. You tried to do what was expected. This person did no work at all.

          1. Smithy*

            I mean – the behavior of the managers in both situations is exactly the same. Managers expect to see X end product at the end of 2 months and never check in. Two months goes by and they don’t see anything usable for X product.

            In one case, someone does a lot of the wrong work and in another someone doesn’t do much if any work. Certainly my situation has me reading this with some bias around how dishonest the employee was actually being. Because while I did have a work product to show that displayed time/effort – how much time that should have taken was certainly questioned. But again. No one checked in. No one reviewed any work.

          2. JB*

            The point is that LW’s lack of oversight could have caused problems even if the employee HAD been attempting in good faith to complete the project.

        2. Malarkey01*

          The fact that this was a new employee is pretty shocking. I could see letting one of my long standing people go without checking on their product for 2 months since I know their skill set and their usual work product etc. A new employee? I don’t go a week without sitting down to review what they are doing. You have no idea if they have the relevant experience and don’t know how your company “does things” yet. Even someone working hard is going to need guidance or have a few questions out of the gate.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      It’s also on the company for not making the relocation money contingent or staying for 6 months or a year. Sounds like this startup has a number of management issues, but that doesn’t excuse outright lying by the former employee.

    6. pancakes*

      What on earth does that have to do with anything?

      In any case, there’s not much effort involved in giving an employee zero oversight on a long-term project, not even a single check-in to see whether their work is on the right track.

      1. PollyQ*

        Unlikely. The point of code like this is that it’s tailored to your company’s specific needs. Even if the new company was in the exact same business, they’d still have their own specifications. And two person-months of labor isn’t that valuable anyway.

  8. Alex B*

    LW 1: Sorry, if you had someone on your development team whose work you weren’t reviewing, that’s on you. I can see hiding that for a week, but no longer.
    I think your only recourse is to limit your reference ( if you get asked ) to start and finish dates, and nothing more.

      1. Drag0nfly*

        From my end I would guess it’s because giving out a truthful reference implicates the OP’s lack of prowess as a manager. Saying, “my employee did no work for two months” naturally invites the obvious follow up about *how* the company failed to notice the employee wasn’t working.

        On the other hand, there’s something to be said for owning up to the failure if it means giving an honest assessment. In OP’s place I might say,

        “We’re a small startup, where some of us are doing three jobs at once (or whatever keeps them busy). I trusted everyone involved was as equally invested as I am in the company. Which in hindsight I realize I shouldn’t have expected, but unfortunately, Mr. Slacker turned out not to be invested *at all*. He took advantage of my trust by shirking his duties for two months. It’s on me for not doing my due diligence, and letting him fall through the cracks. That said, I strongly advise you to stay on top of his work. Double check him rather than taking his word for anything.”

        Or something like that, so the next company can be aware of what they’re getting into with Mr. Slacker.

        1. PollyQ*

          I like that script! However, I suspect Mr. Shirker is going to leave this job off his resume altogether, so LW will probably never be asked to give any kind of reference at all.

          1. Drag0nfly*

            The more I think about it, the more I think you’re probably right about him not mentioning the company. In that case, there isn’t much the OP can do.

          2. NerdyKris*

            That will be difficult if he’s here on a sponsorship. They’re going to want to know who the previous companies are. He can’t really hide it by leaving them off. It would look suspicious if he says “I’m here on a sponsorship but I won’t tell you with who”.

            1. PollyQ*

              They who? He’s already gotten another job that’s presumably now his sponsor. If he stays in that job a while, will the next employer after that care about any previous sponsors?

        2. M2*

          Then look the employee up and contact the new company yourself once the person posts about it on LinkedIn. I’m assuming this person will do similar at new company. Yes the LW should have checked the work but this is on the employee. Not working but getting paid and getting a visa sponsorship no less? That speaks to really poor character and maybe this employee can’t even code.

          Even in large networks people want to know an employee did this to a company. I would! Enough developers out there not to deal with a liar!

          But lesson for you LW, check work even a quick look over doesn’t take long.

          1. NerdyKris*

            That seems a bit vindictive, given that it’s questionable how an employee was able to produce nothing for two months without being caught. It’s unlikely he’d be able to do this at any other company, and even if he does, it’s going to result it a string of short stays that’s going to make it difficult to get another job. If he doesn’t put any jobs down, hiring managers are going to wonder why he’s in the country on a work visa without any apparent job. It’s going to be impossible to hide.

            Two months and an employee not working out is just standard, there’s no reason to treat this any differently than any other failed new hire.

          2. Le Sigh*

            I’ve seen this mentioned in a few places in the comments and I think this is very likely to backfire on LW. Unless the company called LW for a reference, proactively reaching out to the new employer risks looking tattily at best, spurned, angry ex at worst. And even if LW’s assessment is 100% spot on, it wouldn’t be that hard for the employee to spin it or reframe the situation to make LW seem off. Unless the employee did something like sexually harass employees, embezzle funds, etc. (i.e., something really significant and criminal), I think you’re better off letting it go.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            maybe this employee can’t even code

            Willing to bet money that his new place gave him a coding interview, which he passed…

        3. Person from the Resume*

          Who cares if the person giving out a reference implicates poor management at his own company? The employee actively made up lies – either in meetings or via email status updates. You can factually say that because it’s the truth in the extremely unlikely event that the the employee asks for a reference from this company/manager.

          Why would you have to hide your own mistakes in a reference check about someone else?

          1. pancakes*

            I’d care – If I was calling to check on a reference and the previous employer told me they hadn’t supervised the candidate for months, even the most minimal supervision, I would certainly be questioning their reliability as a narrator. I’d also be thinking their company is bumbling along. It’s valuable context about both the candidate and their former employer.

            1. Smithy*

              I’d agree with this, because if it were me it would make me question their reliability as a narrator and desire to save face. If I received the OP’s reference “worked with us for 2 months and did nothing”, and then returned to the OP in question and heard “instructions and guidance weren’t clear and I was waiting for someone to check the work I had done before moving forward” I would believe that.

              This is not my industry, and sitting on your hands for two months while waiting for someone to check you turned on your computer correctly is likely a touch ridiculous. However, if the employee said a more industry appropriate version of “management was chaotic and instructions weren’t clear, I thought I was supposed to work on X, they wanted me to work on Y but due to never checking my work that mistake was never caught” – the OP’s reference would support that. And make them look petty.

              1. pancakes*

                Yes as to your 2nd paragraph.

                I’m not thinking about the idea of “saving face” as valuable context so much as “this person’s previous employer seems really amateurish, and if we hire them, is this going to be their first time being held to high standards?” Or even moderate standards, really.

            2. TiffIf*

              If I was calling to check on a reference and the previous employer told me they hadn’t supervised the candidate for months, even the most minimal supervision,

              There was minimal supervision–this employee was asked for regular status updates. The employee lied every time. If you’re building an app from the ground up–it isn’t unreasonable for there not to be a demoable product for weeks or months. Now should the supervisor checked if there was git commits on a branch or something? Asked to do a code review? Yes. But the employee was giving regular updates. I am assuming these updates were sufficient or believable enough that they didn’t trigger alarm bells (so more than, “everything is going smoothly”). It isn’t some massive failure of management to believe your employee’s progress updates.

              1. pancakes*

                We can call it minimal, but I think the point should be that it wasn’t effective supervision in any meaningful sense. The lack of work done by the developer was a surprise. It would not have been a surprise if there had been even just one substantive check-in. “Trust, but verify” is not an esoteric idea. A verbal check-in that doesn’t involve any actual looking over the work in progress isn’t a sufficient check-in. I am surprised to see multiple people nonetheless defending it as sensible, and I suspect the thinking behind doing so is more along the lines of “this is relatable” than “this is competent.”

    1. Observer*

      Sure, the OP should absolutely have been doing better basic supervision. But that TOTALLY does not justify the behavior of the developer. This was not just a matter of not getting work done and failing to communicate. The guy actively lied about what was going on.

      I see no reason why the OP needs to limit their reference to start and end dates. As long as they tell the truth, they are in the clear.

      1. pancakes*

        I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that the developer’s behavior was justified.

        I’m not sure what you mean, “in the clear.” It’s not as if the letter writer would be punished in some way for giving a more rather than less descriptive reference. The issue is that they might be seen as amateur-ish or not credible, not that they might get themselves into some sort of trouble or conflict.

        1. NeutralJanet*

          I’ve seen a ton of people saying that this is entirely OP’s fault, which essentially says that it isn’t the developer’s fault at all. And I also don’t understand why Alex B says that OP can only confirm start and end dates, and am wondering if maybe this is that weird myth that you aren’t legally allowed to give a negative reference, in which case it is important to mention that OP would be in the clear to be honest.

          1. pancakes*

            No, that is not “essentially” what it means when people point out that the letter writer’s workplace could have avoided this situation entirely if they were better at managing this project. It’s really reaching to suggest that that’s what it means. Nuance isn’t (or shouldn’t be) nearly so difficult to see.

    2. Eden*

      I mean, it’s also mostly on the employee who lied for 2 months. Just because OP could have caught it earlier doesn’t make it their fault and they should not feel any need to cover for this guy if they’re asked.

    3. anonymous73*

      I agreed with you until your last sentence. An HONEST reference is another way to go. There’s no need to lie by omission for someone who did nothing for 2 months but lie about actually doing his work.

    4. Review Code*

      Development has been for a while, and there are plenty of ways to monitor progress without micromanaging. You can have weekly checkins, use GitHub to view progress, or break projects into smaller tasks to see how things are going. You need to have some kind of milestones in place, no matter how small the company. Even if he was working, you would still want to see the progress and make sure things are moving in the right direction.

  9. jjw*

    I used to sit near someone who played loud music at work. I solved this problem by purchasing some music of my own to play at the same time – specifically a CD entitled “Cats and Dogs Sing Christmas Classics”.

    1. L'étrangere*

      I have to admit that just a few samples from my ex’s collection of Norwegian death metal have occasionally come in handy

      1. Nessun*

        If someone in my office played Norwegian death metal I’d be angling to meet them immediately to share my joy in the bands. But we’d also immediately go to a conference room on lunch to listen, or leave the building. Headphones are the only way to listen to music in an office unless everyone got onboard with the channel/station.

      2. infopubs*

        Your ex may be my ex. I never loved the Norwegian death metal, but it must have stirred something in me because now I love The Hu’s Mongolian death metal. Which would also be a good foil for radio-playing coworker.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          The Hu are AMAZING and I am not usually a metal fan either. But for some reason, I find throat singing enthralling.

      1. banoffee pie*

        I wonder what these radio people would do if someone else put on competing music? I guess they think they’re the only ones who are allowed? Pretty annoying

        1. quill*

          The scene: my first dorm
          The problem: A Ke$ha CD someone played WHENEVER THEY USED THE BATHROOM at FULL BLAST because they didn’t want anyone to hear them peeing or showering.
          The solution: everyone in the dorm blasting music with their doors open, eventually leading to the confiscation of the CD player, an all-floor meeting to resolve the theft, and a sign on the mirror that read “no electronics may be left plugged in in the bathroom”, and people shouting “shots shots shots!” outside the culprit’s doors at 7:30 AM on their way to the shower.

          1. banoffee pie*

            lol! Can kind of understand not wanting people to hear you on the loo. Can’t understand being embarrassed by shower noises…Oh I’ve just got it. They were having some fun in there too probably ;)

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      That’s hilarious! I imagine any of William Shatner’s albums would also work. Or selections from Jonas Kauffman’s Christmas album. His version of All I Want for Christmas Is You truly has to be heard to be believed…

      1. Barbara Eyiuche*

        Classical music worked for me. Apparently playing country and western radio where half the office can hear it was fine; Bach was not. Putting Gangnam Style on repeat also got a stranger to turn off their music in a public place.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        And when you really need to pull out the big guns, there is always Cotton Eye Joe Gregorian Chant Nightcore Hardcore Dubstep Remix and it’s sequels. They are short, but that just makes repeat scarier.

      3. Bucky Barnes*

        Off-topic but Shatner’s Has Been is actually pretty awesome. Ben Folds worked with him.

        But yes, some of the other albums would definitely work. :)

    3. Cat Tree*

      I feel like that CD was invented specifically for this purpose. Surely no one would buy it just to enjoy listening to it.

    4. an infinite number of monkeys*

      Years ago, I won – at an office white elephant gift exchange – a CD of Liberace Christmas music. It’s poorly remastered, so the pitch wavers badly throughout. It’s one of my most prized possessions and would also work admirably for your purposes!

    5. Jenny screams out and it's no joke*

      There was a year when for some reason I couldn’t stop whistling out Christmas tunes. Nobody complained, but I’m sure I annoyed everyone who sat around me.

      That was also the year I was exceptionally friendly and well-socialized, though. Coincidence?

    6. Allison*

      You’ve reminded me of the time my cube neighbor was playing music out loud, so I started playing the Kars 4 Kids song on a loop.

  10. Observer*

    I have coworkers who try to control the office.

    That would be annoying, if true. But what you describe does not qualify.

    One asked me to turn down my radio. I did

    I get that you think that this was REALLY “nice” on your part. You need to realize that it’s not especially “nice” – it’s basic courtesy. And I *do* mean BASIC. Like “I learned this in kindergarten” level basic.

    She constantly bugs me about it. And takes it upon herself to come into my space to turn down my radio.

    In other words, you are constantly actually and actively disturbing her. And wasting her time making her turn down your radio every. time. you. come. in. Even though you (should) know that it’s disturbing her.

    No one else has mentioned it.

    Which means what, in your mind? Even if she really is the only one bothered by this, why would you think it’s ok to disturb someone – especially someone who is trying to work in the place where she is required to be – so consistently? And don’t be so sure that no one else minds. If they see what’s going on with this person, they may have decided to let her do the arguing because they don’t want to deal with the oblivious person who WON’T TURN THE NOISE OFF.

    Just keep in mind that gaining a reputation for being highly and disruptively self-centered and unreasonable is not going to do your career any good.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      “She constantly bugs me about it. And takes it upon herself to come into my space to turn down my radio.”

      I’m curious about this. Is the co-worker doing this while LW3 is sitting right there? That would be pretty aggressive. But my guess is that they’re sneaking in to turn down the radio when LW3 isn’t at their desk, which means that LW3 is leaving the radio on when they aren’t even at their desk. If there’s anything more annoying than playing the radio in a shared office, it’s leaving the radio on when you aren’t even there to listen to it.

      1. Dwight Schrute*

        Eh I think if someone has asked multiple times for it to be turned down and the person refuses and you literally can’t focus or work while it’s playing then turning it down yourself seems to be the only option left. Coworker wouldn’t need to escalate to that level if OP was considerate enough to use headphones or turn it down when asked.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      If she is entering your space to turn down the radio, that means your radio is entering *her* space.

    3. TC*

      The fact that no one else has mentioned it coupled with the bit of attitude about the radio that LW3’s letter gives off also makes me think other people may not say anything to this person because they’re a bit of a jerk. Or if they have a closed office, that they’re higher up and no one feels they have enough capital to “cross” them.

      I would NOT take it to mean that it doesn’t bother others.

    4. Artemesia*

      The ‘no one else has mentioned it’ is the tell here. People routinely put up with horrifying rudeness rather than confront the person causing the problem. And in social settings they may gossip about your dollar dance or embarrassing speech or attire, but rarely will anyone ‘mention it’ to you. And triple that in the South where no one confronts anyone but careers are tanked with a word or a look.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “And triple that in the South where no one confronts anyone but careers are tanked with a word or a look.”

        Yes. And the South is famous for this kind of passive aggression (no offense intended if there’s a better phrase for that) but it does happen everywhere. You can get on Someone Who Matters (or will) bad side without realizing it so easily. Erring on the side of not being obnoxious is the smart move.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I once had a coworker who wouldn’t turn her radio down and claimed she didn’t know how the volume on the speaker worked (seriously). She complained about me asking and I got in trouble (the management at this workplace was mega-dysfunctional). It’s like when you’re a kid and someone’s bullying you, but when you sock them, you’re the one who gets detention. So it’s no wonder people don’t want to deal with confrontation. They’re afraid of blowback.

    5. Allison*

      Gotta love how some people think it’s “controlling” when someone asks them to be considerate of others. Controlling would be if they policed what music you could listen to, or if they told you you couldn’t listen to music at all, even with headphones or earbuds.

    6. Not really a Waitress*

      I am curious as to what she is listening too. Like a little rock or classical wouldn’t bother me… but if its talk radio particularly leaning to a particular political slant, or the local religious music station I would most likely snap. Again I am a at best agnostic transplant to the south, so this is common here. I am praised out in the waiting room at the dr’s office, etc.

      But also, yeah, what’s with people not wearing headphones. I work in a prairie dog farm (also known as a bull pen but it is more like prairie dogs with people popping up and down. ) People will be on calls or meetings, no headphones nothing. Guess what we don’t all need to be on your call about finding this one product. There are multiple teams/functions/ support groups in the Farm and not everyone needs to know every detail about your search for carrots.

  11. Observer*

    #2 – You can ask the guy to take the sign down even if it’s not “bad”. But beyond the rudeness, Allison is right that it’s rather hostile and that’s a good reason to have him take it down. Even if he put “Go away” or anything else that uses absolutely zero offensive language, the sentiment here is is rather offensive. At work, you simply cannot decide that you are going to refuse to talk to anyone, and implying that you have decided such is a bit out of line.

    Don’t let him argue or rules lawyer this. You don’t need a formal policy or some rule in the office handbook or the like. His supervisor has standing to ask him to take a sign down without all of that.

    But, I also agree with Allison that you should find out why he put it up in the first place.

    PS – We’re all assuming that you are his supervisor. But the way you put the question, I wonder if that’s the case. Allison, what would you advise the OP if I’m onto something?

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

      It doesn’t sound to me like OP is his supervisor. In fact I inferred that he is probably ‘higher’ on the org chart (though not OPs boss) than the OP, in that he gets his own office in a place where not everyone does!

      1. Simply the best*

        “We have an employee” feels like an odd turn of phrase to use to describe a superior in the office. But that’s just me.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Yeah, as a Brit who swears a lot I’d still not like to see that sign in the office or ‘go away’ or ‘leave me alone’.

      The exception is a ‘please do not disturb’ sign. There’s many times you need uninterrupted thought and that’s one all my staff have at one point or another put above their desks for a period.

      I’d suggest that if they do need quiet time to run off a ‘do not disturb’.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Absolutely – a “please do not disturb” or “on a conference call” or something similar is totally normal and very helpful to others around this person. The bugger off sign is just too over the top and even if he means it as a joke does read a bit “angry at the world” for a professional zone of almost any type.

    3. Ariaflame*

      To quote Lynda Day from Press Gang “And could you do something about the sign outside? I don’t think ‘Trespassers Will Be Exterminated’ is really the image we’re trying to project here”

    1. Asenath*

      Some people really do think that it’s normal to listen to a radio at work without earphones, a major act of generosity to turn it down (generally by a tiny bit, sometimes right to that level you can just hear it and distracted by trying to make it out) and not actually keeping it down to whatever level they turned it down to for any length of time, because really, who’s annoyed by music? Only people with something wrong with them… OK, that last was bitter. I did listen to music constantly at work, since my job involved a lot of computer work (rather than, say, answering phones or attending meetings), but I invariably used headphones. One of my quite senior co-workers, whose duties fortunately kept him out of the office a lot, played music loud enough to be heard down the hall and in other offices. I think a combination of his seniority and the fact he wasn’t actually in the office much were the only factors that prevented complaints to him.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “because really, who’s annoyed by music? Only people with something wrong with them”

        Not bitter, some people really feel this way and it drives me nuts.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          I wonder if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t have at least *some* category of music that annoys them…

          1. Esmeralda*

            Even categories of music I love, or my favorite artist — sometimes I want to listen to it at work (with my bluetooth-compatible hearing aids!! woohoo!! disturbs no one!!) — and sometimes I do not. Because I need to concentrate. Or I’m in a meeting. Or I just don’t want to listen to music right then.

    2. TrueStory*

      I became the type of person who cannot concentrate without music on (fairly loud) after a brief stint at a place where not only did the woman who shared a cubicle wall with me play her radio… but she would SING and mutter swear words to herself as she worked. When I complained because I couldn’t concentrate her supervisor tried to speak to her and she cursed him out, on the floor, in front of everyone and didn’t change anything at all. Somehow she wasn’t terminated.
      I then asked if they could move my desk since clearly they weren’t planning on getting her to change, and got a hard no… so I started wearing headphones so loud it would block the noise.

      Now I can’t concentrate without music playing… although I listen with headphones- because I’m considerate.

    3. TheSüperflüoüsUmlaüt*

      Oh, sadly, it sounds all too real. In my last two workplaces, I have been sat near people who wanted to play commercial radio (nails-down-the-blackboard-“classic-hits” plus infuriating ads) all. day. long. Even very quietly, it was still so irritating – I hate being forced to listen to music I don’t like, let alone when I’m trying to concentrate.

      And one of the culprits was a manager whose taste in whiny country music was truly atrocious, but that same CD got played over and over and over… And he would leave it going all day long, even though he was out at meetings all the time. I soon developed the habit of getting up and slapping his laptop shut as soon as he left his office, so Kasey Chambers would stop her bloody whingeing about how pretty or not she was. Ugh.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        NGL, I love that song. Was he playing the KGSR vol. 13 cd? It’s my favorite they released. But I can see those not into alt country hating it, especially at work.

    4. EPLawyer*

      Out of the office for months. probably got used to listening to the radio at home. Forgot office norms while out of the office. Now can’t understand why its a problem.

      It is within the realm of possibility that this goes the other way for coworker too. Got used to peace and quiet at home without the usual background noice of an office — phones ringing, people talking, etc. — and is trying to impose that on the office.

      BUT, even if both are true — the end result is they all work in the same office and need to get along. Which means USE HEADPHONES. And coworker will have to accept there will never be complete silence. But tending toward quiet is the default, not the exception.

      1. kiki*

        I have actually worked at an office where it was the norm for workers to quietly have their own radio playing at their cubicle which makes me think it may be a thing other places too? Perhaps its possible the LW came from an office like that so their understanding of the norm is out of tune with this office’s and needs to be reset. But yeah, headphones are an easy and obvious alternative, in my opinion.

        1. Sasha*

          My husband works in “cool” startups, and it is office culture to have music playing all the time (Spotify playlist that anyone can add to). You put your headphones on if you need to concentrate.

          I’ve also worked in plenty of non-office environments where background music was the norm, even if you are working in a computer yourself. Factories, hospital wards, shops, restaurants, etc. All have music playing at least some of the time. You just have to learn to tune it out.

      2. pancakes*

        There was no shortage of people who were just as self-regarding about the volume of their music or videos in public pre-pandemic. Those of you who’ve never encountered this behavior on a train, a plane, in a doctors’ waiting room, etc. should consider yourselves lucky.

      3. Selina Luna*

        Maybe we’re weird, but if we’re working in the same area of the house, my husband and I use headphones even at home. The one exception is the morning Spotify playlist, which has a separate purpose: the songs on it keep our kiddo calm but moving so that we can get out the door on time, with minimal tears.

    5. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Sitting in the middle of an open office and listening to the start of hour two of a discussion about the merits of various RPGs. I do not work in anything gaming related. Open offices are straight out of the bowels of hell.

    6. Mockingjay*

      Yep. See – actually hear – it all the time.

      “Oh, I can’t wear earbuds; they hurt.” Never mind the multitude of different styles available with a quick google, including many specifically designed for comfort.

      “Oh, it’s really low, you can only hear it if you are actually sitting at my desk.” Even people with damaged hearing can often detect background music/noise. If you have ‘normal’ hearing (within a designated range – I used to run an audiology booth for tests), the radio is definitely audible.

      And so on.

      From the tone of the letter, I think LW5 is early in their career and not accustomed to office norms. LW5, workspaces are shared. You may have your “own” desk, cubicle, or office, but these exist in a communal environment. Go Vulcan here: the needs of the many (for quiet/few distractions to concentrate) outweigh the needs of the one (to rock out or listen to talk radio). Use headphones, please.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        “Oh, it’s really low, you can only hear it if you are actually sitting at my desk.”

        Then how do I know it’s on? ESP?

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Times are I’ve had to tell someone listening to music on headphones to turn it down in the office – because they might think it’s not audible but I can totally hear the repetitive beat of their music coming over the desks.

          (Which, for reasons, is dangerous to me. As I found out when someone out loud trance on)

    7. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I am very sorry to inform you that people who are so intensely self-centered do in fact exist, and there are quite a few of them. Current events frequently shows what happens because of people who only care about themselves.

      1. Marthooh*

        Yes, sadly, there are plenty of people who think a perfectly reasonable request is an attempt to ‘take control’.

      2. Cat Tree*

        Yes, and I imagine there’s a huge overlap with people who used to think a non-smoking section of a restaurant was actually meaningful.

        1. Observer*

          No, I suspect that the overlap was with the smokers who would sit in the non-smoking section (on planes no less!) because “the air is so much better here”.

    8. Ray Gillette*

      I always wonder a bit when I see a letter like this one because people who write to advice columns tend to read a lot of advice columns, and you’d think someone who read this column would already know what the answer would be. But in a general sense? People like this absolutely exist and will tell you to your face that you’re “trying to control” them when what you actually did was politely ask them to stop doing something distracting in a shared space.

    9. Bucky Barnes*

      A few years back, I had a coworker who would play the radio station with non-stop Christmas music starting after Thanksgiving. It was so disruptive to me, though others at least claimed to like it. Like others have said, if she turned it lower, it was worse. And she also left it going when she was away from her desk. At the time, I was scared to say something so I mentioned it to my boss. Boss told co-worker to stop. Coworker complained loudly and said who on earth would complain about Christmas music.

      If this happened now, I would definitely approach coworker and say something myself.

    10. Butterfly Counter*

      In my university department, there is a very senior faculty member who plays classical music on the radio. I don’t find it particularly disturbing since there’s no lyrics. But he’s of an age where I doubt he’ll change his stripes and consider earphones. It is funny that when we have an impromptu meeting at his office, he sometimes gets annoyed because we “interrupted his favorite piece.” Another faculty member sometimes plays podcasts that you can hear if you’re in the hall, but not if you’re in your office.

    11. Rusty Shackelford*

      Is the radio letter even real? I can’t believe someone would be so hostile and out of touch.

      Sometimes I read a letter and think “no one would out themselves like this; it’s got to be fake, written by the victim of someone who acted like this fictional letter writer.” But this is one is absolutely true.

    12. Cringing 24/7*

      Or that they’d come *here* of all places for advice on this – an advice blog that has covered this topic multiple times and always come down on the side that is “Don’t be a dud, put in an earbud.”

    13. April*

      I worked medical records for several years. In one place I worked, a coworker had asthma that was set off by heavy scents. So we chipped in on a bottle of unscented hand lotion and none of us wore perfume. Fine, right?

      One of our coworkers refused to use the lotion I bought. “I don’t use unscented lotion.” I tried explaining that scents set off our coworker’s asthma. She didn’t care.

      Our manager at the time decided to stay out of it. Still makes me LIVID. Because the coworker with asthma was really shy and hated to bother anyone, and the one who preferred scented lotion was just an unpleasant human in so many other ways. So this meant our shy asthmatic coworker was just using her inhaler all day. >:(

  12. CreepyPaper*

    #3, please purchase a good pair of headphones. Your music at work should only be for you, not everyone to hear. And also please consider that your coworker may not be being petty or whatever, they may be incredibly sensitive to noise. Not in the ‘it makes it hard for me to concentrate’ sense but in the ‘sensory overwhelm’ sense.

    And also ask yourself if you’d be annoyed by someone playing music out loud on a bus or a train. If your answer is ‘yes’, get some headphones. It’s a shared space so please show some consideration.

    1. Observer*

      please consider that your coworker may not be being petty or whatever, they may be incredibly sensitive to noise. Not in the ‘it makes it hard for me to concentrate’ sense but in the ‘sensory overwhelm’ sense.

      While this is possible, I would say that the OP doesn’t actually really need to consider this possibility. The OP needs to realize that the coworker “just” being disturbed enough that she’s having a hard time working is bad enough. If her ability to work is being disrupted there is NOTHING petty about her objections.

      If it turns out that she has sensory issues it makes the problem worse, of course. But the OP’s behavior is quite bad enough without it.

    2. Yorick*

      There’s no need to create fanfiction about people having special needs. Playing your radio aloud at work is rude no matter what.

  13. august*

    On the other side of the coin, our office plays the radio quite regularly. In fact, it’s sort of a tradition, the radio has been here longer than half of the staff. When I was new, the staff asked if it was okay that the radio was playing, I didn’t mind so I told them so. No one seems to mind if I ask them to turn it down when I’m having a zoom meeting. Some staff play their own music using headphones and no one minds.

    The key here of course is one: the unanimous agreement of everyone that yes the radio can play, two: the consideration of others if it becomes a bother to one of us.

    1. Tara*

      But that’s kind of tricky because if you’re new it feels super awkward to be the person who gets the radio turned off.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Which is another reason for other office staff not complaining, leaving it to the one who didn’t care about people thinking she needed to learn to chill.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yes, most people will grumble over something quietly to themselves rather than raising conflict. That doesn’t mean they’re not annoyed.

          1. KateM*

            Or they do as people in august’s workplace do – put on headphones and listen to their own music (or at least pretend to do that). So generous when workplace allows to do that instead of listening to office radio.

    2. KateM*

      “Some staff play their own music using headphones and no one minds.”

      1) Is there a reason why someone SHOULD mind them playing their own music using HEADPHONES? Would you think them of not being team players or what if they listen to their own music not the common radio?
      2) Have you considered the possibility that the people who use headphones actually DO mind the radio but (for example the reason Tara pointed out) don’t want to say so?

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I used to supervise a language lab and the boss would make me play the radio at all times. Students were trying to listen to recordings in a foreign language, but the radio had to be on. They would complain and I’d turn it off, but tell them to let me know if they saw the boss coming so I could turn it back on.
      The radio had to be on even when there were no students. I’d get distracted from my work and sing along to the radio. If the boss makes you listen, it’s not your fault that you’re less productive right?
      The boss also sprayed the premises with pretty strong-smelling essential oils. Students would come in saying “what’s that stink?” and he would say it was to help them relax. Incidentally, I’ve never had such uptight bosses…

      1. Bamcheeks*

        Good heavens. The only way this makes sense is if your manager was running some kind of money-laundering scam where he needed to appear to be running a language lab but didn’t want people actually using the facility.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Actually it was a bit of a scam. The students got funding from the jobcentre to learn languages in a bid to improve their chances of finding a job. While they were on the course, they didn’t count officially as unemployed, so that helped the government keep the stats low. The school would only select people who already had a good level of English, they set a notoriously hard entrance exam so the students were deemed to be almost beginners, then have them go through the charade of learning in the lab. Then the last-day exam was actually much easier, and based very much on everything they had been learning, so it then looked like they had made huge progress.
          I only stayed a few months at that place.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My dad worked for an Engineering firm back in the 80’s to the early 00’s where they played the radio – over office-wide speakers. It was a low enough volume you could have normal-voiced conversations in the hallway, but high enough that it wasn’t a distraction trying to figure out what was being played.
      Oh – the biggest positive – 98% of the office all wanted the same station, so that really helped.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        My first office job had an honest-to-goodness Muzak system. Oh, the arguments we had over whether the volume dial should be set to 7, 3, or 0. I can’t remember if we ended up settling on somewhere in between, giving each person their own day to control the volume, or just passive-aggressively adjusting the volume ever so slightly a bit at a time and hoping no one else would notice. (Passive-aggression is a pretty good bet, though.)

    5. BarcodeReader*

      Yes, I remember a couple of old workplaces where we played the radio. Or we all brought in CDs. I kinda miss it. I’ll take any music over dead silence. Of course you have to adapt to the era and it’s rare now.

  14. rubble*

    2 is interesting – maybe it’s because I’m not american (not from the UK either) or because I come from a blue collar family, but if I saw that sign at work I’d laugh and make a mental note to email instead of knocking on his door to talk to him (as a first point of contact). obviously it’s a little weird but I wouldn’t be bothered by it.

    maybe it also depends on what sort of guy the coworker is. I’d be more likely to find this rude if he was standoffish or bad at communicating with the rest of the team. if he’s a pleasant person to work with, maybe a bit of a joker, does all his work on time and communicates well then I really wouldn’t have an issue with it at all.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think there are cultures where this would be okay but if you’re in one of those, you probably know it. For the majority of places it’s probably too rude.

    2. Observer*

      I’d laugh and make a mental note to email instead of knocking on his door to talk to him (as a first point of contact).

      This is actually a potential problem. Some people need to be approachable. And, even if it’s ok to need to be emailed rather than have someone walk into his office, there are more appropriate ways to handle it.

    3. Liz W.*

      Yeah, I can get away with the “Go Step on a Lego!” sign on my monitor even though my coworkers know I mean “Bugger Off!” because I’ve worked here for so long that they are impressed with my level of self control and also know I am always available to help.

  15. M./P.*

    Re #3. That letter made me wince as I had a coworker constantly play loud music in a small shared office and insist I was out of line asking her to at least turn it down because I had no right to boss her around.

    OP please don’t be that person.

    1. Artemesia*

      There seem to be two child rearing principles:
      Teach the kid that because we are in a public space we need to be courteous to others using that space
      or
      Teach the kid that because we are in a public space we have the right to do whatever we want and no one can boss us around.

  16. Xavier Desmond*

    Re #4. I completely understand the impulse you have and it’s clearly coming from a kind place but I think you should be less concerned with managing your coworkers emotions at work. Personally, if I had messed something up I would be annoyed with someone sending me gifs of cute animals in an attempt to cheer me up as it would feel very very patronising.

    1. Expiring Cat Memes*

      I think it depends on the context and the relationship. Some people can and do appreciate a gesture of solidarity like a funny animal pic after a tough work moment, but you really have to know your audience and how to strike that chord. If you don’t, then yeah, don’t.

      My manager does something similar to LW’s supervisors when she catastrophises to me after big presentations where she thinks her nerves showed through. She absolutely loathes public speaking, and afterwards she’s a bit emotionally raw just from the sheer stress of it. In part, I know she’s seeking honest feedback from me on how it looked from the other side because she’s striving to get better at it, but I also know that in part it’s just her processing her stress come-down and seeking reassurance. Kind objectivity is what she appreciates most.

  17. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP2: suggest they replace it with a ‘do not disturb’ sign. Having a rude version on one’s door could have the opposite intent for them – people interrupting to laugh, pass comments on the wording, get offended, try to give language lectures etc.

    1. anonymous73*

      A closed door in an office indicates “do not disturb”. There is no need for a sign. It’s rude, plain and simple. Granted a closed door will not stop the clueless, but it will deter a majority of those wishing to interrupt the person outside of an emergency.

      1. Renata Ricotta*

        I think this depends highly on office context. In the majority of offices I’ve worked in, a closed door only indicates “knock first,” not “do not disturb.” And if I’m on an important Zoom call (like a court hearing), I truly don’t want people to even knock—I’m not going to be able to call out to them that I’m not available. Plus half the time knockers can’t hear the response and poke their head in anyway, even if the answer is “not now.”

  18. Submarine*

    #2, this is really context-dependent. There are plenty of offices where this sign, and its wording, would be a complete non-issue. Relevant factors would also include things like individual senses of humour, relationships between the various staffers within the office, the true intention behind the sign, the history (for example, is this poor person consistent interrupted and this is a last resort?), and so on.

    It is nowhere near as bad as a serious as putting an “eff off” sign on your door. I also very much suspect a jovial or joking intention behind the sign, although the message of “please don’t disturb me unless it is really urgent” is obviously also meant.

    The person who told the LW that this meant the same thing as “F off” is either winding them up, or they are easily offended.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Well, literally it does mean something… adjacent to… F off, so LW’s informant isn’t wrong. But language ain’t logical so it’s not equally offensive , as thoroughly discussed above.

      1. Submarine*

        In Australia and the UK, “bugger off” is more akin to “go away” than “eff off”. I’m fairly sure it’s the same in New Zealand.

      1. londonedit*

        It’s funny, isn’t it – I’d never describe ‘bugger’ as ‘sexually evocative’! For me it’s one of those words that’s completely lost its original meaning in its context as a mild swear word.

        1. UKDancer*

          Me neither. I know the technical origins but it’s a long way removed from that so I don’t think of it as evocative. Language isn’t very logical so I can’t tell you why I don’t think of it that way.

        2. Dino*

          I’m in the US so I’m sure that colors things! The only time I’ve ever heard “bugger” in the wild was in the form of homophobia (“go bugger each other you [slurs]”) where the sexual part was emphasized. Good to know that “bugger off” has a different connotation than bugger alone does!

          1. londonedit*

            Oh yeah, as someone else commented in the general bugger discussion above, it has all sorts of uses! And I guess that’s why it’s so very far removed from its origins as far as British English goes. You can say ‘Well, that’s buggered’, meaning ‘Well, that’s thoroughly broken’, or ‘I’m buggered if I’m going out again in this rain’, or ‘He’s buggered it right up’. Basically any situation where you might use f***, but it’s a much milder form of swearing (as I noted in another comment, this morning I heard someone being interviewed on the news who said ‘…and then they want us to bugger off when we’re not needed anymore’ – it’s mild enough for the BBC at 9.30 in the morning, and it’s on the list of ‘mild’ swear words according to the British broadcasting standards body, Ofcom).

            1. Dino*

              Thank you so much for explaining! This is what happens when you skip around the comment section, ha. Off to read that thread!

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Oh UK English is such a fun beastie. Had a US (originally from Philly) coworker many years back who went positively white as a sheet when hearing another staff member ask another for a cig.

            (Yes we do say ‘can I bum a fag?’ here and it’s not related to homosexuality at all)

            1. Bamcheeks*

              Do people actually say “bum a fag”? It was always “crash a fag” or “bum a smoke” where I grew up.

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      Maybe to some people it is short of a full on “f-off” but I think a lot of people will read it that way. I certainly would, and it would color any future interactions I had with that person. And honestly, why would you allow any kind of rude sign in the office? I wouldn’t even put of a Do Not Disturb without a Please at the beginning. Can we at least try to be polite? Rudeness isn’t funny, it’s rude.

      1. Submarine*

        As I said, this is really heavily dependent on context. No office I’ve worked in, in Australia or the UK, would be offended by such a sign. Most would laugh. Even at the big companies (that is, law firms) I’ve worked in, where basically everything was Very Serious Business. The office killjoy at one office would probably “tsk, tsk” at the sign, but he would “tsk, tsk” at everything funny he hadn’t thought of himself.

        1. Anonymous Hippo*

          I simply disagree. I don’t think there is a context where this should be allowed. Things don’t have to be Very Serious Business to not be rude. You can be funny without underlying meanness.

          1. sunglass*

            You disagree that Submarine has worked in offices where this wouldn’t be offensive?

            I’ve worked in offices (including my current one) where this wouldn’t be seen as rude or mean (and quite probably the LWs is one of them, especially if people are going to think that “bugger off” is ruder than it is). Of course there are places where it would be entirely inappropriate. Context is a thing, and you don’t really get to disagree with other commenter’s judgements about their own workplaces.

  19. Rez123*

    #1 That really sucks. But do you really want to stop someone leaving who has not done any work in the last 2 months and has been giving fake updates? It’s a learning experience for you to be more hands on (without micromanaging) with your employees. But please don’t take this as a sign to not hire and sponsor foreigners.

    #2 Is it really relevant in bugger is better or worse than fuck? The sign says “go away”. Does this fit in your work culture? Is it a joke that everyone understands that you can Still go talk to the employee? Is it meant to be hostile? Is it do not disturb? I’d say op need to think if “go away” in general is ok in the Office and go with that.

    #3 Use headphones. I shared an Office with someone that had the radio on all day. It sucked. I was young and she was “bosses favourite” so I didn’t want to say anything. I had my own headphones on to muffle the noise. I’m not someone who needs total silence and I am not particularly sensitive but a full day of noise is just very tiring. After working from home about 1,5years I went to the Office for one day. Man it was loud. No music, but just the noise from other humans excisting in the same space. If there was a radio on top of that…wow.

  20. TechWorker*

    On the developer who did no work – LW is obviously aware that they should have looked at the work earlier, but:
    a) it’s a startup, there may be limited numbers of staff who understand the work (yes ideally there’d be someone else reviewing it, but that means hiring two people in the same sort of technical role)
    b) it is not unreasonable to believe your employees. If someone says ‘I’ve made progress on x and y, but hit problems with z that I’m still working on, so no demo yet’ – it’s not a natural reaction to assume they’ve done NOTHING at all. I can easily see that extending to two months without too much concern if they’re lying convincingly.

    One thing I did wonder – although they probably quit right after getting a paycheck, in this situation could the employer legally withhold the last paycheck? If someone didn’t show up to shift then they wouldn’t get paid, is it any different if the employee is working remotely and it becomes apparent they’ve just.. not been working?

    1. Alice*

      IANAL but I would hope that it’s illegal not to pay employees for the time they’ve been working for you, even if it turns out they haven’t been doing any work. Otherwise it would be too easy for vindictive employers to withhold the last paycheck after an employee has resigned.
      I’m particularly bitter about this because a company tried to do this to me. To be precise I declined to renew a temp contract (the place was horrible and the boss would routinely yell at us) and they tried not to pay my last month. Luckily an employment lawyer sent a stern letter and the issue was resolved.
      This case is obviously different but it seems like a legal can of worms. How do you even prove in court that the employee did no work? They could just say “I did my best but it was too difficult so I made no progress”. It seems like a lost cause. Also it seems that there was a demo, OP just didn’t check it. So even harder to prove anything, probably easier to pay the outgoing employee and implement better mgmt practices in the future. It’s one thing to have only one employee who understands the work, but you need some review process in place for cases such as this one.

      1. TechWorker*

        Yeah I totally agree that this is very unusual and it would be for the best generally if employers could not do this. I’m just wondering about what conversation actually went on – if someone was like ‘oh yeah I wasn’t actually working for you’ then are you still obliged to pay them at that point? Feels closer to ‘no showing for a shift’ than ‘showing up and doing a poor job’

      2. ecnaseener*

        it seems that there was a demo, OP just didn’t check it

        Where do you get that? All the info we have is that the employee admitted to having done nothing on his project; LW says “I should’ve checked out the demo” but that doesn’t mean a demo exists. I think it means “because then I would’ve seen it was nonexistent”

        1. Ariaflame*

          The wording I saw was that he didn’t complete anything. That’s not quite the same thing as not having done anything at all.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Ok, that does make a difference. I think people are generally interpreting it as twiddling his thumbs all day, but you could be right that he poked at it a little.

      3. kiki*

        Yes, if something like this is legal, I hope the burden of proof on the employer is extremely high and makes it difficult to do. Otherwise, I could see it being abused by employers who are disgruntled with an employee or have unreasonable expectations.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I guess this person is salaried so it’s not legal to dock their pay if they did work within the week/pay period. Attending a meeting is work, even one where you lie about your accomplishments.

      If it came out they weren’t working at all (rather than trying a failing to make progress on the task) and instead were job hunting or relaxing, you could perhaps dock as much PTO time as they had but you still couldn’t go back and make them repay you since they weren’t working.

      Basically this person absolutely knew what they were doing by quitting before telling you. They did milk you for the salary (they didn’t really earn) and the relocation pay. You should absolutely be honest about this if they want a reference in the future, but they’re probably smart enough to never offer you as a reference.

      They’re a liar so fault lies with them, but you and your company should to be checking work and progress more frequently than that. As Alison mentioned, someone could be honestly diligently working but their tech solution could still be totally off base and when would you make that discovery if there aren’t demos, testing, and integration testing and meetings amongst all the developers ensuring everything integrates. Even if you’re not checking their work, the customer should be providing feedback and testers should be testing.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I think they could only withhold the pay if this was paid as project-based work.

      For example, if you hire me to create a brochure, and I take a deposit, but I never finish the brochure, then I wouldn’t get paid for the project, and the company wouldn’t legally be required to pay because they never got the agreed upon deliverable.

      It doesn’t sound like this was the case though. It sounded like a normal temp worker agreement that paid hourly or weekly salary.

  21. helle*

    And in a twist of fate, as I opened this post the song that came up on my spotify playlist was “Bugger Off”, by Fiddlers Green (Celtic-playing German band), a song they play at the end of gigs.

    Bugger off you bastards bugger off
    Fuck you!
    Bugger off you bastards bugger off
    Like a herd of bloody swine who refuse to leave the trough
    You’ll get no more this evening so you bastards bugger off

    You’ve been a lovely audience but now your time has passed
    Now don’t you all be letting the door hit you in the ass
    You’ve been a splendid audience but enough is enough
    We’d thank you very kindly if you’d all just bugger off

    (Full lyrics continue extremely off-colour, but it’s very catchy.)

  22. Kay*

    Yikes. I can’t imagine not having a radio on at work. I’m severely distracted when it’s quiet and cannot concentrate without other noise, radio, TV something. And I hate going into offices, shops, etc and it’s so silent you can hear yourself breathing background noise to me is a necessity. I see nothing wrong with playing a radio in the background. There are noise canceling headphones for the inevitable 1 person in the office who can’t stand any noise as well if there are multiple people who would prefer noise. Or yes there are headphones to use if you are the only one who wants a radio.

    1. gross*

      The onus is on you to use your headphones, not on the people around you to block out your unnecessary noise. I can’t believe no one’s ever told you that before.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      No, no, no. I find any kind noise distracting. If the tv or radio is on talking, I will listen. I can’t stop it. I don’t put it on as backgrounds noise or tv. In fact, frequently, when I am trying to simultaneously watch tv and look at my phone, I pause the tv so I can focus on the phone or end up having to rewind the TV to catch what I missed. (The wonder of being able to pause and rewind live TV.

      If you want music, YOU wear the headphones. Especially since there’s such a wide range of music and talk radio which in addition to being distracting can be inappropriate or offensive.

      1. banoffee pie*

        Yikes, pretty sure quiet should be the default especially if everyone else wants it! Imagine everyone but one person in an office sitting with headphones on to block out the radio (that’s only on for one person!!).

    3. Heidi*

      I think the point is that everyone has to agree. This situation is similar to the letter from a couple weeks ago when someone brought their smelly candles into work and it triggered people’s migraines. If something like that disrupting someone’s work, it makes sense to get rid of it in a workplace.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes, exactly. If everyone is on the same page about the radio (or scented candles, etc.), there’s no problem.

        1. Leela*

          i don’t know about this, it’s ableist and there will be a *lot* of pressure on someone to say they’re on the same page if say, 80% of the office already has, and you’ve dealt with this situation before and someone reacts like you’ve reacted here…like it should be by group consensus, even if the people in the group don’t have the same reactions to something that another person will (scented candles can literally give me migraines so bad I lose vision. I can’t even smell them I just start getting sick. You think I should be forced to endure that if people who don’t have that reaction at all agree that it feels fine for them? Should people with no mobility issues be allowed to decide by consensus that elevators or ramps aren’t needed? And if you think that’s a bad comparison I also have mobility issues that frequently require me to not use stairs and no, they’re not differently necessary, I cannot show up for work or do my job if there’s constant noise like a radio, or scented candles, and so on)

        2. pancakes*

          I think we have a big miscommunication here. When I said “on the same page,” I meant “in agreement.” Actual agreement, not pretend-agreement brought on by peer pressure! I absolutely do not think people who are sensitive to scented products should be forced to pretend not to be, and I think it’s quite a stretch to read my comment as suggesting that.

          1. Leela*

            it might seem like a stretch *to you* but i’ve been on the receiving end of this conversation a million times. ‘actual agreement’ is a nice idea but unfortunately ‘everyone’s on the same page’ usually means ‘everyone who is able-bodied and neurotypical agrees, stop being difficult and just get on board’ in practicality, leaving me to suffer daily and have my performance lowered by circumstances I cannot control but could easily be controlled by the company listening to people who have sensory issues. i’ve literally been pulled into offices to get a stern talking to about missing work when the reason was that i had lost my vision due to migraines from scent that colleagues didn’t need to have but wanted to have. i’ve been threatened with PIPs for having to mouth along to e-mails to be able to read them because of radios, coworkers who loudly talk about weekend plans in open, public work spaces, or other things like that because it was considered a passive-aggressive behavior instead of what it is, a necessary coping mechanism to other people refusing to accommodate a neurological issue or take it seriously.

            And trust me, the pressure to just give in and agree if you’re the odd one out (which you will be, if you have comorbid conditions with Autism, there is massive bias against hiring Autistics and thus a lot of workplaces won’t have many people like us. It is currently considered socially more acceptable to train AI to force us to make eye contact like non-Autistics than it is disallow discrimination of the type of eye contact people make even for non-public facing jobs) is enormous. It’s not just peer pressure, it’s….that worker with the radio…who is the nephew of the CEO’s best friend. Or the child of their partner. Or gives out assignments and you don’t want to get on the bad side of. There are a lot of reasons that people say they agree when they don’t, and I’m especially sick of people who say they’re on my side and then get dead quiet when asked about it with stakes (like if we’re talking about it in a group setting with said co-worker there).

            Accessibility should always be built-in, not something you just don’t have to do if ‘everyone’ agrees. The default should be “don’t do unnecessary things that are known to cause sensory issues that debilitate a person out of being able to do their job”. Even if you’re pretty sure you have actual agreement. The lives of disabled people are impacted by this all the time and we have to have this conversation over. And over. And over. With all of you saying we’ve made a leap or a stretch when it’s just our literal history

            1. pancakes*

              We have another misunderstanding: I do not think it is a stretch to say that people with scent sensitivities can encounter a lot of resistance in asking coworkers or employers to go scent-free, or to otherwise be more mindful of their needs. Likewise as to people with sound sensitivities. What I said, and meant, was that I think it’s a stretch for you to read my comment as saying these very specific things that I am not saying.

            2. pancakes*

              I should add, I am sorry to hear you’ve encountered so much bias at work, and so much resistance to making what seem to be very reasonable requests about scents and sounds! I don’t think we collectively are at the point of scented products being seen as unnecessary, though. I think they’re still quite common, and many people would not want to give them up entirely without knowing whether scents are in fact a problem for someone they work or live with. Maybe that’s not how things should be, but that’s how things are, in my experience.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yes, the ‘but others could just wear nose plugs’ comparison is a good one.

        I cannot, cannot wear noise cancelling headphones all day. I’m the manager – if I sit there and can’t hear what’s going on around me then I’m not as good at my job.

    4. ecnaseener*

      Sorry, no, there is something wrong with playing a radio in a shared space without everyone’s permission. Offices are focused spaces by default, so if you want noise you need to be the one with headphones. (Not to mention, noise canceling headphones are much more expensive than some basic earbuds you can use for music.)

      I’m with you on silence being really distracting, but you and I are in the minority there! That’s why 90% of my college friends went to the library to study and I was the unusual one for going to the dining hall instead.

    5. Dwight Schrute*

      Um no. If you want to listen to something at work the onus is on *you* to use headphones so one else needs to hear it. I am very easily distracted and overwhelmed by noise I can not control and using noise cancelling headphones do nothing if I’m not actively playing something, so it’s not like they magically make things silent for me. Seriously, please get headphones to listen to your background noise .

    6. EPLawyer*

      See you are thinking there is only 1 person in the office who can’t stand noise, when it more likelihood there are plenty but they don’t want to speak up. Especially if the attitude is “well EVERYONE likes to listen to the radio except that one weirdo.” Which is simply not true.

      If YOU need noise to work, then by all means, wear headphones and have at it. But don’t assume everyone else thinks like you and those who want silence are outliers.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Headphones or ear buds help YOU concentrate.
      Radio or music/books on speaker may ruin the concentration of twenty people around you.
      Which is better for the business?

    8. Feral Fairy*

      Why should everyone else have to be subjected to your personal preference?
      I have pretty severe ADHD and while I do have strategies for staying focused and on task, I’d be seriously frustrated if a coworker was playing music out loud and the expectation would be for me to have to accommodate them. If you have a private office where the door can close that’s one thing, but if you’re in a cubicle or open office that’s extremely inconsiderate.

      Also, even for the other coworkers who don’t mind background noise, the fact that you have full control over what’s playing comes across as an inappropriate level of power over your colleagues. What would you do if someone sitting near you also put on their radio on their preferred station?

      The bottom line is that while different people have difference preferences, when you’re on a team with others, it’s not fair to put the onus on everyone else to deal with your specific preference when there’s a perfectly good solution that would allow you to hear background noise without impacting other people. Your comment make the same mistake as the LW’s in assuming that just because people aren’t complaining to you does not mean that they don’t have a problem with what you’re doing. We see letters on here all the time from people who are afraid to let a coworker know that something is bothering them because the coworker is more senior or they’re worried that sticking up for them self will ruin their professional relationship.

    9. I'm just here for the cats!*

      See I agree with you. Most the time I like some sort of background noise. I worked in call centers for too long that I can’t seem to work without some noise.

      I wonder what the office is like and how loud the music is.

      At my work I am at the front desk and I greet people as they come in, set up appointments, answer phones, etc. I have music on my laptop (light jazz nothing to loud or something you could sing too). I always ask if someone is covering the front desk while I’m away if they want me to turn it off.

      If the LW is the front receptionist or something I think it’s pretty standard to have some type of music going in a waiting room or front office. If the LW is in a cube farm then they should have headphones in if its possible. Or play the music so you can only hear it at your desk. So maybe through your computer.

      1. Windchime*

        I have bionic hearing (it’s a curse) and I can usually hear music that people *think* can only be heard from their desk. I can also hear sounds from headphones when people keep one earbud in and the other dangling; it sounds like whispering “tssss pssst sssss” noise and it’s incredibly distracting. I’m not a music hater; I love music and I listen to podcasts all day long. But I don’t make other people listen to it; I use headphones when at work.

    10. Artemesia*

      There is no such thing as ‘radio on’ — there is specific music or talk and it is ridiculous to assume that everyone is comfortable with the same content. I loath rap — many many people love it and would love to work to it — it makes me anxious and hostile. I know developers who love techno music while they work; it would distract me. I would play opera all day and for many people THAT is nails on a chalkboard. ‘Radio’ that everyone can’t escape is just noise pollution.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Same. And to Kay’s point, I really really dislike music in shops the grand majority of the time. I often wear headphones, even with nothing playing in them – and that’s fine, music in shops is the assumed default and there are reasons they play it and blah blah without going too deep into consumer psychology, that’s the shop’s preference. (But I also know plenty of people who work in shops where the music drives them near madness)

        But if I have to work, and concentrate, the default should be silence that I can augment for myself if desired without bothering others. Podcasts – general chattering – works better for me than music, but for others I’m sure it would be harder to tune out. The point is not forcing your preferences on everyone.

        1. quill*

          The loop is too short. Music preferences aside, the music loop is maybe 30 to 40 minutes long, so an average of ten to twelve songs. Your average customer won’t get a repeat, but your average worker will be cussing under their breath that it’s Alanis Morisette o’clock again.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Music in shops is always too loud. Grocery stores are some of the worst offenders. I don’t mind the oldies station, just not at top volume, please. I can’t imagine trying to work through it.

        3. iglwif*

          I find music in shops almost universally awful.

          The worst is in December when you go to the mall and every single shop is blasting Christmas music turned up to 11 and you are forced to try to follow several different Christmas songs at the same time. If it’s that bad for me as a shopper, in and out with my list as quickly as humanly possible, it must be absolutely excruciating for retail staff.

    11. quill*

      If you introduce the noise, it’s on you to wear the headphones. Maybe only one person can’t stand any noise but the entire rest of the office is sick of THAT ONE COMMERCIAL WITH THE SHOUTING or the song that gets played the most often, etc.

    12. T J Juckson*

      Noise cancelling headphones would really be at cross purposes in this case: they reduce ambient noise, so someone wearing them (without other music or white noise playing) would hear the radio or other people talking more clearly. That’s why they are good on planes: you can hear the movie/in-flight entertainment/even your seatmate much better because it removes the dull background sound of the engines. They don’t magically silence the world, alas.
      They would, however, be a perfect for _the person who wants to listen to the radio_ to wear!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Exactly – I looked into them back when I worked in a noisy office, and was saddened to find out that they’d do nothing to make it less noisy for me. Earbuds and a white-noise app on my phone with the volume turned up helped me get through the worst times, but I couldn’t possibly do that to myself all day.

    13. Observer*

      Or yes there are headphones to use if you are the only one who wants a radio.

      There are headphones to use. Period.

      You need noise? That’s fine. Wear your headphones. Don’t put people in the situation where they have to ask for a favor – to do their JOB! Especially from someone like you and the OP – people who have this attitude that someone who has the temerity to not be able to work with YOUR choice of noise or noise in general is somehow a problematic person.

    14. iglwif*

      Ummmmm no.

      If you’re the one who needs background noise, you’re the one who should use headphones/earbuds when in a shared space. I also like to play music or podcasts or something when I’m doing certain kinds of work, and when I’m working at home alone I often play them out loud. If anyone else is home? Earbuds. That’s very, very basic “we live in a society” stuff.

  23. qtippyqueen*

    #1 – I started a job and the person who had the job before me was MONTHS and MONTHS behind (they had quit pretty abruptly). I had an incredible amount of catching up to do. My boss really badmouthed this person about how they were so awful to not do this work and she couldn’t believe it and on and on. Which yes, was no doubt true. I can’t tell you what in the world the person was doing all day! But at the same time, I thought, how in the world did you not know? If she would have taken just an inkling of interest in what this person was doing/producing, it would be have painfully clear immediately that it was nothing. It made me worry, oh no, what if I am doing something wrong, or not doing something, how long will it take for her to notice?

    1. kiki*

      Yes! And for this letter, in the software world, regularly demo-ing work is such a common part of the process. Going a few weeks without seeing progress, I could see, but two months is pretty wild for nobody to have been aware nothing was happening on the project. What the departed employee did was wildly unprofessional and while I understand trying to see if there’s any way to hold them responsible for their lack of work and the bind they’ve put you in, it makes the most sense to take this as a lesson in management and ensuring you update your process to prevent things from getting this out of hand in the future.

    2. Smithy*

      Above I mention a situation of doing a project for two months that ended up not being what was desired where no one checked on it. This was also the boss who on my first week of the job said he thought regular 1 on 1’s were a waste of time, that I could on board by feeling my way around, and we’d meet whenever it felt necessary.

      The fact that there were only a few instances of wildly mismatched expectations instead of dozens….however, all of those mismatches often did create for more work than situations when something was just never done. Sure, this story as told from the OP doesn’t sound particularly ethical – but the opportunities for this style of management to bite the OP are numerous. Whether or not the employee on the other end is or isn’t ethical.

    3. NoOneSpecial*

      I had a similar situation where I absorbed a colleague’s work into my existing job. She was also months behind. Our mutual supervisor asked me for an update on the state coworker left the work in and was SHOCKED it was so bad. Supervisor then had the nerve to ask me why I hadn’t reported the issues to her before coworker left. Our work was parallel, her failures had no effect on me. The only person who should have been noticing was supervisor

      1. Esmeralda*

        Yeah, btdt. Some years ago I had a colleague who didn’t seem to be doing much, but I wasn’t sure, it didn’t affect my work, and I was the junior person. Eventually colleague moved on to a better paying job and it turned out he’d been working on a doctoral degree during works hours and had never, not once, met with any student in his caseload. For three years. Had never, not once, assigned any work in his classes and just gave every student an A.

        I found out because I was given his caseload when he left. Paper files at the time — no notes, just empty folders. A gradebook for every class: completely empty.

        LOL, the director was embarrassed when I brought this to him to see how I should handle working with the students I’d inherited. Because the director thought the colleague walked on water…and let ALL of us know it.

        We created oversight and evaluation procedures after that…I guess, “We’re all professionals, we don’t need anyone looking over our shoulders!” wasn’t quite accurate.

    4. Selina Luna*

      I’m a teacher, so I cannot understand how an employer/manager knows nothing about the status of one’s employees. I have to submit regular updates on my status (lesson plans, grade reports) and I also have to provide status updates regularly (feedback, graded assignments). If you are NEVER checking in, in what sense are you managing anyone?

      1. SimplytheBest*

        It sounds like there were getting regular updates, though. OP says he gave regular status updates, those updates just turned out to be false. When I give updates to my boss, unless I say “can we look at this, I’m stuck on this issue” or there are specific things that need approval, my boss doesn’t then go check up on my work. She expects that I’m doing what I say I’m doing.

      2. Cassie*

        Part of the problem might be that the supervisor doesn’t have a sense of what the employee’s job really entails. In a school, the principal probably has a good sense of what the teachers need to do (as you mentioned – lesson plans, grade reports, etc).

        But if you’re the supervisor of a small dept where 1 person handles accounting, 1 person handles payroll, 1 person handles IT – you might not know the nitty-gritty details of each person’s job. The supervisor can and should try to keep an eye over everyone but there’s only so much they can do (this is why it’s really important to have staff you can trust to do their jobs properly). It’s often not until an employee leaves and a new person comes in that you find out that Projects A and B that the accounting person claimed to have fixed actually weren’t fixed and are still sitting at a bottom of a backlog. I’ve been that new person and uncovered years of messes that the departing employee claimed at some point had been cleared up (either she was pretty incompetent and thought they were fine or she knew they weren’t and didn’t care – maybe both).

  24. Dwight Schrute*

    So once upon a time I was the person who listened to things out loud at my first job, and I am cringing so hard thinking back on it. I would’ve preferred headphones but my boss was very anti headphone and I did have a little nook away from everyone else so I just thought it was fine to play stuff out loud. I would hate working with my old self now as I have become very sensitive to noise and sound that I have no control over. I can’t imagine forcing others to listen to my white noise or podcast or ocean sounds now.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I used to listen to things out loud sometimes at my old job. But I had my own office, I closed the door (or left it slightly ajar), and I asked everyone around me whether they could hear what I was playing at all. And if they had told me that they could hear my music, I would have turned it right off.

      In an open office or cube farm, though? No way would I play music without headphones.

      It’s sort of amazing that there was a time when playing a radio out loud seemed less rude than wearing headphones in the office.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Agree, with a caveat. First thing we found out when, after an office move, a bunch of us ended up in two-person offices, was that, in a typical office with HVAC vents, cables, etc hidden in the ceiling, sound travels incredibly well through the ceiling when everyone’s in a small office with the door closed. We had a meeting room a few doors down from ours, and could typically hear every word of every meeting. This is to say, I suggest it to everyone to test the sound the way L.H.Putgrass did with their coworkers, and not assume that, because it’s your own office, it won’t bleed out. We had not known that.

          As an aside, another thing that travels incredibly fast through an office ceiling? the smell of microwaved fish. Found out the hard way when a coworker did it. We were down a long hallway from the breakroom, but it felt as though he was doing it in our office.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Our office has two restrooms at either end that are unisex, single-stall rooms with tiled walls. It is incredible how well the sound of a stream of urine falling and hitting the water can carry. LUCKILY, that and the actual flush of the toilet (they’re loud flushes) are the only sounds that carry. I’ve never been able to determine what else anyone might be doing in there…not that I’m actually trying!

            We also share a wall with a gym that’s in our office/retail complex. I can sometimes hear people grunting as they lift weights. That’s pretty awkward for me…

            1. Elizabeth West*

              A writer friend of mine works at an ad agency that shares a wall with a ballet studio. So they get music, but also the constant thump-thump-thump of dancers leaping around.

    2. iglwif*

      In my first full-time job, my very quiet department was right next to Accounting, where they played commercial radio all day long. Only a row of filing cabinets separated the two. It was excruciating, especially from about Remembrance Day onwards when the percentage of cheesy “non-religious” Christmas music started going up and up and up.

      This was the 1990s, and here was me thinking we’d all learned better since then!

  25. I hate the word startup*

    If managing a small number of people to the point of not knowing if they’re even doing their jobs is too much for your startup, then it’s probably not a good startup.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      And another thought I had on that was, I thought everyone was agile these days? with daily standups and checkins and two-week sprints with tasks assigned out that need to be completed by the end of the two weeks? Honestly, agile gets a lot of hate, but I personally rather like it and this is one reason why.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        It sounds like the person went to the standups and said “worked on X yesterday, working on Y today” but was lying. Possibly also closing tasks/tickets/cards/whatever their system calls them, and logging work to those items without actually doing any of it. It doesn’t really sound like an agile/lack of agile thing so much as there’s apparently no supervision – and no QA? because if the employee were lying and saying stuff was done it should’ve been passed to QA and at some point QA (or anyone else whose work depended on the not-done work) would’ve said “uh, nothing there”. It should not have taken 2 months and the person admitting it for someone to notice.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Right, in my workplace, you wouldn’t be able to just close a task without a code review and QA testing. I’m baffled.

  26. 1qtkat*

    In response to LW2, I would definitely take down the sign. I had a high school friend who found the word “bugger” extremely amusing and would just say it all the time. Our highly correct English teacher who was British told her it was highly inappropriate to be saying the word in everyday language and so often.