can I tell interviewers my hobby is drinking, going from scruffy to polished at work, and more

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

1. Can I tell interviewers that my hobby is drinking?

I noticed that a relatively common interview question is “Do you have any hobbies? / What do you do on weekends?” Or even, “How do you relieve stress?” My answer is: Drinking. And it’s not binge drinking. I truly enjoy tasting different whiskies. I will go to bars specializing in whiskies or hang out with friends to sample and discuss whiskies. If I want to shake things up, I change to wine, or craft beer, or rum, or cognac. When I got stressed at my previous job, I often poured myself a glass after office hours. (Strictly never drank during working hours nor come to work drunk/hungover. And I know drinking in the office on a semi-regular basis is not great, and I won’t do it at my next job.)

I know telling interviewers I drink as a hobby/to destress can be a polarizing answer. So should I be honest? Or just make up some other hobby/destress method?

Saying one of your hobbies is whiskey tasting isn’t likely to be a problem; that doesn’t imply problem drinking anymore than “I’m really interested in wine” would. But saying you drink to destress definitely is a problem answer that you shouldn’t use; it’s too likely to raise serious red flags. And because you’ve paired those things together, I worry a bit about whether you’ll be able to talk about the former without touching on the latter too. If you can keep it to the hobby realm, great. But otherwise I’d steer away from it.

2. Will I look silly going from scruffy to more polished at work?

I’ve worked for a company for eight years and over this time my performance has been up and down due to mental health issues. Not everyone knows this about me, but everyone has seen this manifest in how I look.

I feel my outward appearance and what people expect of me performance-wise has become defined by my worst self, not who I am as a person. I’ve fallen into a rut of wearing all black, casual, ill-fitting clothes, no makeup, and frizzy air-dried hair scraped back in a ponytail.

Meanwhile, my actual performance has raised significantly, yet I’m constantly overlooked and underestimated and even demoted.

My fear is I’ll be seen as haughty and laughed at if I suddenly start coming into work looking decently groomed, something I’ve not done in a very long time. Part of me says they will get used to it, but I worry I will relapse and just look like a childish idiot still learning to play dress-up at 37. Consistency seems an important part of professionalism, so a relapse would only further highlight my flaws.

Logically this outlook seems silly as the business highly values appearance. I feel like I’m tying myself in knots from a fear that I need to reframe. Can you help?

You’re not going to be seen as haughty for using the same grooming standards as the rest of the office, especially in a business that highly values appearance! And you’re definitely not going to be laughed at unless you work with the top 1% worst tier of shockingly terrible people. It’s just not a thing most people would find funny or mockable.

They’re likely to notice, but that’s okay! You might get some comments about how you’ve changed your look or stepped up your game — but that’s people trying to be nice, not trying to give you crap. You can just say, “Thanks for noticing” or “Yeah, switching things up” or “Felt like stepping it up” or any other response you’re comfortable with. It’s not likely to be a big deal, and any comments probably won’t last longer than a few weeks.

I understand your worry about consistency, but I think you’re probably putting too much weight on it and you’re better off elevating your appearance when you can, even if it’s not all the time. That said, you might make changes with sustainability in mind (for example, if you can pick between a low-maintenance routine and a high-maintenance one, it might make sense to go with the lower-maintenance one for now while you’re getting used to this new you).

More broadly: Sometimes when you’ve been somewhere for a long time and people know you one way, it can be hard to get them to see you differently once you’ve changed, especially when something like a demotion is in the mix. If you keep feeling overlooked and underestimated, it might be that a fresh start somewhere else would change that … and moving on after eight years wouldn’t be an odd choice at all.

3. My boss blames me for not helping a customer on my day off

I work as a cashier at a wholesale club. One day it was my day off so I wasn’t working and came in with my friend to go shopping. A customer came up to me and asked if I worked there and if I knew where the rugs were. I told her that I wasn’t working right now and that I didn’t know where the rugs were but the lady at the podium could help her. I directed her to where the worker was, only 12 feet away. The customer said, “Okay, thank you” and left.

Two days later, my boss tells me that the customer complained about me to three workers and it reached the home office saying how I was unhelpful. My boss told me that it was my fault for not helping her more even though I was off duty and didn’t even know where the rugs were. I think my boss is unfair for taking the customer’s side and I’m afraid that this will be on my record and used as an excuse to not raise my wage. Was I in the wrong? I’m starting to really resent my boss because it’s not the first time he’s taken an unreasonable customer’s side and he has also disrespected me before. I’m considering quitting because of him.

Your boss is being ridiculous, as was that customer. You don’t need to work on your day off and it should be fine to politely direct a customer to the right person for questions.

That said … in retail there is sometimes a thing about this, even though there shouldn’t be. Some customers take “I’m not working right now” as a brush-off from a store employee — they hear it as more like “I’m on a break and I won’t be bothered to answer a question that would take five seconds.” So ideally you would have skipped over that part and just directed her to the person who was on duty. But shouldn’t be a big deal that you didn’t, and a customer who complains to three people about that is a jerk. And your boss could have just said, “Hey, here’s better language to use in the future.”

4. Can I turn down a farewell happy hour from my company?

I’m leaving a small company because the management refuses to respond in any meaningful way to instances of both overt and more subtle sexism and homophobia. My manager has explained that the company will be hosting a farewell happy hour for me, which I do not want. (I do not like most of my coworkers, for the reasons referenced above. I don’t want to waste my energy on being polite to them any longer.) Is it a bad idea for me to tell my manager I would prefer the happy hour be canceled?

You don’t have to have a farewell happy hour. An easy way to address it would be to say, “With the current Covid numbers, I should pass on the happy hour but thanks for suggesting it.” Or you can say your schedule won’t allow it, unless she’ll just try to hold it during the work day. Alternately, it’s okay to say, “I appreciate the thought, but those aren’t my thing and I’d prefer not to have one. I’ll plan to say goodbye to people individually instead.”

{ 707 comments… read them below }

  1. Magenta Sky*

    OP 3: Maybe call HR at corporate and ask for a clarification on how to clock in (on your day off, be clear about that) to help a customer if you happen to be in the store shopping, because you got in trouble for not doing so. (Unlike your manager, you shouldn’t have to explain to HR that it would be *illegal* for you to work off the clock.)

    1. Mortica*

      “I will help you Entitled Customer but I have to go to clock in first. I’ll be a few minutes.” It’s the law!

      1. A Poster Has No Name*

        I was gonna say, LW should ask about procedures for a punch correction for them to get paid for the time helping customers while off the clock.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            Reminding them that they’re chewing you out for not breaking the law often reminds them of what the law is.

            It’s also very informative for the employee, as to the character of their employer.

            1. Emotional Support Care’n*

              Yep. And I can take a wild guess as to which membership-based store this is.

        1. JM60*

          Even then, the problem is that the work for a punch correction is enough such that these types of interactions would usually go unpaid anyways. If it takes 2-3 minutes to show the customer where the item is, but it also takes 2-3 minutes to hunt down a free manager, explain the situation, and convince them to credit time to your timesheet, you’re probably not going to fight to get paid for that 2-3 minutes.

    2. Matt*

      This sounds like a corporate retail store, so I’m doubtful they would take that seriously. Doesn’t matter if it’s “illegal” or not, a customer complained about an employee, employee will always be at fault. My last retail job *cough, old navy, *cough my manager put a no call no show on my record that I couldn’t get off because she mixed my name up with another employee who never came back, even when I was able to prove it with the schedule. I left shortly afterwords and have never looked back.

      1. Lyngend (Canada)*

        Omg. At my last job, HR tried to tell me I couldn’t refuse to do dangerous work (dangerous because it triggered my asthma in a way my inhaler didn’t help sufficiently. if I entered the room in question in order to complete the work required? I’d either have to go to the hospital because I couldn’t breath, pass out and have to go to the hospital, or pass out and end up in the morgue.) because even the R95 masks filtered the air well enough to prevent an asthma attack. The rationale? I was “hired to do everything” like dude, I’m entitled to reasonable accommodation, plus I have the right to refuse unsafe working conditions. I stayed only because I had a new manager who decided not to fight me on this.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Uh… WOW. That sounds like either an OSHA or an ADA violation, or possibly both. I’m glad you stood up for yourself but very worried that someone else at some point wouldn’t have.

          1. Lyngend (Canada)*

            I had no proof this happened (phoned HR) , and because it resolved on its own no right to complain. But yeah the human right training at the company is horrible. And other violations will undoubtedly occur. Because I saw others occur and spoke up when I could. (this includes things like employment standards violations as well). Sadly for most of my time there, the government had basically stripped the ability of employees to fight back against employers. Luckily they were booted out 2 elections ago and the new government is working to undo the damage.
            But also not American so wrong laws involved.

      2. Theothermadeline*

        That’s absurd on HR’s part – I worked in hourly HR and managed timesheets. It’s a click of a button.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Yeah, that feels more like a case of a supervisor who couldn’t make the change in the system herself and didn’t want to admit to the person who could that she made a mistake.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Playing in my head, “Ding Ding Ding, we have a winner.”

            I’ll show myself out now.

      3. Magenta Sky*

        If you get them to say it in writing, it’s amusing to file the complaint with the labor board – after you start your new job.

      4. Burger Bob*

        Eh it might. I also work in a corporate retail store, and sometimes when something is actually illegal like this, submitting it to HR “for clarification” can at least result in the manager being told that they can’t reprimand somebody for not working when not scheduled/clocked in.

      5. Jennifer Juniper*

        I am guessing the customer never complained at all and the boss made the whole thing up.

    3. JSPA*

      I’m curious where the bar for “helping, as a human being” vs “working off the clock” is set, legally speaking.

      I’ve often, as a customer–at any store–read a sign for another customer (eyesight or whatever) or pointed them towards the right general area.

      Writing someone up for not doing this is clearly messed up, but “you can’t legally be helpful unless you’re on the clock” seems unlikely, as well.

        1. Threeve*

          I know when I was hourly, we rounded our time to the nearest 15 minutes. So if you worked for 6 minutes or less, our system would round you to 0.

          1. MBK*

            In any reasonable system, 1-21 minutes would count as 15, and then you’d round to the nearest from there. (IOW, 1-6 gets rounded up; everything else gets rounded to nearest.)

              1. they made me do it*

                In a reasonable system, we wouldn’t be discussing how to give money based on time. It would be based on actual need

                1. Dr Sarah*

                  In the sense that people should get UBI or a properly-run benefit system – basically, any system that means that people who actually *can’t* work, or work enough, or whatever, can still feel confident that they’re going to get their needs met and not suffer penury – yes, completely agree. However, I’m a bit dubious about basing compensation on need rather than on time *overall*, after reading a couple of past posts from people who asked for a fair raise for their work and had their boss treat it as ‘let’s nose into your outgoings with the aim of proving that you don’t really need the money, then use that as an excuse not to give it’.

          2. Magenta Sky*

            That would be illegal in California. (Not rounding, as such, but rounding in such a way that someone who actually worked – for any amount of time – got zero pay.)

            And our labor board keeps a handy supply of crosses and nails.

          3. Chris Christie's Belt*

            In my state cops round up to the nearest 4 hour if they work 15 minutes or more for a detail.

            4:15 = paid for 8 hours

      1. Asenath*

        I don’t think I’d admit I was an employee unless I was on the clock, simply not responding to that part of the question, but I would say that I didn’t know where the rugs were, and point on the nearest staff member on duty (or say where one could be found). Or I’d direct the customer myself if I did know where the rugs were. But I don’t think the customer should have complained about an off-duty employee being, well, off-duty, or that the boss should have reprimanded OP.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I worked at a job where the employees all wore very visible uniforms. The corporate policy was that we were to be friendly and open even on our breaks in the shared food court. After having my breaks constantly hijacked by chatty customers, I started eating in my car, those workers who didn’t have that option hid out back behind the dumpsters.

          1. Roscoe*

            I get that. I worked in a mall back in the day (that says how old I am lol), and it was like “If you are out in the mall and your nametag is visible, you are still representing the store”. I ALWAYS made sure to take off my nametag on breaks because of this.

            1. Texan In Exile*

              When I was working at Macy’s, the second I clocked out for my break, I took off my badge. It doesn’t take too long to learn that lesson! $11/hour was not enough money to work off the clock!

              1. JM60*

                I did that too, but I found that it often wasn’t enough. My company uniform shirt was much more visible then my 3 inch name tag.

                1. JM60*

                  @Kuddel Daddeldu
                  People sometimes used a jacket to cover up, and I think it usually helped. I wasn’t one of them. That being said:
                  A) People shouldn’t need to bring a jacket to work just to avoid getting customers angry at you for not helping. Politely informing someone you’re off-duty should suffice.
                  B) The jacket can only help you on certain trips through the store because it won’t always be available. E.g., you walk into the store with the jacket on before your shift and make your way to the break room, then your store the jacket in the break room. Then you walk across the store floor again to clock in (if your clock in area is in a different part of the store, as was the case in the store I worked at). That’s 2 trips across the store floor, and you only had the jacket on for one.

            2. madge*

              I see your “old/mall” comment and raise you an, “I worked at Merry Go Round”. Same rule, same crazy people asking questions while I’m just trying to get an Orange Julius, and now I need breathing exercises to forget that horrid place.

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                I worked in an awful job at an awful amusement park. One of their more reasonable rules, though, was that any employee in uniform in a customer-accessible area was considered to be on duty since customers can’t tell the difference. To take a break and such we had to either put a coverup on over our uniform shirts or go to an employees-only area of the park.

                Of course, there were so many unreasonable rules we had trouble figuring out which ones should actually be followed. Like the rule against drinking water in uniform (in 90-100 degree weather, standing at a booth with no shade…) which the employee handbook immediately followed with a page about the dangers of heat stroke and importance of hydrating frequently.

          2. Spotted Kitty*

            I used to regularly get stopped by customers when I was trying to run to the bathroom. This was particularly rough if I was on register and had to get the manager to cover so I could go pee. They couldn’t stand on register duty for 15 minutes while I got sidetracked by a customer.

            So I started taking my name tag off and pocketing it, and then headed for the direction of the bathroom looking very confused. Checking between shelves, looking up at the ceiling, and then finally having an “Ah, there it is!” look on my face when I got to the bathroom and pointing at it.

            It never failed. I never got stopped by a customer, even in the dead of winter when I should have been wearing a coat but wasn’t.

          3. Beth II*

            Seems like this was the LWs day off though, so I’m unclear why the customer would even ask if they worked there? I usually don’t go up to random people with their friends and ask why they work there.

            1. lemon*

              I get asked if I work at stores with alarming frequency. Sometimes, they don’t even ask; they just start talking to me as though I’m clearly an employee. This is at places that have uniforms. I am never wearing a uniform or anything close to one (like accidentally wearing a red shirt at Target).

              The only reason I can think of is that I’m a woman of color and there are still a lot of people out there that hold the unconscious bias of “woman of color in store = employee.”

              1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

                I’m as pasty white as it’s possible to be, and for YEARS, I’d get approached in grocery stores nearly every time by people who thought I worked there. Or they’d ask me how to cook something. Or tell me about their brother-in-law. It drove my husband nuts because he’d be waiting patiently farther down the aisle and there I was, trapped by some dingbat. And I don’t even look that approachable! I’ve had chronic RBF my whole life! Thank goodness I’m old enough to look mean instead of competent now. :)

                1. whingedrinking*

                  To this day I maintain that teachers and librarians emit some kind of pheromone. I’m sure it’s scent-based because I’ve been asked questions like “how do I print from this computer” while fully decked out for a punk show complete with facial piercings, black makeup, and combat boots. (A friend of mine said, “You’re a serious-faced woman who speaks well, exudes competence, and wears glasses. Why *wouldn’t* people assume you know everything and would help them?”)

              2. Jennifer Juniper*

                As a white woman, I am always careful not to ask someone for help unless they’re in uniform.

                1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

                  I do the same thing! “Excuse me, do you work here?” is neutral, polite and always gets you the right answer with no awkwardness.

              3. wittyrepartee*

                Heh, and that’s why I always always look to see if someone’s wearing a uniform or badge. Gotta avoid those stereotypes.
                I’ve actually had the opposite happen when I was in a playground babysitting on a weekend while being a white-appearing lady (actually, just very light mixed Latina) in the Bronx (ie. mostly non-white neighborhood). A ton of kids started coming up to me and my friend, and asking us to tell Johnny to share his toys. We walked away and were like “oh, huh, I bet we look like their teachers.” That’s the only explanation I could come up with. Anyway, we did our best to adjudicate fairly?

              4. Mannequin*

                “I get asked if I work at stores with alarming frequency. Sometimes, they don’t even ask; they just start talking to me as though I’m clearly an employee. This is at places that have uniforms. I am never wearing a uniform or anything close to one (like accidentally wearing a red shirt at Target).”

                I’m white, and it happens to me in exactly the same way- people walk up and start asking me where the X is…and I’m standing there covered in tattoos & piercings, in tatterdemalion thrift store clothing, big turquoise hair or long forest green dreadlocks. I don’t even look like I should be *shopping* there, let alone working there, lol!
                A fair number of them are kind grey haired little old ladies too, which I must admit amuses me to no end, as I’m tall enough to tower over them as I point in the direction of the X/a worker who knows where it is.

            2. Sasha*

              People do that though. There’s a whole “lady I don’t work here” section on Reddit about people harassing random shoppers for help in stores.

            3. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yeah, it doesn’t really affect anything in the story but I’m curious whether the customer recognized OP or why else they would have asked. I always so paranoid of accidentally asking someone who doesn’t work there, like to an unreasonable extent. I am still embarrassed about a time when I asked someone for help because they had on a name tag and a walkie talkie, but they were just popping into this store on break from their work at a different job lol.

              (I realize it isn’t as awkward as I’m making it out to be, well at least not if you aren’t a jerk who would go complain about the interaction to three different employees, and they probably forgot about it like an hour later while I’m still thinking about it like two years later lol. But still!)

          4. Beany*

            In this case, it was LW’s day off, so they wouldn’t be wearing any kind of uniform. Which *should* mean they’re very unlikely to be identifiable as an employee; I wonder why the customer asked them for assistance? Or is it such a small community that everyone knew they worked there anyway?

        2. Anonymous4*

          If the customer comes in regularly, that person would be able to recognize long-time employees. “Oh, I know that person, I’ll ask THAT one where the rugs are.”

          But, really, is it so hard to go ask the person at the podium after being told, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to help you”? Spew complaints in all directions about it? People really are getting unreasonable, and it’s just ridiculous. The whole world is not Burger King, and we can’t always, everywhere, and in every situation, get things our way.

          1. Anonym*

            My immediate thought on the customer was “don’t feed the trolls!” Companies shouldn’t reward or validate customers like that. They don’t represent the majority of customers by a long shot, and frankly are the most likely to cause disruption to the overall shopping experience. When I worked in clothing retail, it was always these absurdly entitled folks who held up lines and occupied way too much staff time, causing delays for everyone else. Not to mention the discomfort when they caused a scene. Note the complaint, file it as wildly unreasonable (how dare someone refer me to a staff member who can help me!!) and leave OP alone about it, unless they have a better suggestion for language to gently defuse/redirect, as Alison says.

        3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          That was my go-to when I worked retail and was in the store off the clock. “Gee, I don’t know, but I bet the person at the desk over there can help. Good luck!” It worked unless the customer recognized me which was thankfully rare, but unfortunately was always the kind of creepy guy I tried to avoid on shift. I really don’t miss being young or working in retail

        4. Rose*

          If someone is assuming you’re an employee and asks for help, and you don’t answer but do help them, they’ll still just assume you are an employee.

        5. MapleHill*

          I agree her specific language was problematic. But I don’t even see why you’d need to try to dodge that part of the question. I’d just say, “no I don’t work here, but maybe that person can help you”. It was her day off, so she wasn’t working there that day, so it’s not even a lie.

          The person asked if she worked there, so it’s not like she recognized her (maybe she was wearing the store’s colors or something). I’ve asked people before if they worked somewhere because of what they were wearing and been asked a couple times as well. It happens. Unless it’s a small store, which I assume it’s not since she said wholesale club (like Costco or Sam’s I’m guessing), or they are there daily, it’s unlikely they’ll recognize an employee, so I don’t think saying you don’t work there is an issue.

          Also, why did she get in trouble? She DID help the customer. She would have reacted pretty similarly if she was working, except maybe she would have asked another employee herself about the rugs. But she still showed the customer someone who could help. This customer is just a jerk.

        6. Michaela T*

          They recognize you though. I always took off my name tag and still once exited a bathroom stall to a woman and her child waiting to ask me to help them find something.

      2. feral faerie*

        As someone who’s worked in retail, the issue is that sometimes when you answer one question for someone while off the clock, that person will continue to ask you questions and seek out your help. I think if I was in LW’s shoes and someone was just asking me where to find something, if I knew the answer I’d say “I’m actually not working right now, but rugs are in aisle 5!” in a friendly voice. I don’t think that the LW did anything wrong and it’s really unreasonable for the customer to complain and then for the manager to chastise her.

        1. Anonymous4*

          But LW3 didn’t know where the rugs were. And, being off the clock, going to look for them with the customer would have meant working at her place of business for free — which is against labor laws.

        2. EPLawyer*

          the issue is saying “I’m not working right now.” The customer doesn’t know if you are on break or OFF that day. So they might think you are just blowing them off because you didn’t want to interrupt your break. So do what Alison said and leave that part off. The chance of the customer knowing you are an actual employee — if you never say you are — are slim. So if you just say “sorry I don’t know where the rugs are” or “rugs are on Aisle 5” its all good.

          The complaint wasn’t that someone wouldn’t help them on their day off. The customer DID NOT KNOW it was their day from what was said. Yes, the customer overreacted and the boss REALLY overreacted. But this is easily fixable in the future by not admitting you are an employee when you are there on you day off.

          1. Hekko*

            But isn’t working during a break equally illegal as working unpaid (on your day off)?

            That is, the customer is still unreasonable, even if the employee they complain about is just on a break. They are off the clock; you don’t force them to work. It’s not such a hard concept to understand, unless you’re too entitled to consider anything besides yourself.

            1. HolidayAmoeba*

              There’s “break” and then there’s “lunch”. I always take break to mean a 15 minute break, which is usually on the clock. And I take lunch to mean an unpaid break of 30 mins or more.
              In my experience, employees stay out of sight, out of mind on breaks; since they are still on the clock, they can get in trouble for not helping since they are on the clock. And in my long ago retail experience, if a customer managed to grab you for 10 minutes of your 15, sucks to be you, because you’re not getting that time back since it would throw off everyone else’s breaks/lunches/end of shift.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                Nationally, breaks are not required. (IIRC, and I could be wrong, off the clock lunches aren’t required either.)

                But it depends on where you are. California requires an on the clock break of at least 10 minutes every two hours, and half hour off the clock every four. (More of less. There’s some – surprisingly common sense – rules on timing.) Breaks are *mandatory*, and yes, it’s illegal to work if you’re on your 10 minute break. (Sort of. The employer – but not a customer – can call you in from it if there’s a need, but they have to make up for it afterwards. And you have to take that break.)

          2. Le Sigh*

            I agree about just sidestepping the “do you work here?” question because it’ll probably go over better with the customer. But whether it’s someone’s day off or just their break is immaterial — they’re not on the clock. I’ve had retail employees tell me they’re on break/not on the clock and it’s really not a big deal, I just find someone else.

            1. Rose*

              I agree. If someone is reasonable they’re not going to get mad at a retail employee for taking a break and pointing them to the right person who can help. “You should work on your feet all day with no breaks so that I never have to walk for 30 seconds and repeat a question,” is not a reasonable POV and I don’t think there’s much in the way of clever phrasing that will make those people not suck.

              1. Le Sigh*

                “If someone is reasonable” — is the funniest phrase ever uttered in a conversation about retail.

                1. Le Sigh*

                  Oh I didn’t read it as if Rose hadn’t worked retail, necessarily. Just a goofy joke about the horrors of retail.

            2. Observer*

              Yes, as a PRACTICAL matter, I totally and completely agree that it’s just better to not let people know that you are an employee. But it doesn’t matter if someone is “on break” or “day off”. They should not be expected to work off the clock.

              1. Le Sigh*

                Related: If a cashier turns their light off, don’t get in their line! It means they need to take their break/lunch or clock out for the day, and at some point, they have to cut the line off or they’ll never leave!

            3. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yeah, my first thought is that the OP could say something like “oh, I’m just here shopping but that woman can probably help you.” But then my second thought is this exact same situation comes up all the time when people are just on break rather than on their day off and OP’s wording should absolutely be totally acceptable!

          3. Librarian of SHIELD*

            After 20 years of customer service, I have experienced enough unreasonable customers to know that the ones who will complain to corporate about you not helping them during your break will also complain to corporate about you not helping them on your day off. Changing the wording wouldn’t have helped the situation, because the customer was determined to be entitled and angry and OP’s management was determined not to support them.

            This scenario is exactly why if I need the library on my day off, I use one where I don’t work.

            1. pancakes*

              How would they know you work there unless you tell them, though? People who wear uniforms to work don’t wear them on their days off.

              1. alienor*

                People recognize you after a while if they shop there regularly. My college retail job had two locations, and it wasn’t even safe to go to the one I didn’t work at on my day off, because customers who shopped at both would spot me and ask questions.

              2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                In my case, it’s because we’ve got a really small staff and a lot of regular customers who come in several times a week. And I’m fortunate enough to have reliable transportation and another place to go on my day off that’s easy to get to. Not everyone who works retail/customer service has those options, though, so just shopping somewhere different on your day off isn’t a feasible recommendation for everyone.

              3. Le Sigh*

                There are also customers who just start their sentence with, “Do you work here?” no matter who they’re asking, even if they don’t recognize the person. I’ve been asked it plenty of times at stores that I don’t work at, especially at stores where there’s no clear uniform for employees, just a small nametag or lanyard.

          4. Myrin*

            I mean, it’s completely fine to blow off a customer because you don’t want to (or aren’t allowed to, for that matter) interrupt your break, though? I’m not a native English speaker and I never know if “blow off” carries a connotation of rudenss – if it does, of course don’t be actively rude to a customer! But not wanting to interrupt your break is valid and reasonable.

            1. Rose*

              I strongly agree! People have the right to their breaks, even short breaks. If retail employees aren’t allowed to point to someone on duty and redirect if anyone asks a question, they just don’t get breaks.

              But, blow off does indeed have negative connotations, at least in the US.

            2. Le Sigh*

              I think in this case, “politely decline or redirect” is more of what you’re going for (since yeah, “blow off” is usually viewed in a rude context). But the U.S. also has a nasty strain of the customer-is-always-rightis that runs through retail and many other customer service industries, which leads to situations like the one OP found themselves in. That complaint should never have been taken seriously, but retail isn’t a reasonable place.

          5. Darsynia*

            I’m starting to really be concerned about how many people are implying that ‘not wanting to help while on a break’ is unreasonable. Breaks are short, the employee is entitled to them, and plenty of employers penalize workers who DO help during a break. The attitude that breaks are somehow less valuable to someone because they are spending them (by necessity) at their workplace is frustrating, even if it is the reality as viewed by the customer base. Seeing the sentiment reinforced is I guess my problem here.

            The optics aren’t great, but emphasizing that the customer couldn’t possibly know that OP wasn’t just scheduled that day but on a break is… odd to me, I guess? If they’re not meant to be working, then it’s not rude or disrespectful for them to direct the customer to someone who can help.

            1. LizM*

              Yup, as someone who has a medical need to eat every 2-3 hours, 15 minutes is not a lot of time to walk to the back of the store, grab a snack, use the bathroom, check my phone, etc, and still be back on the floor. A “quick” question often turns into a lot more and it can be really hard to break away from a needy customer. Even if I work in a place that’s okay with me tacking 2-3 min onto the end of my break, that can have a cascading impact on other’s ability to take their breaks if coverage is an issue.

          6. Observer*

            So they might think you are just blowing them off because you didn’t want to interrupt your break.

            So? These are UNPAID breaks. It’s NOT reasonable to expect people to work on unpaid breaks. Anyone who is still unaware how hard these jobs are must have just crawled out from under a rock 5 minutes ago.

            1. shedubba*

              I feel like the issue with at least some of these entitled customers is that they believe the employee is lying about being on break because they’re lazy and don’t want to help. “Oh no, of course retail employees should have legally mandated breaks, but only lazy people work retail (except for my nephew/granddaughter/ neighbor’s kid etc.), so of course I assumed the employee was lying when they said they couldn’t help me, and they only said that they were on break because I can’t argue with that excuse.” This is a load of garbage, of course, but it doesn’t stop these people from believing it.

              1. whingedrinking*

                In a lot of cases they either don’t understand or don’t care why a fifteen-minute break would matter so much to an employee because they’ve never worked that kind of job. Definitely with some kinds of work, if someone said, “Hey, can I have five minutes of your time?”, it *would* be rude and unreasonable to say, “No, you have to wait until I’m done drinking my coffee or ask someone else”. You’d just say, “Sure!” and finish your coffee or go to the bathroom or whatever a few minutes later. Most reasonable places where I’ve worked have scheduled breaks; in some cases I had to wait for my supervisor to say “Go take one now”, but in no customer-facing role was I ever permitted to just decide on my own. Explaining this to friends who turned up and said, “Hey, let’s go get lunch!” was sometimes a pain.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I had a friend in college who would answer, “Apologies, but it’s my twin who works here not me. But that employee standing at “location” should be able to help you with what you need” if they ended up in the store and were stopped on their day off by a customer.
          They only deployed this if they had no clue, couldn’t quickly explain where to find what someone was looking for. A quick answer question got you “I think that’s on aisle blah” answer.

          (No, they didn’t have a twin sibling.)

      3. HoHumDrum*

        A customer volunteering to help another customer is kindliness.

        An employee feeling pressured to help a fellow customer when they are off the clock is wage theft.

        When I worked retail and was shopping at my store on my off hours I absolutely was less inclined to help people find stuff than I am now as just a full customer. It’s a different feeling to end up “volunteering” to do your own paid job. If stores would like that to be different they could pay better- I don’t mind doing extra work for my current job because most importantly I’m salaried so that’s just how it works and also because they respect me. Didn’t get any of that at my retail job.

        1. Le Sigh*

          And especially when it comes to breaks, it’s really easy for your entire break to vanish by just “quickly” helping a few customers. I never got more than 15 to 30 minutes tops for my breaks and all it it took was helping 1-2 customers here or there, off the clock, to suddenly have lost half of my downtime to unpaid work. I would barely get time to eat, let alone decompress for a few minutes. (And no, managers aren’t going to give you extra break time to make up for it, in my experience.)

          1. HoHumDrum*

            My favorite retail move is to give you really short breaks and also make sure that the break room is located in the most out of the way place possible. Bonus points for when the bathrooms and the break room are at opposite ends of the store. 15 min break disappears instantly when it takes 5+ minutes to get from your work location to the break room, then another 5+ minutes to run to the bathroom, and the additional 5+ minutes eaten up by customers asking questions. It’s easy to just work through your breaks then because honestly it’s easier and less disappointing than actually trying to use them.

            1. LizM*

              Especially if you’re expected to help customers during your 5 min dash from the break room to the bathroom.

        2. GreenDoor*

          HoHumDrum is so right. I worked retail in a shop geared toward a specific hobby. I was shopping with a friend on my off day and explaining to her how to use a product for a particular technique. A customer overheard and starting asking me technical questions. And when I said, “I’m sorry, I’m off duty today, just shopping with my friend, but you can ask S at the counter” she got all huffy and whined, “But you work here!!” (She was a regular and recognized me). I actually called over to S and fortunately she was free to help the customer. But yea…the entitlement of regulars is crazy. I mean, I have no problem teaching customers ON THE CLOCK, but no, I’m not giving hobby lessons on my free time.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          At OldExjob, I took my breaks in the break room away from the front desk just to get away from it but also so anyone who came in the front door wouldn’t assume I was working. That didn’t stop my coworkers from coming all the way into the break room and asking me for shit. I would very nicely say, “Shoot me a quick email and I’ll get to it after my lunch.” The sales dudes would actually get MAD at me for this. My dude, I am eating actual food, with my personal laptop open in front of me, and literally OFF THE CLOCK. I am not getting up to find you a blue highlighter or send a package right now.

      4. pugsnbourbon*

        I have what I call “helpful Midwestern face.” I am often asked for assistance at stores where I do not nor have ever worked. I could be in shorts and a tank top, very clearly not an employee, and it still happens. Some people are tall, some people have green eyes, and some people just look like they know where the cleaning aisle is.

        1. 2 Cents*

          That’s me too! I’m stopped in stores or on the street for directions. Scarily, though, I usually know the answer lol

          1. alienor*

            I have an “ask me for directions” face too. It doesn’t matter if I’m in another city or even another country, someone will stop me on the street and ask if I know where X is. The irony is that I don’t have a great sense of direction and am probably one wrong turn away from being lost myself at any given moment.

            1. Empress Matilda*

              Same. My favourite was when somebody asked me for directions in King Cross/ St Pancras station in London, where I was looking at a map and probably as confused as I’ve ever been in my life. The look on his face when I said “sorry, I don’t know” – in my Canadian accent – was very amusing!

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I was so proud of myself when I was asked to help someone read the transfer map in the Tube station and I was able to do it. That was the same day I came out of the Warren Street station, looked at the sky, and pulled out my umbrella ten seconds before it started raining. I felt like a real Londoner, haha.

              2. Ace in the Hole*

                I had this happen to me twice while I was visiting Germany and once in Lithuania. In all three cases they were asking me in the local language. Not only was I a tourist, but I speak neither German nor Lithuanian… apparently I just look at home everywhere!

            2. Phoenix Wright*

              Something similar happened to me on my first day of vacation in the US a few years ago. I was aimlessly walking through NYC when someone asked me how to get to some address. It took all I had not to laugh and reply “Dude, I just landed 2 hours ago; you probably know this city better than me.”

              A week later someone stopped me again to ask how to reach Times Square via subway, and this time I was able to tell them the (hopefully) right combination to get there. What’s funny is that I always get lost in my own hometown, so I’m usually the wrong person to ask for directions.

        2. ThumbTwittler*

          My partner and I popped into a community college in Boston to find a bathroom. There was some sort of event going on but we didn’t know what. I sat down at an empty table in the lobby to wait for my partner and had several people come up to me and ask me random questions about the event, locations etc. I just said I didn’t know. They walked away looking puzzled or disgusted. You guessed it, it turned out I was sitting under a giant banner that said “INFORMATION”

          1. Roy G. Biv*

            I used to have that, as well, but age and gray hair have rendered me “invisible” in many circumstances. I’m sure that will be its own problem as I continue to age, but for now I am enjoying being invisible.

        3. Texan In Exile*

          I have “Sit by me on this Southwest Airlines flight” face.

          I try very hard not to make eye contact during boarding now.

        4. NotAnotherManager!*

          My spouse is very tall and generally very friendly-looking. He is a magnet for shorter folks at stores who need something off the top shelf. If he makes it through a grocery or Target run without someone asking him to grab something they can’t reach, that’s unusual. Grandmother-aged women love chatting him up, too.

          1. L'étrangere*

            I am a grandmother aged woman, trained from childhood by my short mother to get stuff off top shelves. I can’t tell you how often I perform this service for actual grandmothers. They don’t really have to ask, just stand there looking helplessly at the top shelf, and I’ll drift over and get it for them. Don’t want anyone breaking a hip climbing on the shelves trying to get their favorite yogurt..

        5. I take tea*

          I used to work as a tourist guide and never got out of the habit of looking at people on the street. I’m asked for help a lot. I don’t mind, as long as it’s my own town, but it’s a bit embarrassing when somewhere else and I don’t have a clue.

          1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            Happened to me several times on a three-week business trip to Shanghai. The only advantage I had over any other Westerner unable to read Chinese was that I had working Google Maps on my phone – Google apps don’t work on Chinese mobile networks but I had, geek that I am, a VPN tunnel to my home server prepared. So my probably slightly-less-confused-than-the-average-traveler aura worked like a magnet.

        6. Magenta Sky*

          I don’t have a particularly helpful face, but I’ve been in retail for far too many years to admit, and have a fairly instinctual understanding of who nearly all stores are laid out, and I’m not much of a window shopper. So I walk purposefully to where I know the stuff I want will be, and that often leads people to assume I do, in fact, work there.

          Then there was the time I went to a competitor to buy some stuff we didn’t carry. (I work for a national hardware chain whose color is red, and went to a national home center chain whose color is orange). Mind you, I was wearing my work vest – bright red – the whole time, and had several people ask me where stuff was. One guy even acknowledged that I didn’t work there, but figured – based on where I obviously *did* work – that I’d be more help than the employees (customer service is our niche). And he was right. (The Orange Suck’s stores are all laid out exactly the same. If you’ve been in one, you’ve been in them all.)

        7. STG*

          These are examples of instances where I’m glad I’m interpreted as having an intimidating face. Strangers rarely talk to me in any situation. Works for me!

        8. Princess Hylia*

          I’ve gotten my job threatened at places I’ve never worked. Not only have I never worked at Safeway, I’ve nearly been fired from it! The dress code violation alone should have been sufficient.

          1. whingedrinking*

            I was once asked for help in a Safeway while I was wearing cycling shorts and a t-shirt that said Vehicle of the Revolution. Also carrying a bike helmet and pannier bag and drinking an iced coffee. I’d biked about fifty kilometres that day and looked it (probably smelled it, too). There was a guy in an apron about ten feet away when it happened, and when I tried to redirect the customer to him, I got yelled at. To this day I am baffled.

        9. COHikerGirl*

          I have this face! I was working at a store with red polo shirts (not Target) and went to a grocery store where they wear blue on my lunch break sometimes. Despite the obvious difference (also different pant colors), I would get asked where things were. Since I knew the store, I usually was able to help, but would always say “I don’t work here but…”. And in various retail stores in normal clothes (t-shirts, shorts, jeans, nothing close to the color of the store), I get asked things. I think us retail people hold ourselves differently and people notice that. Because after I say “I don’t work here”, then it dawns on them I’m not wearing the right clothes!

          I sometimes would feel a bit like Sheldon in an episode of The Big Bang Theory where he is answering technical questions…(just watched that episode).

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I haven’t worked retail in 30+ years…and it just happened to me again. This timeI figure it’s because I had a clipboard….of course that was my notes on my project but the other shopper didn’t know.

        10. Kikishua*

          I’m still both proud and gobsmacked that I was able to say “deuxieme rue a gauche” once in Paris when someone French asked me the way. I am not French, and can only manage a few words. But I have That Face. People are always talking to me in shops (including “which looks better, the blue or the green?”). It’s genetic – happens to my mum too!

      5. Zephy*

        “Excuse me, do you work here? Do you know where the rugs are?”
        “No, sorry, but the lady at the podium over there can probably help you. Have a nice day!”

        Simple as that.

        1. MsClaw*

          Yeah, the crux of the problem here is identifying yourself as an employee and then not helping. That may not be fair, but it’s so.

          1. Aggretsuko*

            As others pointed out, maybe the OP was recognized as an employee from previous experience even though they weren’t working and presumably weren’t in uniform.
            But yeah, unfortunately saying you’re not working today is probably where things went wrong. I find it awkward enough at work to say “I’m on a break” if I stay in the office and then someone comes up with a question. I have to leave or lock the door to prevent that.

          2. Observer*

            Uh, no. The heart of the problem is that the customer doesn’t like the idea that someone is allowed to be off, and store management thinks that this is ok.

            As a practical matter, the OP should not acknowledge that they work there if they are not identifiable. But the fact that this is necessary is what the actual problem is.

      6. Snapell*

        I used to work in food service management, and I used to get accosted all the time in public – not even at my place of work. I’d be in the grocery store with my two cranky toddlers trying to buy chicken, and I’d get recognized and immediately thrown into a diatribe of complaints about something that happened at work. And I never quite knew how to handle it because no, I’m not getting paid to care at the moment, but the optics of how I represented my company at all times was very much a concern. I always gently advised them that I could better help them when I was at work, and to reach out at whatever time I expected to be there next.

      7. Not So NewReader*

        The rules change if you are an employee. That human component goes away. Customers never report other customers and customers never get written up. It’s happening because OP works there. This is actually a fairly normal story for retail.

        OP, one rule of surviving retail is not to go in there on your day off, for this very reason. Indeed some retailers around here don’t let their employees come in on days off.

        1. Rose*

          This just doesn’t work in a lot of places. A lot of smaller towns/more rural places have one grocery store, one hardware store, etc and it could be 30 min or over an hour until you find the next one.

          1. LunaLena*

            Yeah, when I lived in a small town we had exactly one Target, one Walmart, and one Sam’s Club. And it was in a remote enough area that it was considered the shopping district for miles around (residents from even smaller towns in the area drove in to stock up on supplies). Finding another one would be a 40-60 minute drive.

        2. MizShrew*

          This was my thought. I wouldn’t go in on my day off on a bet. Because retail work is hard enough without people hassling you on your day off. And some customers actually LOVE having something, anything to complain about. They get extra attention, they get to feel “right,” they bask in their smug indignation.

          I am so, so, so glad I no longer work retail.

        3. Magenta Sky*

          That sounds like a great way to deny them their employee discount.

          No, the *rules* don’t change, only the expectations.

      8. JB (not in Houston)*

        I am not an employment lawyer so I don’t know where the line is, but I think the line should be where the employee gets in trouble as an employee for not helping out a fellow customer. If you are getting in trouble with your employer for not performing correctly something that they’ve decided to treat as your job, then you should be treated as an employee for that time and get paid for it. I don’t mean like when an employer fires you for doing something awful in your free time. I mean like in this case when the manager is blaming the OP for not *performing her job* for a customer.

      9. Chirpy*

        I have in the past (at better office jobs) been told it’s illegal to work for free. As a retail worker, I don’t get paid enough as it is, I can’t afford to work for free, and I’ve even had customers at other stores near the one I work at hound me for help (and not take “I don’t work here” for an answer) even when I’m wearing a jacket and large purse over my work clothes because on some level they probably recognize me from the area. I’ve had customers stop me for extensive questions on the way out the door (coat room is on the opposite side from the time clock) or in the parking lot before we even opened, so I now try very hard to avoid people because these often aren’t quick questions and you wouldn’t ask a doctor or banker for a quick consult in the middle of their shopping (I hope).

        1. Spotted Kitty*

          I used to work at a big bookstore and one of my coworkers got stopped one day on her way out, in her winter coat and with her purse and everything. She helped the customer, but then asked how the customer knew she worked there. The customer replied, “Oh, all you booksellers look the same.”

      10. Burger Bob*

        It’s not that it’s illegal to be helpful so much as that it’s illegal to *require* employees to be helpful when off the clock. At that point, they are just another customer, and no customer is obligated to assist a fellow customer unless they independently feel like doing so out of the goodness of their heart.

      11. SnappinTerrapin*

        For future reference, LW, instead of telling the other customer you’re off-duty, it might help to say, “”Actually, I’m here shopping, too. If you’ll ask one of those workers over there with the name tags, I’m sure they’ll be glad to help.”

        For some reason, I’m frequently asked for assistance in stores I’ve never worked for. Maybe I look helpful, I dunno. If I know the answer to their question off the top of the head, I’ll answer it, but I do correct the misunderstanding about my employment status. I don’t want some employee getting chewed out for not holding the hand of a customer they never even encountered.

    4. JM60*

      Email, rather than call. And BCC your personal email address if you’re using a company-provided email address. Create a written record.

    5. I should really pick a name*

      It seems easier to just not tell the customer that you’re an employee.
      “Do you work here.”
      “The lady at the podium should be able to help you”

      1. BethDH*

        Or answer the question she should have been asking. “Just shopping, and sorry, don’t know where the rugs are.” You are a customer now, and your overall employment status there is not relevant.

      2. HoHumDrum*

        I wonder if the customer just recognized the LW. It didn’t sound like the LW said she worked there so much as the customer already knew. If the customer is a regular she wouldn’t need a uniform or a confirmation to know.

        1. Sloanicote*

          This was my exact question on this letter. How the heck did the lady clock OP as an employee anyway. Maybe it’s true the customer recognized her from past trips (kinda weird and also makes the multiple complaints extra d*ckish I think).

          1. Anononon*

            For whatever reason, some people just have that “look” or face. When he was younger, my dad used to constantly get asked if he worked at a place. Sometimes even by employees there (he’s been asked to sign off on stuff).

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I don’t remember if assuming a customer is an employee was a bit on Superstore, but if not, it should have been.

          2. Insert Clever Name Here*

            I don’t think it’s odd to recognize an employee at a store you frequent — there’s one store I visit multiple times a week, and I’ve gotten to where I can recognize many of the employees who are there regularly. I’ve even noticed one obviously on a day off (and not wearing a red shirt and khakis) shopping there. But it would have been 1000% odd and rude to complain that they didn’t help me find the rugs.

          3. Lily Rowan*

            Honestly, I’ve been asked if I worked at a given store while I was shopping with my coat on, with headphones in.

            1. Aerie*

              I used to have a gorgeous red coat. I would get asked ALL THE TIME at Target for help finding something. Like people just saw red and assumed, even though I was dressed for winter weather, that I must be an employee.

              I stopped wearing that coat to the store.

                1. JSPA*

                  Red at the red place, orange at the orange place and blue at the blue alternative to orange are neck and neck. Maybe because the people working there are indeed helpful?

                2. Phony Genius*

                  Maybe stores need to go back to using uniforms that don’t look like regular clothes. Anybody else remember the orange and white striped Toys Я Us shirts?

                3. Thunderingly*

                  As a child, I went to a summer camp where we were allowed to go to the nearby shopping center (including a Target) when there weren’t classes. We were also told to always wear our red name badges. We learned pretty quickly to take those off when going to Target!

          4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Said this above, one of my friends in college would say “Apologies, it’s actually my twin that is the employee. Sorry I don’t know where blah is” for in the store as a customer on my day off shopping interruptions. It seemed to work well for them, and they never reported getting in trouble for it.

          5. I edit everything*

            Not weird at all if she’s a regular. I recognize most of the employees at my regular grocery store, where I shop once every couple of weeks, more or less.

          6. Dahlia*

            Y’all really need to stop assuming everyone lives in a city. We have two grocery stores. Of course I recognize the person who’s working every single time I go to one. I also probably know like 7 members of their family.

            1. pancakes*

              I don’t think that is a common assumption here. Either way, the question isn’t whether it’s likely for customers to recognize the workers in shops they visit regularly but why they would assume they’re never off duty.

            2. Loulou*

              There’s such a wide spectrum between “city” and “two grocery stores, I know everyone in town!” and it’s statistically a pretty safe assumption that most people are closer to the former, though…

              1. Dahlia*

                I disagree that’s a safe assumption, but even if you live in a city, is it REALLY weird to recognize people at places you go regularly? To the point of acting like people are acting like it’s borderline creepy to… recognize people???

                1. Loulou*

                  It’s absolutely a safe assumption — the majority of people in the US live in urban areas and I strongly suspect a greater-than-representative portion of people here do too. But I also did not say it’s weird to recognize people you see every day at the store, so maybe I’m just not understanding what point you were making with “not everyone lives in a city.”

            3. HoHumDrum*

              Yeah, I wondered if LW was from a small town, but then I figured it didn’t matter really because I live in a huge city but still go to the same grocery store enough to recognize the employees there. Most grocery stores in the city are small, not that many employees to get lost between. And most people go to a grocery store within walking distance.

              It was when I lived in the suburbs where I had no idea who worked at the stores I visited- big box stores with 100s of employees, and since I was driving everywhere anyways I would go wherever had deals even if that store was farther away.

          7. DivineMissL*

            The OP indicated that they were only 12′ from the customer service podium, so my guess is they were maybe chatting with the co-workers who were on duty/being friendly with them while shopping; and gave off the vibe of being one of the workers. So I don’t fault the customer for asking if they worked there, it may have appeared that way from the body language/conversation. That would explain why OP responded that they weren’t working. The customer may have been confused, and a little embarrassed, which might have caused them to get flustered and complain to management.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Oh I get asked where stuff is ALL the time in stores. I have never worked retail in my life (could not hack it, I know I couldn’t). So it is probably more a case of one customer seeing someone nearby who looked like they knew how to navigate warehouse store and asking them.

          Remember the joke: I wore a red shirt today to Target. Long story short, I am covering for Susan on Saturday.

          1. pugsnbourbon*

            Oh nesting fail – I tried to post here about having the same issue! I also get recognized at places I’ve never been – like states away from my home.

          2. Sloanicote*

            Certainly some people have “resting helpful face” – and so do I – but nobody has ever complained when I say, “sorry, I don’t work here and I don’t know where the rugs are, but that lady can help you.” This woman apparently knew OP was an employee because she complained to OP’s manager. Others are saying they would recognize employees of stores even if they had changed clothes (??) so I suppose I am just that un-observant.

            1. Dweali*

              Pretty common for entitled people to complain on someone they presume is staff regardless of if they are or not. I’m never sure which way is funnier, when the manager and entitled person go to the presumed employee and said person gets “fired” or when they manager confirms that the person does not actually work there.

    6. Dotty*

      It’s the “I’m not working right now” that leads to these complaints. I’m not saying that customers should make these complaints – but they do, and with enough dependability that some retail chains don’t allow their employees to shop in the location where they work on their days off.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        The solution isn’t to put an extra burden on workers to find a different store to shop at on their day off. The solution is that when you’re the manager and an unreasonable customer calls to complain because one of your employees wasn’t working on their day off, you say “I’m sorry you were inconvenienced, but it was that employee’s day off and we don’t permit our employees to work when they’re off the clock.”

        OP did ZERO things wrong in this interaction. All the wrong things were done by the customer and the manager.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          This. I’m so mad on behalf of OP. And she *did* help the customer! She told the customer exactly where to go to find the information that she needed, information that OP did not have.

          1. Rose*

            Right?? She didn’t even know where the rugs were, so this complaint basically boils down to “she should have led me randomly walking around the store in search of the rugs as an act of submission.” The only additional step she could really take was walking the 12 feet with her.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Right. And reality is that none of these wrongs are going to be corrected any time soon. This means telling OP not to shop on days off is solid advice.

          Retail is all about catering to the customer. One store I worked at would get complaints about dogs left in hot cars. Nothing was done because they did not want to lose the business of the hot car owner. I assumed they would also leave a baby in a hot car. These places can feel like evil lives within. Night shift had problems with SH even rape. Nothing was done. Evil, I tell ya.

          1. Observer*

            Retail is all about catering to the customer.

            There is a limit to everything, though. An employer who allows the kind of stuff you mention is not just “feels evil”, the ARE evil.

            And not every retailer will allow that.

          2. HoHumDrum*

            I know someone who was punched in the face by a customer for asking her to wear a mask in the summer of 2020. Employee’s entire job was to stand at the door to greet and ensure masks were worn. Employee’s manger made him apologize to the customer and refused to call the cops regarding the assault. Employee quit that day.

            Funny how that store is still struggling to be fully staffed, almost like having a policy of “our customers have the right to whatever reality they desire, including assaulting staff” is not actually good business…

          3. CorruptedbyCoffee*

            To me, this feels a little like telling sexual assault victims not to walk alone at night. It’s not always practical, it normalizes the behavior, and puts the responsibility on the wronged party.

    7. Richard Hershberger*

      Back in my retail days some three decades back working for Walmart, I quickly learned to never go into the store when not on the clock. Customers were the least of it. Managers would spot me and try to assign me tasks. The decision to not shop there was made easier by my loathing of the entire institution. It was years after I left before I would set foot in one, and I still only go for the sorts of thing it is better for than is Target. I suspect that had I worked for Target I would hate them just as much, but I didn’t so I don’t. And Target is less prone to cluttering the aisles with pallets of crap.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        I had a friend who worked at Target in college and he would never voluntarily set foot in the store he worked at while off the clock. But he was considered the weird one among his coworkers, because several of them would come in to socialize with each other on their days off. I guess they couldn’t figure out a way to hang out socially with their work friends other than going into work. Then again, even then it was getting harder to find places you could be without the expectation of spending money and college students working retail part-time aren’t exactly known for having a large amount of disposable income.

      2. HolidayAmoeba*

        I worked at both and while I loathe Wal-Mart with a deep seated passion, I love me some Target. I joke that I stopped working there because I couldn’t afford to keep seeing stuff I could buy with my employee discount.
        Seriously though, when worked for Wal-Mart, it was just pure exploitation. Not to mention it was definitely about who you knew. I saw a guy who was NCNS for a week (turns out he was in jail) get promoted to manager, while other employees who worked like dogs get passed over. Managers messing with employee hours, singling out people for write ups and punishment and all sorts of nonsense. The day I was fired (for what was eventually proven to be a false claim) I was singing in the car on the way home, I had never been so happy to not have to go back to a place.
        I also learned a lot about toxic workplaces, though retail is its own special circle of hell.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Walmart’s big growth phase was the 1970s into the 1980s. Its secret sauce was early adoption of computerized inventory management. When I worked there c. 1990 there were computers in the back where employees could check inventory, and they were using hand-held scanners for ordering before other stores were. Those were fairly straightforward by 1990. The bit of tech that impressed me was that each store had a satellite dish for a daily data exchange with the home office in Bentonville. They were doing that when it was barely past the crazy sci-fi stage. The result was that Walmart’s internal costs were lower than the competition’s and so it could undercut the competition while still turning a profit.

          But by 1990 the competition, meaning Target, had pretty much caught up on the tech stuff. (K-Mart never did, which is why it isn’t either’s competition anymore.) Walmart had to find cost savings somewhere else, if it was going to keep on having the lowest prices.

          One response was to reduce payments to suppliers. They quietly dropped their proud “made in America” campaign and switched to cheaper imports. They also put the squeeze on existing suppliers. Often Walmart was such a big customer that it could dictate terms. The result is that otherwise reputable brands started manufacturing cheap knock-offs of their own products, expressly for Walmart. This is why I don’t buy anything with moving parts there.

          The other response was to lower labor costs by severely restricting the store-level budgets. Where Walmart had previously prided itself on being clean with fully stocked aisles, this is long past. This is where the hourly employees started really being exploited. The home office maintained pious platitudes, but set policies forcing store-level management exploit its workers to the fullest extent possible.

          I worked there at a weird, transitional period. People whom I trusted told me that Walmart had been a great employer just a few years earlier, and I think a lot of people higher up had not yet figured out that this was no longer true. Sam Walton, at that time just recently deceased, had written a book that was strongly encouraged reading. I found striking the disconnect between what Walton wrote and what I experienced. I saw a lot of cognitive dissonance around me. Those who had noticed the change attributed it to Sam Walton’s being gone. I favor the systemic issues described above, which would have happened regardless of Mr. Sam’s metabolic state.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            “but set policies forcing store-level management exploit its workers to the fullest extent possible”
            Along with training store managers on how to do it in ways that couldn’t be pinned on executive management in a court of law.

        2. Anon for this*

          I joke that Target’s “theme” is “Here are fun discount items arranged delightfully for your shopping pleasure!” and Walmart’s “theme” is “Nobody wants to be here, so here’s heap of cheap crap.”

      3. HoHumDrum*

        Walmart is particularly bad for that. An employment lawyer in my family has gotten so many cases from that store alone. One involved an employee being kept hours after closing because her manger kept asking her to “just quickly finish one more thing” before the manger would unlock the door to let her go home. Absolutely foul place.

    8. RetailInducedTrauma*

      I worked retail back in the day and everyone lived in fear of a customer calling corporate. I once saw a manager open up the safe and give a customer cash to try to resolve a complaint.

    9. DoggoMom*

      HR should pay attention though because plenty of big retailers have gotten into trouble for insisting employees work off the clock. Being reprimanded for not assisting customers on your day off should be a huge deal to HR even if it’s just because they know that’s a huge problem for the company. Irritated customer is not nearly as bad as record of violating labor laws.

    1. jm*

      my theory is if she’s a regular customer who often shops around the same time, she might recognize the cashiers she’s used to seeing.

          1. allathian*

            Yup. When I worked retail, my store managers and shift supervisors were reasonable about this. I was sometimes allowed to do my own shopping on the clock, with my uniform on, because they knew that I’d look at the dates and make a note if something needed to be sold at a discount because it was nearing its sell-by date, or if there was a broken package that needed to be removed from the shelves, etc. Granted, it was a small store (less than 5,00o square feet), and I never shopped on the clock if it was busy, and I’d stop shopping and help customers who needed my help, because that’s what I got paid to do.

            I’m fairly bad with faces, though, so even if I shop somewhere regularly enough to recognize some employees, I’m extremely unlikely to recognize them if I see them out in the street or in a bar. I might think they look familiar from somewhere, but that’s all. I’m not face blind, though, because I do identify people I know well by their faces, but I “know” a cashier at a store primarily as a store employee, and I identify them by their uniforms rather than their faces. I do recognize their humanity in the sense that I’ll never treat any employee badly intentionally, and if I have a complaint about a product or service, I’m not going to get angry at the employee who doesn’t set policy if they can’t help me.

            1. whingedrinking*

              I currently work part-time at an extremely large and busy liquor store, and while we have lots of regular customers, you have to have some kind of very distinguishing feature *and* come in at least a couple times a week for me to remember you. And when I say “very distinguishing feature”, I mean that you’ll have to do better than being 6’8″ or having purple hair, because we’ve got a few folk like that.
              A lot of people seem vaguely hurt that I don’t remember them from one day to the next, even if we had a nice conversation. I want to be like, “I’m sorry, but I deal with literally hundreds of people a day. Try bringing in a dog, I always remember dogs.”

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

          Doesn’t always work that way. Worked at my small town grocery store. Everyone knew you worked there and regardless if you were in (very obvious uniform) or not you would be asked to help. Couldn’t shop anywhere else as were the only grocery store for a 30 mile radius. Even the gas station didn’t have anything more that soda and snacks.

        2. JSPA*

          Easier if you live where there are multiple branches of the same store. And they’re good about trusting the employee ID and honoring the discount for each other’s employees. (Sadly, not always so.)

        3. boop the first*

          I give such a wide berth to every workplace because I have this irrational fear that if my bosses catch me not working, they’ll make me work! LOL

      1. tamarack & fireweed*

        Also, some customers *always* preface a request for help with “do you work here?” I’ve been asked multiple times even though I don’t think I particularly look as if I worked there – my thought is that people latch on to someone who looks like they could be helpful.

        The OP should feel free to answer the question, when asked on a day off, with “I’m just a shopper” or even “No, just shopping.”

        1. John Smith*

          Not always! I was shopping in a supermarket when an entitled customer approached me and demanded to know where such a thing was. As she was so rude, I just said “no idea” and walked off. A few minutes later, I heard her say from a short distance “That’s him, there. He should be sacked!”. She had obviously complained to the manager about my behaviour and strung him along in her hunt for me. I will never forget the smirks on other peoples’ faces when the manager informed her that I wasn’t an employee there and there was nothing he could do. Despite that, she continued to insist something be done about me. Schadenfreude is not a particular feeling I indulge in, but I did that day.

          1. tamarack & fireweed*

            Well, I was referring to the answer to the question “do you work here” not to “do you know where the ketchup is”.

            If someone actually works there on days they are not off they should probably never been brusque even to a rude customer. Which the OP wasn’t! The OP did everything and more than could be expected from a non- or off-duty employee. The manager was an ass.

            1. Bowserkitty*

              I think John Smith was saying customers don’t always ask “do you work here”, in his instance especially.

          2. Deejay*

            The website notalwaysright.com has a title for stories like this: I Don’t Work Here Does Not Work Here.

            The last numbered one of these is 42. And that’s not counting non-numbered variants like “Christmas Edition” and “The Early Years”.

            1. Kicking-k*

              I can well believe it. I have been mistaken for an employee many times, always in health-food stores. I guess I do look slightly granola-girl-ish. My personal prize goes to the person who thought I might work there even though I had an infant in a stroller with me.

              I never mind telling people if I do know where things are, but then I genuinely don’t work there.

            2. I edit everything*

              The one about the businessman and the young woman in the electronics section going at each other was stellar!

          3. Café au Lait*

            I’ve had that happen before. I was shopping while wearing the colors (khaki pants, red polo) of a local chain grocery. (Not Target). A guy approached me rather aggressively with a question. I have a policy of ignoring dudes who feel entitled to my time and space, so I walked off without looking at him.

            Later I walked past the front desk and I see the guy speaking with a manager. Then I hear “Sir, she’s not an employee of our store.”

          4. JKateM*

            I was at the mall once around Christmas, just after I got off work. I often dress in holiday colors that time of year so I was wearing a red sweater, black pencil skirt with black tights, black heels. Someone kept trying to talk to me but I kept ignoring them because I was busy shopping. Eventually they rudely got my attention and askes why I was in this store instead of over with Santa? I was like, because I’m shopping in this store? She seemed confused and tried to insist I worked for the pictures with Santa booth (which wasn’t even open). I just went back to ignoring her. Fortunately she didn’t try to get me fired!But it was weird.

          5. chewingle*

            This happened to me, too!! It’s AMAZING how rude some customers are. And I was shopping in a grocery store that has a very distinct work uniform…which my outfit was nowhere close to matching.

        2. Mockingjay*

          I got asked twice for assistance while shopping in Walmart before Christmas. I was wearing a plain, bright blue outdoor vest, which doesn’t even remotely look like the employee loose, dark blue or yellow vests emblazoned by the big Walmart ‘flower’ logo.

          The next visit I wore a purple outdoor vest (my preferred winter attire). Still got asked. If I ever apply for a job there, I’ll point to the experience I’ve already gained.

          1. DoggoMom*

            I’ve been asked to assist people so many times while at Walmart. Only twice did the other person tell me they were going to have me fired. Once was kind of my own fault. I was sent there by the restaurant where I worked to buy something they needed. Not that the restraint uniform looked anything like a Walmart vest, but I had a name tag on. The second time I was in regular clothes, dressed in all black. Nothing remotely Walmart-ish and no name tag. The woman told me she was going to have me fired because I didn’t know where to find what she wanted. I told her “ok” and kept shopping. I imagine some supervisor told her they’d fire the woman in black leggings and the black hoodie with skulls just to make her shut up, lol. I have opted to leave my possible shameful dismissal from a job I didn’t have off my resume.

            1. Anonymous4*

              “I have opted to leave my possible shameful dismissal from a job I didn’t have off my resume.”

              *coffee spray *

        3. Chirpy*

          I get asked “do you work here” as a means of prefacing a question all the time. No, I’m just wearing the uniform, a radio, scanner, nametag, and standing on an employee only ladder to stock things off a pallet for fun…..?

          1. sb51*

            I do it all the time, though in the most obviously “works here and is actively working at this time” cases I might go with “Excuse me, do you have a moment?”.

            Because I want to get their attention and get them looking towards me, so that I can hear their answer clearly, because otherwise I’m likely to have to ask them to repeat themselves. Plus I was raised it’s rude to lead with a direct question without some sort of answer/response formula, even if it’s just “hi” “hi”.

            1. Chirpy*

              I just wish people would ask something along the lines of “Excuse me, do you have a moment?” Or “can you help me with something?” Because honestly half the time they either stare awkwardly from half an aisle (or more) away and hope I notice and read their mind that they have a question, or start talking without making eye contact or even looking in my direction, so it’s hard to tell they aren’t on a Bluetooth.
              I’ve also had someone come up behind me and ram my ladder with their cart to get my attention.

            2. Chirpy*

              I wish people would ask something like “do you have a moment/ can you help me ” instead of just standing half an aisle or more away staring at me hoping I’ll notice and read their mind that they have a question, start talking without looking in my direction as if I just know they want me and they’re not on a Bluetooth call…or worse, just ram into me to get my attention…

      2. Melly Melz*

        More likely when the customer went to pay, they mentioned something to the cashier, or the cashier had seen them talking to OP, and the cashier asked or told them that they’d been talking to an employee. Which would then mean that either the customer or cashier could have been the one to inform management about OP not helping.

    2. Lady Blerd*

      Either the client has been to the store and seen her or the client randomly chanced on OP who then revealed herself as an employee with her reply.

      1. Anonymouse*

        Or, my experience, she was asking everyone in the store if they knew where the rugs were.
        I would have pointed down and asked her is she wanted to buy the display model.

      2. Fedpants*

        I used to frequent a particular coffee shop during grad school, and was friendly with the staff. Then one day I was at a sit down restaurant, and a person came in and gave me a wave, and I looked at them with horror, looking around for who they were waiving at, asking my companion if they knew the person. Next day getting coffee, barista says “you looked terrified last night.” Oooooh. I couldn’t place her without the apron.

        1. Anonymous4*

          It can be really difficult to place someone who’s in unfamiliar surroundings. I saw a guy in the grocery store that looked very familiar but I couldn’t think of where I knew him, and I was not ABOUT to go over and ask him because I didn’t want him to think I was hitting on him.

          I was so glad when his wife and daughter showed up because it immediately snapped into place, and when I was waiting to check out, I was in line behind his wife. I confessed to her that I had probably given him the creeps, looking at him and looking at him while I wondered who the heck he was, and she laughed herself to pieces.

          1. Blarg*

            I’ve worked in psych hospitals and abortion clinics. When I get that vague recognition look from people, I try to telepathically signal to them “you probably don’t want to remember where you know me from, at least not in public.” If they do ask where they know me from, I just say I get that a lot and I must look like a lot of people.

          2. Small Bob*

            I once didn’t recognize my own brother because I wasn’t expecting him to be at the train station. I almost punched him because I thought he was some stranger stealing my bag!

        2. FloraPoste*

          Ahahah I have been in a running club for a couple years, seeing the same people a few times a week to run and afterwards for a drink and a chat, and I STILL have trouble recognising them on the street when they’re not in their running kit.

        3. The OG Sleepless*

          I am fairly face-blind, and this happens to me a lot. I’m a bit afraid to go places in my hometown without my mother, because I’m so afraid I’ll run into someone I know and not recognize them.

          I saw someone in a store once that I knew I was supposed to know. I kept searching categories in my memory. Client from work? No. Someone from church? No. Kid’s friend’s parent? Someone I went to school with years ago? While I was struggling with this, I stared at the guy for just a beat too long. He caught my eye and gave me a gracious nod, like this happened a lot, and moved on.

          Hours later it hit me that he was a very recognizable celebrity who lived in the area. Oh my God. Kill me now.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          This happened to me a few times this past year (moved to a new neighborhood and quickly became a regular at a couple of local coffee shops and bars) and my reaction was always “Wow, this person looks exactly like Wakeen/Fergusina!” then the next day I’d find out that it was, in fact, Wakeen, or Fergusina. Last time when it happened to me, I went ahead and asked “…Fergusina?” and we had a nice chat standing in a grocery store’s checkout line. Figured the worst that could happen would be that the person would say no. But I admit I am able to place the people. I just don’t trust my own judgement for some reason.

    3. Goody*

      Former Target TM. Our regular customers started to recognize me after a while, even out of “uniform”. Also, familiarity with the store (which was apparently evident in the way I didnt have to look down every aisle to find something) is a big flag.

      That said, it was absolutely forbidden for us to help guests in any way when we were off clock. We had to wear something over our red shirts if we were on break and shopping, turn off (or better yet, put away) walkies and Zebra scanners, and try to blend in. People got written up in my store for answering questions because it was considered working and opened the company up to a variety of legal issues.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Also ex-Target – hilariously, despite regularly shopping before or after work or on my breaks, the only times anyone ever asked if I worked there was when I was at the front of my check lane trying to flag down people who were ready to check out.

        “I’m open over here, ma’am, if you’re ready?”
        “Oh, do you work here?”
        Uh … no, you got me, I’m just here in red and khaki and a name badge standing at cash registers with the lane light on so I can mess with people. Good catch.

        1. Becky*

          Uh … no, you got me, I’m just here in red and khaki and a name badge standing at cash registers with the lane light on so I can mess with people. Good catch.

          That does sound like something Improv Everywhere would do.

        2. Burger Bob*

          Reminds me of my place of work when, once in a while, someone will call and ask, “Are you all open?” Nope, I’m just here answering the phone for fun for some reason. Totally seems like something I would do. (It’s the kind of place where you can’t get through on the phone tree if we’re closed. It will just tell you we are currently closed and not transfer you through.)

      2. hamsterpants*

        My father had a 5&10 store that he frequented for decades. He never worked there but he knew all the employees well, not to mention every corner of the store. People would frequently assume he worked there and ask him for help. He was flattered that people asked him for help and always gave it. (I understand completely that people, especially actual off-the-clock employees, have many reasons to not feel the same way about giving help while not officially on the clock.)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Ah, now I’m feeling nostalgic for the five-and-dime in my hometown. That place was like a maze packed with anything you could imagine.

      3. Phony Genius*

        I saw a customer at Target who made the mistake of wearing a red polo shirt. At least three customers came up to him for help. He wasn’t too happy and probably will never wear that again in the store.

        1. The Smiling Pug*

          This happened to me one time. I was 12 and my mom and I stopped off for some groceries after school. It was at Target and I just happened to be wearing a red polo that day. An older lady asked me if the soda was one sale. Never mind the fact that I was standing next to my mom and was clearly in middle school.

      4. Anonymous the Third*

        Familiarity with the store is what always tips me off. I worked at Walmart for a long time and off-the-clock employees are still easy for me to spot because they’re moving so fast.

      5. Lady Blerd*

        I knew someone who, when she worked in retail during winter months, would put her coat when she went on breaks because walking around without one is a giveaway.

    4. John Smith*

      It seems the customer didn’t know, as OP states the customer asked them if they worked there.

        1. Rose*

          As you can see from this entire thread it’s also something a LOT of people ask either randomly or on a hunch.

    5. Dragon_dreamer*

      Some people think that every person who is not themselves is placed on this Earth to serve them. OP’s boss retaliated against OP for not breaking the LAW.

      Being retail, HR may or may not care. Plus the cuss-tomer may have lied (“OP was rude and cursed at me!”) and/or not mentioned the fact that OP was off the clock. After all, to this entitled snowflake, OP exists ONLY to be on the clock, 24/7, as a good little automaton.

      I also suspect that OP’s boss, like many retail bosses, was looking for an excuse to deny OP any sort of raise. I had that little game played on me many, many times.

      I do not miss retail.

    6. rudster*

      LW doesn’t mention her age, but since the retail/service industry employee population probably skews towards the younger end, customers might assume that anybody there in a certain youngish age range is probably an employee.

    7. Forrest Gumption*

      The OP says that she replied “not right now” when the customer asked if she worked there. Which implies that she is an employee, just not clocked in at the moment.

    8. Policy Wonk*

      I think it comes down to looking like you know your way around. I am an average-looking person, and am apparently approachable, because I get this kind of thing all. the. time. no matter where I am or how I am dressed. It’s possible the customer recognized her, but also possible that she looked like she knew the store/was telling her friends where to find something.

      1. Clisby*

        I have too, in the grocery store I most often frequent. I guess I look like I know where I’m going. (Once an older man asked me for help, seemingly embarrassed that he couldn’t find something in its usual place. I was able to reassure him, “Oh, it’s not you, they changed the displays all around a week or so ago.” And showed him where they had moved the Half and Half.)

    9. anonymous73*

      She could have recognized her if she’s regular, but it was probably based on OP’s response of “not right now”, which is odd to me. I would have just said no.

      1. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

        I can see why she didn’t say no. Because if it is a regular, the customer would say “That’s not true I saw you checking last week! You just don’t want to do your job……”

        Either way the OP would have gotten in trouble, either for not helping a customer or for lying. Maybe if the op said I’m not working today, I’m just shopping myself but X can help you.” But that could have backfired to because the customer would have pulled the “Well it will only take a minute”.

    10. Nanani*

      LW might look like they know their way around enough to be assumed an employee, or the customer just guessed, or they were recognized…

      In any case I’d make sure boss realizes LW was not “on break” but actually -not at work at all- that day

    11. gsa*

      “I told her that I wasn’t working right now and that I didn’t know where the rugs were but the lady at the podium could help her. I directed her to where the worker was, only 12 feet away. The customer said, “Okay, thank you” and left.”

    12. Apt Nickname*

      I live in a major metro area and I had a needle-scratch moment the other day when I saw a cashier from my second-closest grocery store, grocery shopping at my closest Target. There is a Target right by her workplace and I think it would have been less jarring to see her there? But given everyone else’s stories, someone would have recognized her at her closest Target and demanded customer service even though she didn’t work at any Target.
      Anyway, I recognized her even though I don’t use that grocery store more than 6 times a year. I don’t think it’s unusual for someone to recognize a worker in a store they frequently shop at. Also, I bet it was phrased as ‘Do you work here do you know where the rugs are?’ and not two separate questions.

    13. Lucy Skywalker*

      Maybe it was just a lucky guess. I’ve been mistaken for an employee when I was just shopping.

  2. Josh cellars isn't that bad*

    I also have a hobby that involves alcohol, but mine is wine instead of whiskey! I actually mentioned it on my second day of work because my new coworkers asked me what I do in my spare time. I drink a lot of wine! In moderation with other connoisseurs and somms :) it’s all in the way you say it. People make assumptions about alcohol habits so if you just have a chill tone, they’ll follow your lead.

    1. Stitch*

      I actually have a colleague who is a sommelier in his free time. My job actually requires recognizing some common issues in a wide variety of areas (like identifying if a food or beverage falls geographical indications) so he prepared a manual on common alcohol issues for us to use as a reference. Super helpful, whenever I have an issue that’s alcohol adjacent I pull it up.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Tasting is the mouth & nose. Drinking adds the rest of your body.
      People can evaluate wines & spirits without ingesting enough to feel a buzz–or else there wouldn’t be a sober bottler in the world. It’s why judges at competitions have discreet spitoons and use very specific evaluation methods down to checklists.
      So be honest with yourself OP. Are you tasting as an intellectual exercise or out to get toasted? Both are valid activities, but one is not interview-appropriate.

      1. DataGirl*

        Really well said. There’s a big difference in perception between ‘whiskey tasting’ or ‘touring wineries’ and ‘drinking’. If OP wants to talk about this as a hobby, I’d stick to the first two and not the third. And definitely do NOT drink at work under any circumstances.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Agreed. The drinking in the office… no. But I often tell people that I enjoy checking out cocktail bars and no one bats an eye. In my line of work it can be really helpful to have someone at dinner who knows how to order a bottle of wine or recommend a cocktail.

      2. Student*

        The OP drinks for stress relief. That’s an alcohol dependency. The OP is living on both sides of the line – the hobby side, which is fine, and the dependency using-alcohol-to-cope-with-stress side, which is addiction. OP: If you can’t figure out how to talk about yourself in a job interview without making it sound like you have a drinking problem, then you may have a drinking problem. You don’t have to give up the hobby you enjoy, by any means, but I’d strongly recommend you start figuring out better coping mechanisms for stress and talk to a professional about it.

        1. Observer*

          This is what I was thinking. The OP is not just doing wine or whiskey tasting. They are actually drinking. Yes, in an exploratory way, but it’s still not the same thing. And in fact, the OP doesn’t even call it “whiskey tasting”, they call it drinking. When you add that they were actually drinking *in the office* to de-stress, that a HUGE red flag. That’s not “hobbyist” exploratory drinking.

          I’d seriously suggest that you don’t bring it up. AND that you take a good hard look at your drinking.

        2. SnappinTerrapin*

          Sometimes, I take a couple of aspirin to ease my stress. Occasionally, I have a caffeinated beverage for the same purpose. Nicotine also eases stress for me. Oh, and I occasionally have a drink of alcoholic beverage for the same purpose, although I am more likely to have a drink with a meal. Even more rarely, I take a prescription medication to relieve stress. Sometimes, I just take a little quiet time to decompress, or find an activity to distract me.

          Medicating for stress is not exactly the same as addiction.

          Some people cope with stress without using any external substance, which is great for them.

          Some people become dependent on unhealthy behaviors, or behaviors that become unhealthy when taken to excess, in order to cope with stress. We don’t have enough information to say that LW is dependent.

          The question before us is whether it is prudent for him to describe his pastime in such a way as to lead others to the inference that he has a problem with alcohol interfering with his life.

          1. AJoftheInternet*

            +1 this. We cannot tell from the description how “often” or problematically LW1 drank. I drink “often” right now, about a glass a week, compared to most of the rest of my adult life where I had a glass twice a year. LW1 might mean nightly or might mean monthly, and we have no frame of reference to tell what their standard or tolerance is.

            It would behoove the LW, as anyone, to truly examine their own actions, of course.

          2. Autumnheart*

            OP drinks at his workplace. That’s a problem. “But I never do it during working hours, or come to work drunk.” If you’re clock-watching to the point where you need a drink before you even leave for the day, that’s a problem. More than that, he knows it’s a problem and still does it. “But I promise not to do it at my next job.” Why not promise not to do it at THIS job? Sounds like it’s time to take a leave of absence from the drinking hobby.

            1. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

              Hi Autumnheart, I can see where you would think that I countdown till my next drink. Due to the limits about the length of letters submitted, I think this was not explained properly. I did address it in a comment below, about how the drinking culture in my office was prevalent.

        3. Corey*

          > The OP drinks for stress relief. That’s an alcohol dependency.

          I rub my dog’s ears for stress relief, can you diagnose me.

          1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            Hmm…well, let’s see. Does rubbing your dog’s ears have any downside? For example, does it cause you to get arrested for DUIs or vehicular homicide? Has the WHO estimated that over half of all instances of domestic violence are committed by people who’ve been rubbing their dog’s ears before beating up their family member(s)? Is rubbing your dog’s ears too much linked to a higher rate of cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage and cancer?

            So, is rubbing your dog’s ears really the equivalent of getting drunk? Why, I do believe that the answer to all of the above is “No, of course not! Don’t be silly!”

      3. Hannah*

        I feel like that’s unnecessarily harsh and ignores the middle ground. A person who is drinking 1 standard drink per hour (12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol. 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol. 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol.) is able to drive, well below toasted.

        If she grabs 3 friends and they all order a tasting flight (typically .5 ounce per 3-4 choices), she could easily mix and match for the first hour and stay well below the legal limit. Maybe the next hour she does a full pour of her favorite. You could even double that and simply get a buzz rather than toasted.

        1. Hannah*

          Follow up to say – that comment was specifically about hobby whiskey tasting and not her drinking to cope.

        2. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

          Thanks Hannah for your concern about me :) I left a long comment somewhere below, but I try to cap myself at 2 drinks and I definitely don’t drive.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Wine guy myself.
      I find that the word “collecting” works well. I collect wine, I have a wine cellar, I read about wine, etc.
      Maybe OP could substitute verbs.

    4. Rosalind Franklin*

      All I could think when I read the letter is Randy from South Park – “I’m not having a glass of wine, I’m having 6! It’s called a tasting and it’s classy!”

      He….uh….didn’t actually keep it classy on the episode….

      But yes, “I’m a whiskey aficionado” or “I enjoy whiskey tastings” comes across way better than “I drink to destress”.

    5. Junior Assistant Peon*

      A coworker of mine had wine listed as one of his hobbies in his official bio at one of the most uptight companies there ever was, and no one noticed. Just make it clear that your hobby is sampling fancy expensive whiskies and it’ll be perceived the same as if you like to go wine-tasting at upscale wineries where nobody is getting drunk and rowdy.

    6. Velawciraptor*

      Lots of hobbies are ok or not to describe in an interview depending on how you describe them.

      Whiskey/wine tasting=ok. Drinking=problematic.
      Embrodiery=ok. Recreational stabbing=problematic and we’re calling the police now.

      As with anything in an interview, everything depends on how you choose to frame it. :)

      1. Bobcat*

        My dad always says his favourite hobby is throwing rocks at houses. Which it is, he loves curling.

        I feel the need to clarify that he refers to it like that as a joke in the personal sphere, not at job interviews.

      2. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

        Love the comment about recreational stabbing. It’s calming isn’t it? I’ve done a couple of small designs myself.

      3. Lucy Skywalker*

        Some more examples:

        “I like juggling”=ok. “I like to throw things around”= problematic.
        “I do community theater/improv”=ok. “I pretend to be someone other than myself”= problematic.
        “I make candle holders by gluing seashells to empty glass jars”=ok. “I glue parts of dead animals to used food containers”=problematic.
        “I like birdwatching”=ok. “I look for living dinosaurs”=problematic.
        “I attend Mass every Sunday and I’m very active in my church”=ok. “I attend a weekly gathering underneath an ancient method of execution where we take part in a ritual with cannibalistic implications”=problematic. (Okay, I stole the last one from Dan Brown, but still hilarious.)

      4. Very Social*

        Ha! I knit and embroider. I’m going to have to remember “recreational stabbing” for the next time someone asks about my hobbies… outside of a job interview.

  3. Eric*

    #1, also keep in mind an answer of “drinking” comes off very different than “learning about and tasting different types of whiskey”, even if you follow up the former with an explanation.

    1. Loulou*

      Definitely — much like “eating” would not really be an hobby, but “I like trying out local restaurants/cooking/etc.” would be.

      1. tamarack & fireweed*

        That’s what I meant to say. The thing is “my hobby is ingesting X in order to relax” is pretty much problematic for any X. It is even more problematic for an addictive substance with measurable public health impact. So the OP should consider what they’re doing to stay on the safe side of “relaxing through alcohol”, but more importantly, they shouldn’t mix up relaxing-through alcohol with hobby. The question “what do you do to relax” might be answered with hobby-type activities or amateur/volunteering engagements, of course! But I would very much play up the social and connoisseur aspect rather than make the answer sound like “I ingest addictive substances habitually”.

        You don’t even have to tell the truth. You could say “I’m part of a friend circle that meets up to enjoy fine dining, wine tasting, whiskey tasting. In fact I’m a member of the single malt appreciation society” (if that’s true – I wouldn’t lie about that, just spin the context so that it’s clear you’re talking about an amateur special interest.

        (Anecdote: One of the first essays I wrote in elementary school started out something like – paraphrasing from memory – “Yesterday I went for a stroll in order to buy a new pencil.” This was not in English, but in a language where the verb I used clearly means “to take a walk *for*pleasure*”. My teacher wrote in the margin that if I went out in order to buy a pencil I wasn’t going for a stroll – these were two different things. I feel similarly about the notion of a hobby compared with having an alcoholic drink for relaxation. I do have a glass of wine for relaxation, but calling it a hobby would be weird. Having appreciation of fine spirits as a hobby, however, would be fine.)

        1. me*

          I was thinking there would be a way to say something like “I’m a foodie” or “I like trying different restaurants” (many bars serve food, right?) “checking out specials on menus” etc. that lumps food and alcohol in together. Even, “I enjoy checking out local businesses, restaurants, and cafes and exploring what’s going on in the city” is a very broad thing to say that doesn’t specifically mention alcohol.

          1. JSPA*

            The whole “drinking while still at work, after work, before heading home” adds a level of complexity.

            Example:
            If this might be mentioned by your reference, and if you’ve mentioned wanting to avoid a driving commute, I’d likely round up to, “drinks in the office, drives after drinking, and thinks of it as a minor bad habit.” That would be a hard pass, for me.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      This. Most whisky/wine/etc enthusiasts I know talk about it all the time and it’s fine, but if you say “my hobby is drinking” you’re going to sound, uh, off. (Frankly that’s probably a literally true and apt description for a lot of people in my industry but most have the common sense not to SAY it like that.)

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        A friend belongs to a brew your beer club and most talks revolve around the technical aspects of brewing beer, the equipment, the supplies, how to brew it. The tasting is more important than the actual drinking. Unless you are also interested in beer making the gatherings are mind-numbingly boring.

        1. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

          That’s the thing though! It takes too long to explain it, especially in the context of an interview, so its more easily summed up as, “I love trying interesting alcohols, particularly whisky.” Which I shortened to “Drinking” because at its essence, that’s what it is. Taking the time to explain the intricacies of old-world vs new-world whiskies and the influence of mass-market vs independent bottlers would be more like a 30 min lecture. Plus like you said, its mind-numbingly boring to someone who may not even drink or just has a beer with dinner.

    3. londonedit*

      Yeah, definitely – it’s quite common in the UK to list a couple of hobbies on your CV, but they’re meant to be things that you could talk about to demonstrate that you’re a well-rounded person outside of work. Too many people put ‘socialising’ or ‘going to restaurants’ and that just sounds a) like you don’t really have any hobbies (‘socialising’ isn’t really a hobby) and b) like you just enjoy going to the pub and eating, which doesn’t really say anything in particular about you as a person.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      OP, you could be literally learning the history of different types of whiskey as you taste them – which is a totally office-appropriate hobby. I was a member of a group that, for a while, did exactly that. We’d have zoom sessions where the organizer would tell us about where this or that whiskey originated, how it is made, some of the history of the area where it is produced (works especially well with Scotch) and so on (and then we’d get pretty buzzed on the product, but I’d leave that part out.)

  4. Stitch*

    Telling an interviewer your hobby is “drinking” or you de-stress by drinking would definitely be a red flag. True or not, ot comes across as bad judgment to say that. I agree with Alison, framing it as “wine tasting” would sound much better. But if possible talk about something else.

    1. Loulou*

      I just left a comment elaborating on this more but it seems to have gotten swallowed! I think talking about trying whiskeys or craft cocktails or whatever would be fine if the interviewer asks about hobbies, but not about stress. Ideally OP should discuss what they do *at work* to manage stress. I’ve been asked about how I handle working in a stressful and fast-paced environment and wouldn’t think to talk about what I do at the end of the day or after a stressful shift.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        This. To destress, I like to walk, read, listen to music, spend time with my friends, etc. My hobbies include cooking, exploring craft cocktails and beers, and knitting. (I do NOT knit to destress. Kid mohair lace with beads? Not relaxing. Fun, yes, but not relaxing.)

      2. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

        That may be a better way to answer the question, like how to manage stress in the context of a work setting. Thanks for that!

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yeah, and many people have the experience knowing of someone who claims to drink to ‘destress’ and that it isn’t a problem — when, in fact, it is a problem. OP might be doing fine, but you really don’t want to conjour up those associations during an interview.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      ….Yeah, I think it’s far more likely that mentioning alcohol as a hobby at all is going to cause you problems than to not cause you problems, even if you phrase it as “tasting” or whatever. I wouldn’t do it.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        This take is interesting to me. Maybe it’s because I lived in NorCal for a few years, but craft beer and wine were nearly ubiquitous hobbies among my coworkers, and even something our office sponsored as a treat here and there. Avoiding even the mention of it seems unnecessarily puritanical – “I love craft beer” and “I enjoy wine tasting” have a very different vibe from “I like to get smashed on weeknights” or “I drink alone at home to forget how empty the world is” (neither of which I’m ascribing to the OP, btw).

        1. Corey*

          Yep, craft beer is a big part of the North East culture too. If mentioning beer as a hobby sends up red flags, then there sure are a lot of hiring managers who get excited by the topic, and a heck of lot of us who are getting hired in spite of it.

          Some of these comments might as well be describing another planet.

  5. Loulou*

    For OP#1, I think ideally the answers to “what are your hobbies” and “how do you de-stress” would be different because the former is personal, while I would interpret the latter to mean “how do you handle stressful *workplace* situations?” Obviously hobbies we do outside of work can be very important for handling workplace stress, but for that question I’d focus more on what you do *at work* to handle stress.

    Basically, what I’m saying is even if the hobby was playing a sport or reading or something else, it might not be a great answer to “how do you de-stress?”

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      This was my thought too. If an employer asks you how you handle stress, “I eat a lot of cheese” or “I play a lot of video games” sounds just as off-key as “I drink a lot of whiskey.”

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely when I ask a question about handling stress and maintaining resilience I want to know that you’ve thought about how to handle difficult situations, when to escalate things, how to check in when the more junior staff are drowning etc. If someone said their solution to stress was to drink a lot, I would not consider them suitable for the job.

        1. londonedit*

          I think even if they do mean ‘how do you unwind/de-stress outside of work’, which is valid especially if you’re interviewing for a high-pressure job, they’re going to be looking for answers more along the lines of ‘I find I can deal with stress far better if I make sure I get out for a walk at least once a day, even if it’s only half an hour’ or ‘In the last 18 months I’ve really got into mindfulness meditation’ or ‘I find cooking extremely relaxing, and the best way for me to de-stress after a long day at work is to spend an hour in the kitchen trying a new recipe’. They want to know you have decent coping mechanisms in place and you know how to look after your mental health. It might be hugely tempting to say something glib like ‘smashing things up usually works’ or ‘once I’ve finished the first bottle of wine, I don’t seem to be stressed anymore’ but that’s unlikely to come across well.

          1. Daisy-dog*

            Or even vague answers are fine: “having quiet time by myself” or “spending some quality time with friends”. OP can leave out the part about how they are drinking in that time. Because I do feel like the drinking part is the not the de-stressor, it is the whole setting. I do love my first cocktail or glass of wine on Friday night because it’s chill time to myself after a busy week. My SIL has a glass of wine every night after she puts her kids to bed – it’s part of the ritual to “turn off” from the day.

            1. Smithy*

              I completely agree with this. Because “I destress with wine” and “I destress with two hours of TikTok” can sound equally bleak. However…. “I find having at least two hours after work every day before I go to sleep very important to make sure I disconnect. This has really helped me manage my stress and quality of sleep.” It shows a different level of thinking about the question and response.

    2. Cordelia*

      yes, I agree – these are 2 different questions and need different answers. The “hobby” question, I think, is usually just a conversation starter, an attempt to get to know you as a person a bit better. I don’t think it’s a particularly good question, except perhaps for people at the beginning of their working lives who don’t have a lot of work experience to talk about, but it does get asked and I think you just need a quick, bland answer so they can move on. I’d find something other than drinking.
      The “what do you do to destress?” question is different, and something I would often ask/be asked in interviews. I work in healthcare and it’s important to know that the applicant can acknowledge the stressful nature of the job and have healthy ways of coping with it. That’s not necessarily, or not entirely, having “hobbies”, though having interests and a life outside work is positive – it’s also how you recognise when you are stressed, use support systems at work, how you manage your schedule, how you ask for help etc.
      It might be worth you thinking through this question, not for use in interviews, but for you – how do you manage stress? If the answer to that is always “drink”, perhaps you might need to look at that.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Yep. I like to ask a clarification question when I get the, “How do you destress?” question in interviews. Generally I ask, “During a stressful day while at work or after work?” because if they mean during work then even yoga is going to come off weird

      1. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

        Well with COVID you could be doing holding a yoga pose out of sight of the video cam and they would never be the wiser :P I used to take 10 mins to try to make latte art in the office pantry.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Sorry to be pedantic, and I know there are millions of youtubers who show you yoga postures to music and stuff like that, but yoga is not just a matter of holding postures, it’s about uniting your mind and body in harmony. If you’re doing postures while listening to your colleagues presenting stuff at a meeting, you are doing physical exercises, not yoga.

    4. Smithy*

      Thinking about this division in particular regards to the transition to full time remote work and how it relates to drinking both resonates to me but still is likely not an answer I’d use for an interview.

      When COVID first started, I was living alone and it was certainly possible to continue to mindless work “forever”. Therefore finding markers of the end of the day were really helpful, and there did become something ritualistic and more firm about how having a glass of wine as a sign that the work day had ended and I definitely shouldn’t answer a work email after a glass.

      In reality, it’s not like my line of answering emails or slack would be wildly impacted by a glass or two of wine. But it did help put on the breaks that the work day had ended. All of which to say, if I was ever in an interview and wanted to discuss an example like that I would replace that glass of wine with something like cooking dinner or even taking a shower if the point was about not having my phone.

      1. TreeShadow*

        Having a hard stop is helpful so I started moving my desk chair from my desk to my piano at the end of the day.

      2. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

        I get what you mean about the mindless working. I worked one day from 9am to 7am because I just kept telling myself, “let me send out this one last email” or “let me get this thing done before I forget it”. Next thing I knew, the sun was rising.

    5. Public Sector Manager*

      It’s not like the OP is testifying in court. If they are legitimately asking about OP’s hobbies, the OP doesn’t have to answer the question honestly because it’s a personal question. If someone’s true passion is tasteful 1950’s pornography, they could tell a prospective employer that their hobby is gardening. It’s not an episode of Truth or Dare.

      And if the question is “how do you deal with stress,” I agree that they are really looking for an answer of how you deal with work stress and work.

      1. Abated*

        I think you’re right. There’s got to be something else the letter writer does besides drink whiskey and his down time, he could name basically anything else he does as his hobby.

        1. Simply the best*

          Sure, but there’s also really nothing wrong with answering an interview question about your hobbies and interests by saying “I’m really interested in whiskey.”

    6. Echo*

      I think it can be both – I think a decent answer would be something like “when I’m getting stressed at work, it’s usually a sign that work-life balance has gotten out of whack. I make sure to deliberately schedule time with friends and family, and to reconnect with my hobbies and interests outside of work”. I can imagine myself asking this in an interview if I worked in a field where I saw a lot of people getting too personally and emotionally tangled up in the work and sabotaging their work-life balance or physical health.

      1. Echo*

        To expand on this – I think the best possible answer here is a specific example (good old STAR method) of a time when this happened, and you want to demonstrate 1) what the stressful situation at work looked like and 2) how you proactively recognized and addressed your stress. The interviewer will not really care about your specific hobbies and tactics for managing stress outside of work – more that you know when to step back (and also don’t give an answer like “I’m never stressed because work is my singular, driving passion, I live to work, it’s core to my identity”, hahaha)

        1. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

          Thank you! I will keep that in mind! My partner does say I am a workaholic at times though…

    7. Ace in the Hole*

      I agree in general, although in certain notably stressful jobs they actually do expect an answer for how you handle stress from work when you’re off the clock. For example, when I’ve interviewed with emergency services they explicitly ask what you do at home to cope with stressful or traumatic experiences at work.

      It’s for this exact reason… if someone’s main way of blowing off steam is to go out drinking with friends, there’s a good chance that they’ll be deep in addiction within a few years on the job. Or if someone can’t describe ANY healthy coping strategies, it’s likely they lack either the self-awareness or support systems needed to do the job long term without seriously damaging their mental health.

      1. Smithy*

        I still think that this is more a case of navigating professional norms and boundaries than seeing an interview as a time for radical honesty. I wouldn’t say “having drinks with friends” or “happy hour” as a primary coping mechanism, but would go with something like “prioritizing regular time to socialize with friends.”

        Which also would be a good professional replacement for someone with primary hobby/method to blow off steam as BDSM or swinging clubs. Whether it’s specifically asking about hobbies, manages stress, or achieves work-life balance – it is still an interview where it’s that mix of presenting yourself honestly but professionally. For many, a very common after work is watching tv, and yet I don’t think a lot of us really want to lead with “my main hobby is turning on the TV while I alternate scrolling through TikTok and Instagram”.

    8. Heidi*

      Perhaps one way to bridge the answers to these questions would be to say that you de-stress by cultivating hobbies and interests outside of work. Then say, “For instance, I’ve started to learn about whiskey….” That way it seems like the whiskey hobby is one of many things that interest you and not your main coping mechanism.

  6. Coast East*

    #1: my bf and I often get weird looks even in social situations when we say one of our favorite hobbies is distillery tours. It doesn’t even touch the tasting aspect of alcohol. Maybe share a hobby/interest that falls slightly further down the ladder for you? I don’t think any interviewers I’ve met genuinely care about an in depth look at my various hobbies. (Sometimes I don’t admit to dancing or sewing as it may be “too girly” for a male dominant shop). If you get friendly with coworkers who express a similar interest or ask what you’re doing on a friday– that’s great opportunity to talk about it!

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      I always take a factory tour if one is available where I’m traveling… doesn’t matter what they manufacture, I am fascinated by the mechanics of large scale production. It just happens to be that most factories open for tours in this country make alcohol.

      1. MissMaple*

        Slightly off topic, but if you’re ever in Boulder, CO the Celestial Seasonings tea factory tour is fantastic! Also Utz potato chips near Gettysburg, PA (they have a potato loader called Spudnik). Also a big fan of factory tours (if you couldn’t tell :) )

        1. Clisby*

          When I was in (3rd?) grade, one of the highlights of the school year was to tour the Coca-Cola bottling plant in my home town. We all got a free bottle of Coke, to boot.

          When I went to Amsterdam, I toured the Heineken brewery there. I don’t like beer, but I loved the brewery tour.

      2. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

        If you are in Europe, try the Guinness Storehouse Tour in Dublin, or the Heineken Experience Tour in Amsterdam! I would give the Carlsberg Factory in Copenhagen a pass though. It just didn’t match up to the others.

        If not Macallan Distillery or the Lagavulin Distillery are great too!

    2. Antilles*

      I agree. The question is just a short throwaway to get a decent idea of what you’re like outside work. At absolute most, you might get a couple minutes of follow up chitchat if the interviewer also has the same hobby, but that’s as far as it goes. And it doesn’t need to be your biggest hobby or favorite hobby or the one you spend the most time doing either.
      Surely OP#1, you do *something* outside of work that isn’t just drinking? It doesn’t need to be your biggest non-work passion, just literally anything – even if it’s as simple as going to the gym a couple times per week or watching one football game a week or whatever, there you go.

  7. Dress for the job you want but also feel comfortable*

    OP #2: I have also done the style change that you are planning, and Alison’s advice is dead on.

    The first few days I got a lot of comments that tapered very quickly to none in about a week and a half when people saw that it was the new norm. Don’t let these comments discourage you!!!! They aren’t judgemental, are more like when someone gets a drastic haircut and it takes a bit to recognize them as them but after ~2 meetings, you don’t even notice.

    1. Melissa*

      Same! I was dressing casually (the standard at my job) and wanted to utilize more of my wardrobe instead of buying more casualwear, so I started wearing the ‘fancier’ clothes to work. (Just more skirts and dresses)
      There were both positive and negative comments (to my face and behind my back) but I know I was being my best self–and the shift in attire felt good to ME. Make your style change for you!

    2. JayNay*

      Also OP doesn’t have to change their entire look in one go! They can go step by step, and that way it won’t even be as noticeable over time. Bonus point, that would also help with the consistency, because they‘d be building new dressing /grooming habits over time.
      High five to the OP for getting out of that part of mental Health issues, you can do it!

      1. Policy Wonk*

        + 1 on this. The sudden change will make people think you are interviewing and, as we’ve seen on this board in other cases, could lead to them pre-emptively advertising your job. (Though as Alison notes, if they’ve got you pigeon-holed, looking for a new job would be a good thing.) I’d start with the hair – changing that is a common thing for people to do, and once you have new hair the rest of the changes likely won’t be as noticeable.

        1. Chauncy Gardener*

          Came here to say this! Just start gradually, even if it’s to make sure it’s something you’re up for doing every day. Agree that the hair is the best place to start. Then maybe a tiny bit of makeup (my go-to is a bit of tinted moisturizer and mascara). Maybe you can organize your closet so you have an outfit per day already set, so there’s no decision to make every morning? I find that super helpful, especially if i don’t have a good night’s sleep or feel down when I wake up. Knowing I have something to put on that looks good really helps me feel more in control!
          Good luck, OP! And I also agree with others who have said that maybe a new job is in order if others are keeping you in an old rut.

          1. Agent Diane*

            Agree with the idea of having outfits lined up. I even had little postal tags tied to hangers with the days of the week so I was all lined up on a Sunday night.

            Maybe start with a smarter version of some of your favourite staples too? For example, if you’ve been wearing loose black trousers and sweatshirts, start wearing a smarter pair of black trousers with a dark top. That way you’re gradually shifting your clothing style. Most people will simply register you’re a neater version of your scruff self (still in black, but a bit more polished) rather than thinking you’ve had a full makeover. And 90% will simply not even notice that.

            1. Cj*

              Lining up my wardrobe for a week would mean a check of the weather first. This morning it was -20F with a high predicted of -10F. Tomorrow morning it will be +20F, with a high of +38F. I could certainly do this, but sometimes I don’t *want* to know how cold it is going to be until I actually have to face it. : )

              1. MS*

                I’m guessing you must live in the upper midwest somewhere in or near MN? I’m from MN and totally get what you’re saying with this one.

        2. It's Growing!*

          Maybe the hair would be an easy place to start, but the OP says she has frizzy hair. Frizzy, curly hair can be a big deal to deal with if the owner wants to go silky and smooth; think Merida. It could easily be the most time consuming part of any change. Items of clothing that go on, go off are much easier. Maybe change out army boots for ballet flats or the bowling shirt for a knit shirt and then go from there.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            My daughter has frizzy hair – at art school she was known as “the one with the hair”. She now has it cut very short round the sides and back, with a pile of curls on top. That way, she can let it all frizz out when she’s at home or at her workshop, and for the days she’s working with clients, she’s washed it the night before so that it curls more neatly.

      2. Susie*

        I was coming here to make a similar suggestion. I focus on two grooming habits–my eyebrows and using an air dry styler in my hair then pulling it up into a bun with a french pin. I had been using a hair tie for the same effect, but the french pin is so much nicer looking.
        There was no rational for these two areas–just picked things that made me feel the best.
        When I really want to go crazy, I wear concealer under my eyes and mascara. I’m trying to keep my nails better maintained too, but that’s my reach goal.

        I also struggle with mental health…sometimes the grooming routine (even if it is minimal) really helps me fake it till I make it. I also find color really helps too–I don’t wear a lot of bright colors, but an olive or navy loose fitting dress (I like the ones from Wool&) with leggings and comfortable pair of shoes has the feel of comfy pjs, but helps me look a little more polished while being comfortable and cosy (and helps make morning decision making a lot easier).

        Good luck and I hope you share an update! Congrats on working

          1. Susie*

            I use one by Odele that I found at Target. Sometimes I over apply in places and my hair needs an extra brush after it dries, but I find my long, persistently straight hair easier to work with after using and it has a bit more volume.
            I have a hard time with haircuts, too anxiety producing to worry about small talk for an hour. I definitely look more put together with my current routine despite my haircut anxiety.

            1. Mouse*

              Thank you! I’ll have to try it. My hair reacts badly to heat so I always air dry and have trouble managing frizz.

      3. Littorally*

        Yeah, I’d say this is the best way to go about it. Changing up your entire routine in one go is challenging to keep up with and invites more commentary than building on gradual changes over time.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        This! I actually would strongly suggest NOT trying to change their entire look in one go, because that really never works.

        It might actually help (in the spirit of a New Years clear-out) to focus on paring down and organising OP’s wardrobe, not significantly changing it. A big thing that can make someone look scruffy is clothes that are in poor condition – rips, stains, pilling, worn patches etc – or ill-fitting/uncomfortable. She doesn’t need to go full capsule wardrobe, but getting rid of bobbly jumpers, trousers that don’t fit, “oh I’ll wear that one day” never-worn shirts etc, really cuts down on the stress of getting dressed and will make you look more put-together.

        (I say this as a person with a small mountain of clothing spread between my wardrobe, my sofa, my bed and my floor. Do as I say, not as I do!)

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I agree with going gradually. I would advise getting a few smart basics, still black, or navy, that will go with everything. Once you have a smart pair of trousers on, you’ll naturally want to team them with smarter tops. I’m pretty sure OP will have a few tops that will look OK with smart trousers, because tops are like that.

      5. Lucy Skywalker*

        I was coming here to say exactly that! The first week, change your hairstyle. The second week, wear new, professional-looking clothes. The third week, start wearing makeup.

    3. Blink*

      “My fear is I’ll be seen as haughty and laughed at if I suddenly start coming into work looking decently groomed, something I’ve not done in a very long time. Part of me says they will get used to it, but I worry I will relapse and just look like a childish idiot still learning to play dress-up at 37”
      Ah, love, I know exactly how you feel. We’re even the same age! I upgraded my wardrobe from converse, jeans + t-shirt to ‘tidy’ trousers (slacks, I guess?), in blacks or grey and one extremely darling (for me) checked pair, plus neutral tops with a variety of cardigans – not a massive change right?? I felt sick on the way into work sometimes at the beginning, as if someone in my office was going to point out that I was just pretending to be someone who… wanted to wear different clothes? When you analyse it it sounds silly, but the fear was real.
      What happened? Literally nothing. When I cut my hair from waist-lenth to just above my shoulders (again, so much anxiety from the Mean Girl in my head) people commented for a few days (‘wow, you cut your hair’) and then it trailed off.

      I have one piece of advice though, which might be appropriate for your situation, disregard if not – if you make a change and someone gives you a compliment – you look nice, that colour suits you etc etc, resist the impulse to make a joke, downplay, say that you actually look like you woke up in a skip: just take the compliment. ‘Thanks, I like it’ and move on. They think they’re making a neutral statement, they don’t know how stressful this is for you. If you play off like it’s not a big deal, so will they.

      WOW I had a lot of thoughts about this! Good luck, I hope everything goes well for you!

      1. SarahKay*

        Seconding the ‘Just take the compliment’ advice.
        If it feels awkward, bear in mind that people actually like to give a compliment, especially when they can see that it’s pleased the person they were complimenting. You are actually doing something nice for them by just saying “Thank you, I like it”, with a smile.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Telling someone, “wow, you look great today.” may get into their head as “I never look good.” I usually say, “I love that colour.” “That sweater has pockets, sweet!” When our students dressed up for presentations, they loved hearing how professional they looked, especially the guys who were often self-conscious in their business suits.

        2. H2*

          I totally agree with this, it’s what I came to say. It makes people feel happy to compliment others and it’s meant to be an all-around positive interaction. I don’t think that you need to give the qualifiers that Alison suggested—just enjoy it! “Thanks! So, about those reports…”

      2. TimeTravlR*

        It took me so long.. way too long.. to learn to just say “thank you!” to a compliment!

      3. Spicy Tuna*

        I negotiated WFH several years before Covid because I was tired of getting dressed in work clothing every day and fixing my hair and face. I donated nearly all of my office clothing and now I only own gym clothing, 2 pairs of jeans, a few t-shirts and undies. SO LIBERATING!

      4. Not So NewReader*

        Worry about relapse:
        Don’t set your new standard so high that you can’t sustain it. There’s ideal and then there’s reasonable. Choose a reasonable level and just do that- see how it goes.

        Clothes were an issue for me for [reasons]. This made picking an outfit every day exhausting. So what I did was pick out the first 2-3 days of outfits on Sunday. Then on Tuesday or Wednesday night I’d pick out the outfits for the remainder of the week.
        As time went on I started thinking about what a time suck wardrobe maintenance is. I settled on doing something with clothes for a very short time each day rather than letting it pile up. If I did not wash a load of clothes then I worked on ironing or repairing. Some days, I just walked around the house and picked up all the coats, sweaters etc that were laying around. I decided not to let things get to be big projects- we wear clothes and use dishes every day- so I targeted doing something with those two things each day. It helped a lot.

        1. Smithy*

          Completely agree with this and also to personalize it.

          For me, this one isn’t so much about clothing – but definitely about hair/make up. What I’m willing to commit to on the hair/make up front was not at the level of what I could commit to in other areas. In practice what that meant for me was to invest in hair-up styles and earrings that appeared more stylish. It was more effort into what my head looked like without committing to a hair or make-up routine that I would be far more challenging for me to keep up.

          By finding and investing in that more achievable step-up, when I do choose to go for more investment in hair or make-up that step up isn’t seen as extreme.

        2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          I wore Me Uniforms most of my work life. Same pants in different colors (black, navy, dark khaki, olive) and same shirts/tops in a variety of colors. It kept life so simple.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      I would echo the advice to choose clothing, hair style and makeup (if any) that you can really maintain, even during a bad week/month.

      So, timeless & simple, easy-to-care-for clothing pieces (you may even want to plan out a coordinated wardrobe that mixes and matches easily), a hair style that will work in a ponytail or bun, and minimal makeup. That way, when you feel like dressing things up, you can add jewelry or a scarf, or style your hair, but if you’re not up for it, you still look reasonably put together, and the difference isn’t obvious.

      If you dye your hair, I would choose something that you can do at home or at least have root touchup product, in case you can’t get appointments scheduled.

    5. Xantar*

      Also, maybe don’t do an entire wardrobe change plus new hair color and style plus makeup change in the middle of the day when you’re in a several hour long meeting with outside people who won’t recognize that you are the same person when they see you again.

      It’s fine to do when there are no outside meetings happening, though. If that’s what you want, then you do you!

      (Sorry. I couldn’t resist making a callback)

    6. Autumnheart*

      Plus, this time of year is the perfect time to make a radical change. “It’s my New Year’s resolution, I’m changing up my style!” Done!

  8. WoodswomanWrites*

    #4, I was in a comparable situation where I was eager to leave my job. I didn’t feel a connection with my co-workers and just wanted to slip away quietly. COVID is a believable excuse, and I was able to gracefully turn down an offer for a farewell gathering based on that. And Alison’s advice about declining a workday event sounds great. Congrats on getting out of that place.

    1. AS87*

      Same here. If OP is not dependent on a reference and has exhausted all of Alison’s advice to no avail, just leave early or maybe even don’t show up the final day. Don’t give toxic company the chance to prop themselves up on the way out.

    2. Jax*

      Farewell events are never equitable, either. I worked for a company where popular employees received office Food Days and cake, cards with inside jokes, and well-attended after work parties at the local bar. Popular people had their parties planned meticulously by coworkers. Unpopular people received zero attention from their coworkers. A manager would realize no one was doing anything and then scramble to create some sort of party, like buying pizza for the office or inviting everyone to the bar after work to say goodbye.

      I had a few very nice Farewell Parties thrown for me, and although I appreciate the sentiment, I would much rather flip the script and encourage the office to host little Welcome Parties for new hires. Let’s have the donuts and pizza lunch to surprise the new hire and build a new team!

    3. HS Teacher*

      I would encourage OP to be open about their reason for leaving. How can a company address an issue if it doesn’t know how serious it is? If I were a business owner or manager, I’d want to know that this behavior is happening and also costing me employees and the additional cost to train new ones.

  9. Kevin Sours*

    One thing that occasionally happens is that if you start showing up in more formal attire than you usually wear, people may assume you are interviewing.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I agree – this is the only negative read I got when I changed up my look at work. If you think this would be a problem at your workplace, you might just change things up more gradually.

      On the other hand, if this letter was very recent I imagine LW could frame it as a New Year’s Resolution which doesn’t attract the same cynicism.

    2. Melly Melz*

      I worked with a guy who had long hair in his 30s. He played in a band, he saw himself as a rocker who did engineering by day.

      One day he came into work with a very conservative haircut, easily a full foot of hair removed. Everyone joked about him interviewing. He insisted he wasn’t but he moved to a new company within a month.

      Also similar: working with a software engineer in his 50s who suddenly died his white hair black. It was shocking. He too had started interviewing. Not sure if the black hair worked, though – it didn’t make him look younger; it made it look like an older guy trying to look younger.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      I suspect that becomes less of an issue when they see you’re doing it every day.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right – I’d just tell a couple of people that I’m working on changing my office wardrobe, and then they’ll assume that’s what you do every day. (And then, even if you do have an interview, no one will notice! Win!)

      2. Kevin Sours*

        Probably. But if you are already feeling self conscious about it a meeting invite on the subject of “are you happy in your current role” might be a bit much if you aren’t expecting it. I though it was worth pointing out.

  10. Summer Day*

    OP2- go for it!! I got a style consult a number of years ago (I lost my way style wise after kids) and have never looked back! If you feel a bit self conscious about it take it slow and practice maintaining. New hair style one month, add some make up the next, new shoes the next, new color of clothing the next… remember… it takes the same amount of time to put on sloppy clothing as smart clothing. Plus… when people notice you it’s for something good!!! Don’t forget to make sure you enjoy the compliments!!! (The occasional person said something bitchy to me… it’s weird that people feel like it’s ok to be unkind when they perceive the change as positive… so be prepared to roll with it).

    1. tamarack & fireweed*

      Yes, I, too would encourage LW2 to do what feels good about dressing up. I’m a very very casual/sloppy dresser most of the time – as a scientist, I’m mostly getting away with it. There are some things I do for style (shawls, scarves, hand-knit sweaters…) that are “me”, but it’s by now very minimal.

      However, I am able to clean myself up quite a bit for a special event, while still staying true to my style. Nothing special, still scarves, blouses, nicer shoes, blazers, and a minuscule touch of make-up. People who don’t know me very well or haven’t been to an event with me, will notice and I often get a “hey, you look nice!” I’ll just smile back and reply “thanks! trying to be a bit less of a slob when we don’t work on campus…” or, as usually these are other middle-aged or young women who *also* dressed up a notch or two, I can return “thanks! you, too – love this jacket!” It’s an opportunity to bond with someone who has accepted me as super-casual and doesn’t want to talk clothes and grooming (I’m not below expected standards after all) because they (not incorrectly) assume that it’s not my strong suit.

      Except if you work with assholes, it will be fine and can be quite enjoyable!

    2. Mongrel*

      Right now is a good time to do it, “It’s a New Years Resolution, this year I’m going to tidy up my appearance”.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Oddly the pandemic could be a similar reference here. Those of us with too much lockdown are trying to change up habits developed during the artificial isolation. Those of us who are essential workers are trying to keep body&soul together. Either group has people who might get a morale boost from a style change.

        1. londonedit*

          Definitely – it would be really easy to say ‘Oh, I’m so sick of loungewear! I really want to make an effort to wear my nice clothes again, they’ve been stuck in the wardrobe for nearly two years’.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Ooh, I really like this. “Trying to put 2020 in the rearview mirror” is an explanation for more polished appearance I think most of us would instantly grok.

        3. Bagpuss*

          Yes – and if you have been WFH then it’s much less of a transition if they start to see you looking different when you/they return to the office – and the comment can be “yes, after dressing for zoom for two years i decided a bit of a wardrobe update was in order!”

          And if you want to stick to a primarily all or mostly-black wardrobe, then things like cut, style and fit make a huge difference to how polished and together you look – and little thing like a brooch, bright scarf , dresses, skirts or trousers which fit well etc. all let you look much smarter without necessarily changing your underlying style or looking like you’ve made a huge change (and then if people are used to seeing you look smart, if you then branch out in other directions with colour etc. then people may notice that but it’s not such as dramatic shift.

          If you can afford it, you could look into whether you can find a store near you that offers a personal shopping service where they offer advice about picking things that look good with your body shape, and putting together a collection of things which mix and match well.

          My sister did a few years ago after finding that a local branch of a big clothes retailer here offered it. I can’t now remember which one it was but remember being surprised that a mid range high street chain offered it . I think the service itself was free but had to be booked in advance (presumably they feel it’s worth while if they then make a decent sale.

    3. Ana Gram*

      Can I ask how you found a consultant? I’d love to do something like this but I don’t really know where to start.

      1. Anonymous4*

        I looked up “image consultants” online, and found someone in my area who was a consultant for the company Color Me Beautiful. It wasn’t cheap but it was extremely helpful. She would advise on whatever you wanted — hair, makeup, colors, recommended styles, or everything. She also did personal shopping and wardrobe assessments, if that’s what you wanted. I thought it was an excellent investment.

    4. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      “[I]t takes the same amount of time to put on sloppy clothing as smart clothing” — I know it sounds ridiculous, but this sorta blew my mind. I’d honestly never thought about it in this way. TY for this!

      1. George*

        Unfortunately also not true. Smart clothing hangs on hangers, buttons, needs to be ironed, ties need to be tied, etc. Sweatshirts and old jeans lie on chairs and don’t worry about wrinkles.

        1. Summer Day*

          You’re right, smart clothing can take a wee bit longer to maintain. But…. It depends on your choices. I initially moved from active wear to a knit dress look (I mentioned previously it was when I had young children that I had to rediscover my style). It probably takes less time to throw on a knit dress and cute sandals than leggings a t shirt and sports shoes and they have similar levels of maintenance. However- if you go for items that need ironing and dry cleaning- yes, that does make much more of a difference in terms of maintaining your look.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes. It might take the same time to put them on, but they do need more care when you take them off, wash them. Smart clothes are more likely to need ironing too.

    5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      My advice to OP2 is to be ready to weather the storm; people will notice, and the petty will comment and/or tease you about it. But if you can get through a week or two, it’ll become the new normal and fade into the background.

      Or at least that was my experience.

    6. Rey*

      I know that I haven’t always measured up to my office norms when it comes to dress, but one thing that helped a lot was using a steamer! I would never consistently iron my work clothes because it felt like it took so long and didn’t always work at the right setting or something, so I would just wear wrinkly clothes. Now, I keep the steamer on my bathroom counter so that I can plug it in next to my toothbrush, and I hang my clothes on their hanger on the towel rack so there’s some resistance to push/pull against. I find that it takes 2-3 minutes to do both sides of my shirt and pants for the day, so it has been a lot more sustainable for me. I hope it goes well OP, we’re all cheering for you!

    7. Daisy-dog*

      RE: sloppy v. smart clothing on getting dressed – Totally true! It’s still the same components – top, bottom, shoes.

      And you can find options that require very little maintenance. Machine washable, dryer safe, things that don’t wrinkle, etc. I also opt for things that are not see-through (thicker materials or darker colors), so I don’t have to wear undershirts or special undergarments unless I just want to. I do opt to wear bike shorts under dresses most days, but that isn’t much of an extra step.

      1. JustaTech*

        Exactly! I’ve got some nice knit shells that have the exact same wash requirements as my T-shirts: huck them in the washing machine, toss them in the dryer. The only difference is that I hang up the shells (mostly so I remember I have them).

        Not everything will be that easy to care for (still have to at least sort-of iron my nice button-down shirts), but a lot of it is about cut and color and material. (Fun lazy tip for button-down shirts – if you’re going to be wearing a jacket over your shirt all day you only really need to iron the collar, cuffs and front. Skip the back. Also, if you let the shirt hang-dry on a hanger I find I get fewer bad wrinkles.)

    8. sb51*

      It takes a lot longer to FIND “smart” clothing than “sloppy” clothing, though, especially if you’re an uncommon size or shape. “Sharp” generally means “fitted” for almost all styles. (And means “fitted” and “onto a thin body” to a lot of people, sigh, but I digress.)

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        I totally agree with this. It’s so hard to find “smart” clothing if you don’t fit a certain body type. Even if you do… it often doesn’t look “smart”. As a short round individual I definitely feel this. I’m fortunate to work in manufacturing so I’m not expected to look particularly polished. I wear steel toes and a hard hat… and sometimes the carhartt onesie if it’s cold. Ok I digress also… I wanted to say… I have found that Torrid and sometimes Lane Bryant are pretty good at making clothes that fit non-typical body types and still look nice. Old navy is also getting better at it and Duluth Trading Company has nice plus size options too (I get my work pants from them). Target sucks btw… they used to have a cuter plus line but now it’s just mumus.

  11. Jackalope*

    Another suggestion for #2 would be to make changes gradually if that is easier. For example, keep wearing black slacks (get slacks instead of, say, black jeans if you don’t have any) but start wearing more colorful sweaters. Or wear a little bit of makeup but not a ton. Find a hairstyle you like that looks good on someone with hair like yours and is easy then practice that until you’ve got it down.

    One other thing… I personally had a really hard time figuring out what clothes looked good on me, etc. I was self-conscious and hated thinking about my appearance and felt like I was faking it when I got myself a new style. Some of your comments sounded like you might feel that way too. IF that’s true, do you have a good friend or someone you can trust that’s good at that sort of thing that could take you shopping? (Including to a thrift store if that’s your budget.) One of the things that was super helpful for me was going shopping with a couple of friends of mine who had an eye for clothing; one helped me figure out cuts that might work, while the other pointed me to some colors that complemented my skin. It was super helpful and I don’t know how I would have gotten there on my own.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Also, if you want to keep the all black wardrobe, colorful scarves can make a big difference.

        1. Nethwen*

          What Lily Rowan said. If you’re worried about sustainability or a relapse, think about what your relapse is and work towards a more polished version of that. Love black clothes? You said that you wear ill-fitting clothes. Buy one well-fitted shirt in the style you feel most comfortable in and throw out one ill-fitting shirt. Proceed as you can until all your clothes are the best fit you can get and you if you relapse, your only option will be to wear good-fitting clothes.

          Also, don’t judge fit by what others say it should be. For example, a shirt that shows none of a woman’s curves can be as well-fitted and polished as a shirt that shows all of her curves. In this case, whether the shirt reads a sloppy or polished comes from how the neckline and shoulders fit. If this is overwhelming to think about, a style consultant who specializes in polishing your personal lowest common denominator may be worth the cost.

    2. ghostlight*

      I’d also recommend trying to save yourself from decision fatigue when it comes to picking out an outfit for work! Some people find it a lot easier to pull an outfit the night before so there’s no moment of “oh crap what do I even wear?” in the morning. I personally have all of my work clothes in one place in my closet so I can pick a top and a bottom in the morning with very little thought. Having a limited color palette helps too since everything will match. And you can find plenty of work clothing now that feels very comfortable (like work pants that feel like leggings or softer collared shirts), but still looks professional!

    3. boop the first*

      Yes! Literally every piece of clothing I actually love wearing was handed down by a friend whose style I loved and whose clothes were close enough in size to pull off (stretchy sweaters, mostly). Or it was something I saw while shopping with a friend and got the thumbs up for it.
      Anytime I go into a store, I just feel so lost. Some people are good at seeing misshapen pieces of cloth and knowing what body part they’re supposed to go on, because I super don’t! And most places don’t have change rooms anymore, or the mirror is outside. What a nightmare.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes, the second-hand shop is a good place to start for smart clothes. If you get it wrong, it hasn’t cost you a ton and you can take the stuff straight back.
      And going with a friend is a good idea if you don’t know where to start. Even if she points out something you think is hideous, you have to articulate what you don’t like about it, which helps her.
      I’ve found that people give me clothing that I would never have chosen for myself, but then I wear it a lot, and look good in it, so they obviously saw something in me that I don’t. That kind of friend is worth her weight in gold!
      A while back I was asked to teach a course at the school I got my master’s from, and realised I didn’t have any decent clothing – I WFH as a freelancer. So I asked for smart clothes as Christmas presents. My family got me some lovely items and it was a relief to just pick stuff from that set of clothing on my teaching days.

  12. LMK*

    I was always uncomfortable with the hobby questions. Why would anyone care what my hobbies are? What if my hobby is going home and lying on the couch binge-watching terrible TV shows and eating junk food? I will never say that, and will just make up some more acceptable answer. But then I’m not someone who shares my private life with random people, so maybe it’s just me.

    1. arjumand*

      Same here! And I feel you on the tv shows – “Lately I’ve really gotten into Chinese dramas and k-dramas – the book source for one of them has just been translated into English and – wait come back! I’ve also started learning Chinese on Duolingo!”
      So I’d make up something and feel awkward. My hobbies are my own – just let me enjoy them in peace!

      1. Radical Edward*

        If I were the interviewer, that would totally derail our conversation because I just got one of those books for Christmas! (But honestly I agree with you – no potential colleagues get to hear about my precious hobbies until I have spent months getting to know them, if ever. I always pick out something of minor importance to me that’s unlikely to generate more questions.)

        Maybe it’s because I have spent my adult life surrounded by film and tv buffs, but to me it sounds perfectly normal to mention a specific genre that you’re really into, rather than ‘I like watching tv’. It feels more like the contrast between ‘whiskey tasting’ and ‘drinking’… but I would be interested to know if others see it differently!

      2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        But those hobbies sound fascinating! (But I guess maybe not what some interviewers might want to hear. ;-D)

        1. pancakes*

          Why not? I don’t think there are many lines of work where learning languages wouldn’t seem like a neutral or impressive hobby.

      3. Lizzy May*

        I feel like you could spin that into a great answer though. You never have to share but saying “I’m learning a new language on Duolingo and watching TV shows and movies in that language to improve my comprehension and pronunciation” sounds like a great hobby to me.

        1. cookie monster*

          I watch Spanish soap operas on Netflix and it has really improved my Spanish. But even as an answer to a casual “what are you watching these days” people are at least surprised by the answer. I agree that starting with “learning a new language” and then adding in the “watching TV shows” is the right order.

      4. k*

        Agree with Radical Edward, if I was interviewing you this answer would be a problem because I’d really really want to pause the interview and discuss this further!

        Seriously, though, I would think “I’ve been starting to study Chinese on my own recently” and/or “I watch a lot of tv, my favorites are foreign dramas” would be pretty okay as generic answers to the hobby question, without necessarily needing to go into the nuances of Jin Guangyao’s portrayal in the book vs the show. :)

    2. tamarack & fireweed*

      I think it is good to remember that they, too, could care less for your hobby. It is of no interest whatsoever! However, if they aren’t asking the question because they couldn’t think of a better one and picked it out randomly from a list, the reason they’re asking is to find out if you can put your work life in a context and eloquently talk about it. They want people with lives outside work (but probably not too much of it… sigh) I don’t love the question either because some people’s lives are fuller than others. If the true answer to the question for hobbies is “I used to play in an amateur orchestra but now that we have three children and my MIL who’s terminally ill in the house, hobbies are very low on the priority list”, then it can be embarrassing.

      In any event it is not that hard to think ahead of time and find something relatively bland and safe to say (“I’ve had a busy life these recent years, so most of what I manage these days is sink into a good sci-fi novel in the evening”) if you don’t have anything true and safe (“I run / work out / ski / play the accordion”).

      Then of course there is the question “what do you do to deal with stress?” and it would be wrong to confuse this with a question about hobbies! This is more about strategies to deal with work stress! Which of course raises the question how stressful this job is expected to be. But even in normally-stressful workplaces there will be *some* stress, so the question would apply. It applies even more if it’s a job that is usually expected to be stressful, be it something operational (fire service, emergency dispatcher, systems engineer…) or medical (nurse, doctor, therapist), social worker, teacher, retail employee… OK, if you apply for a job as a receptionist for a convent, maybe the question “how do you deal with stress” could give rise to “why, what kind of exceptional sources of stress do occur in this position?” (spoken or, more likely, unspoken), but I think we expect that even good work is at least episodically moderately stressful.

      1. TechWorker*

        As someone who interviews and asks about hobbies, I do care what they say, it’s not a totally random question off a list. I mostly interview grads though, so reasons for asking include:
        1) seeing if they can have a social conversation or struggle talking about something that isn’t their degree
        2) students sometimes have relevant things that go along with their hobby (volunteer experience, event organising, time management) and it’s good to give a chance to talk about that as it won’t always be on their CV.

        1. PhD holder*

          To be honest, I’m not loving that question. I got asked that after applying for a couple of jobs after getting my PhD in university, and while I understand you don’t want me to be a robot engineer / dissocial person, it just feels unprofessional. As if you think I’m still a kid ;)

          So maybe you can find a different question to get the same info? Plus, I always felt that you get that vibe from the overall interview, not just one single question.

          1. TechWorker*

            To be clear I basically never ask ‘do you have any hobbies’, more often than not they’ve put something specific on their CV and I ask them to tell me more about that.

            The aim is generally (as you said :p) to check they’re able to hold a conversation and to hopefully put them at ease by talking about something they enjoy. Yes, I can (and do) also ask them to tell me about say something they particularly enjoyed on their degree course or to talk me through a project but answers to that can still be very factual rather than conversational. Open to other suggestions, but feels like me trying to arbitrarily choose a conversation topic in which they are both interested and feel comfortable talking about for someone I’ve met for 20minutes isn’t easy either, hence the focus on what they’ve written down!

        2. Tupac Coachella*

          We frequently ask some variation of “what do you do for fun” when we interview at my job, and it’s definitely not a random question we ask to fill time. When they asked me, I thought I blew it (I have a hobby that sounds pretty frivolous to people who aren’t involved with it). But after getting the job, and participating in other interviews, I realized that this question was to help the interview committee see more of who the candidate is as a real person. Our work environment is fairly warm, and building comfortable relationships with colleagues and clients is both helpful and necessary to be successful here. My “interview self” is on point- very polished, and clearly shows that I can step up when peak professionalism is needed. But I don’t have a job where Boss Lady Persona is needed every day. When I talk about my hobbies, a different side of me comes out, a side that they can imagine working with. If I had given a stiff answer instead of a genuine one, they would have been concerned that I’d have trouble with the environment. My hobbies do demonstrate some work-related skills, but in hindsight, I can see that they got “can she do the job” from other questions; the point of this question was “is she someone who wants to engage with us?” In some jobs that might not matter as much, but if being personable in an everyday setting is important to the role, this question gives a lot of information.

          1. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

            Thank you for reframing it more eloquently. The downside of asking me a question like that is I am an introvert. While I can babble on with my interests for hours on end, I become very quiet in a group or work setting unless specifically asked a question, or until I become super comfortable with the environment. I feel like if you had asked me that, you would have gotten a genuine and long-winded enthusiastic answer, but would be very quiet for the first few months on the job.

        3. Starbuck*

          I think it’s a bad question to ask because often it can be used as a marker for socioeconomic status / class and can lead to bias, even subconsciously. Think pick-up basketball vs. golfing.

      2. Green great dragon*

        I don’t know why they ask this question, but answering with something about bringing your kids up seems appropriate. Not strictly a hobby, but it is a thing you do in your non-work time.

      3. JSPA*

        Yep. “I deal with work stress by thinking of the alcohol I will consume later” isn’t going to be a helpful answer.

        1. Too many of us have seen where that leads. Especially when, “if favorite tipple isn’t available, I’m also a connoiseur of anything else that contains alcohol and comes in multiples” is in play.

        2. You need an actual strategy for dealing with work stress, at work. Dealing with = resolving it or refaming it–not “it’ll all look better through the bottom of a glass, later.”

        1. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

          *sarcasm warning*
          Hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

    3. John Smith*

      Not just you. I think it’s a weird question also. I don’t really have any hobbies – I just like enjoying myself which isn’t a great answer so I just embellish, but never ever lie. An example at the end of a long interview:

      “What are your hobbies?”
      “Music! I love playing the piano and the violin. But if you don’t mind wrapping up, I really need to catch the 3:15 train back to London”
      “So, do you know Mozart? Bach?”
      “Oh yes, I met them both! Lovely people. Very talented. Haydn as well – I taught him a few tricks! I really do need to catch the 3:15 train to London though”.
      “What about Brahms?”
      “Oh he was ok. I suggested he meet up with Liszt to play together but it didn’t work out well. Now I really must catch the 3:15 train back to London if we can wrap up.”

      After the interviewee left the panel discussed the candidates performance and how impressed they were with his musical experience. He was to be shortlisted until someone said they felt the candidate was lying.
      “What makes you say that?”
      “I had to check the train times myself on the way in and there is no 3:15 train to London!”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        “Sir, you are in Kansas. There is no train to London.” ;)

        I don’t really have any hobbies – I just like enjoying myself

        Hey, that’s me. When I did extensive interview prep a year ago, and was preparing for an answer to this question as well, I decided I’d go with “my hobby is learning new things”, which is both accurate and can be used in my favor professionally, as a large part of my work is continually learning new things. Haven’t been asked it so far, though.

    4. allathian*

      Yeah, this. I’m more comfortable sharing when I’m actually working with people, but it’s not a question I’m very comfortable answering in a work context. Mainly because I don’t have any real hobbies these days. I do like reading, but I’m mostly re-reading old sci-fi, fantasy, and crime novels that I’ve read umpteen times already. Other than that, I watch quite a lot of sci-fi and crime shows and documentaries on various streaming services, and in safer times, enjoy going to the movies, but that’s basically it. I used to dabble in graphics, but I haven’t even done any of that for a couple years at least… I used to enjoy learning languages, but I don’t have the spoons to start learning a new language now, either.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        ‘Dabble’ is a useful word for this question. If you have tried a lot of hobbies and dropped them, maybe you just like to dabble in something new. And possibly interview-relevant. Learning the basics well enough to understand & assist a friend who is really into a hobby? That is a skill you’d use to manage a department you’ve never worked in.

        1. Anonymous4*

          “I enjoy trying new things. For instance, I enjoyed learning graphics for a while but now I’m looking into Lugandian nose-singing.”

          1. KateM*

            So what if I said that I have boxes and boxes of materials for different crafts that I have done and enjoyed and that I loathe to give away because what if one day I will need exactly that thing?

            (I mean – once I needed a very certain kind of button or something like that and instead of planning a shopping trip I dug out my polymer clay…)

            1. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

              -Looks around my room-
              Well now… xD

              Hoarding does have its benefits, no?

            2. Simply the best*

              I have long said accumulating craft supplies and doing actual crafts are two separate hobbies.

      2. Meow*

        As far as I’m concerned reading and watching movies ARE hobbies, especially when you focus on a specific genre. I kind of resent the idea that a hobby has to be something active or artistic, or that it doesn’t count unless you’ve become quite good or spend a lot of time doing it.

        1. pancakes*

          I would think those are indeed hobbies as far as an anyone is concerned. None of the people who’ve said that they ask about this in interviews have specified that they’re looking for something more physical or more artistic, and I’ve never had that impression when I’ve been asked. It seems like that impression is coming from people who are nervous about answering because they’ve extrapolated the question into one more intrusive or specific than it actually is.

    5. Bamcheeks*

      We had to do a mortgage reapplication recently and they go through your full budget and what you spend on different things, and they mortgage adviser really pushed me on “what are yours and your partner’s hobbies?” and sounded really sceptical when I said “none”. Like, we have two children under six, we both work full time, and it’s been various levels of lockdown for twenty-two of the last twenty four months! Some people might be able to squeeze a hobby in, but surely there’s no shame in answering with hollow laughter!

      1. Birch*

        We got this question too and it’s so weird and invasive and roundabout! Just ask if we have any large monthly expenditures, that’s what they really want to know.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Huh. I’ve never had a mortgage officer look at my budget before, let alone ask me questions about it. I had to submit the statement for my checking account, but even there I run most of my day to day finances through a credit card so the checking account doesn’t really tell them anything detailed.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Oo, I gotcha. When I refinanced this summer literally all I had to submit was my last two paystubs.

          2. Anonymous4*

            They wanted to look at your BUDGET? Wow! Someone wants to start poking into all the details of my spending and they’re going to get a very dusty answer accompanied by some really nasty looks. This is what I make. This is my credit score. These are my assets. This is the loan for which I’m applying. My specific spending habits are NONE of their business.

            1. SarahKay*

              They don’t specifically demand to see your budget, but you get asked on your spend for travel, utilities, council tax (local authority tax based on home value) hobbies, monthly saving amount, I think food, possibly a couple of other categories I’ve forgotten. If you put a very low answer you’re asked why. I put that travel was £120/year and got asked to explain why it was so low. Answer: I walk to work and that’s the cost of the two pairs of shoes I’ll go through each year as a result of doing that walk.
              The idea is that the banks get a genuine understanding of whether you can really afford the mortgage and reduce their risk.
              At least in the UK the dusty answer and nasty looks will sadly not acheive a mortgage…

              1. UKDancer*

                Definitely. This is part of their job to try and make sure you can afford to repay and, if the rates go up, you will be able to repay in the future. Especially if you’re a first time buyer or you’re borrowing a lot of money proportionate to income. Giving them nasty looks and being difficult just means they’re less likely to give you the money.

                My first mortgage they asked a lot of questions to make sure I could keep affording the repayments. When I moved house 9 years later they were a lot less interested because I had a 9 year history of repayments and my salary had gone up so I could afford the repayments more comfortably.

            2. Electric Sheep*

              It’s totally standard in Australia for the banks to look at all your expenses to make sure you can afford to service the loan. They will go through your bank statements. Totally unremarkable.

              But then our housing market is very expensive so maybe that’s why.

            3. Bagpuss*

              They are required to consider affordability of the mortgage, it’s supposed to stop people winding up with massive, unmanageable debt leading to repossessions.
              I can’t remember the exact requirement but they have to consider not only whether you can afford the mortgage now, but do a ‘stress test’ to see if you’re still going to be able to afford it if mortgage rates go up .
              Obviously it is a bit of a blunt instrument because things like losing a job or starting a family could mean your financials change massively anyway , but that’s why it’s done.

              Which also means that some applicants get looked at much more closely than others – if you are borrowing 90% of the value of the house you are buying and looking to borrow right at the top of the affordability range for someone on your income, then they will look much more closely than if you are borrowing 60% of the house value and borrowing in the mid to low range based on your income.

              1. TechWorker*

                Yep, I didn’t get these questions at all but then we were cautious/lucky enough not to be anywhere near the upper end of our borrowing.

    6. me*

      In most situations, I agree with you especially because a lot of it can go to “culture fit” and find a way to exclude people who aren’t interested in participating in extracurricular work activities (such as World of Warcraft Wednesdays with the bros outside of work)

      1. DarthVelma*

        I’m an avid video-gamer, and have been since Pong came out. And I wouldn’t participate in WoW Wednesday for all the money in the world.

        As to OP1, I’m an amateur bartending enthusiast. I love trying new cocktails and even inventing my own. But I’m not sure I would mention that in an interview, even though it does actually highlight things that also apply to my work, like my intense attention to detail and willingness to stick with something until I get it right. I usually go with reading non-fiction or watching historical dramas to pick at the inaccuracies. :-)

        Somehow, despite the well-worn cultural ideal of relaxing in a bubble bath with a glass of wine and a good book, people still get weird if you tell them that’s actually what you do to de-stress and relax.

      2. Me*

        I interviewed once where this question was asked. They 100000% were looking for people who said they did volunteer work because as an agency they did after hours volunteer work.

        1. pancakes*

          A lot of workplaces do group volunteer work, especially big finance firms and law firms. I don’t think the fact that this is common implies that more volunteer work is the only acceptable pastime for applicants.

          1. Me*

            I’m not speaking in general. I’m relaying my very specific experience. They absolute were only interested in individuals who volunteered in their free time.

    7. Melly Melz*

      They want to understand who you are as a person. It’s critical for any good company or team situation to at least have some connection besides the actual work. You don’t have to be best buddies or a “family” with your co-workers but when someone adamantly refuses to share any knowledge about their personal life, it often sets them apart from the rest of their company and team. And in the interviewing process, it’s a red flag that often gets them bypassed.

      1. Starbuck*

        Personal life information really shouldn’t be taken into account at the interviewing stage. It’s a minefield for bias and discrimination (what if I don’t have time for hobbies because I have lots of childcare duties or a disability that leaves me with no energy for them? what if most of my free time is taken up with volunteering at my mosque? or what if I manage to impress you with my fancy, expensive, high class hobby of Fabergé egg collecting?) and you don’t need to know anything about my personal life to be able to determine if I can get the work done and get along with my colleagues.

        1. Tali*

          Yeah if you can’t BS your way through a short casual conversation about “hobbies” or “family” or “the weekend” then you’re going to struggle to connect with many humans, especially those not online.

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

      Yeah. My hobbies can be considered as snobby from the outside, but I can enjoy them on a budget. For example, opera, but the cheapest seats with little to no dress code and on Thursdays… Or bootlegs (love bootlegs!) Or classical music, but on Spotify. I just say I go swimming or biking while listening to podcasts instead.

    9. RabbitRabbit*

      I had a job interview where the interviewer was going off a list of pre-prepared questions (it was even printed-out), and at least 4-5 were variants on hobbies. What do you do for fun, what do you do as a hobby, what do you do to unwind, what do you do on weekends, something like that. I was struggling by the end to figure out what the distinctions were and if I was answering right. Then after a previous phone interview plus that (pre-COVID) in-person interview, they ghosted me. Ugh.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        That being said, even though I’m a huge craft beer fan and tend to visit alcohol-related destination spots on vacations, it took me until one of the last questions to even mention alcohol (I think I said ‘attending wine tastings with friends.’). And I certainly didn’t list it under what I do to de-stress.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I’m not seeing the de-stress question as being the same as the hobby question. If I am doing a hobby thing, I can get stressed worrying about getting a certain part right, such as adding a zipper to a garment. So hobbies do not equal de-stress for me.

        But overall, I don’t think there is a correct answer here. I think they just want to see us talk about something that is familiar to us.

        I’m sorry they ghosted you.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes, dressmaking can be frustrating. I love it, but it’s sometimes a struggle, giving up several times on a garment before finally getting it right.
          But some hobbies can be great for de-stressing. For me it’s swimming: I’ll be fully focussed on getting my lengths in before closing time, and not obsessing over my work during that time is wonderful. Then come bedtime, I’m exhausted and I’ll fall asleep very quickly.

      3. Starbuck*

        “What do you do on the weekends” is a SUPER inappropriate question in an interview! I would not want to ask that of any candidate because I absolutely do not need to know, and they might decide to share info on religious observances, which I super don’t want to be made aware of in the interview process since it’s not information I should have at that stage.

    10. Asenath*

      I always think that I have such boring hobbies, and I way overthink what will happen if I have to respond to that question. Books – they’ll ask me my favourite kind, and should I pick the escapist type of science fiction I love, the biographies I also love, but which are always about historical figures rather than more recognizable modern people, or try to fake having read something on the best seller list? Or true crime! Will that make the interviewer think I’m planning to expand my activities that way? It’s almost worse if I say I like music, because I think they might expect me to sing an aria. And what does any of this (or the other “hobbies” my wandering attention has been focused on from time to time) have to do with my work?

    11. Cosplay Blues*

      Same. My main hobby is cosplaying which by itself can trigger judgment. But that can also open up a whole can of worms cuz it’s connected to so many things. Cosplay is very closely associated with video games and anime, which can be looked on as childish. A lot of my cosplays involve crossdressing, which brings up a ton of questions about my gender and sexuality that I prefer to keep out of the office. Before COVID I’d frequently go on long weekend trips and be completely exhausted by the end. I sew, but every sewist has a horror story about being immediately asked to do some ridiculous sewing project for free once that comes up. And so on.

      Thankfully I started a martial arts class a few years ago and that’s a pretty simple answer to the question.

      1. pancakes*

        If you tell an interviewer that sewing is one of your hobbies and they immediately ask for free work, that’s pretty useful information about why the job isn’t desirable!

      2. Chirpy*

        I cosplay with a group that raises money for charities like Make A Wish. The costumes have to be screen accurate and take a lot of time, skill, and/or money to meet standards, and these are costumes considered good enough (or in some cases, better than!) the actual screen used ones, and the actual filmmakers have used members of these groups in official capacities (parades, premieres, even film extras)….but yeah, it’s still considered childish by some.
        I’ve had better luck getting people to understand by playing up the charity aspect, honestly, even though I do still do other cosplays for fun. Also, sometimes, telling people how much a screen accurate costume actually costs gets them to realize it’s serious. :p

      3. Danish*

        I usually describe cosplay as a sewing competition, since I usually enter at least hallway competitions. Vague “I recreate character outfits and show them off at local conventions” worked well BEFORE anime cons and cosplay became better known, but now unfortunately most people will say something like “conventions… like comiccon?” and then I’m busted ;)

    12. Me*

      I don’t like it at all. There’s no reason an employer need to know nor should be making any kind of judgement about what people do in their free time.

      It also can be a sneaky way to try to find out things they should be asking about. Like family status.

    13. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

      I always thought that the hobby type of questions were really weird and were trying to gauge what my intellect is. Like if I answered like to watch tv that would be lower than watching old classic movies. Or they want to see if any of my hobbies would take me away from work. Like if I play in an amature volleyball league and have to leave at 4 every Friday they might not like that because then they cant ask me to stay late.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Honestly, I think they just want some kind of sign that you’re an OK person, get a feel of whether you’re likely to fit in. If your hobby is BDSM they don’t want you for example. But of course nobody would admit that at an interview.

    14. Anonymous Hippo*

      I’ve always thought of it as a lighten the mood sort of question. A little break to talk about something innocuous so everyone can relax a little as it’s not a test at this point. Judging from all the consternation in the comments around this question I guess I’m wrong about that. It never occurred to me to question how my hobbies might be taken, but then I’m pretty open and have been known to blurt out I was raised in a cult at unsuspecting folks LOL.

    15. Lora*

      So, here’s why I ask: I generally ask about hobbies *in addition* to asking, tell me about a time you had a conflict at work, how did you resolve it, tell me about a time you disagreed about data and how did you figure it out, etc. in a work context, but if the answers to those questions are not particularly satisfying, then yeah I’m going to ask about hobbies also. I’ve had people stare at me blankly and say they NEVER have conflicts at work, or tell me they just make other people agree with them, and that’s when the What Are Your Hobbies question comes out.

      If you have made it to the interview stage at all, I am already pretty confident you have the technical skills to do the job. What I am trying to figure out is, personality wise will you fit into the existing group? I don’t need everyone to be best buddies but unfortunately I HAVE had multiple experiences of being in a group, being associated with a group, or otherwise having to work with a Personality Problem. They are hard to get rid of, because nobody else wants to hire them or deal with them, and they are almost impossible to fix / coach out of their personality, and I am frankly not the A-hole Whisperer: they can take this nonsense to a therapist, if they want to improve their personalities (they never do, it’s always the world should adapt to their misunderstood brilliance). And many senior managers (whose approval you need to fire them outright) simply will not take Personality Problems seriously, they think you should somehow scold everyone into getting along. Especially if the Personality Problem is of the kiss-up kick-down variety. I do not want to hire such people, if I can possibly avoid it. So I will ask questions about their hobbies, if their answers about communication and conflict resolution don’t yield very good answers.

      Additionally, I am reliably told that for client facing type of roles, this is a relevant question because they want to know if you will get along with clients. In my field, which is emphatically male dominated (it sucks but that is the state of it and it’s unlikely to change within the next decade or three), that means you better be able to get along with very wealthy men. They will likely also be wealthy men in various and sundry countries around the world, so the usual country club type hobbies are great but may be insufficient, depending on the size of the company you’re interviewing with. Saying one of your hobbies is international travel (and believe me I know ALL the ways in which that is problematic) goes a long way with these type of companies.

      I have indeed worked for companies where there were Right and Wrong answers to the hobby question, and they were very classist, which is a whole other story, but like any discriminatory type of thing you can view it as a litmus test for them too: do you want to work with people who are snobby about you coaching kids’ basketball, or would you need to be paid a lot more to put up with that kind of bullsht?

      1. Starbuck*

        “I have indeed worked for companies where there were Right and Wrong answers to the hobby question, and they were very classist, which is a whole other story”

        But that is exactly why *no one* should be asking these questions! Because how does the candidate know that you’re not the type of place that’s going to use the info they give for discriminatory purposes? You’ve just given so many examples as to why it’s a terrible line of questioning.

      2. Texas*

        I mean, things definitely won’t change within the next decade or three if everything is done as it always is and no one tries to change anything. Progress doesn’t come by waiting for enough time to pass.

      3. Chirpy*

        I have a long history of people either not understanding my hobbies, or outright deriding them. It’s a bad question, and definitely can be used to get around things that are illegal to ask like marital status.

        Even something simple like kayaking can be used to pigeonhole someone as “antisocial” because it can be done alone. Which is part of why I do it, unlike a canoe I don’t have to rely on someone else to be there to make it possible. It’s fun with a group, sure, but I don’t have a spouse to go with and that has come up in conversation as to why pick kayaks over canoes. There’s a lot of things that are do it yourself or not at all when you’re single, and some people don’t get that single people aren’t somehow “broken.”

        1. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

          The layperson normally wouldn’t even know the difference between a kayak vs a canoe. But its nice to see someone who enjoys the open water too! Just paddling along the coast and camping when you feel like you’ve had enough for the day.

          1. Chirpy*

            Right? I used to be able to go out on the river for a few hours on weeknights, it was a great way to de-stress after work. Sometimes it’s even better alone, I finally got some peace and quiet, haha.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Kayaking is a dandy sounding interview hobby too, especially if they are asking for after-work destressor! That last sentence? Golden!

    16. Zee*

      Same. And sometimes it seems like a way for them to try and get around illegal questions, like whether you have kids or not.

    17. Texas*

      I feel a similar way, since it doesn’t have an impact at all on my work. I imagine there are reasons why hiring managers ask this question, but it puts me on edge because I feel like I have to evaluate how to present my hobbies in a way that makes me look like a good worker. It feels like the all-consuming hustle culture where everything you do has to contribute towards your career in some way. (With the context that I recently graduated from college where hobbies meant clubs/groups you’re part of that are pre-professional/relate to your major/career goals)

    1. Pikachu*

      Yeah, I hope this isn’t OP but in my experience “I’m super into craft [alcohol]” can be a very convenient, socially acceptable cover for problem drinking.

      1. Violet Fox*

        Yeah, my former coworker talked like that, but what it turned out to be is that he was eventually into up to 6-8 beers a night. This was enough that with his body size, he will still be drunk by morning, and by around early to mid-afternoon, getting the shakes.

        But it started with talk of craft-beer and home brewing. For someone I knew personally it was “I can’t be an alcoholic, I only drink wine.”

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Regularly drinking as a way to de-stress is not good. There’s a difference between the occasional ‘phew it’s been a tough day and I’m going to make myself a G&T’ and using it as a default strategy when you’re stressed.

        It’s a fuzzy line and I can’t say which side of it LW is on, but yes, I understand why someone would be concerned.

        1. Boof*

          There’s also a difference between social drinking and drinking purely for the buzz; I could see de-stressing with some friends in a bar* being a decent coping technique but just downing a drink for the soothing effects; not so great.

          *covid aside in current times

      2. Despachito*

        We have recently been quite a bit into rum tasting, but I do not think of it as of a hobby, and I’d consider it weird mentioning it in a work interview.

        As I read the LW’s question, I immediately thought “hey, a red flag – possible alcoholism”. It was not the whiskey tasting per se, but the way it was phrased, plus mentioning the de-stressing thing.

        So I assume that whether it is true or not, other people might think the same, and it could do harm to the LW when interviewing.

        I would definitely 1) go for a milder phrasing (like “I am a foodie and like trying different restaurants”, and definitely would not make it look that my main hobby turns around alcohol), and 2) be honest with myself as to my own relation to alcohol, and perhaps work on not having it as my main hobby (although I like my rums, I deliberately put a brake on it because I felt that even having one shot tends to be much if it is every evening).

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I have been watching the full box set of MASH. In a season 1 episode, Hawkeye and Trapper John start to pour a martini after a long surgery session, look at each other, and say “We’ve been doing an awful lot of this. Let’s not.” And they put it down and do no more drinking for the rest of the (stressful plot twist) episode.
          The enjoyment if a drink is very different from falling into a habit of needing it.

      3. Dutchie*

        I think the thing that worries me is that apparently the LW is not able to mention any other hobbies. If they would also engage in, say. running, puzzling and/or D&D they could easily mention that, right?

        But apparently LW has neither another hobby nor another way to relax and that sounds like a potential problematic situation to me.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Yeah, this struck me as the kind of thing that’s much better to list as your third hobby rather than only hobby.

        2. Loulou*

          I mean, plenty of people don’t have any hobbies. It doesn’t seem obviously worrying to me not to, and doesn’t imply that OP spends all their time drinking. Presumably they do watch TV or read or something else that’s more of a pastime/entertainment than hobby.

        3. Stitch*

          I’ve actually done some wine tasting and if you want to actually try the wine, you 100% can’t get tipsy as it makes it harder to taste. So I pretty much never drink the whole pour, even if I liked the wine.

      4. bamcheeks*

        Biggest flag for me is the “I NEVER went to work drunk or hungover”. There is lots of alcoholism in my family and having those kind of rules to prove to yourself you’re still on the right side of a line is extremely familiar to me (“but I never drink alone” / “but I only drink high quality alcohol” / “but I always get up before 8am even if I’m not feeling great” are some of the classics in my family.) All of that stuff is super irrelevant– what matters is whether you’re spending the majority of your time thinking about the next allowed, acceptable drink and whether you use alcohol to avoid problems, relationships and emotions.

        1. bamcheeks*

          (to be honest the entire premise of the question is “I don’t really think about anything except drinking and I want to be able to professional-wash this for work.”)

        2. Boof*

          I get what you’re saying but in the context of the question it’s be pretty normal to stress that too… i think the main sign of addiction is *does the person keep doing it despite the behavior causing problems*. Of course that’s a little nebulous to define because, as you say, the addict is likely in denial about the problems; why asking friends and associates can give some helpful perspective.
          But I’ll def agree using alcohol to cope with stress sounds maladaptive.

      5. londonedit*

        My first reaction to this comment was also ‘Really?!’, because I absolutely hate the whole ‘literally anyone who enjoys drinking must secretly have a problem with alcohol’ thing. I like wine. I enjoy drinking wine. I live by myself so – shock horror – I quite often ‘drink alone’. I do not have a problem with alcohol, I don’t have to drink every night, I resent the implication that because someone mentions enjoying a few drinks then it’s a ‘red flag’ and actually they really have a problem. No.

        However, you have to admit that LW1 is talking about drinking while at the office – again, in my industry it’s not uncommon for people to have drinks in the office for someone’s birthday, or on the odd Friday at 4pm, or whatever. But it is uncommon for someone to be alone at their desk after work hours pouring themselves a whisky because they’re stressed. I feel like that’s what’s pushing it into ‘Are you sure you’re OK?’ territory – if the question was just ‘I’m a whisky connoisseur and enjoy going to specialist whisky bars at the weekend, is it OK to mention this as a hobby?’ then fine, but it’s the ‘I drink in the office after work hours to de-stress’ bit that’s slightly more problematic. They can’t even wait until they get home to pour themselves a nice drink?

      6. RabbitRabbit*

        He admitted to drinking at work before even heading home. Big red flag.

        “When I got stressed at my previous job, I often poured myself a glass after office hours. (Strictly never drank during working hours nor come to work drunk/hungover. And I know drinking in the office on a semi-regular basis is not great, and I won’t do it at my next job.)”

        1. Stitch*

          Yes, the comment about drinking to distress while still at work is a big ol red flag to me. Particularly if the person then drove home. Just, no.

        2. CupcakeCounter*

          I saw this red flag in myself at the start of the pandemic when we first went to WFH. It was a new job and I was still navigating some of the norms and had a hard time turning off. So when I decided I needed to be done for the day, I’d pour a glass of wine and that would put work at a dead stop.
          Then since the wine was open, I’d have another glass with dinner. Needless to say the recycling bin clinked a lot and I got a bit of a wakeup call when the case of wine I’d ordered from a small winery near my late grandparents home was gone in a month when it usually lasted most of a year.
          And then I got laid off and spent a couple weeks wallowing and then a few weeks partying my booty off before I started a new job…which sucked so much but since I was working until very late hours on-site I definitely drank less.
          No history of alcoholism in my family but I don’t want to be the first so no more post-work/dinner prep/dinner glass of wine. I am now a social drinker only and am happy to be DD if one is needed. I think I enjoy the taste and the buzz more that is isn’t a daily occurrence. I feel for me it was more habit/routine than addiction but it is a slippery slope and I’m glad I was able to see the signs early enough.
          I am 100% addicted to caffeine and sugar though…

    2. Bamcheeks*

      Yes. Reminds me a lot of several problem-drinkers I know who do a lot of, “I can’t be an alcoholic, because I would NEVER [thing that is associated with stereotypical problem drinking, but which is completely compatible with alcoholism].” I hope you get to a place where you can look back on this letter and see the red flags.

      1. Despachito*

        Why?

        I think several commenters see similar red flags in LW’s presentation of the hobby, and LW himself sees it as worth of asking, which means he also feels that something might be off.

        I see this as a feedback on LW’s question (yes, it indeed can come across as suspicious to the potential recruiters), and at the same time a gentle nudge that perhaps it might be worth reconsidering other methods of destressing than alcohol.

        1. Tayto*

          Because of the tone and wording of the first post. Like I said above, it comes off as very patronising. It’s one thing to point out that alcohol use as described might be a problem (though I’d say that might also break the ‘no internet diagnosing’ rule) but I’d be bristling if someone used those exact words to me. It’s not much different to ‘I feel sorry for you’ or ‘I’ll pray for you’.

        2. mreasy*

          Commenters are presuming that the LW is a problem drinker when they have indicated they are not. We’re supposed to take LWs at their word.

      2. Rebecca*

        I agree. Counter to the rules and a little like pearl-clutching. The question was, ‘is this a work appropriate hobby’ and not ‘is it a hobby appropriate hobby’.

        I describe myself as into craft beer. That means that when I choose a bar, I choose a bar that serves craft beer, and I take pleasure in choosing and discussing the beers there. I do that 1-3 times a week with friends, and when meeting new social contacts I mention it in case we have that in common. The fact that I wouldn’t talk about that at a job interview doesn’t mean that it makes me an alcoholic. Neither does the fact that I have a drink after work to de-stress, or the fact that I use ‘I need a drink’ as humorous shorthand for ‘my day sucked’. I also have alcoholism in my family and there is a HUGE difference.

        The defensiveness in the letter that some people are reading as hints that the OP might be an alcoholic reads more to me as heading off these exact assumptions in the course of getting a straightforward answer about work.

        OP: enjoy your whiskey. you should try some of the Icelandic stuff. Don’t chat about it with a potential boss.

        1. londonedit*

          I wrote a reply above that seems to be in moderation for some reason (I didn’t swear, promise!) but basically I agree with all of this. I really dislike people interpreting any mention of alcohol as evidence of ‘a problem’ (it’s absolutely everywhere this month thanks to flipping Dry January, which according to most of social media you are an alcoholic if you’re not participating in). I do think LW1 needs to have a look at the fact that they’re drinking at work after office hours, and I don’t think ‘drinking’ is an acceptable thing to list as a hobby in a job interview. There are ways of describing it, of course, but I agree with Alison that linking it to de-stressing is going to give an interviewer pause for thought. But I wouldn’t dream of suggesting I’m ‘worried about’ LW1. Some of us just enjoy a drink. Or a few drinks. And I definitely agree that what people are perceiving as defensiveness, I read as ‘OK, people are going to assume I’m an alcoholic, so I’m going to make sure I’m clear on the fact that I definitely don’t have a problem’.

          1. LDN Layabout*

            The reason it’s giving people pause is that stress is an (unfortunately) fundamental part of human life and if your first thought of ‘how do you de-stress’ is ‘well, I drink’ that has the potential to be fairly harmful in the long run.

            I say this as someone who drinks fairly regularly and has no issues with alcohol.

            1. londonedit*

              I get that, and I agree, but I still don’t think there’s any need for the patronising ‘I’m worried about you’.

              1. LDN Layabout*

                I don’t think a single I’m worried about you is patronising to be honest, especially when the letter writer admits they’re drinking alone at work to cope but brushes it off with ‘oh yeah I won’t do that anymore’ (unless the next job also becomes stressful).

                It also gives a prime example to the LW of why talking about drinking in an interview can be an issue.

          2. Stitch*

            I think this is far from “any mention of alcohol”. I like wine tasting myself but there are red flags here. Drinking by yourself at work to de-stress (and doing it with some regularity) is hugely different from having a beer with friends or a glass of wine with dinner.

    3. Non*

      agreed as a sober person from a family w plenty of alcoholics, drinking at work alone is something I’d worry about if it were a personal friend or family. And “I never come to work drunk/hungover”….I certainly hope not! Should go unsaid

    4. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      After reading all the responses to this comment, I just want to say that I don’t think it sounds patronizing, condescending, pearl-clutching, or judgmental at all. I read it as a sincere (and not unfounded) expression of genuine concern.

      I just wanted to go on record with that, as an adult child of an alcoholic who hardly drinks at all.

    5. anonymous73*

      Why? You and most of the other comments on this thread are making a whole lot of assumptions with very little information. Please stop. Your comments are not helpful.

  13. John Smith*

    #1. One point to consider is whether the organisation has a policy on alcohol due to the job. You may not come across well with your answer if you’re applying to be an airline pilot or train driver!

  14. Selma*

    For the OP looking to up their dressing game. I wonder if some of the difficulty dressing up has to do with textures? I’m probably on the spectrum and uncomfortable clothes are torture. So I found stretchy pants that look like nice pants, a cotton top, and soft flowy jacket work, also comfortable supportive shoes (I can get away with sneakers). There are clothes that look nice which are also comfortable. If possible find people whose style looks professional and then emulate while finding comfy clothes. A belt around the waist, itchy material, too many buttons just don’t torture yourself.

    1. BookishMiss*

      Seconding this. Lately my sensory system has been Weird, so the only things that i can wear to work that don’t set me off are Gap t shirts. I can dress them up with a cardigan or jacket, or i can leave them as is… But it’s a great idea to have base clothing items that feel good to wear.

      1. BookishMiss*

        …i also wear pants to work.

        Usually just a dark wash pair of jeans, and then fuzzy socks because I live in the tundra that is central New York and they feel nice. But it took a bit to find textures that don’t bother me currently, so once I did, it kind of became my work uniform.

        1. Selma*

          Fuzzy warm socks all the way! Before I figured this out, dressing professionally was miserable and unsustainable because it felt like an event to get dressed and I knew I’d be on edge in those clothes. Find clothes you don’t want to change out of when you get home. Wearing make up is also a no go, take Allison’s advice about cleaning up eye brows if it’s possible to avoid make up and find a hairstyle that’s comfortable but put together.

            1. Selma*

              I live in Colorado so just running shoes, but you could get nice boots, or any shoes that go up to your ankle. They don’t have to look much different from regular socks just thicker. Trying to avoid shoes without much support that makes it uncomfortable to walk.

            2. Prefer my pets*

              When I was in a business casual office that leaned towards the business rather than casual end, I found that Clarks makes a lot of nice loafer-ish shoes that I could wear smartwool/darntough/etc socks under. Dansko also had a few dress clogs that worked but those weren’t as good on snow/slush days.

            3. BookishMiss*

              Sneakers and nicer boots, mostly. I can’t wear heels anymore, which is a bummer, but there are a lot of flat boots and nicer-looking sneakers out there that work.

    2. Momma Bear*

      For the person looking to improve their look – maybe start simple with a haircut that makes you feel good, but is easy to maintain, and some simple shirts in colors other than black. I wear a lot of polos and have a selection of Lands End sweaters that I buy at end of season clearance. Throw on some slacks or jeans and some non-sneaker shoes, and done. I’m glad OP is feeling better and should not worry about other people when they choose how to dress.

  15. Speaks to Dragonflies*

    OP 2- If you still feel apprehensive about going full tilt polished, could you do it gradually over time? Maybe start integrating color back into your wardrobe along with a better fit. Then start changing up and doing something different with your hair over the span of a few weeks. Do it gradually enough, and no one will notice.
    On a side note, at least for me, when I’m dressed a bit nicer for work, I have a tendency to try and be more professional in my performance. I know it’s all in my head but when I know I look more professional, I feel more professional. Maybe this could be a reason to tell your coworkers if they do notice.

    1. Cubicle_queen*

      I was looking for this kind of comment so I could piggyback on it. I had the same thought process: 1) Start with some better-fitting blacks. Even just the fabric of a black blouse can fit you more flatteringly. 2) Add 1 or 2 colored jacket/cardigans. Go for grey, even! You don’t have to add loud colors. 3) Add a different colored top/bottom. (You can still stay in the dark-neutral territory.)

      I don’t know what your work environment or industry is like, but I really downplay concern over my hair, or it would take up so much of my morning and anxiety. If your outfits are a little more fitted and varied, you may be able to continue with pulling the hair back. Maybe add a finishing cream to tamp down on the frizz, or use giant clips instead of “scraped back in a ponytail.” Or let it dry in a side-braid. You can also counterbalance a really minimal hairstyle by putting on mascara & colored gloss (I use Burt’s Bees and find it’s just as effective as lipstick, but easier.)

      Just remember that you can take a couple small steps and it’s still effective; you don’t need to jump to the other end in order to make a difference.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes! I’ve even noticed that I change how I walk according to how I dress. I slouch along in a hoodie and trainers, and I walk upright, at a pace that says I mean it, when in smart clothes and shoes. So upping her game will also help her improve her performance at work, as well as improving people’s perception of her.

  16. Dark Macadamia*

    LW2, it kind of sounds like you’re picturing a full movie-style makeover where you go home as Scruffy T-Shirt Person and show up the next day as Elle Woods. It really doesn’t have to be dramatic, out of character, or unsustainable! Better quality/fitting all-black clothes might make you feel more put together than your current casual stuff. It’s easier to put on some mascara than a full face of makeup. Can you change one step or product of your hair routine to get a result you’re happier with, like one of those dryer-brush things (no idea if they work lol) or a smoothing cream or even just like, fancier looking hair ties? I think if you look at it as being the best version of who you already are it might feel less daunting than being a “new and better” version.

    1. Allonge*

      This, exactly.
      LW2, it’s also just not necessary to do clothes AND hair AND makeup (certainly not all at once, but not even longer term).

      – In the last 20 years or so, I used lipstick / lipgloss about once a week and that was it for makeup. These days, with masks, that is gone too. Nobody ever commented on this as unprofessional.If you want, go ahead and experiment, but it’s ok to take it one at a time.
      – If you can, get a haircut that is easy(er) to maintain and still looks neat.
      – If your budget allows: get some well-fitting pants (black is great, go wild and pick a grey one) or skirts / dresses, whatever is more your thing. Simple tops (comfortable and professional can coexist!). Easy wash, no iron versions exist. Get a pair of new black shoes (flats are fine, comfortable is not non-professional). Boom.

      And, uh, I am not sure how to say this as my mind works differently, but: scruffy seems to be part of your identity a lot more than it’s a choice of grooming. Maybe that’s something to think about? Well-fitting clothes take the same time to get on in the morning as ill-fitting ones. This does not have to be a major!personality!change if you don’t want it to be.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        +1 to your last paragraph. It feels like the OP think she’s not good enough somehow to dress nicely? Which is a real shame.

        1. londonedit*

          Absolutely, I had the same thoughts. And I understand the feeling – when I was working in an office, my go-to outfit was a midi dress and trainers (smarter ones, like white Adidas or gold Converse). Working from home, I never wear my dresses. I still dress reasonably smartly, but at this time of year it’s jeans and nice jumpers. I just feel silly, for some reason, wearing a dress while working from home (unless it’s the summer and boiling hot) – I feel like I’m ‘dressing up’ or playing about or something. And I have a friend who thinks that is the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard, because she still wears her dresses every day despite WFH and points out that it actually takes less time and effort to put a dress on than it does to choose a pair of jeans and a jumper and put those on. Which, realistically, I completely agree with – but it doesn’t stop me feeling like I’ve dressed up like a five-year-old if I’m floating around the house on my own in a nice dress!

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Yes, I think LW has come to see the clothing as very symbolic of her inner self. Which can be true! For a lot of people “putting on my work clothes” and “doing my Mr Rogers with the sweater and slippers” are important transitional signals for the brain, and so the brain cooperates and goes into the desired mode.

        3. Dark Macadamia*

          It also sounds like she’s afraid she can’t go back or do both. I dress on the comfy/casual end of the spectrum and I’m not very fashionable, so my “making an effort” clothing isn’t all that different from my “wish I was in bed” clothing aside from things like fabric texture. Minimal makeup for me means either “I really wanted to look cute today” or “I really wanted to look awake today” and it’s the same look both times lol

        4. Attractive Nuisance*

          Yes, it seems like LW is very fixated on the scruffiness both as a big part of her identity and as the source of her problems at work. She says her performance has improved but she’s been demoted due to her appearance – I know we’re supposed to take commenters at their word, but that seems off to me. I wonder if there’s something deeper going on here and if it would benefit LW to talk to a professional about what the relationship is, in her mind, between her job performance, her appearance, her feelings about herself, and others’ feelings about her. It’s a complicated topic and I benefitted from talking to a therapist about it in the past.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            She does mention MH issues. I am optimistic here because the desire to change can indicate things may improve for her soon.

            I do have a story for you, OP. My husband was diagnosed diabetic and he had to lose weight. This meant he should get clothes that fit. I was privately cheering because most of his clothes were 20 yrs old. Being an extremely frugal person AND fashion blind, he saw no need to stop wearing the old clothes once we got the new ones. I made sure he had just a bit more than a weeks worth of new clothes. And then I let the folks at work handle the rest. He got so many compliments that the old clothes went to the back of the closet and then finally out the door.

            My best tidbit is to skim your closet and just get rid of the worst of the ill-fitting. For myself, I had certain older items that were a crutch, I would pull them out when I did not feel like thinking about clothes. I got rid of those and this forced me to think a little bit about what I was doing. Just take away the absolute worst 5 or so garments and see where that puts you.

    2. Radical Edward*

      Yes to all of this. I dropped my (already sporadic) makeup routine years ago and never looked back – funnily enough, people stopped commenting that I looked tired on my makeup-free days once *every* day was makeup-free…. Instead I focus on using the moisturizer, etc that keeps my skin happy.

      The easiest ‘big’ thing for me to keep up now is my haircut. I was always scared to chop it off for a pixie cut until I saw a profile photo of myself at work one day and realized that I didn’t like the look of my long hair at all! So I reminded myself that it would grow back if I hated it, and I bit the bullet. I got so many compliments from coworkers, it was really uplifting. And the regular monthly trim to keep the style in shape turned out to be good for me too: I always make my next appointment while I’m in the salon so I don’t forget or put it off. Then it’s my reason to leave the house on one particular Saturday morning, and I always feel relaxed and happy after a nice shampoo and scalp massage. The trade-off is that now I spend less time than ever before on my hair – no styling or blow drying at all, but it always looks sharp. It’s given me whole hours of my life back every week!

      When long flowy cardigans became popular I really lucked out, because they’re soft and comfy, easy-care, always available in basic colors, and suit my height. (I look like a giraffe in those more traditionally-cut cardigans and button-downs.) I have a bunch of black and grey pieces for when I can’t muster up any enthusiasm for color or outfit planning. Instant fancy: add a necklace.

      TL;DR definitely look at your options and preferences and try one small thing at a time if you feel intimidated or self-conscious. It can be a lot! You might be surprised how much of a difference one consistent change can make.

    3. Keyboard Jockey*

      This is a great idea! I have a casual environment, but I like to look nice. My rule is that I either wear nicer clothes or I wear makeup. (My hairstyle is purposefully very simple.) By having one or the other done, I always feel a little polished, but they take roughly the same amount of time (because I wear “natural” makeup and also my nicer clothes are always wrinkled and need steaming, haha.)

  17. Jo*

    I need to ask this (related to #2), is a ponytail really unprofessional?

    I’m a white woman, but I have very thick very unruly hair, and a lot of it, that, when I leave it loose, gets everywhere and makes my head look gigantic. It also poofs up when it only gets near a blow drier and straightening it lasts mayyyybe two hours. I wash my hair in the evening and let it air dry. I wear it in a ponytail or a bun (not top knot, just coiled up on the back of my head) and it’s never in a messy way, it’s generally all pulled tight because that’s how I like it. For the record, I look horrible with short hair, tried that and have discarded it.

    I don’t have to look particularly polished in my job – I need to look presentable, so no ripped jeans graphic Tees, but a nice clean denim jeans is perfectly acceptable – but now I’m really doubting this. I can’t change it either way, but I wonder what it means in the long term.

    1. Electric Sheep*

      I assumed they meant a messy ponytail or one that looks haphazard? I don’t work in a formal office but we do have a professional dress code (no jeans, no T-shirts; but people don’t wear suits) and multiple people there wear ponytails. In my office you’d be fine (even before we all moved to wfh.)

    2. Me*

      A neat ponytail is perfectly professional. If people want it quibble it does tend to look less professional if it’s a high, on top of head, pony vs high or low back of head.

      You’re totally fine.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I tend to keep to a low ponytail, but sometimes I’m in the middle of dragging equipment from one place to another and pull it up higher on my head or put it in a clip. I don’t go full “cheerleader” but a simple neat ponytail with a simple hair tie can be fine.

    3. Jax*

      Your ponytail is absolutely professional. To me, the only “unprofessional hair” is dirty hair. Visibly greasy, tangled, matted, etc.

      I was at a company where I worried if my looks were holding me back. It was sales focused, and the promotions seemed to go to the perky, thin, blonde 20-somethings. I was overweight, brunette, and felt like I was shoved in a back office to do in-house grunt work rather than schmooze customers because I didn’t have the right look. It bothered me for about a year. Then I realized that I didn’t WANT to work at a company that valued women only based on their looks or appeal to smarmy customers, and GTHO. I’m now happily typing this from a company that values diversity and inclusivity, and I’m rocking long curly hair that I purposely poof out as much as possible with my blowdryer/defuser.

      Just throwing that out there in case your worries about your hairstyle holding you back are coming from a similar looks-focused workplace. If so, it’s not you, it’s THEM. :)

    4. Little My*

      Honestly I think it sucks that our gendered standards mean that the appearance the letter writer describes can be seen as less professional! As a fellow curly-haired woman, I do not think ponytails or buns are unprofessional, nor do I think not wearing makeup or bright colors is. If a man would be allowed to wear it, so should I.

    5. Allonge*

      No hairstyle / do is unprofessional as long as it’s clean and does not look unkempt. Your ponytail is fine.

    6. Juror No. 7*

      Hi Jo,
      A ponytail isn’t unprofessional. I think the difference between your situation and OP2 is that your ponytail/bun is neat/never messy, as well as your overall appearance vs. OP2’s overall appearance. I wouldn’t worry about it. As they say, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

    7. EggyParm*

      The only time I’ve ever though a ponytail looked unprofessional was when it was still soaking wet or super greasy. I had a coworker that used to come to work with hair that hadn’t been washed in days and the result was that it made it look as if she wasn’t good at addressing basic hygiene needs. If you’re rocking a clean ponytail I say you’re good to go.

    8. LizM*

      I think for me, there is a big difference between, “I overslept so I threw my semi-brushed hair into a pony tail to get my kid to school on time” ponytail, vs a washed and brushed (or detangled, if you have curly hair) ponytail. (Speaking as a white woman with straight hair).

    9. Jo*

      I’m very thankful for all of your advice! I was a bit unsure about the “scraped together” ponytail since mine is pulled very tightly together. Thank you all so much, Im glad this community exists!

    10. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think like many styles ponytails can vary wildly in how “professional” they look. It’s hard to know from what OP writes whether they really are presenting unprofessionally or if they are just being too hard on themselves!

      It seems that they are mostly concerned about the fact that they just currently don’t have any kind of “maintenance” process for their hair. I don’t really do anything beyond air drying my hair and then sometimes putting it up or sometimes down, but I am am lucky enough to have hair that looks perfectly average without any real effort (I wish it looked nicer, but since it doesn’t require much maintenance I never really learned much maintenance!) I like to curl it sometimes for special occasions but I would certainly not bother to do so on a daily basis just for the office…

  18. R*

    With #4, you’re leaving anyway and they sound like a company of jerks. If they choose to spend time planning happy hour and making arrangements for it, and you don’t show up, making their efforts a complete waste of time and perhaps money, well that’s their problem, not yours.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      This feels like a fairly antagonistic take on the situation, especially considering the LW just has to say “no thanks, I don’t feel like doing a happy hour”

  19. Clare*

    OP#2, my advice for an easy way to start a minimal effort make-up routine is this: you can buy a pair of brown winged eye-liner stamps in the smallest size, a neutral lipstick, and some eye make-up remover. That’s it.

    People mentally associate wings with high effort, but with a stamp you can get both eyes done in under 2 minutes. So you LOOK like you’ve gone to some effort and you’ve got some skill – without any actual effort or skill. Plus the extra colour saturation from the ink allows you to skip all the work of mascara. Bold black wings are more of a party look that wouldn’t fly in most workplaces, but brown micro-wings are very different. Or you can skip the stamp and just use the eye-liner pen for an even more subtle look. 2 minutes for eyes and 10 seconds for lipstick and you’re made up! You don’t have to do foundation etc to tick the ‘minimum make-up’ box.

    To quote ex- make-up artist Jeremy Renner: “Brows. Lashes. Lips. Frame the face. It’s simple. It’s five minutes.”

    1. NYC Taxi*

      This is so true. You don’t have to do a full on face of makeup to look put together. I’m a minimalist with makeup but have a strong brows, lashes and lips game to the point that people mention how ‘put together’ I always look. Lipstick is magic – It elevates any look automatically. Good luck #2 – remember, transformation is a process – finding what you like/look good in will take time. Have fun with it!

  20. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    OP1 – I help organise beer festivals (or at least used to – hopefully will again) – I’ve framed it as people managment (aka herding cats), organisational skills etc – nobody really focuses on the beer aspect (apart from asking for samples!!).

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      100% would attend a beer fest organized by Zaphod Beeblebrox. Can you imagine how fun it’d be?

  21. EventPlannerGal*

    OP1 – What on earth. Given that I’ve always worked in hospitality in Scotland many many people I know are whisky/wine/etc hobbyists, but you cannot say in a job interview that your hobby is “drinking” or that you drink to cope with stress. You could try “whisky enthusiast” or “wine collector”, but honestly I wouldn’t even do that anyway if the extent of your interest is that you like drinking a bunch of different whiskies at bars or with friends. Personally I don’t think that rises to the level where I would talk about it in a job interview.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      On second thoughts maybe they could phrase it as “organising tastings” or something. But I still would probably go with something else.

      1. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

        Yeah, You never know who or how the interviewer is going to act. They may be someone who thinks anyone who drinks is automatically an alcoholic and will just shut down. I have people in my family like that and it’s frustrating.

  22. JSPA*

    OP 2: my only worry is they may assume you are job hunting, if you suddenly go all‐in. Dramatic swings are also more, well, dramatic.

    Try ramping up a bit at a time. This avoids the sudden shock, avoids the “must be searching,” underlines “making an effort,” and lets you find a sustainable level of effort.

  23. Former call centre worker*

    #3 I have worked complaints handling in retail, and your boss should have absolutely shut that one down. The customer is not always right, and your boss could have been apologetic to the customer that they had difficulty finding what they were looking for while still being clear that you were right not to work while off the clock.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      At most I think that the manager should have said “here’s better wording” for next time. This really shouldn’t have have become a write-up (if it did).

    2. Candi*

      Since I’m not seeing it after scanning the page -does the bad boss know OP#3 would have to be paid for that time spent working when helping the customer? It’s considered on-the-clock time by law, whether they’re clocked into the work system or not.

      Or does the boss know, and hoped that OP wouldn’t think to ask about that?

      OP#3, you might also want to check out Not Always Right (bad customers) and its sister Not Always Working (bad coworkers/bosses). As with the commentators here, you’ll get plenty of assurance that your boss badly handled this situation and that customer was very wrong.

  24. JM60*

    #3

    they hear it as more like “I’m on a break and I won’t be bothered to answer a question that would take five seconds.”

    Even then, I don’t think the off-duty/unpaid employee should be expected to do anything beyond give that 5 second answer if they know it (e.g., “The rugs are in the [] section”), and informing them that they caught you off duty. Most employees will be willing to give that brief answer when asked by someone who caught them off duty.

    Being caught off duty is common in retail, as is customers being unreasonable. I’m glad I no longer work in retail.

    1. Anonymous4*

      Yes, it may only take five seconds to help a customer (although LW didn’t know where the rugs were), but helping a customer — also known as “working” — when not on the clock is illegal.

      The manager should have known better than to fault the employee.

      1. Candi*

        It’s not illegal to work off the clock. It is illegal to not get paid for working, including when you’re not clocked into company systems.

        Sensible companies restrict workers from working off the clock and from padding their hours with unauthorized time and overtime, including firing them for working unpermitted time. Shady, sneaky companies accept the off the clock work and don’t tell the workers that they should be paid for that time.

  25. Asenath*

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with refusing a farewell party when leaving – although it’s probably better to come up with some platitude rather than specifically stating that it’s because you can’t stand the effort of being polite to your soon-to-be former co-workers. Some suggestions are above; you can also simply say that you can’t make it to a happy hour (or whatever is being done after work). I don’t really see why you couldn’t also refuse an in-office alternative by saying that you aren’t really into that sort of thing, and don’t want one organized on your behalf. This is probably also something that’s part of office culture, and being the first one to change the pattern can be a little awkward – but you’re leaving! As long as you aren’t rude to anyone who might give you a reference, I can’t see that refusing a party would be an issue long term. The last place I worked had a much different culture – nothing for those who resigned, but a variety of options for those who were retiring, and the choice was made by the retiree. Not having anything to mark the event was also a choice that could be and was made.

  26. triplehiccup*

    #2 I echo the advice to consider moving on. It sounds like you’re self conscious at your current job, even psyching yourself out, and a fresh start might be a relief. Then you can just focus on making a good impression from scratch rather than working to overcome the past.

  27. Lab Boss*

    Op1: alcohol has baggage. For most hobbies, nobody would try to split the hair of “well you can say that you so the thing, but don’t say you do the thing to relax.” If your hobby was hiking or needlepoint nobody would care that you said you relaxed after work by hitting the trail or got through a tough day by thinking through your next pattern.

    Those concerns may be baseless for you specifically if you truly have no problem with alcohol, or they may have some merit. If it’s the former it probably feels unfair that you can’t talk about relaxing with your hobby without being assumed to be an alcoholic- but I think that’s just the way it is in the world, and you should find a workaround to the interview question

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      The baggage thing I’d be worried about. Even if you frame it just right, for all you know you are interviewing with someone who has bad experience with drinking who will be prejudiced against you. I think you ought to be able to talk about it, but I might recommend coming up with a safer interview answer, and ease into the whiskey tastings after you are in the job and have felt out your new team. I wouldn’t say I like to go target shooting in an interview either for the same reason.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Agreed. I’d go with something else that you can talk about if asked. Our society in general does seem to have issues with people talking about alcohol in general.

      Do you like to listen to music while you work or drive? Consider talking about that.

    3. marvin*

      I would also try to avoid mentioning drinking in an interview, but that’s mostly because I like to keep boundaries up between work and drinking. I don’t care for the social pressure to drink in a lot of workplaces and wouldn’t want to encourage it.

  28. LDN Layabout*

    I think Alison has it spot on for LW1, talking about alcohol as a hobby could be fraught but can be done well e.g. I have a friend who’s been working on her mixology skills during lockdown, working on identifying the best ingredients, experimenting with recipes to get them perfect etc.

    It’s linking it to stress and a coping mechanism that sets the alarm bells ringing.

  29. IScreamParty*

    OP 4: I’d be direct about not wanting anything, but know that they may not respect your wishes. I once left an abusive manager who I had reported to HR and compliance for frequent illegal behavior. I left with less than a week’s notice given to the company’s legal counsel. Said manager threw me a surprise ice cream party and invited my team and surrounding teams, all of whom knew why I was leaving, supported me, and were mortified by the party. “Happy quitting because you’re not on board with illegal activity and all-day screaming!”

    1. Gracely*

      The bit about them not respecting your wishes reminds me of when we had a long-time employee retire. She very adamantly did not want farewell party, but one of our colleagues could not understand why anyone wouldn’t want to have a party. The colleague griped about us not doing a party for the retiree for WEEKS. I think some of us were anticipating her trying to throw a party anyway, but if that was attempted, the boss shut it down.

      She and the retiree hated each other, so I think mainly she was upset about not having an excuse for free cake.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        We had someone retire last year who very specifically did not want anything. No party, no card, no gift, no nothing. They got along fine with their colleagues but they were leaving due to extreme burnout. The sort of burnout that was so bad that any small thing, no matter how kindly meant would’ve felt like an ‘eff you.’

        I was close to them and had to run interference for months (they gave a long notice period) telling people no and why and then helping them through their own feelings. When I retire, I might not tell anyone. I might just go.

  30. feral faerie*

    I think that being a whiskey connoisseur or wine sommelier is a valid hobby. I just don’t know if how LW1’s describing their relationship to this hobby would go over well in an interview. If you talk about going to whiskey centered bars with friends and trying different drinks or hanging out with friends and talking about whiskey, these activities aren’t really specific to engaging in a hobby. Usually the hobbies interviewers are looking to hear about are more skill based. If you said that you brew your own beer or have taken mixology classes, that would be more appropriate.

    I also think in general that if you have to ask if your answer to an interview question is inappropriate, you should just find a different way to answer the question. That goes for the de-stressing question in particular. If your answer to that question involves several disclaimers, that’s a sign to scrap that answer and come up with a different response.

    1. Sloanicote*

      If you are asked about your hobbies I think it’s a fine answer as long as you emphasize the discernment of your tasting so it doesn’t seem like your hobby is just drinking. I think employers like to hear a hobby that shows rigor and some level of effort as they think those traits will transfer to your work (my real hobby: napping in front of the TV. The hobby I talk about in job interviews: tutoring children). However, if you are asked about stress relief, I would not mention drinking at all, because it’s too likely to lead to cross wires. Honestly I probably wouldn’t mention my hobbies for that, although it’s accurate; I’d say something completely benign like “time with my family” or “exercise” or yoga or long walks or something.

      1. feral fairy*

        Yes, exactly. It is not a good idea to outright lie and make up a hobby- if you told the interviewer that you play guitar when you don’t and it turns out your future boss is a guitarist, that answer could backfire. The answers to this question or the question about stress don’t have to be completely literal though. Drinking might realistically be a person’s main method of unwinding, but chances are they also do other things to relax like watching films or the activities you mentioned. As long as the hobby or de-stressing activity is something that you actually do, it’s fine to mention them even if they aren’t your primary hobby.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I use my volunteer work when asked about my hobby. I’m an archeologic site steward*, so you go out and check on sites and report any damage/vandalism. Technically it isn’t what I do to “relax” but it is something I do in my free time that I enjoy.

        *Every state has a program so if you are interested check out your State Archeologist’s Office if in US. Some sites are accessible, so if you have mobility issues and are interested check it out

        1. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

          That sounds super interesting! But I am not based in the US. Any marked archeological digs in my country is completely fenced off and no one is allowed to enter besides the professionals.

    2. Anonymous4*

      Home-brewing would be okay, but if someone applying to our organization said they were taking classes in bartending, we’d wonder why. Were they planning on moonlighting in the evenings and on weekends? Would they be able to successfully juggle two competing schedules? Would they get worn out from overwork? And bartenders do tend to drink fairly heavily, which would also be a problem.

      Long story short: Taking bartending lessons wouldn’t necessarily kill an offer, but it would definitely come across as rather squicky.

      1. feral fairy*

        Mixology classes aren’t necessarily bartending training. Bartending training involves learning how to make drinks quickly, multiple types of drinks at the same time, etc. There are classes geared towards people who just want to learn how to make mixed drinks for when they host friends at their homes. If someone was taking cooking classes, most people wouldn’t assume that they were pursuing a career as a chef or even “moonlighting” as a line cook. Usually you can tell what type of course someone is taking by how they describe it. I agree though, mixology might not be the best answer to a question about hobbies in an interview. I think that it is a more legitimate answer than “I am a whiskey connoisseur, I go to whiskey centered bars with my friends and sample different drinks”.

        For what it’s worth, I work at a restaurant and bartend a couple times a week depending on the shift (though I don’t consider myself to be a bartender by trade, it is one of many aspects of my job). I am completely sober- I used to drink in the past, prior to having this job so I have a context for the drinks I am making but I do not actively drink a lot, or at all. I think it would be valid to conclude that most bartenders drink, but the assumption that every bartender drinks in excess is not true.

  31. CupcakeCounter*

    #2 And you don’t need to go from 0 to 100 either. Start small – a swipe of mascara/neutral lip gloss or balm (if you want), neater hair style. Please will notice, but not NOTICE the way they would if you just came in one day with a blowout and a tailored suit. Then get better fitting clothes – stick with black/navy and maybe add in some pops of a brighter color with accessories or other deep colors that aren’t black such as dark purple or deep burgundy.
    I also think a slow switch is easier the maintain both for mental health and your wallet. The most important part is that you feel comfortable and confident and a big change off the bat will likely draw attention you don’t seem to want.

    1. Gnome*

      I was going to say something along these lines. However, as a woman who does NOT wear makeup and hates spending time ony appearance, I’m going to suggest that you start with clothes… It adds very little to your prep time and therefore is easier to maintain even on those days where you just don’t wanna (I also suffer from depression and some days getting out of bed is like a triathlon, so I am all about making it easy).

      I also am blessed with really easy hair that pulls into a sleek ponytail with barely any effort, but I do have to use industrial quantities of cream rinse conditioner (maybe that would make your own ponytail a little spiffier?).

      I’ve also noticed that just popping in some earrings or tossing on a necklace or bracelet can bring things up a notch… Again near-zero effort. And you can stick with mostly/all black (I hate pops of color myself, and dress in blacks, blues, greys, and white almost exclusively… Otherwise I have to color coordinate and that is effort I just can’t do in the morning).

      I hope some of this helps, but if not, at least know that you are not the only one who struggles with this stuff… Frankly I’ve been working around my inability to do this stuff for decades.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes – I don’t do make up, generally (thanks, allergies and sensitive skin)
        One thig I’ve learned is that cut and fit make a massive difference, and also making sure that you keep your clothes under review and stop wearing them for work when they start to look worn (if you can)
        I have cats, so I got into the habit of changing as soon as I get in for work, so my workwear remains free of cat hair and runs from careless claws, and have also learned that despite the fact that I actively dislike clothes shopping and always put it off as long as I can, clothes don’t last forever and even something that started out looking really smart will, eventually, start to look scruffy. (obviously things like the original quality, material, and how well you look after it will make a difference to lifespan)

        I also learned that shopping based on how a garment looks, rather than the size on the label, is best. I have fairly broad shoulders and find that if I buy suit jackets, going up a size (or 2) normally means I look far better than if it’s too tight over the shoulders and therefore doesn’t sit right over my bust either .
        I think this also holds true for styles – try stuff on to get a feel for the sort of shapes and styles that look good with your body shape. ) If you wear dresses, then consider getting a made to measure one (or more) form Eshakti – getting a dress that’s made to you actual measurements and with the length, neckline etc that suit you does wonders for how put together you look, (and they have pockets as standard!!)

        I need to get someone to help me update all my measurements so I can order a couple of new ones, since I have lost a lot of weight and changes shape good deal as a result since I bought mine, but they were fantastic and looked batter than pretty much everything else I owned, because they actually fit me properly everywhere.

        1. Clare*

          You’re so right about shopping based on your measurements rather than size! I have long legs, narrow hips, and an extremely short waist/torso. I usually have to buy extra-large tights to fit my leg length. But I recently also bought a pair of pants in size 2. They’re supposed to be 7/8 but they’re 3/4 on me – however they’re a great fit because the mid rise looks like a high rise on me (Mid rise in my normal size 6 comes over my rib cage and high rise is barely an inch under my bust!). In my experience, changing size based on the measurements of the body part I’m trying to fit makes shopping far less frustrating. Can recommend. I also agree that Eshakti is excellent.

    2. Sloanicote*

      I agree, if OP is self conscious about it I’d try building up to it, and yeah it’s not cheap to go from 0-100 on a professional appearance unfortunately. For me, the cheapest and easiest way to start is nice earrings. They immediately make me look like I tried, and I don’t think you’d get a ton of comments if you went from no earrings to earrings.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, going from 0 to 100 is a good way to practically guarantee you don’t keep it up if that is something you are already worried about.

      To me, it seems like ill-fitting clothes is the most important piece to address if you can afford some wardrobe upgrades! It can make such a huge difference on your overall appearance, and once you have purchased the pieces that fit better and tossed/donated some of the ones that don’t that seems like the piece that would obviously be easiest to maintain in the future.

      As someone who actually really likes doing makeup but also really likes sleeping, I still usually do the bare minimum to sometimes even none for going into work because I just don’t want to wake up early enough to spend time on that. Pick one or two things to start. For me, the most important piece is undereye concealer ’cause I’ve got some major genetic dark circles lol. My staples have changed over the years–in middle school I mostly just did eye shadow, in high school mostly just blush, for a while just a bit of mascara and I’m currently all about the eyebrows.

      Mascara is probably the easiest thing to do that makes a noticeable difference to your face and is hard to mis-apply. I often skip it because while I like wearing it, I hate taking it off. But I really like the “Blinc” brand for how easily it comes off at night with water and some gentle rubbing.

      The hair piece of the equation is the part that it’s hardest to give any advice without knowing what your hair actually looks like. I will say there are a lot of products out there to help your hair air-dry nicely! If you’re hoping to start blow-drying/heat-styling your hair regularly I would guess that would be the habit that would be the hardest to maintain. I don’t do it very often and when I do I’m always surprised by how long it takes me lol.

  32. Roscoe*

    I always find the attitudes toward drinking interesting based on how they are framed. If a mom says something like “after a tough day of work and dealing with the kids, I pour a huge glass of wine to relax”, no one bats an eye. If someone says “I have a glass of whiskey after work to destress” it is looked at as a possible problem. I mean, there are plenty of other odd examples, but wine seems like a fine alcohol, whereas beer and hard liquor are seen as “this person may have a drinking problem”, however if you look at a serving, they all have the same alcohol content.

    That said, I agree with Alison. I don’t know if I’d even bring up alcohol in an interview like that. There is too much judgment out there, and you don’t want a perfectly legal thing that you do in your off hours to affect your job prospects. I don’t think it SHOULD affect them, but it definitely might.

    1. Roscoe*

      I posted this before I even read the super patronizing thread that started with “I’m worried about you”.

    2. LDN Layabout*

      I’d say the semantics are fairly important in relax vs de-stress. One you do because it’s something to enjoy and one is a coping mechanism. If the LW had said they drink to unwind (and omitted the part about it being a regular part of their working life), I would imagine people would have had less of a reaction.

      1. Roscoe*

        Honestly, I feel like people use them interchangably honestly. I don’t know that I have personally ever used the word “destress”, but that and relax are basically the same to me.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          It’s an interesting one, because I understand that, but also I do think there can be a difference there in terms of usage.

          IMO relax is more about doing something you enjoy to chill out and it can, but doesn’t have to involve you needing to go from one state of mind to another (e.g. from a position of stress to one of relaxation) which de-stress implies.

          1. Roscoe*

            I do see your point, I just think it kind of goes to policing word choice when many people use them interchangeably, and you are putting YOUR connotation onto it.

            1. LDN Layabout*

              I mean, aren’t you policing the word choices of others in this same post? Discussing what we find different in the letters is fine, but you seen to think it only goes one way, in your opinion.

              1. Roscoe*

                No, because I’m not making judgments about peoples actions based on words they are using like some people are

                1. miro*

                  Roscoe, your assertion that people who express concern are obviously being patronizing or have some sinister motives IS making a judgement.

                  I get that tone can be hard to convey over writing in a comment section, and that one’s personal experiences/level of cynicism/etc is going to play a big part in how we each read this stuff. Personally, though, your rage at people simply saying that they’re worried for this person seems pretty extreme. While I’m not sure I personally got some of the same vibes that are making others worry, it seems entirely plausible to me that people read a story and feel worried and that it’s not a matter of trying to make the OP feel bad or thinking they’re better than the OP or whatever. And look, I totally get that the internet can make you cynical about people’s motives (ooh boy do I get it!) but I also do believe that it’s still worth taking people at face value in cases like this and accepting that their worry might be genuine (even if you think it’s unfounded).

                  And before you say that it’s a matter of believing the OP… I don’t quite see this as people disbelieving the OP. People who are expressing concern aren’t telling the OP that they’re lying or don’t know what’s happening, just that they think they see things in the letter that could be concerning. I’ve seen similar stuff on letters where people think there might be domestic abuse going on. Whatever your personal feelings on commentators getting into stuff like that, it’s not like there isn’t a precedent for that on this site.

                  For me, I once wrote in to Alison and one thing that ended up being helpful for me (that I didn’t even know I needed) was seeing people express concern about my situation. It sort of “gave me permission” (or helped me give myself permission?) to feel mad/sad about the situation. I feel like I’ve seen updates from other people with similar experiences. So, this is just to say that while I don’t doubt that commenters can be wildly off-base sometimes (and maybe are here!) sometimes other people do pick up on things that can be useful to letter writers.

    3. KateM*

      “I have a glass of whiskey after work to destress” – at work, before possibly driving home.

      1. Roscoe*

        Well, in terms of the driving, that is pure speculation, so that may as well not even be on the table. Plenty of people take public transportation, so since driving wasn’t mentioned, I figure that is pointless to argue.

        Had a glass when off the clock but still in the office? I see no problem with that. I’ve been in offices where beer was in the fridge and people might have a drink before they leave, but are still in the office. Again, not really a problem.

        1. londonedit*

          The pouring a whisky in the office after work thing did give me pause, I have to say, and I said in a comment that seems to have been eaten that even in my industry, where people will happily have a drink in the office at the end of the day for someone’s birthday, or the occasional 4pm on a Friday, it would be very unusual for someone to sit at their desk on their own and pour a drink. There’s just something that feels different about doing that. But thinking about it more, realistically how is it different from popping into the pub for a pint on the way home? Plenty of people do that, either alone or with friends. Where I live only a tiny, tiny minority of people would ever drive to work (probably 99% of people working in central London take public transport to and from work) so that didn’t even come into my mind. Of course if this semi-regular ‘I’m stressed, I’ll pour a drink before I leave the office’ thing is causing actual problems for the LW then it’s something they can address, but I really don’t like the judgement.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            The whiskey at work gave me pause, mostly in the broader sense that the list of various reasons It’s Not A Problem sounds like what someone says when a few years from now they will say … Wait It Was A Problem.

            With needlepoint, you usually aren’t putting a bunch of hedges on how your use of needlepoint is responsible and not indicative of some sort of deeper problem.

            I think someone could have whiskey tasting as a hobby, but OP’s attempt to explain it did not land as “fun hobby akin to needlepoint.” A lot of variations (“I took a sommelier course and love researching unusual liquors”) could land fine, but once you’re at “I don’t go to work drunk in the morning” that’s a bit unusual to need to point out.

          2. Roscoe*

            Exactly. I think people have an issue with the fact that someone is drinking alone, and what they are drinking, more than that they are drinking at all. The pub example is perfect. I know plenty of people who may stop at a bar on the way home to grab a drink on occasion, and people don’t generally assume “possible alcohol problem”, but doing it before leaving the office (and saving money) is somehow an issue?

            1. Boof*

              Well if one is driving I do think a standard drink of alcohol within an hour* before operating a motor vehicle/heavy machinery is a safety issue at the least.
              * or two drinks within 2 hrs, etc etc

              1. Roscoe*

                Again, driving is not an issue here as far as we know. Nowhere has driving been mentioned except by people trying to pull a straw man argument not based on facts presented

                1. Boof*

                  It’s not a strawman argument to wonder what they do AFTER they drink at the end of the day at work considering a lot of people usually drive home after work too :P

        2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          “Had a glass when off the clock but still in the office? I see no problem with that.”

          There may or may be a problem with that, but can certainly see why that poster thought there might be. I think op saying they did it specifically when they “got stressed” sounded like a potential red flag to sa lot of us. Following that up with assurances that they “never drank during working hours nor come to work drunk/hungover” and they “know drinking in the office on a semi-regular basis is not great” and promised not to do it at their next job” didn’t help.

          In closing, I don’t see what’s patronizing about expressing concern for someone. I really, really don’t.

    4. Sloanicote*

      I find our culture quite strange about drinking. It is one of those topics that everybody thinks their own way is the right way and everyone else has a problem.

      1. Roscoe*

        This is exactly it. People think their way is right, and anything that deviates is problematic. While ignoring that all situations are different.

        To me, someone going to the bar next door to the office for a drink before heading home is no different than pouring one before leaving the office, but people sure will judge one more than the other.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          And it is very, very, very cultural. I worked in Ukraine for a year and it was the norm there to have vodka at lunch, something I am capable of doing if needed, but not if I have to go back and be remotely functional. My local colleagues, though, didn’t bat an eye at putting away 2 bottles when there were 4 of us at lunch (and me drinking maybe 1/4 as much as them because I absolutely can not drink 1/2 a bottle of vodka and stay conscious). Another friend worked in Kazakhstan and had a similar experience, but it was a mix of vodka and fermented mare’s milk.

          1. Roscoe*

            True. I had a job where my manager knew I was having drinks at lunch on Friday, but since I never came back drunk, he didn’t care. Yet some people would say “you have a problem” because of it.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              This job the lunches were with my manager and all the PTB in the partner Ministry, since that was the only time we went for lunches as a group. I have never and, hopefully, will never be that drunk ever again anywhere, much less at a work function. They used to tease me a bit because I would go and throw up between courses because I just could. not. do. it.. Loved the work, loved everyone I worked with, and would not exchange the experience for anything, but feel like I owe my liver an apology.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Now that I live alone, I’m starting to notice a lot of “you drink alone? you have a problem.” Like, what am I supposed to do, go out and grab a few random people off the street and bring them home to drink with? (Something my actually alcoholic FIL used to do.)

              1. Roscoe*

                Exactly. For people who live alone, the idea that “drinking alone” means you have a problem is absurd. Getting blackout drunk every night alone is a problem, as it would be if you did that every night with friends. But having a drink or 2 by yourself isn’t really an issue, except to super judgy people

          2. Pour a dram in an interview just to see the reaction*

            Oh man, there were a couple of people in the upper management I made sure to never go to lunch with, mainly because it was 2 beers before lunch, 2 beers with the meal, and a bottle of wine to share after.

    5. Stitch*

      Actually there have been lots and lots of discussion about how “wine mom” culture has accompanied a rise in alcoholism by women. So if someone makes constant jokes about drinking to de-stress from their kids, it’s also a red flag.

      1. Dwight Schrute*

        Was about to say the same! My eyebrows do raise if someone says they do that frequently

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, I didn’t view the “wine mom” and “whiskey chiropractor” as particularly distinct.

        “I’m like one of those moms who drinks because her kids are so stressful, but never before 5! Or 4:30 tops. And not if she has to carpool. And…”

      3. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Jessica Simpson’s memoir (which I really enjoyed) is a great example of this. It’s not a problem if it’s in a glittery cup!

      4. Observer*

        Actually there have been lots and lots of discussion about how “wine mom” culture has accompanied a rise in alcoholism by women. So if someone makes constant jokes about drinking to de-stress from their kids, it’s also a red flag.

        This is 100% true.

      5. Despachito*

        Seconded!

        I think that any regular drinking to de-stress is a potential problem, irrespective of how we frame it.

        And I am saying “potential”, because sometimes the person is able to tone it down when they realize that it is too much (like what CupcakeCounter said…) but sometimes it’s too late.

        But one way or the other, the question of drinking is extremely loaded and it is very likely to carry strong connotations for many people, and just like many commenters, I’d consider it too risky to mention at the interview because of that. Even if LW is perfectly OK, it may be perceived otherwise and it is just not worth it.

      6. Jacey*

        Thank you for bringing this up. I have an alcoholic family member who would have described herself as a “wine mom” if she were in a later generation, and it’s been heartening to see people push back against drinking to destress from motherhood as just a fun quirk.

    6. Loulou*

      But wouldn’t you bat an eye if someone said that about wine *as an answer to a job interview question*? I think that’s the issue here, more than having a glass of whatever alcohol after a tough day is.

    7. Hlao-roo*

      From what I’ve seen, the attitudes depend on the audience more than the type of alcohol:

      A woman joking about “mom juice” with her friends? Totally fine.

      A person saying their hobby is whiskey tasting during a job interview? Maybe OK, but they need to be really careful about framing.

      A person saying their preferred de-stressing method is alcohol (of any kind) during a job interview? Problematic.

      People joking about having “a drink of their choice” in the evening to their coworkers because a work project is difficult? I’ve heard this a few times in my current job and no one bats an eye.