new hire is plotting a coup, employee is terrified of balloons, 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. Our new hire is plotting a coup on her second day

I work in HR, and we had a new recruiter start yesterday. She seems to struggle with issues from her previous job with “corporate bullying” and may be unstable (lots of home problems, arrived extremely late on first day, complained about previous position extensively, etc.).

Today (her second day of employment) she pulled me aside and spoke disdainfully of my supervisor who heads the HR department, saying that I could have his job in two years and everyone in Recruiting hates him in an attempt to try to “recruit” me to sabotoge my boss. This is all too much drama for someone starting their second day, and this tells me that her fellow recruiters are badmouthing my boss and telling her how awful he is–I’m not sure if they are encouraging her loose cannon behavior or are working as a group on this plot. But hatching a plan to overthrow my boss is taking it too far, makes me very uncomfortable, and is a crazy distraction. How should I approach this bizarre situation? Should I warn my boss?

Yes, tell your boss. What you’re describing is insane behavior for someone’s second day, and your boss needs to know what’s going on. It’s possible that it reflects on the other recruiters, but it absolutely, 100% for sure reflects on this new hire, and your boss needs to know that there’s a loon on the loose in the office. Frankly, this combined with the being extremely late on her first day and the complaining really indicates she’s not the right hire — and the sooner your boss concludes that, the better for everyone.

And if the new hire brings anything like this up to you again, say this: “That hasn’t been my experience with (supervisor). I’d take some time to get to know the office and the staff before you conclude something like that.” Then refuse to discuss further.


Read an update to this letter here.

2. Employee is terrified of balloons

We are in an open plan office with 5 teams of 10-14 each, and with the World Cup we have been allowed to decorate. However, one of my direct reports has a phobia of balloons, and one of the other teams has put balloons up as part of their decorations. These balloons are over 15 meters away from my report’s desk and are hidden from her view from her desk by pillars in the centre of the floor, but as soon as she walked in at 8 am last Thursday she saw them. She approached the manager of the other team and requested they be removed, he refused. When I got in at 9, she told me she would work on another floor for today until the issue was resolved. (Work from home is not possible as she is required to log into a phone system to accept calls from our clients.) Her husband (who is at manager grade in another part of this office, while she is a caseworker) has approached the regional manager (3 grades above me) and told him that if they are not removed then she will be going off sick. They have not been removed. She has today (Tuesday) gone off sick. A second team has now put up balloons at the desk of my manager, who wants to make a case for them staying up on the basis of office morale.

Several of my other reports are now talking about the situation and saying that she’s being silly and she should face up to her fears, including one who wants us to have our own balloons, and others are making jokes about popping them near her. I keep telling them they need to be more compassionate about this coworker, reminding them that a phobia is a serious thing and that everybody has their own quirks, but I still keep hearing this talk around me. I’m just lost because nobody seems to be taking this seriously. I am a manager in the UK so I’m not looking for any legal or procedural advice’ I just want some advice on how to handle this difficult situation.

Insist on removing the balloons. Seriously. Regardless of anyone’s views on how silly this phobia might seem, the fact is that it’s a phobia for her, and balloons are not so integral to your business that it should be much of a question. You have a staff member who’s getting panicky about something that will be trivial for you to remove. Tell the other manager that you’re sorry but your employee’s ability to work trumps her team’s interest in decorating with balloons, and that you need to remove them, period.

And make it clearer to your team that you’re serious about them needing to cut the jokes and that what they’re doing is mean-spirited and not something you’re okay with on your team.


3. Company is acting like I’m already gone now that I’ve given notice

I received a job offer in a different state but similar industry on Halloween and accepted. I gave my notice Nov. 1 and am leaving Nov. 16. I am the third person (there are only 7 of us) to leave my department in less than one month. I’m noticing that even though I have two full weeks left, many of my projects have been taken away and I’m being left off emails that I need to know about.

My senior manager put in his two weeks notice at the beginning of October and we noticed he had given us all of his projects and wasn’t answering some questions or just saying to ask someone else when we had questions. At first, I thought it was incredibly unprofessional but now that I’m in his same position, I understand that this must be what my company does. Even though I’m leaving, I have a great amount of loyalty and respect to my coworkers and would like to help them by finishing my projects instead of adding to their stress. What can I do? I feel very sad that the company is pushing me out like this especially when I care so much. I could have just given them one day notice if they were going to do this.

It’s not unusual for a company to begin moving someone’s projects to other people once they give notice; in fact, it makes sense to do that while you’re still there so that you’re available for questions in the beginning (rather than waiting until you’re already gone). People also sometimes jump the gun and start moving on to whatever will be their new normal before it’s officially time to do so, which could explain why you’re being left off of emails that you still need to know about. Or, alternately, there might be no good explanation for this stuff and your company just sucks at handling resignations; that’s not uncommon either.

Either way, though, don’t take it personally. It’s clearly not personal. Just work out your notice period and leave things in as good of shape as possible for your replacement; it’s up to your company how much they want to utilize you during your remaining time.


4. Should I tell my boss that I hope to start my own nonprofit at some point?

I recently started working for a large nonprofit. My supervisor has regular meetings with me and puts a lot of emphasis on both long-term and short-term career goals for me as a person, not just for me in my position. She often asks me to share my career objectives.

The truth is that I hope to one day open my own nonprofit in a similar field, in the next five years. Is that too much information to share with my supervisor? While I feel that she could help me to take classes in nonprofit management and the like, I also feel that it could backfire on me and they could write me off as eventually planning to leave. Should I just pretend that my aspirations are lower and tell her that I look forward to moving up the ladder and becoming a director, etc?

I wouldn’t lie and say you have aspirations that you don’t have, and I think it’s fine to tell her that one day you’d like to start your own nonprofit — but I might not share the five-year timeline, because that’s very soon and it will make you sound like you might be more committed to that plan than to the nonprofit you’re currently working at. (And if I heard someone wanted to start their own nonprofit in the same field as mine in the near-ish future, I might be concerned about them having access to my donor lists and other proprietary information.)

It can also sound a little naive, for whatever that’s worth. Starting a successful nonprofit is a huge amount of work (for very little pay for the first few years, in most cases), requires a huge amount of fundraising, and often fizzles out unless you have a real donor base to draw on. That’s especially true when there are already organizations doing similar work and you have to credibly show how you’re going to get better results than they do.


{ 291 comments… read them below }

  1. Butter (Not Balloons) Makes Things Better*

    Oh man, I never thought I’d read about my exact nightmare here on AAM, but re: OP2, I also have struggled with a fear of balloons (latex not mylar, because the latter don’t pop randomly the way the former do). When I was five or six, a bunch of older kids at a party held me down and popped balloons in my ears out of sight of the adults. Pair that with years of parental abuse, and I’ve been that person bursting into tears and running out of the room. Any offices insisting on balloons over people, please listen to Alison and just don’t.

    1. Snuck*

      Jumping on the balloon comments… to add…. Any one willing to give up precious leave over balloons clearly has a serious issue with them. This isn’t someone being casually offended, this is someone who has a genuine fear and is prepared to make substantial losses to avoid them.

      Put it to your team that way. Explain that while it’s easy to sit back and discuss who and what and how to get over phobias, none of your staff are Clinical Psychs (or if they are, none are HER Clinical Pscyh!) and they need to let this be handled by the professionals. Likewise have a verbal chat with them all and say “Look, it’s not ideal, but at least we can tolerate balloons elsewhere, let’s give Jane some grace here, and remember we all have our own fears too – who wants to deal with a rat running around the floor, or a spider hrm?! Let’s just move on, and I am giving a firm instruction that making jokes, popping balloons, watching balloon videos etc in the coming days and weeks will not be viewed as a “joke”, just in case any one thought they could be funny.” (I’ve worked in call centres, most are professional a few are very not. *facepalm*)

      As for the other managers, just go and say “this has crossed into a health management issue now. Please remove them, or do I have to get HR to mandate it too?” And cc HR into that email.

      1. Tali*

        Yes, great wording to highlight that everyone has fears, and regardless of how ridiculous you might think it, the result is that behavior would cause harm to someone (whom you presumably care about). Deliberately triggering someone’s fears/phobias would not be funny to the target, it would be bullying. Just needs a manager/HR/influential person to reframe it that way, for most people to realize and change their behavior.

        1. londonedit*

          Totally agree. I’ve mentioned further down that I have a phobia of needles, and when I had to have a blood test a couple of months ago the nurse was amazing and spent the whole time telling me about her phobia of dogs. It really made me feel like she understood what I was feeling at the time.

      2. Sasha*

        I agree, but FYI “going off sick” doesn’t count as annual leave in the UK in the same way that it does in the US. The employee can take as much sick leave as she can persuade a doctor to support – amounts vary, but I could take up to a year of paid sick leave in my job, and only after that would I move to SSP (which would mean I retained the option of returning to my job, but was only paid the same as unemployment). We’ve had somebody off for more than two years in my department (she has cancer).

        1. londonedit*

          I wondered if it was the UK because of the World Cup and ‘going off sick’ but I’m not sure I can see people decorating their offices with balloons for the football! But yes, if it’s the UK then ‘going off sick’ has a different meaning – where I work it’s not quite as generous as your workplace, but after two years’ service the company will top up SSP to your full salary for up to 15 weeks, which would cover most surgery/longer-term illnesses (and anything else, like cancer, would be dealt with on an individual basis and would most likely involve a longer period of full pay at the company’s discretion).

          1. sunglass*

            It’s definitely the UK:

            “I am a manager in the UK so I’m not looking for any legal or procedural advice’ I just want some advice on how to handle this difficult situation.”

            I can absolutely see offices decorating with banners and balloons and things for the World Cup! My industry (publishing) doesn’t really, but back when I worked for the local council it was all the rage to decorate for the World Cup (and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Olympics).

            But yes, the sick leave isn’t so much of a big deal here, though ofc the employee shouldn’t have felt pushed to take sick leave when the real solution was for there to be no damn balloons. People can decorate in other ways!

        2. Snuck*

          In Australia (I don’t think this is Australia, it’s not our football season!) you accumulate (assume most people fall into this/ general award conditions) 10 days a year of personal leave (generally sick, but also can be used as carer leave for family members who are sick etc), which accumulates year on year. You also get 20 days of Annual Leave (holiday). (Different jobs, shift workers, government employees etc might have different conditions, but this is the ‘average’). (And then a small amount each year that amounts to Long Service Leave which you get at 10yrs then in 5yr increments, about 8 weeks at 10yrs, then 4 weeks every 5yrs after that.)

          If you use your personal leave to avoid balloons you might not have any when you have the flu (or COVID! Or a COVID quarantine requirement in the near future as Australia opens up), so it’s basically costing the employee. Here the doctors can write you a medical certificate for as long as they like, but if you don’t have the Personal/Sick leave to cover it the employer is not obligated to pay you for those days (but will use up your annual leave with your agreement first obviously).

          1. londonedit*

            This letter was 2014 so it would have been the football World Cup which we tend to get quite excited about (even though we were crap in 2014). In the UK you can ‘self-certify’ without a doctor’s note for up to a week, but whether you get paid more than statutory sick pay (SSP) depends on company policy. Luckily we don’t have a set amount of sick time per year where I work – if it looks like you’ll be off longer-term then you’d switch to the 15 weeks I mentioned above, but apart from that it’s just at your manager’s/HR’s discretion, so if someone was taking a lot of time off sick without an actual medical condition being at play then you’d probably have meetings with your manager/HR to discuss the amount of sick time you’re taking, but you’d be paid and it wouldn’t come out of your annual leave. Other places I’ve worked have had a set amount of self-certifying sick days per year, with anything on top of that being discretionary. But I have friends who have worked for employers who operate a system where if you take more than a certain number of days in a certain period of time, they’ll investigate, and it could rise to disciplinary procedures. That’s not good, obviously, and I hope Covid might change some of that! But sick leave is completely separate from annual leave here – for annual leave you get a minimum of 20 days plus the 8 bank holidays per year. You might have to use that for personal reasons but you wouldn’t have to use sick time.

            1. KaciHall*

              I am just so, so jealous. I had to use 2.5 hours of PTO last week because I left early with a migraine and couldn’t make up the time on other days. But HAD to get to 40 hours or be disciplined.

        3. Person from the Resume*

          YES! Snuck was making an assumption that sick leave is a precious resource which seemed unlikely to me because the letter is clearly written in a non-US context. Hell, I’m in the US and it’s not a precious resource for me. I get generous sick leave that carries over whereas my other leave doesn’t so I’ve built up a good supply.

          That said the office seems extremely cruel. Balloons aren’t actually raising office morale in any fashion. These people aren’t being told they cannot celebrate a non-work related sporting event. They were just told to take down balloons which will have little impact their enjoyment and discussions about the sporting event. Take down the balloons, put up some extra posters or pennants and continue discussing soccer championships. Negligible impact to all employees except the one with balloonphobia whose work life is much improved.

          1. Anonym*

            Yeah, I was really struck by the absurdity of the *Balloons – the One and Only Way to Improve Morale* viewpoint. What? Get some streamers and posters or something. Good grief.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Haha, right? That’s 7 typos OP’s coworkers had made in the word BONUS.

              My morale will in no way be improved by any decorations hanging in the office. Not even balloons.

      3. Bamcheeks*

        If you ARE clinical psychs and this is how you react to one of your colleagues going on sick leave because of a totally optional office decoration— holy moly.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Right? They should all lose their licenses, if that were the case (I doubt it is of course, but you never know). But they really should all lose their human being licenses, because they are terrible human beings.

      4. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Excellent advice, Snuck. I was thinking the same thing, if someone had a phobia of spiders, would it be funny to put a live one on that person’s desk? No, it would not. Well, if it would be, then whoever did find it funny would be a terrible person.

        1. Clorinda*

          It wouldn’t be funny to surprise an arachnophobe with a fake spider or a picture of a spider, either.
          Basic humaning: If someone has a phobia, don’t shove it in their face!
          I am the teacher who puts cool animal pictures on my whiteboard as a screensaver. Early in the year, when I put up a peacock spider, a student asked me not to have spiders any more. Guess what, it has been SUPER EASY to have pictures of non-spider animals on my screen! I deeply hope that these balloon folks came to their senses.

          1. Trypanophobic*

            I wish mainstream media would take this to heart for people with trypanophobia (fear of needles). Every single news story about Covid19 vaccines shows people getting shots, pictures of syringes, needles, referring to is as “getting jabbed”. As someone with trypanophobia and a history of fainting from shots/needles I have to look away. Even talking about it – or typing this – I feel my anxiety level rise. The constant barrage of photos of people getting the “jab” certainly does not help make me want to get vaccinated. And the people who get angry and say “it doesn’t hurt” have no understanding how phobias work. I think that some vaccine hesitancy could be eliminated if the media would stop showing photos of needles/shots and others would react to peoples’ fear of needles more kindly.

            1. Tali*

              OMG I feel so validated having you say that. Every single news story has pictures of shots! I have never had my phobias triggered so regularly as the past 2 years!

              I hope you are able to get through it enough to get vaccinated though! I was able to get a private room so I could have a meltdown with my spouse and the nurses just politely ignored me. Nobody said anything judgy which made me feel a lot better, and the health benefits are undeniably worth it.

    2. Jackalope*

      Thank you for sharing. I try to take people seriously when they say they’re afraid of something, and I would like to think that I would have taken this person at her word when she said she was afraid of balloons, but it definitely makes it easier to conceptualize having someone explain why that might happen.

    3. Becky*

      I have a fear of balloons–latex ones–because they can kill me. I went into anaphylactic shock at the age of 7 because of a latex allergy. So everyone in my department knows they are not allowed to have balloons. All of my friends know not to have balloons. And just hiding them out of sight would make it more dangerous for me.

    4. Arya Parya*

      I too have a fear of balloons. I hate sudden, loud noises. The idea they may pop at any moment, make me very uncomfortable. I also hate fireworks for this reason.

      1. Just Me*

        Yes–it could be anything, really. I have a coworker who is *extremely* sensitive to loud noises and we all do our best to accommodate her because, honestly, we work in an environment where it costs nothing to be quiet. That means no balloons. It ultimately doesn’t matter why she doesn’t like/is afraid of/has a phobia of balloons; just don’t have them. Problem solved.

    5. Candi*

      I originally thought it was weird that someone would be scared of balloons.

      Then I remembered our family’s first cat when I was a kid. Gorgeous little black and white tuxedo, small for a full-grown cat. Indoor-outdoor cat (I know!), great hunter of mice and other pests. Loved to lay on her back and play fight with things.

      One day, she play fought an air-inflated latex balloon. You can guess how that went. I think she teleported across the living room.

      After that, she was terrified whenever we brought or had latex balloons in the house, air or helium inflated.

      So, if a cat can be scared years after the initial incident, why not a human. Being able to understand doesn’t mean it’s not still scary.

        1. Candi*

          So Gritz keeps eating plastic on purpose, even though it always make him throw up!?!

          (Real name -he was on the “show us your pets at home office work” thing Alison ran near the beginning of this mess.)

    6. Go Team*

      My 7th grader has had multiple fears and anxieties. Over the last few years, it was balloons. She worked with her school therapist, and at the end of the year – gave a TED talk to her class and popped a balloon! Her classmates have been so supportive of her, and cheered (her parents may have gotten a bit misty-eyed too).

      She also complained about how hard it is to keep fighting these fears. The fears often move on, such as her anxiety around microphones now (worried about feedback). But she has grown so much, and is such an advocate for therapy. My heart breaks for the employee, and I hope they are able to find the support they need (both in and out of the office).

      1. Fresh Cut Grass*

        Oh, I feel for your kiddo so hard! I’ve always been scared of things that make loud unpleasant noises– I was terrified of automatic toilets as a kid, and I’m more afraid of a fire *alarm* than actual fire. I realized as an adult that the reason I’m scared of these things is because of my particular brand of Brainweird, which means that those loud, sudden noises cause me more physical pain than most, and that I’ve been mocked in the past for reacting so strongly. Being able to understand why I react that way hasn’t removed the *fear*, but it’s removed a lot of the *anxiety*, which has been super helpful! I hope she knows she’s got someone in her corner all the way across the interwebs!

    7. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Oh my God, Butter, I am so very sorry. Your comment nearly made me cry, those horrible, horrible kids and parents. I don’t know what the solution is to parental abuse but I want to throttle all abusive parents because they absolutely are the worst.

    8. CommanderBanana*

      Phobias are serious medical conditions! I have a diagnosed, very specific phobia of a certain kind of insect. I really dislike when people say they have a phobia of something they mildly dislike. I actually quit a job because they had an infestation of the particular insect I’m phobic of (and it’s not spiders – oddly, they don’t bother me at all). Encountering the object of my phobia can make me vomit or faint. It’s essentially a glitch in my brain wiring that bypasses rational thought and goes straight into my fear center, and I’ve never had a traumatic event involving this type of insect.

      1. Just Stopping In*

        Nothing to add here other than thanks for sharing, I experience something similar with a particular insect, and this makes me feel less alone.

    9. Mama Sarah*

      Butter (not balloons) – that is terrible and I am sorry that happened. My guess was that ballon phobic employee had a similar occurrence. I loved Alison’s advise. There are many, many ways to decorate for a sports event – even something epic like the World Cup – without a balloons.

      FWIW…I hate the muppets. They totally creep me out. I have no idea why (my mom said one day when I was two the show I came on and I started screaming and sobbing…she shut the tv off because no one could hear it over the fuss). To this day, if I see a muppet in a commercial, I have to change it.

      Big Bird is all right. I’m also cool with Cookie Monster. Ms. Piggy on the other hand evokes a strong sense of fight or flight…mostly fight.

      1. a tester, not a developer*

        I know some people have a really strong feeling of ‘wrongness’ when they see something that’s almost human, but not quite (the uncanny valley). It might explain why Bird Bird and Cookie Monster are OK – they’re definitely not humaniform.

        There’s some really interesting theories about why we experience the uncanny valley, and why some people feel it much more than others. Maybe you’re just more highly evolved. :)

        1. Lab Boss*

          My favorite progression of the uncanny valley: It’s such a common reaction that it’s probably got an evolutionary basis. Which means somewhere, back in the dawn of humanity, there was SOMETHING out there that looked almost-like-us-but-wrong. What could our ancestors have been so threatened by, that the lingering disgust and fear at something that’s not quite human enough still lingers?

          1. Candi*

            Multiple diseases cause deformities or physical twisting of some sort, and pre-vaccine, if you got them, you were screwed.

            The problem is the subconscious part of the brain needs to be trained to not apply such safety features where they’re not relevant.

        2. Lurker*

          I find anthropomorphized animals super creepy, but I’m not scared of them. Like if there is a television commercial where dogs are dressed in human clothes and “talking” I think it’s creepy. Cartoon animals that talk don’t bother me; muppets are fine.

    10. Daisy-dog*

      A former co-worker was a survivor of a school shooting. She was also afraid of balloons because of the loud noise. She could deal with them being around, but usually just in short periods of time.

    11. Library Lady*

      That’s horrifying!! I didn’t have quite as traumatic an incident, but I was terrified of balloons as a kid (fear of loud sudden noises does not play well with panic disorder), and although I no longer run out of the room screaming when I see a balloon as an adult, I definitely don’t like them, and I’d be on edge constantly if I was in an office with balloons. My mom works at an elementary school and just a couple days ago told me the classes were doing a STEAM project involving balloons and said “I’m not thrilled – I’m sure you can relate.” Indeed I could.

      Also, I’m comforted to know there are other adults who don’t like balloons/still struggle with a phobia. I got teased a lot as a kid if someone learned about my balloon fear, and though I’m usually pretty open talking about mental health as an adult, I don’t talk about balloons very much.

    12. Selina Luna*

      My husband told me that he never tells anyone what he’s afraid of because if they’re not afraid of it, they’ll try to “prove” that it’s not scary by forcing you to experience it over and over. My response when someone tells me they’re afraid of something is to avoid that thing when I’m around them, but I’ve experienced the thing where people are telling you that you should be happy, having fun while they torture you.

    13. Ground Control*

      I have a balloon phobia and if there were a bunch in my office I would have to leave too, otherwise I’d spend the entire time hunched over in fear with an elevated heart rate waiting for one to pop at any moment. And I wouldn’t get any work done because all I’d be able to think about is when one would pop.

    14. Beth*

      I have a passionate hatred of balloons being popped, especially as a “joke”. It isn’t at the level of a phobia — I actually like balloons in general — but I will go to the wall in support of anyone who has a problem with them and needs not to be around them.

    15. Az*

      I have sensory issues (autism) and I cannot handle having balloons near me where I might hear them suddenly pop. I wouldn’t be able to handle having a bunch of balloons around my office. Also this sort of thing is exactly what makes some places of work feel very hostile to neurodivergent people.

  2. Stitch*

    So interestingly, I’m actually allergic to balloons (I’m allergic to latex and balloons can put some latex into the air). This isn’t an epi pen type allergy (though latex allergies can get worse over time). If I stay far away, I’m generally okay. But also I can see a mild allergy contributing to or making someone’s anxiety worse. The disruption in breathing can feel like panic.

    Point is, be careful with balloons.

    1. ‘Tis but a Scratch!*

      I’m in between the epi pen immediately and mild response – close or enclosed contact affects my breathing, and gives me a rash because my previously mild latex allergy is now airborne. I carry an epi pen for it because I’ve been told every exposure will make it worse. Some of my coworkers don’t believe me. Probably because I’m careful not to get close and so my response is not visibly bad enough for them. They don’t say it to me directly but I have heard reports of their complaints when I ask for balloons to be moved away from me. I’ve been WFH since Covid and not having to do an about face and stand outside until balloons are removed has been one of the many small side benefits for me. I’d stay here forever if they’ll let me lol.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Huh, I have a mild latex allergy too and I never thought that latex balloons might trigger it. I will have to be more careful around them.

    3. ex-consultant*

      My mother has a similar allergy; she will break out in hives if she touches balloons (latex paint and gloves will trigger it too). I don’t, nor am I phobic of balloons per se, but I don’t really like them. Partly because of my mother’s reaction to them, and partly because even if they don’t pop suddenly, I don’t like the way they slowly shrivel up. We stopped using them in my house growing up, and I never used them to decorate when my children were small and having parties – streamers and honeycomb tissue paper decorations are just as festive. If they came home with a balloon from somewhere else, it was fine. But I’ve never been a big fan.

    4. kittymommy*

      One of my best friends is also allergic to latex, pretty severely too. If she’s in a room with too many of them she has to leave, and if people start “playfully” popping them, she can die. Fun story – I almost saw the inside of a crusie ship jail when some very drunk and very obnoxious bridal party thought it’d be hysterical to start doing this while we were all trapped in on of the ship bars (this is after assaulting some 19 year old drummer who was setting up on stage for the next show). Them being drunk and obnoxious and me being …. tipsy let’s say, while my friend’s trying not to die, well things escalated quickly.

    5. Rainy*

      I’m allergic to wasp venom, and there was a period of time when I was younger that just seeing a wasp near me made me extremely panicky. It’s not a life-threatening allergy unless I’m stung in the face or neck, but the swelling is so sudden and extreme and the pain is so horrible and protracted that I pretty much lost my shit whenever I perceived a possibility that I could be stung. I’m in my 40s and haven’t been stung by a wasp in 20 years, and now I can just maintain a respectful distance, but as a kid and young adult when I was stung once or twice a year, it was extremely upsetting to even see them.

  3. SINE*

    As someone who has a phobia of balloons, thank you for your response. Most people don’t take me seriously when I first tell them about it, and it isn’t until they witness the pure panic I experience when I see one that they realize that I’m not kidding. It would be great to be afraid of something more mainstream, like snakes, but here we are.

    1. tamarack & fireweed*

      The example is such a good one. I think it makes for an excellent litmus test – much better than whether a co-worker is behaving like an asshole about something or other, or a gossip, or has an annoying habit. And much better as a tool to talk about practical ethics than a trolley problem.

      Ballons are:
      – in no way important to the business, and their presence or removal doesn’t require any change to business processes: they’re purely there for the social side of work
      – widely liked or at least considered as harmless
      – for a very small minority of people, an major big deal, obliterating a pleasant and anxiety-free work environment

      I would judge harshly anyone who, given this configuration of facts, comes down on the side of “we should be able to keep the balloons around”. Whether as an organization or as an individual.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Seriously. What is with this team, that their desire to have balloons is apparently more important than the other person’s need to…not be terrified in her workplace? I mean, balloons are pretty and fun for most people, but if anyone is reacting like this, they should come down immediately, no questions asked.

        And no funny haha jokes about scaring her with balloons, either! Honestly, people.

        1. Retired Prof*

          Right? I worked for 40 years and never once did someone think we needed to decorate offices with balloons. It seems a very odd hill for most of the office to choose to die on, unless it is really just about cruelty. Why didn’t they all just shrug and get rid of the balloons?

    2. anonymous73*

      I get it. I don’t have a fear of balloons in general, but I do have a fear of them popping in my face or near me. So seeing them wouldn’t bother me, but if there were a game involved that including popping them, I’d be out. And I also have a fear of snakes – even if they’re the size of a number 2 pencil. They don’t have legs and they move very fast. Nope!

      Regardless of the fear though, just because you don’t get it, you need to respect it. These office people sound like jerks. Removing the balloons are not going to bring down employee morale.

      1. KaciHall*

        A couple people in my office have a fear of sudden loud noises and hate balloons. We still do balloons at every birthday (except for those two people.) I’m the last one in the office so it’s my unofficial job to pop all the balloons after they leave.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I’m not afraid of snakes (except for venomous ones) but I would not bring one around someone who was.

    3. Little Pig*

      Is this something you would mind sharing more about? Do you have a specific fear (e.g. the popping sound), does it stem from a prior incident, or is it more of a weird brain wiring thing? I’m panicky about heights myself, and I go back and forth on whether it’s rational (I could fall to my death) or not (I’m not likely to actually fall off a balcony/mountain/whatever).

      I’m asking from a place of genuine curiosity, not suspicion or judgment. No pressure to answer if you’d rather not.

      1. ex-consultant*

        I have the same fear of heights (acrophobia), and I don’t think it came from any incident. I’ve just always had it; I didn’t like sliding down the pole on play structures, I avoid looking over railings in malls and stuff, etc. I remember when I went to the Grand Canyon, all the people hanging around the edge really freaked me out. It truly diminished my enjoyment of the scenery. The evening we went to that one spot everyone goes to for the sunset, I started to panic because it was so crowded, and I was convinced something bad was going to happen – someone was going to fall, or drop their expensive camera, or just something. Extremely unpleasant.

        1. Clorinda*

          I read somewhere recently that people with acrophobia tend to orient themselves in the world more by sight than other senses–so we look at the drop and it’s a big drop and it’s scary, and we’re not getting a lot of other inner-ear or balance feedback to tell us we’re safe.

          1. Jam on Toast*

            @Clorinda that’s fascinating because I am very strongly a visual person. I struggle to take in information aurally for instance but can describe the colour and design of something I’ve only seen once. And yeah, while I could appreciate the majesty of the Grand Canyon, I spent most of my visit to the park trying to control my nausea and disorientation because of my fear of heights. Not fun at all.

          2. Retired Prof*

            Ding ding ding! I cannot be near the edge of a drop. But I am a geologist. No matter where I am, I am constantly visually orienting myself to the outside world, and to the globe. Stick me anywhere, even deep inside a building and I can point to north. Take me anywhere once and I can always get back there without directions. So I am acutely aware of just how sharp that drop-pff is and how deep that valley is and I cannot be near that edge.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Aaahh, this is me. I also HATE videos where someone’s on top of something high. Drone videos flying over something don’t bother me. I also do not like going over elevated or high bridges, especially if they’re over water.

      2. SINE*

        I really don’t like loud popping noises, ones where I can feel any vibration from the pop (fireworks give me an anxiety attack and make me cry, I can’t control it no matter how many times I tell myself it’s just pretty sky sparkles). And since balloons have such a high possibility of popping, they are terrifying by association. No idea where the original fear of loud, popping sounds came from though.

  4. Andi*

    I have a severe, anaphylactic allergy to latex. Being in a building where balloons have even been displayed can cause me to stop breathing. It can be fatal. Would this team make jokes about it if I was the employee? Or is that just reserved for mental illness?

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        As a parent of a child with severe allergies? Yeah. 50-50 chance at minimum. People are @$$holes.

        I work with two people who are vocal, alternately, about food allergies not being real AND about how we should let “Darwin” take care of those with food allergies instead of accommodating them. Depends on the day which rant you get. They know full well they’re talking about my child not deserving to live…and yet can’t figure out why I’m not friendly with them, either.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sadly, as the person with the allergy, it’s no better when they say it to your face and then don’t understand why “you will discuss work only” with them.
          Some people just live so entirely in their own bubble that it never occurs to them how the rest of the world thinks about things – or the discount the response of other people because “we aren’t them.”

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            I understand :(

            I’ve already had to explain to my child, in the single digit age range no less, that there were going to be people who behave in this manner, and she did not have to be friendly to them.

    1. ‘Tis but a Scratch!*

      One year for my birthday me boss got me balloons and Reese’s peanut butter cups. I have a latex allergy and a peanut allergy. She was a horrible person but also oblivious so I really had no idea if she was saying Happy birthday or I hope you die lol.

        1. A*

          I wish I could say I agree with you – but sadly, this year has been bananas and this situation does not compete with the contenders IMO.

        2. ‘Tis but a Scratch!*

          I once had to dodge a phone that she threw in the general direction of my head, we often had to comp services because someone’s service was interrupted with the sounds of her loud cursing, she got upset with us because we were not more sympathetic when she almost (but did not) have to go to their ER one evening (we checked on her several times and we’re appropriately concerned when we heard about it the next day). She once did not recognize a charge on her credit card and when she asked us about it and we did not recognize the company either she cancelled all her credit cards fearing fraud. Then she found out it was a legit charge and screamed at my coworker at the front desk for not being able to tell her who the company was before she cancelled all of the cards. There’s more but my response to her kind of behavior is generally to block things out so I can cope with day to day life. I am lucky to no longer be at that job.

  5. learnedthehardway*

    With OP#1, I can’t imagine why – when you have someone so new and so obviously going to be a problem / trouble maker from the get-go – you would give any credibility to the idea that other staff members were confiding in them or complaining about their manager. Surely the default would be to think that the rest of the team are NOT actually in on the plotting, and that they also need to be protected from a totally off-the-rails, delusional new hire.

    Anyway, I’m glad that there wasn’t any fallout on the rest of the team – they didn’t deserve for one moment to be considered as possible parties to the “coup attempt”.

    1. Snuck*

      Yes! This is what I thought. Either the majority of the team is so toxic that they are already rounding up the newbie (in which case is it to sink them, or use them?) and you havne’t noticed, or you have noticed but this is the evidence that’s firm? Or they aren’t, and the newbie is so wildly unprofessional that she’s seeing ghosts and goblins and making things up that aren’t quite true.

      What do you know of the wider team up until a week ago?

      1. Jackalope*

        If you read the update, it sounds like ultimately it was just the new hire trying to stir the pot and not something that was an actual issue with the more established employees. Also, they only ended up keeping this particular new hire for a few weeks, both for the reasons listed here and other things that were more of the same. So thankfully it was resolved quickly.

        1. Candi*

          I do think it’s a good reason to never severely silo departments, and for managers to keep track of the pulse of their own departments. If you have a good idea of what’s going on, you can nip problems in the bud, and dismiss any looniness that someone tries to spread.

        2. EPLawyer*

          I’m surprised she made it past Day 2. On Day 2, you are usually still trying to remember where the bathroom is, not plotting a coup. You got the energy to start causing trouble, you are clearly not concentrating on learning your job.

        3. Abated*

          What concerned me about the update, if I read it right, was that the letter writer was told they can’t act immediately because “hearsay”. Um, what? The new person directly told their employee that she should overthrow her boss. Isn’t that enough to act on whether or not the bit about what the co-workers may have said is true or not?

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I wonder if the “hearsay” was referencing what “ms fruitcake” was reporting her teammates were saying about the boss.

            It’s not really safe to google at work – but at times the Jimmy Buffet song “Fruitcakes” is a good listen and laugh. It helps explain some of the totally head scratching things our more “crumbly” coworkers are up to.

    2. anonymous73*

      I’m wondering how someone like her was even hired. How did she hide her true demeanor in an interview?

      1. The OTHER other*

        This is something I think whenever we have a letter about a truly terrible hire. OK some people are good at BS-ing their way through an interview, or have references who want to get rid of them, but IMO a it’s worth asking what went wrong in the hiring process and fixing it.

        At an old job we had some truly terrible hires and when I suggested we take a look at the hiring process they looked at me as though I had just belched the national anthem. “BOB has always handled hiring!” Oh, ok, he spends most of the time in interviews talking about himself, but far be it from me to question THE BOB.

        1. Vanilla Nice*

          In my experience, the reluctance to analyze the hiring process is because it often is tied up with core organizational priorities and blind spots.

          A few years ago, we interviewed two finalists for a position who were chosen by leadership without direct input from the rest of the new hire’s team. We *knew* that both of them would be terrible candidates and begged the manager and director to bring in more candidates, but they insisted that we were going to hire one of the two. One of them ended up having major red flags during reference checks, so we said, “fine, hire the one who was less bad.” They ended up being a hot mess and got let go about a year later. My manager later admitted to me that he knew the new hire wasn’t going to be great, but that the organization didn’t have the money to pay more highly-qualified candidates. . So glad to be out of there!

    3. Anonymouse*

      My first thought was that OP never experienced the “joys” of junior high if she thought “and this tells me that her fellow recruiters are badmouthing my boss and telling her how awful he is–“
      Instead of thinking there is any chance this very obvious loon is making things up out of whole cloth (as my mom would say).
      As a kid, I was easily manipulated, “Sally said x” because why would people lie?
      I still don’t know why, but I always confirm!

    4. The OTHER Other*

      The simplest explanation is usually correct, and in this case based on everything the LW says the signs point to the new hire being a nutjob. It’s very strange that the LW had all this info yet immediately takes the nutjob’s word for it that all the other recruiters hate the boss.

  6. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    I had no idea that people had balloons allergies until we put up some black balloons at a going away party for a coworker (we were happy for her, sad for us, and wanted to celebrate and mourn, hence black balloons) and found out one of our coworkers was allergic. No balloons at work henceforth, easy-peasy! Same should go for a phobia.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I’m so baffled by “we want balloons in the office” being a hill people are willing to die on. Like, unless you work at clown college or something there’s no reason to have balloons in the workplace, and I genuinely didn’t realize people over the age of 8 were so excited about balloons that they’d insist on keeping them when asked to get rid of them.

      1. Candi*

        The mylars I kind of get; there’s some pretty amazing ones available. But it’s always the latex ones people are refusing to back down on!

        1. Jackalope*

          At one of my old offices we would frequently get Mylar balloons for peoples’ birthdays and they’d stay up for a long time (months, I think). Then I moved to a new office with the same employer and left my birthday balloon up and apparently it triggered the alarm system three times in the middle of the night while being blown around by the air system! It took them awhile to figure out what the cause was (hence the three nights in a row), but after that we had a hastily imposed new rule about not keeping balloons overnight. I was a little bit sad since I can’t have them at home bcs of my critters, but I found someone (with a kid or grandkid who would like them) to take them to their home on the same day I got them.

      2. WellRed*

        The idea of balloons as an adult morale booster flummoxed me. If it’s team spirit around sports, put up pennants or wear jerseys.

        1. londonedit*

          We don’t really do pennants in the UK – they could have done football scarves and shirts, but balloons are pretty much the default decoration even if it’s an adults’ party.

          1. Jaybee*

            Why are you decorating adult’s parties…?

            You really put up decoration in the UK for like, sports parties? Adult’s birthday parties??

            If I went to my friend’s birthday celebration and they had balloons up, or any other party decor, I’d be frankly a little worried. Not to be judgemental of anyone who does it, but it’s so far out of the social norms here that it would be concerning to me.

            1. Little Pig*

              Ah geez. Balloons are fun and silly. If someone wants to be playful at their birthday, let them. What a weird thing to gatekeep

            2. UKDancer*

              Sometimes we do use balloons for parties, yes. For example in the before times one of my colleagues turned 50 so some of us bought birthday balloons and tied them to his chair last thing at night so he came into them in the morning. It’s a fun thing to do. You see it a lot for things like hen parties or special birthdays.

              When I bought my flat, my uncle brought me a mylar balloon shaped like a house. I thought it was brilliant.

              It’s just a thing people do. Not everyone all the time but some people some of the time that it falls under the umbrella of normal behaviour in the UK (at least in places I’ve lived).

              Obviously you don’t do it if someone has a phobia or allergy to balloons.

              1. londonedit*

                Exactly *shrug*. I’ve never thought it was weird! For my 40th a friend sent me helium balloons in a box. Whenever we have a running club Christmas or summer party there are helium-filled balloons on ribbons as table decorations. Yep, balloons are a thing we use for decoration even if it’s not a child’s party! See also: bunting, party poppers, banners, little glittery bits of themed confetti that get everywhere.

              2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                Also under the umbrella of normal behavior in the US, in my experience (as well as in film and TV in the US).

            3. I need tea*

              Yep, that’s very normal. People generally don’t put up balloons for their own birthdays although friends or family might, but in offices, restaurants etc it’s common to put up balloons for any kind of celebration, really. It’s not usually loads of them – maybe one large balloon with “Happy X Birthday” on it and a couple clusters of smaller balloons. You get balloons for all kinds of occasions. It’s just a way of saying “we’re doing something for X person or event” really.

              We don’t usually do the same extent of decorating that we would for kids parties though – that might have themed table covers, themed paper plates and cups etc as well. Adult parties with disposable eating wear are usually plain white, so something like balloons is likely to be the only or one of the few forms of decoration. Obviously if there’s a health issue at play they should be skipped.

              Honestly I never realised this might be seen as weird – from American TV and household blogs I got the impression a lot of people decorate heavily for lots of celebrations.

              1. Anonym*

                Plenty do, plenty don’t! Either is normal. I’m American, and would find that level of decoration charmingly over the top (as in, “behold, a level of effort I will never exert for a party, how delightful!”). See also our common but nowhere near universal love of of giant yard decorations for holidays. I will never do them, but will smile at all of them.

            4. JimmyJab*

              Where are you? It is VERY normal anywhere I’ve lived, which is admittedly exclusively in the northeastern US.

              1. Amethystmoon*

                I’ve never seen balloons for an adult birthday party, but I live in the Upper Midwest. Maybe if you went out to a restaurant, they might have some. I have seen them though for things like weddings and New Year’s, so your mileage will vary.

                1. Le Sigh*

                  I think the thing that was throwing me in Jaybee’s comment was the level of concern they’re expressing. If I went to an adult birthday party I wouldn’t be surprised if there were balloons and I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t — no cause for alarm either way. To your point, YMMV depending on where you live, local norms, family traditions, whatever, but either is fine?

                  Though now I would love to do a survey of the U.S. to see if there are any geographic trends for balloons at adult birthday parties.

            5. Lizzo*

              @Jaybee look up Luft Balloons on the internet for an example of how balloons can be perfectly appropriate decor for adult events.

            6. Le Sigh*

              Wait what? I’m in the U.S. and while don’t usually put up decorations for a party, I have on more than one occasion (all adult parties).

              I get if it’s not your thing, but what on earth is there to be concerned about?

            7. Yorick*

              I had dinosaur balloons at my 37th birthday party last week. Because I’m an adult with a job and I can have whatever I want.

            8. Tirv*

              “Not to be judgemental” ?? Lol I don’t find it unusual at all to decorate for an adult party. Our office puts up decorations and brings in a cake for everyone’s birthday. It’s actually quite fun and we all consider it the social norm.

            9. EventPlannerGal*

              This is such a weird take. You get worried and concerned at the idea of putting up party decorations?

        2. Empress Matilda*

          I have to say – screaming and running out of the office in fear of party decorations, and then being told the party decorations are more important than I am – that would pretty much tank my morale.

          But sure, I’m glad the others are happy I guess? /sarcasm

      3. Anon for This*

        Intense desire to win team decorating challenge, plus either lack of ability or lack of vision on the team to decorate using anything that is not balloons.

      4. Jaybee*

        I suspect it was less that they were excited about the balloons and more that they were mad someone needed them gone/were excited to have found an easy way to torment someone.

        It’s just far more believable to me (bullies are so common, unfortunately) than a whole office of adults getting that fixated on balloons. Seems to me balloons would be easily substituted with something as silly and annoying, like crepe streamers or something.

  7. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Take. Phobias. Seriously.

    One of my staff has a phobia of balloons. Everyone here knows to never bring them in – anyway there are thousands of alternatives to balloons to decorate a place.

    I once had my epilepsy triggered by some twit thinking my arachnophobia was ‘silly’ and putting a close up image of…one of those things (I can’t even type the S word – it’s that bad) on my desk. Terror gives me seizures.

    1. Pennyworth*

      I can’t understand people who don’t take phobias seriously or make every effort to be accommodating. No-one wants to have a phobia, no-one wants to be allergic.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Irrational fears don’t make sense. So they think you can just be talked out of it. Because its unreasonable right. Except unreasonable fears aren’t logical.

          I have a fear of driving over bridges over water. It has an actual polysyllabic word. The number of people who laugh at it and call me a baby is amazing. But I literally cannot do it. I freeze up even being driven over the bridge. My husband tells me to close my eyes so I won’t know I am on the bridge. I tell him, but then I know why I am closing my eyes and it DOESN”T HELP. It seems such a silly thing, its just a road that happens to go over water and I can DRIVE just fine. But there it is.

          1. Anon for This*

            I’m not phobic of most bridges, but the Annapolis Bay Bridge is designed so that when you’re at the center of the bridge and look forward it looks like a REALLY steep drop to the end of the bridge and I just… can’t.

            1. pieces_of_flair*

              OMG yes, the Bay Bridge is the worst! I don’t have a specific bridge phobia, but I do have fear of heights, and I could never drive on that bridge. Even as a passenger I have a panic attack every time. Closing my eyes definitely doesn’t help because, yeah, I know exactly what I’m not seeing!

              Everyone has irrational fears. It’s so disheartening that there is apparently a whole office full of people who would rather bully someone over their phobia than show an iota of empathy.

          2. Lady_Lessa*

            While I don’t share your fears, but respect them.
            I had a similar experience. I had lived in Southern CA for years and had gotten used to mentally planning what I would do if I were under a bridge and an earthquake started. I cross a two layer bridge from Kentucky to Cincinnati and my thoughts were “Which way do I move, in an earthquake.”

            Stay safe.

          3. Not Today, Friends*

            EPLawyer, I feel your pain. I’ve gotten to the point that I *can* drive over the bridges (wouldn’t be able to leave my town if I didn’t), but oh god it’s still awful. Just… solidarity, my friend.

          4. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Blue Forevermore*

            I kind of instantly developed a .. dunno if it’s a phobia but definitely a strong aversion to overpasses. No problems till one day during the Christmas season I was stuck on an overpass waiting for traffic to clear out. I could feel the bridge kind of bouncing as cars passed. And suddenly I was overwhelmed with an anxiety attack – I had to fight myself not to run out of my car to firm land. It took a few years before I stopped going the long way to avoid them. It’s better now but I am acutely aware whenever I’m stopped on an overpass.

            1. Sleepless*

              I’m developing a fear of tall highway overpasses myself. Driving from 285 northbound on 85 in Atlanta takes me over a ramp that scares me a little more every time I do it. I once drove right through downtown Atlanta rather than go over it in the dark once.

          5. Jam on Toast*

            My fear of heights make bridge driving not fun, either. The bridge between Detroit and Windsor is a very old, very high bridge with really heavy traffic, so you can end up waiting on the bridge for a very long time if the border is backed up. Crossing over, I have to drive in the inside lane and even then, it’s a matter of steeling myself. I shake if I’m in the outside lane, next to the railings because all my brain can do is scream “TOOOOO HIGHHHH!!!”

          6. Fresh Cut Grass*

            I had a huge breakthrough moment when I realized that trying to use logic on my irrational terrified brain wasn’t going to work. I don’t have any specific phobias, but my brain will intermittently get really hung up on some scary thing it’s certain is going to happen, like [checks notes] walking into my bedroom and finding a specific jumpscare from a video game inside. (The first scare from Doki Doki Literature Club, if anyone is curious. Would not recommend googling it if you aren’t familiar.)

            There was no fear of anything happening to me, it was just…fear. And that drove my Logic Brain NUTS.

            Terrified Brain, however, does not care about logic. She does not operate in the logical world. So I picked out a witchy sort of talisman, and decided that it was a magical ward against whatever thing Terrified Brain is freaked out about right now, and it’s worked great. Logic Brain doesn’t care for it and thinks the whole thing is very silly, but she acknowledges that it works to get us all to sleep, so she puts up with it.

          7. Lab Boss*

            “Irrational fears don’t make sense”

            Exactly. There’s a phrase that’s usually used to explain why you can’t break a superstition or a conspiracy theory by showing that it’s not true, “You can’t logic someone out of a position they didn’t logic themselves into.” It’s snarky in that case, but it applies here as well. Nobody is sitting there and carefully coming to the conclusion that balloons are terrifying, so you’re not going to get rid of the fear that way.

        2. Jaybee*

          That may be it some of the time, but I think not all of the time.

          I have a phobia myself – an unusual one that’s severe enough to impact my daily life sometimes. I don’t want to get into what it is exactly, but it makes it difficult for me to do a lot of basic tasks, like showering or cleaning the toilet.

          People with certain phobias still drive me nuts. Especially people with animal based phobias. I have to deal with my phobia; nobody would accept me walking around un-showered because I’m afraid of my bathtub drain and shower spout. But it’s okay for people to demand that animals they’re afraid of, like mice and snakes, be killed?

          I keep my mouth shut because I know, intellectually, from my own experience, that they didn’t ask to feel this way and they can’t help it; but it is in fact really obnoxious, and I can see how someone with no personal phobia experience might not be able to find any sympathy for it.

          Although in this case we’re talking about balloons, which aren’t a living creature, so it shouldn’t be an issue at all to just remove them. If the coworkers really love balloons that much, they can take them home.

          1. The OTHER other*

            Wow. Where are people saying it’s ok for people to demand animals they are afraid of be killed?

            You are reminding me of an interview with someone who went to a class for people with a fear of flying. They went around sharing their specific fears—there will be a terrible storm, or the wings will fall off, etc. While you might think this would be a sympathetic audience, it very much was not. The woman afraid of the storm rolled her eyes at the guy afraid of the wings falling off, and vise versa.

            Alas, having a phobia does always not equate to having empathy, even if it’s the very same phobia.

            1. Nina*

              I see people on my socials making OTT jokes about ‘oh you found a spider? burn the house down, crush it, get a flamethrower, dump whole cans of fly spray on it, whatever’. It’s super common. I’m not sure how that’s not ‘demanding animals they are afraid of be killed’.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            I’m not sure where anyone has said they want the subject of their phobia killed?

            (Although I have zero issues with my cat disposing of the arachnids I’m terrified of)

            1. Nina*

              …you do hear yourself, right?
              I’m not saying you’re wrong to hold that view, but ‘lol who said they wanted their phobia killed’ and then in the next breath ‘but having my phobia killed is something I have zero issues with’ is kind of hilarious.

      1. Galadriel's Garden*

        Ugh, seriously. I’m allergic to peanuts and corn, which developed later in life – not epi-pen inducing, but “break out in rash/hives and experience horrific stomach discomfort for many hours” allergic (same reaction to raw onions, but not cooked – the human body is weird) – and I live in a very corn-centric Midwest state. Corn. is. in. everything. It’s *%&@% exhausting to keep up with every single label on every single thing I consume, and hope for the best at a restaurant that a sauce wasn’t thickened with a substantial amount of cornstarch, and asking every wing joint what kind of oil they use to fry their wings (surprise, it’s often peanut), and asking my friends what’s in the dish they brought to a potluck. I keep benadryl on me at all times. Who would actively want this, or choose to do this to themselves for funsies?! And this is mild! Agh.

    2. Candi*

      Ooof. Be careful going through the archives. One of the past commentators had a jumping 8-legged fuzzy as their avatar.

      I had to deal with a brown recluse variety once -they’re venomous little bleeps. I can’t imagine feeling like that, or exponentially worse, every time you encounter one, or the image of one.

        1. Myrin*

          If it’s the person I’m thinking of, someone mentioned it to them once and they immediately got rid of the avatar. But at that point, they’d already been a commenter for many years and the avatar was all over the place.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yes, I’ve scrolled VERY quickly past that image.

        We don’t even have many species of…those things in the UK but they all freak me out.

          1. All the Words*

            I saw a nature documentary about Australia’s wildlife where they showed a bird dropping a spider from a tree branch. The spider was so large it made a loud “thud” when it hit the ground. That’s when I changed the channel, shuddering.

            Yes, Australia has huge, beautiful butterflies and moths, and terrifyingly large spiders.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            For that exact reason I’m never travelling there. Or anywhere that has bigger ones than a (UK) one.

    3. londonedit*

      100%. I have a phobia of needles and have successfully avoided them for most of my adult life…until the last year, when it’s just been vaccine vaccine vaccine vaccine 24/7. I basically started worrying about it when they announced vaccines were in development, and while I have had both my jabs, it’s been pretty horrible (and then just when I’d managed to have my second dose and was congratulating myself, they announced boosters, and now the dates for boosters for my age group have been moved forward…I’m basically on a non-stop stress rollercoaster. And in the middle of all that I’ve been diagnosed with a condition that will need regular monitoring with blood tests for at least the next 18 months). Anyway, the amount of minimising and brushing off I’ve had to deal with this year has been astonishing. People might think they’re trying to help, but ‘No one likes it’ and ‘Oh you’ll be fine, you won’t even feel it’ are really not helpful. My first blood test experience in about 30 years, a couple of months ago, was actually amazing because even though I was literally shaking from head to foot the nurse was so calm and understanding. This week I had another one at the hospital and they were literally just getting people in and out as quickly as possible, the nurse had precisely zero time to listen to me, and it was not nice at all. These things matter and when you’re already dealing with a phobia the last thing you need is to be made to feel stupid.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        You’re not stupid – and can’t express how impressed and grateful to you I am for getting them. Total hero.

      2. UKDancer*

        As someone who has many issues with needles (following a traumatic childhood vaccination experience) I entirely sympathise. Mine isn’t a phobia, more a deep loathing and feeling of dread. Getting vaccines (including the booster yesterday) was fairly unpleasant. I’m sorry you’re having to endure blood tests. My father has them on a regular basis and he hates them. He says the only thing he does is close his eyes and go to his happy place in his mind.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes it stems from childhood for me, too – we moved countries a couple of times when I was little and I had about a decade where it seemed like every time I went to the doctor for anything at all they’d find some vaccination I hadn’t had and all of a sudden ‘you’ve probably got tonsillitis’ became ‘…oh and we’re going to give you an injection right now too’. So I have a phobia of needles and also a general low-level phobia/anxiety about all medical situations because I believe some surprise vaccination or test is going to be suddenly forced on me. So far this year all I’ve been able to do is try to book things for as early in the morning as possible so I don’t have time to think about it, then close my eyes and repeat ‘it’ll be done in a minute, it’ll be done in a minute’ in my head while shaking like a leaf, but it’s the days of no sleep and horrible anxiety beforehand that I could do without (I’ve booked my booster for next week and have woken up at 4am every night since – I didn’t sleep properly for a week straight before my first blood test appointment).

          1. Snuck*

            Have you found EMLA cream (or it’s equivalent)? It’s a numbing cream I use for my sons who have heightened sensory stuff – they can’t feel the needle sting on the way in (so don’t feel blood tests at all), but can feel it when it’s a vaccination as it is in the muscle where the cream can’t reach (but there’s no sting on the way in). It’s a god send that stuff!

            1. londonedit*

              For me it’s less about the sting/pain and more about the actual thing. And I’m not convinced a GP would prescribe numbing cream for an adult on the NHS (though Keymaster says below that her dad has had some, so I might look into it!)

              1. UKDancer*

                Googling EMLA cream it looks like it’s sold fairly widely over the counter by pharmacists in the UK as well. Lloyds Pharmacy website sell it for about £6 (cream and dressings) and Superdrug similarly. It might be cheaper to just get it from a pharmacy rather than on prescription (unless you get free prescriptions obviously).

                1. londonedit*

                  Thanks – I don’t think it’d help a huge amount for me as it’s not really the pain that bothers me, more the actuality of the whole thing (another reason why people saying ‘It won’t hurt!’ isn’t particularly helpful) but it might not do any harm to give it a go anyway.

                2. Snuck*

                  It’s easily available over hte counter in Australia :) (But Nummit is an imposter according to my kids, who in blind trials/not told which “armour cream” they were getting complained every time about it)

                  And yes, it helps the sting, but not the headspace. We’ve used it from the outset (except in extreme emergency when lines etc have to be put in and you can’t wait for the cream to work), so my kids thankfully haven’t developed the phobia/ pain relationship.

                  It’s a tough phobia to beat!

              2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                Ahh, I understand. It’s like my fear of dentists – it’s not the pain that bothers me, it’s the whole concept.

                1. Windchime*

                  This, exactly. I have a history of having some painful, scary dental experiences when I was a kid and then, as an adult, had a hygenist tell me that a certain tooth “couldn’t hurt” because it had a root canal. So I decided I was just going to stop going to the dentist, and I didn’t go for like 10 years. Until my teeth started to crumble. So I had to force myself to go. It was scary and hard and people just don’t understand. I dread it; even cleanings are really, really hard for me and I will have trouble sleeping for several days prior to every appointment.

                2. Prof Space Cadet*

                  Oh, ugh. I have some dental anxiety. It’s the x-rays that bother me more than the cleanings themselves. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve told a hygienist “you need to give me a local anesthetic before you attempt x-rays or I’ll gag to to the point of vomiting” only to have them think they’re the exception and say “oh, let’s TRY first before we do that.” I even had one say to me one time, “oh, were you abused as a child?” AFTER I had vomited like I was an idiot for not disclosing it. No, lady, but I can promise you that even if I had been, it’s the absolute last thing I would want to discuss with you. Have fun cleaning up the vomit.

                  It’s gotten to the point that whenever I move to a new city, I start calling up potential dental offices to explain my situation, and if they anything other than “yes, we can do that” or “the doctor will call to discuss this with you before your first appointment,” I cross them off and move to the next name on my list. I found my current dentist on try #2 in my current city, but I had to go through 9 or 10 dentists in a previous city.

              3. Gee*

                I have issues with dentists following on from childhood filings without any painkillers, so not a true phobia but it makes it very difficult for me. What I have found works is to tell myself that it is only going to be a problem whilst the examination/treatment is ‘actually happening’ and giving myself permission to put the anxiety into a “box” and ignore it until I get to that point. It is still an issue but over a much shorter time period.

                Do you tell people at the vaccination centre that you have a phobia? I know someone who does and they said they were handled very considerately which helped.

                1. londonedit*

                  I do – both times at the Covid vaccination centre everyone has been absolutely lovely, and the nurse at the GP’s surgery who did my blood test a couple of months ago was absolutely wonderful as well. The nurse at the hospital could not have cared less, so I guess I’m just going to have to factor that expectation into my visits there, but now I know about it anything else will be a bonus, at least!

              4. Trypanophobic*

                Same — I actually have a very high pain tolerance so it’s not that a shot hurts for me. And I’m not scared of all needles; I have multiple piercings and tattoos. For me, it’s specifically medical shots, IVs, having blood drawn — maybe part of it is the idea of something being injected into my body; and with IVs and blood the needle is in there for duration of time injecting or withdrawing fluid. Yuck. I’m feeling a little sick just typing this. (Tattoo ink just sits under the surface, it’s not the same in my mind.) Novacane shots at the dentist are fine — I love going to the dentist, weirdly.

          2. marvin the paranoid android*

            Ugh, I sympathize. I don’t have an issue with needles specifically, but I have a general fear/distrust/unease in medical situations based on various types of medical trauma over the years. In a lot of medical situations you have such a lack of agency and control, it’s a very unsettling experience (being trans does not help with this). It’s quite difficult to try to get anyone to understand the difference between “generally understood to be an unpleasant thing that no one enjoys” and “brings up a lot of past trauma” though.

      3. Hierodula*

        Are you me, londonedit?
        I have had more injections in the last year than I had in the preceding 20 (having avoided every blood test, flu jab, etc. since I was old enough to make my own decisions because of my phobia). And as soon as the vaccine was in progress I was .both: “this is brilliant I really want this asap” (I am clinically vulnerable) and “Eek! It’s horrible! This will be the worst!”

        The demeanour of the nurses and other staff makes a massive difference, I entirely agree. The people who do my covid jabs at the hospital are wonderful- didn’t even cry when I got my booster, first time ever as I am usually a shaky blubbery mess!

        I’m autistic so the security guy let me wait in a quiet room and mentally kept my place in the line for me (I find queues really anxiety-inducing especially if I can’t estimate how long I will be in them) and they did my jab in the same exact place as I got it last time (even though they had moved the room layout around since vaccine 1 and 2: they brought the nurse to me).
        I use a combination of coping strategies when I am having a jab (loud music, eyes shut, chewing sweets, friend present) and they were super patient while I got prepared and not condescending at all.

        My flu jab nurse on the other hand (I got that one through work, and won’t again) was so horrible to me about my phobia (to the point of active mockery) that I had to file a complaint.

        It can’t be overstated how important it is that people take phobias seriously and just… be kind (is it that hard?!)

      4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Definitely not stupid. Dad has a phobia of needles and has to have his skin numbed beforehand and to not look. He managed to get some numbing cream from his GP before his booster jab thankfully.

      5. Snuck*

        I’m right there with you… or was… for a looong time.

        I have really cruddy blood tests and always have. It rapidly crossed over into phobia in my 20s. And the endless images of vaccine administrators has not been helpful in the last couple of years. I did a lot of work to get through my phobia (to the point I can now grit my teeth and get through the multitude of medical run ins I have to have, including my own medication on occasion), but I still feel queasy when I see it.

        People can have really rational fears to rational things as much as irrational ones!

        1. UKDancer*

          Yeah I really hate the fact the media seem to use images of people being vaccinated a lot at the moment for Covid related articles. I get why they do it, I just wish they didn’t.

          1. londonedit*

            Absolutely, and night after night on the news it’s film of people at vaccination centres, close-ups of people being vaccinated, etc etc. I’ve had to stop watching the news because I hate it!

      6. MistOrMister*

        I don’t have a needle phobia (I can get shots just fine), but I do now get very nervous during blood draws. I used to be fine with them, but a few years back there was an incident and everyonr was freaking out, so now every time I need a draw or IV i think about that and am scared it will happen again (being vague on purpose so as not to scar anyone…). So far everyone who has had to do a draw on me has been very understanding, and I agree that it really,does make a world of difference. If they just take a few minutes to listen and help put you at ease, even if you’re still freaked out, its definitely easier to move forward because you feel you’re being taken care of. I wish more people understood that.

      7. Anon for this*

        I’m in the same boat. I think needle phobia is more common than most people realize. I use a prescription strength topical patch as a numbing agent prior to needles, which has been a great help. I also found the website a good resource.

      8. Anon for This*

        I wouldn’t call my discomfort with having blood drawn a phobia, more intense distaste caused by attempting to donate blood multiple times and each time the phlebotomist gave up on finding a vein and told me to leave. That was unpleasant.

        I find that looking away, and focusing on my breathing, helps me get through when I need to have labwork done now. But it’s still unpleasant, breathing g techniques just take it from unbearably unpleasant to okay I can tolerate this.

      9. Insert Clever Name Here*

        If you are on Instagram, there’s a science communicator who has needle phobia and shared some resources for ways to try to make necessary interactions with needles less difficult — her handle is @science.sam and she has a highlight called “my vax.” Be forewarned that the highlight has the needle emoticon in the title (there aren’t any needles shown in the actual highlight that I recall) and you have to scroll past several other vaccine related highlights to get to the vaccine one, all of which have the needle emoticon.

        I’m sorry that happened to you :(

      10. Trypanophobic*

        Just want to say that I have felt the exact same way as you since the Covid. Even talking about it is enough to make me start having anxiety. And calling it a “jab” makes it worse. I have fainted from having shots and even postponed medical procedures to avoid having an IV. The people who say “it doesn’t hurt” make me angry — they don’t understand how phobias work and it’s not helpful. As I posted upthread, I think that some vaccine hesitancy could be eliminated if the media would stop showing so many photos of shots!

      11. Lucy Skywalker*

        I used to be needle-phobic, but then knowing that getting vaxxed was the only way to end this pandemic cured me, and I got the shot as soon as I could.
        This leads me to believe that I wasn’t really needle phobic, because you can’t get rid of a phobia that way. I guess I was just a big wimp.

        1. Tali*

          Not at all, and please don’t speak about yourself that way!
          I got the shot as soon as I could too, because as bad as needles are, dying from covid is a lot worse.
          That doesn’t mean it’s “cured”, maybe you had a strong discomfort or less strong phobia. There are shades of gray to this sort of thing and just because you’re able to push past it when strongly motivated doesn’t mean your fear is now a moral failing.

    4. Pucci*

      There was an article about a kid who wore a pirate’s eyepatch to his vaccination so he wouldn’t have to see the needle. Would that help?

      1. londonedit*

        LOL that’s hilarious! I generally just close my eyes and the vaccination people have been very good about not having any needles anywhere anyone could see them anyway. For me it’s really the entire thing that I hate and have huge anxiety about, so there isn’t really any one thing that would make it OK.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Just asked Dad what else helps him and he says he takes a book or an interesting picture with him and makes sure he’s focused on that. I tend to shut my eyes for blood draws etc.

          1. Threeve*

            The last vaccine I got, the nurse asked if I was taking a selfie (people take vaccine selfies??), and I had to explain that, no, I was looking at videos of puppies on my phone to distract myself because needles freak me out so much.

            1. UKDancer*

              Last one I had (Covid booster yesterday) I told the lady I had needle issues. She asked if I liked chocolate. When I said yes she had the receptionist to bring the Celebrations over and asked me to pick one. She jabbed me while I was diverted by the options in the box of chocolates. I thought that was a pretty good technique myself but then I’m easily swayed by chocolates.

              1. londonedit*

                That is excellent! I have to say I’m getting a bit inured to the ‘so what do you do for a job, are you working today, did you do anything nice at the weekend’ because I’m like I know what you’re doing, you know – but chocolates would absolutely take my mind off it!

        2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

          I also used to close my eyes but then I read that it would make your other senses stronger, and it’s better to keep your eyes open and look away so you don’t feel the needle as much. So my current strategy is to plan my position so that I won’t see it and can still keep my eyes open. As the scary needles are often all over the room, I usually tell about my preferences right at the beginning: “Hi, I’m here for *insert name of scary needle thing* and I don’t want to see any needles so which way should I look?” Most nurses are very understanding and turn a chair in the right direction :)

      2. WellRed*

        I don’t even have a phobia and have diabetes to boot (so multiple daily injections and, in the old days, finger sticks). I never look when getting vaccinated or having blood drawn.

    5. Beth*

      [fistbump of phobia solidarity] I have a phobia to a different specific member of the small lifeforms world, and I absolutely know what it’s like when you can’t even bear to see or write the word.

      It’s also a phobia that some people find funny or silly. I do not like those people, or any of their fellow phobia-triggering a$$holes anywhere.

    6. Windchime*

      I’m afraid of “those things” too. I call it a phobia but my reaction isn’t as strong as yours. It was known at work that I was afraid of them and a younger employee would kid and say he was going to put one (a real one) on my desk at work. I told him he would be talking with HR if he did it, and I was dead serious. That’s outright bullying.

      As far as balloons, I worked in IT for healthcare for many years and balloons have been banned (in any building where patients might go) for years due to the latex component. I think they even banned mylar, just to keep it simple. It’s fine with me. I also used to work in a building where someone was horribly allergic to flowers. Was it a bummer that we couldn’t have fresh flowers? Yes, but her right to come to work and not have to risk a severe reaction trumps my right to have flowers at my desk.

    7. Lucy Skywalker*

      And then there are people who think that phobias aren’t really fears of certain things, but simply dislike. I once had a co-worker who I *thought* was merely disgusted by rodents, and I joked once about rats in front of her, and then she sternly told me that it was a real phobia.
      I apologized profusely and never mentioned rodents in front of her again. I hope that your co-worker learned their lesson as well and did the same.

  8. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: that’s an impressive level of bonkers that new hire showed. And heck yes as a boss I’d like to be told if someone is that detached from reality.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        And the way lots of us are wired – we remember the crazy or really bad far more readily than we remember the outstandingly good.

        Don’t make yourself become the never forgotten work urban legend – because it’s never a good thing to be.

  9. A Person*

    For #3, some places will go out of their way to have people NOT answer questions their last week once things have been passed off to make sure everyone has the knowledge they need. It’s one of the best ways to find out if there are some big places where there’s missing documentation or historical knowledge that needs to be communicated.

    It can feel weird, and certainly is awkward for people who are used to helping! And it certainly can’t catch everything. But it’s a great way to prepare for someone to leave while still having the “fall back” time.

    1. qtippyqueen*

      Yes! I commented below, but this is how it should be. The person who has been doing the work inevitably “just knows” things that someone who is new to doing the work won’t know, and it is hard when you are doing the work to know what others won’t know, ya know?

      If someone works as normal for their last 2 weeks, there WILL be holes that are found. And whoops, the person who knows this info is gone forever.

      I am very passionate about this after seeing the absolute cluster that occurred at my workplace in this exact scenario!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – a functional company will use the last two weeks (or whatever the notice period turns out to be) to get work turned over to the new owner of the task and make sure they know how to do it. Continuing to work as if you’ll be there forever hides things that need to be taught from the employer.

  10. Cherry*

    My close friend is terrified of balloons. I am not privy to the exact story of why, but it’s because of a specific incident that happened while she was being sexually abused by a family member at a single-digit age.

    If ANYONE treated her like OP2’s direct report, I would lose my shit.

    1. Snuck*

      I’d say that it doesn’t matter the cause of hte phobia, balloon phobias arent’ that rare, and it’s usually linked to a PTSD event where something happened and wasn’t fully processed at the time. Yes there’s therapies that can help, but over time traumas can become deeply reinforced, and it’s not a simple matter of logically fixing it.

      I’d lose my shit at ANYONE playing stupid balloon games with this … even in a year. Or any other phobia. To cross the line this far from ‘squeamish’ and “I don’t like it” to signing off work for days on end shows it’s a serious condition. I also would lose my mind at someone if they thought they could make jokes about low IQ people or people of a different race or a multitude of other unnecessary things.

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        Not to mention that latex allergies are increasingly common and the normal sort of teardrop-shaped balloon is made with latex.

  11. Akcipitrokulo*

    UK here – I think Equality Act could come into play. Removing balloons is a reasonable accommodation.

    But even without being legally required to get rid, common decency should take care of it.

  12. Musereader*

    Ah! I am OP2, I had been in the org 2 years and only been TDA (Temporary duties/acting up, for a manager on long term sick) for about 3 or 4 months when this happened (the reviews had literally just been done and I had an experienced manager who coached me through them and most of the decisions were his). I had been coworker to her on another team earlier and could get along with her fairly well because I could just tune her out and keep going when she was chattering away, so was not inclined to feel badly towards her – but it turns out the floor manager hated her (hence the refusal to take down ballons), they had a history going back a long time. So while there was a lot of issues to manage with her, and the comment section were pushing for her issues (‘crying wolf’, insisting on window seat, but no opening window) to be managed but I was only really new and really that stuff was a bit above and beyond me, I was really just supposed to be managing her work and personnel issues I brought up were dealt with above me if that makes sense? So I did not have a lot of power to do things that were needed.

    Anyway I stopped TDA when the manager came back off sick, then end of that year there was going to be a redundancy for about 50-70 of us brought on at the same time, but the union got us reallocated to a different office in another part of the org, time goes on and her department was dissolved and all the workers in that office transferred here just before covid and her husband is now my grandboss. She is in another part of the building but I WFH as just another case manager. Have not tried TDA since.

      1. Musereader*

        it’s right at the end of the original thread, England got knocked out the next week, balloons came down, she came back to work on the floor the day after.

        She did make a complaint to HR but I was not TDA for much longer and as far as I know it went nowhere.

        1. londonedit*

          I would say you can always rely on the England football team to put an early end to the party, but now we’ve got Gareth.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I went back on my lunch break today and read your comments on the original. That person does sound perfectly horrible. Not that she didn’t still deserve accommodations for her condition, but holy cow does she sound like an nightmare to work with. I can see how the whole thing was over your head if you were new!

    2. Snuck*

      Ah… I didn’t read the rest of the back story… I have however worked as a temporary team leader in a call centre* and had a similar husband/wife pair. The husband however was a new hire, on another team, and proving to be very effective. The wife was on my team (see asterisk below, she was there as a non performer), and wanted a specific viewing screen, special considerations for this, had used literally an entire paid years worth of sick leave plus all of 30 odd years of long service leave but expected more because ‘she wanted it’, couldn’t talk on the phone (voice issues), couldn’t read a screen (eye issues), couldn’t walk and deliver print outs or mail across the floor (hip issues), couldn’t sit for more than 10 minutes (back issues) etc… So I packed her off to a medical assessment for proof. In 30yrs she’s acquired a whole raft of accommodations with no proof, so I made her paperwork up for them. She was VERY unhappy about this, but it had reached the point where there was literally zero jobs she could be assigned. It was an eye opening experience (and I had 16 staff all with variations of why they were not working out. Most got quickly into gear and sorted themselves out but there was a good half dozen who needed clear management and guidelines, and I spent a LOT of time with HR).

      *The role was a 3mth acting, I was in a national management role with limited direct reports, and this was to give me a chance to identify and improve across company linkages, I was in the technical side of the business and expected to a) up skill all the employees across the call centre, b) improve processes and communication, and c) manage a team of people who had all been lumped together and ‘just couldn’t do the job properly’ for a wide range of reasons. It was a trial by fire that one!

  13. Myrin*

    #2 is an incredibly interesting one to me because when it came out (very shortly after I started reading AAM and something I remember weirdly vividly), OP’s updates/clarifications in the comments (she posted as “OP 1” and “OP #1”) showed that what was presented in the letter was actually just a small part of the ongoing situation around this employee; basically, she probably did indeed suffer from a phobia but completely separately from that, she must’ve been one of the most obnoxious people we’ve ever read on on this site. An incredible problem employee who certainly deserved to be fired.

    It’s a fascinating demonstration of how context matters and how it doesn’t. I admire OP for writing in very factually about the balloon issue and not even hinting at what was actually going on – that made it possible for Alison – and, by extension, the commentariat – to judge the phobia situation accordingly. It’s like something that comes up here from time to time, most often regarding a “Are they terrible or do they have a mental illness?” situation – it’s apparently somewhat difficult for some people to imagine that it can indeed be both at the same time. Same thing here – phobic employee sounds insufferable but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be (deliberately or not) cruel to her and to trigger her genuine panic. Conversely, just because she has a phobia doesn’t mean you have to let her appalling behaviour in every other regard slide.

    1. Musereader*

      Thankyou, I was actually only a temp manager, because I had shown the manager that went off on long term sick that I was good at logistical things and stats and stuff, but personal issues were just way out of what I could do – to the balloon phobic employee I was just a co-worker who was able to assign work, but I wasn’t her ‘real’ manager, (that was the other manager who did her review with me), so I didn’t really have the authority to manage all her issues, I wasn’t even aware of her history beyond certain instructions, like has to sit by window and pass her complaints about co-workers to other manager. When people were telling me about her past conflicts and how mean she had been to a few of them I was surprised as I didn’t personally have a problem with her. (bizzarely being low level autistic/aspergers means some people tend to like me because i don’t treat them different and so i get along with a bunch of people that don’t get along with others)

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      Plus having a husband who was a manager at the company and intervening at times.

      I have sympathy for the phobia (though as noted, she apparently had a ‘cry wolf’ tendency over other things so that could be dubious, at least for many coworkers), but it sounds like her overbearing and poorly-managed behavior drove many colleagues to be in the BEC status with her.

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

        The part with her husband is what stuck out to me. Having him ‘pull rank’ like this with the regional manager – had this happened before? Would it happen again next time something occurs in the office that she doesn’t get instantly resolved through the normal channels? I think the husband ought to have been reprimanded for misusing his access to upper management.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      FYI, I think Allison has stopped using “loon” in more recent years, since commenters pointed out that it derived from “lunatic” and is one of many instances where common English usage is casually derogatory towards those with mental health conditions.

        1. Metadata minion*

          Other way around — the bird’s name comes from “lunatic” because of their weird cackling calls.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            Interesting. Wikipedia says “The North American name “loon” likely comes from either the Old English word lumme, meaning lummox or awkward person, or the Scandinavian word lum meaning lame or clumsy. Either way, the name refers to the loon’s poor ability to walk on land.”

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              Even if the bird’s name doesn’t have a problematic derivation, the usage in this context is clearly tied to or at least overly reminiscent of “loony”, which is definitely a term that mental health and disability advocates would like to take out of rotation.

              I didn’t have any awareness that I should avoid the term until commenters here pointed it out, honestly – one of many things this site has taught me!

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

    OP1’s workmate makes me remember someone I knew from work… She was fine at the beginning, but after a copule of months she started spreading lies to frame herself as the only competent person in the office. My alarms started blaring when she started making assumptions about another coworker’s sexuality. Turned out she was homophobic and a TERF.

  15. FashionablyEvil*

    #2–not disagreeing the balloons should come down, but, man, the employee’s husband needs to take a BIG step back.

    1. londonedit*

      I would agree, but he was a manager in another part of the office, and it sounds like he was more senior than the employee with the phobia, and I can imagine she might not have wanted to talk about the whole thing at all. So in this case it did make a bit of sense for the husband, as a higher-level staff member and someone who could advocate for her, to go and speak to the regional manager on her behalf.

      1. FashionablyEvil*

        I mean, I can see how it happened, but I still think it’s wildly inappropriate and calls the employee’s (and the husband’s!) judgement into question. Spouses getting involved in their partners’ work is a hard no for me (absent letting an employer know about a serious illness/hospitalization type thing.)

        1. EPLawyer*

          That’s where I come down. The phobia thing is real (regardless of ANY OTHER ISSUE with the employee). The ballons should have come down ASAP. But the Husband stepping in, not as a senior manager but as her husband was not a good look. Because he was senior to everyone else and had more access to even more senior people it would make me wonder what else would he do for his wife? Sometimes a spouse needs to back off in the workplace. Just because he also worked there doesn’t make it okay.

  16. Roscoe*

    #2. I don’t agree with any of the joking about it. That said, I do have to wonder about this, in the sense of, if something is out of sight, and a person knows where it is and can avoid it, how much do others have to not have something in there that makes someone else uncomfortable or triggers their phobia. I totally get not wanting them near her, but from what it sounds like they are pretty far and she won’t see them if she chooses not to. It seems a bit much to me. They can easily take them down, but she can also easily avoid seeing them. If I have a book about snakes at my desk, and someone is afraid of snakes, do I have to remove it, or can they just not come to my desk since they know its there?

    1. ‘Tis but a Scratch!*

      If they were out of sight sitting for her while she is at her desk that doesn’t mean they can’t be seen when she gets up to move around the office. Balloons are a lot more visible than a book at your desk. I think her ability to move freely around the office (to ask a coworker a question, get a cup of coffee, go to the restroom) trumps someone’s desire for a decoration.

    2. Shiara*

      My understanding from those with the phobia is that it’s more a phobia of them popping than a phobia of the physical thing itself. So knowing they’re there within earshot is almost as bad as having them directly in her face. She was able to work on another floor, but that might not have been a practical long-term solution.

      Also if it was a giant arachnid poster “just don’t look at that end of the office” would obviously not be an acceptable solution for someone with arachnephobia

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah…say there was a Covid vaccination centre or a blood donation centre set up in a part of the office that I had to be near. I would not be able to concentrate at work with that going on nearby. I wouldn’t want to see people waiting or see them with their sleeves rolled up or hear them talking about it or feel like someone was going to come and make me give blood or whatever. I would very much want to run away and not be anywhere near it, even if it wasn’t directly in my line of sight.

    3. Sleepless*

      Well, I would say it depends on: how severe the phobia is, how easily the person can avoid seeing it, and how important it is for the thing to be there. In this case, the person is pretty severely phobic. It’s not at all important for the balloons to be there. And my experience with something being hidden by a support column is that as soon as you change position, maybe just by leaning forward a bit, you can see it. It might be sort of okay if it was in a separate room.

      1. Roscoe*

        Fair enough. I guess I’m picturing it as kind of around the corner in a separate room which she could just not go to, as opposed to just if the wind blew them or she changed desk angles, she would see them.

    4. Anononon*

      It’s pretty disingenuous to go down this line of reasoning. “Okay, I accept you have a phobia, but what’s the absolute line I can push without you feeling the need to take medical leave?” C’mon, Roscoe, have some compassion.

      1. Roscoe*

        I do have compassion. And its not about pushing limits, but I also don’t know that its on everyone else to manage your phobias. I think its very fair to not have things that trigger someone in common areas that they have to go to. I don’t know that saying it can’t be ANYWHERE in the office, even out of sight, is always the only option though. Like people need to manage their own things and avoid things, when possible, that may trigger them if possible.

        1. Anononon*

          But your extreme example here is not the actual scenario at play, and trying to litigate just what is appropriate for ANY scenario really doesn’t make sense because it’ll always depend on specific circumstances.

          1. Koalafied*

            Yes, this. Good advice is rarely context-blind, and just because the advice wouldn’t work in every scenario doesn’t mean it’s not right for a specific one. There’s a reason Alison’s answer says: “…balloons are not so integral to your business /b> that it should be much of a question. You have a staff member who’s getting panicky about something that will be trivial for you to remove.”

            We don’t have to make pronouncements about whether it’s generally “on everyone else to manage [others’] phobias.” Whether it’s reasonable to expect other people to take steps to mitigate another person’s phobia is extremely influenced by what, exactly, those steps would need to be. “No balloons” in the office is such a minor, painless step for others to take that refusing not to is just petty and mean. It’s refusing to be even slightly inconvenienced for the sake of another person’s wellbeing.

            Going down the road of “but if we agree to no balloons does that mean we have to agree to any and all crazy demands that someone who claims a phobia makes??” is a slippery slope fallacy. There are no other demands on the table right now – just this one, which is an eminently reasonable request.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes I mean you have to adjust what you for the situation you’re in. Unless you work in a balloon factory or a party / fancy dress shop it’s not difficult to remove balloons from the workplace as they’re not a core part of your activity in most cases. If someone has a phobia of mice and works in a pet shop that can be more difficult to manage and may make it hard for an adjustment to be found.

        2. Aquawoman*

          If having it anywhere in the office triggers her phobia, then the only option is not having it anywhere in the office.

    5. Jaybee*

      The way you think phobias work is really bizarre and out of touch with the reality of them. It’s not the sight of a balloon that’s upsetting her.

      Consider someone with a phobia of mice. If you told them there was a mouse spotted in the office, how much work do you think they would get done that day, even if they never saw the mouse themselves?

    6. korangeen*

      I think the analogy there wouldn’t be having a book about snakes at your desk, but having an actual snake at your desk… And yeah, if someone at work has a phobia of snakes, and your workplace isn’t some sort of reptile zoo, then you probably shouldn’t be keeping a snake at your desk! I would assume this person with the balloon phobia would be fine if a co-worker just had a book about balloons at their desk. And as Shiara mentioned, the balloon phobia is probably mostly about them popping, which personally I totally get because I despise sudden loud noises, especially if I’m anticipating that it might happen. So the “out of sight” thing isn’t really relevant, I guess unless you put them in a different sound-proof room.

      1. Anononon*

        And, if the book had a large picture of a snake on the cover, and it was kept out on display, like a coffee table book, it would be appropriate to ask to move the book somewhere not visible, if the employee with the phobia would otherwise see it in her day to day work.

      2. Metadata minion*

        I agree. I have pet tarantulas. I would love to have a desk tarantula at work; they’re very low-maintenance and would make great office pets. And most of the time you wouldn’t even see it unless you wanted to; they tend to just chill in their little house or hang out motionless in a corner. But I also know that they’re incredibly common phobias and plenty of people would be nervous just knowing there was a giant spider in the office, so I do not have a desk tarantula.

        1. Jacey*

          As an arachnophobe, I just want to say thank you for that! I have met an unfortunate number of people who did not make that compromise.

    7. I should really pick a name*

      Whether they need to see it or not to be bothered really depends on the specific person, phobias can work in different ways. One person might be okay knowing it’s there but not seeing it, another person might be suffering just knowing it’s there.

      This is a case where the accommodation (removing balloons) has a pretty minimal cost, so I don’t see a compelling reason not to do it.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yes!! to that last part. I am baffled by how OP’s coworkers were handling it. It would have been so easy to take the balloons down – all other decorations could stay up – and yet that is the hill they were all willing to die on. Are they five? have they never had balloons before? Such a weird attachment to balloons, and then they say the coworker with the balloon phobia is the irrational one! I admit it started making more sense to me when I read it in OP’s comment upthread that AntiBalloon Coworker was disliked in the office and that at least one manager wanted the ballons to stay up to spite her (shakes head).

        Is there any wonder WFH became so massively popular the moment it became an option? So many of us were just not the ideal people to spend 8-9 hours a day in the same office with.

    8. CupcakeCounter*

      I have a snake phobia (made worse by “exposure therapy”…thanks mom) and the book wouldn’t bother me BUT if there was a real snake anywhere in the building I would have a massive breakdown. Actually did have one at work when a nest of snakes was found on the loading dock of our building and one escaped and was somewhere in the building when animal control came to remove them. Even though I was the 3rd floor I had a full blown panic attack. Got sent home and freaked out again because I would have to walk down the stairs to the same floor the snake might be on. So out of sight, out of mind doesn’t always work.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I think sometimes out-of-sight can equal obsessively in mind for some people who have phobias. The whole not knowing where the object of fear is, but knowing it is in close proximity, can be as bad or worse than having it right there visible and avoidable.

        1. Jacey*

          Yes! My friend and I actually share an animal phobia but it manifests differently for us. I can “just not look,” and he needs to keep an eye on it or his brain convinced him the animal is on his person.

  17. qtippyqueen*

    OP #3 – I think this is actually a good thing! We just experienced at my workplace someone who left for another job and worked until the last moment on Friday doing her job. Well, Monday comes around, she is gone and no one knows what is going on and it was a huge mess.
    Had the company started handing over everything in her workload to her replacement, and by the last few days she was just there to answer questions, it would have gone so much smoother.

  18. Junior Assistant Peon*

    #1 sounds like one of those outfits where anyone who can fog a mirror gets hired as a recruiter. No, I don’t want to quit my management job to be a temporary QC technician an hourly wage I wouldn’t have taken 20 years ago, you time-wasting moron who blindly matched a couple of keywords between the job description and my LinkedIn profile.

  19. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    The update to #1 has me curious about this bit: “…while flirting at the same time (using emoticons)…”

    Is using emoticons flirting? Or were they specific, flirty emoticons?

    The letter was written in 2015, so ideas about emoticons have changed, but it struck me as so weird to automatically equate emoticon use with flirting.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      Right? I used one just the other day to indicate to a much more senior colleague that I wasn’t *maliciously* calling him out when I corrected him on a guest speaker’s name.

    2. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I assumed they were flirty emoticons. Anything winking, kissy face, heart eyes, or smirking reads as automatically flirty to me.

  20. Sporty Yoda*

    Only tangentially related to #2 (Alison, please take off if significatntly off topic), but my parents have a cat that my mother raised from birth (stray cat had kittens under the shed and just sort of disappeared) who is TERRIFIED of Mylar balloons. There’s no reason he should be scared of them, he just straight up hates them.
    My mother uses them to keep her plants safe whenever she has to ring them inside before a freeze. Very odd going home and seeing a “happy birthday” balloon in front of a plant she’s had since I was a child and no one knows the birthday of.

  21. Dust Bunny*

    “this tells me that her fellow recruiters are badmouthing my boss”

    Well, it tells you that she says they are. If she’s as off-the-wall as this seems to indicate, I would not be at all surprised if she made this up.

    Anyway, still tell your boss because this person is trouble.

  22. StephenTrendy*

    I worked with a woman who had a fear of balloons. We had low cubicle walls and when it was someone’s birthday, we would put balloons and streamers along their cubicle walls. Her cubicle neighbor’s birthday came up and we did the decorations and she came in and saw them and asked him to take them down. He, being a reasonable person, took them down and we decided as a team that we would just stop the balloons part. Still got streamers, but no balloons. Balloons in an office should not be a hill to die on.

    1. generic_username*

      Yeah, such a weird thing to insist stays. Like, “not good for office morale” to take them down? Sorry, it’s even worse for office morale when a coworker is forced to take a sick day (week?) because of a decoration you refuse to remove……

  23. Majestic Cackling Hen*

    I work with someone who has a phobia of birds. Birds don’t scare me a bit, and it’s not logical to be afraid of them…but phobias aren’t about logic (how many times have I heard “but spiders eat bugs! And most of them aren’t going to hurt you!”), and you can’t just wave them away. So I will warn my coworker if there’s a big bird near the office building so she can stay away from it, and I will not show her pictures of birds. Because I’m not a jerk.

    1. UKDancer*

      Absolutely. My late aunt had a phobia of birds. She was the most rational, sensible person I know, an academic of incredible intellectual acumen. She knew it wasn’t logical to fear birds but she did. My father put any number of devices and technologies on her balcony to stop them landing. We can’t logic ourselves out of phobias all we can do is find coping mechanisms.

      All we can do as individuals working with people who have phobias is help them and not be a jerk.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Yup. Phobias defy logic and are completely irrational. I have a snake phobia and the number of times I hear “well I don’t like snakes either but its just a picture/movie/etc…”. Yeah…doesn’t work like that. My husband swears the second someone says the word snake around me, he can see my eyes change, body gets tense, and I am completely on edge until there is either clarification that they are talking about a movie/article/a different continent. And 90% of the time I will have a nightmare that night. And yes…snakes toys can also cause a full meltdown.

  24. CatPerson*

    For anyone who thinks that it’s bizarre to be terrified of balloons, I have an acquaintance who is terrified of…butterflies. Yes, butterflies.

    1. Meep*

      Re: balloons, by the title, I kind of assumed that it was PTSD-related (balloons popping). As for the butterflies… One of my cousins is too. It was hard being a girl growing up because everyone wanted to give her things with butterflies on them. Whenever they came to visit, we had to remove all my sister’s butterfly things because she loved the,.

      Apparently, it is the face. lol.

  25. Meep*

    LW#1 – I shouldn’t have laughed but I did. Never been witness to a coup but it reminded me of my loon of a coworker. She was hired in January 2017, I was hired in May 2017. I didn’t meet her until mid-June, though and the first day I met her, she dragged me into a conference room to “get to know each other” where she proceeds to tell me out of the blue about how when someone crosses her she will not just cut them off and they will be dead to her, she will actively destroy them.

    At the time, I was just a measle intern who had been there for all of two weeks so I had literally nothing to gain nor lose when listening to an actual employee (apparently she wasn’t at the time, she was also a contractor) of the company, but it really set the tone for her brand of crazy. Day #2 chit-chat was about how her adoptive (Russian) daughter was probably an “alike baby” and it wasn’t HER fault her daughter was “mentally delayed” and acting disrespectful. The girl wanted to go to a sleepover after her mom promised she could go to, if she got a B on her English paper… Crazy lady changed the goal posts and expected an A. (Her daughter does have ADHD and two narcissistic (adoptive) parents who were using her to go through a divorce and still acted like a normal 15-year-old girl as far as I could tell based on the complaints I was forced to listen to.)

    In hindsight, I should’ve ran. lol.

  26. BradC*

    Regarding Letter #1: Every time I see this headline I’m always amused at the implication (in my own head anyway) that the problem was *not* that the new hire was plotting a coup, but that she had waited an *insufficient amount of time* before launching the overthrow.

    “Listen, Jane, I know that you’re new here, but we have a strict policy that employee uprisings are only allowed after your 90 day probation. We like our employees to get more familiar with our company before planning any insurrections.”

  27. Vanny Hall*

    While I know nothing about the OP’s situation, I have to add to Allison’s wise caveat that starting a nonprofit is not a great career goal. Here in the U.S. there are far, far too many nonprofits. Each spends a great deal of human and energy and financial resources just getting traction and building to the point where it can make any real difference (assuming it doesn’t fail altogether, which so many do). It would be far better for everyone, and so much less wasteful, if would-be nonprofit founders would instead be committed to working with existing nonprofits and their aready-existing infrastructure and networks to build new programming and expand reach.

    This is a big topic in nonprofit discussion groups; many of us feel it should be far more difficult to get nonprofit status in the U.S. As it is, we have an epidemic of new nonprofits with well-meaning but naive founders who enthusiastically rope in donors and staff–all of whom then face disillusionment, burnout, and unemployment when the founders prove to have unrealistic expectations, inadequate management training, and no fundraising long game.

    Perhaps the OP is an exception. My point, though, is that starting yet another nonprofit should always be a LAST resort. If you have the persistence and drive to head up an organization, surely you can use those same qualities to influence and expand (or course-change) an existing nonprofit that is further along on the management, employee support, and fund development learning curves.

    1. Littorally*

      Yep. There are some great comments about this in the original post, and they’re just as true now as they were then.

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      As someone who has spent my career at non-profits, I agree with you. There was an article about why it (almost always) doesn’t make sense to start yet another organization, “Don’t Do It: Don’t Start a Nonprofit.”

      It would be interesting to hear others perspective on this on an open thread (maybe there already was one?).

  28. Smithy*

    LW#4 – Was there ever an update on this one? I’d be so curious…

    I’m in fundraising, and at least in our field I can say 100% that telling your boss you hope to start your own nonprofit in 5 years that the best case scenario would be that you’d be considered naïve. That being said, at least in my sector, I’m not exactly sure how well that exact phrasing would be received in more programmatic nonprofit departments either…

    Now that being said, telling your manager that as part of your professional growth plan you want to learn more about how nonprofits work – be that financially, legally, etc. Really breaking down technical features you want to learn more, those would all be professional growth conversations that most nonprofit managers wouldn’t be thrown by even if they didn’t immediately connect to your job.

  29. generic_username*

    I have a weird phobia that I know is weird and irrational but I can’t help it. It really and truly sucks to have people mock and belittle it. Because it’s something weird instead of accepted, people think it’s fair game for laughs. Thankfully as I’ve grown older I’ve had to deal with it less – people are maturing, my phobia is not often found randomly in the wild, and I’m more removed from the trauma that caused my phobia. Regardless, bravo to the LW in #2 for compassion.

    1. Jacey*

      Oof, sending sympathy to you, fellow weird-phobia-haver! The only thing less fun than having people deliberately try to trigger your phobia (which happens to me with an extremely common and well known phobia as well as my odder ones!) is people openly laughing at you for having a fear they’ve never heard of.

  30. Nonprofit worker bee*

    The last question reminded me of when my team (small legal and compliance team at a nonprofit) interviewed for a legal intern. One of the candidates mentioned in the interview that he hoped to OWN a nonprofit one day so basically he wanted to know how it feels on the ground. He must’ve been in his early 20s and I’m guessing came from a wealthy background? It came off not only naive, but also very arrogant (and kind of funny).

  31. Anonymous Bosch*

    Since I’m so late to this, chances are no one will read my comment anyway.

    I see a big difference between an allergy and phobia. You can’t get over an allergy. On the other hand, as someone pointed out, their child got over her balloon phobia and was even able to pop a bunch of them to show she was past it.

    I would absolutely make sure no latex balloons were anywhere near a coworker with a latex allergy and I would find out if the Mylar ones were safe or not.

    What if someone had a phobia about birthday celebrations or baby showers or knives…? To what extent should an office full of people essentially agree that they can’t have fun events or use certain utensils or [fill in the blank] because of a coworker’s phobia?

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