company wants our baby photos, getting away from a boss who’s yelling, and more

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

1. My employee submitted an over-the-top, glowing self-assessment that doesn’t match up with his work

I’m in the process of doing annual performance reviews for my direct reports and I’ve run into a situation I haven’t faced before. Bob — my longest-serving employee — has completed the self-evaluation portion of the review (the first stage of our process) and has written the most over-the-top glowing comments about himself that I’ve seen from an employee. For example, he makes comments about being the center and “heart” of our (500-person) company and that his work has basically been a key reason for the company’s success. He calls himself one our most mission-critical employees, and says he feels like the organization doesn’t value him enough considering his role.

This is not my perspective. Bob’s work has been good in some respects, but not necessarily great in other respects, and he causes drama because of his tendency to complain a lot. He is certainly not our most mission-critical employee. There are many others on my team who do the same job as him, and some of them do more complex work that is (at times) better than his. Bob is also the highest-paid non-manager in our department. (How that came to be — for several historical reasons — is a whole other issue that I won’t go into here.)

My inclination is to respond to his comments by offering fair praise and making the types of remarks that I’d make anyway. But does that approach send too subtle a message to someone who is not subtle? Should I directly address Bob’s review comments and somehow say that I don’t agree that his work is THAT excellent? Is there any value to that, and how would I even say that if I did want to convey the message?

For additional context, others on my staff also talk in their performance reviews about the excellent work they’ve done, and I’m fine with that. I see it as marketing their achievements. But it feels like Bob’s views are starting to veer toward delusional, and I’m not sure if a manager has to squarely address an employee’s delusions?

Oh, Bob. It’s quite a move to declare oneself the “heart” of a 500-person company.

Have you had other problems with Bob’s assessment of something being really off-base? If it’s a pattern, I think you need to address the pattern (and a performance review is a good time to do that). But if it’s not, then this might just be Bob going weirdly far with the common advice to talk up one’s own work in a self-appraisal. In that case, you could just go ahead and write the assessment you want to write without worrying terribly about his glowing self-appraisal … and frankly, that might get the point across on its own.

But when you meet to talk about his review, if you sense that he’s rattled or upset by your review of his work — or if you just want to acknowledge the situation explicitly — you could say something like, “I know this is a different assessment than the one you shared in your self-appraisal. I really appreciate hearing your perspective, but ultimately I make these assessments based on what I see and the results you’ve gotten in your work. Let’s talk through any questions this raised for you, and then what I think would be most helpful is to talk about what I hope your work will look like moving forward.”

2. Can I say “I need a minute” if my boss is yelling at me?

I cannot handle people yelling at me. I break down very quickly and start crying. If someone like my boss was to start yelling at me, would it be appropriate to interrupt and say, “I need a minute” and run to the bathroom? I could see it being very frustrating to have an employee just walk away when you’re trying to express something that feels Very Important and worth shouting about.

Nothing at work is ever worth shouting about (unless it’s “fire!” or “sinkhole!” or similar, and then the yelling would be to warn of danger, not to express anger). Yelling out of frustration, stress, or anger doesn’t belong in a functional workplace, period, because it’s abusive.

Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Bad bosses do yell. But you don’t need to stand there and be yelled at if it happens. Your “I need a minute” plan is fine. So is saying, “I’m not willing to be yelled at, but I’d be glad to talk about this later when you’re no longer yelling” or “I can’t process what you’re saying when you yell. I’m going to leave, but I’m available to talk about this later when you’re not yelling.” And then leave.

3. My company wants our baby photos

I got an email at work from someone fairly high up in the management chain saying, essentially, “We’re going to play a fun game! Please send me a baby picture of yourself.” Apparently this is their idea of some kind of team-building exercise. Do they not understand that such pictures can be deeply problematic for some people?

• Not everyone had a happy childhood; for some, childhood photos are reminders of trauma.
• Such photos can reveal unwanted details about family of origin, social class, and so on, that one has taken efforts to keep private.
• Not everyone even has baby pictures of themselves. Or they may still be in the possession of one’s parents, and not everyone is comfortable contacting their parents to ask for one.
• They’re essentially asking any trans people working there to out themselves, as childhood photos typically feature the subject presenting as the gender they were assigned at birth. This is particularly awful coming from a company that is continually patting itself on the back for its “wokeness” on diversity and inclusion, and on LGBTQ issues, “bring your whole self to work,” and so on.

How can I opt out of this gracefully and/or communicate to the individual who hatched this cockamamie “game” just how bad of an idea this is?

This exercise has been around for a long time, often as an ice-breaker or team-building thing (“guess whose baby picture belongs to who”), but you’re right that it’s problematic for all the reasons you name.

Does someone in your company work on equity and inclusion issues? If so, you could flag your concerns about the exercise to them. Or, if you’re willing to spend the political capital on it (which may or may not sense for you, depending on context I don’t have), you could respond to the email explaining your concerns.

If you just want to opt out, you can do that too. “No thanks!” or “I don’t have easy access to baby photos” or “I don’t have photos I can share but here’s a kitten photo” can all work, depending on your sense of the dynamics with the person who sent the email.

4. Interview invitation delivered via video

My husband recently applied for a job in his field, but at a company that’s a bit more tech start-up than he’s previously worked for. He got a response inviting him to an interview, but almost didn’t follow up because he thought it was spam. The email was from a very bubbly person (not necessarily a bad thing!) and contained a link to a video. He saw the link and assumed the job listing had been a scam and that the whole thing was a phishing attempt.

I convinced him to click just in case — and it was the hiring manager delivering the text of the email in video format, possibly to make the remote hiring process seem more personable?

Is this common? Growing because of the pandemic, as more employers adjust to a remote hiring experience? A rather weird outlier? Has this company, despite being a tech start-up, never heard of phishing scams?

No, it’s not common. And that company is almost certainly losing a significant portion of candidates at the interview invitation stage because, like your husband, people are assuming it’s spam or a phishing attempt!

It’s also just a bizarre choice to make. Interview invitations work just fine via email. It’s hard to think of any part of the interview process that needs to be a video less than this does.

5. Disclosing a mental health condition to get my schedule changed

Recently my doctor suggested that I inform my employer about my mental health condition in order to get my schedule changed so I can have monthly bloodwork done. I realize that they can’t fire me if I inform them of my condition, but this doesn’t mean that they couldn’t find another reason to let me go. My other concern is privacy — who knows how many people could learn of my condition? My problem is the lab that does the blood work closes at 4.30 and you can forget Saturday since it’s extremely busy. Any advice?

Be vague! You never need to give an employer specific health details for something like this. It’s generally enough to say, “I’m going to have a monthly medical appointment for the foreseeable future. The timing is flexible, but I’ll either need to come in X minutes late or leave X minutes early one day a month.” You could also offer to make up the time that same day or week if that’s something that makes sense for your job. But this is pretty minor and in most offices that would be all that’s needed to take care of it.

{ 788 comments… read them below }

  1. A Teacher*

    #3: My daugther is adopted. She was adopted at 7 from foster care. Her early years are not happy memories. We’ve already run into this in grade and middle school with teachers (and I’m a teacher) where I have to say “child doesn’t have baby photos.” They’ll often reply, “oh its okay, just send us a kid photo.” To which I have replied, “great, thanks, so my kid will still stick out from not having the same type of photos as everyone else. Awesome.” These types of activities done in the name of “fun” are exclusionary to a lot of people.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      #3 When a previous workplace suggested this idea, several people submitted baby photos of pets (one person did a plant!). It made it interesting and fun but at the same time, the organizers got a lesson on how families are not all the same.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        My work did this as the actual activity and we matched pets to employees. It was fun and even people without pets submitted pictures of sourdough starter, rocks, plants, toys, etc.

        1. quill*

          That’s a more entertaining guessing game than “guess which larval stage human grew into which coworker?”

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          Sourdough starter as a pet – has someone been reading Ursula Vernon’s _Wizard’s Guide To Defensive Baking_ ?

      2. TardyTardis*

        One person on Facebook submitted a photo of a kitten in Gryffindor witch’s garb as the baby photo for Professor McGonagall.

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

      It can also affect people who have lost those items from floods, fire or tornado.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        True. I had a fairly normal childhood, but even I don’t have baby photos. I was in a fire about 20 years ago where I lost pretty much everything except what I was wearing that day, and that would not bring up good memories for me.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, we lost my brother’s photos up until about age 4 when a pipe burst. We’ve since recovered a few from relatives now that it’s easy to scan old pictures, and he wouldn’t mind submitting an older photo than everyone else’s, but if he did he could still just say they got lost in a flood.

      3. DaisyGrrl*

        Or theft! My dad’s camera was stolen when I was little (when film was king), and there was nearly a year’s worth of photos on it. I have very few pictures from that time period as a result.

      4. That One Person*

        Lost anything that didn’t go into our car due to sketchy movers so I relate to this – not sure if we have any photos saved or uploaded somewhere so even pictures of my old cats are likely gone forever (but I still have my first baby’s tags and of course memories of them). I don’t think baby pictures needs to be outright removed, but I really like the idea of being able to include a photo of a pet, plant, toy, or some other object of importance (like maybe someone puts in a craft picture). That way people can at least choose something positive and have something fun to share if the idea is to make an ice breaker.

      5. Rainy*

        My family just aren’t big photo takers, so I never had those items. I have one photo of myself as a toddler, and I managed to hang onto a copy of my fifth grade school picture because I liked how it came out. Watching other people struggle with how to store them, repeatedly having them digitized as formats update, etc makes me glad now that that’s not an issue I have.

    3. BlueK*

      My first thought was about foster youth I’ve worked with in the past probono. If they’ve been in the system for a long time, we had trouble getting a birth certificate or social security card. Forget about pictures. For different reasons, the same would apply to children whose family’s had immigrated as they often lose everything along the way. Domestic violence. Eviction. The reasons go on for why someone might have had their connection to the past abruptly severed.

    4. Harper the Other One*

      This month my daughter’s teacher is getting kids to write about the people in their lives, and I was so impressed that she used that phrase. She went on to clarify for kids that it could be family, friends, pets, a teacher, or even someone you admire. That’s so much more inclusive than I’ve ever run into before and I made a point to email her to say that it was appreciated. We are a traditional nuclear family but I know many kids who aren’t who would feel so much more accepted with this exercise.

      1. esmerelda*

        I love that approach!
        Story time: I remember in Spanish class in middle school I was required to bring in a family tree (complete with photos for each family member) and describe it to the class in Spanish. The intention was to show that we knew the familial words like mother, grandpa, aunt, etc in a fun way rather than doing a test, but… my parents had just had a nasty divorce which included my father immediately remarrying. I hadn’t yet worked through all of the upheaval so having to go in front of class and explain how long my parents were married, how long they were divorced, and how long my dad and stepmom had been married (saying the length of marriages was a required part of the assignment as it displayed our knowledge of time), was humiliating for my hurting middle school soul. Oh, I also have two brothers that passed away and when I asked my teacher if I was required to include deceased siblings, she said yes. So then I asked my teacher before hand if I could instead create a fictional family tree, explain to the class that it was indeed fictional, and then display my knowledge of familial words, she said no, everyone had the same assignment. So in a time of my life when school was my solace, I had to tell my painful family story to my whole class, that my parents were married for over 25 years, I had a stepmom who didn’t feel like part of the family, and I had two brothers who passed away. That teacher was a great teacher in all other respects, but she really missed the mark with that. I would have loved a more inclusionary approach, or really any approach that allowed me to keep my private life private.

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            Hit submit too soon. I had a similar assignment, but was only able to include a quarter of my family tree. We *literally* know almost nothing about the other branches. My grandmother’s family disowned her and she’s never talked about them. Her ex-husband’s family is an utter mystery and the man himself was a philandering, abusive jerk. My mother’s father’s side ALSO disowned their son for “marrying down,” so we again know nothing. My mother’s mother’s side is the ONLY one who would even TALK to me.

            My teacher told me to “just do the best you can,” and I did. But most of the relatives I tried to contact refused to respond, and my parents refused to get involved. >.< I think I got a D. :/

            1. Clisby*

              I worked with a guy whose sister was a middle-school teacher – not sure what subject she taught, but she gave an assignment for the kids to create a family tree. Whereupon 2 kids in the class found out that, unbeknownst to them, they had the same father. (They each knew who their father was; they just didn’t know he had another child their age.) My co-worker said his sister was thinking she was never going to assign this again.

              1. Anonymous pineapple*

                This reminds me of when my high school AP biology teacher said he stopped doing genetic trait family tree projects after a student in his class once discovered he was adopted that way.

                1. wow*

                  Adoption (including interfamily adoption), adultery, assault, and polyamory: the four horsemen of the 23 and Me era.

            2. Alexander Graham Yell*

              I just had to do a similar assignment in my French class, and on the off chance there are any teachers or friends of teachers, I loved the way we did it – we were given French celebrities of varying ages and had to make up a pretend family tree using them. Gave us a chance to use the vocab, express time, and also get creative and make up stories if we wanted.

              1. esmerelda*

                Nice! That’s a fun twist. I’m not certain why some teachers are strict about that kind of assignment and don’t allow the creativity – there are many ways to show you’re learning the language!

            3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              I helped a student once with a similar assignment for a Social Work class in college. This student’s parents were never married and each had multiple children across multiple partners. My student basically said, “she doesn’t need to know my business” and made a fairly simplified family tree and just left off the half and step siblings that were not a part of her life in any way.

        1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

          That’s awful. In high school, we had a project where we were supposed to talk about an ancestor and how they got to the US. But if you didn’t want to do your own family, you could do a famous person (I did composer Bela Bartok, who fled Hungary during WWII which was way more interesting than my own family).

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            That one’s still exclusionary. My Navajo classmate doesn’t have any relatives that came to America from somewhere else.

            1. NoviceManagerGuy*

              I mean, the Navajo people do have a history, so it could be done in a way that isn’t exclusionary, but knowing how school usually works, it probably wouldn’t have the necessary nuance.

              1. Rachael*

                My work was doing a “how did your ancestors immigrate to the US” icebreaker and my coworker was very uncomfortable and the purpose of the icebreaker was to celebrate our differences. She was the only black person and…hello…her ancestors came over in a slave ship. They ran out of time before they got to her and she was very relieved, but it opened my eyes to how such an icebreaker is a horrible idea.

                1. PT*

                  We did a lot of those in my school, but the teachers tended to grade the projects based on how interesting or compelling the story of your ancestors was, rather than how well the project itself was done.

                  If your great-great-great-great grandfather was Prince Philip, smuggled out in an orange crate, you’d get an A. If your great-great-great-great grandfather was a farm laborer who wanted a better job and became a factory worker, you’d get a B. It was so stupid. It’s not like any of us could control how interesting our ancestors were.

                2. UKDancer*

                  Ouch. That’s a terrible idea. I mean way to make your Black colleagues feel othered. That’s a really crass thing to do.

                3. MCMonkeyBean*

                  That seems like a particularly odd one to me! A lot of these I can understand how someone just doesn’t realize how this could go wrong (there are a lot of comments about the baby pictures one that would never have occurred to me to be honest!) But aside from how it seems more obvious to me that rather a large portion of our population’s answer to that question would be a slave ship… I also am curious how many people even know the answer to that question. I certainly don’t! Am I an outlier in that regard? I know what states my parents lived in when they were young and nothing really before that…

                4. ErinWV*

                  Do people even have this information, if it happened more than a couple generations back? My great-grandparents were all born in America (most of them were still around during my childhood). No idea who originally came here or what for. I would probably make something up about the Irish Potato famine.

                  But also how horrible for your colleague… and how bad it would be for the descendants of people who came here as displaced persons or because their home countries were too unstable to be safe. “My grandparents wanted to not be murdered for their ethnicity/religion, so they came here.” I’m sure your work wanted cute nostalgic stories when the truth is often much darker.

            2. Marlena Brady*

              Also, any students whose ancestors were enslaved would have a tough time with this assignment, both due to the lack of records and the emotional hardship.

              When we were in elementary, we were supposed to choose our ancestors’ country of origin for “heritage day” (for many of us, this was only 2-3 generations ago), and I had several classmates who had to choose a southern state because that’s where their family could trace to.

          2. Jayn*

            Mine are a bit too far back to really give much of a story. One side has been here at least since the Revolution, the other traces back well over 300 years (I know the name of one ancestor from the 1650s, but that’s about it). At least they gave you an out though.

        2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          Esmeralda I am so sorry you were subjected to that. Finding out what country great so and so came from can be really interesting but Family Tree assignments can be very painful in families that have had divorces or estrangements. I have an over achiever cousin who’s only low grade was a Family Tree project. Her mom was estranged from a large part of the family. This was before the internet so no sleuthing with what relatives she knew to find out more. She barely had a branch or 2 filled out on her tree when it was handed in. This would have been middle school or upper elementary. My cousin told me this story as an adult in her 30’s and was still visibly upset by the assignment.

          1. Paris Geller*

            I had to do an assignment like that in my social studies class. We were supposed to trace our family tree back four generations or whenever your family moved to the US, whichever went further back. It also was one of my only low grades–I was able to trace my dad’s family tree back to the late 17th century and STILL couldn’t get to when they came to America and ran out of leads. This assignment was in the early ’00s so I did have the internet but not enough time — we only had about a week to complete the assignment. Trying to get my mom’s side was a mess. She was hospitalized at the time battling cancer, both my grandparents on that side died young, and my mom was estranged from many of her siblings. It was definitely a painful assignment.

            1. Stars Hollow Rules*

              I was babysitting my niece when she was a 5th grader while her parents went on an anniversary cruise. Her class was doing a science unit on basic genetics, so the assignment asked for her to describe similarities to her parents & grandparents in terms of things like eye color, ear shape etc.. My niece was adopted and is a different race from her parents and grandparents. I wrote the teacher a stiff note about how I wasn’t going to have her do this assignment (certainly not while her parents were out of town and not really reachable for her to process it) and that the teacher should really consider the implications of her assignments on kids with other than standard backgrounds – SMDH

            2. UKDancer*

              I think it’s silly to expect people to know and some people have pretty good reasons why they may not know much about their history. I’ve one friend whose family left Russia during a Tsarist pogrom but they’re not sure exactly where or when because they were trying to fly beneath the radar. Strangely record keeping was not a major priority at the time. I’ve another friend whose family arrived in the UK when Idi Amin ethnically cleansed the Asians from Uganda. Again not vast amounts of paperwork.

          2. esmerelda*

            I didn’t realize before this letter and comment thread just how many of us adults are truly scarred by school assignments of this kind. I had no idea how common that experience is. Oof. I hope today’s teachers think hard about the effects these assignments have!

        3. Retired Prof*

          These are such awful assignments. My friend spent her childhood running from her abusive father. Her family of origin consists of her mother who doesn’t talk about the family she came from. My friend’s husband was a foster kid with no family of origin. Imagine their children being given this assignment.

          1. Rainy*

            One of my high school classmates had been victim of an international custodial kidnapping. I grew up in a religious cult, which I left in my teens resulting no contact with my family for some years.

            I’m always astonished when people think these things are a good idea, because literally how does any adult not know at least someone for whom this would bring up some bad memories?!

        4. fish*

          Oh no! My brother had to do one where you had a little flag for each of your ancestors’ country of origin. My brother tried to explain that while, yes, his grandparents were born in the place that is now Ukraine, both my grandparents and the locals would agree the Ukrainian flag was not a correct representation (see: pogroms). We joked the flag should be a Yid running away, peyas flying.

          1. Marlena Brady*

            Similar situation – I think we used the Russian flag (since it was technically part of Russia when our family fled) but we are not of Russian heritage. Maybe I should have used the playbill from Fiddler on the Roof.

        5. fhqwhgads*

          Oof. I was the sort of kid who wouldn’t have asked. I would’ve made it fiction from the start just to avoid discussing anything I thought was nobody’s business. Might’ve even been extra detailed in the presentation just to show off as many words as possible so I couldn’t be accused of trying to find an easier way.

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        I love this!! I’m a Scout Leader, and I try so hard to say “your adults” instead of ‘your parents’. Not all of my kids are taken care of by their parents for a lot of reasons. They don’t need it rubbed in.

        1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          Worked daycare for a decade. I always used “your grownups”. Also at title specific holidays (Mother’s Day/Father’s Day/etc) I either asked each kid how they wanted to address the oblatory card/gift or had a very general address on them. So it was ok to give Favorite Uncle or Mom’s Boyfriend the Fathers day gift. My kid’s teacher made a gift that said Happy Father’s Day Daddy on it in big permanent ink and my kid (I was a single parent) was really upset because he wanted to be able to give it to his grandfather. He destroyed it with his teacher watching. And yes it was the same teacher as my other comment about the family collage.

        2. workswitholdstuff*

          I work in museums, and I’ve heard my colleagues in learning (and adopted the use myself) of ‘your grownup’

          It acknowledges the adult-caretaker, but acknowledges it comes in all sorts of varieties.

          Simple, but effective

    5. anon23*

      Isn’t it possible that some people don’t realize the reasons such as you and the OP are giving for why they probably shouldn’t be doing a game like this? And that they most likely aren’t coming from an evil place? I don’t really understand the level of anger directed at people that come up with games/activities on this site right off the bat.. has someone thought to tell them reasons why it’s not a great idea and Then get angry if they don’t listen?

      1. Lacey*

        I don’t see a lot of anger in these comments. Just frustration at a practice that is really common, but makes a significant portion of the population feel excluded, even if the reasons vary among people.

        And yeah, I’m sure people just haven’t thought of those reasons – I wouldn’t have. I’m glad I’m seeing them here so I have that knowledge moving forward.

          1. Nanani*

            Fun game! When someone expresses a feeling on the negative end of neutrality, instead of assuming they are angry, try to imagine that they are not you (did you know people who aren’t you exist? They even have different life experiences!) and they have a reason to feel less than positive about thing.

          2. Kal*

            If you feel like we all need to give the benefit of the doubt to people who assign these sorts of exercises, isn’t it possible that you should give the benefit of the doubt to the people who have experienced harm because of this sort of exercise before and thus have a strong emotional response to it? Instead of immediately jumping to your assumption that they are saying the people assigning the exercise is “evil”?

            Take me, for example, who had to write a story about a fond memory from my childhood at a time when the only memories my brain could bring up were those of my childhood sexual assaults. And when I did my best with the assignment by making shit up, I was punished because apparently the only way that I, a middle school child, could appropriately show my competency in understanding how to write about past events was to bare my trauma to the class. It was entirely needless and ought to never happen to anyone ever again.

            Of course that sort of deep seated pain is going to come across as frustration and anger and exhaustion sometimes, because that’s how pain works. You probably shouldn’t immediately assume the worst of people who are expressing their pain in a hope that other people don’t have the same harm happen to them.

              1. Kal*

                Thank you. But honestly, one of the hardest part of reconciling it is that I know that the adults in my life weren’t trying to be cruel or cause me further pain, they just couldn’t even imagine that their actions could cause potentially cause pain and in doing so made me feel like I had to do whatever was necessary to hide my pain and never tell anyone or I’d be the bad person causing other people pain.

                And that is why a large part of my healing process has been getting more comfortable talking about it when its relevant, especially since I know other people often aren’t in the same place to talk about about their experiences or their healing just takes a different path. If my talking about it can get even one person to adjust their behaviour in even a small way that helps someone in their life who is going through trauma, then the entire process will have been worth it.

      2. Shirley Keeldar*

        Honestly, it’s not anger so much as it is exhaustion. (Well, a bit of anger, too.) Those of us for whom these kind of activities are painful HAVE explained. And explained. And explained. And we have to keep explaining. And often the person who started the activity interrupts the explanation to explain all of their good intentions (which are genuine) because they are mortified or anxious and then we have to reassure them. And then we have to do it again next time. And then we have to explain why we might be feeling frustrated or unheard.

        So, yeah, that’s where the anger comes from.

        So that’s where that frustration

        1. Anon.2.3.4*

          Explained to whom though? It’s not like this is such a majorly-known issue where everyone affected has the same stance on it that you’d have to deliberately avoid it in order to never have come across this perspective. If you’ve voiced this same opinion on different websites multiple times, it’s easy to think “well how many more times do I have to explain this!” but that’s still a relatively small audience. It’s easy to lose perspective on how much this issue is out there, when plenty of people still won’t have ever run across it.

          1. A Teacher*

            But its not as uncommon as you’re saying–especially in 2021. Families come in all forms. and if a simple “I don’t have pictures available” sufficed and people would leave it at that, it would be a different story. Have you had to explain (justify) to someone else why you don’t have something or why you can’t/don’t want to participate? That’s where I’m coming from with my own experience.

          2. Mental Lentil*

            Doesn’t matter to whom we’ve had to explain it. We’ve explained it enough.

            See, this attitude right here is the problem. You explain, then you have to explain it again, then you have to PROOVE that you explained, then you have to tell who you’ve explained it to, et bloody cetera.

            It’s easy to lose perspective on how much this issue is out there, when plenty of people still won’t have ever run across it.

            You’re looking at the numbers completely wrong. It’s not a percentage. If it affects me, then it affects me 100%. If it doesn’t affect you, then it affects you 0%. But I am still affected.

            Honestly, this whole attitude of “Well, this doesn’t really have an impact on me, so I’m good with it” is absolutely atrocious. Do you really want to be this crappy to other people?

          3. Emdashery*

            We might not know each other’s stories, but the potential for these circumstances — for someone to be trans, to have a traumatic childhood, to be alienated from a parent, to not have photographs, to be of a race or ethnicity or religion excluded from an activity even if the idea came from good intentions — is indeed “majorly known.” Accommodating people who may be unable to participate in activities like those described shouldn’t rely on individual objections that (based on the stories being shared here) demand a go-with-flow or deeply personal explanation.

          4. Hippo-nony-potomus*

            Explaining to people why I don’t have baby pictures is easy. I tell them why I don’t, and if they get all sad face and assume that this is the start of a fairy-tale reconciliation with my family, I tell them, without much emotion either way, if they think my family is so amazingly understanding, I’ll hand over their contact information and they can make the call about my baby photos. Therein ends the matter.

          5. tamarack and fireweed*

            I think we’re at a point where a higher level of competency is expected when it comes to inclusive thinking. When someone plans any activity, the question “can everyone comfortably participate, and if not, how can we solve this? is this a situation of a highly unusual exception [much much rarer than people seem to think] or does the activity need redesigning?” should be on the default checklist even before running the idea by anyone else.

            I would go further and favor a norm by which we routinely interrogate what assumptions we have in mind when we propose or schedule something. Do we suppose everyone is a citizen of the country we’re located at? Is comfortable spending X amount of personal money to participate? Eats meat? Is of a vaguely Christian cultural background (eg. has a positive attitude towards Christmas and Easter)? Has children? Has no children/dependents? Enjoys physical challenges? Enjoys mental challenges? Is competitive? — Any assumption thus uncovered doesn’t imply the activity shouldn’t take place, but it’ll be 100% more successful if they’re defanged or made explicit. To the extend they’re exclusionary, sometimes redesigning helps, sometimes alternatives, sometimes … they just shouldn’t happen (cf. golf weekends or whisky tasting for executives).

          6. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

            People haven’t run across the concept of an abusive childhood? Seems difficult to believe.

            1. Les Cargot*

              Difficult to believe, but it happens. I have been on support forums for adults whose childhoods involved one or more abusive or severely neglectful parents or parental figures, like addicts or those with personality disorders. All too often, others who grew up in reasonably healthy families just don’t have the framework to accept the idea that even if “he’s your only father” or “she’s the only mother you’ll ever have” it is best for someone’s mental health to place extreme limits on contact with some or all members of their family of origin, or even to avoid them completely. I have also seen situations where a new significant other pushes an abused person back into contact with the abusers, only to regret it later: “I should have listened to my partner. This parent really _IS_ that bad and it’s better for the partner whom I love never to see them again.”

          7. JB*

            What on earth are you talking about? The game mentioned in the letter is such a notoriously bad idea that The Office featured it and demonstrated the drama that can come out of it. This is not some niche issue.

        2. ampersand*

          Omg yes. I had totally forgotten/blocked that I had a similar family tree assignment in middle school that was also painful (for several of the reasons mentioned). I hadn’t thought about it in decades and these comments brought back all the feelings. None of them good.

          Anyone who can’t understand why anger over this type of request is warranted should consider themselves lucky, and let the rest of us express our anger/dismay/outrage/sadness in peace.

        1. pancakes*

          No one has. It is wild and exhausting the way some people treat every bit of criticism they come across into intensely personal rejection.

      3. Roscoe*

        Thank you.

        I feel like this site always assumes the absolute worst intentions. Hell, I didn’t have a perfect childhood either, but I just haven’t really thought about this before.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t see that anyone did assume the worst intentions, let alone the absolute worst. Thoughtlessness is common enough and has enough downsides that it doesn’t need defending. It’s avoidable, too. People who feel it is their natural state of being should try to make a little more effort.

        2. Scarlet2*

          I honestly don’t see who’s “assuming the worst intentions”. Pointing out that something can be problematic is also not claiming anyone is “evil”.
          Sure, those people obviously didn’t think about it before, so isn’t it a kindness to point it out to them?

        3. A Teacher*

          Most people don’t have ill intent but a lot of people take it personally when its pointed out that its probably not the best activity and then want you to justify why its not a great activity.

        4. tamarack and fireweed*

          I don’t see anyone as presuming bad intentions.

          There are some places where social norms dictate that *not ever making your interlocutor uncomfortable* is placed above nearly everything else. This (rightly or not) evokes in me societies that are relatively closed and homogeneous, and this specific, relatively conservative way of honoring traditions, even bad ones. In this kind of company, making someone feel discomfort even justifiedly – even someone who just made a huge, pretty hurtful assumption about you – puts you into the wrong. I’d argue that this isn’t a healthy way to function in a diverse society, and that it puts the load on the shoulder of people who are already being made to feel marginal to get things changed, against resistance.

          It’s ok to feel uncomfortable when we mess up. It happens to all of us. Most of the time with no ill will. You apologize, and then you don’t do it again, and that’s all there should be to it.

        5. JB*

          What, to you, would ‘presuming GOOD intentions’ look like?

          Because I don’t see the letter writer, Alison, or any commenters assuming that the people who proposed the game are doing it to hurt people. So clearly there’s some disconnect between what people are saying and what you are understanding from it. Let’s bridge that gap.

      4. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Honestly, I had a very happy childhood with lots of photos, but getting one of those photos is just more labor than I would really like to invest in a ‘just for fun’ work activity. I would have to go physically over to my parents house and dig around in the photo closet until I found the baby section (which would be totally at random). Between drive time and digging around through hundreds of shoeboxes full of photos that are totally at random, I would estimate two to three hours (not including time spent doing IT work for my parents since I was there anyway) and there are so many other things I have to do with my free time that are not that. So no thank you all around.

        1. None of Your Beeswax*

          At some point I would do a Google Image search for a baby photo and let work think it was me. How would they know?

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Why, my photo isn’t a photo at all, just a scrap of paper scrawled with the words “Project Leda”…!

              1. Nesprin*

                That’s brilliant. Super tempted to submit a picture of a lab disaster for next baby shower where they do this nonsense.

            1. YetAnotherNerd42*

              I wouldn’t. Google “Nirvana Nevermind baby lawsuit” for details. Whether you’re sympathetic to him or not is up to you–I can see opinions varying on this one.

        2. PT*

          I live 800 miles from my parents. I’d need my mom to text or email me a decent photo of a photo. At which point it would be “wait how do I get the photo off the phone? Do I put the phone on the scanner and send you a scan? Do I text it to you? Do I print it out and mail it? Should I take the phone to CVS and get prints?” *facepalm*

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              The issue is not the simplicity of the process, it’s getting the person 800 miles away to follow verbal instructions. My husband and I both do tech support for our parents. Nothing like getting a half-hour into troubleshooting and realizing that the main issue is that the printer’s not plugged into the power outlet. None of them are stupid, but none of them get smartphones and the cloud. I would not personally go through the hassle I know it would involve for a work game.

              If my husband asked his mom for a baby picture, it’s easier, from her perspective, to take it to the Walgreens, make a photo copy of it, and mail it. She would even FedEx it, if it was a rush, because she’s a sweetheart. (Of course, in-focus photography is not my MIL’s strong suit – I could barely pick out my husband in many of the candid photos she brought as part of a photo display at our wedding. My husband and I still disagree about which fuzzy blob he is in one of them.)

              1. New But Not New*

                How old are your parents? I’m 66 and frequently send electronic pictures. It ain’t hard and all older people are not tech dinosaurs. I suspect none of the parents referred to here are out of their forties even, maybe early fifties. Tech has played a large part of our lives as well. Stop it with the thinly veiled ageism, people.

                1. JB*

                  Are you for real? People describing their own parents are being ageist?

                  My mother and father are around the same age and, having been married pretty young, have had the same exposure to technology. One of them can send photos in text, the other would need their hand held through the process. Not everyone is you.

                2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  I think you are reading ill intention where there is none.
                  My dad worked in tech most of his life, but has developed memory issues due to life choices. I have no doubt that on a good day he could do exactly what I needed, and intuit what I wanted even. On a bad day I don’t know if I could explain to him how to get started setting up the scanner. My mom can find anything at the drop of a hat, and could come up with any baby picture ever. She’d take a flip-phone-quality photo of it and text it to me or attach it in an email with all-caps words. It isn’t ageism, it’s a fact about who MY parents are.

                  My Mother in law, who is a number of years older than my parents, could very easily do the tech side and probably could photoshop any damage to the picture away. She keeps up with it and uses tech all the time. It isn’t age, it is WHO SOMEONE IS.

            2. G.Porcupine*

              I believe PT is talking about what their mother would do. As someone whose mother has literally taken a picture of a phone with her phone to print out to send to me, I felt it in my bones.

              1. PT*

                Yes, I meant that it is what my mom would do. My mom still mails newspaper clippings! She could send me a link to the article from the newspaper’s or magazine’s website, or she could scan it and email me a PDF. She could even just send me the name of the article, the author, and the publication and let me Google it on my own.

                But no. She clips it out, puts it in an envelope, addresses it in perfect cursive, puts a 50-something cent stamp on it, and drives to the post office to mail it.

          1. EmmaPoet*

            I live several thousand miles away, and my baby photos are packed in a box in the basement. My father is 87 and dealing with vision issues, so he’s not allowed to lift heavy things. He’d have to get someone to come over to dig it out for him, then find a picture to scan. He’s great at the tech end, but the heavy work end won’t do, and it also puts a burden on him at a time when he’s stressed out to begin with.

      5. DG*

        I don’t think it’s too much to ask that management consider the differences in their employees’ backgrounds, values, upbringing, etc. while making plans. That’s a baseline requirement to be a decent leader these days.

        It’s not all that different from hosting a mandatory ski trip or rock climbing “team building” event with no alternatives, holding every offsite at a bar, hosting an office wide weight loss challenge, holding an important meeting on Yom Kippur, wishing every woman a happy Mother’s Day (whether they’re a mom or not), etc.

        None of those things are *intentionally* malicious but it sucks when the people supposedly responsible for creating a welcoming and comfortable workplace don’t know any better.

        1. Observer*

          don’t think it’s too much to ask that management consider the differences in their employees’ backgrounds, values, upbringing, etc. while making plans. That’s a baseline requirement to be a decent leader these days.

          I’m not sure I would call it a baseline, though I would like to. But more importantly, people just DO NOT KNOW. And they often don’t even realize that they don’t know.

          Of course, that should mean that if someone brings the information to someone with decision making authority, that should immediately be taken into consideration and acted on. But if you start with the assumption that whoever decided this lack basic decency, you have a MUCH harder time.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Who started with that assumption?

            That smacks more of reading unwarranted things into people’s motivations than most of the responses to the initial issue do.

            1. Observer*

              The comment I was replying to started with “That’s a baseline requirement to be a decent leader these days.

              1. JB*

                Which isn’t about basic decency.

                Basic decency is a concept that encompasses a lot more than being a competent leader. It’s extremely odd for you to pick those two seperate words out of that comment as if they were being used together to describe that particular concept, when the sentence itself is discussing being a good LEADER rather than being a good PERSON.

          2. A Teacher*

            I don’t assume ill intent–if that’s directed at me since its on my post. I do assume a level of ignorance to the topic. If its left at Oh cool, I hadn’t thought about that, that would be awesome.

        2. lazuli*

          Exactly. So much of this comes down to recognizing that not everyone is the same as you and their experience of the world is different from yours, and taking that range of experiences into account.

      6. A Teacher*

        Well way to jump in that I’m angry– no, its a lack of knowledge but its NOT my job to educate someone as to what exclusion is. Kind of like the comment downthread about people essentially needing to “suck it up” in the name or resilience. Essentially, you have to think about what you’re asking people to do before you do it. If you are likely excluding a chunk of people, a different idea might be a better approach. In the name of fun isn’t fun for people that can’t participate because they literally have no pictures of themselves.

        1. Broadway Duchess*

          I completely understand this and it’s definitely not anyone’s job to educate but, like, I don’t think I would’ve thought about the exclusionary nature of this if it hadn’t been brought up here. I love pictures and have tons of them and my immediate thought would’ve been about how cute it would be to see everyone as babies.
          I’m so glad that these things are brought up because I’m part of the team that would do the activities at my company and it just did not occur to me that it could be painful to people. Having had to deal with microagressions regarding both my Black American heritage as well as my European immigrant heritage, I get where the constant educating others is just exhausting, but van be helpful in preventing potentially hurtful things from happening.

        2. Anon.2.3.4*

          You don’t have to educate people about the concept of exclusion, but the idea that this particular example is exclusionary isn’t as obvious or intuitive as you assume.

          There’s a difference between sending your staff rock climbing when some of them obviously physically can’t do it vs. thinking of ways that a baby photo request might be upsetting. For the abusive childhood example, people with normal/healthy childhoods might not assume that a baby photo would be inherently a trauma reminder – it’s just a picture of you! – and there are other people on here saying that they had bad childhoods and wouldn’t find this a problem. Just because you feel strongly about it doesn’t mean everyone in your situation does, or that it’s not something a reasonable person might need pointed out.

          Basically, it seems like a lot of people aren’t willing to give a medium response anymore, it’s either “this is not a real problem” or “of course this is a heinous request! how dare they!” Something can be an issue for you without it being universally a clear offense.

          1. A Teacher*

            My daughter doesn’t have baby pictures– read above. It doesn’t have anything to do with her trauma. She literally has NO baby pictures. When she says “I don’t have any,” you would think that would be enough but because people are people, they then say “oh, why don’t you have any?” That’s not their business unless she wants to share it. So yeah, its kind of annoying when you can’t participate because you literally can’t participate. The point remains its extremely exclusionary to more people than one thinks.

            1. HoundMom*

              One of my parents’ friends were emergency foster parents. Many of the children came and went through their house quickly. The first day they had any child, they took them to JC Penny’s for a picture. I really did not understand that as a teen, but as I got older, I caught on. A childhood picture showed that someone cared that they existed and would remember them.

          2. American Job Venter*

            At first I thought you wanted people to STFU and stop Spoiling Everyone Else’s Fun on the Baby Pictures Game, so I guess I’m glad you clarified that what you want is the perfectly phrased, no-one-could-possibly-take-it-as-aggressive, soul-baring yet not uncomfortable explanation delivered every single time.

            Or, put more simply, you’re using the Tone Argument — if people don’t explain the issues with the Baby Pictures Game in the way you deem perfect, we’re the sole and only problem. Which is and remains unconvincing.

          3. JB*

            Are you a person who thinks of yourself as having a lot of empathy for others?

            You might want to consider learning to practice deliberate compassion instead, because you have some glaring empathy blind spots.

      7. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        At an old workplace where we only had 2 Black employees, they brought up to the organizers that everyone had a 50:50 chance of guessing their baby pics. Organizer went, “Oh crap! I totally didn’t think of that” and changed the game.

        1. esmerelda*

          Oh that’s a good point! I feel embarrassed that I didn’t think before about how racial diversity (or ahem, lack thereof) would play a part.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I had this happen at a former workplace where the two Black employees were different genders, so that made it even easier to tell. Add on our only Asian employee and there was a whole section of the quiz that was no challenge at all.

          Workplaces and schools have been playing this guessing game for literal decades, so on top of all the other ways it’s exclusionary, it’s also really boring and cliche.

          1. LittleMarshmallow*

            We did this silly game at work a couple years ago with a team of about 15 people. I just thought this fit with your comment because it was funny to me that our only Asian colleague was the one that organized the game… coincidentally he didn’t actually submit a pic of himself… he submitted one of one of his kids – everyone pretty much guessed him but the scoring was done by how many you got right and the one or two freebies didn’t tip the scale. We had fun but we are a pretty close knit group that’s pretty good at making sure that the games chosen won’t exclude anyone. I think the pictures stayed up on the wall for like 6 months. Haha.

      8. Data Analyst*

        Nobody is saying they’re evil! And this is actually an example of a typical derailing response – changing the topic of the discussion to “what was their intention when they suggested the game” which is not really the point.

        1. American Job Venter*

          +eleventy. I was about to point this out much more spikily, so instead I will simply and thoroughly agree.

        2. Anon.2.3.4*

          It’s not so much “what were their intentions”, it’s “how understandable a mistake was this?” It seems like for a lot of people, there’s no room for something to feel hurtful or exclude them but also be pretty reasonable for the mistake-maker to not have anticipated. You can still classify something as a mistake without jumping to “don’t they think of other people!?”

          1. American Job Venter*

            Why are disclaimers required when expressing hurt? Why does someone have to say explicitly, “this hurt me but I’m Sure No One Meant For It To” for their objection to be valid?

            Answer: the Tone Argument.

          2. tamarack and fireweed*

            I don’t think anyone is arguing that there isn’t a way to overdo the criticism. However, I completely fail to see how the factual statement “Activity X is painful for people in situation Y” or “… is impossible/uncomfortable for me because of Y” is too much, even followed by “… and I think that whoever is organizing activities should be more attentive to this problem”.

      9. Anon.2.3.4*

        Yeah these concerns raised are good ones to flag up, but part of the reason this game asks for baby photos – not toddler photos, etc – is that baby photos are so innocuous and interchangeable. Babies at best only vaguely look like their adult selves, and unless they’re specifically dressed in pink or blue in every single photo (which would be pretty weird), or the only pictures you have include a lot of background info (in which case I assume they’re expecting you’ll crop it to just your face), it doesn’t seem like they would give away much of anything. An infant-age baby photo doesn’t seem as personal as one of you as a kid, because it basically looks like any other baby of your same general coloring.

        Basically, there are plenty of good concerns here, but it’s kind of disingenuous to portray this as something so obviously problematic. This should be more of a “hey, you may not have thought of this” rather than a “how could they be so clueluess!!” It’s just not assumed that people will identify so strongly with a photo taken when they’re like six months old that barely looks like them.

        1. A Teacher*

          See, now you’re pretty unkind. I’m not being disingenuous. I’m stating what an issue is with this type of “fun” that others may not think about. I don’t assume ill intent until the person that made the mistake of suggesting it wants me to justify why its problematic or why the person it impacts should just “suck it up.” Most of the time its a mistake–but this type of game excludes a lot of people. I think that much is obvious after seeing a lot of similar responses.

        2. PT*

          One of my friends did a game at her baby’s first birthday. It was “guess which is a picture of the birthday girl.” She hung 20 pictures on the wall and made us guess which belonged to the birthday girl, with a prize to anyone who got it right.

          The baby was *still a baby* and she was *right in front of us* and no one could tell.

        3. Hannah*

          You must not have read the rest of this thread if you still feel OK saying “baby photos are so innocuous and interchangeable.” I hope this discussion leads some folks to examine their assumptions.

      10. MinArlington*

        It’s HR’s *JOB* to be informed and anticipate these kinds of issues, not to have to be educated by the employees themselves. This kind of bullshit is why people like me have a deep and abiding hatred of most HR people — because far too many of them are ignorant, lazy, passive-aggressive wastes of skin who could not survive a week in any other role where they had to do something more important than think up silly bonding games. How about this: any HR role candidate should be presented with the baby-photo game and other such nonsense and asked: what do you think of this idea? Not given any hints like “how could this be problematic?” I’d bet real money that at least half of all HR people couldn’t pass that test.

        1. ADidgeridooForYou*

          Wow, I understand frustration towards HR, but I think calling them “ignorant, lazy, passive-aggressive wastes of skin” goes waaaaay too far. There are plenty of bad HR people, but that doesn’t justify such an extreme generalization. I’m surprised Alison hasn’t flagged this. Also, I’ve played the baby photo game a few times before, and it’s never been organized by HR.

        2. straws*

          Yikes. You’re basically making sweeping assumptions/judgments about a whole group of people based on your personal experience because of them making sweeping assumptions/ judgments about their employees. I’m sorry that you went through whatever made you so bitter about HR, but just like any other group of people there are good, bad, and everything in between.

      11. boop the first*

        As much as I don’t care to defend awkward social games, I’m also kind of surprised… The reasons listed are very different from each other and thus likely aren’t even in OP’s lane, so to speak. I’d be careful about using the trauma of others to get out of an activity I just don’t feel like playing.

        1. American Job Venter*

          The reasons listed are very different from each other and thus likely aren’t even in OP’s lane, so to speak.

          I don’t see how that follows. It could be that OP has one of the reasons listed, and then thought about how many other people might have many other reasons, and made a list of all the ones she could think of. That doesn’t prove anything about whether or not OP has one of the reasons or not, just that OP is capable of generalizing her experience of exclusion to a wider context.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          I don’t think I agree here. I’m not a vegetarian, and I’m white, but if someone at my workplace organizes an outing to, say, a restaurant that’s notorious for having no non-meat dishes (and the group is big/diverse enough that there is no universal enthusiasm for meaty food), or has a history of racial discrimination, then I’m not going. I won’t make a big deal out of it, I may tell the organizer privately, and if I have someone specific in mind that I think is being excluded, it would need some extra reasons for me to let them know.

        3. JB*

          ‘Using the trauma of others’?

          The game is a bad idea. Whether or not LW is personally affected by any of the reasons it’s a bad idea, they’re doing the right thing by speaking up.

          The alternative that you’re proposing is that, what, the only people who can call this game off are people who can say ‘I don’t think we should play this game because I, personally, was abused/lost my childhood possessions in a disaster/am transgender/etc’?

      12. AreYouBeingSeriousRightNow*

        I did an activity like this for our last holiday party *BUT* I made it completely optional. All games and activities should always be completely optional because there’s nothing fun or bonding about mandatory participation. It’s more fun when the only people participating actually want to do it. We also had an optional holiday pet photo contest and an optional virtual “bake off” where people submitted their photos and recipes and we voted on which looked the best and which we would actually try to make. That way, everyone could participate in at least one activity and nobody was left feeling like “here’s the one thing happening and I can’t do it.”

        1. Fust*

          Optionality is a good approach that looks like it covers all the “what if” bases, especially with other games to join so not participating wouldn’t stand out.

          My last workplace was VERY small, just 8 of us, with quite a bit of racial and cultural diversity. We played this baby picture game and it was hilarious as there was absolutely no guessing needed and we could tell who was who immediately. We all knew that would happen and we were all looking forward to it. I’m usually a pretty private person and I believe it was optional because I probably wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t.

      13. fhqwhgads*

        They don’t need to be evil to be hurtful. They could be inconsiderate and hurtful. Either way, the end goal is for them to stop being hurtful.
        I’d also argue forgetting trans people exist and that this would be an outing exercise for them is inconsiderate at best even without thinking of all the other possible reasons this type of game is a bad idea.

      14. Beth*

        Sure, lots of people haven’t considered the ramifications of their actions. That doesn’t mean their actions don’t do harm, though, and it doesn’t mean that people hurt by their actions can’t express anger or frustration with them. If someone steps on your toe, odds are they didn’t mean to do it, but you’d probably still say “ouch” and look pained, right? This is the same, except the hurt is emotional rather than physical.

        With this specific kind of activity, a lot of the frustration comes from the fact that there are SO MANY reasons this is a bad idea. It’s bad for people with shitty childhoods. It’s bad for anyone without good photographic records of their childhood. It’s bad for trans people. It can be bad for POC–if the game is “guess which photo is of which coworker,” and the workplace isn’t very diverse, this can very easily highlight that lack of diversity in an uncomfortable way. In short, it takes a lot of blind spots to go forward unquestioningly with this kind of game and not even consider that it might not be fun for everyone! It’s reasonable to be frustrated that the planner didn’t even pause to consider that.

      15. Batgirl*

        I don’t see thoughtless or inexperienced people as evil, but as a teacher I will absolutely side eye another teacher who asks personal questions about a child’s personal background before knowing their landscape. We get specifically trained to prioritize cared for children, and those who are living with extended family, and bereaved children. There’s no excuse.

      16. Lady Glittersparkles*

        Nobody said that teachers were coming from an evil place, not sure why you felt the need to read into it that way.

    6. MeTwoToo*

      At my work, we asked managers to (voluntarily with easy opt out!) submit a meme representing their personality and then everyone did a survey guessing which was which. Actually scarily accurate results!

      1. sb51*

        Although even this sort of thing can backfire— a friend’s workplace did something similar, although it was a shout-out-guesses rather than a survey. They’re a member of a marginalized group, and their meme had nothing to do with that part of their life, but a lot of guesses assumed otherwise. They themselves thought the game would be fine until it wasn’t!

        (I’m being vague intentionally: this is not the real example but think if there was only one Indian person in the group but a bunch of people used Bollywood memes and each time one came up it was assumed to be theirs. Except with some uglier stereotypes than Bollywood.)

        1. Anonny*

          Pokemon could be pretty good – particularly for a more millenial/older Gen Z workplace, but seeing how many older people got into Pokemon Go, it could work with them too. (I know there are a lot of Pokemon, but most people are either gonna pick from the original 150, the legendaries, starters, or the ‘feature’ Pokemon of each generation – the ones that show up prominently in the games and advertising, like mimikyu or wooloo, or the elemental monkeys.)

    7. SGK*

      Another reason these games are not the best: a few months ago, someone suggested doing this at my workplace (HQ for an international corporation). I had to gently remind people that my boss, as the only Black person working in the building*, might be more easily identifiable than others. The game never happened.

      *A big issue unto itself!

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        You also get to playing ‘how old does this photo look’ vs. ‘how old do I think my coworkers are’ which is just a whole game I think a lot of people don’t want played on them, and has lots of opportunity for offense.

        1. Sabina*

          Exactly. Pictures from my childhood look obviously like they were more than fifty years ago. Most people know my age, but still…

      2. Very Anon*

        This came up when someone proposed the baby picture game on our team as well. We are a little more diverse, but there were definitely people who, due to the intersection of race, gender, and age, would have been very obvious. To the credit of the person who had proposed the game, as soon as this was pointed out, they apologized for not considering this and sent an explanation to the team as to why that sort of activity is ill-advised so that no one would consider it for the future.

    8. Jay*

      Co-sign, and see also the ubiquitous family tree assignments and lessons on genetics that involve interviewing your parents and grandparents to see what traits you share. My kid was adopted at birth and we had to deal with that family tree crap twice – once in religious school and once in elementary school. She had classmates who were in foster care or lived with relatives or had lost a parent through traumatic circumstances – it wasn’t just her. UGH.

      1. SoloKid*

        Yeah, nothing like making up some relatives so you don’t need to draw out how your grandparents from the old country were cousins.

        1. Clisby*

          Surely there’s nothing shocking about grandparents being cousins. There could easily be kids whose parents are cousins.

          1. WorkingRachel*

            American kids will definitely think “incest” about anyone who has first cousins in their family tree–and probably much more distant cousins as well. I work with some pretty kind kids, but even they wouldn’t be aware enough to realize that cousin marriage is common in many places and was common here until a few generations ago.

            1. Anonny*

              Yeah, in my neck of the woods, before modern transit, there were villages where it was a choice of ‘marry a cousin’ or ‘marry no-one at all’, most of the time. Little rural out-of-the-way places where people didn’t visit often and people mostly left to go to market or to never return.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        First-generation German-American. We used to get a “fun” assignment for Veteran’s Day every year to write about a veteran in your family. Um. Nobody’s going to like mine much. I can think of a lot of other reasons the assignment wouldn’t go well, too. I hope they don’t give that assignment anymore.

        1. UKDancer*

          Wow that tends to presupposes one has a veteran in the family. Glad we never had that in the uk at my school as I wouldn’t know where to start and would really struggle to find anyone in the family who fit.. My one grandfather was reserved occupation and my other grandfather was too young for WW2. He did the mandatory national service as a RAF dentist which he hated but he never considered that counted as military, it was just the day job with uniform under his white coat.

          The closest is probably my Godfather (not technically blood family) who was a conscript in the Wehrmacht and really didnt talk about it.

          I think it would be better to ask people to write about someone military who inspired them. I mean I’d pick someone like Violette Szabo. Much less awkward.

        2. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          Jeez, what if someone is Quaker (or some other pacifistic religion) and has no veterans in the family? Or they’re like my family – my grandpa is the only person in my close family who was ever in the military (I’m sure I have third cousins or something who are vets but I don’t know them), and he was drafted during WWII, got through boot camp… and then the war ended, so he never had to fight.

          And let’s not even go into the people on my Austrian side…

          1. PT*

            A lot of kids in my high school were descended from Holocaust survivors (their grandparents, who immigrated here.) The children of Holocaust survivors had a draft exemption until the US eliminated the draft.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          A close friend and I once had the realization, over beers, that our grandfathers had died in the same war, on the same front, but on opposite sides. After an awkward two seconds of me sitting with my mouth hanging open, not knowing what to say next, my friend said “you know, if our grandfathers met in an afterlife, they’d probably have a beer together and be like “F that stupid war” and we both agreed and ordered another beer. But we were close friends. Would not go nearly as well with a group of coworkers!

          And frankly, to others’ point, this grandfather was the only veteran in my family. My other grandfather had a medical condition so serious that he was not drafted.

          1. UKDancer*

            My grandfather was a working class Emglish chap who was reserved occupation who lost a lot of friends in WW2. My godfather was a workibg class German soldier who lost a lot of friends. Both of them hated war and viewed it as pointless as a result.

            They met in the 1970s and became close friends. My grandfather wept when my Godfather died and said he had lost a brother. What they had in common mattered more than what they were born.

            1. American Job Venter*

              Thank you for telling us about their friendship and agreement. (I mean that absolutely sincerely.)

        4. quill*


          TBH I can think of other wars where people would also have problems with an assignment of that nature… though at my age it’s more likely that people would have had a fight about their dad or grandpa dodging the draft / not dodging the draft in vietnam…

        5. Jay*

          When my kid was about five or six, there was a family in our synagogue with an Israeli mom and German dad. They came to the US for college where they met and married. When we were working on the curriculum and got to WWII, they talked about preparing for the time when their kids found the photos of Dad’s relatives in their SS uniforms…this stuff is complicated. Their story definitely changed the way we approached that era in religious school.

          I don’t ever remember her coming home with an assignment like the one you mention. If she had, she would have had the choice of my cousin who joined the Marines in 1972 and spent two years on Parris Island pretty much stoned the whole time as far I could tell, or her bio dad who told her mom that he was in the Army. At that point we had no contact with him and no way of verifying that information. And the last thing she wanted to admit to her class was that her bio dad didn’t want to know her. I hate the blind assumptions behind this stuff.

        6. OhNo*

          Ugh, you’ve reminded me of the one year I got a similar assignment in middle school. I asked my father about it, and he sat me down for a very difficult discussion about my great uncle – a man who was part of the invasion of Normandy who suffered through terrible PTSD and depression for the rest of his life because of his experiences that day.

          In class, I barely got a quarter of the way through sharing his story before the teacher cut me off and decided we had suddenly “run out of time” for sharing our family stories out loud, even though we’d only made it halfway through the class. It wasn’t my intent at the time to call out a bad assignment, but in retrospect I hope after that experience she changed that assignment.

          1. Batgirl*

            I’m just really curious what she was expecting. A feel good Hollywood blockbuster? It’s a bloody war for crying out loud.

            1. OhNo*

              If I had to guess? General details about where and when they served, maybe what job they did, and less of the “he watched all of his friends die around him.” I got cut off when I was trying to explain the screaming nightmares he had for the rest of his life, so I’m assuming that was the particular straw that broke the camel’s back.

      3. Risha*

        Those are ubiquitous in baby books too, so when I bought one for my donor-sperm-conceived daughter I had to seek out one without spots assigned to ‘Mom’, ‘Dad’, and other specific family members. At least these days I had a pretty decent selection to choose from.

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        My high school journalism teacher used to have students research themselves as an introduction to that type of research. She stopped when one of her students found out his “sister” was actually his mother.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Oh. Ouch.

          Like those stories you hear about high school biology students finding out their dad can’t be their dad because of their cleft chin or whatever.

      5. It's Growing!*

        One really important lesson here: It’s OK to lie! You need a baby photo and for whatever reason you don’t have one or don’t want to use what you do have (and don’t want to be the one leading the charge on “this is a bad activity”)? Find something plausible online and use it. School kid being forced to do a family tree when chunks of it are missing? Make up some relatives and stick them in there. Make up some interesting stories about these fake people. Need a veteran to report on, but Grandpa was tried for war crimes? Make up a different grandpa, or use a real one, just someone else’s. Adopted? Use the adoptive family, and if kid’s ethnicity isn’t the same, too bad – these people are her family. Extra people sharing your home? Fine, call them aunts, uncles, and cousins. While it is good to be the one who points out how exclusive these assignments can be, not everyone affected has the obligation or desire to do so. Make it up! It’s not like the teacher is going to go to your house and start collecting birth certificates. [Note: this doesn’t work if there is real personal trauma involved. Then you are in flat out refusal to participate territory.]

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Take a stock photo and use it, complete with watermark.

          “But this says Getty Photos.”

    9. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I happen to have a wonderful photo of me as a baby with both my parents looking at me with supreme love on their faces and a big smile on mine. It’s charming! But I am well aware of how many people didn’t grow up with that kind of home and I can’t imagine doing this activity with anyone whose history I don’t already know.

      Also, you shouldn’t do third-grade “fun” exercises in a grownup workplace. If you want to build team morale, give people plenty of appreciation and money.

      1. Batgirl*

        Oh my partner could so have done with his firm taking that approach. He’s been getting nagged all week to wear a mental health pin as their only idea to improve “morale”.

      2. LittleMarshmallow*

        I think there’s a lot of “know your audience” when determining whether to play games like this as adults. While I agree that employees should be fairly compensated and such, the ones planning team events may have zero say in compensation (esp at bigger companies). My little team enjoys the occasional silly game like this and because we like to be silly at work sometimes we are actually well known as one of the more inclusive and welcoming sites to work at in our region. That said… I can’t imagine doing some of that stuff at some of the other sites for a variety of reasons. We do our work well and sometimes we do childish activities like coloring contests and even the photo guessing game. It works well at our site but wouldn’t everywhere and we adapt as our team changes.

    10. Erin*

      I’d be quite tempted, in that circumstance, to “manufacture” a baby photo for the child to use in these and any other situation where they want or need to do so.

      It would be unethical to use another child’s photo, of course, but generates faces; you and the child could spend half an hour refreshing the page, and pick one out that could be their “coulda woulda maybe” baby photo.

      (if any of you do do this, and involve a child, forewarn them that the algorithm sometimes puts extra people in shot, and they get distorted into nightmare creatures – otherwise they may have quite a fright)

    11. Allie Gator*

      My cousin was adopted when she was around 6/7 too and doesn’t have any baby photos, the oldest pictures we have are from when she was 4-5 and still in foster care, and they’re all either blurry, at a weird angle or there are other people in them.
      When she was in elementary school, they had to use a baby photo to build their family tree – she cried and the teacher wouldn’t budge and let her use a recent photo. She used one of those filters/apps that take a current picture of you and make you look younger, like a baby.
      If OP’s workplace insists, that could be an option I guess. This could help people who don’t have baby pictures, are uncomfortable asking their parents, are trans and don’t want to be outed, but note that this could still be triggering if there is childhood trauma. (in my cousin’s case, this wasn’t as she has very few memories from her early childhood, possibly repressed memories, and it’s also unclear what traumas she went through since different case workers shares different stories, and my cousin didn’t remember)

    12. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I am estranged from both my biological parents for GOOD REASONS. I only have a baby photo of myself because an Uncle and and Auntie recently went thru their clutter before moving and realized they had my baby announcement with photo (I’m in my late 40’s so that they still had it was fairly impressive) They gave it to me because they knew I only have like 3 pictures of myself from childhood. When my son was in Pre K they had to cut pictures out of magazines for a college to represent their family. At the time we had another family living with us. His teacher wouldn’t let him put the children, the mom or the dad from that family (who lived under our roof!) on his collage. Because they weren’t blood relatives. (So wrong for so many reasons!!) I’m a single mom. So all he could put on his collage was Me, him, and our pets. (Which as I pointed out to the teacher was not blood relations either) my 4 year old was so angry that this teacher policed who his “family” could be that he ripped the collage to shreds. I’ve spent my entire life telling people that “family” is the people who are there for you.

      1. Nynaeve*

        I would totally find a *not* legally reproducible picture and then find a way for the copyright holder to sue the company/school when they re-printed it in the newsletter or something.

    13. Momma Bear*

      I would just bear in mind that most people are not being malicious, they are just underinformed. Talk to them about options and let them know your concerns. If it was at work, I’d politely decline to play.

      An option could be you give them your favorite song or a photo of your favorite animal to guess instead.

    14. LA*

      Other downside to the matching game is when your workplace or classroom is not super diverse and so the one or two baby photos of a different race stick allllllllll the way out and guessing them is “easy” in a way the others aren’t so their otherness is brought home in a whole exciting new way.

  2. Venus*

    At most I would mention that the time is for routine bloodwork to ensure you stay healthy, but I would recommend avoiding even that much detail. We don’t live in an ideal world, and workplaces often judge. I have a coworker who had great support initially, then got in trouble because their broken leg wasn’t healing ‘normally’.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Yes, “I have routine bloodwork every fifth Thursday and need to take a long lunch, no big deal” or whatever fits your situation is PLENTY of information for work.
      I wouldn’t mention any mental issues (because people can be weird about that still), but I would definitely say routine. If asked for details (they really shouldn’t!) “Just regular stuff my doc wants” should do it. We want this to be a boring non-issue.
      (From someone who gets bloodwork every 5 weeks.)

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        OP5, is there any scheduling flexibility in your role? Could you say something like ‘flex my schedule on the first X’day of the month for a routine blood draw” and put it on your calendar? From my experience the fastest way to being uninteresting is to make the hours standard.
        (Here, the fastest way through a blood draw is to go when they open. Also, depending on their start time vs yours & transportation you might ask if there’s a lab close to your workplace.)

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This. By month three it will be “let’s set up a meeting… wait, is that OP’s early day? Ok, we will do it in the morning.”

      2. BlueK*

        Yeah. So many reasons you’d need to have your bloodwork done regularly – I’ve had to do it for a few months for my thyroid and also B12. And I know based on that that it does have to be really regular intervals. So schedule them all ahead if you can and have that schedule to give your work for the next 6 mo. or so.

        I wouldn’t mention mental health at all, and possibly not even bloodwork. By chance, I can randomly make a good guess what the diagnosis is. Just based on a case I worked on for a bit regarding those types of meds. Other people might too if they had family deal with something similar, etc.

        I wouldn’t mention that last bit at all as I don’t want the OP to feel I’m sitting here speculating! But as someone with MH challenges of my own, the stigma is real. I offer it as I find it’s helpful and empowering to have as much info as you can. Let’s you choose when (or if) you want to challenge that stigma.)

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I would see if you could get your PCP* to write orders for the office saying you need to go for monthly routine labwork. Then you have support from a Dr, but primary care and routine monitoring can be so vague that mental health would probably be on the bottom of any list (if it was even on most lists).

      *PCP = Primary Care Provider

    3. Artemesia*

      The mental health practitioner seems oddly clueless. Lots of people have routine medical blood work — I have had it when on new meds that are not mental health related. NEVER divulge mental health issues at work except when they are so severe that it is unavoidable as the discrimination is huge many places. You need a monthly medical appointment — nothing serious but needs routine monitoring. Don’t tell them more than that.

      1. MK*

        Yes, it seems weird that they advised disclosing mental health issues for this. Sometimes one has no choice in order to get the accommodation they need, but regular blood work checkups isn’t in that category.

      2. Clisby*

        Seconded. I’ve been going through routine bloodwork every 4-6 weeks for months now, so my PCP can figure out the right blood pressure medicine/dose for me. (At least 2 she tried caused my blood sodium level to drop too low, and another one caused some other problem.) I would guess there are all kinds of conditions that might require routine blood draws, especially after getting a new medication.

      3. Now I Know Better*

        Oddly clueless is correct. Several years ago on the advice of HR, I brought my psych paperwork for FMLA for my ADHD. She was hesitant to fill it out because she said it usually got people fired, but on my insistence she did, and I got fired a couple months later. My doc basically gave me an “I told yoou so” look.

        1. Windchime*

          I agree and would caution against telling work the reason. I had to take an FMLA leave for severe anxiety and panic attacks. When I got back, I told my boss the reason and that was the beginning of the end. I got demoted shortly after and they began the process of forcing me out. I would just say “routine lab stuff” and leave it at that.

        2. Avril Ludgateau*

          She was hesitant to fill it out because she said it usually got people fired, but on my insistence she did, and I got fired a couple months later.

          Isn’t this explicitly illegal? It’s the whole point of FMLA.

          I agree with not disclosing mental health issues due to stigma. Unfortunately, this continues to perpetuate the stigma, but it’s not exactly fair to ask any given person to be the sacrificial lamb to fight that stigma.

      4. Lacey*

        Yeah, it’s just so unnecessary to give that info. I’d just say I have a regular appointment I need to go to once a month. I’ve never worked anywhere that wouldn’t have been accommodating of that.

      5. Venus*

        You never have to divulge the condition even if it is likely to come up at work. If that happens then explain the effects (I’m a big fan of the truth, but when it comes to health and your employment I’m much more flexible so you can even blame it on the medication instead, for example I have a friend whose gout medication causes paranoia) but it is almost always a bad idea to explain the underlying reason. “With my medication there is a frequent side-effect of crying / anger / limping / etc, and if that happens then I will quietly find a washroom / spare office with a door / conference room for a few minutes.”

      6. Observer*

        The mental health practitioner seems oddly clueless.

        I’m glad to see that I was far from the only one who had that thought. Just VERY weird. On the one hand routine bloodwork IS routine across a whole spectrum of issues. On the other hand, as much as we would wish it to be otherwise, mental health issues (especially if you ~~~gasp~~~ need medication!) is highly stigmatized and disclosing could have negative effects on the OP.

      7. Em*

        It’s frustrating that that’s the case many places, but I agree. I have an autoimmune disorder and a serious mental illness. I’ve had to be in intensive treatment the last couple months and I’ve said it’s for an autoimmune flare–which isn’t untrue, as it has worsened, but that treatment is less time intensive. People still see an autoimmune disorder as out of your control, while a severe depressive episode means something might be wrong with your ability to get work done.

    4. LKW*

      Agreed, you don’t even need to mention that it’s to check medication levels, although that’s really common with a lot of different medications and even vitamins like iron for anemia.

      You can simply say that your doctor has requested you get regular bloodwork to monitor a health condition and that you’ll do your best to minimize any impact to your work.

    5. Xenia*

      Legs are insane. A friend at church managed to break his foot running up stairs (not tripping or falling, just going up quickly) and then was in a cast for something like 7 months? A big bulky cast too, not a subtle little one.

  3. RitaRelates*

    LW3: I was JUST thinking about how something like that would work at the companies I’ve worked for (AAM is a mind reader). I’ve heard of icebreakers like that and thought they would be cute, except for when I started thinking about the kind of circumstances you listed. Plus, having been one of, if not the only, black woman at many of the small companies I used to work for, it would be quite easy to guess which baby was me, which would take a big part of the fun out of it.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This Mis-posted above, meant for it to be here:

      In a prior office we had somebody who tried to “organize a baby pic board” where you had to guess who was who. I “constantly forgot” to bring in my picture.

      1. singlemaltgirl*

        we’ve done this but without the baby photos. we just asked people to send in a ‘baby animal’ photo that they most identify with/like/or just think is cute. then we’ve posted the photos of kittens, puppies, baby pandas, baby gorillas, etc. on a board and had people vote. it’s fun and people get to ask about why they chose that animal. and it truly is a guessing game.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          “Favorite baby toy” would work for me. People who have childhood pics could send them on, the rest of us whose siblings inherited the photo albums could get them from the internet.

          1. Zephy*

            “Favorite baby toy” has a lot of the same potential pitfalls as baby pics. Childhood/family of origin stuff just doesn’t belong in the workplace IMO, for all the reasons already listed.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Constantly forgetting to do stuff like this is a sound strategy. You will occasionally run into a busybody who has created a spreadsheet to track the pictures and will doggedly chase down anyone who “forgets,” but most of the time not.

      3. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Same here. I just didn’t participate. Our office manager was a nice person but not especially sensitive to people’s differing needs.

    2. Dawn or Shirley*

      Or when you’re one of two Black women and people guess wrong even though you have different skin tones and features and are far enough apart in age for it to be reflected in the photos…

        1. Curious*

          Misnaming them now is bad, I agree. Misidentification of baby pictures…does not seem to be evidence of evil.

      1. American Job Venter*

        Don’t I hear you. Did your coworkers call you two by each other’s names, too? I always loved when they did that to me.

    3. CBB*

      I would assume the baby picture thing was optional and delete the email without a second thought.

      But also, do people normally have access to baby pictures of themselves? If any baby pictures of me still exist, they’re in an old album somewhere in my parents’ house.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        I do, but I did a big scanning blitz years ago when I was at my mother’s and discovered all the family photos (dating back to the 1940s) were sitting loose in boxes, so it was for archival preservation purposes as much as anything. Still wouldn’t send a baby picture to work, that stuff’s private.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. Mine are also in a box somewhere in my parents attic. I would totally assume this is voluntary and just not respond. We’ve done it in the before times for the Christmas drinks and I think we had about 7-8 pictures from about 40 of us and had to match to the names.

        I think unless you’re being heavily pressured it’s fine to ignore the request or say you don’t have pics electronically. You can explain why this is a bad idea but I personally wouldn’t want to go into it. But then I tend to prefer finding a polite excuse rather than going into my personal life.

        1. linger*

          One variant, now technically feasible, that might be marginally preferable — though still likely running into problems around ethnic minorities — would be to pass *current* photos through a filter to generate a “baby” photo, and then another filter to abstract the result as a “drawing”. The double-filter approach would introduce enough error to make the outcome interesting, without revisiting actual childhood trauma.

          1. Kk*

            Interesting idea! Might not help on the trauma front based though. Because you’d still have to use the original to create that modified version. And looking at it all tends to be what prompts a trauma response. For me, songs are the hardest and they will get stuck in my head for days sometimes. I know for some people images can be like that.

            I actually really liked the AAM kitten suggestion if you absolutely have to participate.

              1. Yvette*

                I think Kk missed that part and thought the baby/childhood pictures would go through the various filters/software. Unless Kk meant that the thought was just seeing themselves as a baby might be triggering for some. Which is a possibility.
                I like the thought of memes or a picture of your favorite animal or favorite dessert or your dream home. If you have to do something.

      3. Hex Libris*

        There’s probably a ton of variation. Some people’s parents have easy-to-access-and-share photos. Some families have digitized their pictures. Some folks have lost their parents and inherited the albums.

    4. Nails*

      Yes, I experienced this icebreaker in a diverse group and it was actually slightly awkward because of that, as the white people visibly scrambled to give the same attention/teasing to the racialized minorities that they had given to the nearly-identical white babies. It’s supposed to generate banter and guessing and familiarity, and encourage paying attention to each other. Unfortunately, any banter that one tries to force about the singular (cute, adorable) East Asian baby lands badly: “Oh, maybe it’s Joe? I feel like this is… Lisa” is bad, but also so is instantly saying “Xiu Li!”

      Then the people of color had to scramble to banter, going: “Oh haha, I look different from everyone else here :) haha”

      So the visibly different people don’t get to participate in banter/guessing/familiarity, and in an effort to either pretend that they aren’t visibly different or to skip quickly past paying attention to them, they don’t get the same quality/type of attention.

      1. Epsilon Delta*

        I mean, it’s not even a fun game when there are no obvious answers (like the lone Asian baby or the photo from like 1950 vs the rest are from the 80s and 90s). It’s just… awkward. But I am also incapable of going on and on to new parents how cute their baby is, (like a sentence yes, I can manage. But I just don’t get excited about babies) so perhaps it’s a “me” thing.

        Anyway, OP, I like Alison’s suggestion of making this the DEI person’s problem. But otherwise, just “forget” to send them your photo or tell them you can’t find it.

        1. Nails*

          I don’t know if it’s useful, but you can just praise the qualities the adults like. Either one they’re proud of, or one that they are acceptably bantered on in the professional setting.

          i.e. if it’s a picture of themselves: “Oh wow, you were (positive quality) even then!” where the quality can be charm, intelligence, creativity, diligence, mischievousness, cheekiness, problem solving, etc. always making sure they are actionable things that people can do something about (i.e. not beauty, fatness/thinness, cuteness, etc. If parents are at all self-aware, it can be awkward to be praised on their ‘cute’ baby when they know it really isn’t.) If it’s their own baby, you can jokingly assign a positive professional quality or work-appropriate interest to them. Like, “Oh wow, look how clever. Ready to organize us all! When will you introduce them to Star Wars?”

      2. AGD*

        I did this with some colleagues once, and yeah. I ended up feeling bad for the BIPOC folks and the person with the large facial birthmark (who doesn’t love it when that ends up the subject of discussion).

      3. Tayto*

        Multiple people pretended not to realise that the one East Asian baby photo belonged to the one East Asian adult? What a strange ‘I don’t even SEE race’ moment. That must have compounded any weirdness at the initial situation by a lot!

    5. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I’m distinctive enough to be recognized from my one and only baby photo. So, thanks, but no thanks.

    6. Queen Esmeralda*

      My department did this once, and when my manager asked why I hadn’t brought in my photo yet for the game, I replied that I was the only white person in the department, so how difficult was it going to be to guess which one was my baby photo? She laughed because she seriously hadn’t thought about that.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My employer did this in 1999. I was in charge of collecting the photos from my department. I’m embarrassed to admit how diligently I went about that task. It was a small, all-middle-class, all-white (except for a lone white-passing Asian guy), company. It was a different time back then, at least as far as I could tell as a recent immigrant to the US, there seemed to only be one acceptable “normal” way to exist (white, cis, straight, middle-class, married with kids, coming from a family that also fit that description), and you just tried your best to fit into that mold. In that world, everyone would’ve been assumed to have a baby picture that would take some work to match with the adult, and that would not give away any information about the person’s past, or out them in any way. I also initially thought it would be cute, but the photo collection turned awkward really quickly when a coworker said they did not have baby photos and indicated that it would not be a good idea to ask why. So even back then, it wasn’t really a great idea. Definitely not in 2021 for all the reasons OP stated. I love the baby animal photo idea that singlemaltgirl suggested!

      1. CBB*

        I think you identified the core issue: the game only works if you assume that everyone had essentially the same childhood, i.e. that everyone was an unremarkable white baby who’s parents owned a camera, and that those pictures are still accessible and represent happy memories.

        This one game seems like a trivial thing that’s easily opted out of, but it is a stark example of why many people who don’t fit the standard mold feel unseen and marginalized.

  4. Shrug*

    LW#2, I’m assuming you mean real yelling, and not.just hearing something you don’t like. Yelling is often based in insecurity. It to remember that in the rare situation where someone is yelling at me.

    1. Anononon*

      I’m not sure why you would assume that OP doesn’t understand what yelling is? Also, while it can help to frame the yelling in a way to make it less personal, I think Alison’s suggestions of direct statements to get the yelling to stop are most useful. I ultimately don’t care why someone thinks it’s okay to yell or raise their voice at me – I’m putting a stop to it.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. Of course, if that framing helps someone keep their composure a bit better when they’re being yelled at, that’s okay, too. While crying is a perfectly appropriate reaction when you’re being verbally assaulted, some people are (needlessly) ashamed of crying in public.

        Granted, some people do interpret all critical feedback as yelling, but we have to trust the LW here that they aren’t doing that.

      2. Lessie*

        For some people, yelling = giving criticism/being firm, even if the voice is not raised. I know because I used to think so.

      3. Robert*

        I think we need to take the OP at face value, so Alison’s advice is sound.

        Having said that, I’ve worked with at least a couple of people in the last few years who’ve used the word “yell” to mean any kind of pushback or disagreement, no matter how politely it is delivered.

      4. Airy*

        There have been discussions here before about how some people use “yelled at” to mean any kind of “told off/given a talking-to” and others mean more literally “shouted at in a loud scary voice.” Similarly, in New Zealand kids often say their parents “growled” at them when they misbehaved, and nobody means they went “Grrrrr” at them like a dog or a lion, but if you weren’t local you might think it meant that. It’s not an unreasonable question.

      5. Expiring Cat Memes*

        I don’t know, I think the term yelling can be subjective. For example, I’ll often refer to a confrontational tone or louder than usual voice as yelling, but that doesn’t rise to everyone’s standard of what they consider “yelling”. And I’m not saying that to doubt OP’s word, I’m saying it because a derailing argument about semantics with the side of gaslighting only escalates things when all you want is for the yelling to stop.

        Rather than “stop yelling at me” I’ve had much better luck with a version of “you’re coming across aggressively and making me uncomfortable”. Sometimes with an optional “you may not mean to, but regardless, it’s upsetting so I’m walking away until we’re both in a more calm state”.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For the sake of not totally derailing, let’s assume the LW does in fact mean yelling. (I agree that some people use it to mean “being lectured or told I was in the wrong” but I don’t think that’s the case here based on the context.)

    3. Medusa*

      In my case I started yelling back at my manager. Then my colleague followed suit and also started yelling at him. There were only three of us because it was a satellite office, and there were times where my colleague and I would both stand there yelling at our manager. We both quit, to his utter shock.

      I’m not recommending that anyone do this, obviously.

  5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    Ah the “Bob’s” of the office, the ones who are convinced that everything would fall completely to pieces without them. They can be either the super frustrating missing stair or they are the office “comic relief” that actually frustrate the dickens out of everybody (while also making all and sundry wonder why Bob still has a job).

    Ultimately I agree with Alison, look over Bob’s history and act accordingly with regards to the embellished self-review.

    1. Expiring Cat Memes*

      Oh, Bob. I work with a Bob too. Thankfully he’s not my job to manage though, because he’s that far gone I would not even know where to start on popping his delusion bubbles. I can’t help but wonder if the person who came up with the idea of 360 degree reviews was the dumbfounded manager of another Bob DelusionPants…

      1. Dwight Schrute*

        I could totally see that- the manager wants to know if Bob is this delusional outside of work too

    2. Despachito*

      There is a possibility that Bob considers the evaluation completely useless, and is deliberately boycotting it.

      I have seen a person completely boycotting the evaluation – they definitely thought that it was useless (and it very possibly was), but had to fill it anyway, and from the way they did it was clear they thought it was BS.

      It is not the best thing to do but it can be an indicator that there might be something wrong with the evaluation system in that company – that it is formal, leads to nowhere and is generally a pain for everyone.

      1. Lance*

        If that is the case, though, I’d argue it’s on Bob to actually say something, not try and play silly games and hope that someone gets the ‘real’ meaning behind it.

        1. Despachito*

          I completely agree that it is by far NOT the best solution to do it, but I’ve also seen a situation when the only person Bob could say something to was his immediate boss (Eve), but the evaluation was ordered by the grand-grandboss several levels higher as a whole-company policy. Eve felt the same way as Bob (that the evaluations were useless) but she did not feel she had the standing to question the policy.

          The “best” solution in this case for Bob and Eve would probably be to toe the line, not sweat it and write something neutral which would satisfy the bigwigs (I myself would do that), but in the wider picture, I hate the double-think (formally do what they want knowing that at best it is BS and at worst it can do you actual harm if you are stupid enough to be frank)

      2. katkat*

        Yea, this is what I was thinking. Its very passive-agressive, but i totally regocnise the impulse.

      3. pancakes*

        If that’s the case he’s not boycotting it so much as sabotaging it. Boycotting would be not participating. I suppose it’s possible that he’d rather make a fool of himself than express what he thinks is wrong with the evaluation system, but the manager is still going to have to talk to him about his evaluation either way.

      4. Snow Globe*

        If that is Bob’s intention, then I feel like applauding him. Self-evaluations ARE generally useless. In my organization, I know that the managers meet to determine employee ratings about a month before the self-evaluations are due, so the self-evals are not used for that purpose. And in over 20 years, I’ve never had a manager actually discuss what was in my self-eval – even Alison says not to bring it up unless it’s part of an overall pattern. I typically just copy mine from one year to the next, just updating a few details, like how many llamas I groomed this year. I can actually get behind this type of malicious compliance, if that is what it is.

        1. pancakes*

          If your central objection is that the process is useless, I’m not seeing how a uselessly coy objection in the form of clowning around with it accomplishes much. It seems like the best case scenario is that someone sees it as a form of objection rather than as curiously obtuse self-praise, but why not just be clear about objecting to the lack of meaningful engagement in the process?

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          That’s unfortunate and sounds like poor implementation. Our self-evals are due before I’m even given the materials to start writing mine (self-evals are part of the packet I get), and I always use them because one of the questions is about goals for the coming year – helpful to know so that I can make sure they align with organization needs but also so I can start thinking about what resources are available to meet those goals and write a more specific and concrete version into their eval goals. I always make clear, either in our eval meeting or in their written review, that I did read their self-evals.

          1. Jay*

            Same here. The eval doesn’t come to me until the employee has done the self-eval. I go over it with each person and my boss reviews mine with me.

        3. Retired Prof*

          My organization did not require self-evals but I asked my reports to do a short statement of their achievements for the year. We were a very independent office and I often did not know all the details of what my reports had been doing – just the outcomes. I found it really useful to see their perception of what they had achieved and it helped me write performance evaluations that would support any requests for reclassification or in-range salary increases.

      5. Observer*

        There is a possibility that Bob considers the evaluation completely useless, and is deliberately boycotting it.

        No. If anything it’s intentional sabotage. Because this is an awful lot of effort for a “boycott”. A boycott would have had short, low effort and pretty meaningless answers.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I don’t know – I had a former colleague with a philosophical objection to self-evals and used his every year as a creative writing exercise. He had fun writing it, and it drove HR and his boss crazy. He otherwise did exceptional work and got on well with coworkers.

      6. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Honestly that was my first read too. If this is the first self evaluation in X number of years (since he’s the longest-serving employee) that he’s done this, then maybe he’s having a laugh at the whole process.

      7. Not really*

        I wanted to comment the exact same thing! Not really boycotting, which would be not doing it, but making a statement about its uselessness by writing this kind of thing. He could be playing with everyone by doing so.

    3. Yulia*

      I had a “Bob”. When he quit (very happy about it as it saved me from more performance management) he stated in his resignation email that the company would go down the pan with me in charge. Absolutely delusional about himself, and also about how much influence I had as a bottom level manager in an international company.

      1. Bagpuss*

        We had a Bob like that – they wrote a letter when they resigned saying that we’d be lucky to find anyone even half as good as them.

        Realistically, it would be hard to find anyone even half as bad. They were in complete denial about their own terrible performance, despite this having been raised with them on multiple occasions, and significant efforts having been made to provide support and advice to improve. (They were in a position where they were likely to be dismissed, when they resigned)

      2. Dust Bunny*

        We had one of those. He left with a big flounce and then called our HR six months later to try to get his job back because whatever other place had hired him based on the fact that he was a rock star figured out who he really was and let him go.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’d address it with Bob. If he’s saying it in writing, he’s saying it to his co-workers already. And he’ll brag about you ‘agreeing’ with him if you don’t expressly disagree. Gentlest way to pop his bubble is to ask him to rewrite it. “None of us are perfect, Bob. If nothing else, this is your chance to talk about the skills you want to develop.”
      But do think his role through. *IS* there some task he’s doing? And has been doing long enough that no one else even thinks about it?
      I bet it’s just him bloviating, but your business might suffer if not, so I’d dig and be sure. It’s just not for the review because in this 0.05% chance scenario it’s a management problem.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        PS. First time it felt natural to use of those words I’ve read and loved! 19th c has some gems. Relates to “a blowhard” in my understanding.

        verb INFORMAL•US
        talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way.

    5. Triplestep*

      Bob may just be obliviousy unaware of his level of importance to the company, or he may have one of the personality disorders that make a person feel they are held in higher esteem than they actually are. LW#1, I have no advice if this is the ccase, but reading about Narcissism (the personality disirder … not the tendency towards vanity) totally explained one of my managers to me after years of being baffled by this person’s behavior. You may want to look it up and see if any of the other aspects fit Bob’s patterns. Another is Borderline Personality Disorder. I am not suggesting you diagnose Bob, just to keep in mind that there are reasons other than being generally clueless a person might lack self awareness. It could be that no amount of a manager’s coaching is going to change that for Bob.

      1. Observer*

        I’m not sure how anything changes if you are correct. Because it could just as easily be that no amount of a manager’s coaching is going to change anything if it’s just cluelessness of such proportions.

        Allison’s advice is not along the lines of “Do this thing and your employee will suddenly become self aware.” It’s “Do this so you can figure out how much or a problem you actually have, and to give you the best chance of getting a useful outcome.” Because fundamentally, the OP doesn’t have too many other choices, no matter the cause of this ridiculous self- eval.

      2. JB*

        Goodness. If you’re going to go around diagnosing random strangers, you may at least want to be more educated first. NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) is no longer a valid diagnosis, it’s been removed from the DSM.

    6. BethDH*

      I’m really curious about this because it sounds like Bob is a long-standing employee but this sounds like a new behavior. If so, or even if it’s just that OP wasn’t Bob’s manager before, I think it does give OP an opening to a conversation about how to do a productive review process on both sides and maybe figure out if there’s something under it that needs to be addressed. Bad advice, pandemic frustration, mental health changes all seem like possibilities but ideally would be handled differently.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed. There is an art to writing a self review, and last year my upper management gave classes on writing productive self-reviews for the whole department. I went because our self reviews get written at the same time as your manager writes their review of your work. Both are evaluated together (but more emphasis on the manager’s reviews) to determine performance bonuses.

        (Promotions and raises are handled completely separately through a very formal process that is explained at onboarding and also written down in the employee manual.)

    7. Lacey*

      One of my siblings managed a “Bob”. He had rated himself 5 out of 5 in everything, where my sibling thought he was barely scraping by with a 2 out of 5. He quit shortly after that review, much to my sibling’s relief.

    8. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I once worked with a news reporter who was very good-looking but not superb at his job. When he got fired, he famously told the boss “you’re making the worst mistake of your life!” which the boss thought was hilarious. Last I heard the ex-reporter was working as a bartender in Key West (and probably making more money than he had in journalism).

    9. Cold Fish*

      I was wondering if Bob read an article or got advice from someone who recommended only putting positive things in a self-evaluation but Bob took it a little too far. There are all kinds of interesting interpretations of generally good advice out there. (I do tend to give people a generous amount of doubt before assigning malicious intent)

      Granted I’ve worked with a few people who were cluelessly arrogant. Typically the people who are most oblivious to what the job actually entails. Decent management roots them out fairly quickly. Poor management, those people tend to continue on in blissful incompetence.

    10. Janet*

      Hi everyone and thanks for all the thoughts and suggestions. I am Bob’s manager, and we have already finished the review so mostly these are ideas I’ll take forward for future interactions. I suspect most of us have worked with people who were pretty delusional about their value to the company, but I’ve never had to manage one of those people before myself. Things went pretty normally during his review. I didn’t directly raise the over-the-top comments and neither did he. We just kept it straight forward and talked about his work like I would with anyone else — basically a chat about what went well and what would be good to change or do more of going forward. I would have been more direct if I had read all of this feedback earlier, but I probably still wouldn’t make too big an issue out of it — in the end I’m not sure I could really change Bob’s personality. He has always acted a bit like the under-appreciated martyr but things seem to be escalating as he gets older. I’m sure a psychologist could cast light on the reasons, but I don’t think I need to dig deeply into that.
      One other thing I’d say in defence of self-reviews is that it isn’t always easy to remember what everyone did in the past year when you manager a team. To me, one of the benefit of self-reviews is being reminded of accomplishments and seeing what employees valued/enjoyed about their work that I have forgotten or didn’t realize in the first place. It really helps spur a much better conversation. But the part where people have to finish the form by giving themselves a score/ranking is awkward for sure.

  6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    In a prior office we had somebody who tried to “organize a baby pic board” where you had to guess who was who. I “constantly forgot” to bring in my picture.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I meant for that to be below, sorry.

      And yeah – things that make one person stick out, especially when it’s a kid who already worries about being different, feels wrong. I had one teacher for the Younger Orchestras who changed baby picture to family picture when some said I don’t know if I can find a baby pic. The family pic made it so that nobody was left out/different. It was nice.

      1. Amaranth*

        I don’t know if that is any better, in terms of not making people stand out. Nontraditional families, economic differences, maybe your family hates taking photos, etc. I know it seems like a stress free, simple and inclusive exercise, but it has a lot of potential landmines. Maybe if they said bring a baby photo, or one of family/pet? Then at least you’d get a variety and someone can introduce their pet turtle.

        1. BethDH*

          I had one that was being in a photo of the place you’d most like to go in the world. Some people got personal (“where my grandparents are from”) but it was voluntary how personal it was and plenty of people said something like Tokyo or Hawaii.

          1. UKDancer*

            I’ve had this as an ice breaker before and it’s one of my favourites. You can be as personal or not as you like. We had everything from Saudi Arabia (chap going on the Hajj next year) to someone’s allotment because that was their escape from things. With a fair few major holiday destinations in between.

    2. John Smith*

      If it were me, I’d bring in a baby photo of someone else. Maybe one that’s famous (like the swimming baby album cover) or one so obviously not me (for example, a baby with far different visual characteristics) just for giggles. We did have one once (voluntary) which I didn’t contribute to, and it went off without a hitch, and I think the reason why is that key word “voluntary”.

      1. Beth*

        I love the idea of a kitten picture. “It’s a baby picture! Oh, you meant a photo of MYSELF as a baby? Sorry, I don’t have one.”

    3. Melly Melz*

      Why not just directly say you’re not bringing it and give them reasons if asked? It may have helped the whole situation rather than have them continually ask for your photos.

    4. Vanilla Bean*

      I do have baby photos and I have enjoyed this game in the past when it was done as part of a voluntary thing someone in one of my social circles organized. I don’t like participating by sharing photos at work, though…I’m pretty reserved and it’s just not my thing.

  7. Dennis Feinstein*

    LW3 There are many many perfectly good reasons why one might not have baby pics/mightn’t wish to share baby pics – maybe the parents weren’t photo people, maybe they didn’t have a camera, maybe pics were lost in a fire or flood or a house move, maybe they’re in witness protection etc. Anyone organising this type of “ice-breaker” activity probably understands that they’re not going to get 100% participation, so you could feel free to just not respond or to respond with a “sorry, don’t have any” and it will be a non-issue and same goes for anyone else who doesn’t want to do it.
    Of course, if you feel like pointing out to the organiser why this kind of activity might not be fun for everyone — that’s great, but if you don’t have the bandwidth for that, just let it go and don’t participate.

    1. I need cheesecake*

      “ Anyone organising this type of “ice-breaker” activity probably understands that they’re not going to get 100% participation”

      You would think. But when I pushed back on a request like this, it just hadn’t occurred to the organiser that there could be any issues.

      People can sometimes make very normative assumptions.

      1. AnalystintheUK*

        I had the same experience – a new manager decided to run one of these after a restructure (to help us “bond” again *eyeroll*) and when not everyone sent in photos he sent chasing emails to the ones who hadn’t. When I then said I wouldn’t be participating he asked why in a weirdly aggressive manner, because “why don’t you just ask your parents for one?”. I just didn’t want to participate because I keep work and personal separate, I can’t imagine how unpleasant that would be for people in the kinds of situations the letter writer listed.

        1. Former Employee*

          “why don’t you just ask your parents for one?”


          It would be so tempting to tell that sort of bleeping manager off, such as by saying that you have no intention of bothering your parents just because he decided to play trivial pursuits. Of course, that’s something I would think, not say.

          I suppose it would be amusing if someone had parents who were VIP’s and they could explain that between their mother who is attempting to figure out a way to halt climate change before it’s too late and their father who is involved in peace negotiations between two warring factions in Pissedoffistan, they just don’t feel that they could bother either of them to look for a baby picture at this time.

        2. Attractive Nuisance*

          Uh… because my parents don’t work here? You planning to pay them for hours of searching through boxes?

        3. Aine*

          Both of my parents have passed. We were poor, so even if they weren’t dead, there’s no baby pictures to get.

          There’s so many reasons why someone won’t have or wouldn’t want to share baby pictures, including socioeconomic status, age (there’s obvious differences in a picture taken in 1971 v. one taken in 1993 for example), adoption, being trans, medical issues like birth defects or things people may have changed about their appearance and don’t wish to revisit. Heck, some people just may not like what they looked like as a child.

          It’s weirdly invasive for a ‘fun work game’ in my opinion.

      2. LKW*

        This is when I like to just lie. Sometimes I like to make the lie really uncomfortable.

        Normal lie: Unfortunately, all of my baby pics were lost in a house fire.
        Uncomfortable lie: Unfortunately all of my baby pics were lost in a house fire that my father set for the insurance money.

        1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

          I have a friend whose dad actually did this. Then he didn’t pay his arsonist and got in trouble with the mob.

      3. Venus*

        Comments like these make me appreciate my workplaces. One big group had a baby photo contest and maybe 5 people of 200 brought their photos, which were posted in the coffee room, so it was a nice distraction without any pressure by the subjects or the guessers.

    2. No name for this*

      Yeah. Or, one might have been the wrong-gendered child who “ruined her parents’ lives”, and the few childhood photos that did exist got taken as an act of spite* by the non custodial parent after the inevitable divorce. I mean… as a hypothetical example, of course.

      My workmates have lovely families. They don’t understand why I don’t talk about mine.

      * not because he wanted my pictures but because they were kept in with all the photos that my mother did care about losing, so he took them all.

    3. YetAnotherNerd42*

      I’m LW#3–I absolutely don’t have the bandwidth for this, don’t feel comfortable pushing back, and I’m not someone who’s in one of the “suspect classes” for whom participation would be seriously problematic (like trans people).

      It’s just that with this and other kinds of “Mandatory Fun” conducted in a work environment, there’s always this implication that you have to participate or you’ll get labeled the dreaded “Not a team player”, or that you’re some kind of buzzkill or wet blanket. Otherwise, as AG and others have counseled, I’d just quietly ignore it.

      1. Observer*

        Obviously, if you have someone whose job is DEI, then a short note to that person should do the trick. If not, it’s a bit trickier.

        Is there some sort of anonymous “suggestion box” or response line? Because it would be nice to drop something in pointing out the problem.

        If not, and you have a decent rapport with either your manager, the organizer or someone in HR, a low key email saying something like “I’m sure that you didn’t realize this, but there are a lot of people who might not have baby photos. And very often the reasons are really difficult for people so this could wind up backfiring.” might do the trick.

      2. Shenandoah*

        Hi LW#3 – I’m in charge of organizing some mandatory fun at my office right now – we were going to do something like this but your and everyone’s points are well heard and I’m going to make sure the activity is changed. Thanks for helping me not do something that could be hurtful!

        1. YetAnotherNerd42*

          You’re welcome, and thank you for being receptive to criticism and comment.

          For a hot second I had the idea that it’d be hilarious if it turned out that you were the person at my office who was organizing this thing.

        2. Anon for this*

          Ditto! This turned out to be a very timely post for me to read, as this activity was suggested at our last “fun committee” planning meeting as something to do in our year-end virtual team get-together and our next planning meeting is tomorrow – I’ll take some time today to come up with alternative ideas to suggest (I like the baby animal suggestion!).

      3. Hex Libris*

        Hey, LW, sorry to hear it. Do you know someone who does have the bandwidth? If you don’t have a DEI person or an anonymous way to send feedback, maybe you have a coworker who can carry the torch.

  8. A Wall*

    LW #5 I definitely agree that you should just be vague and say you have an appointment without getting into why. If your doctor is encouraging you to disclose anyway, feel free to ignore them.

    I had a psychiatrist for a while who insisted that the best way for me to deal with some of the mental struggles I was having re: my physical-but-invisible disability was to be extremely open about it at work. It did not matter how many times I told her that I had crappy, discriminatory experiences at every single job that had ever found out about my illness and that I did not want to disclose it out of self preservation, she insisted that disclosing it was a necessary early step in “radical acceptance” and that there was no possible way anything bad could happen. She insisted that, because it is impossible to psychically tell the future or read minds, I had no reasonable way to know disclosing was possibly dangerous and therefore not disclosing it was an irrational behavior. She was full of crap, I knew she was full of crap, and when she wouldn’t listen to me explain how disability discrimination is real and common I left and found a new psych. So if you have a doctor pressing that specific course of action, stand firm on not disclosing any info around your office unless you personally want it known.

    1. Qwetry*

      When taking work advice from mental health providers, it’s good to remember that many of them don’t have a lot of experience in a normal workplace – in fact, their experience of reporting to someone may be predominantly with clinical supervisors, which is a boss/mentor/teacher/therapist mix where sometimes it would be necessary to talk about how your own issues are impacting your relationship with your client.

      1. Observer*

        The thing is though, that any mental health professional who tells A Wall what they describe is incompetent. Because part of working with people’s mental health is understanding the BASICS of people’s environments. And even if the therapist who never worked in a situation other than a mental health clinical setting with good supervision, how could they not know about the existence and prevalence of disability discrimination, especially around mental health? And how do that say something like “Unless you know for CERTAIN that a certain result is going to happen, it is irrational to factor that into your decision making”. *THAT* is irrational! Amazingly so. It’s also extremely problematic for a mental health services provider (or any health services provider!) to ignore the facts that a patient presents.

        In other words, this is NOT about bad work advice. It’s about an abysmal failure to understand or take into consideration that actual circumstances of the patient.

    2. Blomma*

      Ugh, that psychiatrist…At my current job, I’ve shared some of my symptoms (but only some of them and not too frequently so people don’t roll their eyes or say I’m whining) and have gone as far as saying I have a type of arthritis. Am I going to say that I also have fibromyalgia and live with brain fog? Heck no! I do not need anyone’s b.s. views about fibro nor do I need people to question my ability to do my job well despite the fog. My experience has definitely been to share a limited amount and to be careful that the details I’ve shared don’t encourage other people to share with me too many opinions about my medical issues.

    3. Former Employee*

      Good for you! I look at it as a positive sign of your mental health that you realized that you knew more than your psychiatrist about what workplaces can be like.

      She might as well have told you that if you walk in front of a moving car you can’t know for sure that they’ll hit you. Would you really want to try it and find out?

    4. Retro*

      Here’s some economic theory for your psychiatrist:
      Risk equals probability times impact. (Reward is also probability times impact.)
      If the impact is very large, as losing your job (and honestly the psychological impact of discrimination) would be the probability can be small and then the risk is still significant.

      (Thinking like this is why I failed at cognitive behavioural therapy. “I know the chance of it happening may be small! But if it happens it will be so awful that I still don’t want to risk it!”)

      1. nonegiven*

        I failed because the answer to “What is the worst that could happen?” was pretty bad and not at all uncommon.

        1. Retro*

          Yes – my fears were essentially of things that repeatedly happened in the past (and had catastrophic consequences) happening again. The idea of trying CBT for PTSD is, er, interesting.
          (So is CBT for depression, actually. The premise of CBT is that your thoughts are irrational and causing inconvenient emotions – while studies have shown people with depression tend to be more realistic than non-depressed people, and non-depressed people are just delusionally optimistic.)

    5. Cj*

      I understand not wanting to give mental health information, but what about something like migraines and backpain (which my direct supervisor already knows about)?

      I am in the process of applying for FMLA right now. Should have done it a year ago, because now I’m on a probationary period because of my attendance. I didn’t know we had it because it is not required based on the number of employees, but my employer has a voluntary FMLA plan.

      1. Retro*

        Pain sydromes (chronic pain, chronic episodic pain, visible disability that causes pain, etc.) aren’t unstigmatized, especially for women but perhaps for men as well.

        1. Cj*

          That is very true about migraines, especially when talking to men. It’s “all in your head” in a common response. Yeah, I know it’s in my head, but physically, not mentally.

        2. PT*

          Migraines are really common. In one of my last jobs, we had something like 25% of the women in the department had varying degrees of migraine disorders.

          Which of course leads to minor frustrations when people are like “oh no migraines are the worst would you like (insert person’s favorite remedy that the other person hates.)” But generally everyone understood.

  9. staceyizme*

    OP #2- boss or not, the behavior is really a bad sign in a work environment and one that you have every right to defend against. Since some work environments are reasonable than others, you’ll have to evaluate for yourself whether it’s an unfortunate exception, an unfortunately normalized occurrence or something else. BUT I do agree- you don’t have to put up with it and you don’t do anyone any favors by tolerating it! Make the whole topic about the yelling. Don’t back down and don’t entertain a single, solitary deflection or minimizing of this kind of toxic conduct until your point is received. “I’d really like to hear what you have to say, but the yelling is making it hard to focus.” “You seem exceptionally upset. I’m now upset because I’m being abused. How can we move forward? (Without yelling…?)”. “I want to hear you. Unfortunately, your behavior is VERY disturbing. Would you mind lowering your voice a bit so that I can help with whatever is bothering you?” And if profanity, name calling or bullying remarks are on offer, don’t pick them up. Seriously, you can (if need be) elect to stand in stupefied and very determined silence before uttering a “wow” or two and then leaving. Let the bad behavior become the focus until it’s moderated. Then you can elect to address the issue. (Post apology from any fire breathing, chest beating bosses or colleagues. Because any boss that’s ever navigated a line at the bank’s drive through or a toddler’s reaction to an overdue nap should be capable of handling a business difficulty without coming unglued…)

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Right, but I would be careful with that. If the boss has firing power, it could be used at that time, just because it can be done. It really depends too if you’re in an smaller or larger organization. In a larger organization with a decent HR, you have a better chance.

      I once worked with a yeller manager, and though she was not my actual boss, the one time she went so over the top I tried talking to my actual manager about her, the one person on our team who witnessed it at the time lied and said it didn’t happen. She was being protected. The only way I finally got away from her was getting a job on another team. Of course, the yelling incidents had increased after I told my actual boss I had applied for another internal job, which our HR dept requires. I will say though there was some karma, as the yeller manager wound up being fired several months after I left.

      1. BayCay*

        This is why I just shied away and took it like a bag of potatoes when my boss yelled at me. I knew his personality well enough to know that even speaking up for myself calmly would probably lead to me being disciplined. Definitely not an apology. My only way forward really was to accept that he was just a 45-year-old toddler and start applying elsewhere.

    2. Web of Pies*

      When it’s happened to me, I let them finish and then stop them before they storm off and tell them in my best Patient Teacher voice I understand that they’re frustrated, but they can’t talk to me that way. Luckily, my yellers have always been “exceptions” (not people who yell frequently) and immediately apologized and acknowledged the inappropriateness.

      Stacey is right on that you CANNOT escalate the yelling or match it. Defend yourself by being the calm, mature adult in the room (and also start looking for new work! You should never be yelled at by anyone ever, but especially at work.)

  10. Double A*

    I have to admit I wouldn’t think anything of a baby picture request, especially if it was an optional activity, and I don’t think it inherently belies the company’s DEI values. If you think about it, it’s in keeping with the concept of “bringing your whole self to work–” but it illustrates why that’s such a poorly thought out value. Your whole self includes your childhood, your trauma, your health, your sex life, the bad things you’ve done, your legal history…just lots and lots of things that don’t belong at work in any regular way.

    I know when companies say that, they’re basically saying you can be out with your gender identity and sexual orientation, and we’ll respect your cultural background but…those things aren’t your whole self! And a lot of times companies aren’t so accepting of people’s whole selves when it starts to involve family commitments, health, work/life balance, etc. Frankly I find it to be a yellow flag when a company talks about bringing your whole self to work.

    So I have to wonder, from the LW’s reaction, if the baby photo thing is a symptom of a more toxic culture, like is this company pushing “inclusion” in a way that feels phony and unsafe to marginal groups?

    1. Batty Twerp*

      The company I work at did a baby photo competition. There were eight photos. They were of the newly appointed (over the previous six months) C-suite, with some red herrings in the form of long serving members of staff (in other words, people everyone in the company would have heard of by now).
      Those were the only people asked to contribute, and they were completely willing – our office culture approach to refusing to participate in voluntary activities is acceptance, ‘No’ being a complete answer (although for professional courtesy we prefer it to be worded ‘No, thank you’.)
      A few months into lockdown, the engagement team tried to run it again, this time extending it to contributions from the entire company *and* expressly offering the option of sending “pics of your furry new office mates” if preferred. The reminder email (we always get one) pushed the pet picture option, and in the end, they got more kittens and puppies than babies, so that’s what they went with – the human infant angle dropped aside from that first request.

      My anecdote isn’t helpful though, because it’s unique to my office culture. And that’s where all advice for approaching this will need to concentrate. Because if the office culture pushes it without accepting refusals, there are going to be issues other than baby pics.

      1. londonedit*

        Yes – you’ve reminded me that the only time I’ve seen baby photos at work was years ago when the company I was working for did an away day with a quiz. The picture round was photos of the upper management as babies/children, so you had to guess who was who. I think that works, because it’s similar to the idea of ‘punching up’ – it’s OK for people to have a giggle at the bosses’ baby photos, but it’s different when everyone’s being pressured into bringing in a photo ‘for a laugh’.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I think even then it probably “works” when you’ve got a very homogenous upper-management. If you’re the one Black woman in the management team it’s probably the last thing you need.

          1. londonedit*

            Very true – in this case they were all white and mainly female (gotta love publishing *eyeroll*) and it was the sort of place where if one of the management team had had a problem with it, it wouldn’t have happened (they were the ones who organised the away day and the quiz). But there are a lot of situations where it would definitely be problematic.

          2. Batty Twerp*

            I think that’s where our red herrings came in. One woman has worked in accounts since she left school, and is the same age as the HR director so we couldn’t easily tell, even looking at the possible ages of the photos (there were some definitely 70s fashions in those pictures!)

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            Luckily upper management tends to be very homogenous!

            (No, wait. That’s not lucky. But it’s true.)

    2. Elle*

      YES. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and I’m very involved in DEI work for our company. I try to bring that up whenever I get the chance.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, my job did a baby photo lineup but it was 100% optional. There were definitely not as many babies submitted as we have employees, but it wasn’t an issue. Whoever was running it just said, “If you want to submit a baby picture I need it by X date.” Key words being if you want. They never make this stuff mandatory where I am.

    4. Fust*

      Good points.
      I love that meme that shows people interviewing that says “Tell us about yourself” “No thank I really need this job”

  11. Trombone*

    For the baby picture person – It seems like lately we’re bending over sideways/backwards/upside down to accommodate people’s feelings on very niche topics. At what point does this become absolutely ridiculous? Part of living in the world is that you will experience some discomfort. Not all the time, but for some aspects of your life that’s aren’t perfect – yes! I don’t expect everyone to know or think about everything that upsets me (which is a VERY long list, and lots of weird things). For example, at work, and regularly, I have to listen to: hunting discussions (I’m an ethical vegetarian), lots of anniversary talk (I’m unhappily single), baby talk (I’m right at the age where I’m realizing I’m probably not going to have children unless a miracle happens and I’m super sad about that), etc etc etc etc etc. And I have a raging eating disorder, so all the food pushers, donut bringer-iners, etc – nightmare. I don’t expect people to know these things or that they would be accommodate me – why should they?

    I think we should teach people to be more resilient vs. trying to cushion everyone excessively. We’re in for some pretty dark days the next 50 years as climate change worsens and all the associated society instability ensues. I don’t think the baby picture person is going to make it through those times if they don’t toughen up a bit :-(

    1. PollyQ*

      Apples & oranges. LW isn’t talking about random conversations that happen to come up between colleagues, they’re talking about an office work function that’s theoretically supposed to be some kind of morale booster. Asking a company to make an effort not to lower morale is a perfectly reasonable request, especially when the potential gains are so miniscule.

      1. jasmine*

        I wish companies would refrain from “morale boosters” entirely. In all my decades of work, I’ve seldom experienced one that actually boosted my morale. If a company wants their employees to be happy, they should concentrate on improving working conditions, benefits and salary.

        1. Communications Slave*

          Tell me about it. Unfortunately, at my current workplace, engaging employees is part of my responsibilities (though it also sometimes falls under HR, the line is greyer than grey) and the things that management likes to do to ‘engage’ employees is killing me softly inside.
          I can see how LW3 colleague came up with this game. There is only so much crap ideas we can come up with. As long as they don’t force everyone to participate, I totally understand.

        2. Roscoe*

          But that is you. I think there are plenty of people who do enjoy these types of activities. I feel like anyone should always be able to opt out. But to say “oh a few people won’t like it so we shouldn’t do anything” isn’t really good either.

          1. Observer*

            True. But when you get to a point where it’s either a lot of people or where the issue could actually hurt people, you really do need to back off.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            But when it’s supposed to be a team-building activity, it’s counterproductive to plan something that automatically excludes some members of the team. And if it’s supposed to boost morale, it’s counterproductive to plan something that’s probably going to actually be a troubling reminder for some employees. It’s not just about “a few people won’t like it.” It’s about “a few people could be hurt by it.” Why hurt people when you don’t have to?

            1. Nanani*


              The hurt peopel are not ruining your fun. The planners are ruining their day by being inconsiderate and cruel.

          3. American Job Venter*

            Then we end up with some team members (the ones who feel comfortable participating) being more equal than others (those who opt out), to borrow a phrasing.

          4. PollyQ*

            There may be people who enjoy it, but there is no one, including the team & the employer, who actually needs it. IMO good morale & good teamwork have nothing to do with these kinds of exercises. They’re based mostly on people being treated fairly and reasonably, and in management not allowing bad apples to screw things up for everyone else.

    2. Not A Manager*

      Since we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, maybe it would help if we could all be a bit kinder to each other.

      1. Not A Manager*

        And what I really hear you saying is, “I’m very unhappy so I think other people should be unhappy too.” It must be really hard to experience all that stuff at work. Maybe it would help if you could think of some ways to protect yourself.

        1. Trombone*

          I think I need to. I hadn’t slept well, and during our weekly meeting the rest of my team was going on and on about the joys of children/grandchildren and how they’re the whole point of living and I snapped a bit and said something about me not ever having kids or grandkids, and it was like a record scratch. I felt like Debbie Downer. All the happiness drained out of the room. I hate that standing up for myself results in stealing other people’s joy, that’s why I hardly ever do it and just try to ignore them.

          1. moss*

            You don’t stand up for yourself by snapping. And your colleagues weren’t persecuting you, so you don’t need to stand up for yourself against them. Your framing is incorrect.

          2. Birch*

            You seem to think that either you have to lie down and take feeling bad and upset about the things your coworkers are saying, or stand up for yourself by going on the defensive and attacking them, but that’s a false dichotomy. It’s totally possible to either ask them politely to be more sensitive about certain topics around you as Alison has previously demonstrated (e.g. “This is a really hard topic for me, and it comes up a lot when we’re having lunch together, so I’d appreciate it if we could talk about something else”) or to point out that these are topics that can be sensitive for a lot of people in a way that doesn’t attack them and doesn’t even necessarily make it about you, because their comments weren’t about you. E.g. “I don’t agree that children are the whole point of living–actually that’s a hurtful conversation for a lot of people. Many people are completely fulfilled not having children, and a lot of people also deal with very painful situations around not being able to have children. I think it’s important to respect both of those situations when we talk about how great it is to have kids.”

            1. Allonge*

              Exactly. Also, this conversation is not really appropriate for a weekly work meeting either way, so that angle can also be used – ‘is this a topic that could be discussed at another time? Can we get to the next point / are we done with the meeting then?’ is a perfectly reasonable request (but you need to be not at the point of snapping for it to work).

            2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              Exactly. The response you suggested that focuses on respect is really golden because it reinforces that it’s possible to express one’s opinions in a way that leaves room for others. That principle makes me wonder about something…

              I’m just going to throw this one out there, but sometimes people who have trouble being effectively assertive aren’t always comfortable with the idea that others can and ought to be able to advocate for themselves. These folks also sometimes don’t quite know how to demonstrate that there’s room for more than one perspective when they’re faced with someone saying something that makes them uncomfortable. I don’t know if Trombone sees themselves in these descriptions at all or is able to connect this to how they view the LW, but I wonder if that’s some of what’s playing into this situation.

          3. justabot*

            I’m really sorry. It’s incredibly hard and isolating being single and childless not by choice and listening to other people chatter on about their family life. It can really hurt and work places can be one of the biggest culprits. People don’t mean to be hurtful, they are just oblivious. But it’s hard when they are essentially are saying your life has no joy or purpose, especially when you wanted those very same things and are grieving that you don’t have them. There’s a group called Gateway Women that’s worth checking out for support.

          4. Attractive Nuisance*

            It is very interesting that you criticize LW for not wanting to bring a baby photo to work, and you yourself feel hurt and threatened by hearing others talk about babies at work. Do you think you are trying to convince yourself that your coworkers’ and LW’s coworkers’ feelings are correct, and that you and LW both have feelings that are incorrect?

          5. Observer*

            I hate that standing up for myself results in stealing other people’s joy, that’s why I hardly ever do it and just try to ignore them.

            So that’s part of your problem. Snapping at people when you have had enough is not “standing up for yourself”. And reasonable people can set reasonable boundaries and stand up for themselves when they need to without “stealing people’s joy.”

            On the other hand, if people keep on pushing the line YOU pushed at the top of this thread, you are going to keep on being put in a bad position. Start trying to be kind and thoughtful of others, and promote being kind and thoughtful, and trying to think about what others might be dealing with, and YOU are likely to reap some rewards too.

          6. Web of Pies*

            It also sounds like you’re prioritizing your coworkers’ comfort over yours, so you’re actually doing what you criticized in your original post (“bending over sideways/backwards/upside down to accommodate people’s feelings on very niche topics”). It’s just that you feel it’s ok to avoid bumming people out by telling them not to talk about hunting/babies/relationships with you, but not ok to avoid bumming people out by making sure a company activity doesn’t dredge up past trauma. Your coworkers think their conversation is innocuous (which to you, it isn’t) and you think baby photos are innocuous (which might not be true for everyone else).

            You can set boundaries around this stuff, and if your coworkers are kind, they’ll WANT to know what topics bum you out that they should avoid. I certainly would feel awful if some food I brought in was triggering your ED and I unknowingly contributed to that.

          7. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            Even if you have children, for many, raising children is SO much work that you find that you have life other than taking care or dealing with that child.

            I was blessed with two easy to raise children but there were moments where I found it very hard, where I was crying and wondered where I had gone wrong. I can’t imagine how listening to others going on about how wonderful their children are when you own might be (1) in teenage rehab (2) the other thinking of dropping out and (3) the third one pushing every button possible, making a peaceful homelife a pipe dream. Or a child with severe disabilities making everything difficult.

            My point is: It’s okay to share good things about your life. But when in work meeting, keep it short, keep it brief and learn to read the room.

    3. Allonge*

      I suppose for me the issue is that this is a completely unnecessary request. Companies have invented and used roughly a million different ways to do icebreakers or ‘fun activities’. Why use one that causes real pain to some employees?

      Just for the record, this would be a pain-in-the-neck for me for a series of completely innocent reasons: my parents who have my baby pics live half a continent away, they would have to go to a weekend house where the pics are stored and I would have to explain to them over Skype how to use the scanner to get a pic to me. This is nothing, a non-issue, and it would still mean that there are equal odds that I would not provide baby pics.

      Imagine someone who got out of an abusive family at 18. Someone who moved to where they live now with a small backpack and nothing more. Why cause pain?

    4. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      I’m sorry for your struggles, but by the same note of telling folks to toughen up, the employee who is asking for the pictures will also survive being informed of the value of switching the game. It’s a question of one instance of useful feedback versus an untold number of people having possible trauma brought up.
      “If I can suffer fine, so can everyone else” is hardly a mantra that will bring anyone peace in this life or facilitate a productive environment focused on work, which is the ultimate priority.

    5. M*

      Cool. So you agree LW’s senior manager should Be More Resilient too, right? Should be totally comfortable Having An Uncomfortable Conversation about why their fun little icebreaker actually had the opposite impact on their staff?

      Being miserable isn’t an inherent requirement of living in a society. Being open to hearing about the impact your actions have on others is. Being able and willing to make and act on reasonable generalisations about what conversation topics it’s appropriate to read the room on (chatting happily about your anniversary so long as your conversation partners continue to express interest) vs just not have in the first place (pushing people to eat food they don’t want) is.

    6. Despachito*

      I think I kind of see what you mean – that it is sometimes impossible to avoid coming across things which are hurtful to us, and to silence anything which makes us feel uneasy, but I can also see a difference between random people’s conversations about things they have and we don’t (where it is indeed, in the long run, on us to work with our psyche to be able to endure a normal dose of that, as in if we are childless, it is not realistic to require that ALL people EVER stop mentioning their kids in front of us; on the other hand, constant droning about their kids as their only topic would be understandably annoying).

      But this is different – it is a COMPANY activity, it is not necessary at all and it goes into the territory of private life which I find always problematic at work. Some people really do not want to mix their work life and their private life, and this should be a default setting. For example, I lost both my parents as a teenager, and while I have fully processed it and personally wouldn’t mind showing my childhood photo to anyone, I can imagine that for another person in the same situation it would bring back traumatizing memories. Which is completely unnecessary and avoidable in a work setting.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        The unnecessity of it all seems to me the key difference. This is not merely dealing with the inevitable difficulties of day to day living. This is entirely evitable. The situation is created by someone in a position of power who cluelessly imagines that everyone will find this fun. There is no such thing as mandatory fun that is in fact fun for everyone. It is particularly frustrating to be told to suck it up and suffer through, when the activity is being billed as a treat.

    7. Amaranth*

      I think bringing in baby photos bridges between work and personal though and, for me, crossing that divide should be completely optional. If I don’t want to share photos from my childhood or of my kids or pets, it shouldn’t be touted as ‘team building’ from management with all the implied pressure to participate.

      1. Despachito*

        “bringing in baby photos bridges between work and personal though and, for me, crossing that divide should be completely optional” – this is so spot on!

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, this. All icebreakers should really be voluntary. You can’t force the sort of trust that sharing your vulnerabilities with people requires.

      3. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Yes, but there are usually consequences for not participating in group events, whether we admit it or not. Increased feelings of isolation to say nothing of bringing attention and possible questions about a lack of participation.

        1. BethDH*

          Yes, I often like (short) icebreakers after they’re over in some situations. I do see an effect in how much people talk in workshops, for example. I think a key part in planning them needs to be that they are not only optional but provide a lot of levels of sharing as equal ways to participate. Questions like “if you could take a class in anything, what would you take?” or “Share a picture of the most calming thing you can think of” are personalizing — give you a sense of the human — without being about someone’s personal life and people can explain the backstory if they want and to the degree they want.

      1. traffic_spiral*

        Well, let’s be honest, at this point “this is unkind” is just the catchphrase certain online cultures have glommed onto when they want to criticize a comment, and they’ve overused it to the point where the word has lost all meaning other than “I disagree.”

        But going back to the original comment, I’d have to say, well, yes and no.

        1. There will always be a bit of “not everyone can eat sandwiches” whinging about no matter what you do.

        2. The baby picture game *does* require a certain racial homogenity, and I guess the trans thing is a valid complaint, so maybe it’s not the best icebreaker.

        3. I personally hate all cheesy games of this sort. I’ve made several very good friends from work (friendships that are still going years after we’ve moved to different companies) but it happened organically because we got along with each other – not because of stupid gimmicks from the higher-ups. I expect my colleagues to be polite and professional but I’m perfectly happy to take a full Ron Swanson on everything else. As such, I’m happy to take any argument that says these things are dumb.

        1. traffic_spiral*

          P.S. I think that if you’re trying to do something to encourage morale, you have to meet a higher standard of care regarding whether or not people like it. Don’t gift-wrap a turd, yanno?

        2. Observer*

          Well, let’s be honest, at this point “this is unkind” is just the catchphrase certain online cultures have glommed onto when they want to criticize a comment, and they’ve overused it to the point where the word has lost all meaning other than “I disagree.”

          Yes and no. In this case, the comment IS unkind. The comment dismisses the idea of thinking about accommodating people and trying to bring some consideration into the workplace and whining and coddling. Unkind is the kindest description of this that I can think of.

          2. The baby picture game *does* require a certain racial homogenity, and I guess the trans thing is a valid complaint, so maybe it’s not the best icebreaker.

          It’s not just racial homogeneity. And it’s not just trans issues at play here. That’s the really big problem here – there are actually a LOT of situation where this thing could be really problematic. In a situation where this stuff is effectively required (even if not officially) that’s an even bigger problem.

      2. StudentA*

        I too found nothing unkind about Trombones comment. It seems the whole pic thing is not people’s cup of tea. Fine. It’s not mine either. But we don’t have to turn everything into a controversy.

        Trombone makes excellent points. I also thought it was low of some commenters to convolute her point about some of the things in her life that upset her.

        1. American Job Venter*

          Trombone said that the LW *won’t make it through* upcoming societal issues if she doesn’t “toughen up” and shut up and sit down about this. I don’t see any other appropriate term for that bit of prognostication than “unkind”. And I think it was pretty appropriate to point out that Trombone had then done precisely what they castigate the LW for doing.

        2. Observer*

          Really? Which point is “good”?

          Considering how people are going to react to a supposed morale booster is ” bending over sideways/backwards/upside down”?

          This is a ” very niche topics.”?

          Trying to avoid PLANNING activities that can be painful and even harmful is “trying to cushion everyone excessively”?

          That the way for society to “make it through” the “dark days the next 50 years” is to “toughen up a bit” rather than trying to develop some kindness, thoughtfulness and respect?

      3. Triplestep*

        I also don’t think it’s unkind because I don’t see it as telling the LW to suck it up. I see it as saying either don’t participate or find a way to articulate why it is problematic. I recently had to explain to my own manager why a baby picture competition wouldn’t work for our very small team with only two non-white people. I didn’t want to participate because I knew my photo would stand out as likely the only black and white one, emphasizing my age compared to the rest of the team.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          “or find a way to articulate why it is problematic.”

          They literally have a bulleted list of various reasons why it is problematic which is just about the clearest possible way you can articulate something. What more could you possibly expect to make it clearer???

          1. Triplestep*

            Bulleted list notwithstanding, writing to a workplace advice blog is not the same as articulating it to someone in the workplace who might put a stop to it. That really needed explaining?

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              But the workplace didn’t tell her to suck it up, a commenter on the workplace advice blog where she wrote the bulleted list is, so you can be as condescending as you like but your response still doesn’t apply in any reasonable way.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Trombone just said OP’s valid concern is a ‘niche topic’, implied it’s getting “absolutely ridiculous” and effectively told OP to get a spine because we all suffer.
        When OP’s whole question is about how to reduce one small *unnecessary* trigger of suffering for some co-workers.

      5. Attractive Nuisance*

        I think it was quite unkind that Trombone said LW will not survive climate change if she can’t survive bringing a photo of herself to work. That is a hurtful thing to say. And anyway, those seem like unrelated skills. As many comments on this thread point out, lots of people who don’t want to bring a baby photo to work have survived bad things.

        1. banoffee pie*

          If climate change gets really bad it’ll be hard for anyone to survive, whether they’ve toughened up with plenty of baby photos or not ;) seriously, though, I’m sorry you’re not feeling great right now, Trombones. Do not listen to people who say having children is the whole point of life. There are always a few who think that’s the height of philosophy. I guess they’re not the most original thinkers in the world. Half the time they say it, they’ve forgotten if the people listening even have kids or not. Some are cruel but some are just oblivious. Best wishes :)

          1. American Job Venter*

            “We’re in for some pretty dark days the next 50 years as climate change worsens … I don’t think the baby picture person is going to make it through those times if they don’t toughen up a bit.”

            “LW will not survive climate change if she can’t survive bringing a photo of herself to work” is what Trombone said, or is there another meaning of “make it through”?

      6. American Job Venter*

        “This person isn’t going to make it in society unless they ‘toughen up'” isn’t unkind? What is, then? Actual cursing?

        1. Lily of the Meadow*

          Truth, while uncomfortable, is not unkind. One cannot insist that every person one encounters refrain from mentioning every possible upsetting topic to oneself; it is impossible to do, for the first part, and, for the second part, other people have just as much right as any other person to have opinions and to express them. I do not get this insistence that the world has to avoid every topic that might be upsetting to one person; it is not logical, and, to be quite honest, it is very unkind of the person insisting that they are the only one whose feelings matter. Since Trombone’s examples have not brought understanding, maybe if I give an example, it will help. I used to be in an extremely violent relationship, to the point where I have permanent physical damage from it in addition to mental and emotional damage that I am still processing. However, I do not get upset when other people discuss abusive relationships, and nor do I insist on everyone refraining from watching anything in front of me that portrays abusive relationships. The damage I encountered in this relationship is MY burden to bear, and it is not ethical, moral, or right for me to force my issues onto other people who have nothing to do with what I went through in that relationship. Part of being a communal society, and being an adult, is realizing that my issues are my burden to bear, and that I have no right to project them onto others, or to force them to deal with what is not their issue. There is no unkindness in Trombone’s statement, at all.

          1. American Job Venter*

            If I followed your logic, I would force my friend and fellow survivor to watch movies about indecent assault. We’re both survivors. I generally find such movies cathartic. She finds them triggering. I remain unconvinced that she would be better off or “toughened up” if I did that to her, when I can just, you know, not.

    8. I need cheesecake*

      Well, first of all – people can’t provide baby photos are potentially more likely to have survived tough times in their lives.

      This isn’t about a conversation that some people disagree with. This is about an activity at work that isn’t contributing to work output and could be replaced with a kinder activity.

      There is a difference between a casual conversation and an organised activity.

      And while, yes, people do need to develop resilience, this isn’t how. This isn’t like any of the examples you gave, because it’s an organised group activity that will exclude some people – and no, that isn’t ok if you can easily avoid it.

      A good leader will choose a different activity in this situation because there isn’t a good-enough reason not to.

      Personally I don’t have any photos of myself as a child, for traumatic reasons. I did not push back when a small group of people did a thing with baby photos for a lunchtime social. I did push back when someone tried to suggest it as a team activity, because for a manager or leader it is not an appropriate choice.

      1. Despachito*

        I am often thinking about the problem of developing resilience, and I agree with you – we do need to develop resilience but it refers rather to normal social situations we all are facing every day, not some people’s weird inventions meant to socialize but in fact achieving the very opposite.

        My impression is that what grates there is that often such “socializing ideas” are used to simulate healthy environment but the reality is just the opposite.

        1. Birch*

          Yes to both of you, and — the workplace is not the environment to force people to “develop resilience”! Your manager is not trained in mental health, that is not their job, work is not social therapy. A good manager will provide opportunities for socialization and team-building but not force it, and no one should be forced to be more intimate with their coworkers than they want to in the name of “team-building” or “morale.” Frankly, I think a person’s “resilience” is none of their workplace’s business unless it’s specifically work-related.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Resilience is about finding a graceful response to a casual enquiry along the lines of “Hey, are you seeing your mom for Mother’s Day/Thanksgiving/ your birthday this week?” that doesn’t involve disclosing your entire history or triggering unpleasant flashbacks.

          It would take a lot of (expensive, not universally available) therapy to build sufficient resilience to deal with “All employees must submit 100 words on Why my mom is the greatest mom ever to have mommed by close of business Thursday”.

        3. Nanani*

          Trust, the people who would be hurt by having to expose their baby pictures – the adoptees, the trans people, the people who would need to interact with toxic family, the people who lost their baby pictures fleeing from disaster and war – have developped more resilience already than 100% of the people who think “this is fine because they need to toughen up”

          The hurt people are not lacking toughness, but those who blubber at the mere thought that their “fun” game isn’t fun for everyone do.

      2. American Job Venter*

        people [who] can’t provide baby photos are potentially more likely to have survived tough times in their lives.

        Yes, this. I looked at Trombone’s comment and thought about it being said to the former foster kids I know, the trans people I know, the lone POC in so many offices… oh yeah, all these people have had such cushy lives! (I especially thought about my trans friend who works on environmental issues — I think he’d be pretty amused to be told he won’t survive climate change if he isn’t willing to be outed by a baby picture game.)

        More generally, this opinion in the responses reminds me of a common pushback against efforts against bigotry: “Well, sexism is worse in X country! Racism is worse in Y country! If you think it’s so bad here you should go live there!” The advice to meekly accept a certain level of terrible because it could be worse is not good advice, I think.

        1. Aerin*

          I’m also not fond of “you must accept a certain level of terrible because I have dealt with a certain level of terrible so everyone else should have to be equally miserable.” I realized long ago that “toughen up” equates to “how dare you try to make things better” and I’ve honestly yet to come across any counterexamples.

    9. WS*

      Sure, but your arguments are all to do with personal discussions/personal lives rather than work-mandated topics. If you had a mandatory work picnic or a mandatory work hunting trophy show, then you should be able to opt out. Just like your own home may not have to be up to disability access standards, but your office should.

    10. Nails*

      I can’t speak to the exact experiences of LW3, but I would encourage anyone thinking of using this icebreaker to consider including an opt-out or other option. Although you may not sympathize with any of that LW’s reasons for being uncomfortable, there is one instant reason why this “bonding” exercise would backfire and achieve the opposite intention in a mixed group: some people have visible differences.

      The purpose of the game is to bond the team by encouraging them to pay attention to each other. If everyone looks quite similar, this can be cute. A series of identical white babies can be examined, discussed and paid attention to. Banter is generated about their physical features and the team will tease each other and point out differences. Some features are distinctive and some are not, so it will be cute to discover that Lisa always had that frown, etc.

      Now imagine what happens when you introduce a singular person of color in this team. You have now singled out their unavoidable, visible difference for judgment and commentary from the team. The team is now placed in the awkward position of either pretending to guess that they can’t tell that the only visibly Black baby is the only Black person on their team (“oh shit, wait a minute is it weird that there’s only one Black person in a team of 20?”) or to instantly guess who it is and move on, meaning that the only Black person didn’t get any attention or banter. The only jokes they can make about themselves are: “Yes, haha, I am visibly different from everyone else here :) Yes, I sure am the only Black person here!”

      As I said in a comment upthread, I experienced this in a group exercise. I considered the most ethical response to be simply admiring every baby and generating comments about how great every baby was, and not guessing at all. The exercise did not work as intended, and succeeded in deliberately racializing the team, with the singular East Asian, South Asian and Black team members feeling deliberately separated from the experience and the white people awkwardly trying to pretend the situation wasn’t happening.

      So while you, Trombone, personally may not have any patience for the general idea of accommodating feelings in the workplace, it may be helpful to hear that this icebreaker won’t work as intended in some professional settings.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I’m sorry that you experienced this. Your example illustrates something that I think Trombone really missed the mark on – an effective icebreaker is not really about accommodating the feelings and sensitivity of a marginalized person so much as it is about creating a level playing field for building rapport. What made things uncomfortable for you was ultimately your colleagues’ (very understandable) awkwardness about something you have no control over. A “thicker skin” on your part wouldn’t really help to alleviate the built-in awkwardness, either.

    11. No name for this*

      Look, actually I am pretty resilient about this. But I still don’t have any baby photos to bring in and if you ask me why I’ll tell you (see my comment above). But apparently, when I do that it just causes everyone in the vicinity to be embarrassed and then somehow it’s my fault for making things awkward, and I still don’t have any f****** baby photos to contribute, no matter how much this makes me “not a team player”.

    12. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      ‘Get over it’ , ‘toughen up’, ‘don’t be so sensitive’

      These words have the same effect as tossing petrol onto a fire. I’ve heard them so many times when complaining about micro aggressions and it’s always, always, unhelpful.

      It’s not a question of ‘I’ve suffered worse so your concerns are petty’. It never is. In the last 24 hours I’ve seen something utterly horrific in my local area (like loss of life in broad daylight horrific) and I’m 100% behind anyone who feels really uncomfortable at sharing baby photos. It’s not a zero sum game.

      Compassion isn’t a finite resource.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        (I don’t want sympathy btw. I want people to be less of a total git to each other)

    13. bamcheeks*

      I think this misunderstands what “resilience” is and how you build it. If you mean genuine resilience– the ability to bounce back, recover from damage and move on– you don’t get it by telling people to toughen up and shut up. What you’re building there isn’t “resilience”, but an enforced denial of harm that’s really about the convenience of the majority.

      IMO, building genuine resilience means validating difference. That doesn’t necessarily mean Banning Everything That Could Possibly Hurt Someone. Often it just means acknowledging the potential for harm or complications. Making it easy to say, “hey, could you not talk about that around me?” Finding activities that don’t require people to share personal information. Not banning food from the office, but not pushing norms around what you eat, when you eat or how you talk about food. Not asking people when they’re planning to have a baby.

      It’s just — not that difficult to have a culture that respects that everyone has weird Things and preferences, some of which are just preferences and some of which are actual trauma, and to let people have control and privacy over how and when they confront those things! The people who need to “toughen up” IMO are the people are so unused to being challenged that they react to someone saying they don’t want a doughnut or don’t eat meat or don’t want to play a baby picture game as if it’s a threat to their very soul.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Hurting people over and over again in a tender spot doesn’t build resilience.

        It builds scar tissue.

    14. Jopestus*

      You sound like someone who needs a pot of coffee, a nice bath and a pal who to talk to in the time of writing that comment. We all have been there.

      Sending good wishes to you, friend.

        1. Trig V*

          I disagree. It seemed very compassionate and thoughtful towards someone who seems deeply unhappy, in distress and is lashing out, and by doing so is hurting others.

        2. Heather*

          Does anyone else feel like the word “unkind” has lost all meaning since they started reading these comments?

    15. Grow Up*

      I agree. Most of these commenters need to grow up. They expect the work world to accommodate their every quirk and feeling all the time and be a utopia where they never have to do anything they don’t want to do or be slightly uncomfortable. And Alison encourages them that this is acceptable and sends the message that employers need to bow to their every whim and demand.

      I also don’t like team building exercises but sometimes people here need to just shut up and participate. It’s a game. It’s over within a short period and everyone moves on. I am for things like affordable healthcare and people getting legally allowed ADA accommodations, but I would quickly label a coworker a problematic PITA if they sent me an email like this.

      1. Birch*

        Why is a game (that most people dislike, by the way, ranging from finding it a time-wasting irritant to genuinely hurtful)–why is a pointless game more important than someone’s feelings? What is so bad about caring how people feel? Someone upthread pointed out that there isn’t a good enough reason to keep these kinds of icebreakers. The “snowflake” argument is irrelevant. The risk, the social cost is always going to be greater than the gain, so what’s the point of playing the game?

      2. JustKnope*

        Childhood trauma is not a “quirk” … and the issues raised here are not simply about not wanting to do something or finding it annoying. It is very reasonable for a leader to consider whether an optional activity will cause pain for some of the participants. This isn’t a matter of, I don’t like the flavor of donut being offered with morning coffee – it’s real pain that people are being subjected to unnecessarily in their workplace.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          All of this, and I would like to add that LW3 stated in a comment on here that they do not feel that this activity is optional for them. Their workplace frowns on people for opting out. In the donut world, it would be “some of my coworkers have an allergy to donuts where eating one would give them bad stomach pains, but they will be labeled as not a team player unless they eat one.”

      3. Mental Lentil*

        I read your first paragraph and now I’m confused as to why you are even here.

        What a complete and utter lack of compassion and empathy you are displaying.

      4. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        “I would quickly label a coworker a problematic PITA if they sent me an email like this.”

        If you find yourself labeling a lot of other people problems and PITAs, the problem almost certainly lies with you, instead of the other people.

        No one expects the world to be kind to them at every turn. What those of us who argue for it to be more kind have come to realize, however, is that it doesn’t need to be pointlessly cruel. And let’s be clear, this sort of exercise is both pointless (for everyone), and cruel (to many). If making the world pointlessly cruel is a choice, than maybe it will be a slightly better place tomorrow if we make the decision not to choose those courses of action.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I, too, find the “I would quickly label a coworker a problematic PITA if they sent me an email like this.” comment mind-boggling. If I am organizing a teambuilding activity, in a workplace that is striving to be inclusive, and I receive well-thought-out feedback on why the activity I want to do would not, in fact, be inclusive for reasons I hadn’t thought of before, my reply would be “thank you”.

          Likewise, I’d be mortified to find out that people felt uncomfortable participating in an event that I put together, but did not say anything to me, and participated anyway, because they were afraid to be labeled a problematic PITA if they said something.

          Feedback is a gift.

      5. londonedit*

        Yeah, this is not the point. It’s not someone saying ‘Errrrr we can’t make people come to meetings because some people might not like speaking in a group and some people might not like being in an enclosed space and some people might not like sitting still for an hour’. It’s someone pointing out that a ‘team-building’ exercise like this might seem innocuous on the surface but actually people have difficult things in their private lives that might end up bringing unnecessary difficulty to the workplace. To my mind it’s akin to those dreadful weight-loss competitions that some companies get involved with – comes from the place of ‘Everyone can join in! Everyone can be a bit healthier and lose a bit of weight for summer!’ but actually there are plenty of people with medical issues or food issues for whom it would be a nightmare, and one’s weight should never, ever be part of one’s working life. It’s the same here – no one should be made to feel uncomfortable at work because they don’t have a baby photo/theirs were lost in a fire/they were adopted/their parents were abusive/they grew up in poverty/they presented as a different gender when they were a baby/whatever other reason. It’s unnecessary, and if it’s unnecessary and has the potential to cause someone to feel hurt or to bring up difficult memories, why do it?

      6. EPLawyer*

        No we should not have to just shut up and participate in stupid pointless “team building” exercises that do not actually team build.

        I don’t need to know what Ponder looked like as a baby in order to know he’s the guy you go to if you want anything done because the boss is useless. TRUE team building as Alison says is everyone working together to get a project out and done well. It’s not exposing your vulnerabilities or climbing ropes or whatever.

        Quite frankly if a boss cannot see that everyone does not come from the same background and that not everyone can participate in a “team building” exercise for really valid reasons, then that’s not a good boss. And team building just EPICALLY failed because the boss excluded some on the team.

      7. A Teacher*

        But my kid literally has no photos. Most people don’t take “I don’t have photos.” They want to know the “why you don’t have photos part” which then is personal and not something coworkers need to know. Having empathy for people isn’t that hard and your comment lacks that.

      8. Jackalope*

        I would add that there’s a huge difference between not wanting to do something uncomfortable at work because it’s an actual *work* task they don’t like vs. an allegedly morale-building activity that touches on a painful aspect of their life. I’ve had bosses tell me to take actions at work that I found incredibly uncomfortable, either because it was something I wasn’t trained in, I didn’t like this particular thing (like I personally hate cold calls but my job requires them anyway), or whatever. At that point I need to either suck it up and deal, or find some other way to handle it (such as asking for some training). But personal past traumas aren’t something that I have to be able to deal with at work. In fact, for many people it might be considered more professional not to bring that to work and just do their jobs. But putting someone in a position where they *have* to participate and therefore must share painful facts about their childhood is not work-relevant and not particularly helpful.

        1. Despachito*


          There is a difference deeper than the Mariana trench between WORK tasks I don’t like (in this case I’d say “suck it up, buttercup”, unless of course it is something illegal/dangerous/I have not been trained to do that and I am positive that I cannot do it), and not-work-related things, and for these, I should have the option to silently opt out without any repercussions. Simple as that.


      9. American Job Venter*

        I would quickly label a coworker a problematic PITA if they sent me an email like this.

        And this is why people cannot opt out of these fun office games, especially when people in control of raises and promotions think as you do.

      10. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Look back at what you just said.

        You want a world where nobody can say that something might legitimately upset them because it’s not comfortable for you to hear that.

        So if I ask to not be included in a team weight loss contest it’s not a case of I need to ‘shut up and join in’
        If I ask not to be included in team building yoga it’s not a case of ‘shut up and deal’

        I may have a fractured spine from past trauma but I’ve got a will of iron and plenty resilience. I’m not being weak and asking to be coddled when I say there are things that I cannot do without upsetting me.

        1. Kal*

          I do find it quite amusing that “Grow Up” is so easily made uncomfortable about the idea that other people have lived different lives from them that they label those people problematic PITAs, and expect their employer and all of their coworkers to bow to their every whim and demand that they never be made uncomfortable by this awareness.

          If anyone needs to grow up, its “Grow Up” themselves if they were able to write this nonsense with a straight face.

      11. Observer*

        but I would quickly label a coworker a problematic PITA if they sent me an email like this.

        Why? What is the need served by this game? What is the purpose of this game that over-rides the very real problems that the OP brings up?

        where they never have to do anything they don’t want to do or be slightly uncomfortable

        Are you serious or are you just trolling? How is objecting to A GAME that has absolutely not work related necessity the same as refusing to do anything they don’t want to do?

        And Alison encourages them that this is acceptable and sends the message that employers need to bow to their every whim and demand.

        The kindest thing I can think of is that this is the very first letter you have ever read on this site. Because, aside from the fact that there is nothing in this letter to support this, if you HAD read more of this site you would know that this is absolutely not true. Alison regularly tells people that they need to just deal with whatever it is the boss is asking for / demanding.

        It’s over within a short period and everyone moves on.

        Maybe it’s over in a short time, but that doesn’t mean that everyone moves on. If the “game” involved 5 minutes worth of everyone literally throwing stones at someone would you say it’s ok because “it’s only a short time”? What if the “game” didn’t involve stones but people thinking up every insult or slur they can about someone, would that be ok because it’s only “a short time”? The length of time is NOT the sole determinant of whether something is damaging or not.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Agreed. I mean a quick search of the AAM archives will show plenty of responses to questions like ‘my staff member refuses to do their job and gets upset when told to’ that have Alison NOT say ‘oh you need to accept their wishes’.

      12. Feral campsite raccoon*

        When the requirement to “grow up,” “get over it,” etc. always falls on already marginalized groups of people, then you know there’s something rotten with the whole concept.

      13. marvin the paranoid android*

        Ironically, you sound pretty irate yourself about the idea that it’s good to be considerate to others when you plan group activities.

      14. fhqwhgads*

        Do you or do you not find it acceptable for employers to force trans people to out themselves?
        Because you cannot separate that specific game from that specific context. Which, to me, makes it an unacceptable game. It won’t be over and people won’t necessarily move on. The risk is not worth it. This is not about “slightly uncomfortable”.

    16. Perfectly Particular*

      I understand your point, but you aren’t differentiating between work-events, and just existing with other humans. For example, if your colleagues are discussing their weekend hunting trip, you may find that distressing and either walk away or try to change the subject, but if you were at a meeting with catered food and there were no vegetarian entrees, you would feel excluded. The photo thing is more like the catered event.

      Also, you sound like you are in a pretty dark place right now. Take care of you, and I hope you find your joy, even if it is completely different from the relationship/kids future that you had envisioned for yourself.

    17. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Seriously? Seriously?! Is this the hill you would want to die on, making coworkers’ baby photos guessing game a mandatory activity?!?!? As you correctly pointed out, most of us experience some discomfort, sense of exclusion, discrimination etc as we go through life. Why add to it with an asinine team-building activity that can just as easily be canceled or replaced with something that is actually pleasant? (Kitten photos!)

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            If you search for LW#3, there’s a comment saying that in their workplace, you cannot opt out.
            And frankly, Trombone’s comment also read to me as “oh just suck it up and do the activity”.

    18. RagingADHD*

      Wrong analogy.

      If your company had a pie-eating contest as an official companywide “fun” event, that wouldn’t just make you momentarily uncomfortable inside your head. It would put you under pressure to display your private issues or call attention to them by publicly refusing to join in and be a “team player.”

      Not only is that hurtful to people, it’s completely unnecessary because pie eating and baby pictures have nothing to do with work.

      The cultural change being promoted here isn’t about “excessively cushioning people.” It’s about trying to create work environments where people can do their best work and advance according to their talent, instead of trying to keep their heads down and avoid unwanted attention.

      You should stand out at work because of the quality of your work, not because you don’t fit into an arbitrary and irrelevant social mold.

    19. Observer*

      It seems like lately we’re bending over sideways/backwards/upside down to accommodate people’s feelings on very niche topics.

      Since when is not running a baby picture contest is a major “accommodation”?! You do realize that the vast majority of companies, including ones that are very good to work out manage JUST FINE without them.

      We’re in for some pretty dark days the next 50 years as climate change worsens and all the associated society instability ensues.

      Has it occurred to you that if you are correct we will ALL (no matter HOW mainstream we are) be MUCH, MUCH better off if we start emphasizing respect, inclusion and accommodation? Slapping people around emotionally doesn’t make them more resilient.

    20. ....*

      While I think people will have an issue with your phrasing I do understand what you are saying to some degree. Absolutely everything is triggering or problematic for someone somewhere. That’s just a fact. It also has me wondering if you can do certain things if everyone is actually OK with it or you have a small office or whatever. There have been lots of people saying that any kind of physical activity for a team outing is wrong and exclusionary. But what if you have an office of 8 people and everyone genuinely wants to do said thing? Is it ok then? Or you should not do it because it’s not ok for some people (who aren’t there). Idk. Like we had a team of 6 people last holiday season, and we had a Christmas tree. Everyone celebrates Christmas and got super excited about bringing in the tree- so I let them.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        That’s rather a straw man argument. Nobody but nobody is saying you can’t arrange an activity that everyone is down for.

        We’re just saying a) make sure it’s not mandatory, b) there are no bad consequences for opting out and c) you do need to make sure that everyone who’s going to be there IS okay with it.

      2. American Job Venter*

        One day you’re going to get a seventh employee who doesn’t feel comfortable with the Christmas tree, and you’re going to let them be shouted down and then take their silence as acquiescence.

    21. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “Part of living in the world is that you will experience some discomfort.” doesn’t mean you need to actually work to cultivate that discomfort. And it’s always the same people who are going to suffer. Privileged people will almost always have had a happy childhood with a doting family, and they’ll have no problem asking their parents for a baby pic. Those who’ll find this game excruciating are precisely those who are at a disadvantage already.

    22. Elle by the sea*

      How terribly unkind and inconsiderate. Just for context, I’m an upper-middle class white woman who likes to say that people should toughen up and in general, I epitomise everything that leftist/liberals dedicate their lives to fight against. :) So, you can hardly accuse me of anything you appear to be insinuating in your comment. However, if I were asked to provide baby photos of myself at work, I would most certainly follow up about an enquiry about whether they were also interested in seeing the underwear I was wearing at work. You think it’s an unprofessional answer? Well, the request wasn’t quite professional, either.

      See, the thing is that all the examples you mentioned here are an entirely different kettle of fish. Discussions on topics you are uncomfortable with – you can avoid or ignore them. I don’t think any food pushers can literally force you to eat anything you don’t wish to eat. But if you are explicitly asked to submit/provide something that’s deeply uncomfortable for you and is irrelevant to work, like in the case of the letter writer, is far more serious an issue than the aforementioned unpleasantries. Would you say people should toughen up if your employer asked you to:
      – Eat meat or participate in hunting as a team building activity?
      – Send your wedding pictures to the team?
      – Engage in binge eating in front of your colleagues?

      And, correct me if I’m wrong, but the way you say we are bending over backwards to accommodate the needs of certain people has an ever so slight transphobic ring to it.

      1. EEOC Counselor*

        I am confused by your comment. I am a very left liberal, and I have dedicated my life and career to fighting racism, harassment, and discrimination. So, you’re saying you….epitomize racism, harassment, and discrimination? Genuinely not being snarky, just taken aback by your comment.

        1. Elle by the sea*

          I thought it was obvious that I was being sarcastic. Consider the contrast between the sentence you picked out and the content of the rest of my comment. I’m a left-liberal myself and dedicate my life to fighting against racism, harassment and discrimination, but many people like to assume the opposite because I have so-called unearned privileges. I reacted this way to that commenter’s incredibly out of touch comments because I was completely taken aback.

    23. Nanani*


      People have explained in several threads, on top of the OPs explanation, why this is a problem.

      It’s not cushioning or demanding miracles to think for a second about people with different life experiences and family history.

      You need to stop gazing at your navel and practice empathy.

    24. Curiouser and Curiouser*

      Something I often consider when dealing with people (generally internet commenters) giving the “everything can be offended by something” rhetoric is what it actually costs to consider those offenses or feelings.

      For example – if someone makes a joke that triggers and offends someone, the alternative is just not to make those jokes. I don’t think a person’s inability to make a joke is much of a cost. However, if someone trying to celebrate an achievement/event or mourn a loss is triggering or offensive, I do think it’s on the offended person to realize that its too high a cost to expect people never to celebrate or mourn because of their feelings.

      In this case, missing out on a baby photo contest is just…not that high a cost to me. Some may disagree, but instead of saying that the offended or hurt need to toughen up, I think that cost needs to be part of the conversation. Similarly, I really feel for your issues in the office (truly, this is not in any way sarcastic. I have many of the same). At the same time, however, I think some things have a low enough cost that they need to be considered (i.e. food pushing or if food offers didn’t include vegetarian options) and others (people celebrating anniversaries or babies) are too high a cost.

    25. Fust*

      I know people are jumping on you and I want to say that I hear you and that I don’t think your comment is unkind. We DO need to be a certain level of tough to get by in this world, and we shouldn’t abandon society as we know it in order to accomodate every single possibility for someone possibly feeling any level of bad about something. You never said we shouldn’t be as kind as possible.

      1. American Job Venter*

        we shouldn’t abandon society as we know it in order to accomodate every single possibility for someone possibly feeling any level of bad about something. You never said we shouldn’t be as kind as possible.

        I didn’t realize that the Baby Photo Game is the underpinning of Western Society as we know it. Do you not see how your two statements here completely contradict each other? Characterizing taking a moment to think about the impact of an action as “abandoning society… to acccomodate every single possibility” is an absolute refutation of the concept of being as kind as possible.

        The last couple times I heard coworkers characterize sensitivity in such terms I braced myself for all sorts of bigoted comments from them, and in both cases I was proven right. And since I know you’ll doubt what I might consider to be bigoted, constant comments about every Black patient being on crack and persistent misgendering of trans patients were just the start.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        ‘Get Over It’ by the Eagles is a catchy tune.

        It’s not a great example to live by.

    26. Kal*

      From the outside, your viewpoints don’t seem to be internally consistent. If you’re an ethical vegetarian, don’t you do that because you know things like the fact that factory farmed animals are treated terribly and you believe that things need to change so that animals aren’t harmed that way? But then you see people being treated terribly, and your response is “well, life sucks, toughen up!” Why do you not then think then that animals who are being treated horribly just need to toughen up and deal with the fact that life sucks?

      I have to add that my life growing up in poverty, with multiple disabilities, dealing with an abusive childhood and childhood sexual assault, further sexual assault in my adulthood and abusive relationships, continued poverty due to worsening disabilities and being infertile when I wanted a child has toughened me up plenty. I know that climate change will make my disability worse and likely kill me. I still don’t want to have to show my baby pictures with coworkers so we can have a “fun” team-building exercise discussing my abusive childhood.

      I believe that when we see something that is needlessly cruel, that we should do something about it and not condemn the people who have already experienced trauma to just be harmed further in the name of “toughening up”. Just like we shouldn’t condemn animals in factory farms to be abused and mistreated for their short, tragic lives just because the world is in bad shape and they won’t be able to handle climate change.

      Don’t let your own pain block out your ability to care about pain in others, especially when you have the power to lessen that pain.

  12. H. Mackerel*

    I once had recurring medical appointment where the clinic was only open on weekdays during business hours. My workplace supported clients that operating during business hours. [Even now in the pandemic we cannot work outside of business hours or on holidays/weekends]. Per our collective agreement we also were only allowed to book days off in half [4 hour] or full day increments and our time off came from one bucket unless it was long term leave for things like disability or surgery recovery ETC. Since making up the time wasn’t possible, nor coming in early/leaving early I used up lots of my time off on this. It was an otherwise great job, great colleagues, benefits, pension and security but it was still difficult re: my appointments. I ended up talking unpaid time off sometimes. Not all jobs are able to accommodate but I hope that OP’s does.

  13. Huh?*

    What would be really fun is to get everyone to submit a pic of a baby animal of their choice — maybe one they like a lot or feel they have something in common with — then try to guess who submitted which animal.

    1. Despachito*

      Removed — this post is not about forced socialization and I want to avoid a derailment about how people do or don’t feel about socializing at work (which, for the record, there are tons of benefits to whether any one person personally likes it). – Alison

      1. TechWorker*

        I mean, I think these sorts of ‘fun’ activities should be optional, but I also think they have real work value (in addition to the fact that some people enjoy them).

        For example, I work with someone who is based in another country and to be honest, can be quite difficult over email. (Or at least, direct bordering on rude, and some incorrect assumptions). They started working more regularly with colleagues in my department and attended a bunch of online ‘socials’, which have massively improved the working relationships. Turns out knowing that someone is infact a lovely person *does* colour your impressions of their work interactions and helps them to be viewed in a more positive light.

        I think this is true generally – people are more likely to give the benefit of doubt to, or be helpful to, people they ‘know’ socially. Organised social events are useful to build some of that relationship for those who either aren’t very chatty at the water cooler or aren’t physically in the same office.

      2. Allonge*

        You are definitely not alone but there are also lots who find it easier to work together and socialise if there is an ‘official’ excuse / introduction first. Once or twice a year everyone can tolerate the forced fun for this (I am assuming this is working time by the way).

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Even more fun than getting everybody to do this would be to get those people who enjoy this sort of thing do this. This will be more fun for everyone, since if I am forced to do this I will come up with something to satisfy the requirement, then I will spend the guessing portion of the activity with forced patience while I calculate how soon I can sneak away.

      1. Observer*

        This is true. But there is a HUGE difference between forcing someone to do something boring and them to do something that is hurtful or actively harmful.

    3. QA Peon*

      One thing my group did was ask everyone to send a photo of “what they did this summer” (for a September meeting), and then we guessed who did each. Some people sent pictures of themselves, which made it easy to guess, others found stock photos or sent pictures of their vegetable gardens or new puppies. We had about 80% participation which is very high for us.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          not if you spent the summer getting divorced or suffering from long covid or clearing out your deceased parents’ house…

          1. Observer*

            True. Which is why it’s better to make this stuff truly optional. But also, most people can find something that is not traumatic. Like the divorce was horrible, but listening to your favorite band was your sanity saver. So the picture you show it a stock photo of your band.

          2. pancakes*

            I think it would be a mistake to take the question as “please be sure to accurately depict the most unhappy experience you had this summer rather than something pleasant.”

          3. QAPeon (formerly HelpDeskPeon)*

            True, and I’m sure that made up some of the 20% who didn’t participate, and some of the rest were those who just don’t like this kind of stuff and won’t ever join. Which is fine – they were still welcome to show up to snag the free food and disappear back to their desks. (this was pre-Covid times, obvs – now we have no free snacks and lame zoom games and we all just hope someone’s pet will screen bomb)

  14. Cats Cats Cats*

    #3 “I don’t have photos I can share but here’s a kitten photo”: OK, having an opt-in game for guessing people’s pets (or childhood pets if they don’t have one currently) would be adorable and fun! Not to mention enlightening; ie, I would never have guessed Sandra from accounting owned a tarantula!

    1. KateM*

      I read Alison’s suggestion “I don’t have photos I can share but here’s a kitten photo” and my mind went to “submit a kitten photo and say this is you as a baby”.

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

        Yes! And if (!) it gets questioned, just double down on the story of how this came to be and add in more and more details.

        1. KateM*

          Or, considering the worries that OP has, maybe the opposite – just say that if you knew you were about to be judged based on your baby picture, you wouldn’t have brought one at all.

      2. mskyle*

        People at my work 100% did this when we had a baby photo thing – people submitted photos of themselves but also their own children, pets, celebrities as babies, whatever. It was pretty fun, and I’ll admit I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to figure out which of my coworkers was a baby Beyoncé (there are only a handful of women at my small company! and none of us are Black!).

    2. KateM*

      Childhood pets’ photo would have some of the same background issues as one’s baby photos. And the “don’t have one currently” leaves petless people up to being judged for not having any.

      1. Allonge*

        I disagree: pets, current or past cover a lot more space and time than baby pics (full lifetime so far as opposed to 1-2 years) and it’s easy enough to substitute a neighor’s dog pic saying I wish I had this one, or to explain that they just don’t fit into my day / allergies etc. It’s not ideal but none of these exercises are ideal for every single person. It’s still much better than the baby pic thing.

        Is judging people over not having pets a thing? Maybe I am naive but I don’t see how it’s not a total non-issue. yeah, ok, I am naive.

        1. Despachito*

          I can totally imagine this kind of activity during a language lesson (where the main goal is to talk in that language as much as possible and the topic is not that important), and then I would happily talk about my own pet, or if I did not have any, about a neighbour’s dog as you say.

          But this would be because I understand the goal and am happy with it (I want to become fluent in that language and I understand that the only way to achieve this is to actually talk and practise). On the contrary, I’d see no point in talking about pets, real or imaginary, AT WORK, because I do not see there a goal which would be meaningful for me.

          In fact, talking about other people’s pets usually bores the crap out of me, and if it is not for language practising purposes, or perhaps a short fun story around the water cooler for one-in-one socialization, I’d rather avoid it.

          1. Allonge*

            The goal is to talk to your colleagues about something not strictly work related, so you have a bit more contact than ‘I need the teapot report by Wednesday’. For a lot of people it really helps working together, and for you it’s a boring conversation for an hour? The overall balance is still positive.

            Which is not to say you are wrong to not enjoy these. But it’s also ok to do things that you don’t see an immedate direct benefit in.

            1. Despachito*

              But I am not saying that those things are wrong per se, or that they should not be done!

              My only point is that they should not be FORCED upon people.

              I am not sure if I understand your last sentence correctly. If you mean that it is ok FOR OTHER PEOPLE to do things that I don’t see an immediate direct benefit in, I wholeheartedly agree, but I never said anything to the contrary. However, If you mean that it is ok FOR ME to do something along those lines I don’t enjoy, I disagree. I trust my own socializing abilities enough not to have to play forced games and still get to know people and have warm relationships with them if I choose to. What benefit would there be, anyway, if you force me to do AT WORK something not work-related I am not enjoying?

              The solution is simple – just let people opt out of all non-work activities, and if there is less warmth in their relationships with other people as a consequence, so be it.

              1. Allonge*

                It’s great that your socialising abilities are fine (totally serious here). The games are played because this is not the case for everyone else, and they need to be able to approach you too, it’s not enough that you can approac them.

                I assume you participated in work trainings where you were learning new things and it was old nes for some others? This is the same, just with something you already know how to do.

      2. Yes, Finland*

        I attended a training once where we all had to introduce ourselves and describe our pets. The conversation seem to just die when it landed on someone without a pet. I’m allergic, so of course I didn’t have any, but I described my neighbor’s cat with all the enthusiasm as though it were my own. People still remembered it after the training.

        If I had to submit a photo, I would just find a stock image online.

        1. Despachito*

          Not everyone has the same approach to having pets.

          I have met people who think that animals are a source of food and service. If they had a dog it would be kept outside to watch the house, of course well fed and not tortured but by no means considered a “member of the family”. They would keep a pig to slaughter it, so they’d treat it as such, feed it and care for it but with no special sentiment towards it. As far as I spoke to them, they consider the entire idea of “pets” ridiculous.

          I would want to be a fly on the wall to watch such a person when doing the pet exercise at work.

        2. Rez123*

          We had a similar thing. The pet thing was not mandatory but the first person mentioned it and the rest went with it.
          Then it was my turn and I said I have no pets. Then there was silence and my manager goes “but you play soccer”…yes…very similar things.

          1. Former Employee*

            I guess they were thinking that having a pet is a sort of hobby and that led them to your hobby of playing soccer.

            To me, your manage sounds interesting and creative.

      3. Avril Ludgateau*

        At this point I can’t tell if people are actively trying to come up with a scenario to shut down any activity that asks employees to do anything not strictly work related.

        Which I’m fine with – I like to keep my personal and work realms quite separate – but the bevy of contrarian “what ifs” almost feels sarcastic.

    3. QAPeon (formerly HelpDeskPeon)*

      It makes me think of that guy who got stuck as a kitten in Zoom – and the potato. That could be fun – share a ridiculous but SFW filter and let us guess who you are.

  15. Rosacolleti*

    #1 That’s why I always complete my written feedback on staff appraisals before reading theirs, so it’s not tainted by their comments.

      1. Yes, Finland*

        Managers don’t remember every single thing an employee has done for the year. It’s important to highlight those instances where you’ve had a breakthrough that might not have been highly visible, or you’ve received positive feedback from someone with status outside of your management chain that your manager is not aware of. Moreover, if you’ve had a bad year, it helps to put the year in perspective for your manager who might, unfortunately, be biased against you for that memorable issue with your performance.

        1. Eden*

          I mean yes that’s what they’re normally for but they can hardly accomplish that if the manager writes their own feedback first.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I presume the manager’s own review might be subject to modification after reading the report’s self-assessment.

            1. Curious*

              But their viewing reading the employee’s viewpoint as”tainting” suggests a significant opportunity for confirmation bias

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Which is why they think about it and write their own review first, then just check what the employee wrote to see whether they’re on the same page, whether they’ve forgotten stuff that the employee has included etc. Having already thought about it means you’re less likely to be influenced unduly by an over-the-top “I’m the greatest”.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          This is how my office uses them. And you are writing your self assessment at the same time the manager is writing their assessment of your work. Our managers can’t see our self assessments until after they have submitted their portion of the review. Any glaring inconsistencies are sorted out by the other manager on the shift who also knows us both and the work flow.

      2. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

        Maybe Rosacolleti does a first draft before seeing the self-appraisals? And then has those as useful input as needed?

  16. CurrentlyBill*


    Has Bob expressed opposition to self appraisals? It may be possible that he thinks the activity itself is stupid and chose to respond in the most passive aggressive and over the top fashion possible. He may not be delusional about his performance but instead be mocking thoe whole thing with his self assessment.

    That doesn’t mean you don’t need to have a serious chat about it. it just means that the content of the conversation needs to be much different.

    1. Rez123*

      I was thinking the same thing. That either he is “the funny guy”, he finds assesments useless or was testing if anyone actually reads and reacts to them.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yeah, I would probably have done something like this had my boss not quietly dropped the annual review as a pointless waste of time.

      2. Richard*

        Oh yeah, I know lots of people (particularly in tech and engineering) who think all performance reviews and self-appraisals and “non-objective” evaluations of work are BS and think they’re VERY CLEVER for messing around with them.

  17. The Wall Of Creativity*

    #1 Why are employees asked to do self assessments at all? Is it so that any good performers who are their own worst critics can get marked down? Like asking people to name their own salaries in an attempt to save the company money.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In a well-functioning company that uses the process effectively, it’s so you have an opportunity to bring things to your manager’s attention about your work that year that she otherwise might not have known/focused on/considered when doing her own assessment of your work (whether it’s constraints you were working within, challenges/obstacles you faced, things you achieved, or so forth). Sometimes it’s also useful as a manager to spot if there are significant differences in perspectives that need to be figured out.

      If it’s a rote exercise, it’s pretty pointless. Like most things, it depends on the execution.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        In a well-functioning company that uses the process effectively

        And that’s the issue right there. So many organizations do things simply so they can tick a box somewhere. They never really think through the why or the how of what they are doing. Very few organizations I’ve worked with have ever asked themselves “why are we doing this, and how are we going to do this so that we can maximize its effectiveness?” Even fewer ask “how are we going to communicate this to the stakeholders?” It’s just “here, fill out this form, we’ll discuss it later.”

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah. We had “Please note that the annual review is not an opportunity to ask for a pay rise” written in large bold caps at the top of the document we had to fill in ahead of the review.
          So any time my manager wanted to bring up possible changes (i.e. getting me to work full-time) I would say “sorry we can’t discuss this without discussing the taboo subject”. Once I’d spelled out that I wasn’t going to consider working full-time without getting a significant pay rise (bearing in mind that I hadn’t had a pay rise for over ten years despite producing excellent work and being more productive than my colleagues), the manager suddenly didn’t need me to work full-time after all.

      2. Jackalope*

        My employer does this and it’s helpful. Last year I remember my supervisor saying, “Oh, I didn’t know that you did this!” She knew my overall tasks, but since we were working from home she didn’t see some of the areas where I quietly filled in when others weren’t able to do something (I’m guessing because of the pandemic) and she just saw that it got done. I was given the tip that it’s helpful to try to put a time frame too; say, that I did task X every other day for three months, or every other week for the whole year, or whatever. That way I can tell my supervisor that this wasn’t just a one-time thing.

    2. londonedit*

      We don’t have a grading or numbering system for our appraisals, so it’s impossible to get ‘marked down’ by your boss. The way it works is that you fill in a self-assessment form where you list your job description and then break it down into the things you think you’re showing peak performance in, the things where you think you need to develop your performance, and any areas where you think you’re underperforming and may benefit from extra support/training. Then you go through it with your manager, discuss it all, and agree on any steps that can be taken to develop your skills and performance further. It’s framed as a discussion about career development, not something you can be marked down on. So that’s an example of where it works well – I very much feel like I’m in charge of the process and it’s my opportunity to highlight things I think I’m doing well and also highlight areas where I think my manager/the company could be doing more to support staff. I have, however, worked in companies where you’d do your self-assessment and then your appraisal consisted of your manager ripping it to shreds and telling you exactly what you’d got wrong over the last year, and that is not a good system!

      1. Former Employee*

        Your appraisal process sounds both sensible and very civilized. If only other work places were more like that.

    3. Bagpuss*

      We have to do them as it’s a requirement of an external certification we have via our regulator. Although they don’t mandate the exact format of the appraisal they do set requirements for what must be included, some of which are not helpful.
      (there are significant benefits to our having the certification, which is why we continue with it)
      that said, we are open with staff about the fact that we recognise that some of the elements of the appraisals and self appraisals aren’t very relevant, and we do try to ensure that the process as a whole is useful – in particular in making sure that everyone is able to discuss any particular successes or strong points, any hopes / ambitions for career development etc. Because we are a fairly small organisation often it’s primarily about formally recording things which have already been discussed in a less formal setting, including positive and negative feedback
      We don’t have scores, we do have space for any specific achievements, areas for improvement, consideration of how well the plan / areas for improvement / development aims etc. set the previous year have been met, as well as looking at any future aims.

    4. FashionablyEvil*

      We do them at my company and I find them pretty useful. Our work is project based, so often times I’m not working directly with my staff, so it’s helpful for me to get the full picture of what they’re doing. We also assess by skill domain (technical expertise, management/leadership, etc.) and work behaviors (communication, collaboration, etc.). It’s a pretty lengthy exercise as a manager, but it definitely helps me understand everyone’s performance assessed against specific criteria.

    5. Threeve*

      One of the questions on my self appraisal is about professional development opportunities you would like the company to offer you in the next year.

      Of course, this is only helpful in an organization that does, in fact, offer professional development. Mine does not.

    6. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I learned an important lesson when my teacher asked everyone to self-assess a project in high school, I gave myself a B out of modesty when I thought I really deserved an A, and we ended up getting the grades we gave ourselves. I was pissed, but felt I had no way to argue since I was the one who gave myself a B. Consequently, every self-assessment I’ve ever done at work has been glowing – I’m afraid that my real performance review scores might be lowered to match my self-assessment scores.

      1. banoffee pie*

        Self-assessments sound really embarrassing to me. I can’t imagine filling one out. I’d be cringing. When I wrote my personal statement (an admission to college type thing) my teachers said it was crap and made me start again. They complained I hadn’t said I was any good at anything. This type of thing isn’t fair on people who were brought up to be modest. This sounds like just another chance for the big-headed people to get (even further) ahead. Sorry if everyone else loves self-assessment, I might be way off-base with popular opinion here.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I have learned to be shamelessly lacking in modesty because modesty really doesn’t get you anywhere. I have rebranded it “self-confidence”.

        2. Observer*

          To be honest, bringing up someone to never speak about their own accomplishments is NOT the same as bringing them up to be modest. And it’s a real problem when parents and educators conflate the two.

          Modesty is good. Self-deprecation and failure to see or acknowledge one’s own strengths is very bad.

          1. twocents*

            This. And really, having the basic ability to say advocate for yourself is an essential life skill. It’s not “immodest” to have the ability to say: I did X which had Y positive result.

          2. banoffee pie*

            I can see my strengths, I just can’t say them out loud to anyone else! It hasn’t held me back any, I don’t think. I take your point though, you’re probably right.

        3. Allonge*

          Self-assessment is not supposed to be about ‘I am great’ or ‘I am the best X’. It’s I did X, Y, Z, and this resulted in A, B, C / I did 34 teapots per week and that is the norm and such.

          As a manager, practically any self-assessment that is more ‘I am adjective’ than ‘I did noun’ is useless. You put in evidence and argue based on that, not declare yourself awesome.

  18. Kate*


    I had a similar situation (though the self assessment was not as over the top) in my last round of performance reviews. One thing that helped me get the message across was asking the team member for their assessment on the performance rating scale (1-3 in our company with 1 being exceptional, 2 good job and 3 underperforming). This then helped me start a clear discussion about what rating I would be putting them forward for & why. If you can’t be explicit on what rating you are going to recommend, I think it’ll still be valuable to ask them and then use that as an opening (“I understand that you believe your work has merited a 1 rating this year. Whilst I agree that there has been good work this year (such as X), there are also significant things to work on (such as Z) which could have an impact on your rating this year.”). If there isn’t a scale then make one up (“If there was a rating scale for your performance of 1-5, what would you rate yourself as?”).

    Good luck!

    1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

      Yeah, I think I would word my response to this letter a little more strongly than Alison did. A wide discrepancy between an employee’s self-assessment and your assessment is itself a performance issue. LW1, I think you need to be very explicit with this employee about the gap between his performance and the kind of excellent performance that he is attributing to himself. You don’t have to name names — don’t say “Sally does XYZ better than you do” — but do say things like “I see you have rated yourself very highly at XYZ. The truth is that real outstanding XYZ includes a significant element of ABC, which I don’t see from you yet.” Treat this like you would treat a performance issue: Tell the employee specifically what you would need to see that you would consider the kind of excellence he’s claiming. Then you can refer back to that in subsequent performance conversations, whether he meets those standards or does not.

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

    OP1 (self-review) – I’ve come across this type before. Often it’s due to a sort of small-picture thinking where the person genuinely does have an over-inflated sense of their own contribution as they are unable to (or don’t think about) the bigger context it takes place in, and their own piece is only a tiny part.

  20. Mark Roth*

    There is one small job where I seem to be the ONLY person who can actually do it. The last time I was out when it needed to be done, people managed. A few did ask me to double check when I got back.

    I wouldn’t rate myself as indispensable. But I guess I am just not Bob.

    1. John Smith*

      I’m in a situation where I’m the only person who can do most of my job and frankly it’s annoying. I’m certainly not Bob (who seems to have his head permanently stuck up his arse to admire the shining sun therein) but when I returned from a 3 month absence, work was a complete mess. Nonsensical spreadsheets created because no-one understood anything more than basic formulas (not even IF statements), equipment failures went unfixed, couldn’t find half of our tools or equipment and the backlog of work was embarrassing. But I’d never be a Bob.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        I’m in the same boat. It’s no fun at all. Yesterday, the guy who was on-call let things be on fire for a full 24 hours, and then poked me ON SUNDAY begging me for help, rather than having done step 1 of the “fix things on fire” procedure I wrote down: “turn everything off, then turn it back on again.” Which did indeed fix the problem.

    2. WS*

      I’m not the only one who can do my job, but I’m the only one who can “magically” make electronics work just by walking near them.

    3. ceiswyn*

      I worked somewhere where I actually was indispensable, in the sense that three people went white and said “What the F are we going to do now” when I told them I was leaving. I STILL never rated myself like Bob. There were so many areas I could see for improvement…

      (Though I did manage to get ‘advanced psychic powers’ into one official performance review. Mainly, I suspect, because my boss of the time couldn’t think of any way to disprove it given how often I knew more about the software release than he, product management or QA did)

    4. Environmental Compliance*

      I have had the luck of being the only person doing what I do at my past couple of jobs. Each time, I was legitimately *the person* doing some very important tasks. Did I attempt to cross train? Yes. Did anyone actually try? Nope. So I had no redundancy for some Very Critical Things – like, this facility will not be in compliance if you do not do these things type of Things.

      When I left my last job my boss went pale and spent most of the afternoon locked in their office looking vaguely panicked.

      At my current job I am still the only person *on my site* doing the Things, though I do have an actual team this time.

      I’m still not indispensable. There are consulting companies who could temporarily take over for longer stretches, we have other facilities who could assist temporarily, and for short term the team could handle coverage.

    1. Candy Clouston*

      No idea why I’m not seeing my actual comment, which is that the person who needs a little time off for bloodwork works in an office rather than retail or a factory or warehouse, where the request (and privacy) become more comples issues.

  21. Ellie Rose*

    LW#3, I didn’t even realize why baby photo requests made me so uneasy until you listed out all the reasons. I have a few but they’re not bad (you did hit all of ’em), so I thought I was overreacting and it was just me. Thanks for a good list.

    FWIW, my company now does small batches of different things, like *OPTIONAL* “send us your baby photos, your favorite summer tradition, or a short video of a hobby” (or all of the above), and almost no one participates in every single event so no one stands out, and the variety lets people who want to participate find something that works for them. Company events/team building are rarely about only ONE thing. Maybe you can suggest that?

    Even for smaller team gatherings, we try to include an alternate option, like “favorite vacation photo or a picture of a place you want to go” and there’s no ribbing of people who don’t participate.

  22. Ellie Rose*

    LW #5, when I had a series of awkward-t0-talk-about medical appointments that unavoidably clashed with my schedule, I was very matter-of-fact but also not specific.

    Something like “I have an important, recurring medical appointment that unfortunately I can only make during work hours on specific days, and I’m trying to plan the least disruption. Does Tuesday or Thursday afternoon work better?”

    Important medical important, re-occurring, and HAS to be during your work hours are really all they need to know. My supervisor still has no idea what my appointments were for.

    Take care!

  23. singlemaltgirl*

    we’ve done this but without the baby photos. we just asked people to send in a ‘baby animal’ photo that they most identify with/like/or just think is cute. then we’ve posted the photos of kittens, puppies, baby pandas, baby gorillas, etc. on a board and had people vote. it’s fun and people get to ask about why they chose that animal. and it truly is a guessing game.

  24. moss*

    Thanks for naming that yelling at work is abuse. It’s cloaked in “being passionate” and having “high standards” but I think it’s very important to realize that it’s not okay at work and that work does not require that level of escalation of emotions.

    1. JM in England*

      I once had a co-worker who yelled at me and other team members. They used the “Passionate” innuendo to try and justify their behaviour (!)

      1. JM in England*

        Btw, we reported this to our boss, but they were dismissive, saying “That’s just them, deal with it!” *sigh*

      2. moss*

        I had a boss who was mad about a reorganization at the company. He would come in my office and vent to me. The venting intensified until one day he threw a chair across the room. After I complained he got reassigned to a much better position and although I didn’t work with him anymore, my new boss thought I was being too sensitive.

        In fact the company I work for is one of the first places where there’s explicitly not a culture of blame. Most places I’ve worked it’s totally fine to completely freak out anytime something goes wrong.

        1. banoffee pie*

          Throwing a chair is ridiculous and theatrical. He couldn’t have been that mad, could he? When someone yells at me I usually yell back unless I’m actually physically afraid of them (and even then it can work as a bluff) so I’d probably just get fired :(

          1. moss*

            in the moment it was shocking and threatening. Looking back on it, it’s still appalling. You’ve had a very fortunate life if you find this incredible.

            1. banoffee pie*

              No I didn’t mean it like that at all! I was trying to be sympathetic but obviously got the wrong tone. I’m sorry. I meant he should be able to control his anger better than that and probably could have if he hadn’t been among subordinates at work. It’s shocking behaviour. No I don’t find it incredible, people have done worse to me than throw a chair across the room. I’m not that sheltered.

  25. Odder Low*

    LW #3, are any of those circumstances applicable to you? Or is it more a situation where you don’t want to do this, and are trying to justify it with reasons why the activity could hypothetically be problematic? While it’s true that not everyone has baby pictures and not everyone who has baby pictures is going to be willing or able to share them at work, it’s not an inherently unreasonable or invasive request. They’re not asking for report cards, a childhood Christmas memory, or anecdotes about attending Sunday school, or something else that’s inherently revealing or personal. If you don’t want to do it, just don’t do it.

    The reason I bring up this point is that I am a trans person, and I’ve noticed a trend of cis allies using “well, this would make trans people uncomfortable” about something that wouldn’t make me or any of my trans friends uncomfortable. It feels like there are cis allies who don’t know any trans people and don’t know much about trans issues, but are very, very quick to use trans people as a rhetorical device.

    Being tokenized and having your struggle used by someone who isn’t a member of your community is a really alienating feeling.

    1. Schmurgel*

      I think you may be right.

      “If you don’t want to do it, just don’t do it.” Exactly. Some people are afraid to say no. “No” is not a bad word.

      There’s a group of people at my company who are always trying to organize these “fun” activities. And most people ignore it. Not because we’re uncomfortable, or whatever. We just don’t want to. Nobody tries to force us, or ask for some explanation. They just accept that most people are not interested, and it’s fine.

    2. darcy*

      I’m also trans and I find it helpful when cis people point out the problems with things like this so it’s not me being the one who has to point it out every single time. A trans friend recently got asked to bring in a baby photo for a work thing and was worried about how to get out of it as they’re not out at work and this would out them as trans. A cis person pointing out the problems and getting the activity changed would have nicely solved it for them!

        1. bamcheeks*

          Some trans people are stealth, ie. not out about being trans. It’s entirely possible that some of your colleagues or acquaintances are trans and you just don’t know it!

          1. ???*

            Unless you only have baby pictures of you completely naked or only pictures with bows in your hair, you can’t tell the gender of a baby. This isn’t going to out anyone.
            Just ignore the email or say you couldn’t find any baby pictures, no one is going to care that much.

            1. bamcheeks*

              I think that depends when you were a baby! 70s babies were all in orange and brown dungarees regardless of gender. Get into the 1990s and clothes manufacturers had caught onto the fact you could sell twice as many baby clothes if you couldn’t dress girl babies and boy babies in the same clothes, and it’s all pink and flowers for girls and army green and grey for boys, especially in the cheaper brands. These days, you have to go to the premium brands for gender-neutral baby and kids clothes. :(

              1. UKDancer*

                Definitely. I mean I (a girl) grew up in the 1980s wearing my boy cousin’s hand me downs until I was about 5. He was a year older than I was so whatever he finished with was passed on to me. My parents weren’t wealthy and my mother was frugal. It never occurred to me that this was in any way weird until I went shopping for an outfit for a friend’s new baby a few years ago. The colour division between boy and girl clothes now really stunned me.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Same here – my sons received a lot of hand-me-downs from family when they were born. We could not afford any new baby and t0ddler items at all. When I look at their photos from that period, they are always wearing all pink in the photos. And the first time my oldest did have a chance to pick out a brand new pair of shoes (Woolworth had a going out of business sale), he picked a pair of cream-colored sandals with tiny embroidered, also cream-colored, flowers on them. Wore them to daycare once. When we came to pick him up that day, his teacher pulled us aside and told us not to send him in wearing girl sandals anymore. He was 4 and this was the late 90s.

                2. banoffee pie*

                  That’s a great point. It helps them sell more clothes and people feel they can’t just use hand me downs. I wondered why shops were so insistent on the pink/blue thing.

            2. doreen*

              There might be some photos where you can’t tell if the baby is a boy or a girl ( like the hospital one where the baby is swaddled in a blanket with a pink and a blue stripe or a baby wearing a white or gray onesie) – but unless the parents went out of their way to avoid it , a lot of photos are going to have gender clues. Even in the 70s, there were dresses and pink clothes and certain styles that would only be worn by one gender or the other ( I never saw a photo of a boy wearing ankle socks with lace)

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Yep. My mom kept my hair short, and my sister’s, until we could care for it ourselves, but she always dressed us in gendered clothing for photos.

        2. darcy*

          I promise you have met trans people without knowing they were trans. People are often confused when they find out my husband is trans because they’ve assumed he’s a cis man, and when I mention that he’s trans I often get asked “so… you mean he wants to be a woman?”

        3. Tib*

          It doesn’t have to be about avoiding outing, it can also be about a desire to have your picture match your expressed gender. Also, even if everyone knows, that doesn’t mean someone would want to have this possibly obvious reminder.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          If the person is not widely known to be trans, and only has baby pix wearing the “wrong” colour, it could well look weird.

    3. Bagpuss*

      I am not sure that I agree that it isn’t personal – I think photos of yourself are pretty personal, particularly if they were not taken for work purposes.

      I do agree with your point about being tokenized.

      However, there are enough situations other than where someone is trans, some of which have been outlined in other comments, where people are potentially going to find being asked to provide a baby photo problematic, and many of those are scenarios where having to explain why they don’t want to participate would also be an issue. (a friend of mine had their child through adoption. Child was 6 at the time of the adoption. Their birth family was abusive. They have no baby pictures , and being put in a position here they felt they had to give a reason for their unwillingness/inability to participate would be profoundly uncomfortable for them – in fact my friend had to have this exact conversation with their kid’s school, which thought this might be a fun exercise for kids moving into a new year group with children they didn’t know…)

      And it’s fine if ‘just don’t do it’ is something that runs in your particular workplace. Sadly this kind of thing varies immensely and not joining in isn’t always easy or simple or something you can do without cost.

      If it’s a genuinely voluntary game then it’s OK, but there are so many things which are billed as voluntary but where not participating is then seen in a a negative way that i van be very hard to negotiate.

      1. Odder Low*

        Agree to disagree on the personal part! From my thinking, pictures aren’t inherently personal because your coworkers presumably already know what you look like. The people who see you randomly at the grocery store are getting the same experience as a coworker looking at a picture of you, so for me, it’s not an inherent boundary violation for an employer to ask.

        Baby pictures, embarrassing pictures, anything meant for external distribution absolutely ups the stakes, and I understand why people might not want to share them.

        For me, personally, the idea that someone might have a reasonable objection to an activity or the idea that someone else might be unreasonably insistent that others participate in the activity doesn’t mean that the activity is inherently bad. It’s kind of like dietary restrictions, in my mind: the existence of shellfish allergies doesn’t mean that shrimp scampi is bad. The fact that some people can’t share baby pictures doesn’t man that an employer is violating professional norms by asking people to share them.

        1. Attractive Nuisance*

          For me, this is an overly personal request because it would literally require too much personal work on my part. I’m honestly shocked at the assumption that an office full of adults would all have easy access to a baby photo of themselves. Getting a baby photo would be a full-day task for me.

        2. Observer*

          ,i>From my thinking, pictures aren’t inherently personal because your coworkers presumably already know what you look like

          They know how you look NOW. Not how you looked as a baby.

        3. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

          You have helped me realize one more reason to avoid this activity: age discrimination. Not just because photos can include clothing or decor styles that indicate age-of-baby, but also because the photo *itself* can indicate age-of-baby.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah I remember our HR person bullying us all into sending photos. For me it was difficult, because all my baby photos were at my parents’ house, and my brother took them, and I’m no longer in contact with him. And I hate the fact that I’m no longer in contact with my brother and I hate having to even think about it.

    4. Lessie*

      In most online spaces these days, it’s no longer enough to simply say “I don’t like this/it’s not my thing.” You have to justify your dislike by stating why X is problematic/harmful/etc.

      1. Birch*

        Because of everyone (including those in this thread) who keep telling people to “grow up” for expressing discomfort or won’t take that no for an answer.

        1. Avril Ludgateau*

          Birch, maybe comments have been removed, but I’m really not seeing anybody in this thread telling people to “grow up” for not wanting to participate.

          I do, however, see people saying the equivalent of, “if you don’t like cake, don’t eat it, but if other people want some, let them enjoy it.” Which is not at all the antagonistic position you are claiming it is.

          If anything, the overall sentiment is “don’t participate if you don’t want to”, and I would add to that “you should not have to explain why, but if your employer presses, simply say you are uncomfortable with the activity.”

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        Etiquette question:

        If you like something, like the baby pics game, and someone else says it’s problematic, are you supposed to say something like this?

        “I acknowledge I harmed you by saying X. I harmed you because Y. I apologize for harming you. Thank you for having the courage to call me out. Thank you for taking the time to call me out. I appreciate it.”

        I am serious. I am not trying to make a political point.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Personally, I would try and match the tone. Generally speaking, most people who are calling something out at work will put a lot of work into assuming good faith and being as non-aggressive as possible, because you are in a work space and people want to try and keep things comfortable. Your text would be appropriate if someone was making a more formal, very heartfelt and personalised request for consideration, but as a general rule people only escalate to that if a more informal request hasn’t worked. So eg:

          Hi Kate
          Not sure about the baby picture game for the team meeting– personally I don’t find it very comfortable or fun because of various family stuff I’d rather not get in to! Maybe two truths and a lie would be better?

          Good point, hadn’t thought of that. We did two truths and a lie last time though. Let me go and do some research and I’ll come up with something better!

        2. Clisby*

          Saying something is problematic is not saying that you’ve harmed anyone; nor would I say it was calling someone out. It’s just pointing out that it’s problematic. I’d be very taken aback if I said something like, “You know, this baby pic thing could be a problem for some people because of XYZ” and then got the response you describe.