everyone is brushing their teeth at work, a terribly-named award, and more

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

1. Everyone is brushing their teeth at work

I have a strange question. There seems to be an incredibly strong culture of teeth-brushing at my office. I’ve been working in my current position for almost three years, and it is my first job out of college. I knew that my coworker who works next to me always brushes her teeth after eating lunch and before going home, but the other day, I ran into a different coworker in the bathroom brushing her teeth, flossing, and using mouthwash at 5 pm, presumably right before she was going to leave.

It came to a head today when I was walking back to my desk from a morning meeting and realized a third coworker, this one male, was walking to the bathroom with a baggie containing travel toothpaste and a travel toothbrush. I know he had just gone to get coffee, because we always get coffee on the mornings we’re all in the office, so I assume he was going to brush his teeth right after drinking coffee.

Is this normal? Am I gross for not brushing my teeth during the day? If I feel like my breath has gone … off, then I’ll chew some gum, but seriously, what’s up with brushing teeth at work? It feels like it would be just as odd as re-applying makeup in the shared bathroom during the middle of the day. Do I need to start brushing my teeth more?

I don’t think most offices have this many people brushing their teeth this often, and I’d bet that it’s self-reinforcing (people see others doing it so it occurs to them that they could do it too, so they do), but in most offices you’ll find some people brushing their teeth at some point during the day. Sometimes it’s people who have orthodontia or other stuff going on that requires them to brush at work, but some people just like to brush more than twice a day.

That doesn’t mean you’re gross for not doing it or that you need to brush more. I have no stats to cite, but I’d guess the majority of people don’t brush their teeth at work. Your office is just into it! That’s actually good for you since it means you’re in an office with a lower incidence of coffee breath than most.

(Separately, reapplying makeup in the bathroom at work isn’t that weird as long as you’re not setting up a whole makeup station in there or blocking the sink for an hour.)

2. Candidate accepted our offered, then reneged — and now is applying again

Recently, my organization was hiring for the position of, let’s say, teapots manager. Our top candidate initially accepted, but then declined the offer before starting because his current employer offered him more money and a higher position to stay there. Disappointing, but he had to do what was best for him and our second choice was only so by a hair and we got a great new hire.

Fast forward a few months and we are now looking for a senior teapots manager. This former candidate has reached out to inquire about this position. I’d like to green-light an interview with the hiring panel, but I’m conflicted.

This person has great qualifications for the job. And in fact I believe the somewhat junior nature of the previous position may have been a factor in his decision to remain with his current company. Had I known the senior position would be available back when I was hiring for the first one, I’d have made this candidate an offer for the senior position without question.

But. Even though I understand the reasoning, accepting and then rejecting the offer left somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth. Frankly, I don’t want to go through the same process, make him another offer, and again be used to leverage himself into an even better position with his current company. I also don’t want to look desperate, for lack of a better word. We can find another great candidate, given sufficient time, but this person did click during the prior interview process.

Obviously, should we interview him for this position, we will inquire as to why he has again thrown his hat in the ring to work for us immediately after using our offer to get a promotion and a raise, but: (1) is even entertaining hiring him a bad idea, and (2) assuming it’s not a terrible idea, what are some good questions to ask to guard against wasting our time?

Yeah, it’s understandable that you’re having hesitations about this candidate, especially since it’s only been a few months. This is someone who decided he wanted to leave his previous job, decided he wanted to accept your job (and did), then decided he wanted to stay after all (and did), and now just a few months later is saying he’s ready to leave again. That doesn’t make him a bad person, but it’s reasonable to be wary of investing time in him again. And if you make him another offer and he accepts it, you’re probably going to worry about whether he’ll actually show up on his first day or whether he’ll accept another counteroffer at the last minute (or worse, a few weeks after starting).

But you should still interview him. You can ask about his thinking, and you’ll be in a better position to assess the situation once you’ve actually talked to him. A lot of people accept counteroffers but realize pretty quickly that more money won’t fix the problems that had driven them to interview in the first place. And some people accept counteroffers and then find their company backtracking on some of the promises they made. In either case, they can end up as reliably committed to the next offer they accept as anyone else. (And it’s not really that alarming that his loyalty turned out to be stronger to the place he knew than to the place he didn’t know.)

As for what to ask, you can lay it out pretty directly. Ask what made him change his mind about the offer last time, and say something like, “I’ll be up-front that we’re little wary of moving forward with another offer, cutting other candidates loose, and then possibly having the same thing happen again.” See what he says — it’s a reasonable thing to ask him to respond to.

Ultimately, though, you’re not wasting that much time by interviewing him. You could waste a lot of time if you hire him, reject your other candidates, and then he does it again. But see what you think once you talk to him.

3. What’s fair to tell a student employee who asks why someone left?

I’m trying to figure out where the lines fall on honesty vs privacy when it comes to why a colleague resigned a position. Neither the colleague (Jane) nor I are in management, and both our positions report to the same manager. We have some part-time student employees who work with our organization, often only for a single semester. Sometimes a student returns again later, with a gap in time between their positions with us. One of those students (Fergus) recently asked me why Jane left — he’d worked with us a year and a half ago when Jane was here, but not in the next few semesters. I’m not sure what’s fair to say.

On the one hand, I don’t know all the details. I just have what I witnessed and what Jane said to/in front of me, and she had weird enough boundaries that I heard a great deal about her frustrations with virtually everyone in our organization. (Some of which I think were valid; others seemed ridiculous.) There is no chance of Fergus landing a position with us after he graduates (we rarely have openings that would be appropriate) so it’s not like he’s trying to figure out whether this is an organization he’d be happy at long-term.

On the other hand, when working with students, I feel part of the deal is that they’re learning how jobs work. And I do think it’s valuable for him to not think she was arbitrarily let go; she told us she resigned, and I’m fairly confident that that is not just a spin on a firing situation.

I don’t want to trash talk Jane, even though I found her difficult to work with and was glad to see her go. I ended up saying something like, “I had the sense that Jane had not been happy with the role for a while. There seemed to be a difference between what she thought the role should be and what our boss thought it should be, and I suspect that’s a large part of why she decided to not return this year. Thankfully, she gave us enough notice that we were able to conduct a search and hire Lucinda, who will be taking over the role.” But now I’m second-guessing whether that was too much information, or too vague, or too speculative, or wrong in some other way.

Too much information! It doesn’t sound like there’s any real need for Fergus to know the details about why Jane left, or that you even really know the details yourself. Also, people leaving jobs is a very normal thing that happens regularly, and it’s useful to convey that there’s not always a big story.

I think this might be like that old joke where a kid asks his mom where he came from and she responds with a detailed explanation of sex … only for the kid to say, “Oh. Kyle comes from Florida.” It’s pretty likely that Fergus was just expressing idle curiosity — Jane was here last time, now she’s not, where’d she go? — not assuming there was drama or asking about behind-the-scenes details.

It would have been fine to just say, “Oh, she just moved on to another job. Everyone moves on eventually!”

4. Should I tell these two recruiters why I don’t want to work with them?

Lately, I’ve found myself the target of some pretty aggressive head-hunting. I’m not looking for a change, so I usually just shoot off a “Thanks, but no thanks” and that’s the end of it.

Two recruiters have recently messaged back, asking why I’m not interested:

Company A is a social media company that I have a strong moral objection to working at. Should I tell the recruiter that I’d rather be one of those guys that scrapes fat-bergs from the inside of sewer tunnels than to work for their company?

Company B, I’ve spoken to a couple of months ago. We set up a call, then the recruiter ghosted on me and stopped responding to messages. She recently approached me again about the same position. I assume she forgot about our earlier exchange. Should I just ignore her or tell her I’m still p.o.’d about her flaking on me before and wasting my time?

Part of me feels like, “Hey, they asked.” But I also think it might just be creating needless drama.

Your better bet is to ignore them. You don’t owe it to random strangers to take the time to explain why you’re not interested in applying for a job.

That said, with the second one, it might be satisfying to respond, “We set up a call a few months ago but you missed it and then didn’t answer any of my messages.” I’d keep it really dry and unemotional like that though; if you get into saying she flaked on you and wasted your time, she’ll be more likely to dismiss you as a hothead. (To be clear, it’s not hot-headed to be irked about this, but when you show it, you become easy to disregard.) I’m a big fan of dry and matter-of-fact when the facts on their own communicate “you suck” so that you don’t have to spell it out. But you’d be doing this only for the personal satisfaction of it, not for any other real purpose, and you may or may not be inclined to bother.

5. Listing a terribly-named award on my resume

I am in a job with little upward mobility and will be looking for something new soon. I’ve been at my current job for three years and have won an award I will call “Party like a Rockstar” twice (it’s not really that, but similar). It’s kind of like an employee of the month-type award, and I absolutely cringe at the idea of typing it out on my resume, let alone explaining it like a reasonable professional in an interview without letting slip that I know how dumb it sounds. How should I handle this stupidly named award in my job search?

You don’t need to use the name at all! Instead, write something like, “twice received company-wide award for above-and-beyond work” (or whatever the award was for). The name doesn’t really matter anyway since it won’t have meaning outside of your company; explaining what the award was for and why you won it is the part that will matter.

{ 383 comments… read them below }

  1. Booty | Sweat | Cream | Cheese*

    Gotta disagree with Alison on #2. The applicant burned the bridge when he reneged on the previous offer. No way in hell do you consider him for a future position.

    “There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.’”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s making it a lot more personal than it really is.

      A lot of employers take that position, and it’s their prerogative; anyone who rescinds their acceptance of an offer needs to be prepared for it. But this sounds like a stellar candidate who the LW would be excited to hire; it’s just shooting herself in the foot to stand on principle and refuse to even include him in the interview process this time around. If she’s not comfortable with what she hears, she can reject him. But this isn’t someone who committed an unforgivable sin; he took an offer that he thought was more in his interests than the one she’d made him. (And she hadn’t even lost her second choice candidate, who she went on to hire … so what exactly did she lose?) And yes, people shouldn’t back out of offers they’ve already accepted — and if it did burn the bridge with the LW, then so be it — but it sounds like she’d actually like to have this guy on their team. A conversation to learn more doesn’t hurt anyone.

      1. Kella*

        Possibly one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from you, alison, is that when someone messes up in a big way or has been accused of lying or other misconduct, your first step always is to talk to them and see what they say. It’s possible that they’ll lie to you. But it’s also possible that you’ll be able to tell. At the very least, you can usually tell when someone hasn’t thought about their mistake at all and is just going “I’m so sorry, it’ll never happen again” on repeat without putting any effort into making he changes to ensure that they won’t, in fact, do it again. This is just such a respectful, human approach. Sometimes a bad experience with someone is representative of their behavior overall. Sometimes it’s a one time fluke. It often seems like it’s a one-time fluke and/or was motivated by unexpected factors a lot more often than people expect it to be.

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          Very true! It is easy to assume that the applicant was just playing some kind of game to get more cash, but it is also possible that their answer might be something like: “I felt terrible about declining the job after I accepted it, but when I went to give my notice, I was offered more money and a promotion, and was told I would be putting my team in a bad position by leaving, so I chose to stay. However, after several months it became clear that my opportunities for growth really were limited, and I liked the work you were doing so much here I knew I wanted to apply again.”

          I have a friend and the person who held her position prior to her was really well-liked and respected, and the team she is on itself was very supportive, but when she gave notice people spoke about her leaving with resentment because of the difficulties it caused for them.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            The last time I turned down an offer it was because I had just found out about a major medical issue. There was going to be a gap of about a month in my medical insurance by making the switch and I already had weeks of paid sick leave stored up at my then-current job. I wasn’t rejecting the offer because I was a flake who couldn’t make up my mind, I had an unexpected life circumstance that had to be dealt with. It’s possible this guy had a similar situation where right after he accepted the job, something came up in his personal life that made staying where he was the best option for him. Having the interview and asking the question is the only way to find out.

            1. Vanilla Bean*

              Yep! I recently had a candidate apply who had accepted and then reneged on an offer from us previously. She was recommended by someone I knew well, so I asked that person for the story behind the backpedaling (I was not the hiring manager in that case, but heard about it and the history was visible in our application software. It turned out she had a major child safety concern that erupted right after she accepted the job, and her old job at her children’s school allowed her to keep her kids safe, so she decided to stay. Total game-changer.

          2. Frank Doyle*

            I don’t even think it’s very likely that he went through the application and interview process just to get more cash: if that were the case, he wouldn’t need to accept the offer, just present it to his current employer. Odds are he had every intention of joining the team when he accepted the offer, but the counteroffer from his current employer made him reconsider. And this can be determined by just asking the guy.

      2. Darsynia*

        Yeah, this situation reminds me of multiple letters where writers have expressed regret (or concern they’d feel regret) by having taken their management’s promises to heart and stayed at a job instead of moving on. Most of them who ended up being burned by undelivered promises sure do wish they could have had the opportunities to reapply! And for the most part, as commenters, we feel sympathy for their missed chance.

        This is that missed chance come true! But for this letter writer, the hope is that the applicant comes and says ‘They offered me X, Y, and Z to stay, but only delivered Y, and none of the things I was unhappy with have improved. I’m so pleased to get a second chance with your company!’

        1. Lab Boss*

          And in a way, the fact that the applicant now knows their old company wasn’t going to deliver, helps cut down on any regrets they may feel about leaving. What better way to be really sure the new candidate wants to work for you than knowing they got to try the best offer from the other place and found it wanting?

      3. serenity*

        I think it’s fine for the OP in this case to not interview this individual. No need to make anything personal, and also no need to waste time.

      4. A Feast of Fools*

        I accepted an entry-level position at a company I really wanted to work for, to start as soon as my last [then-current] semester at grad school ended. Call them Company A.

        But the company I was interning at, Company B, come out of the blue with a surprise job offer for ~$20K more than what Company A was offering, and at a level that was more in line with my overall professional experience. The job offer was extra surprising because I’d been told from the start of the internship at Company B that there wasn’t a job at the other end of it; I was doing it for the pay and the experience.

        I called Company A about a month after accepting their offer (and after filling out all the online, new hire paperwork) to tell them I needed to take back my acceptance. I apologized, profusely, and said, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” They agreed that I’d been given an offer I couldn’t refuse, and that they’d do the same thing I was doing.

        Company B turned out to be a dumpster fire situated on a Hellmouth. I had stayed in touch with people at Company A (who I’d known from previous internships) and when Company A had a senior-level opening come up 10 months later, they called and told me the job was mine if I wanted it. For $10K more than what Company B was paying me.

        I’ve been at Company B for a year and a half now, and everyone, including me, is happy.

    2. lyonite*

      I’m just put in mind of all the letters we’ve seen here of people who have decided to move on from a job, only to get a counter-offer and feel conflicted about their choice. The advice is often to take the new job, but not always followed, and IIRC that can fail to work out well. Obviously, I have no idea if that’s the situation here, but it’s not an unrealistic possibility, and it seems like there’s enough of a chance to make it worthwhile to talk to the guy.

      1. WellRed*

        Yes, I had the same thoughts. We frequently read about exactly this situation from the candidates point of view. Inconvenient but hardly a moral failing.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Had a few examples yesterday. “Wait! We’ll offer you the moon AND stars…. Okay, now that you’ve turned down the other company, we’re thinking more of a picture of the moon and stars.”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          This. They offer you everything you wanted fixed in a counter offer to keep you, and as soon as you’re trapped with them the counter offer isn’t anywhere near as much as it was originally verbally told to be. That leads to looking again really fast in most cases – it’s just usually the company that had the candidate back out doesn’t have another opening that lets them know the person is looking again.

        2. Zephy*

          If you’re talking about the tech startup letter from yesterday, it’s more like “an opportunity to go outside and look at the moon and stars someday.”

        3. AndersonDarling*

          This is exactly what I’m guessing happened based on the timeline. It’s been a few months since the counter offer. If the current employer promised a raise and a change of duties and their boss promised an attitude adjustment, then this is just long enough for the candidate to find out it was all talk. The raise is frozen, the change of duties MIGHT happen next year, and the boss was nicey-nicey for three weeks and is back to being a jerk.
          When employers have made promises to me, it took 6 months for me to realize that it was all hot air.

      3. SheLooksFamiliar*

        It’s happened to me several times through the decades. Someone turned down our offer to take a counter-offer, and then applied for another suitable role with my company. I asked a few questions about their reasoning, and almost everyone said they had been conflicted about leaving their employer. They had valid reasons to leave – overlooked for promotions, underpaid, reported to a bad manager, overworked with no support – but chose to stay for emotional reasons – continuity, great co-workers, promises to change their workload/alignment/pay/title, and an ego boost over the effort to retain them. People make emotional decisions because they’re human, and changing jobs absolutely stirs up emotions. I won’t punish a solid candidate for that.

        Also, the folks we hired in another role told us something important: ‘I made a mistake accepting the counter-offer, and I won’t make that mistake again. Here’s what I learned…’ Call it emotional intelligence, tactics, or fence-mending, but acknowledging the matter made a difference.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      That seems like overkill. These are business decisions and we’re not privy to what the applicant was thinking. Who knows, maybe there was an aspect of the application process on OP’s end that was alarming to them. That could be valuable for OP to know even if they don’t rehire this person.

      It costs OP very little to explore further with the candidate.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s like the flip side of “the job doesn’t love you back.” The job may not nurse grievances at you, either, and just view all these things as cold business calculations.

    4. JSPA*

      I’d go the other way! Guy was already interviewed, already qualified for the higher level job. Make an immediate offer, no re-interview needed conditional on starting a week from now. Explain that there will also be a regular search, starting in parallel, until he’s there. And do so.

      1. Daisy*

        I’m inclined to agree – if he’s that good, why waste time with a whole interview process and trying to work out the ins and outs when you can just make an offer? You’ll either have a qualified senior manager, or if he flakes out again in a week, you’ll have your answer and barely have wasted any time.

      2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Well, but they weren’t interviewing for that job before! So there might be a number of candidates who didn’t apply for the previous role but would apply for this one — they need to evaluate how strong this guy is relative to the rest of the applicant pool.

      3. WellRed*

        No. What an odd suggestion. Vet him against the new pool of candidates. And rushing someone into a position sets everyone up for failure (is that what you are trying to do?). She also says she doesn’t want to look desperate.

      4. ecnaseener*

        Guy was interviewed for the lower-level job and SEEMED qualified for the higher-level job. I’m sure there are a few things that OP needs to probe further into for the senior manager. (And as others have said, different candidate pool)

      5. anonymous73*

        That’s a really bad idea. OP needs to find out what he says when she brings up her hesitancy to move forward and not get burned again. There could be legitimate reasons he’s unhappy with his decision to stay with his current company, but he could also be using them again to get more money or another promotion.

      6. Colette*

        Wow. No. I don’t think they should make him an offer without figuring out what happened last time – but if they do, they definitely should not keep interviewing people they don’t intend to hire.

      7. AndersonDarling*

        That’s a wee bit hasty, but I would make a call now to ask what went down. There isn’t any reason to keep questioning what happened and starting a formal interview process when a quick phone call would provide all the answers.

      8. Lab Boss*

        We just did this! We had a hiring process for a low-level position and went with an internal candidate with lots of experience doing the specific, low-level task. Our 2nd choice candidate had industry experience that made her attractive but wouldn’t have hit the ground running as quickly on the day-to-day work.

        Less than 2 months later we had a position open up that was 1 step up our ladder and balanced a little more toward independence and industry knowledge instead of total hands-on skills. We called our 2nd choice back, gave her a brief follow-up interview with just 2 of us (covering a couple skills questions specific to the higher job that we hadn’t gotten into at her earlier interview) and made her an offer. Boom, done, 3 weeks between receiving notice from the outgoing employee and the new hire’s 1st day (which is next week, so I guess how WELL this worked is TBD).

      9. Paulina*

        They really need to see who else applies to the senior position now that it’s available; it could be a much more competitive comparison group.

        I also wonder about the person they did hire, who was second only by a hair to this recurrent candidate. Wouldn’t they also be qualified for the senior position too?

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      Alternative interpretation: This candidate is such a great employee that their employer made them an offer they couldn’t refuse to keep them. Now the LW has a second opportunity at this person, for a more senior position to boot, for which they are a terrific match! This is somehow a bad thing?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m picturing someone capering and laughing wildly on the other side of a burnt bridge, while the candidate gives them a passing odd glance and goes on to one of the 10 other bridges within sight of this one.

      2. Lab Boss*

        Exactly! When the position at stake was a lower level position, the current job was able to out-offer the new job (through whatever combination of money, loyalty, seniority-based perks, etc.) Now there’s a higher level position, which totally changes the equation- old job saw the applicant as worth stretching for at Level 1 but may not have openings at Level 2, or see the applicant as worth it. New listing, new negotiation.

    6. Less Bread More Taxes*

      I “reneged” on an offer after accepting it once, and I’d hate to find out that I wouldn’t be allowed to apply for any future positions with that company. In my case, the background check was taking way too long, and I needed a job as I was unemployed at the time. I don’t think that any reasonable interviewer would hold that against me. If I got another interview with them and they asked me about it, I would be 100% honest about the situation. It certainly wasn’t personal on my end, so why should it be personal on theirs?

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Just to manage expectations, you should realize that there are a lot of employers who wouldn’t consider you again.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Unfortunately, I agree. You might not get to the stage where you can explain the situation (which you’re right, is reasonable! People can’t wait forever for an income).

          Not to say don’t apply if a job arises, just be prepared for all eventualities.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          Not disagreeing, but worth noting that every one of those employers would rescind a job offer if business conditions had changed.

          1. Lab Boss*

            Another bit of damning evidence that companies want to be able to do as they please and say “hey, it’s just business” but then take whatever an employee (or applicant) does very seriously.

      2. Curious*

        I think that your situation is different, though — an extended background-check exercise is a change in circumstances. Indeed, I would say that an offer conditioned on a background check is not yet an “offer.”

        1. PT*

          I worked somewhere where this was a problem. Our background check to onboard (for part time employees!) was taking 8 weeks and we were losing people from the process, because people who apply for part time jobs actually need money. Who knew, right?

    7. ecnaseener*

      Ultimately OP (and their company) get to decide whether the bridge is burnt. (I guess the metaphor doesn’t quite account for that.)

      1. Colette*

        And it’s not always a binary choice. It might just mean employer will be less likely to take a chance.

        Let’s say that there are 10 qualifications for a job, and they’re hiring people who meet 8 of them. The company considers backing out on an accepted offer to be a -2, so the candidate would have to meet all 10 qualifications to be hired. If the company instead considers it a -3, there is no way for them to be hired – unless they drop the number required to 7.

        Of course, hiring isn’t easily quantifiable as in this example – but a great candidate might be able to be considered after backing out. A mediocre one probably won’t.

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      What? No. People get and accept counteroffers every day. (FTR, I never received one, but pretty much every top performer I’ve worked with in my current job, did, and a few accepted.) At the end of the day, it’s about exchanging labor for pay and benefits. Unless the candidate swore an oath of loyalty to OP’s company and then broke it by staying at their current job, they did nothing wrong.

      1. Colette*

        I disagree that they did nothing wrong. They said they were going to do something and backed out at the last minute.

        If I hire a house sitter and they cancel the day I leave for anything less than someone dying, I’m not hiring them again.

        The candidate is allowed to make the choices that are in their best interest, but so is the employer.

        1. Nicotene*

          Maybe I’m just a bit spicy because this kind of thing is one reason employers string along applicants rather than rejecting them promptly; “well, we made Bob an offer, but he hasn’t accepted yet, so we’ll let Nicotena languish (fine) – well, Bob accepted, but does he really mean it? I guess we’ll just keep Nicotena on the hook until he starts (ugh – just reject me! I’ve emotionally moved on anyway!).

          1. Lab Boss*

            From a hiring manager’s POV, this is always something I wonder about. Would applicants rather hear early on that they’re a second choice and calibrate their search accordingly? Or would that make you hesitant to take an offer because you knew you weren’t the first choice?

            I know I’d prefer to know- I’m not too proud to be Plan B, there’s a million reasons Plan A might not have worked out. But I also know I’m pretty info-driven and impersonal about these things, and I worry that I might end up hurting feelings/damaging our recruiting process by trying to give applicants the full picture.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          But it was not a house sitter. It was an office position, that they had several candidates lined up for.

          People are acting like it is a personal relationship and it is not, on either side. He didn’t promise OP’s company to marry them and then go on to marry somebody else.

          1. Colette*

            It was a job they needed to hire someone for, and they did, and he didn’t show. He quit after accepting the job but before showing up.

            It was presumably a business decision on his side – but deciding they don’t want to give him a chance to do that again would be a business decision on their part. It’s not about punishing him, it’s about wanting to spend their interview slots on someone more likely to take the job and show up to do it.

            1. A Feast of Fools*

              Yeah, no. Not at all like a house sitter who no-shows on the day you’re leaving town.

              This is more like you’ve interviewed several house sitters and have two you really like. You offer it to the one who ticks off one more box than the 2nd one. They accept, then — looooong before it is time for you to go out of town — they come back and un-accept.

              You are bummed but call House Sitter #2, who you were already pleased with, and they show up on the day they’re supposed to and do an excellent job of taking care of your house when you’re gone.

        3. Frank Doyle*

          But he didn’t, like, not show up on his first day, right? Or quit after two days? It’s not as dramatic as all that. He should have checked for a counter offer BEFORE he accepted, but it still would have been acceptable for him to go through the interview process, go back and forth on an offer, and then decline it. They didn’t really lose that much.

        4. Kal*

          “You’re only allowed to not take care of my house if someone is actively dying” is… quite a take. What if the house sitter got a highly contagious illness and didn’t think it was a good idea to contaminate your entire house with it so they call to back out as soon as they know they’re sick? What if their mother in another state had a bad fall and needs someone with them while they go through emergency surgery? What if they got into a car crash on the way to your house that morning and are calling you from the hospital?

          Most people wouldn’t take personal offence to someone having a bad situation happen to them and most people wouldn’t consider any of these hypotheticals to be the employee doing something wrong. But I guess your example is still good demonstration of the fact that there are unreasonable employers out there who will hold these sorts of things against potential employees.

      2. Nicotene*

        The difference is receiving an offer and passing on it to accept a counter-offer – totally fine (if perhaps ill-advised on their part, per Alison). Asking for more time to consider an offer and then passing to accept a counter-offer – also fine. It’s only because they *accepted the offer,* and thus presumably the company rejected all the other applicants, or might have, and then re-negged, that it’s bridge-burn-y.

      3. Curious*

        By that same token, if a better candidate suddenly becomes available, would it be OK to tell the offeree (who may have relied on the offer to their detriment) “yeah, sorry, we changed our mind — we won’t be hiring you after all”? After all, “it’s about exchanging labor for pay and benefits.”

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          OK or not, employers do this…

          Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not the one doing either of those things.

        2. F.M.*

          Ha. That just happened to someone I know very recently, and boy was that frustrating and upsetting. (Job offered and accepted, started to fill out paperwork, and then… the hiring manager had to come back and grimly say that their own boss had suddenly gotten access to some other candidate and overruled him to give the job to that person instead.) So it’s not all that hypothetical, you know?

    9. Tralala*

      I was actually in the exact same position as the person that OP is referring to and reneged on an offer recently. To my surprise, although the HR manager was obviously disappointed, they made it clear that they respected me for being honest about the situation and stressed that the door was not closed to me for that company. I was surprised by this response as this was a large company with no shortage of applicants but I think it goes to show that HR managers are human too and understand that people must do what is best for them.

    10. Bamcakes*

      I’m genuinely interested in your rationale for this. Is it really about getting the best person for the job? Or proving something to the person who turned you down?

      1. JB*

        My bet is that they’re struggling to find work themselves and are incensed at the idea of someone else getting a ‘second chance’.

      2. Nicotene*

        Oh I dunno, I guess I’m a little bit on the other side – this person kinda demonstrated they don’t take their word very seriously. They committed to joining your team, knowing you would then reject all the other candidates, rather than evaluating the counter-offer option in advance of accepting your job, which should have been possible. They also could have asked for more time before accepting if they weren’t sure and wanted to explore other options. Presumably they signed papers that they were going to start, when apparently they were actually still kind of on the fence. I don’t think it’s unforgivable but it shows a certain disregard for others; if there were other equally qualified candidates for the job I’d probably choose them first.

        1. Lora*

          Timing often doesn’t work like that though – you’ll get an offer *pending a long list of things turning out OK* when they haven’t even called your references yet, and expect an answer within a week or less, when all that background check, reference check, drug testing, whatever, are going to take a solid month. So you can’t put in your notice to your boss for a couple of weeks but then when you do finally put in your notice, if they want to counter offer, you’re stuck – either you turn down the counter offer (which hey, could be good money if they actually do pay it) or you go to the new job. You don’t get to make a decision in your best interests without pissing someone off, and that’s deliberate.

          1. Nicotena*

            Wow, I’ve never experienced this. Must vary by field. I don’t know what I’d do if they said they were making me an offer, but still wanted to call my references. I’d be weirded out.

            1. Lora*

              In a hot field, it can be a strategy for large companies to lock in candidates when you know your bureaucracy isn’t going to change no matter what – you know that your normal hiring procedures take months, and in that time a smaller more nimble company can come along and make an offer within weeks, which limits your candidate pool to “people who don’t qualify for many competing offers”. That’s why they do it. It isn’t an issue in a recession or when a particular field is simply moving slow, but when companies are starting to be desperate for workers yet dealing with a business process set in stone in 2009-2010, they have to think of workarounds. “We would like to offer you $$$ pending this laundry list of procedural things you have no control over, but we need an answer by Monday morning” is pretty common in my field.

            2. Smithy*

              Yup, this happens in my field all the time.

              Our sector includes larger organizations where quick interview processes for midlevel roles take around two months, if not more. Then smaller organizations can move far more quickly. A hiring manager may know their candidate is interviewing elsewhere, but due to internal procedures – HR won’t start reference reviews or background checks in parallel. Therefore the only workaround is essentially to make the offer prior to reference/background checks.

              I also think that a lot of this kind of individual behavior has so many impacts from what was normal in our families, among our social or professional peers. So someone may be interviewing with a strong intention of using an offer to get a counter offer and plans accordingly. On the flip side, another person never considered a counter offer and is only facing that option after they give notice.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            This is a good point. I waited several weeks to give notice at my previous job. And I’d still be waiting, if current job’s HR director hadn’t taken pity on me* and said “go ahead and start anyway”, because the BG check company they’d hired had messed up and I got stuck in the BG check process indefinitely.

            * either it was pity, or the business needed me to start, like, yesterday. Probably the latter, to be honest.

            1. Lora*

              Yeah, that happened to me at CurrentJob. PreviousJob had so many discrimination lawsuits they ended up replacing the Head of HR with a lawyer, who didn’t respond to voicemails left for “HR” on the main company phone number. I had to get ahold of a friend who still worked there to get the lawyer’s direct email and then she was able to confirm dates of employment and title. In the meantime, CurrentJob said just go ahead and start.

              Some of these background check places seem truly incompetent though. I have been through many who didn’t seem to know how to Google a university’s Registrar department to get the phone number…

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Exactly what it sounds like happened with mine. First, they (I’m assuming) picked the wrong country from a dropdown, and sent me a release form to authorize them to call my university that was in a language I did not know. I called them to ask for the correct form and they honest to god said “oh it’s ok if you don’t understand what’s in that form, we’ll tell you what page and line to sign on” and I was like NOPE! Then (again assuming here) they tried to contact my school on the first day of a two-week period when most schools and offices in Home Country close for several back-to-back national holidays. Then they probably gave up and stopped trying.

        2. Smithy*

          While I get this….I do think that this risks bringing too much personal consideration into a business decision.

          In the same way that it’s commonly accepted to not give notice to your current employer until you have an offer in hand, a lot of people don’t give notice with the intention of pursuing a counter offer. So someone has received an offer they’ve accepted – at which point they tell their current job who might then come up with a counter offer. Which might just be an incredibly impressive business opportunity. And because of this not uncommon occurrence, it’s also no skin off an employers nose to not tell other candidates that they’re out of the running until their selected candidate starts as opposed to signs an offer letter.

    11. Just Another Zebra*

      I’m glad I’ve never interviewed with you, then. Without getting into it, I accepted a position about a month after I graduated college. I was already working (retail, but I was full time and had benefits) and then some health-stuff came up and I couldn’t go 90 days with no healthcare. I contacted the company (with minimal details, because really it wasn’t any of their business). A year later I was in a better place, applied to the same company. I got hired again, and have been here for 5 years.

      1. Satchel of Sparkles*

        And, yet again, I thank my lucky stars that I live in a country where healthcare provision is not contingent on employment status.

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          Can we not?

          Americans on this site are highly aware of our f*cked up healthcare situation. Alison has asked in the past that commenters not jump in with “my country is better than yours” comments, especially when it has nothing to do with the OP’s letter.

    12. learnedthehardway*

      There are all kinds of reasons why a candidate might renege on an offer, and then later be a great hire. It’s important to understand their reasoning, and to make a decision on their further reliability, and how well qualified and suitable they are for the current position you’re hiring, etc. Their past decision to renege may be a factor in your hiring decision, but it shouldn’t dictate an automatic rejection.

      I’ve had situations where a candidate has been counter-offered and reneged – sometimes it’s about the money. Sometimes it’s a misplaced sense of loyalty to their current employer. I’ve also had situations where a candidate has found out that they or a family member has cancer, and has reneged because they can’t commit to a new job and need to be in a familiar role in a company where they have credibility as a good worker already.

      What’s important is establishing whether any candidate is solely about the money (in which case, even someone who accepts your offer may leave for more money), or whether there is something more that drives their decision making.

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

      as others have stated, this seems a bit harsh. You don’t know why he is looking again. It could be that he has lost the job all together.

    14. MissDisplaced*

      Eh. I don’t see the harm in conducting a screening call to talk to them. You’re certainly not under any obligation to hire them. They may have had a really good reason, but you’d never know unless you speak to them about it.

    15. TRexx*

      I agree. The fact that they accepted the offer, assuming in writing, knowing that they weren’t fully committed and then negotiated with their current employer for more money with that as a bargaining chip… well it doesn’t necessarily make them a liar, but it certainly makes them less than forthcoming. Their previous actions spoke a thousand words, there is no reason to ask them about it. After all, you probably couldn’t trust what they said anyway… It would also potentially create a more stressful situation for the recruiter – and personally why be stressed about this candidate when there are others out there seeking employment with you?! Nahhh move on! Trying to cross a burned bridge is too dangerous, just take the other one

  2. RC Rascal*

    Speaking as the office tooth brusher: I had to go back into braces & palate expanders as an adult. With that kind of hardware in your mouth you simply must brush after every meal. Once you get in the habit it’s hard to stop, even after the braces come off.

    I figured as long as I cleaned up after myself i wasn’t bothering anyone.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I had braces as an adult. Fortunately I only needed them for about six months, but when I had them, I brushed my teeth every time I put something other than water in my mouth, so at least 3 times a day (morning coffee break, lunch, afternoon coffee break). For a while afterwards, I continued to brush my teeth after lunch. Then I noticed that I needed to buy a new toothbrush and toothpaste again, and decided to simply quit brushing my teeth at work instead.

    2. MoogMoog, Space Barber*

      I wonder if OP is working in a Japanese company or with a lot of Japanese nationals.

      I live and work in Japan and this is completely normal. Most bathrooms at my company have little lockers inside where people store their toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc.

      Japanese schools make students brush their teeth after lunchtime, so I think many adults feel that their mouths are dirty if they don’t brush.

      1. Bowserkitty*

        I wondered this too. I make it a point not to use the restroom at the end of our lunch hour because the hallway and the bathroom are full of people just standing there, idly brushing their teeth.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        Not just Japan, it’s perfectly normal and expected in all South American countries where I’ve worked. This is such an interesting cultural difference, I never imagined tooth brushing *could* be considered weird.

        1. Koalafied*

          I’ve worked entirely in the US but was born with crappy teeth, so I’ve always had to be extra vigilant about brushing and flossing. I did save the flossing for home, but in all my office jobs I’ve brushed my teeth after lunch and it never occurred to me either that anyone would find it weird. And I definitely saw other people doing it -not like a mad rush after lunch for the whole office or anything, but enough that I never felt like I was doing anything really outlandish.

          1. Canadian*

            I think it’s less that people find it weird, and more that we worry the more fastidious tooth-brushers are judging those of us who only brush twice a day. No one relishes the idea that others might think they are gross for only brushing the minimum number of times…

      3. Frankie*

        Not just in Japan. I’ve been to several Asian countries and am Asian myself. We brush our teeth every after meal and sometimes after morning and afternoon coffee, too.

      4. matcha123*

        Yeah, I work in Japan and it’s completely normal here. In college I’d always spot the Japanese and Chinese language teachers brushing their teeth after lunch.
        I keep a cheap hotel-style toothbrush and toothpaste in my desk just in case, but I normally do not brush at work. It can come in handy if I eat something garlicy, I’m meeting someone after work, or going to the dentist after work.

    3. JM60*

      Even if brushing teeth at work did bother people, it wouldn’t necessarily make it wrong. It’s a health issue, so as long as it’s done in a reasonable considerate manner, the problem is with the other person if they don’t like you brushing your teeth at work.

      1. hbc*

        It’s pretty weird how we come to think of things outside standard as wrong or bad. Someone is moving saliva around…in the same area where fecal matter is dealt with. The people who are brushing aren’t adding any significant risk for anyone, with the possible exception of themselves if they’re not careful about where they lay their equipment.

        1. Sorry for the noises*

          Chiming in as a person with IBS, I don’t begrudge the tooth-brushers their time in the bathroom but boy do I feel bad for them if they have to be in there with me.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I’ve had a few coworkers who brushed their teeth at work – and it was all on strict instructions from their dentist that they had to brush after every meal. They all considered it a huge pain in the ass and would totally rather not have to, but when you want to keep all your teeth in your head you do what you have to do.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I think as long as you clean up after yourself there’s no reason why you shouldn’t clean your teeth at work.

      I don’t think it is unhygienic or inconsiderate not to (unless, perhaps, you have been eating something such as fish or garlic where a quick brush afterwards is considerate to everyone!)

      OP , you are not gross for not doing it and it’s unlikely that any of your coworkers think you are, or are monitoring you closely enough to know.

    5. Speaks to Dragonflies*

      Wha…? Palate expanders? Like the roof of your mouth…that sounds terrifyingly horrible.

      1. frystavirki*

        I had one as a kid, actually. It’s to make all your teeth fit in your mouth when there’s not enough room for them. They only expand it a little bit every so often, so it mostly just aches a bit around when they do that and feels normal the rest of the time, and also the space between the expander and your palate is a magnet for food so you have to constantly fish stuff out of there. Annoying, not generally torture.

      2. GigglyPuff*

        I had the opposite, not sure what they’re called, but had to get my teeth pulled together. Basically a permanent retainer and my mom had to put a key in it every night and turn it, slowly tightening it. Such a relief to get it out.

      3. ThatGirl*

        Yep, I had one as a kid, along with braces; my brother probably should have but he has sensory issues that made that kind of dental work difficult. Anyway it was a whole thing with a key to expand it and so forth. My mouth is still kinda wonky, but you can really see his narrow palate when you look at him, and it means his teeth don’t fit in his mouth very well.

      4. Bee*

        It is indeed pretty horrible! You’re supposed to expand it roughly every other day, so your palate aches most of the time, and that’s not getting into how heavily it’s attached (or how it messes up the way you speak, by effectively putting a lower roof in your mouth – I couldn’t properly say the word “key” the whole time I had it in). But I’m pretty sure the one I had as a kid is the reason I haven’t had to have my wisdom teeth out – there was actually enough room for them to come in without messing up anything else.

      5. Irish girl*

        i had 2 of them at seperate times. One in 3rd grade and another in 8th grade when they put my braces on. It is a pain as well as painful. That is what i get for having teeth too big for my mouth.

      6. RC Rascal*

        Yes, it really is horrible. The adult kind don’t have a key like the kids ones do; they are more of a strong spring. I had both upper and lower for 4 months. You can hardly eat with them in. While this was going on I was a Business Development Director & part of my job was to take people out to lunch and host business dinners.

        The stories would probably merit a Friday or Weekend thread.

    6. Sc@rlettNZ*

      Yeah, I think it’s a weird thing to get wound up about. People brush their teeth after lunch, so what?

      1. Jack Straw*

        I got the sense the LW wasn’t necessarily worked up about it, but they were more so asking if this was a normal practice. Especially since they made the point to say this was their first professional job. I remember my first professional job, I was definitely cognizant of asking what might be “stupid questions” of those who were mentoring me and would’ve loved having an outside source like AAM.

      2. Anonym*

        Yeah, when I see people do it (my office had a couple of people who did) I just think, “oh, good idea, I should be doing that!”

        1. The Rural Juror*

          My immediate thought was, “Hmm…hope they don’t wear down their enamel by brushing too much…” But, that’s their and their dentist’s business, not mine!

    7. teacher*

      Yep. I started Invisalign a year ago and I really have to brush after eating lunch. Most coworkers who see me brushing always say something like “wow I should really be brushing too” so maybe this is what happened in OP’s office! I try to be efficient and move quickly so as not to hog the sink, and I always wipe down any splashes.

      To be honest, it is a pretty big hassle and as a teacher I have a tight schedule. I’ll be glad to be done with Invisalign so I don’t HAVE to brush at work every single day.

      1. Nicotene*

        I wondered if someone in the office got invisalign and that started a trend of it; other people noticed and asked about it, realized it might be good for then, etc. As a result, OP now works in an office of tooth-brushers :D

    8. LCH*

      I only brushed at work when I was wearing Invisalign during the day. now I just carry a brush and floss in the event I get stuff stuck in my teeth. but it isn’t an every day thing. also where I was then and am now were single occupancy bathrooms so maybe less of an issue to impact others?

    9. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My thoughts: as long as you are cleaning up after yourself and in an appropriate area (meaning not your desk or the office kitchen) go for it.

    10. bad genetics luck*

      I’ve been blessed with very weak teeth, and try to brush shortly after having coffee/tea or eating *anything* at all. It means I’m brushing/flossing many many times a day; I wish I didn’t have to, but it’s what I need to do to keep my teeth… at least the ones left.

    11. Database Developer Dude*

      Why are we having to justify this? It’s a BATHROOM, for crying out loud. Brushing your teeth isn’t a bad thing! It’s like the idiot Major who tried to mock me in front of everyone at the staff meeting “Oh, Chief thinks he’s a surgeon the way he washes his hands…..”. And my response was “So….you’re mocking me for being extra thorough in washing my hands….after using the bathroom……during a global pandemic………and *I* am the problem???” That did not go well for him.

  3. Mid*

    1. I have a dental issue that means I really should be brushing every single time I eat something. I’ve been known to brush my teeth in the office bathroom.

    2. I think because it’s a more senior position it makes sense to interview him, but I wouldn’t for a lateral move position. And definitely ask why he’s interested in the change now vs a few months ago. Maybe the promised him a title bump that never materialized, maybe he doesn’t like his current company but didn’t want to change health insurance in the middle of a medical issue, maybe he was using your company for a pay raise. You won’t know until you ask.

    4. The not professional part of me really wants you to tell the recruiter that you’d rather scrape fatbergs than work for their company, but that is not the part you should listen to. It would be absolute gold if you did though.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      As someone who loves words, I enjoy how “I’d rather scape fatbergs” would completely baffle someone even 10 years ago.

          1. Forty Years in the Hole*

            Though ‘scaping (sculpting or redesigning) a fat berg has an artistic oeuvre that…I don’t want to imagine. I’m sure some gallery would (over)pay to acquire said masterpiece.

      1. George Clooney*

        I’ve generally resisted the urge to say stuff like that and generally respond to unsolicited recruiter emails with a bland, polite “thanks but I’m happy where I am.” But for Company A, I’ve found it really satisfying to amend my stock reply “thanks, but I have no interest in working for Company A.” (The second time this happened, the recruiter politely replied to close the loop but Company A’s automated systems sent me an email with instructions on how to prepare for the phone screen.)

        (The weirdest recent unsolicited recruiter email was from someone who said they found my profile on (code sharing website that I use for some hobby projects) and were looking for people to do (stuff I occasionally dabble in). I was going to do the usual polite reply and also mention that I’m not really qualified or interested in that kind of work but stuff came up and I didn’t get around to it immediately.

        Within a day, they had sent a followup that began, “How was your day at (current employer)?” Note that while it’s not hard to find that information using only my name and email information, I’m very careful to keep hobby stuff completely disconnected from my job, so it’s not impressive that they found it but it’s pretty off-putting. My initial impulse, when I saw this was that it was a really inept doxxing threat.

        I was tempted to reply and ask why they did that but I couldn’t trust myself to be polite so I just didn’t reply. But now I’m overcome with curiosity.)

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      #4 I feel like it wouldn’t be a bad idea to tell that recruiter that you aren’t interested in working for that company, but obv it’s not necessary to do so. It just might get them off your back though. But if you do mention fatbergs in your response to them, LW, please do let us know, because that’s a great response.

  4. No Dumb Blonde*

    I brush my teeth if I’m leaving work for an appointment or to meet my spouse or friends after work. And sometimes — gasp! — I brush my hair, too.

    1. Cassie*

      That’s what I was thinking. The woman brushing at 5pm might have had a date. The only time I freshen up, reapply makeup etc at the end of the day is when I’m going out after work

      1. No longer working*

        I thought this too, that she had a date. Or even that she had a dental appointment!

        The guy who brushed his teeth after coffee – Coffee with milk/cream can leave you with sour breath. Maybe he was about to have a meeting with a manager and wanted to freshen up for that.

  5. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    #1: It’s unusual for that many people to brush their teeth at the office that often. But maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve sat at tables in conference rooms next to some of the worst coffee breath. And I’ve even smelled my co-worker’s coffee breath from across their desk. (My goodness, I hope no one has smelled mine! :) ) So maybe a culture of frequent teeth brushing can be a positive.

    1. MK*

      Is it really that many people? There is one person who regularly brushes their teeth, and twice in three years the OP has noticed two other people do it.

      1. MistOrMister*

        Maybe OP is in a super small office but I thought it was weird say so many people are brushing when it turned out to be only 3. I thought they were going to say the office has firmwide mandatory tooth brushing time or some such.

        I had no idea until this site that people paid so much attention to brushing in the office! I was one of the 2 or 3 regular brushers on my floor and I just cannot imagine people were falling all over themselves feeling like I was contributing to a culture of excess tooth brushing. Why do people find this so strange?? As long as the brushers clean up the sink and aren’t chasing everyone around, trying to aggressively make them brush their teeth too, why does this get so much notice? I don’t get it.

        1. Barbara Eyiuche*

          I find it strange because for me, it simply seems too disgusting to brush my teeth in a public washroom. Just thinking about it is making me feel a bit sick. Now if someone doesn’t mind brushing their teeth at work, go ahead – my own feelings are just feelings, not something I think should be a rule. But it does mean I notice.

          1. allathian*

            The bathrooms at my office are all single-stall ones. I would feel weird too, if I had to brush my teeth in full view of other people, but this problem doesn’t exist at my office. Now, if the public washroom is so filthy that it feels yucky to wash your hands, never mind your teeth, that’s a different matter. But even before the pandemic, our washrooms were thoroughly cleaned once a day, and I certainly made sure to clean the sink, and mirror if necessary, after brushing.

          2. Bagpuss*

            Our of curiosity, what about it feels disgusting to you? Is it that you don’t feel the tap / water you use would be clean?
            Obviously you feel how you feel, and I’m not trying to change your mind or invalidate your feelings, but given that your toothbrush wouldn’t touch anything except the inside of your own mouth, I don’t understand, and am curious about, what it is that squicks you out?

            1. ecnaseener*

              For me, it would be the amount of poop in the air from who knows how many people. Public bathrooms don’t usually have lids on the toilets to contain the flushing plume.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                Unless you’re storing your toothbrush in the bathroom that shouldn’t be anymore of a concern than breathing the air in

              2. A Toothbrusher*

                By that token, you are saturated with airborne poop particles the moment you walk in, and take them with you when you leave.

            2. JB*

              I’d be worried about not knowing what might be in the sink or on the faucet itself. It’s probably not entirely rational, but there are a lot more people going in and out of a work restroom than my own at home and I have much less of an idea of what they think is appropriate behavior. Some of them leave poop smears on the toilet, who knows what they may be leaving smeared on the sink?

            3. Barbara Eyiuche*

              Public washrooms just seem dirty to me. Objectively, many of them are probably cleaner than my bathroom at home, but there it is just me. In a public washroom who knows how dirty it really is. I have had bad experiences that are coloring my perceptions, though. For example, my boss at one place I worked at in South Korea would diligently clean the bathrooms every day, but he would use the same rag to wipe out the squat toilets that he would use to clean the sinks, and horrifyingly, the coffee maker. I was a patient at a hospital in Addis Ababa where again, they diligently cleaned every day, but the cleaners dipped their mops into the toilet to get them wet, then mopped the floor. And so on. So I am hyperalert to the fact that something can look clean, and actually be very dirty.

            1. Barbara Eyiuche*

              Frankly, just thinking about it can make me retch. I think brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once is enough. I can do that at home. If I got Invisalign, I guess I would have to get over my squeamishness, but for now I really do not need to brush at work.

        2. Birch*

          Seems like for OP it’s just about it making them second-guess their own habits and feel a bit insecure, wondering if they’ve somehow missed out on a workplace cultural norm. I get that–I’ve been in places where I’ve seen people brushing their teeth and suddenly worried that they thought I was disgusting because I wasn’t brushing mine at that particular time. People are really defensive about their own hygiene habits because people do get really intense about insisting that their own way is the one correct way and everyone else is disgusting. It’s not weird to notice things like this and start wondering about whether other people are noticing similar things about you.

        3. Daisy*

          I thought the comment about make-up was even odder. Of course people reapply in the toilets! How can you be unaware of that?

          1. Daisy*

            (Isn’t ‘powder room’ even an American euphemism for toilet? I remember Frasier Crane called his guest bathroom that.)

            1. metadata minion*

              Yes — if it’s someone’s house, it often specifically means the kind of bathroom that’s just a sink and toilet, no bath/shower.

              1. Kal*

                And if you’re in public, a euphemistic way of saying you’re going to the bathroom as a woman is saying you’re going to powder your nose. Which may or may not then include any actual reapplication of makeup.

              2. JB*

                Very interesting, I’ve never heard a half-bath specifically referred to as a powder room. I’ve always heard it in reference to public restrooms.

                1. The Rural Juror*

                  I work in residential construction and 95% of home plans I’ve seen labeled them as “Powder Bath.” I think it’s a trend and those change over time. I’ve also seen a couple label them as a “Water Closet,” which normally to me would mean a separate small room in a master bathroom that houses the toilet and/or shower. That’s not right or wrong…

            2. ThatGirl*

              Powder room is most commonly used for a half-bath (just toilet and sink) on the first floor of a house, but it can also be a synonym for any restroom.

        4. R2-beep-boo*

          Right? That’s not that many people brushing.
          I had a boss who literally brushed her teeth at the information desk in the library where we worked, so I was expecting something like that!

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          A handful of us do (or did–I’ve been WFH since March 2020). We all bring in water from the (filtered) drinking taps elsewhere in the building. We all wipe down the sinks.
          (If you’re worried about mess, in my office it’s from people who bless their hands in the water and shake their hands in the air with neither soap, nor towel. And those who drench counters, splash mirrors & walls, and leave soggy paper towels everywhere except the trash can.)

      2. fhqwhgads*

        I strongly suspect anyway that this situation isn’t so much one of “higher than normal people brushing teeth at the office” as it is “higher than expected people with orthodonture”. I just got invisible braces as an adult, and you take them off to eat and are supposed to brush before putting them back in. Also not supposed to drink things that might stain your teeth with them in. I think OP has Dilligent About What Their Dentist Said coworkers.

        I don’t really quibble with 3 = many, but I’m coming from a context where I’ve never seen anyone brush their teeth at work. Although, I’d been permanent WFH for 10 years so it’s been a while since I’ve been physically “at work”.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Most of my colleagues brush their teeth — we have a couple dozen employees in the office, although during The Current Unpleasantness, not all on the same day. Right now we just alert anyone coming into the bathroom that “I;m about to brush my teeth; do you want to wait or should I?”

  6. FlyingAce*

    Perhaps it’s cultural, but in my country it is (or was, before WFH) quite common to find coworkers brushing their teeth in the office bathroom after lunch time; nobody would bat an eye.

    1. LadyProg*

      Came here to say there same, where I’m from it’s really common for people to brush teeth after every meal, even in offices.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’m in the US and people brushing their teeth (and reapplying makeup) was a regular occurrence before WFH. I certainly used to do it before a dental appointment.

  7. Heidi*

    For Letter 5, there are probably lots of ways to state this:
    “Received two employee recognition awards for being a ninja/Jedi/guru/whatever cringey thing it was.”
    You can also think about making it pop a little bit:
    “Awarded for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence two consecutive years”
    “First employee to be recognized twice for being awesome at employment” (assuming that’s true)

  8. Kristen*


    I (student from the US at the time) worked in a small office in Costa Rica one summer. All the personnel brushed their teeth after morning coffee and lunch. The men even carried their toothbrushes around in their shirt pockets sometimes. Given that we greeted each other with hugs every morning I’m sure they thought my fellow students and I were lacking good hygiene since we didn’t initially. I remember we picked up on it. It doesn’t hurt to have coworkers influence one to have better hygiene!

      1. Dona Florinda*

        Yep. In my office is actually impossible to find a free bahtroom after lunch hours, because everyone is brushing their teeth.

    1. Kal*

      Though there apparently is some care to be taken when brushing teeth after eating/drinking. At least I’ve been told that food can often leave your mouth more acidic than the baseline, which means your tooth enamel will be softer after eating/drinking than usual (and imagine this would apply mostly to foods like coffee that are acidic). The same source said its better to wait a bit after the food for the mouth to go back toward baseline pH (and drink water which will slightly speed that process up and is generally just a good thing to remember to do) before you actually brush, otherwise you could actually be weakening your teeth by wearing away the enamel by brushing when its weak.

      Which isn’t an argument either for or against brushing after eating, especially since oral heath and hygiene is so individual, just another factor involved in it all.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yep, latest recommendation seems to be to wait 30 mins after a meal and to only brush 2x a day (I assume braces etc still get an exception to that part)

  9. just another manager*

    OP1 — is there any chance you have a terrific dental plan that covers braces like Invisalign? Because this is what my teen daughter is doing – she has to brush every time she eats. And you really can’t see the clear liners when they’re in. I forget she has them even though I’m the one making the payment every month! :)

    1. A Wall*

      Yep, you have to take them off to eat or drink (except like, water) and then brush your teeth before you can put them back on. I had to brush my teeth at work constantly when I had them, since you need to wear them as close to 100% of the time as possible in order for them to work. The second you’re done you gotta go brush and put them back on. I kept a travel toothbrush and toothpaste in my bag and in my desk for all the years I had em.

      1. Need More Sunshine*

        Tangential question, but how did you end up handling having to store a wet toothbrush away in your bag? I struggle with this when I travel – I get grossed out thinking about how my toothbrush can’t dry out and that germs must be just hanging out in the dampness. Ditto for my mouthguard that I wear every night.

        Obviously they’re in their own containers and cleaned before they’re put away but I always think there must be a better way! Maybe there’s no answer and I just have to get over it, but figured I’d bounce it off other people here who frequently store their toothbrush in a container/bag during the day!

        1. Nope, not today*

          This doesnt work for the office (unless you bring your toothbrush every day, rather than store it in your desk), but when I travel I wrap my toothbrush in a clean washcloth. Then when its damp it goes back in the washcloth, into my toiletry bag. When I get home, washcloth gets washed. Keeps the toothbrush from getting other stuff damp and also keeps it clean. Only solutions I’ve found, aside from a toothbrush container, which doesnt do much about the dampness.

        2. alienor*

          When I’ve brushed my teeth at the office, I’ve just used a clean paper towel to dry it before I put the brush away in its container. I’d tap the brush face-down on the paper towel to shake water out from between the bristles without sending it flying all over the bathroom, and then dry the whole thing and put it away.

        3. Marple*

          I wrap my toothbrush in a paper towel to keep in a pocket in my purse. Those plastic storage containers made for toothbrushes don’t allow them to dry and it’ll get all funky if you leave it without air circulation. This isn’t ideal, but it’s the best I’ve come up with.

        4. A Wall*

          I used travel toothbrushes that had caps that were tight enough to keep any moisture from leaking out. I had a little makeup bag that would have the case for the aligners, the toothbrush, and toothpaste, and in the makeup bag I actually put a few of those little moisture absorber silica gel packets from pill bottles. I did it so that I wouldn’t end up with any water leaking around in my purse, not because I wanted my toothbrush to be dry, but the end result was that the toothbrush did actually dry out after being in there a few hours.

          Also here’s the hot tip I got from my orthodontist for my retainer but that will work equally well for your mouth guard: Denture cleaning tablets. I have a glass next to my toothbrush in the bathroom, and every morning I fill it up with warm water and drop an Efferdent tablet in there. Take out my retainer, drop it in there, brush my teeth, go on about my day. At night when I brush my teeth before bed I rinse off the retainer and put it in. They make $$$ cleaning tabs for retainers and night guards and stuff that are harder to find and marketed better, but they’re essentially the same as the denture tabs and the denture tabs are extremely cheap and available in every drug and grocery store.

  10. Llama face!*

    Back before the world ended, I kept a travel toothbrush and paste in my desk to use when I had a long enough lunch break (I wasn’t going to rush through eating on short lunch days but longer lunch days I usually went and brushed). Right now we’re in the 4th wave and I’m wearing my mask in all public areas of my workplace, including the shared bathrooms, so I don’t. I would if I had safe way to do it since it feels much nicer when I can. But I wouldn’t have any judgement towards the majority of people who don’t brush at work- it’s not a big deal.

  11. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    #5, it’s not just about not using the embarrassing term, but about being clear. I got an award called something like “the Lucinda T. Allen Award” a couple years ago, named for a former teacher at my school, but if I were putting it on my resume I would instead just describe why I got it because no one knows who Lucinda T. Allen is.

    1. Patty Muss*

      Where I work there are 4 bathrooms, 3 of which have their own sink basins and shower stalls (inc. toilets). So it would not at all strike me as odd if staff were to practice dental and personal hygiene often.

    2. ecnaseener*

      With that type of thing I just do “Lucinda T. Allen award for excellence in Llama Grooming” — but with an embarrassing name I agree it’s fine to just leave the name out.

      Patty — nesting fail? :)

      1. Lab Boss*

        Likewise. Maybe it’s just superstition but “The Lucinda T Allen Award for X” just sounds more impressive than “a company award for X.”

    3. WhiskeyTango*

      At my office, there’s an award named for a former employee who also happened to share a name with a famous quirky science fiction writer. Obviously, I’d be flattered if people made the sci fi connection, but really it’s just about being a dedicated and thorough employee. (Which isn’t a bad thing either!) But I was pretty confused when they first told me I was nominated for the award myself. Science fiction has nothing to do with my job at all.

    4. Bibliovore*

      Very good point. Clarity’s important!

      Somewhat but not wholly tangential to that point: When I had surgery a couple of years ago I took short-term disability for the recovery period… which my workplace insisted on calling “STD”. My surgeon raised her eyebrows and laughed aloud when I handed her their “STD form” to fill out.

    5. Smithy*

      I think this kind of context is helpful even in regards to awards like Employee of the Month. If the pool of employees from which “employee of the month” is selected is a few dozen, that’s going to mean something very different than if the pool of employees is in the thousands. And for someone inclined to shrug their shoulders due to their past experiences, being able to say “nominated by multiple colleagues and selected from a pool of hundreds of candidates” is helpful.

  12. august*

    I guess it’s nice to be surrounded by well-kept co-workers when they choose to be.

    Coffee and some food also stains teeth and some people would rather brush after a drink to avoid that.

    And sorry if this is OOT but if people can’t reapply makeup in a shared bathroom, where are they supposed to? Or is it the middle of the day that’s questionable for OP? If it is, well sometimes makeup just doesn’t sit right after some time and needs to be reapplied and as Alison has pointed out, unless it takes up an egregious amount of time and space, is fine.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, on my first read through I missed the comment about makeup.
      I rarely use make up at all myself, due to multiple sensitivities and allergies, but it seems to me that it’s one of the main reasons why there are always mirrors in public bathrooms, it’s normal to check hair and make up and make any ‘running repairs’ which might be appropriate.

      It would be a bit odd if someone was spreading out dozens of products and spending 45 minutes doing full make up, although even that if they were (for instance) doing it at the end of the working day before going out wouldn’t faze me unless they were blocking access to, but reapplying lipstick or whatever would seem perfectly normal.

    2. DataSci*

      It just makes me really uncomfortable when I need to use the bathroom for its primary purpose and someone’s in there re-doing their face. Like they’re judging me for having actual biological functions, with their associated sounds and smells, in their beauty room. (This is partly my own paranoia, and partly based on Looks I’ve gotten as someone who dares to enter a stall when they’re doing their eyeshadow.) I mean, quickly re-applying lipstick after lunch, sure, but a full set of products?

      Also, people are perfectly capable of being “well-kept” without wearing makeup. Not everyone needs to adhere to your gender norms.

      1. JB*

        This reads as extremely defensive!

        I’m AFAB and don’t wear makeup, either, so I can kind of understand feeling judged (especially if you’re regularly encountering people applying a full range of makeup products in public restrooms – that sounds excessive and strange) but nobody here, especially not the person you’re responding to, said anyone needs to wear makeup for any reason or that people need to wear makeup to look “well-kept”.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Thank you! This response seemed a little…odd, and I wasn’t sure if it was just me! Alison made a really good point about the degree of makeup application that would be considered weird or excessive, but there’s nothing unusual about reapplying lipstick, or using powder/blotting papers if you’ve gotten a bit shiny, etc.

        2. Spencer Hastings*

          Top comment of this thread: “I guess it’s nice to be surrounded by well-kept co-workers when they choose to be.”

          I could interpret that as being either about the makeup or about the tooth-brushing. But to imply that people who only brush their teeth at home aren’t “well-kept” is just as odd, if not more.

        3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I read the “well kept” part of the comment as a reference to coworkers brushing their teeth, not about makeup.

      2. Allonge*

        I can undertand that most people have weird thoughts about what others may be thinking of them – I have it myself.

        But please remember this: others don’t think about us 1% of the time we perceive they are thinking of us. Someone making eye contact with another person entering a small space is much more likely to be the basic self-protection instinct than judging that other person for anything at all.

        1. DataSci*

          It’s an office bathroom. They shouldn’t expect that it is a 100% private space and that anyone entering it must be up to no good. (To be clear, I have no problem with people touching up makeup or brushing teeth in an office bathroom! I just have issue with people who act as though that is the sole use of the space and anyone else is invading their privacy.)

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            But most people who are applying makeup in an office bathroom AREN’T acting as if their privacy is invaded. This isn’t typical behaviour.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          It just seems like a strange thing to say, that brushing your teeth before and after you sleep, and not while out and about, equates to not being “well-kept”.

      3. Esmeralda*

        Well, that’s a you-problem, I think. Even the Looks — if someone comes into the bathroom while I’m at the sink, I’m gonna look at them, because…they’re there. In general, people really are not thinking that hard about other people. Assume good intent.

        Make-up: where should they be doing/re-doing their make up? Many workers do not have a private office with a door that closes. The bathroom is an appropriate place. As long as they aren’t hogging all the counter space with their products and making it impossible to wash up or use the mirror, it’s absolutely no problem. I myself use very little make up — but I’m fortunate to have my dad’s good skin genes and a 1970s crunchy granola vibe — but I have coworkers who need to or want to do their faces. They look great! Why would I care if they’re touching up foundation or reapplying mascara? And why should you? They’re not putting on make up AT you.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Only thing that annoys me in an office bathroom is when people use it as their personal phone booth. And even then, I remind myself that they knew what they were signing up for, and must be okay with random peeing, pooping, and flushing sounds in the background of their phone call; as well as with me overhearing them on the phone. Weird, but who am I to judge! Makeup is fine by me. Unless one has an office with a door that closes, there’s nowhere else to apply it or touch it up. I’ve never given or received any nasty looks though!

        Also, people are perfectly capable of being “well-kept” without wearing makeup. Not everyone needs to adhere to your gender norms.

        Okay, but not everyone needs to adhere to your norms, either? And I say it as someone who stopped wearing makeup to work years ago (but will still apply it if I have an interview or am going out after work).

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Not for nothing, but it seems that there’s a thing with some (I suspect most) AFAB people who’ve never worn makeup having some fairly skewed ideas about those who have.

      5. KittyCardigans*

        The “well-kept” comment is about tooth brushing, and the commenter didn’t say anything about gender. You’re being really defensive here for no good reason.

      6. LC*

        Looks I’ve gotten as someone who dares to enter a stall when they’re doing their eyeshadow.

        Of course you know these people and I do not, but I do want to mention the possibility that it’s not so much a Look at you as it is “I’m in the middle of applying eye shadow which means my face/eyes/hands are all in a different position than normal and a noise will make me glance toward it to make sure it’s nothing that’ll cause me to mess up/poke my eye out.”

        Or “gah someone came in, quick, make sure that you didn’t randomly decide to spread your stuff across the whole counter and that you aren’t standing in the middle of the walkway for some reason and that there is still plenty of mirror for everyone else to use and I’m not blocking any sinks!”

        As someone who has been told I have a naturally judge-y face anyway (cough mostly by older male bosses who never said anything like that to my equally RBF having male counterpart cough) and would occasionally reapply makeup in the bathroom, I can imagine someone misinterpretting any look on my face, especially if it was something they already worried about.

        It’s definitely possible that the Looks were exactly what you thought (which would be super bizarre and asshole-ish, but there are super bizarre assholes out there, so :shrug:), but even if that’s the case, I think it’s worth remembering that it won’t be the case the vast majority of the time.

  13. The Teapots Are on Fire*

    I was a member of a pre-professional education networking group and once was awarded, “The Order of the Thong,” for “providing support where there was none.”

    The back story is that our founder had put up logo merchandise on one of those print—on-demand sites and just checked off all the merch choices. He was later interviewed by a radio station who asked why there was a logo thong.

    The plaque hangs in a place of honor in my bathroom, but the award is sadly absent from my CV.

    1. Maid Dombegh*

      “Was awarded for providing support/ mentorship to future members of the profession.”

      But I need to know, did anyone buy the logo thong?

    2. Mental Lentil*

      The Order of the Garter is a very real thing.

      If the aristocracy survives long enough (and the math on this one says they will disappear sometime in the next century) The Order of the Thong could very much be a thing.

  14. Patty Muss*

    Where I work there are 4 bathrooms, 3 of which have their own sink basins and shower stalls (inc. toilets). So it would not at all strike me as odd if staff were to practice dental and personal hygiene often.

  15. Daniel C*

    Regarding 4, my strong recommendation for case 1 is not to say anything. At a previous position that I left for ethical reasons, when asked during the exit interview what they could improve at, I implied that they could read Glassdoor reviews for ideas. Not long after, they started filling Glassdoor with bland five-star reviews. My feedback was not used to improve the company but to try to hide better their flaws.

    I think that I have actually also received aggressive messaging from the same social media company. I am sure that, if I answered explaining why I rejected them, they would focus efforts on PR strategies (eg, ESG, token initiatives) to try conceal better their evil.

    1. ecnaseener*

      If it’s one of the big social media corps, they already know people think they’re evil and they already put plenty of money into PR. One person telling the recruiter why they declined to interview isn’t going to make a dent.

      1. JB*

        Exactly this. They know what people think of them; as long as there are still people willing to work for them and (more importantly) use and advertise on their site, they don’t care.

      2. 867-5309*

        I’m a bit late here but I disagree.

        It can be done respectfully but it’s important for recruiters to hear that a company’s reputation is affecting their ability to hire. I’ve done it a few times: “Thank you for reaching out. While the role looks interesting, I have concerns about how [insert company] is approaching [x, y and/or] and therefore it would not be a match for me to consider a job with the company at this time.”

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I think I’ve actually had the same response (quite possibly from the same social media company). If I reply at all (and sometimes I don’t even bother), I go with something like “I’m not interested in a new position right now.” My logic is that they can come up with plenty of things to justify the company’s business practices, but arguing about my feelings is a losing proposition from the beginning.

    1. Drago Cucina*

      I’ve known people who have. I always made it a practice to have a bottle of mouth wash and dental size paper cups in the single use staff restroom. We had a shelving unit that had a first aid kit, places for more personal items, etc. Especially during the normal flu season I would rinse with mouth wash once or twice a day. Working with the public I wanted to make sure that I was keeping reasonably safe. It also made me feel “fresher”, especially after lunch with my various crowns.
      When I finally get to be in my new space I’ll have a bottle.

  16. Tooth brushing in public is weird and unnecessary - for the most part*

    OMG #1 – I just started wearing Invisalign and now I am brushing my teeth at work and I feel so awkward. By, I think it’s weirder that people DO brush their teeth in a public bathroom with COVID still going on. I work where masks are still mandated indoors (LA county) so feel particularly awkward when I brush my teeth after lunch. I think it is weird to do. A flossing at the desk I get. But I have never in over 15 years working in offices brushed my teeth at a communal sink in an office bathroom prior to now. You are not gross for not doing it. It’s odd to me it’s your office culture.

      1. Tooth brushing in public is weird and unnecessary - for the most part*

        To be clear I’m just taking about flossing privately at a secluded desk where no one can see. Not publicly. I agree that doing it isn’t he open is not preferred. But if you have your own private office I don’t see the issue.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            On second thought I will add something that’s a little gross. I briefly shared a house with someone who would floss walking around. I couldn’t believe it when pieces flew out of his mouth in the living room and he didn’t see why I thought it was a problem. If he hadn’t left, I would have.

            1. Forty Years in the Hole*

              Have a long time friend who always and immediately whipped out floss and sawed away at table (home, restaurant etc). Just.so.gross. Finally after years of his wife and us negging on him to stop he did. But he still leaves his damned facial trimmings in our guest bathroom sink.

    1. brushandfloss*

      Flossing at the desk is worst now because you can’t wash your hands and if your hands are going to be in your mouth they should be washed with soap and water not just hand sanitizer.
      As long as people are cleaning the basin after they use it, there’s nothing weird or unnecessary about brushing at work. Just like you some people due to their oral/health needs have to brush/floss more often. And the bathroom is the proper place to do it.

      1. Tooth brushing in public is weird and unnecessary - for the most part*

        So I guess I don’t see the issue. I ALWAYS wash my hands after, I just use my private space to to d the actual flossing. I guess to each his own but I’m more grossed out by putting my toothbrush or toothpaste bottle on the common sink area these days than I am by flossing at the privacy of my desk and then getting up and washing my hands.

        1. Lunchtime caller*

          If it helps, as someone with Invisalign who has had to brush in airports and such the main thing is you don’t put your toothbrushing stuff onto any public surfaces! It’s always on a paper towel or my open purse or something (I will hold it all in a claw hold if necessary), and if I can use a water bottle then even better (though I will grimace my way through a quick swish after using my freshly washed hands as a water cup if truly necessary).

    2. Floss Hazards*

      Flossing at a desk is gross- it’s quite normal for spit and even tiny food particles to fly out of a person’s mouth. That definitely needs to be bathroom only at work!

      1. Tooth brushing in public is weird and unnecessary - for the most part*

        Tbh I’m surprised how many people think it’s gross to wash your hands, floss privately where people can’t see you, then wash your hands after. I do not put anything down on the bathroom counter and I do not want to make other people feel uncomfortable by unmasking in an environment where we are all required to wear masks all the time.

        Maybe the perspective is cubes of people with neighbors? I’m just talking about a very private situation with no one around and proper washing up. I’m not like sitting around flossing with people next to me.

        1. Ron McDon*

          I’m afraid agree with the others – when I floss, it’s not uncommon for bits of food or spots of saliva to fly from my mouth, and doing that in an office (whether a private one or not) rather than a bathroom feels icky!

          You are of course free to carry on doing what you prefer – but it’s helpful to be aware your colleagues may also find it icky if they witness you flossing in your office :)

          1. Tooth brushing in public is weird and unnecessary - for the most part*

            Tbh I don’t even think I said I floss at work. I said I brush my teeth in the communal bathroom and feel awkward about it. So it seems super odd to me that people are ready to beat me up in the parking lot over the fact I feel odd brushing my teeth in an environment where everyone is masked st all times and no one brushes their teeth. This is all very odd to me. But reminds me why I don’t comment I things in general on the internet. People are so weird and make all sorts of wild assumptions about you as a human. I just was like yeah I think it is weird but have started back g to do it myself lately – but also still find it awkward. Literally this was my point. And obviously the internet is like YOU HEATHEN.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              There are people who are gonna feel uncomfortable regardless of what you use the bathroom for, sadly. Pooping? ‘Eww I don’t want to hear that!’, farting? ‘you got no right to invade my nose with your stench!’, throwing up? ‘omg you took off your mask/that’s offensive’…

              Bottom line, don’t worry about it. We can *try* to offend others less but it’s never a 100% thing if you’re having to curtail normal human activities to do it.

              See also: breastfeeding/pumping/insulin injections

              1. Allonge*

                Yes, this is my conclusion too – anything that happens or would normally happen in a bathroom (if only for a need for a mirror), anything that points to our life as physical / biological beings will seem icky to some people. Acknowledge this as fact, shrug and ignore is my preferred way to handle it – ick will ick.

                Over here people apply makeup on trams and other public transport (pre-mask times anyway, I have not seen it recently). The first time you see it it’s weird. Then it’s just a thing that happens.

            2. brushandfloss*

              If people misunderstood you is because your username states that brushing in public is unnecessary and people are responding to that and explaining why is necessary.
              You also stated you flossing a one’s desk is okay again commenters mentioned why it is not acceptable. And no I don’t think the vast majority of people who floss at their desks are washing their hands before or after. I seen people just keep touching papers phones and pens without any regards that their hands were just in the mouths.

            3. Ron McDon*

              Sorry if I misunderstood- I was replying to these comments of yours:

              ‘To be clear I’m just taking about flossing privately at a secluded desk where no one can see. Not publicly. I agree that doing it isn’t he open is not preferred. But if you have your own private office I don’t see the issue.’


              ‘I’m just talking about a very private situation with no one around and proper washing up. I’m not like sitting around flossing with people next to me.’

              Which sounded like you were saying it’s ok to floss at your desk.

            4. ecnaseener*

              You did, in fact, say that you floss at your desk.

              “I just use my private space to to d the actual flossing.”

            5. Nope.*

              Oh come on, let’s not exaggerate. People are disagreeing. They’re not threatening to “beat you up in the parking lot.”

          2. JB*

            Personally I always floss in the bathroom, but I will say I have never had food or saliva fly out of my mouth when flossing and now I’m worried I might not be doing it correctly! Should I be more vigorous?

      2. JSPA*

        Sharing mouth contamination (Covid and other mouth – communicable diseases) in a small space where everyone has to go, is better, just because it’s out of view? Are the early posters all in NZ?

        1. allathian*

          I guess I should have specified that I brushed my teeth at the office before the pandemic. Since March 2020, I’ve been to the office exactly once to pick up some stuff I didn’t want to carry home when we went fully WFH. This was about a year ago, when I got a ride with my husband who had a day off work, and took our son shopping for new clothes before school started for an hour while I picked up my stuff and had a chat with the few coworkers who were there. This was before the 2nd wave.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’m incredibly lax at dental stuff (please no jokes about British teeth), have a major fear of dentists and the only thing I feel when seeing others brush their teeth in the loos is guilt. Big amounts of guilt!

      The main risk of germs in a bathroom are the oral/fecal transmissible ones (Covid isn’t transmitted that way – can’t survive stomach acid) which as long as you wash your hands thoroughly before getting them up close to your mouth you’re ok. Taking masks off for a few minutes brushing is a very low risk factor as long as one takes the consideration of bringing the face close to the sink when they spit (no gobbing it out from 3 feet away!).

      1. Tooth brushing in public is weird and unnecessary - for the most part*

        So also to be clear, I’m not worried about getting COVID because I had my mask off for a minute. I am concerned about other people being uncomfortable with it. The dictates of my count and my company are that you wear a mask. I don’t want other people to feel uncomfortable because I’m turning the small bathroom into my own personal space. I Guess I am really struggling to understand why people think I should be comfortable acting like the public toilet system my work is my own personally space and seem to be horribly offended and put off that I don’t think I should just sprawl out like it’s my house.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I think I’m misunderstanding you, sorry.

          Nobody is saying sprawl out, I’m not offended by your stance! I’m trying to assuage some fears is all.

          1. Tooth brushing in public is weird and unnecessary - for the most part**

            Understood! No worries. I was just trying to express that doing personal things at work like brushing your teeth can be awkward. I didn’t feel so awkward about it pre covid, even though I did it less frequently. I think it’s ok sometimes if we feel awkward and weird and unsure and do stuff anyway! That’s most of my life in a nutshell.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Oh mate, 100% with you. I do weird stuff regularly with far less of a damn to give than before I hit my 40s but can still feel odd e.g. parking in the disabled bay because it’s not always obvious that I’m disabled and I worry about people thinking I’m a faker.

              Not for long mind :)

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yeah, let’s not hate on that – it’s a useful task that provides value for the world, which frankly is more than I can say about a lot of white-collar prestige jobs!

    2. Lionheart26*

      I very much value and appreciate the job. I also don’t particularly want to do it. It seems like a reasonable comparison tool to me.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        But OP isn’t comparing work in the sewers to a role they value but don’t want — they’re comparing it to a role they have a ‘strong moral objection’ to, which I think is what Dragonflies is responding to.

        1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

          You’re right Dumpling, although my comment was partially in jest, there is a serious side to it. I understand that not everyone would want to do what I do for a living. It’s not glamorous. It’s dirty. It’s nasty. You see, smell and get stuff on you that would gag a maggot and make a buzzard puke. But it’s also necessary. It keeps rivers, lakes and streams clean for people and wildlife. It takes care of all the stuff you send down the drain so you don’t have to and if I’m doing my job well, you never know it. So please, don’t look down on my job and others like it…(looking at you trash collectors and roadkill clean-up crews.) We deal with the nasty so you don’t have to.

          1. GrewUpBlueCollar*

            Let me say thank you publicly, then. I most definitely appreciate clean water and was recently ecstatic to receive a shiny new trash can from the company after my old one broke. We don’t appreciate these jobs enough.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Agreed – it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. Mike Rowe had it right, there are lots of Jobs that are dirty/gross/not highly thought of but are critical to the running of our normal world.

          2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            Exactly. It feels a bit disingenuous to imply that the role they’ve used as an example is irrelevant — our culture clearly has conferred a lot of social cache to certain roles and less to others, and when we use this language we’re reiterating that valuation.

            A role that I value and appreciate but don’t want to do might be baker, but if I’d written a letter in saying “I find this job morally objectionable — I’d rather bake cupcakes than do such a thing” people would be confused and want to know what’s wrong with baking cupcakes.

          3. ecnaseener*

            I think that’s exactly OP’s point: they would rather do something physically revolting but useful vs something physically cushy but morally repugnant.

          4. R*

            As opposed to a job at Evil Social Media Company where you also see stuff that would make a buzzard puke, but instead of providing a useful service to humanity you have a role in the dismantling of democracy, the corporate homogenization of the internet, and the eventual dismantling of truth.

            I say say it to the recruiter. Taking money to funnel talent to an evil organization is an evil act. I doubt very few people in the recruiter’s life call him out on his evil. What do you have to lose?

          5. JB*

            Nobody was looking down on your job. Literally what the LW said is that it’s unpleasant but valuable work.

        2. JB*

          Comparing things doesn’t mean that the two are the same.

          “I’d sooner take this very unpleasant job because it’s honest and valuable work, rather than doing dishonest work in your comfortable office environment” is not a bad thing to say.

    3. LifeBeforeCorona*

      It’s nothing to do with fatberg cleaners in general. They are stating they would rather clean sewer pipes blocked with years of waste than work for a certain company. I would rather count snakes than work for an old workplace again.

        1. comityoferrors*

          I think it just…has a certain air of “you couldn’t *pay* me to do something like [Job That Actual People Have and Are Paid For].”

          Obviously we can’t read tone through text, and I think it’s as likely that the OP was being casually dismissive as paying respects to the profession (a la the other train of thought that OP is *actually* saying sewer work is honorable and valuable, which isn’t supported by the post either). It seems pretty fair for someone who does the job mentioned to chime in. We see this all the time with posts that are (outright or referential to) dismissive about admins.

        2. Speaks to Dragonflies*

          Hmmmm…Yeah, its possible I took the Op’s phrasing in a way that it wasn’t ment. For that, I apologize. I’ll admit that it’s a sore spot for me when it seems that jobs, and the people doing them are looked down upon. I may have been too quick to judge,and too slow to comprehend.

    4. hbc*

      There are many jobs that have value, dignity, and worth, but that exactly zero people hold up as a dream job. I don’t think we always have to asterisk the reality that people who have the skills to scrape grease and write code will usually choose the latter for both comfort and money.

      1. PT*

        My house is upwards of 100 years old. We’ve hired several sets of workers to do work in the crawlspace and I am consistently surprised that anyone would willingly work in a job where they have to regularly go into crawlspaces. I’m glad they do it and am happy to pay them, because my crawlspace is horrible and under no circumstance would I ever go in there. I would probably let the house fall down before I went into it myself.

  17. Bostonian*

    When I worked in Japan everyone in the office brushed their teeth after lunch!

    The ladies room had a big area with sinks when you came in, a sort of 2m x 2m nook with a really well lit mirror and tiny lockers/cubbies for each worker, and the toilets in back. Almost everyone left their cubby open with a hand towel draped over the door to dry (towels were not provided, although we did have very luxe Toto toilets with heated seats, bidet, and all that jazz) and kept toothpaste and a toothbrush there. Some ladies had makeup they would retouch. It was just the done thing.

    I tried to keep it up when I came back to the states, but I always felt super exposed/ awkward/ embarrassed to be carrying around my toothbrush. Not that it’s a gross or embarrassing thing, it was just when it was only me I was weird…

    1. Marillenbaum*

      That sounds like a lovely little setup! When I was in grad school, I paid extra (about $50 a semester) for a locker in the student lounge with toiletries for times when I had a long day: deodorant, toothpaste/brush, a small hairbrush, etc. It made things so much easier when I had something come up, like a Big Important Guest Lecturer, or just a morning when I was running late and needing to skip a step or two to be on time.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      OMG! The Toto toilets!!!!
      I stayed at a hotel in NYC once that had those. Naturally, I had to try every setting because I had never seen or used on before. So nice!

      I work for a Japanese company, but unfortunately our bathroom setup was all American basic. And the ladies room was really small (only 4 stalls) considering the large number of female employees. Often one had to to go downstairs to the lobby to use the restrooms. WHY can’t buildings design larger Ladies restrooms? It’s such a pervasive version of sexism.

  18. Andy*

    LW1 I can confirm that I started to wash teeth in work after I have seen collegue doing it and realized it is not a bad idea. I had issues with teeth, it sux, so this will either help or won’t harm.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Well, do ask your dentist! Overbrushing actually can harm your teeth, my dentist told me to only brush 2x a day.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Yeah, I only do a quick brush at night and a good once-over on my tongue before bed because of thinner enamel on my teeth. I do the full 2-min timed w/ an electric brush in the morning. I don’t want to wear away the enamel that I have! So brushing mid-day at the office for me is a no-go.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP4: there’s a firm in the UK that employed me once and I straight up quit with no job to go to because they were THAT bad.

    Unfortunately they’re a very big employer in my area of expertise and I’ll get recruiters calling me with ‘great opportunities’ and getting me interested…till they drop the name of the firm.

    I’ve got many years of revenge fantasies against that firm and goddess is it tempting to say ‘that lot did XYZ to me and they can burn to the ground for all I care’ but…I fall back on ‘not interested’. If pushed I’ll say ‘I’m not interested in working for that place’. Basically it’s repeating ‘not interested’ till they bugger off.

    If the firm called me direct? Personally I’d love to tear them to pieces, but professionally I can’t. Not interested, then go lock myself in the server room and practice curse word combinations.

  20. Ponytail*

    LW4 – that second recruiter possibly won’t even care that they ghosted you before. I dealt with an agency that were advertising a cracking job – great money, huge reduction in my commute, working for an organisation I’d been wanting to work for, for 10 years, the whole shebang. They were super enthused, loved my background, and asked me to send in my cv. And then…Crickets. Nothing. No response, no call back, no response to my follow up call and emails, nothing.

    Less than a year later, I was working at a sister organisation to the cracking one, and needed to hire a temp assistant. Used the agency, as they were the only one I was allowed to use, and actually met the recruiter in person. I couldn’t help but mention that we’d spoken before and that I assumed she’d moved away from the agency, as I’d never heard back about the first job. She could not have cared less. Brushed over it like it was nothing, no apology. I think recruiters just have a really thick skin and act in the moment for whoever their client is, and everything else is just ballast.

  21. Elle by the sea*

    Teeth brushing reminds me of school! At home and in school it was instilled into us that we have to brush our teeth thrice a day or even after every meal. If I eat eggs, dairy or meet, I have to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth, otherwise I don’t feel fresh, since all of these things start smelling terribly in the mouth after a while. I have lunch around 12 and work until at least 6 pm every day, and by the time I get home, it will be later than 8 pm. So, I can’t really wait until then. Chewing gums are a good option too (most people in my office use chewing gums to clean their breath), but I think it’s incredibly rude to chew gums in front of others, so I still didn’t manage to get myself into the habit.

  22. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    #5: No Name needed for award, similar to how listing grants or scholarships by their name on a resume/application in academia “The Batman and Robin Fund” makes no sense (unless they’re known beyond a specific organization) because it doesn’t indicate the actions that merited winning them.

  23. Reality Check*

    #1 I feel positively gross if I don’t brush & floss after every meal. Food always gets trapped between my teeth, and I’m very prone to cavities.

  24. EBStarr*

    For #4, if the recruiter actually works for the large social media company, I actually think there is a point to stating why you aren’t interested! These companies are always competing for qualified candidates, and if they lose out on enough people for similar reasons (for example, “I won’t work for you because you gave politicians a platform to foment an insurrection”… just a hypothetical) then it’s possible they could be motivated to change their behavior. I’m a software engineer and I’ve definitely heard of colleagues doing this, trying to take advantage of the fact that engineers are in high demand to influence large companies for the better.

    Caveat: I’ve never done it myself because I always get into a loop of drafting and rewriting the email trying to make it as convincing and rhetorically effective as possible, and then it never gets sent. Maybe I should get over myself and just do it next time!

  25. Asenath*

    I’ve seen people brushing their teeth in work washrooms and even public ones. I wouldn’t think it was unusual enough to comment on, although most people don’t seem to do it (or perhaps don’t happen to do it when I’m present).

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I’ve felt icky the couple of times I needed to brush my teeth at the airport because of a long-haul overnight flight. That type of public restroom feels very weird to me, but I wouldn’t bat an eye at someone doing it in a public office restroom. I guess it’s because the amount of people that go through an airport bathroom…

  26. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    #1 – I’m wondering if the teeth brushing is related to mask wearing at all. Because I know I become VERY aware of my own breath when I suddenly have to breathe some of it back in. I’d be curious to know if this was a thing for their office in the Before Times.

    1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

      Never mind. Just reread it and saw that it’s been going on for years. Oops…

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*


          I will admit that I brush three times a day. My dentist is fine with it, and has even remarked that he wished other of his patients would be as diligent about their oral health.

          I think in the end, brushing at work comes down to being courteous, doing it in a bathroom, and cleaning up after yourself.

  27. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #3

    Yes, that was way too much information to give someone about why Jane, or anyone, left. Giving the employee this much information in the way you gave it makes it seem like there was some big drama around it, or there’s something to hide. All you needed to say was that she left for another job and that’s it.

    1. Princess Flying Hedgehog*

      Especially with student workers, they leave all the time due to class conflicts, internships and other experiential learning, graduating, personal reasons, etc. It would be fine to say that she resigned as it no longer fit with her academic commitments.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*


      I’d love an open thread about WFH situations where your pet is your coworker and you’re writing into Alison about their behavior – maybe she could pick a few fun ones to respond to?

      1. Ray Gillette*

        Dear Alison, my coworker starts yelling about lunch a full hour before lunch time. He’s normally great, but he just will not shut up! It’s really distracting when I’m on calls, so I shut my office door, but then he stands outside the door and continues to complain. Should I spray him with water when he does this?

        1. Skittles*

          Dear Alison
          My coworker keeps standing by my desk and staring at me silently for extended periods of time. Eventually I figured out that he would stop staring if I turned the heater on for him but now he just lies on the floor next to my desk and sleeps all day. Is this normal?

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Dear Alison,
            My coworker seems to be unhappy with their workspace and has proceeded to rip the stuffing out of, in my opinion, a very nice bed that was recently purchased for them by the company. Should I tell management? Would that be tattling? Am I just jealous because they didn’t buy me a nice bed?

          2. Gracely*

            Dear Alison,
            My coworker literally drapes herself over my keyboard or sits in front of my monitor so I can’t do my work. She even stares at me like I’m in *her* way. It’s not all the time, but it’s often enough to be annoying. When she does this, the only way to get her to move is to let her sit in my lap, but that’s problematic for different reasons.

            What can I do? I’m scared if I report her to HR, there will be retaliation. She has very sharp claws.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Dear Alison,
        My coworker steals my chair when I get up for a minute, then insists on sitting on my lap and putting her head into my armpit. Other times this coworker sits on my keyboard and photo bombs my virtual meetings.
        The worst is when she follows me into the bathroom and complains loudly while I;m doing my biz. Sometimes she even sits in the sink while I’m trying to wash up or brush my teeth.
        Is this stalking or harassment? What can I do?

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          The follow-up:
          Dear Alison,
          I was on a video call with a client that my coworker photobombed by mooning the camera without any pants on. Does this count as harassment if her butt is furry enough to obscure any…details?

      3. Jackalope*

        Dear Alison,

        I know you responded previously to someone who bit their coworker, so I was wondering if you could weigh in for a bystander? My two newest hires are siblings, and insist that biting and jumping on each other is normal and affectionate, but it gets disconcerting to see them chewing on each other all the time. As their manager, how should I handle this?

        They also have a strange obsession with mice. I got used to seeing them carrying around catnip mice in their mouths, but now it’s escalated to sitting on my computer mouse and not allowing me to move it. I’ve tried to set boundaries but they refuse to respect them.

        I guess I’m beginning to have concerns about my hiring choices. I try to look at abilities and not age when choosing my next call, but maybe 3 months old was a little bit TOO young?

  28. KR*

    Fellow commenters, I was recently made aware of this tidbit and my dentist confirmed it – if you eat or drink something acidic like coffee or sugar, you should wait 15-30 minutes before brushing your teeth! Otherwise you are brushing your enamel when it’s still soft from the acid, which can damage it. My dentist did say that rinsing with water right after you have something sugary or acidic is a good practice, then brushing later on.

    I used to keep mouthwash in my desk and mouthwash after I finished my morning coffee. Not unusual to see teeth brushing, I think.

    1. SarahKay*

      So recent research seems to show that black coffee – without sugar or other sweeteners is actually good for the health of one’s teeth, although admittedly will still stain them, and leave one with coffee breath.

      And, on the understanding that the singular of data is most certainly not anecdote, so take what you will from this: I can say that I’ve not needed any fillings since I started drinking coffee regularly during the day about nine years ago, having acquired perhaps four fillings in the nine-ten years before that.

  29. Sock Knitter*

    #2’s letter reminded me of someone who used to work in my office. They were unhappy with the job, so they applied for a different one. After they accepted the job, there were some sort of honeyed words that I wasn’t privy to, and the person didn’t leave after all. They instead got a pay raise for the exact same job. That bought management less than a year’s additional time from the employee, but conditions didn’t improve (which was the bigger issue) so they cited family needs and quit outright. Perhaps your candidate is going through something similar. I agree that it’s worth talking with him in an interview.

  30. Mannheim Steamroller*


    My first thought was that if everybody is brushing their teeth early enough in the day, they might be living at the office (which would be even scarier).

    1. ecnaseener*

      Or they just left home right after breakfast? You’re actually supposed to wait a half hour or so before brushing, especially if you have coffee with your breakfast.

    2. Generic Name*

      I worked in an office building with individually-rented suites (but shared bathrooms and kitchen) where I’m pretty sure one of the offices had someone living in it.

  31. anonymous73*

    #2 – before I read Alison’s response, I thought “just be honest”. You say he would be great for the senior position so I’d definitely give him a shot, just let him know why you’re hesitant to move forward and see what he says.
    #3 – yeah WAY too much information. Even if the student wasn’t just asking a generic “what happened with Jane” question, the details are none of their business, especially since you didn’t have them all. And it’s really not your business to share the details with everyone even if you did have them. People move on. And by providing too much (possibly inaccurate) information, you’re just feeding the rumor mill.
    #4 – I’ve found it best to just ignore them. I lost my job last fall (finally started my new one a month ago) so I’ve been dealing with A LOT of recruiters, and the majority of them are clueless. If I had a dollar for every time I got a job description that had NOTHING to do with my skills, or skills I had 20 years ago that are now obsolete, I could pay off my mortgage. The aggressive ones are my favorite. They call, email and text me all within 5 minutes. I spoke to one once, and regretted it almost instantly. He was so all over the place I had to keep repeating myself because he wasn’t listening.

  32. nerak*

    I thought it was revolting when people brushed their teeth at work pre-pandemic, and now even more so. It’s one thing to spit in a sink at home, where the people you live with are either family members or roommates, but I don’t need to see/hear/experience my coworkers’ spitting into the sink where I wash my hands at work. I get it if you have an actual, medical need for it, but I still think it’s gross. I wish there was a designated “tooth-brushing sink” so I could know to use the other ones to wash my hands. I’m not saying any of this is rational or an actual cause for concern health-wise.

    1. Anononthis*

      If you’re disgusted that sometimes people spit in the sink, I’d hate to tell you what they do in the stalls.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Are you touching your hands to the basin? ??

      It’s gross if your colleagues aren’t rinsing down the spit…but if they are, well, that’s what sinks are for.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        I am very confused by the level of revulsion on display. If you think using the same sink as someone who brushed their teeth is bad, I’m really concerned how people will act when they realize they’re sharing a toilet!

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          I have a strong suspicion that a lot of these revolted people grew in households where people didn’t usually quickly rinse the sink after brushing their teeth and spitting.

    3. BookMom*

      I brush after lunch. I prefer a single restroom but that’s not an option at my current employer. I do try to be somewhat discreet and not inflict the sight of toothpaste foam on others, by rinsing the sink while spitting instead of waiting until the end and shutting my mouth around the brush if someone enters the sink area on their way to a stall.

      This is a basic hygiene function performed in a space designated for such activities.

  33. Falling Diphthong*

    OP3, I think your student employee meant it in the casual way Alison heard–Huh, Jane isn’t here, I shall enquire after her in a friendly and sociable manner. “She moved to Accumulated Alpacas” is all you need.

  34. Lady Blerd*

    LW1: I am now the owner of two dental crowns and I am coming around to the idea that I will have to at least use the scrubbers to get bits of found at the root of my crowns. This could be what is going on.

    1. FD*

      I mean, it’s more than I’ve ever seen do it in any of the places I worked so I’m kind of with the LW on that!

    2. RagingADHD*

      No, it is not. It’s on the low end, I’d say.

      I think LW1 must not only be new to the workforce, but work in relatively small companies.

    3. Jack Straw*

      Depends how many people are in the office. In my previous office of 11, yes. That’s kind of a lot of people. In my current office of several thousand, not so much.

  35. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    #5, wow does that hit home… As my username betrays, I am a big fan of ancient Italian culture. I don’t hide it; Roman philosophies like “divide and conquer” and “more speed, less haste” make frequent appearances in my notes and plans and Latin phrases bubble to the surface (though I do try to make sure they’re not essential to understanding my message).

    Anyway, about 18 months ago, our leadership decided to recognize me again, and knowing my interest in and enthusiasm for Latin/Roman culture, picked one of the few Roman names they recognized for the award. Our leadership likes to make up creative award names (e.g. “Batman Award” for an employee on night shift or “Jackie Robinson Award” for their new-employee-of-the-year). Once you do the cultural translation to modern times, my award basically ended up being the “Benedict Arnold Award for Loyal Service.” Of course, my supervisor had a fire to put out at the time of the recognition meeting, so I had more than a dozen excited coworkers call to congratulate me (by the name in the award) and by the time I did receive the official call, the only response I could muster was a flattened and tepid “do I still have a job?”

    Even before that, I didn’t put company awards in my résumé because it’s hard to fully disconnect their retentive features from those of recognition. After that one, though, where would I even start to explain or frame?

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        The Brutus Award could have been spun well–afterall, Lucius Junius Brutus was one of the leaders of the revolution that expelled the last of the kings of Rome and one of the first Consuls of the Republic. It’s Marcus Junius Brutus who is remembered as one of Caesar’s assassins.

        It wasn’t Nero (who there is some evidence wasn’t quite the monster he’s remembered as). I don’t want to come right out and say it, but the hints I’ll give are Thracian, after Sulla, and before Caligula. Most Americans won’t recognize him as a villain, but Roman citizens likely would (cf Hannibal Barca).

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I would guess Caligula’s uncle (who was truly barbaric to his own family – I believe only Caligula and two younger sisters survived said uncle’s wrath), but I don’t know if he is Thracian.

          (Sorry, can’t remember uncles name – it’s just slipping my memory.)

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Are you thinking of Tiberius? Lineage gets confusing due to the tradition of adopting one’s heirs. Tiberius is another leader where it’s challenging two millennia later to sort out the truth.

            Trajan was the first emperor born outside of Italy (to Italian families that had relocated to Spain a generation earlier), about 60 years after Caligula’s death. The award wasn’t named after an emperor or consul.

        2. nothing rhymes with purple*

          Spartacus? Did they really want to give you an award named after Spartacus? That would be beautiful.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Benedict Arnold Award for Loyal Service” is definitely an award my sector would come up with thinking it was cute

  36. Eldritch Office Worker*

    Oof, I’ve definitely applied makeup at work. In the time when I needed a mask for public transit but not for the office (because everyone was vaxxed) I’d actually apply all my makeup at work so it didn’t get messed up on my way it – now we’re back to indoor masking and I’m mostly just skipping makeup, too much hassle.

    I’m in earlier than others but it’s not inconceivable someone would see my makeup bag on my desk before I put it away or see me reapply lipstick after lunch. I hope it’s not a big deal! No one’s mentioned it.

  37. RagingADHD*

    LW, what is “normal” is to politely ignore what other people do in the bathroom, as long as it isn’t intruding on you, creating a health hazard, or leaving a mess.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Well I think that’s a little unfair – the crux of the question was “am I gross for not doing this/are my personal norms off base”. It’s also “normal” to reassess what we understand when we notice behavior that goes against it.

      1. RagingADHD*

        The whole question of who is weird here, or what is gross, presupposes that someone in this situation must be weird or gross.

        That supposition is false. Neither brushing nor non-brushing at work are weird or gross. Putting on makeup is not weird or gross.

        The whole concept is based on a judgmental attitude (toward self or others) that is totally unnecessary. MYOB, especially in the bathroom, and you save yourself a lot of needless worries.

      2. GNG*

        Even though your description of OP’s question is accurate, I think RagingADHD’s point still stands – OP’s concern was addressed in this comment. The “normal” is to understand adults at work need to do what they need to do to take care of their personal hygiene, as long as it’s not creating issues as Raging ADAD described. Comparing oneself against every minor thing that other people do to maintain their own bodies at work just creates unnecessary anxiety.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Absolutely true! But three years out of college this is how you learn professional norms. You observe, you ask questions – I agree with the point that hygiene and bathroom practices should not be open to scrutiny, but it’s also hard to turn that analytical mind off, especially when it makes you question your own cleanliness!

          I feel like we’ve all had the occasional smelly office worker or non-handwasher who would have served everyone better by paying more attention.

          1. GNG*

            I do agree that observing and asking questions is valuable for learning workplace norms. OP’s approach is problematic because they seem to be 1). overly focused on other’s minor personal hygiene practices, and 2). approaching their observations with a black-and-white mindset (gross/not gross) that comes off as judgmental of themselves and others.

            OP should redirect their focus of observation and questioning away from other’s personal hygiene, and instead focus higher value observations related to actual work. They should also learn that there is a range of behaviors that are within the norms, that not every one need to be doing the exact same things to be considered normal.

  38. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #5 – having odd awards is sometimes an important part of company culture. No idea if that’s true for you or not, but I’ve run across interesting things at past jobs, and with partner companies. You don’t need to list the name, but that can be a good story in the future.

    I read something (in Harvard Business Review, maybe?) about banana pins. Summary goes – the CEO believed in giving immediate rewards for good work. He was in the office on a Saturday, eating lunch, when one of his reports ran in excitedly to announce that they’d solved a big problem. CEO had nothing to give this person, so handed over the banana from his lunch. Company later got a bunch of enameled banana pins to hand out as awards, and getting one of those was a real sign that you’d done something well, and they were displayed proudly.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Okay – I think this is really neat – and it started from a very genuine place.

      For the OP, I agree with the suggestion to focus on what the award was for.

  39. Jack Straw*

    LW #5 – Can you make the cringey award name into an acronym? I had an award on my resume that was an acronym (ICUE) and I listed it as:

    -ICUE Award, recognized for ability to excel in times of change

    Like Alison said, regardless of the name for anything outside of Employee of the Month/Quarter/Year, you need to spell out what it was form more than the actual award itself. Using the acronym shortens it on your resume, too.

  40. You can call me flower, if you want to*

    I think the teeth brushing is just a personal preference. I prefer to brush my teeth after I eat lunch. I just like to freshen up a little bit. I don’t expect others to do so. It’s just a weird little idiosyncrasy. It’s nothing to worry about. I think you’re probably fine OP.

  41. NowWhat?465*

    Ok, I am one of those people who comes from an office where teeth brushing is VERY normal and encouraged for certain positions. I am in Higher Ed Alumni/Development. A few reasons outside of orthodontia include:

    1. A lot of our staff meets with important people and donors regularly, so we always want to look (and smell) our best. Sometimes we only get a ten minute notice that a VIP is on campus and wants to stop by for a chat. The travel toothbrush in the desk drawer is a godsend.

    2. Our campus is located in the city, so people are constantly going out after work with friends or dates so it’s fairly normal to see a couple of people in the bathroom brushing their teeth at 5pm.

    3. Pre-pandemic, a group of us would frequent the all you can eat buffet at the Indian restaurant. Extremely delicious, not the best breath afterwards. Teeth brushing after lunch is a courtesy to our colleagues we see in the afternoons.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      That seems entirely reasonable to me! I no longer work in higher ed, but there are occasionally times in my new field when you might get pulled into a high-level meeting with minimal notice, and being able to do a last-minute spruce up makes a big difference, even if it’s just to your own confidence and sense of readiness.

  42. shuu_iam*

    For 1, I’m curious whether or not this is an office where people are masking sometimes. Mostly because I’ve noticed if I put on my mask right after drinking coffee, I can smell my own breath and it’s… not good. I could see the inclination to brush my teeth if it was convenient.

  43. Pyanfar*

    #5 – At one all hands meeting for our department, each team lead gave out a “top banana” award, complete with a small trophy for their best performer. I can see where that doesn’t read great for a resume!! :)

  44. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – I think you should tell the first recruiter that you’re not interested in the opportunity because you don’t like the business the social media company is in, but that you’d be happy to be considered for future opportunities. I mean – why cut yourself off from future opportunities? There are plenty of people who wouldn’t work for certain companies for moral and / or ethical reasons. Recruiters know this. It’s not going to nix your chances in the future and it’s not going to make the recruiter think you’re weird for not wanting to work for their client.

    In the other case – I’d still engage with the recruiter if they have an opportunity that interests you, as long as they had responded if you had followed up. Recruiters send out hundreds of messages a week, and balls get dropped. Priorities change on a dime, too. It’s not great, but it’s also not personal. What would concern me is if the recruiter’s client isn’t committed to the project – I’d ask about that, if you’ve been contacted multiple times on the same company’s role over the course of several months.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      For the first recruiter, telling them you’d be interested in other opportunities only works if it’s a third party recruiter who works with companies in a variety of sectors.

      If the recruiter is employed by the social media company (and this should be pretty obvious – either from their email signature or LinkedIn profile), there’s no point in asking to be kept in mind for other opportunities. Either the recruiter will still be employed by the social media company, and OP4 still won’t be interested, or the recruiter will have moved on and likely not remember who wanted to know about opportunities elsewhere.

  45. Jayne*

    I brush my teeth at work. In my case, though, I work twelve hour days and my commute is an hour and a half each way, and I drink a lot of Gatorade throughout the day (read: electrolytes, yes, but also the sugar!). Before I took this job I was without dental insurance for several years and my teeth suffered. It’s a combination of needing to keep them clean and a fear of decay reoccurring. Plus, it’s nice to have my mouth feel fresher than it would if I didn’t.

  46. Firecat*

    #2 I agree with Alison’s take but if he counter offers you again then feel free to strike through his name for future apps. And if all he offers is a smug – I promise to stay this time – when asked then he will definitely be using you again.

    We had an internal candidate who did this 5 times. After the 2nd time I didn’t want to interview him any more but was overruled. He was always offered the role first, took a week to decide, and then said sorry counter offer. It was so annoying to have our actual candidates.waiting the whole time. I did at least convince our manager to say it’s an accept on the spot or a no for the 5th offer and he of course declined then never interviewed with us again now that we weren’t convenient counter offer material.

  47. Erin*

    I’m in my 40s, and I’ve always brushed after lunch at work. Heck, I have a small toothbrush & toothpaste in my handbag makeup kit for anytime I just need a little freshening up when I’m out.

    I’m frequently the only after lunch brusher in the office, and I’m very discreet about it. I never leave any mess from my dental routine. Some people think it’s strange, but sometimes people also start brushing after lunch.

    If/when someone asks why I brush after lunch, I tell them the truth – I just feel cleaner and more ready to start the second half of my day if I brush after lunch. I also remind others that I tend to not need to know what people do in the restroom.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This whole conversation is making me wish I had a toothbrush with me today I’m so aware of my mouth!

      1. Forty Years in the Hole*

        I wish more of my former colleagues would have considered brushing at least sometime during our shift; riding around in winter with the windows closed and someone who smoked/drank coffee all day – even now my stomach churns at the memory.
        Fast forward some years and my work was in open office/cubicles – most of my (military) colleagues had a “go bag” with all the basics. Very normal to brush up after lunch/prior to meetings etc. Always that one guy though, who leaned in after his umpteenth coffee.
        Make up application not a biggie – unless someone didn’t bother wiping the residue from the sink. And the one civilian colleague who generously re-sprayed her hair at least 6 times a day. It never moved one scintilla. I considered donning my gas mask at her.

  48. Allison*

    #4, I first want to reiterate what AAM said; you really don’t owe either recruiter a reason. I do think it’s a good idea to tell the second recruiter what happened – if only so they learn from their mistake – but again, totally optional. I’m a big fan of diplomatic honesty in conversations like this.

    But speaking of diplomatic honesty, I’d also be inclined to tell the first recruiter a little about why I’m not interested in the company, and then if they push back, that’s when I’d stop engaging with them. It’s entirely possible that other prospects feel the same way, and it’s often helpful for the hiring team to understand why they’re having a hard time getting people excited about this role. If they’re an external recruiter (remember, fellow commenters, not all recruiters work for 3rd party agencies, some are internal), they can relay the information to their client.

  49. Observer*

    #3- You write that “On the other hand, when working with students, I feel part of the deal is that they’re learning how jobs work.” and that’s true. But then you went ahead and did something that really goes against appropriate office behavior.

    Your discussion why Jane left is waaaay TMI, and not just because the question was asked by a student. It was a lot more information than anyone needed *and* it was based on a lot of guesses.

    You would have been fine with “Oh, she resigned and moved on to another job.” If you REALLY want to teach the student a bit about office norms, then add Allison’s second sentence “Everyone moves on eventually!”

  50. __ID__*

    Regarding the tooth-brushing and applying makeup at work…please be careful with judgements on this. I have a disease that compels me to brush frequently and the dental bills to prove it! But I don’t really want to discuss it with people either. That said, I’m pretty low key and try to do it when no one is around.

    The makeup thing rankles me, though. I used to work a second job after my main gig and could not go home to freshen up between jobs. Frankly, it was pretty stressful and I really needed the money. A few times, female colleagues made snooty comments about the makeup thing where again, I was trying to be low key and just get done fast. Again, I didn’t want to discuss job#2 because it made me appear (in my eyes at the time) broke – which I was. I was desperately trying to fit in with corporate America and look the part in order to get a better paying job. I didn’t want to feel “different” – but it sure was called out. Made me feel awful…and that was 30 years ago. As long as people are cleaning up, respecting others and not hogging the sink, please give them the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      In my dream world, we all get to maintain the polite fiction that we go into the bathroom to pull our socks up. That means the person doing a thing minimizes the potential disruption to others, and just as importantly, that the people who notice a thing pretend they didn’t. No need to blow up someone’s spot about what they must have eaten for lunch, or how much makeup they wear.

  51. irene adler*

    I accepted and then declined a job at X Company. I just had this very bad feeling in my gut for the whole week prior to the start date. Could not articulate why I felt this way. The HR person kept trying to convince me to show up for the job. I just kept saying “No!”.

    Well, two days before what would have been the start date for the job, I found my sister’s body. She’d passed several days earlier. Totally unexpected event.

    Not claiming to be psychic in any way. But I’m glad I followed my gut. I would not have been able to deal with both a new job and everything that involves an unexpected death of a family member.

    So the kicker: It is 3 months later and X Company is running more job ads. Not for the same position, but something I’d be very interested in applying for. Wonder if they’d even talk to me given my bowing out of the prior position. Yeah, I know, cover letter material.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’d leave off the “very bad feeling” vibes and just state there was a family emergency at that time which made you hesitate to start a new job.

      1. quill*

        Changing jobs (in the US) often means changing insurance. Which is terrible to do if there’s a family medical emergency for reasons that I think most thinking humans will understand. So I second saying “family emergency” and letting the hiring managers draw the most likely conclusions of “medical things happened and I needed to stay on my previous insurance.”

  52. MissDisplaced*

    1. Everyone is brushing their teeth at work
    I have bad teeth and lots of painful dental work. I always brushed my teeth at work (usually after lunch) but sometimes after eating sweets too. Aside from fresh breath the upside is that once you brush you are also inclined to quit snacking! There is nothing wrong or gross with not brushing either if you don’t need to. Consider yourself lucky to not have teeth issues. Whatever the case, please don’t take issue with those who need to brush as long as they don’t leave a mess (there was once a story on here about a manager who forbid brushing because they found it gross). I always took care to wipe up any toothpaste from the sink or mirror area.

    2. Candidate accepted our offered, then reneged — and now is applying again
    Yeah, that comes off as very flighty unless they had a really good reason, such as moving or a family emergency or something understandable. But they might be worth a call to see if something like that was the case if they were well qualified for the role. I can’t see any downside in talking to them again if otherwise they were a solid applicant.

  53. TootsNYC*

    #1: Because of your age, I want to say this:
    take VERY good care of your teeth. I didn’t visit a dentist regularly, and I wasn’t as rigid about dental care, at your age.
    As a consequence, I ended up with big cavities–and the discovered that this is not the end of it. Those cavities inevitably fail, new decay starts underneath….

    I am in my very early 60s, and I could have gone to Paris once a year, every year, for the last several years, on what I spend to care for my teeth. And every bit of that is a result of that poor care (both visits to the dentist and negligence).

    Maybe you do brush twice a day and floss; that’s great. Keep it up.

  54. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#1: I say let’s *applaud* all the diligent tooth-brushers. And no, you don’t have to brush your teeth at work, but is there any question that it would be better for our teeth if we all brushed after eating lunch? People brushing their teeth right before leaving work may be going out after work, like on a date, for example, so they want sparkling whites and fresh breath. Also, I see nothing wrong with other routine daily grooming activities in the bathroom, such as re-applying make-up or brushing one’s hair.

  55. RubyJackson*

    The #1 cause of receding gums is over-brushing, either by brushing too frequently or too aggressively. Better to just rinse your mouth during the day and gently brush the germs away in the morning and evening. Speaking from experience.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      And some of us have orthodontic work or other appliances that necessitate frequent-but-gentle brushing despite the risk of gum damage. Also speaking from experience and my dentist’s recommendation.

  56. Just my thoughts*

    OP 2- I’d give them an opportunity to explain what happened. And for all you managers out there, this shows why it’s often not a good idea to counter-offer when someone says they’re leaving for another position. The vast majority of the time they will be leaving within a year.

    OP3 – You definitely gave too much information. Teaching students what it *should* be like in the office setting – if he was gone for 1 1/2 years that’s a big enough buffer to say, “Jane’s moved on.”

  57. Nora*

    We have an unusually large number of people brushing their teeth in my office, because there’s a dentist upstairs that everyone in my office goes to because it’s so convenient. When you see someone brushing their teeth in the bathroom, they probably have a dentist appointment later in the day!

  58. EggyParm*

    OP1 – My office had the exact same situation. We had one gal who got braces and started brushing her teeth after lunch and her afternoon snack. This kicked off a whole trend of people in the office brushing their teeth after meals. I guess the good news is that your office probably had lower dental plans? Haha.

  59. RB*

    When I got braces as an adult my orthodontist said I should brush after every meal but he said if I was at work I could instead use those little dental brushes you slide in between your teeth to dislodge the food. I’ve continued to use those, years later, and they really prevent the cavities and save you from the constant teeth brushing.

  60. Beth Jacobs*

    I’m considering taking up a third brush of the day, but am unsure about logistics. Can anyone weigh in? For instance, how do you manage storage (I don’t want my toothbrush in plain sight, but don’t want it to grow mold in a drawer)? Do you ever get toothpaste on your shirt (I sometimes do if I’m sleepy, but it’s not a big deal on my PJs – my suit is another matter)?

    1. Esmeralda*

      I’ve got a mug with toothbrush w cap and mini toothpaste on a shelf above my desk. You could use one of those travel containers for toothbrushes if you don’t want it to look like a toothbrush — it’s just a skinny plastic cylinder.

    2. bad genetics luck*

      I just left my toothbrush to air. I have a shelf above my desk where I leave it, otherwise I’d section off a place in my drawer, or put it a reclosable sandwich container, with the lid off on my desk. We now hot-desk, and that’s what I do: plastic sandwich container and leave the toothbrush in there, but don’t close the container.

      And, yes, a few times I’ve dribbled toothpaste down my shirt. You’d need to take your suit jacket off and bend noticeably at the waist, so that your pants/skirt are farther away from the sink

  61. Devon*

    Lots of people brush teeth at work because they use invisalign/orthodontic aligners. These require you to brush your teeth after every meal or snack – if you put them on without, the trapped heat “bakes” the food in and you get major cavities, which orthodontists warn you sternly about.

    I did this for 2 years, as did many coworkers. I dont see an issue with it.

  62. ManBearPig*

    Re: tooth brushing, I think Family guy put it best in their song “Why the Hell do You Brush Your Teeth at Work”


    Why the hell do you brush your teeth at work?
    Why the hell do you brush your teeth at work?
    The bathroom’s full of poop and pee
    And now you rubbed that on your teeth
    Like you’re gonna kiss someone at three

      1. ManBearPig*

        True, but at least at home you’re reasonably assured that it’s only your own (and whomever you live with’s) stuff you’re going to have to deal with. The sheer volume of stranger nast in a public restroom gacks me out, especially when thinking about how you rinse your mouth out once you’re done brushing

  63. RedinSC*

    I’m sure this has been said before, but I have invisilign (face masks do cover adult orthodontia, so that’s one nice feature, right?) anyway, I have to brush my teeth once or twice during the work day depending on how often I eat. So, yeah, there are reasons for some people, but you might not have seen that I have trays that need to be cleaned after each snack or meal.

  64. Laila*

    I assume OP one is in the US/Canada, where this isn’t common… but Costa Ricans do this. Kids in school and adults at work. It caught me off guard when I first moved there, but now I’m back in the states and a toothbrush and toothpaste stay in my backpack so I can brush after lunch at work.

  65. Pootyboots*

    Everyone in Korea brushes their teeth after lunch. I imagine it’s due to the prevalence of garlic and kimchi. Are your coworkers Korean by chance?

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