I had a fling with my boss’s son, should I sing a song at my interview, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I had a fling with my boss’s son

Within the last two months, I got a new job in my hometown and moved back there. I’ve been at my job about a month now and LOVE it. It’s a great culture fit and I really enjoy the work. However, I’ve run into a little snag. I went to lunch with my boss (Dwight) and my boss’s boss (Pam).

I hadn’t spent a lot of time with Pam previously, so we were chatting more about our personal lives. Pam is much older than I am, close to my mom’s age, and was mentioning that her son just moved to a different city for a new job as well. Through this discussion, I came to realize that I had a very brief fling with her son about two years ago. I’m assuming she does not know this (and I intend to keep it that way!) but I now feel supremely awkward around her. Should I just try to put it out of my mind? Any advice on how to compartmentalize this rather embarrassing situation?

Yep, try to put it out of your mind! There’s a good chance that it’ll never come up between her and her son, and if it does, she’ll probably assume that you still haven’t made the connection yourself. It doesn’t have to be a big deal! People have flings, and this was long before she was your boss.

Also, it might help to de-sexualize it in your head — reframe it to yourself as “I hung out for a bit with Pam’s son, long before I worked for her.” And in fact, if it ever does come up, that’s how you could frame it to her too: “Oh, we hung out a few times! How funny — small world.”

(Also, it feels like this has to have been the plot of a Kate Hudson movie at some point.)


2. Should I sing a song at my interview?

I have an interview in a week at a well-established clothing company for a job doing phone and email customer support. If there’s a chance to sell something along the way, the support agents are expected to do a good job with that too.

They asked the candidates to bring an object and have a presentation about the object. It can be presented as we wish.

Straight away, I knew I had to bring my guitar and I have a whole thing prepared already. But then suddenly I got the idea that I could write a song about my guitar and present it that way? Do you think they will appreciate that? I don’t know if it’s too risky. I know they will remember me for it, but will they think it’s not serious? It just seems kind of boring to bring a guitar without playing anything on it.

Don’t do it. Exercises like this are generally supposed to give a window into your work skills. You’re not going to be singing to customers (I’m assuming/hoping), so doing your presentation in song isn’t going to give them information about how you’d perform on the job, which is what they’re looking for.

That said, I’m 100% sure that there are some hiring managers out there who would like this and think that it demonstrated personality and energy … but there are more who would feel like you missed the point of the exercise.


3. Should I tell my boss my coworker doesn’t really need two weeks out for surgery?

I have a coworker who is consistently out of office. She yearly takes more time than is allotted, even though she has 30 years and is wanting to retire. Is it wrong of me to expect her to show up?

My boss doesn’t seem to be addressing it even though I’ve complained because her workload falls on me routinely — and our workloads as it is are vastly different. (I’d say my workload is at minimum 80% more than hers, with only one pay grade/title step difference.)

Here’s the thing — she’s been out most of last month and now this month. She took vacation knowing she had “surgery” coming up two weeks later. This surgery has her out one week and working from home one week because of inability to drive due to medication.

The thing is, she told me that her surgery is a simple breast cyst removal. I’ve had that done. It’s needle aspiration, out-patient with a less than 24-hour recovery with no harsh meds that would inhibit driving/working. So she’s milking two weeks out of this by not being honest. What do I do with this information?

If I weren’t so sick and tired of holding her load for the last three years, I would do nothing. But it’s the fact that she routinely takes above our allotted time and it falls on me to pick up her slack without ever a thank-you (in fact, if I don’t do her work say on Friday and let her catch up on Monday, she will moan and complain that I didn’t do her work Friday. Forget the hundreds of times I HAVE done her work.) She’s entitled, selfish, and lazy. I’m overworked, overwhelmed, almost on burnout, and here she’s going be out two weeks milking a less-than- 24-hour procedure. Do I take this information to my manager or not?

Nope. You don’t have enough information about what’s really going on; it’s possible she’s having more serious surgery than what she told you (and just didn’t want to reveal it to you), or that there are complications you don’t know about, or that you just don’t have all the details. More importantly, you really don’t want to be in the position of judging what other people do and don’t need for their health; it is squarely Not Your Business.

But there’s a part of this that is your business: your workload. If covering for your coworker is causing you workload problems, you should talk to your boss about that — you don’t need to just take on more and more until you break. Here’s advice on what to say when you do that. And if your coworker complains to you that you’re not handling her work for her, you can say, “I don’t have the time to do it. Sorry!” Maybe followed by, “If you need it covered, you should talk to (manager).”


4. Coworker wants a bigger retirement send-off than we’re willing to fund

I work for a state government organization, which means we have no budget for anything extra or perks. When people retire, their office generally comes together to do something for them. It’s very usual to have cake and punch in a conference room open to the entire organization. We are a smaller office; there are eight of us working right now. The last person who retired got an engraved vase and a dinner out, which cost about $20 per person. We now have another person retiring (who is not a great coworker and has a very difficulty personality) who wants a lunch out, and a reception in the afternoon, and a gift. When it is up to us to fund our coworkers parties, what is reasonable? How do we manage her expectations when we can’t, or aren’t willing, to do a full-day retirement extravaganza?

It’s not great to treat people significantly differently with stuff like this, even when you’re funding it yourselves. If you know you won’t want to do a big hurrah for everyone, that’s an argument for keeping it relatively low-key for everyone. Sometimes people think “but if we’re funding it ourselves, why shouldn’t we be able to do something fancy for the good coworker and something smaller for the difficult coworker?” But this is work, and it’s unkind to do that, even if theoretically you have the right to.

Luckily, it sounds like that fancier retirement send-off was an aberration, and your usual mode is cake and punch. I think you can lean on that with this latest retiree. Say something like, “We realized after Jane’s send-off that we couldn’t sustain that because of the cost per person, and that the money involved meant people really wanted to stick to our traditional cake and punch like we’d always done before. Will you let Bob know what kind of cake you’d like to have, or if there’s another dessert you’d prefer?”

(But then you really do need to stick to cake and punch for future retirees, too, to keep it relatively consistent. That’s not to say, though, that people’s close work friends can’t take them out to lunch too, but that would something they do on their own, not the official send-off.)


{ 195 comments… read them below }

  1. ala*

    I feel like the wording of calling something a “fling” makes it sound much more scandalous than it was. Unless theres some kind of reason it would be gossip worthy, like one of them was married or something, it’s just two adults who had a short past relationship. I wouldn’t bat an eye if someone mentioned they had briefly dated the bosses son years ago, before they even had this job.

    1. Loulou*

      Agreed, “fling” to me sounds way more dramatic than “we went out a few times.” If it ever came up, that’s probably what I’d say.

    2. IDK*

      I assumed by the word “fling” and the fact the OP felt akward it was a booty call/one night stand/friends with benefits situation.

    3. ed123*

      I think I read too much romance novels cause to me a fling is when you travel to Italy for the summer to work at a cafe and meet Gio and you have a summer romance. So to me it’s something relatively intense for a short period of time.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Whether “scandalous” or emotionally intense, either way it’s better replaced with something boring like “briefly dated”

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Yeah, that’s pretty much what I would say: “briefly dated” or “went on a few dates.”

        2. CarrieT*

          Exactly. The OP is under no obligation to be completely honest about what she calls the “fling” in her own head! “Briefly dated” is fine.

    4. Asenath*

      I don’t know; I’d think a “fling” was really trivial, but no more scandalous than any other short-term sexual relationship, which means, as long as that’s all there was to it (neither was then involved with someone else, neither was reporting to the other at work) means not scandalous at all. If anything, “fling” sounds like more fun than “briefly dating” and less potentially scandalous than “one-night stand” (or similar term).

      1. Anononon*

        Yeah, I find it interesting that people think fling sounds scandalous – it’s the opposite to me as well. Now, if a word like “tryst” was used, that does have a bit an exciting/scandalous edge to it.

        1. JB*

          Yeah, a ‘tryst’ or an ‘affair’ might imply scandal, but not ‘fling’. To me ‘fling’ would just be a short relationship.

        2. JSPA*

          Attitudes were already shifting, but have continued to shift significantly, due to the all-pervading nature of dating apps, since 2016 (date of said fling).

          The idea that both men and women can non-scandalously engage in some NSA sex is now, if not universally accepted, at least something that the people who are engaging in said behavior, are more comfortable with.

          For a long time, a lot more people were doing it, than were copping to it, and there was a pretty good overlay of the sorts of shame, weirdness (and extra erotic charge, for those who are into it?) that sneaking and half-truths engender.

          There had been a long-time double standard, where men were presumed to be looking for “conquests,” and women were presumed to be looking for love, but occasionally becoming said “conquests.” Even in the “bra-burning” 60’s, the “liberated” 70’s, especially during the HIV-driven, neo-purity-movement 80’s, and on into the sexually schizophrenic 90’s. Regarding 2016, I figure it’s said with a wink.

          1. pancakes*

            I was at undergrad (and going to lots of raves with people chock full of ecstasy) in the mid to late 90s and I think you’re overstating this discomfort a bit!

    5. OP #1*

      OP here! I don’t think I actually used the word “fling” in my original letter, but I don’t really think of that word having a scandalous connotation. I think I said “slept with my boss’s son” so I understand why Alison would have edited it. I also think I was feeling very awkward about it because we went on several dates and after I slept with him, he ghosted me. So I think the crux of the issue was that my feelings were hurt and I was embarrassed at the time, and realizing the connection to my boss brought those feelings back to the surface.

      Regardless, Alison was right! It never came up and I’ve moved jobs now. The only hiccup was when said boss friended me on Facebook and her profile pic was of her and her son, but even then not really an issue! Just made me uncomfortable for a time. As always, thanks Alison for your spot on advice :)

      1. Smithy*

        With dating apps, I’ll still get a flush of embarrassment if I ever come across a coworker.

        It’s not about being embarrassed about being single or on a dating app, but rather not necessarily wanting to mix dating life with work life. Therefore, to have to deal with someone’s grandboss being the parent of a romantic partner that didn’t end as you would have liked – the embarrassment and anxiety make all the sense in the world. And it also being an nonissue makes all of the sense in the world.

        Glad this had an understandable but happy ending!

  2. Sami*

    # 3: Definitely definitely MYOB on your coworker’s health issues. And not just in this case, but at all times.
    But, like Alison said, please do speak up about the impact of the difference in workload when someone/anyone is out. I assume other people get sick,, have surgeries, and go on vacations.
    When they are in the office or able to WFH, bring up the change in your workload.

    1. Bamcheeks*

      Yes! Again and again. It’s so disappointing to see people blame coworkers for being out when it’s management’s failure to manage the workload properly.

      1. Maltypass*

        Well to be fair we are conditioned to see it that way – not many people realise they have the ability to go to management about this, and if the management are failing then it does end up looking like it’s the individual coworkers fault. It’s not right but it’s understandable

        1. pancakes*

          Who is “we”? I haven’t been conditioned to see it that way. All of us have thought patterns that are “not right” to some extent, but the beauty of becoming aware of them is that they can then be purposefully discarded.

          1. Spargle*

            “We” as a generic word encompassing a large group of people which is not intended to mean every single person on the planet.

            That “we”.

            1. pancakes*

              This is a lot of snark for a pretty minor and reasonable disagreement. The person I was responding to was suggesting that it’s a fairly universal experience to be conditioned as described. I don’t agree that it is. You may not like that I disagree, but it’s not a wildly out of line thing to disagree about.

      2. Curious*

        I have a bit more sympathy for OP on this. It seems to me that it is coworker who should be approaching the manager to find ways to manage the workload in coworker’s planned absence, rather than complaining to OP3 about what wasn’t done.

        While I agree that OP3 shouldn’t police coworker’s attendance/medical leave, I think that coworker’s attitude has contributed to poisoning the well.

        1. pancakes*

          Nah. Even if the coworker wasn’t preparing for surgery that wouldn’t be their job. Managing people’s workloads is a task for management.

          1. alienor*

            I mean it’s sort of both, at least in most of the jobs I’ve had. Anytime I’ve planned to be out for a longer period, say a week-plus, I’ve at minimum gone to my manager and said “Here are the projects I’m working on right now. A, B and C can wait until I get back; [coworker’s name] can probably take X and Y if they have time; and I’m not sure about Z, so let me know how you want to handle that one.” If the manager wants to put Z on hold too, or have someone else do X and Y, that’s up to them. But it would feel odd for me to not at least help them figure out what needs to be done, since I’m the one who knows the status of my projects best.

          2. Boof*

            I’m planning parental leave and i’m HIGHLY involved in figuring out how to distribute my workload. Unless it’s an emergency, coworker knows the most about their workload and should be talking with their manager actively about breaks.

            1. pancakes*

              Of course someone going on leave or taking time off needs to be involved in coordinating that, but if they don’t happen to be the first to approach higher-ups about who will take on their work while they’re out, the person or people who feel obliged to cover for them should approach management if they can’t do it or feel it’s unfair to be tasked with it, not just seethe about it.

              1. Boof*

                I guess I don’t understand; if someone knows they need to take leave, the first thing that person should do is go to their managers – who else will be first? No one else knows before they do. And unless this is just shift work or something super low level how can part of that discussion not involve coverage? How can that coworker complain to OP that OP didn’t help them enough when they get back with a straight face? (I mean yes ultimately management has the power and needs to put a stop to this but coworker could do a lot more to help the situation than some are implying)

                1. pancakes*

                  I don’t think we know much about what this particular coworker did or didn’t do in arranging leave. Most of the letter was about how the letter writer feels about covering for her. Certainly there should have been some discussion of coverage. The coworker isn’t the one who wrote in for advice, so what they should do seems beside the point to me.

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

          I think the co-worker already has approached the manager and been told OP is the backup plan.

        3. The OTHER other*

          I really disliked the LW’s focus (and tone) re: her coworker’s health, but am very sympathetic with her frustration with having to do all the neglected work solo in addition to her own. Alison is right to mind your own beeswax re: her time off and health and focus on how it’s not sustainable to have one person doing 1 1/2 jobs or more in the long term. If this is emblematic of how things are managed and there’s no response to repeated complaints about it, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.

      3. hbc*

        I dunno, I think approaching the manager is the only way to get something done, but I can certainly blame coworkers who take advantage of the lack of managerial oversight *in addition to* the manager. How big a percentage of the blame each gets depends on how much the manager knows (or should have figured out), how devious the coworker is, and so on.

        It’s hard to know how much the manager sucks here, but I’ve never seen a good coworker come back from time off for any reason and essentially whine, “How come you didn’t do *all* of my job on top of yours while I was gone?”

    2. Decima Dewey*

      In part, I sympathize with OP#3. I’ve been the one who picks up the pieces. You need to discuss your/her workload with your supervisor.

      OTOH. Are you her doctor? Do you have a medical degree or nursing license? Do you know for a certainty that she is having a needle aspiration and not a different kind of cyst removal? Mind your own business.

    3. quill*

      Exactly. The problem is the workload being distributed unfairly / being too large for the team. Not coworker’s medical problems, which are not LW’s business

  3. Loulou*

    I mean…OP#4’s team could just take this coworker out to lunch. That doesn’t seem remotely like an extravagant request, it’s more on par with the last retirement, and it would be a nice thing to do. Definitely explain you can’t do lunch AND a reception (time during the workday is a perfectly good and true reason!) but yeah, I do think the coworker would have a reason to be miffed if the last retiree got a dinner and she couldn’t even get a lunch.

    1. Smithy*

      Yeah – I also feel that things like retirements, birthdays, engagements are often as much about sharing with your broader staff how you treat and acknowledge employees.

      Seeing staff acknowledged differently for similar life events via official channels isn’t great for staff. And I think that even if those official channels are asking people to contribute their own money, it can still serve to highlight cliques, in/out groups, etc. A workplace that can come up with $20 per person to celebrate John but can only manage a sheet cake and kool-aid for Jane – while some people may know that John was a high contributor for decades, whereas Jane was a difficult staff member for 5 years – it won’t read that way to everyone. For newer staff it may read that John’s department/team was favored and Jane’s was hated. That perhaps men or people from John’s background/community/etc get ahead whereas women or those from Jane’s community face more obstacles.

      I’ve worked on a few nonprofit teams where due to growth, there have been very deliberate efforts to change how birthdays were acknowledged because what had worked for a team of 10 was unsustainable for a team of 40. I know that the AAM Hawaiian Rolls letter is a classic in being overly upset on issues you need to let go, but things like having one team member get a birthday card signed by twenty people and a second team member getting a birthday card signed by two can really can sour team dynamics.

    2. Public Sector Manager*

      I’m a government employee, and you can’t force employees to spend their own money on taking someone out to lunch. Why should OP’s team take someone to lunch unless they want to? Someone can’t get miffed over how I decide to spend my lunch. Just my two cents.

      1. Loulou*

        I mean, you can’t actually force anyone to take someone out to lunch, government worker or not. I think Alison clearly outlines why offices can’t just throw retirements based on how much they want to or like the person.

        Anyway, OP didn’t ask “how can we avoid celebrating this person’s retirement?” They asked how to manage the coworkers expectations since they seemed to expect a bigger thing.

      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        NO ONE in ANY position in ANY workplace should ever be pressured or bullied into spending their. own. money. on someone else’s choice of presents or parties! Please, people – recognize that your colleagues may well have needs and priorities about which you know nothing (and never will because it’s not your business!) that make it impossible for them to contribute to lavish goodbye bashes or gifts. (Oh, and while we’re at it, do NOT tell every employee – including 25 year olds in entry-level positions – that it’s “mandatory” for them to cough up $60 for a present for the boss.)

        Let people contribute what they can and what they want to towards send-off parties and presents but do NOT assume that “Well, if I can afford it then everyone else can too!” That’s a shortcut to getting a reputation as a tin-eared office bully.

    3. Little Lobster*

      I agree, the answer to this one really bothered me. Even if this employee is annoying as hell, LW let her see that they treated the last retirement a certain way, so really they set themselves up for this expectation. Take her out to lunch, be happy she’s gone, and really, how many retirements can there possibly be in this office? Unless every single employee is 60+, this surely can’t be a recurring problem.

    4. BabyElephantWalk*

      Spending other people’s money for them is kinda gross. LW is perfectly reasonable not wanting to fund lavish retirement parties, and it’s pretty not cool to suggest that they should. LW is clearly stating that this is money coming from other employees pockets that they don’t want to spend.

      1. Loulou*

        They clearly stated they didn’t want to fund an all-day extravaganza, not that they didn’t want to or couldn’t spend any money on the retirement proceedings. There’s a spectrum between the retiree’s suggestion and Alison’s.

  4. nnn*

    #1: Is there some element to your relationship/how you met that isn’t romantic or sexual? If yes, you could use that as your narrative if it ever comes up at work. “We were in the same improv class a couple of years ago” or something comparable.

  5. raincoaster*

    “Breast cyst surgery” can be code for a MUCH more serious medical issue, and I have used that cover myself.

    1. Jillian*

      Yeah, me too. I’ve also had “breast cyst surgery” and it is not always a simple aspiration. I had full anesthesia (due to the depth of the cyst location) and was incredibly sore afterward. Mentally, I could’ve worked from home, but I was unable to wear a bra for two weeks and no way in hell was I (42d) going into the office without one. So, yes, mind your own business.

      1. LegallyRed*

        Yes, my guess is that it’s something like this.

        When I was having my port placed for chemo, a lot of people I talked to who’d had it done said that it wasn’t really a surgery, just a procedure, and it wasn’t a big deal. (I was trying to decide whether to get the port or just keep using the PICC line I already had for a different condition.) I’m glad it seems to be a simple procedure for most, but I was in a lot of pain for several days afterward, couldn’t turn my head for 2 weeks, and STILL have residual neck and shoulder pain over a year later (and nearly six months after having it removed). I was already on medical leave anyway but I would absolutely have taken those first 2 weeks off from work if I wasn’t; I was miserable.

        Mind your own business, OP.

        1. Lexie*

          My mom had a complication with her chemo port placement and ended up hospitalized for a few days. So definitely not simple for her.

        2. NotRealAnonForThis*

          My child’s PICC placement (should have been a no-brainer of a procedure) went absolutely sideways when the stupid thing randomly came uncapped (i.e. became non-sterile) in the middle of the night. That seemingly inconsequential thing (a line came uncapped!) became a 72 hour long stressful addition to our stay.

          LW – I hope you minded your own business. The answer to “should I tell my boss (something about my coworker’s health)” is “F*** No” nearly 100% of the time. I make mental exceptions for in-the-moment emergency situations involving diabetes and food allergies, because sometimes that happens. But seriously. You don’t know the whole situation. You don’t know the surgical plan. You don’t know her medical history. You are at BEC level with this coworker.

          What you CAN do is go to your manager and state that you cannot shoulder the entire amount of work for your coworker, full stop. Its your manager’s issue. Make it their issue.

      2. ...*

        I’ve also had this surgery and was recovering for several days, so #3 gave me flames on my face. Some cysts require a full surgical removal and biopsy (in my case, they tested for cancer — it was good news). So, congrats to the OP that they got lucky?

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Was going to say, aren’t cysts not all the same size/location? I had one, and was told to basically ignore it as it was small and inconsequential. But that was mine. OP’s may have been different, OP’s coworker’s also completely different, and on top of it all, we don’t all have the same pain tolerance. Mine is ridiculously high (to the point where I have to be careful and make an effort not to ignore pain so I don’t overlook a serious health issue), but I know not to expect the same of everyone else.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Yup. I had a mole removed soon after my vacations and a month later I’m still not fully recovered from the surgery. Turns out for some reason it’s taking more than normal to heal. Luckily we’re still working from home (for obvious reasons), but if someone complained it would raise some eyebrows.

      1. Mami21*

        I hope you’re having the slow healing time investigated, friend, as you likely already know, that can be a symptom of some illnesses.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      A friend of mine and I had the same eye condition, and each had the same procedure. For me, it was mildly painful for a couple of days, then I was fine. My friend was in severe pain for a week, and she also had some complications that made for a month of hell.

      Seriously, the same procedure yet two different outcomes.

      1. cubone*

        I had this exact procedure, took a full week off (because I had the time to use anyways), went back to the office the following Monday and my boss sent me home because of how terrible I looked. I was off for another week. I swear, for a full two weeks, I just slept 18 hours a day. Everyone reacts differently.

  6. Age of Makto*

    I disagree on #2. The company asked interviewees to “bring an object” and make a presentation about it. With a pre-announced interview question like this, they’re clearly looking for a bit of creativity and off-the-beaten-path thinking. If the company had a play-it-safe culture, they would avoid quirky questions like this one.

    1. Bri*

      I also disagree. The point of the exercise seems to me to be mostly about assessing charisma, specifically to gauge whether the candidate is going to be personable and convincing to customers.

      If it’s in line with one’s personality and skill set and done halfway well, a song would be perfect. It seems to me to be one of the very few job interviews where singing could actually be a not terrible idea.

      1. Tamarack with a phone*

        It may depend a little bit on how accomplished a musician and performer the OP is. And even if she calibrates the song as well as she possibly could, there may still be an interviewer who would cringe at sitting through a long stretch of singing. The guitar would fit the bill, though, especially if the OP has an interesting story to tell about it and her relationship with music. But I’d keep any singing to literally <30 sec and only if she's confident in her ability to impress.

        Plus, maybe one thing the interviewers are looking for is her skill with the usual presentation tools. This could end as "well, I really liked OP's creativity, and she's inventive and a hell of a singer… But our rubric says 'Powerpoint skills and slide design,' and X, Y and Z were great at that."

          1. tamarack & fireweed*

            Oh, could be. I was on the phone, and wasn’t sure I had actually seen a clue as to the gender, but it’s hard to go back. I just know soooo many more female singer-songwriters than male ones. Which is probably entirely due to sampling bias because of my preferences in artists.

      2. EPLawyer*

        You are supposed to be presenting on the object. Not showing off your singing talents. I am just thinking of all the auditions for American Idol where people THOUGHT they could sing and …. well … couldn’t. OP may have a wonderful voice, it may be a fantastic song. But it is NOT a presentation ABOUT the guitar.

    2. river*

      Am I missing the point? Isn’t this exercise about sales? So you’d bring in a coffee plunger, say, and be like, this works well for this reason and that reason, and it looks so stylish in my kitchen … etc?
      If you were singing, they don’t know if you can talk up an object convincingly or not, right?

      1. Chicanery*

        It seems like if they wanted you to talk up a random object, they’d assign one. This seems more about personality.

        1. pancakes*

          That’s too broad, though. It seems clear enough from the context that they want to assess whether candidates are personable for the purpose of selling clothes.

      2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        I worked in a place that did this exercise for sales candidates. One of the outstanding candidates gave a sales pitch for … a pencil. To a group of Internet executives.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        If it wouldn’t be normal to break into song as part of sales, then I would be dubious about how effective it would be.

        Also of course you need to have a good sense of how compelling you are as a musician and singer.

      4. Anonnymouse*

        Having worked many jobs advertised as this, I feel strongly that this is likely a phone sales job that’s dressed up in customer service/billing clothes … the cx service and billing is a ploy to get customers on the phone with sales agents (who might not know that that’s what they really are). I’m pretty confident that they’re looking for a sales pitch. Charisma will do, but they want to see you sell.

      5. Denver Gutierrez*

        That is what I thought. Like it was more along the lines of “audition” stories for QVC that I have heard. The person interviewing is given an object like a pencil and is told they have to “sell it” to the audience (the interviewers) for x number of minutes.

    3. PollyQ*

      I’d assume that if they’re asking you to make a presentation, they’re looking to see how well you can make a presentation, and a song is something entirely different. People make presentations in business contexts all the time, but rarely perform music. Perhaps LW might strum a few chords and sing a couple of lines as part of the talk, but I wouldn’t substitute one for the other.

      1. Bri*

        In a customer service/occasional sales job for a clothing company, I suspect it’s much more about assessing personality and charisma than one’s capacity to deliver polished corporate style presentations.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          True, but ultimately what the op will be doing is telling a customer what aspects of this pair of trousers make it special enough to buy it at her store rather than going three doors down to buy a more or less identical pair from Banana Republic. It’s not a formal business presentation, but it is describing objects with enthusiasm and explaining how it made their life better (which, sort of, shows that they can sell a customer on the idea that an item of clothing will make the customer’s life better). If a customer service person whipped out their guitars to sing a haunting ballad about the greatness of Store X’s pants pockets, I’d be more confused than anything.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This. Unless you are applying for a job in a music store, I think breaking into song is going to land weirdly.

            Even if well performed, it’s something that lands much better from Well-Known Quantity than Random Stranger I’m Trapped With.

            1. Bri*

              Eh, I don’t think so. I had a friend who I can completely envision doing something like this. And I am aware of at least one instance where she did turn something into a song at work. She works in sales, and since that time, has really carved out a highly lucrative and impressive career for herself that started in a call centre in the finance sector. She’s wildly funny and incredibly charismatic, and these attributes have been crucial to her success.

              It really depends on the person. If it is your personality, and something you can do well – in the context of some customer support/sales role for a clothes store, why not? It isn’t really high stakes or worth overthinking. They want someone they like and who the customers will like, and bring yourself there is not going to hurt.

              1. RJ*

                I agree with Bri – and it also depends on the brand. If the brand is fun, has a younger or casual target audience, etc., I think a song would be a great way to stand out coming from someone like your friend. If it’s a stuffy business brand, then a stuffy business presentation would be safest.

    4. PinaColada*

      I don’t think they should prepare a song about the guitar, but I think they should come prepared to play a sing with the guitar (like, whatever are their usual songs). I agree with Allison’s assessment but I also think it’s quite possible that after they present about why they love their guitar, the interviewers will be like, “Play us something!” So they should have a song or two polished and ready.

      1. Heidi*

        I was going to suggest this. Do a presentation as directed, but be prepared to play something and be awesome when you do. Be casual about it, though. If I think people are too eager to play or angling for an invitation, it kind of scares me and I won’t ask.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Throughout this, I’ve been picturing a serenaded-at-fast-food-place experience that slid from “how charming” to “omigod would you shut up and leave us alone.”

        2. Gothic Bee*

          I think this is a much better idea. Whether the interviewers would be amenable to hearing a song or not, the song is not a good substitute for the presentation. Also, putting too much effort into the song might backfire and make your interviewers less likely to remember what was good about your customer service/sales skills. You want to be remembered for the part that will get you hired, not the part that has no real bearing on whether you’re a good fit for the job.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I disagreed as well. The assignment is already “out there” compared to the job interviews I’m used to. Maybe they expect an “out there” response.

    6. Sharon*

      The interview question/project in #2 is terrible unless a whole lot more guidance was provided to the applicants on what was expected and what skills it was meant to demonstrate: e.g. , “Bring an object of your choice and make an engaging presentation about it that demonstrates your product knowledge and sales skills.” Otherwise you run the very real chance of someone doing something like bringing a quilt their grandmother made and explaining why it’s important to them – which is probably not helpful to the interviewers in determining whether the applicant is qualified for the job.

      Unless the point is to assess how well applicants are able to ask clarifying questions and narrow down the scope of a project when given ambiguous instructions?

      1. hbc*

        If someone manages to bring in their grandmother’s quilt and convince me to buy it based on their description of why it’s meaningful to them, they’ve got some major sales chops. I’m not in sales, but even I recognize that my fondness for my grandma’s quilt doesn’t translate into moving bedding inventory, and it would therefore not be a great approach.

        Same would go for the song, I suppose. I’m cringing at most of the things I imagine, but if you can somehow make me more informed about a product and more willing to buy it with live singing, have at it. But I’m guessing you would have more success with something a little more straightforward, like “Check out this detailed stitching, using traditional needle and thread methods that hold up for literal generations….”

        1. Sharon*

          My point is that we have no information from OP that it’s *supposed* to be a sales pitch. I hope the interviewer gave the OP more info than OP gave us:

          They asked the candidates to bring an object and have a presentation about the object. It can be presented as we wish.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      I don’t think it’s a quirky question looking for extreme creativity–it seems like they are expected to discuss products with customers and so the interview is asking them to present about an object as a way of understanding how the applicant would talk to customers. Certainly I imagine being engaging is something they are looking for, but as Alison said if you’re not going to be singing to the customers then it would be a completely useless interview that gives them no information about what they actually need you to be able to do.

  7. Roaring Twentysomething*

    Would love to have a chat with LW3 about chronic/disabling illness and FMLA. If coworker regularly goes over the allotted sick time and has a reduced workload…there might be a reason for that. It sounds quite similar to my own current situation.

    But really, it’s absolutely none of LW’s business! If coworker does have a very “legitimate” excuse that would make everyone go “oh, I get it now,” she doesn’t have to divulge a darn thing to anyone except select few. I’m quite frankly cheering on the fact that she was able to get a restful vacation before a surgical procedure—PTO policies can make that difficult for chronically ill employees.

    Is it possible that there’s system abuse? Sure, but that’s between her, her morals, and the boss. LW’s workload? For sure her business! Focus on that and stop being nosy!

    1. Mags*

      Plus, even if co-worker is getting the arm in? The co-worker has been there 30 years and is coming up on retirement. If she is going over her allotted time off regularly and nothing is done despite complaints to managers , then she probably has worked up enough capital at that company to get away with it. Kicking off over a legitimate surgery (even if it is one LW thinks is easy) risks making the LW look pretty mean-spirited and possibly out-of-touch with company ‘indulge the co-worker’ culture. (I mean, co-worker PROBABLY isn’t the CEO’s dear old mom or something. BUT I did work somewhere where it turned out our payroll officer was the boss’s grandmother. Nobody had mentioned it to me (mat cover for programme manager), because everyone already knew. Luckily it didn’t matter because we got on fine, but….whoof).

    2. Tamarack with a phone*

      Yeah, that’s a classical “the OP has a manager problem, not a coworker problem” regardless of whether the coworker is likeable or not.

    3. fueled by coffee*

      Yeah, I think the situation building up resentment here is that the LW ends up having to cover a lot of the coworker’s work — but then this needs to be a conversation with the manager, not an accounting of the coworker’s whereabouts at all times.

  8. Anblick*

    Lw3: Strongly consider your coworker might be talking about her health how she’s comfortable but not telling you the full details of her medical life. I myself spent the total of a full month in the hospital this year (in a few stints) and once the main issue was more or less managed, I immediately broke my foot. I really hate trying to explain this to management without it sounding like an excuse but the initial batch was bad enough you really can’t ignore it… but basically you don’t know what’s going on. If you need backup, ask for it and just sick or not sick person will figure itself out.

    1. Rainy*

      I think it’s also very likely that LW3 has made it clear to the coworker that they are absolutely not a safe person to discuss anything health-related with. I mean, they sound pretty judgy to me, and I don’t even know them.

  9. Gabrielle*

    Maybe I’m reading too much into a coincidence, but I can’t help wondering, did OP3 _have_ to use the word “milking” twice in reference to a breast cyst surgery? I am not saying that to be funny at all, but it honestly feels as if OP chose this word because they’re focusing on how the coworker is using her breasts to get out of work.

    1. river*

      I would say it’s a coincidence. But OP definitely needs to focus on the work impact and not on their coworker’s health. Everybody’s different, and you just can’t know what’s really going on with their body.

    2. WellRed*

      I think that’s really reading something that isn’t there. Milking is so common to use in this situation (as OP sees it,) I’m having a hard time coming up with a substitute (please don’t derail with alternative suggestions).

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      It’s really the only go-to word you would use to describe what OP thinks the coworker is doing. Yeah it’s an unfortunate coincidence, but it’s incredibly normal phrasing.

  10. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP3: a good rule of thumb is to never, ever, speculate about a coworkers medical issues and whether they are making them up or telling fibs. It’s not relevant and will only stress you out.

    I was out for several days for what I told people was a ‘minor procedure’. It was a smear test (pap smear in the USA) and if I’d mentioned that I’d dare say someone would be writing about the person who didn’t really need time off for something so minor.

    They don’t know how incredibly painful I find those.

    If your work is being overloaded from having to cover for someone else a lot then make the whole case about that. Don’t mention medical stuff or speculation about whether the time off is warranted, ever.

    1. WS*

      +1, a few years ago my partner had to take two days off to go to the dentist. What they didn’t know was that she had a severe dental phobia (it’s a lot better these days!) and the two days off was to take and recover from prescribed sedatives, as she wouldn’t be safe to drive or work in a job that requires close attention to detail. Fortunately, she said “dental work” while going pale and clammy and people assumed that it was more serious that it actually was. Respect that your co-worker knows what time they need.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yeah, I have to be prescribed sedatives to have a smear test or internal ultrasound etc. It’s just terrifying. I confess I’ve not seen a dentist in nearly 20 years – I’m too scared. Not of the pain – from disapproval and being told off for the state of my teeth. Kinda pathetic of me.

        1. Jessica*

          Aww. Keymaster, if you’ve experienced that kind of disapproving attitude, I don’t mean to deny your experience, but I think dentists in general are mostly not like this. American dentists have to understand the screwed-up healthcare environment we have and the fact that they’ll often see adults with long-neglected teeth because the person just got dental coverage. I’ve seen dentists who advertise willingness to work with people who are afraid of dentistry. Maybe online reviews or recommendations from friends could steer you toward a kind, sympathetic dentist? They’re there to help you, not judge you, and whatever condition your teeth are in, it’s better now than it will be in another 20 years. I hope you find a way to get some dental care. Wishing the best for you and your teeth.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Agreed! I am afraid of both needles & the dentist, exacerbated by having had a terrible dentist when I was a kid.

            Then I had a period when I didn’t have dental coverage and didn’t go to the dentist for several years. Once I got coverage, I found a lovely dentist who worked with my fear. He retired a few years ago, but the practice has been taken over by another wonderful dentist.

            I’ve even recommended this practice to others.

          2. Simply the best*

            I don’t want to speak for a keymaster, but a lot of time, you can have the nicest, most thoughtful dentist in the world and that’s not going to change the way you feel. It’s not even really about the dentist at all. Like I hate going to get my eyes checked because doing the reading part makes me feel like I’m failing a test when I can’t see certain lines or get letters wrong. And obviously I’m not! The whole point of the test is for me to tell them which lines I can’t see and which letters I can’t read. But I can’t stop that mortified feeling I get when I can’t read the bottom line.

          3. Anonnymouse*

            Be aware that you’re judging the hygenist just as much as the dentist. My dentist is great with my dental phobia and dealing with my weird anatomic quirks (dental anesthetic doesn’t take and hypermetabolizes, and I’ve had dentists when I was a child drill while I could still feel it. Plus two goes of hyperemetic pregnancies. Bad combo.) But when my former hygenist left and they reassigned a new one, she scared me out of the office for years with her judgy bullcrud.

        2. Bagpuss*

          I’m sorry you’ve had that experience with dentists.
          I have a severe fear of dentists (I once fainted in WHSmiths, when I bumped into my dentist unexpectedly…) and have to say that they are WAY better than they were when I was younger (or maybe I was just really really unlucky then) My teeth weren’t great when I first went as an adult (partly poor genes, partly due to not having been due to fear, partly due to health reasons which impacted enamel development and partly due to the fact that I spent my entire childhood taking a medication for those health reasons which was provided as a sugar syrup.) The dentist I saw ended up referring me to a specialist clinic as apparently they can’t do much to your teeth when you are shaking like a leaf, but they were not critical or disapproving .

          Best of luck

          Also I think that because there have been severe shortages with lots of people being unable to get onto a NH list they are aware that even if you haven’t seen one for a while it’s not your fault.
          If you can bring yourself to, I’d suggest getting in contact and being up front that you have not been able to see a dentist for years , I think you’ll find they won’t tell you off, but will try to work with you

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Yeah, I probably should get over that fear! No NHS dentists in my area anyway that are taking patients so I’ll have to go private.

            1. Duc Anonymous*

              You are not alone on the dentist fear! Despite a high pain tolerance (which means nothing when I’m too afraid to even deal with my teeth) and paying for insurance all these years, I was *just* able to make myself go about 3 years ago. It was a combination of actual fear, embarrassment about my teeth (which you couldn’t even see, but I was convinced you could), and my lifelong anxiety spiraling. I wondered if people judged me for not taking care of myself and did I even care about myself… it was a whole thing.

              I found a dentist who was taking over for a retiring provider and was revamping the clinic. His website actually had a page on dental anxiety/phobia and recommended a long consult where that could be discussed even before x-rays were done. It definitely helped me and my teeth were not as bad as I thought. It is still difficult but a collaborative dentist can go a long way.

            2. Retired Prof*

              Keymaster, I have horrifyingly bad teeth and I adore my dentist. He is incredibly kind and never says anything blame-like about my mouth full of crowns and fillings. When I fell in the street and smashed my face, I drove straight to the dentist before the ER because I knew he would take care of me. He stayed three hours after the office closed because he was leaving town and wanted to make sure I was treated before he left. He is such a kind man and shows me pictures of all his woodworking projects. We both regard my mouth as just an ongoing project, not a badge of shame.

          2. Dancing Otter*

            My dentist has a therapy lapdog – or would that be emotional support lapdog? – for nervous patients. Very cute dog, one time her topknot was dyed purple to match the dentist’s hair. I’m not particularly nervous, but why turn down a doggy cuddle?

            1. Wisteria*

              a therapy lapdog – or would that be emotional support lapdog?

              If you are in the US, a therapy dog is very different from an emotional support animal. An emotional support animal provides therapeutic benefits to the owner, and it doesn’t need any special training. A therapy dog provides therapeutic benefits to people who are not the owner and has to go through extensive training and evaluation with the owner to be labelled as such.

          3. Emilia Bedelia*

            One thing that I learned, far too late, was that I could ask for things as a patient!
            The dentist was always uncomfortable for me as a kid. I’ve always hated having things around my neck so I was very uncomfortable with the little paper bib, and I really hate fruit flavors and bubblegum so I hated the gross toothpaste flavors. As a kid, I never spoke up, because the dentist was in charge and I had to do what they asked me to do.

            The first time I went to the dentist as an adult, I asked if they could leave off the bib and use mint toothpaste. They were happy to oblige, and it was so easy. It was great to realize that the dentist (a good dentist, at least) really does want the patient to be comfortable and happy, and will accommodate you if you ask.

        3. a tester, not a developer*

          I went fairly recently after about a 10 year hiatus. I told the office manager my tale of woe (after I had cancelled once because of nerves), and they set everything up to be as comfortable and supportive as possible – first appointment of the day so I didn’t have time to sit and fret in the waiting room, lots of “We’re glad you were able to come in!” and a lot more explanation of what they were going to do and was I OK with it than I remember from previous dentist visits. So it was 100% better than I thought it would be.

          1. Pippa K*

            Similar experience here, including the 10-year gap! When I finally *had* to go, I apologised to the dentist for being such a baby and irrationally frightened. She stopped me and said quite seriously, “fear of dentistry isn’t irrational. Dentistry can be scary. But all you have to do is walk in the door, and you did, so you’ve been brave and now we’ll take care of everything else.” She and her whole staff were kind, patient, careful, and offered me lots of coping options, because they have experience dealing with frightened people (which is kind of comforting, in a way). The result is that my dental health is better than it’s ever been, and her words about my part being just to show up have even gotten me through unrelated scary medical procedures. No exaggeration to say this dentist has made my life better. I wish everyone could find a dentist like this.

          2. Smithy*

            Similar situation. Over the course of about ten years, I had a very spotty dental track record where the last visit hadn’t gone well. The very best thing I did when returning to regular care was to tell the new practice where I was going my situation and that I was genuinely terrified.

            The dentist himself did my first cleaning, and it’s become such a positive and supportive experience that even though I’ve moved out of town – I still travel back to see his practice. If when you’re scheduling, if they don’t respond well to sharing how nervous you are – then that’s solid information to pay attention to. Because goodness knows there are plenty of people terrified of the dentist and practices should have skills and methods to put people more at ease.

          3. NotRealAnonForThis*

            Similar here. My new dentist, after about a 10 year gap, also figured out WHY I’ve always had issues with X-Rays. (X-Rays should not hurt. But they do when you have extra bones in your mouth that get in the way!!!) He is amazing and he goes out of his way to make sure that his patients are comfortable.

            No idea how I’m lucky enough that my US-ian Luxury Bone Discount Card (aka Dental Insurance) is something he takes!

            1. Becca*

              I got x-rays about a year ago then recently, because for various reasons I didn’t trust the old practice. The new dentist is 10x better.
              At the old one I cried and felt like my inner mouth was chewed up for days. The new one asked me about sensitivity as part of intake and actually took that into account.
              They also pointed out something I knew was a problem whereas at the other I had to ask and they kind of brushed it off like oh yeah that we can just remove that tooth (right recommendation but more important than they were letting on).
              New place is also much more approachable with questions, and I do feel less judged. Really good about going over cost beforehand and relatively easy to make appointments (I procrastinate making phone calls but they’ll call me which takes some pressure off).

              So, I’d say if anyone has a bad experience definitely try somewhere else! I have faith now that a better experience exists.

        4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’d recommend you find and try a younger dentist. I have found them to be more compassionate, positive, and forward looking.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            That does sound ageist written that way. I think the education process for dentistry has changed the profession’s bedside manner for the better in the past generation or so, and younger dentists are going to be part of the new paradigm. There’s no reason an older dentist can’t be, but being educated and trained before the shift, they’re less likely to be unless they decide to be.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              This has been my experience with ob/gyns. I have a specific condition that makes exams agonizing/impossible. My first gyn (who was older and has now been retired for quite awhile) acted like she had maybe heard of it and told me to come back when I was able to insert a tampon. That was it. No advice on how to get to that point.

              The young ones I’ve seen since have been ALL OVER treating this for real and causing me as little discomfort, physical or psychological, as possible. It might be that this specific practice just emphasizes this a lot, but I’ve done enough research on my own (when former doctor left me out to dry) to know that attitudes about this condition have changed a lot very recently, so I’m sort of not surprised the younger doctors are more accommodating.

              (All of them are women, so that’s not a factor.)

              Side note: When I finally did start long-term treatment I told my boss that I was going to need regular half-days for physical therapy for “an old muscle problem” for awhile, which sounds like I had an old hamstring injury. No, he did not ask; I only told him because it’s wildly out of character for me to need medical time and also because we’re a tiny department so juggling absences can be a little tricky. And because I knew he wouldn’t pry. So what your coworkers tell you they’re having do may not have much to do with what they’re actually having done.

            2. Blomma*

              I can totally understand this to be true and I feel like I’ve lucked out with my dentist who must be at least in his 50s. He had been extremely kind to me despite my dental anxiety, so it’s possible for them to learn!

        5. Risha*

          I finally went to the dentist last year after a roughly 10 year gap (not because of a phobia, but because of a series of moves interspersed with long periods of unemployment got me out of the habit). I did have multiple of my first ever cavities, which led to my first ever fillings, but my dentist actually said that my teeth were in remarkably good shape for going that long without care. There was absolutely no telling off, just a focus on fixing things. And it sounded like he has had a large number of patients that have done the same thing (and he’s quite young).

        6. WS*

          My partner was in the same position after some horrific childhood/teen experiences and has had such positive experiences as an adult that she no longer needs sedation for most procedures and recently had a crown done without needing the sedation at all, even though it was a multiple-appointment visit. I really recommend that you look for a dentist who specialises in phobic patients – the whole practice was so kind and careful and welcoming.

      2. Lexie*

        I don’t have a dental phobia but if I have dental work done I’m out for the rest of the day. I metabolize drugs like lidocaine much slower than average so it’s hours before I can speak properly and I tend to have ice cream for dinner so I don’t hurt myself.

        1. Rainy*

          I have the opposite thing: I burn through the first set of lidocaine at double speed, at which point the dentist freaks out and pumps me full of it, so then I’m numb for the rest of the day because I’m as full as I can hold. I even warn them that it’s going to wear off in the middle, but nobody believes me til it happens.

          Except the maxillofacial surgeon I saw for my extractions for braces! He listened to me, said “I see” and I didn’t feel a thing. Usually they get halfway through whatever it is and I say “should, uh, should I be feeling this?” and then the look of panic sweeps across the dentist’s face.

    2. schmear*

      Fistbump of solidarity on finding smears painful. I’m not at the “needing anesthesia” point, but I’m definitely at the point of telling my provider I don’t care that her clinic has their own protocol of a-smear-a-year, the official current guideline is every three years and they can back off; demanding the smallest possible speculum (which helps a *little*); and laughing cynically while fighting not to climb backwards off the table from the pain as the provider tells me to “just relax”. Yay, bodies. :/

      1. fueled by coffee*

        I’m so sorry.

        I think there’s a growing recognition that “routine” smears and procedures are (1) invasive, (2) uncomfortable and often extremely painful, and (3) wrapped up in AFAB people’s socialization into (sorry for the language, I can’t think of a better alternative) having people sticking things in there. At my last Pap smear, I mentioned that it hurt but “I can put up with it until you’re done.” Her response was to stop and say, “No, we don’t ‘put up’ with pain here.” I almost started crying on the exam table, I was so unused to my concerns being taken seriously in that kind of setting.

        I can only imagine how much worse the “just put up with it” mentality must be for people who have experienced trauma.

        1. schmear*

          Your doctor’s response was wonderful. (I like my provider a lot, and she’s far better than prior ones — she listens to me about the speculum size! that shouldn’t be revelatory! — but she’s never responded like this. She did offer to swap out my IUD under anesthesia, but in the end, the warnings and risks for that freaked me out more than just powering through.)

        2. The Magpie*

          I have vaginismus, and I relate to so, so, so much in this thread. I’m not going to get into it all, because frankly the entire, years’ long experience has been really traumatic and upsetting in a lot of ways, but I did want to share this:

          The last time I had to have a procedure done with a speculum, the A&E doctor looked a little concerned when I was obviously trying really hard to hold it together at one of the more painful moments. I said, “I have vaginismus”, and her whole face changed – like she both softened and lit up with understanding, and she started soothingly telling me how brave I was and how I was doing such an excellent, excellent job at managing until she finished. I wanted to cry, too, because that has NOT always been my experience in that situation.

      2. LouAnn*

        I have no problem with pap tests but I had my first ultrasound in that area recently and a biopsy and they both hurt like hell. The doctor was surprised but sympathetic. Said if I need it again she will get me some drugs. Doctors now are much more concerned with treating the whole person, and examining why we don’t always comply with health advice or meet our own needs. Sometimes it’s trauma, sometimes it’s being a little different from the norm.

    3. JB*

      Yeah, I recently had to take a couple of days off for a procedure that, for most AFAB people, would be a quick appointment in a gynecologist’s office. For me, it involves anesthesia and stitches.

      Personally, I don’t give any details on why I’m out for this reason – I just told my boss ‘a medical procedure’ and that I’d be under anesthesia – but if I did choose to give details, or that info slipped out, woe to any coworker who decides to question me on it. I’m not looking to share details about my body at work, but I’m also not above it if it’ll teach them to keep their nose out of other people’s business!

    4. File Herder*

      Agreed. I will explain to people in excruciating detail why I find smear tests excruciating (endometriosis), but I have encountered the occasional “but you just need to relax!” person. Fortunately never the person doing the test – I just have to say endo and they get it. I take diazepam as a muscle relaxant beforehand, and I’ll be too sleepy to work the next day and maybe the day after. I could go into work by public transport without a problem; there just wouldn’t be much point. Yes, I did learn this by experience. (“Hi boss, going home, I’m falling asleep on my keyboard.”) I certainly wouldn’t have been safe to drive for those two days, and possibly another day after that. But someone like OP might think I was swinging the lead.

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

      It is relevant though in that OP will presumably have a lot more patience and willingness to cover for the co-worker for a legitimate absence than an exaggerated one, as the co-worker’s absence does actually have a real impact. It’s not the exact same situation but, for example, I had to cover at short notice for a couple of days recently for a co-worker who had a death in the family, which I was a lot more willing to pick up (despite being already under a lot of workload) compared to if they had the world’s worst hangover for example. The reason for the absence does actually matter.

  11. Alice*

    Someone should make a flow chart for when it’s appropriate to discuss someone else’s recovery time after a medical procedure.

    Are you their doctor? If yes, it is appropriate. If no, it is not appropriate.

    There is no point wondering if the coworker is lying or if she has a more serious health condition or what. Let it go. Arranging coverage for when an employee is sick or on holiday is the responsibility of your manager so take it up with them. Let them know you can’t handle the extra workload on top of your regular one, and ask how you should prioritise. But likewise, the other employee should not be upset with you if she returns to find her work was not done and she’s now swamped, then her problem is with management and not with you.

  12. UKgreen*

    Why is LW3 assuming that her coworker will react or respond entirely identically to surgery than LW did? Bodies are DIFFERENT. People are DIFFERENT. MYOB.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Not just surgery, but also medications. When I’m prescribed a course of steroids, I have to call in sick for the first day I’m on them because the high initial dose leaves me completely unable to focus on anything for longer than about 2 minutes. If the coworker knows she’ll be prescribed something that will impact her ability to work, then scheduling sick time for that is a very reasonable thing to do.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Because they are sick and tired of being overworked and are burnt out. So they are focusing on this one thing.

      Let’s cut the OP some slack. If I were covering that much for a coworker and my boss was all “eh, that’s life” I would be grumbling too. But yes, this is on management. GUARANTEED WAY to get grumbling, not doing something about unsustainable workloads, even if it the person being grumbled about isn’t taking advantage of the system.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        Yeah, LW3 looks like another one of something we’ve seen here and elsewhere many times: the business hires barely enough staff to cover the workload when everyone is in office, and bad management is all too happy for the employees to blame each other for taking time off instead of the business for not providing adequate coverage.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          Yup. The detail that the co-worker will “moan and complain” to OP about things not getting done jumped out at me in that regard. Everyone in this situation is constructing it as an OP vs co-worker problem, not a management problem.

      2. pancakes*

        If they were still grumbling while they sat down to write a letter about their expectations for this coworker’s surgical procedure, they were too distracted to think lucidly about it.

    3. Scorbunny*

      I once had a surgery that my then-boss also had years before. I reacted more strongly to the sedatives and such than she did, but she absolutely did not believe that and was adamant that I come back in before I was ready, it was a bad time.

      1. quill*

        I don’t remember what I took for my wisdom teeth when I had them out, but it made me an absolute liability around the school the next week. Imagine if I’d had to drive or do any work that had any dangerous components… (I had geology, english, spanish, and study hall at the time… except I’d been excused from study hall because I was an upperclassman and absolutely spent that period asleep on a library couch.)

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      I had a super-human boss who came back to work an hour after extensive dental work, and two days after a surgery that took me out for weeks when I had the same thing done. Luckily she recognized that she was just special that way, and didn’t expect the same from anyone else.

  13. Freeeeeee*

    Two coworkers who gave notice before and after me had large during work parties with $50-100 in gifts and a card, goodbye lunches at restaurants with the entire team, and goodbye happy hours, all organized by our supervisor. I only had the happy hour which the supervisor did not organize and barely showed up to and a card (though my close coworkers and I did have our own goodbye lunch when it was clear the supervisor hadn’t planned anything). I knew the supervisor didn’t like me going into this, and it was only confirmation, particularly given how differently the supervisor treated me and the other coworkers, but the confirmation still stung.

  14. I should really pick a name*

    I’m not sure what the problem is here.
    If the only consequence of not covering the coworker’s job is that they complain, then don’t cover for them.

  15. agnes*

    The issue is not how much time off your colleague takes, it’s how her work gets done when she’s out. that’s the discussion to have with your boss.

  16. doreen*

    I work for a government agency and we have varying levels of fanciness for retirement send-offs ranging from a potluck to $100/pp person parties with a DJ. But it’s not the immediate coworkers organizing all of them. The immediate co-workers usually do something during the day on the level of a potluck or ordering pizza. The more extravagant parties are organized and attended by a much larger group of people who have known the retiree over the past 20 or 30 years, so that it’s not the same group of coworkers who give Sam a potluck lunch during the day on Wednesday and when Joe retires six months later give him a Friday night catered affair.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      At my state agency, when someone’s going to retire, a few coworkers will generally reach out to the retiree, see if they want a shindig, then make arrangements for an after hours dinner at wherever makes sense for the retiree. Former employees, friends, family can be invited as requested by the retiree, and donations are collected beforehand to cover the costs of the meal and a gift. No funds from the agency itself, and no awkward requirement to do it during work.

      So some folks have a to-do with a DJ and skits, and some just announce they’re leaving as they empty out the last of their desk drawers.

  17. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    It’s not the time off that’s the issue, it’s the workload and focus on that.

    I have a coworker who would use up all of her (generous) allotted PTO – vacation, sick time, sick time for kids (yeah, we have a separate bucket for that), flex schedules, etc. I had to keep reminding myself it was all valid and perfectly allowed under our policies and collective agreement to stem my frustration.

    The frustration wasn’t truly with the time off although at first that’s where it was aimed. It was with the work that fell unto me the more she was away. She never said thank you, and anything I bounced to her for follow up because I didn’t have the access/information to do it, she would never loop me in so I would never know if anything was done (until I learned it wasn’t the next time she was away).

    She’s now on LTD. I hope she gets well. Should she return, I plan to focus on the workload first and make sure that the job assignments make more sense than what they were before her LTD.

    1. not feeling like i wanna get lit*

      “sick time for kids (yeah, we have a separate bucket for that)”

      WHAT??? Your company is blatantly giving parents more time off than other employees????

      1. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Yes and no. It’s called family leave and can be used for children and I believe for elderly parents as well.

        It’s in the collective agreement – it was bargained in! It can be used for taking grandpa to the doctor, or sick kids or daycare issues. There’s no age limit for the “child” but common sense should be applied, I felt. The person who drove their 22-year-old to the hospital for an emergency used it (and was denied and it was grieved) and that’s a good way to use it. My coworker used it for her 19-yr-old son who had a cold and mild fever and “you know, they just want their mom around.” And it was not denied. I was unimpressed but the collective agreement said she could.

        I love my kids but if they’re home with a fever (and they’re both old enough to be home alone) and not much else, I’m going to work and I’ll check in on them by phone a little more often.

        1. not feeling like i wanna get lit*

          That sounds much better than “sick leave for kids.” Evenly applied family leave is amazing and something every company should do!

      2. NotRealAnonForThis*

        We had that years ago at FirstJob. Family-Care-Leave. I could have taken PTO from that bucket to drive my sister to the dentist if I needed to do so. Everyone got the same bucket regardless of family size or situation. I thought it was pretty progressive at the time.

        1. not feeling like i wanna get lit*

          That is awesome!! That is progressive and way more companies should do that.

  18. BA*

    Maybe I read letter 4 differently, but it seems to me that they’re saying the retiring colleague wants what the others got, and more. If a gift and dinner has been done recently, it does seem odd that you’d pull back entirely and not do something similar. But it sounds like they want a meal out, a reception and a gift. The other got a meal out and a gift. I guess I was reading what LW wrote for what it is, and if the coworker wants more than the norm, it seems perfectly acceptable to let them know that’s not feasible.

    It does seem that the office needs to make a decision about what amount they’re willing to fund and either leave it to the retiring employee to decide what type of send off they get (reception or dinner), or just set one specific celebration so there’s consistency and reasonable expectations.

    1. Someone On-Line*

      I’m actually LW #4 and that is what was going on. Newer retired person wanted more than previous retired person. It’s been a few years (and I wasn’t supervisor) at the time, so I don’t actually remember what happened. I think coworker got the “normal” package rather than the enhanced she requested. We haven’t had any retirements since I became supervisor, but we have had some people leave. Generally we’ve done lunch out and I cover the meal for the person leaving.

      1. Heffalump*

        It just seems impolite for the retiring worker to demand a certain kind of sendoff, even if she were personable.

        1. Elsajeni*

          I don’t know — on the one hand, yes, in general it would be rude to say “please throw me a party to these specifications.” On the other hand, if you’re in a situation where you know that someone is going to throw you a party, it’s normal to be involved in the planning or make a few suggestions/requests/vetoes. Leaving aside the specifics of what this person asked for, which clearly was too much, this seems like a bit of an in-between situation to me — if your retirement is coming up and you know that they usually do something and no one has mentioned it to you, it doesn’t seem crazy to me to seek someone out and say “hey, what’s the plan for my send-off? I’d rather have lunch out than dinner out, fyi,” in case what’s actually going on is that someone is quietly planning a party you will hate.

  19. anonymous73*

    #3 – rule of thumb – it’s NEVER, I repeat NEVER your business why and for how long a co-worker is out of the office. The ONLY thing to focus on is your workload and if them being out is making things harder for you (as in this case).

    Yes there are people who take advantage of time off and abuse the system, but it’s still none of your business unless it’s affecting your ability to do your work. It’s up to you to provide your manager with FACTS about how it’s affecting your workload, and up to the manager to handle the situation with the co-worker. Speculation leads to rumors, and is completely unfair to anyone who may have legitimate reasons to be out.

  20. Jay*

    As to Letter Writer #3: It rather sounds to me like the Coworker is, to a great extent, a real cause of the O.P.’s increased workload. As in, it is the Coworker who is insisting that the L.W. do her work. Yes, their personal medical history is out of bounds, but you can ABSOLUTLY push back on the persons in person behavior towards you, and should. Find out, if you can, if this person has any sort of relationship with higher ups that make her untouchable (at least by you) and ensures that she gets her way, even at the cost of someone else’s misery. If so, there might be nothing you can do. If they are just content to make you this person’s personal pack mule, carrying their entire workload, then you need to know immediately. At that point what you do is up to you, but I would strongly consider a job search.

    1. Lexie*

      It could be the coworker expects OP to do her work because she’s been told by management that OP is the person who will cover for her and will complete the tasks while she is gone.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        So this happened to me, sort of, when I was preparing for maternity leave. I was told that “Laverne” would be covering my leave by my boss. When I went to talk to Laverne, she had the decency to let me know that though that’s what the boss told us both, we needed to go to him and explain to him the sheer size of my duties, so that we could make him understand that covering my full time position plus her full time position was NOT POSSIBLE and that he needed to hire a temp.

        Key being: she communicated, we worked together to solve the issue, and well, the boss saw the light. He hired a temp.

        1. Curious*

          I think you deserve more credit here: *You* proactively went to the boss about your planned absence in the first instance, and then communicated with the person they said would cover for you, then participated in communicating the scope of the problem to the boss.

          Your professionalism highlights the problem with OP3’s coworker — which is completely independent of how much time they should be taking off (the latter being none of OP3’S business).

    2. Dust Bunny*

      “My boss doesn’t seem to be addressing it even though I’ve complained because her workload falls on me routinely — and our workloads as it is are vastly different. (I’d say my workload is at minimum 80% more than hers, with only one pay grade/title step difference.)”

      LW has complained to the boss about the workload and boss isn’t acting on it. This is 100% a boss problem.

      I would, however, like to know more about how LW has been phrasing these complaints. I suspect that she could use some advice on this. If she’s just been garden-variety grousing about it but not addressing it as a workflow issue she’s probably not presenting it as efficiently as she needs to. Yes, her boss should realize that one person can’t do two jobs but either that realization hasn’t happened or she’s getting enough work done that he has no incentive to get her any help.

    3. Temperance*

      I think she needs to approach her boss again with a list of tasks, and ask the boss to prioritize. “I’ve been covering for Jane a lot, handling x, y, z, and 1, 2, 3, and it’s making it difficult for me to also get through tasks a – k that are actually part of my job. Can we discuss prioritization and sharing Jane’s workload with others on the team? I’m underwater and it’s not getting any better because she’s frequently out. “

    4. Boof*

      Look for a new job + start saying no. “I can work 40 hrs this week” (or whatever is a normal work week) “what makes sense for me to prioritize getting done? Everything else will have to wait until someone else can pick it up” (or whatever phrasing makes sense).

    5. Meep*

      I mean I have a lot of sympathy for OP as it is no fun to constantly be saddled with someone else’s work without so much as a thank you, but they definitely lose a lot more by acting like an ableist AH speculating about her health.

  21. Dwight Schrute*

    Op with the guitar: I really hope you saw Alison’s advice before you went and did not sign a song during your interview. I would be SO uncomfortable if someone sang while interviewing with me. It just comes across as missing the point of the exercise and feels cringey.

    Op worrying about their coworker taking time off for a procedure- seriously mind your own business. It is never ok to question how much time someone needs off for a procedure unless you’re their doctor. Talk to your manager about the workload not the time off.

  22. Egmont Apostrophe*

    Oh yes, sing at your interview!

    You won’r get the job, but they’ll be talking about you for years.

    1. Temperance*

      Admittedly, I laughed way too hard at this. I would personally love having that to tell as a story for years to come.

  23. Hamburke*

    If it weren’t for the planning, I’d assume the singer ALSO watches the show Miranda with Miranda Hart. There’s an episode where she interviews for a job and keeps answering their questions with song lyrics until she is full-on singing. I haven’t watched it but apparently Call me Kat with Mayim Bailik is the US version produced by Miranda Hart and using some of the same scripts and I’m wondering if they did this one.

  24. Sleet Feet*

    #3 is a pet peeve of mine. Even the same surgery can have disparate outcomes.

    My gallbladder removal was complicated by findings in my liver. I told my boss my surgery had a complication and I would be out at least a week, maybe 2. She was still super pissy because Sheryl had gallbladder surgery and was back in 2 days. I took a week, then volunteered wfh for a 3 days before I was ready to be backto the pressure to come in. For me one of the metrics was – can I sleep in my own bed yet? No? Then I definitely can’t work!

    I was still pressured to come in before I was ready and came back on week 1 day 4 . This resulted in my spouse getting injured trying to help me down our icy stairs. My boss was pissed when I called in with another emergency.

    If they had just let me work from home until I was recovered none of that would have happened.

    Don’t compare surgeries!

  25. Cj*

    Isn’t an aspiration for a biopsy, and removal, which the OP said the co-worker is having, would be actual surgery?

    1. Ari*

      No, the actual treatment for a breast cyst, assuming it’s the normal sort of fluid-filled cyst, is literally just to drain it with a needle. However, she could be using “cyst” as a blanket term for different types of breast conditions – I have a fibroadenoma, which is also a type of benign breast cyst, and removal would involve a full lumpectomy with general anesthesia, etc.

  26. New Mom*

    This is just for your commiseration and hopefully a chuckle.

    Story 1
    My good friend went to a job interview at a restaurant and the manager was showing her around, explaining the layout and specifics and they talked for about 45 minutes and then she had to do a test shift. As she was leaving he walked past her and she got a whiff of his cologne and then realized he was someone she had gone home with about a year or so prior after a night out. She had not recognized him until she smelled the cologne and all the memories came back. She decided to not take that job and was unsure if he remembered her either.

    Story 2
    I went to a networking event in my late twenties with a few friends who were my age and in the same industry. A guy who vaguely knew one of the people I went with sat down at our table and started talking. As we were chatting it turned out he and I were from the same area and as I asked more questions it occurred to me that he and I had went on a sort of disastrous date about ten years prior that ended quite poorly. I could tell he didn’t remember so I was looking for a way to leave the conversation when my (very sweet) friend piped in.
    Friend: You are from [my hometown]? New Mom grew up there and went to [high school].
    Guy: Oh, I knew someone named New Mom.
    Friend: It must be her! New Mom is a really unique name and she’s the only one I know.
    Then I saw the wheels in his head turning and the “oh s***” look in his eyes. He quickly excused himself, so awkward but kind of funny years later.

  27. Semi Bored IT Guy*

    #2 – My general advice would be “don’t sing at an interview.” Unless it’s an audition (which is, I guess, kind of, sort of a type of interview). But in the case of an audition, you’ll usually be told ahead of time that they want you to sing. (“Prepare 16 bars in a jazz singing style, and 16 bars that showcase your high belt. Bring sheet music. Accompanist will be provided.”)

  28. Imaginary Friend*

    LW 3: you said about you co-worker: “she told me that her surgery is a simple breast cyst removal. I’ve had that done. It’s needle aspiration, out-patient with a less than 24-hour recovery”

    The thing is, YOUR cyst removal was a needle aspiration. That doesn’t mean that EVERY cyst removal is a needle aspiration. (As illustration: I had a needle aspiration of a small cyst near my nipple when I was a teenager. It was just a doctor’s office visit, no anesthesia needed, no recovery needed at all. Everybody’s body is different, including size or location or type of cyst.)

    It’s clear that you’ve got some legit work-related issues with your co-worker, so address those with your boss. And don’t just complain about covering for her and not getting a thank-you. Instead, give your boss some concrete numbers so they understand the impact, like “at least twice a week and sometimes more, co-worker expects me to cover work for her that takes at least 4 hours each time, and this has been going on for over a year”.

    1. Imaginary Friend*

      (Whoops, forgot this was an old letter. LW3, I hope you addressed this with your boss and found relief.)

  29. Meep*

    When I was about 13-years-old, I complained to my dad about a girl on our softball team. She was a big baby. You could lightly poke her and she would act like you just broke her arm. At the time she had sprained her finger and had been out for six weeks, only coming to practice to flounce around and garner sympathy for her injury. I had a very high pain tolerance so it all seemed excessive to me. My dad informed me that some people couldn’t stand the slightest bit of pain and I had to give her compassion.

    The fact LW#3 cannot figure it out is baffling. This lady clearly has a chronic illness and while frustrating to pick up the slack, blaming the woman for something out of her control is so catty, I cannot even. I am glad you aren’t my coworker!

  30. Anonnymouse*

    Regarding LW #2 – this is a sales job. All the rest is just to cover that it’s a call centre sales job. “Customer service” is just their way of getting customers through the door and to the sales pitch. So first, make sure you’re ok with that.

    Second, they are looking for a sales pitch. I suppose you could sell yourself as a singer, but they are looking to see that you could sell water to a drowning person here.

  31. LawBee*

    My favorite part of these old letters is the comments giving sincere advice for a letter written years ago. It’s really sweet. :)

  32. Mobius 1*

    Man, number three lands a lot differently now. Wasn’t great then, but given how much we’ve all thought about our worth in the last year and a bit, diming out a coworker like this just feels so much ickier (almost to the point of flying monkey status).

  33. clearlyMillennial*

    LW3: you being overworked is a you problem. you need to tell your boss that. you don’t have to say a word about your coworker, and you shouldn’t because it makes you look mean and petty.

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