my employee quit smoking and has become cranky at work

A reader writes:

I have an employee, “Joy,” who is a lifelong smoker. Joy is a member of my leadership team, and has been a great asset for the three years I’ve worked with her. Recently, she decided to quit smoking. I’m really proud of her, and she’s been doing an awesome job at sticking with it.

However, since she quit smoking, I have noticed a sharp dip in her performance and attitude. Joy admits that this is because she is severely craving a cigarette, which has always been her main form of stress relief. While I sympathize, and am still proud of her for taking this step towards bettering her health, I am getting frustrated. The team has noticed her change in attitude and are getting frustrated as well. How can I approach this as her manager, while still remaining supportive?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My employee messed up an important project
  • An obviously pregnant colleague who hasn’t announced her pregnancy yet
  • Approaching a manager in public about a job

{ 196 comments… read them below }

  1. Clefairy*

    Oh that’s trippy, I’m the original OP on the smoking question- I just saw that and was like “Oh, another one! Oh…nope, that’s the one I sent in a few years ago haha”

    If I’m remembering, I got a few people calling me out in the comments for begrudging her a sick day- this was super fair, and I 100% agree! This company was very toxic, and was retail, so we had zero sick time, and if a supervisor called out, it was generally up to me (the only salaried manager) to pick up the slack, and because of this situation I worked a couple of doubles on top of my crazy hour-each-way commute. But that wasn’t Joy’s problem, and the commentariat was correct for calling me out on that.

    1. Dutchie*

      Oh, can you give us an update? Did you end up talking to you about it or not? And did she bounce back to her normal self?

      1. Clefairy*

        Yes! I def did send in an update, but I have no idea how to go back and find it and link it here haha.

        It’s been like…5-6 years since I wrote in, so my details are a little fuzzy! Basically, by the time my letter got published, it had been a few weeks, and Joy was naturally already doing much better as she pushed past the nicotine withdrawals over time. When I wrote in, she was snapping at employees who needed help (angrily saying things like “I don’t care” when approached and then huffily walking away) and customers (just being really overly aggressive with how she spoke to them). It was really bad, and it was effecting our entire team, and we actually saw dips in our daily percaps when she was managing, so a big issue. By the the time the letter got published, she still had grumpy moments, but was much less aggressive and overall doing much better.

        We didn’t end up having a big sit down chat because the issue did more or less resolve itself- but, I was really new to that level of leadership, if the same thing was happening today, I would have had a much more direct conversation right off the bat, so even though things did turn out more or less ok, it wasn’t any thanks to me and my passive new leadership style. We did have a conversation, but it was less about “I’m sympathetic but this behavior is unacceptable, how can we get it reigned in together” and moreso “I know you’re having a rough time! How can I help support you?”- I basically glossed over the poor behavior and how it was effecting the store, and more about just wanting to help make things easier for her (and hoping this would translate to the problems magically disappearing lol). Joy was a good egg when I worked with her, so luckily, my very passive approach didn’t end up any long lasting performance issues.

        One commenter did point out that picking up a new oral fixation can be really helpful and suggested dumdums- Joy had a big sweet tooth, and I figured she might appreciate it, so I bought a big bag to keep in my office (that anyone was free to enjoy, I didn’t publicly single Joy out) but made a point to let Joy know that I was invested in her long term success quitting, and I thought that the lollipops might help in moments where the cravings were bad- she was thrilled, and enjoyed suckers pretty much 100% of the time she wasn’t out on the floor. She also confided in me that walking really helped, so we built in a few times during slow periods throughout the day where she could go outside for quick 10-15 minute walks. Yes, these were technically extra breaks, but she was getting way more smoke breaks in the long run, and this also really did seem to help her clear her head.

        I left that job a month or two later, and I haven’t kept in close contact with Joy, so I can’t say if she’s kicked the habit long term- but she looks happy and healthy on facebook, so I think maybe she did!

        1. Dutchie*

          Awesome! I always enjoy reading updates. (As I suspect anyone on this site. We now know Alison does.)

        2. Imaginary Friend*

          For some reason I actually read the original letter – and your update – sometime in the last few days. (I suspect I was reading the update to something else and your update was on the same page.) And then, hey presto! here’s the letter AND YOU. Very cool, honestly.

        3. DJ Abbott*

          I have the Dick Van Dyke Show On DVD, and one of the features is Carl and Dick doing commentary on the episode where Laura gets her toe stuck in the bathtub.
          They say that during that week Mary had quit a three pack/day smoking habit cold turkey. She was beyond cranky – she was screaming and throwing things. They laughed about that and complimented her skill as an actor that none of that showed through in her performance.
          Then Carl and Mary talked about how the following week she found an antique faucet fixture in a store and sent it to Carl as an apology. :)

    2. Rose*

      That kind of thing becomes so needed when you’re in an unreasonable environment! You start to think unreasonably too. So many of us have been there.

  2. Maggie*

    Based on the information in Letter #3 you could be describing me! I gave up caffeine because it was really bothering my stomach/anxiety during a bad chronic illness flare…that had me running to the bathroom and nauseated all the time. I was not and have never been pregnant. Please don’t assume that you “know what’s up,” and just treat her with kindness about the symptoms you actually know about.

    1. Night Owl*

      Exactly! There are all kinds of things other than pregnancy that can cause nausea/upset stomach and might prompt someone to give up caffeine. I definitely wouldn’t jump right to pregnancy in this case.

      1. Momma Bear*

        What I actually thought of was an old manager who started drinking ginger ale and eating a lot of antacids and was later diagnosed with stomach cancer. Or maybe she knows there’s a problem and doesn’t want superficial congratulations. Etc. Whatever is going on with her, she doesn’t want to articulate it so follow her lead. I’m curious if the person was actually pregnant or not.

    2. Cold Fish*

      I tried a new anti-depressant. It made me so nauseated and dizzy that, before I even reached full strength, I was starting to have difficulties driving my 5 min. commute to work. It was one of those medications you shouldn’t quit cold turkey and it was a good 6-8 weeks I was feeling terrible and had very similar symptoms as you described. Now I have no problems discussing/mentioning health issues (mental or otherwise) but I am learning I am usually the minority in that. Never assume pregnancy. Wait for her to clue you in on what’s going on.

      1. Pam Poovey*

        My mother recently tried a new antidepressant that gave her such extreme diarrhea she was getting dehydrated and ultimately had to stop it. When I was in college I was put on Metformin for my PCOS and if I even looked at sugar/carbs I had the trots for hours.

        There are SO many reasons to give up foods and to have stomach issues.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          My mother was nauseated the whole month she was on Metformin. Could barely keep food or liquids down with the help of ginger ale, ginger capsules, ginger chews. Her doctor wouldn’t believe her and wouldn’t give permission to stop taking it. So she ended up losing at least 25% of her body weight from starvation, which her doctor thought was marvelous. (She lost a lot of heart muscle, too. Bad doctor!) Finally her blood sugar went down from the weight loss so she kept having hypoglycemic episodes from the Metformin and refused to take it any more. Her blood glucose was fine so her doctor didn’t have a good reason to make her take it again, thank goodness.

          But she was definitely NOT pregnant! She hadn’t been able to get pregnant for about 25 years by then.

        2. Galadriel's Garden*

          Oh my god, Metformin was *the worst* when I too had to take it for PCOS! I was a college student at the time and had to carry hard candy around in my backpack because I’d get faint, but be too nauseous to eat anything. I told my OBGYN that I’d rather have cysts than deal with that on the daily.

      2. Cait*

        Never assume someone is pregnant, full stop. Not a coworker, not a family member, not a stranger. Even if they look like they’re smuggling a watermelon. Even if their water breaks right in front of you. Do NOT make assumptions that someone is pregnant. That is guaranteed to blow up in your face.

        1. nobadcats*

          Do not EVER assume someone is pregnant. It’s embarrassing for everyone in the conversation if there’s no pregnancy. Five years ago, I had fibroids so intense I looked like I was 8 months pregnant. I cannot even TELL you how many times I had to say, “I’m not pregnant, I’m just really ill.” I was so anemic I had pica, and so ill that I couldn’t keep a full meal down. It was tea and ginger ale for me all day long for months. And then got lectures on how I could manage my fibroids whilst I was waiting out the iron transfusion to rebuild my hemoglobin so I could get the surgery.

          You never know what’s going on in someone else’s body or with their health. Best not to poke bear.

        2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          This reminds me of my favorite Dave Barry quote: “You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.”

      3. Broadway Duchess*

        This was me when I switched antidepressants. I had zero appetite, so it was just dry heaves, but the one I was taking is also known to cause gastrointestinal distress, which is why I was in the bathroom so much. Didn’t matter– my old job was really bad about pregnancy things, whether they were real or not.

      4. Arctic tern*

        Same here. I tried a new medication (belonging to atypical antidepressant group) to treat my anxiety. It made me nauseated and dizzy and affected my appetite, so my diet was kinda weird. At the same time, I gave up on caffeine and alcohol, because both make my anxiety symptoms worse. And I would absolutely hate it if someone asked if I was pregnant. I am about to divorce my husband, because I am an ardent childfree, and he realised that his life will be meaningless without children. Told him about it in the beginning 12 years ago, but he assumed I’ll change my mind as the time goes. I didn’t. So if anyone ever again assumes anything about my reproductive plans, it makes me see red.
        OP, you don’t know what’s going on at your coworkers life. Maybe she is struggling with infertility, maybe she is not planning to keep this pregnancy. Even everything is fine, most people don’t like discussing their health issues.

      5. calonkat*

        In my youth, when I started on oral birth control, I essentially had pregnancy symptoms. I was nauseous, threw up if I’d not eaten crackers recently. Took a few weeks before my body adjusted, but I’m sure my co-workers were a bit worried.

      6. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I started an anti-depressant the same time I started a new job, and had to down massive amounts of caffeine to stay awake (since it was to treat sleep problems). Don’t recommend it!

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’ve just spent the last 3 days being absolutely horrifically sick in the loo each morning and can’t keep my morning coffee down. I am 100% sure I am not pregnant.

      (Dunno what it is though, even certain smells are setting me off. Like coffee)

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        You’ve done a covid test right? For some people the “can’t smell” symptom has morphed into a “smells foul” symptom and they’re having trouble keeping food down.

        1. Anonymous4*

          I’m sorry to chime in but did you use one of the tests that can identify omicron? There’s two, right now: Abbott BinaxNow, and Quidel QuickVue. The others can identify the original, beta, and delta, but not omicron.

          I expect that the next generation of tests (prob’ly the ones being made right now) will be sensitive to omicron but my understanding is that we’re not there yet.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Wait so the free rapid tests coming through USPS can’t detect omicron? Or “might or might not but hasn’t been conclusively proven”?

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Both lateral flow and the NHS test centre cleared me. Aside from the morning throwing up I’m ok.

          3. londonedit*

            That’s odd – we haven’t heard anything about that in the UK. Given the fact that Omicron is responsible for pretty much 100% of UK cases these days, and the lateral flows we get from the NHS are still showing up positives (I’ve never known so many people testing positive for Covid, since the beginning of the year it feels like literally everyone has it) I’d assume our tests are picking up Omicron!

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Don’t know about the smell part, but sometimes horrific gastro issues and nausea are tied to Kidney issues. Just as an FYI.

    4. KaciHall*

      About six months after my kiddo was born, I was trying to adjust to new meds and desperately needed to get a tooth pulled (but couldn’t until my meds were settled). I was incredibly thirsty frequently, and I could not stand cold drinks. So I had a couple incidents where I would drink too much too warm water and it would make me sick (the first time in my cubicle’s trash.) Combine that with the fact that I couldn’t get a sitter for our regular happy hour so I skipped, my entire team was congratulating me.

      It was obnoxious. Dave Barry’s advice for mentioning pregnancy is still the best I’ve seen. Just don’t mention anyone else’s pregnancy until you see the baby crowning.

      1. AthenaC*

        “Just don’t mention anyone else’s pregnancy until you see the baby crowning.”

        And Miss Manners would have you say, “Look who’s here!” rather than mentioning the pregnancy.

    5. HannahS*

      It’s also…the beginning of my pregnancy was not a happy time. Over the course of a few weeks, I was told that there was something wrong, then told that the pregnancy wasn’t viable and that I would miscarry, then told actually that mayyyyybe it would be fine, and then told whoops never mind, pregnancy is viable, and meanwhile getting multiple trans-vaginal ultrasounds and blood tests. It SUCKED. I would not have appreciated any knowing winks or subtle congratulations, because it would have put me in the uncomfortable position of acknowledging that I was pregnant knowing that I would likely need to share news of a miscarriage later (which I would have wanted to keep private from that work team) or lie and deny being pregnant and later have it be clear that I lied (also not great.)

    6. Librar**

      Echoing what others have said about “that could be me.” I am an early 30s cis woman in a heterosexual relationship who has been married for 3 years. My workplace is a little more familiar with each other’s personal lives than I’m comfortable with (not to a toxic level, just more than the 0% I’d prefer) and boy howdy am I ever nervous about the wink wink nod nod of it all!
      I recently had a bad reaction to a medication that made me nauseated every morning and I was terrified my colleagues would think I was pregnant to the point that I refused to drink things like ginger ale even though it might have made me feel better because I so didn’t want anyone to have a single speculation about my reproductive status. Please, OP, let’s all try our hardest to accept coworkers at their word and not speculate, even in our own heads, about anyone’s medical conditions.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        More than 0%? How sad that must be for coworkers who rely on their workplace for human interaction.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          Aside from the other comments that have been made, you can interact plenty without having to know anything substantive about each other’s personal lives.

    7. Purple Cat*

      Yeah, what struck me about that letter was assuming she’s “obviously pregnant” and then mentioning 2 weeks and “early” stages.
      Dude, what if she is pregnant and is trying to decide whether or not to continue with the pregnancy?
      Or doesn’t know if medically the pregnancy is viable?
      Never say anything about a pregnancy unless specifically told about it.

      1. generic_username*

        Yeah, I thought the letter would be about the coworker having a huge beach-ball stomach and constantly perusing baby name websites, but weirdly not acknowledging the pregnancy. Instead it’s about someone potentially having some sort of long-term tummy issues, lol

    8. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      Right? I know a LOT of people with chronic GI issues so I would definitely not assume this coworker must be pregnant.

    9. anonymous73*

      This was my first thought. Just because it seems like she’s exhibiting the signs of an early pregnancy DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. And even though you say you’re close, if she doesn’t want to talk to you about it, that’s her business. This is how rumors start people! Stop being gossipy – doesn’t matter if it’s well intentioned and you’re genuinely concerned about her. It’s nunya!

    10. Liz*

      Also joining the legions of “could be me but isn’t”. I quit caffeine a few weeks ago (bought decaf teabags for the office kitchen and everything) because it was causing bloating and discomfort, and I started new meds around the same time. The meds make me nauseous for about 2 hours after I take them, and I typically take them in the morning just before my commute. Not every queasy, caffeine-free person is pregnant. Definitely follow the employee’s lead on this. Your assumptions might be incorrect, and even if they’re not, it’s good to leave these decisions up to the person in question.

    11. Rainy*

      I had vertigo for about three months a few years ago as a symptom of an inner ear issue, and I was doing a lot of weird stuff to try and manage it. The massive course of steroids basically put me on the right track, but while I was on the steroids, which are not great for my system, I was also nauseated, dizzy, tired, thirsty, and had to give up virtually everything that even had the potential to irritate my stomach. If someone had “congratulated” me on my labyrinthitis I probably would have snapped (and because of my Hulk-type reaction to steroids, I would have SNAPPED).

    12. Nanani*

      LW3, you actually -don’t- know that she’s pregnant. The “any woman ill on screen must be pregnant” trope is pernicious in movies and TV but you probably don’t live in one.
      People uteruses can and do have medical issues that aren’t baby related.

    13. Gnome*

      I was going to say something similar. I’ve had medication that I can’t have caffeine or alcohol with that also turned my stomach… If I was a dude, people wouldn’t assume I’m pregnant, but the second a woman changes those things we assume we know what’s going on with her body! We don’t!

      Assuming she is pregnant is like saying “I know about your sex life”… In other words Don’t Do It!

    14. turquoisecow*

      I had a bout of diverticulitis awhile back that left me feeling crappy and nauseated half the day, and pretty tired and terrible looking. Even afterward, the antibiotics left me feeling pretty horrible for weeks. It was not unlike the almost constant nausea I had while pregnant! So yeah, agree that stomach issues don’t always mean pregnancy.

    15. RagingADHD*

      Yeah, I thought “obviously pregnant” meant maternity clothes and a diaper bag.

      2 weeks of giving up coffee and feeling nauseous could be a ton of different things. Maybe pregnant, sure it’s a possibility. But it’s far from obvious.

    16. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Yeah, I’ve had GERD flareups that have lasted a couple of weeks at a time. Giving up caffeine and subsisting on ginger ale and crackers sounds about right for something like that.

    17. Rose*

      Thank you! Coffee is hugely aggravating on a lot of peoples stomachs. I drink it only as a laxative. It’s super weird that OP saw someone having stomach issues and immediately felt so confident it was pregnancy.

    18. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Yes! This letter infuriated me. Even if she visibly looks pregnant — you do not ever assume someone is pregnant. Period.

    19. it's-a-me*

      That’s what got me about that letter. They all thought she was ‘obviously’ pregnant – from the title I assumed she’d blown up like a balloon and we clearly 8 months along, or something – but it was just nausea, and giving up caffeine? There are about 50 explanations I could think of for this given time.

    20. AdequateArchaeologist*

      I got married and three months later had a massive flare of chronic stomach issues. Several of my co-workers were all “tee hee I know what’s wrong with you”. Even when I explained that I have chronic stomach problems and it was a flare (because chances were good I would be late at some point because of it and would need someone to know what’s up) they persisted. Honestly it made me think less of them and still annoys me. Like, thanks Barbara. Glad you know more about my body than I do.

    21. MigraineMonth*

      I look about four months pregnant and have symptoms such as frequent urination and occasional nausea. One of the benefits of working from home is that none of my colleagues have been able to see and ask awkward questions. I went in for imaging last month and the ultrasound technician, while looking at her screen, asked me how far along I was. Turns out it’s an (almost certainly benign) ovarian tumor. So even when it seems really obvious, you really just don’t know.

  3. Littorally*

    Man, I was expecting the “obviously pregnant” coworker to be…. a lot more obviously pregnant? “Nauseated and gave up caffeine for two weeks” is really not a smoking gun!

    1. not a doctor*

      Hell, if she was enough of a caffeine addict, couldn’t she be nauseated/queasy in part BECAUSE she gave up caffeine?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Absolutely! And people give up caffiene for a variety of reasons (anxiety, sleep issues, cost, medical interactions…just to name a few!)

      2. Green great dragon*

        And one possible reason for giving up caffeine is because you are struggling to get pregnant – it’s one of the first things they suggest.

      3. Laney Boggs*

        Yup… the only time I’ve ever thrown up from a migraine was the time I forgot to drink coffee for 2 days (I was up to 6-8 cups a day, mid-lockdown…)

      4. BabyElephantWalk*

        So true. I drink too much coffee, and if I have a busy morning and don’t get my caffeine fix, I develop raging migraines. If I drink too much coffee on an empty stomach, I get queasy and nauseous. Assuming these things mean “must be pregnant” is kind of messed up.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Right? I had an issue that necessitated regular trips to the OB/GYN. That issue was not pregnancy.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Yeah, I was thinking more along the lines of my old office mate when she was 7+ months in. For cultural reasons, she didn’t speak about her pregnancy until after her baby was born, so it only came up in the office on the day she started maternity leave

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I was expecting the colleague to be obviously showing and have suddenly shifted to nothing but empire waist dresses at the very least.

    5. Generic Name*

      I was imagining a thin person who looked like they were smuggling a watermelon “obviously pregnant”. Not “occasional nausea and minor lifestyle change”.

  4. Prof Ma'am*

    What I read “obviously pregnant” in the title I assumed “looks like she’s smuggling a giant watermelon under her shirt” not “she’s having GI issues”. I’m sorry I would be stronger than AAM’s response and say mind your own damn business. She might be pregnant, she might not, but you need to stop speculating.

    1. Littorally*

      Yeah, same. There comes a point where pregnancy is the “assume horses not zebras” possibility, but OP here isn’t hearing hoofbeats, just a couple dull distant thuds.

      1. Littorally*

        Footnote: even if pregnancy is the horses possibility, it’s better not to bring it up until the possibly-expecting person has done so.

        1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          Agreed. When did assuming you knew what was happening with another person’s body –or commenting on it– become okay? If they haven’t told you, you *literally* don’t know until you see a baby coming out of their body. Period.

    2. Aarti*

      Agreed, I am SO tired of people speculating about pregnancy. Can you not just leave people alone. What if it’s not pregnancy and you assumed it is?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Or what if it’s not a healthy pregnancy or someone has really personal reasons to keep it quiet? It’s just no ones business.

      2. Generic Name*

        Oh, I’m still gonna speculate. Just in my own head and I’m not gonna talk to anyone else about it. ;)

      3. Emily*

        Also, it really doesn’t matter! As Alison pointed out, there are ways to handle the situation without needing to know *why* the coworker is frequently feeling ill. I get it — I can be a bit nosy. But I remind myself, “Do I actually need to know this information or am I just curious?”

      4. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

        This. My pms and periods mimic pregnancy symptoms very closely — and also a serious flu/food poisoning AT THE SAME TIME. Yes, this horrifically uncomfortable, and yes, I know why it is what it is.

        It irritatesme to no end when people assume I’m pregnant when I’m having a particularly hard time of it while the red scourge is happening. Ma’am, sir, mx: move before I void my belly, bladder, or bowels (possibly all three at once, depending!) on you and your weird presumption.

    3. Nanani*

      Mind your own business with a side of women are humans and not incubators. Regardless of LW3’s own gender, it is really gross to assume that anything going on in a woman’s life is pregancy.
      Women can be sick sometimes!

    4. Anonforthis*

      As a woman who is currently 5 months into a difficult pregnancy and has not told any of my coworkers, there are a LOT of reasons not to say anything that have been mentioned here.

      Another one: it’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, and she may just not want to talk about it! Some people love to share their pregnancy news — let them! Other people, like me, want to keep the pregnancy and intimate details about myself super private and between my partner, myself, and my chosen support system.
      I don’t want to deal with the questions, comments, ‘well-meaning’ but stupid remarks people make about “just wait until X thing happens that will really suck that I’m sharing with you because apparently misery loves company.” Or share their significant other’s pregnancy horror stories with me. No. Just…no.
      My pregnancy is my business, and at the point when it actually impacts the business in a significant way and we need to start planning for that, the appropriate people will be looped in. Until I choose to disclose that info, any and all comments or acknowledgements are off the table.

  5. Whoa*

    How many people share hotel rooms with their colleagues??? I would never, ever want to do that. That’s so personal. Even colleagues I consider friends!

    1. Pascall*

      I’ve only done it once with a colleague who I was super close with and still am, but even that was still super awkward! I wouldn’t do it again lol.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          Wasn’t uncommon when we went to academic conferences, pre-2020. Some conferences had the option of booking a room with a fellow attendee who you had never met.

          1. PostalMixup*

            I did that in grad school. Two queen beds, three women from different continents who had never met before. It was weird, but I lucked out and somehow get to be the one with the bed to myself.

            1. new*

              I could tolerate a lack of privacy as a young person that I absolutely cannot as an old one. Just like being able to sleep on anything, whereas now I need my expensive supportive mattress. At the very least, a roll out bed would have been requested, I just am not sharing a bed like that, sleeping is personal.

          2. JSPA*

            Not stranger than bunkmates at camp, or roommates in college? (Which may also be strange, depending on your upbringing, but we treat those as normal. Or we used to, anyway; I’m assuming those are both, still, a thing.)

            That makes this a situation where the pre-existing local and niche-specific cultural expectations are deeply relevant, and where logic has little sway.

            Cultural differences are both 100% artificial in their grounding logic, and 100% real, because feelings and beliefs and reactions are not logical.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Spouse did it once at a professional conference – but only because that year the conference was in a tiny little town that didn’t have the hotel capacity to handle a major professional conference.
        Fortunately there were two beds and only two people in each of the three rooms the company booked. But still, spouse was very glad to get home.

    2. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      From what I understand, that’s not uncommon in some industries and sectors.

      That said, I would not be thrilled to do it but would suck it up if that was the norm of that workplace.

      1. Aarti*

        I may have to do it in June. If it was a regular hotel I would put my foot down and even pay the difference. But it is literally at a site where room is at a premium (a building owned by our national organization), we are getting the training time (which is a real coup) free to our local office, yadda yadda, so I don’t have the luxury to push back, I think.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      We currently do not have a travel budget but if we did I would expect to share with a coworker. Nonprofit.

    4. Ray Gillette*

      I’ve shared hotel rooms with colleagues when attending industry events that did not have enough hotel space available for all the attendees (all available rooms at the sponsored venues would sell out within minutes of the next year’s dates being announced), so doubling up was the only way to ensure everyone who needed to attend the event was able to do so. But that was a very specific situation. Outside of that, I’ve only ever had my own hotel room when traveling for work, even at a small company that was at times fairly strapped for cash.

    5. anonymous73*

      I’ve been on several work trips and this has only happened once. And while the 2 of us were friends, we had very different schedules. She is 10 years younger than me and a self appointed Grandma…she went to bed at 9 or something like that. Not to mention after spending all day at work and with someone, the last thing I want to do is also spend my downtime at night with them too. Nothing personal, I just NEED alone time. If it were a suite, with separate bedrooms/bathrooms and a common living area, I wouldn’t care. But we were in a basic hotel room. And while it’s not ideal, sometimes you don’t have a choice.

    6. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I’ve only done it when I was in grad school internships and we wanted to go to a conference. We could get registration covered, but not travel, so a bunch of us would squeeze into a hotel room to save $$$

      1. AdequateArchaeologist*

        We did this for a very expensive conference. Everyone brought sleeping mats/pads and we squeezed 5 of us into a tiny luxury room that one girl booked using some leftover travel points her dad had. But even in my (admittedly low paying industry) we always spring for individual rooms. Even for the seasonal techs.

    7. Shallow Sky*

      I’m looking at doing it for an event in June. We’re associated with a school, so the budget’s really tight, and we just do not have the cash to get everyone their own room. It’s really personal and awkward, but also, alternatives are lacking.

    8. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I went to the same conference as my supervisor once, and she shared a hotel room with another supervisor at her level so they could combine their per diems and stay someplace more expensive. They turned out to be the least compatible roommates ever and had a terrible time, while I had a marvelous time getting pizza delivered to the craphole hotel room I stayed in by myself.

    9. slashgirl*

      Probably 15 or so years ago, I (female, around 30 at the time) went on a new to our union weekend conference; at that point in time, the union had folks share rooms. I was young, didn’t care that much. Until I checked in at the hotel and asked who my roommate was….the clerk said “Allison”. I was like cool, so I went down to where the other people had arrived for our conference were waiting. I said “Is Allison here yet?”

      HE said “Yep, that’s me.”
      Me: “Um, yeah, well–they’ve booked us in a room together!” We kinda laughed and then spoke to the coordinator of the event, who then obviously arranged for us to have separate rooms.

      Thing was, when we filled out the forms for any sort of overnight union activity, the union never asked for gender–and my name is Stacy and his was Allison (both technically unisex but pretty much thought of as women’s names).

      Probably five or six years later, our union changed their policy–everyone now gets their own room at overnight union events.

    10. allathian*

      I’m actually very glad my closest coworker, the only one I’m going to conferences with in non-pandemic times, is a man, because this means that there’s no question, ever, of us having to share a hotel room. I wouldn’t be happy to share a room with a woman, either, but at least this way there’s no risk I’ll ever have to share a hotel room with him.

      I never sleep well at the best of times, but it’s absolutely hopeless when I’m not at home. I’m also introverted enough that I’d really resent having to be “on” after work, especially at something like a conference, which I find draining. I want to relax, and feel free to fart and burp and snore in peace.

      We did have a couple development days once at a hotel, where I shared a room with a former coworker. This was far from ideal, but the fact that I already knew she was due to retire within a few months, and the fact that she was one of the few coworkers I’d become work friends with, made it less awkward than it might’ve been otherwise.

  6. LizM*

    I don’t think the cause of #3’s coworker’s symptoms are relevant to how LW should treat her. Would you treat her differently if you knew the symptoms were caused by a chronic illness or side effects from medication she’s on? Be sympathetic to what you can see, but also know that if she doesn’t want to talk about it, that’s a valid response.

    I would also stop speculating with other coworkers about her pregnancy status. Even if she is pregnant, morning sickness is usually something that happens early in pregnancy, before one is ready to share with coworkers (even coworkers one considers friends). And if you’re wrong, it can be very hurtful to find out the speculation was going on behind one’s back. (I say this as someone who was on fertility treatments for years that have side effects that mimic pregnancy, and went through my own round of office gossip.)

  7. Esmeralda*

    I know these are old letters, but WTF with “she’s hiding pregnancy! I just know it! Look at the clues!” (I’m still feeling testy about the colleague who was sure I was pregnant for these exact reasons and hassled me about it for weeks. I was not pregnant at the time. Even if I was, it was stressful and it started rumors.)

    1. Maybe she is pregnant and doesn’t want to announce it.I can think of many reasons (including, it’s none of your effen business)
    2. Maybe she has another health issue.
    3. Like, cancer, and she’s on chemo.
    4. Maybe she has no reason and you should just mind your own beeswax.

    1. alienor*

      I know, this one drives me nuts. I’ve had a couple of extended episodes in the past where GI issues made me queasy all the time, so I barely ate, stopped drinking coffee at work, etc. It would have added immensely to the stress of being ill if people had also hassled me about a nonexistent pregnancy. The one time I actually was pregnant, a couple of people I knew in a different department did ask me at at around the 4- or 5-month mark and admitted they’d been speculating, but their speculation was based on me having a visible bump, not vague “clues.” (They probably shouldn’t have either speculated or asked, but they did it so apologetically that I couldn’t be too annoyed.)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        When I had GI issues which could have been described as in the OP, and occasional time out of the office for medical appointments, I was in the throes of an eating disorder. If someone had speculated about pregnancy in my earshot … that would have been wildly unhelpful.

        Can we all just maybe not treat women’s bodies as incubators first and foremost.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I had a coworker beginning of last year who was having massive gastro issues and barely able to keep anything down for about seven weeks – their problem: a 12 mm kidney stone. They didn’t have a lot of pain, just incredible nausea to the point of dry heaves and some other less in need of discussion gastro symptoms. Took the DR’s six weeks to figure out what was wrong, and then a week of very strong antibiotics that also caused gastro issues to clear any lingering infections caused by said huge stone.

    3. londonedit*

      Absolutely. It infuriates me that any time a woman is vaguely ill, people jump to ‘OMG!!! Must be secretly pregnant!!!’ No. I was diagnosed with a medical condition last year that causes a racing heart rate, and I had to stop drinking coffee because I was already wired and shaky and felt like my heart was going 100mph even without coffee! If someone had done the whole ‘Ooooooooh, no coffee?? She must be PREGNANT’ thing I’d have flipped my lid. Not pregnant, not ever likely to be pregnant, actually currently not medically allowed to get pregnant thanks to my medication anyway. Bugger off.

  8. Anon Smoker*

    Man, I’ve just been thinking about the smoking thing. I’ve started smoking more in the past year following a death in my family and would like to quit, but I have a stressful public-facing job and it never feels like there’s a “good time” to quit… I always have to be “on” and I’m worried that if I try, I’ll run into the same problem described in the post.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      There is never going to be a “good time”: There will always be some source of stress coming down the pike that makes it seem like a bad idea. But the sooner you start the sooner you get through it.

      1. Aarti*

        The question to me when I began losing weight was this. I could be fat now and fat in the future. Or I could be fat now…and less fat in the future. Do I still want to be like this in 5 years, 10 years. I can’t change everything about my life, but I can change this.
        And now, almost 75 pounds later, I don’t regret any of the hard work that got me here, and I feel GREAT! You will feel GREAT after only a month of non smoking. You got this!

      2. Rosemary*

        This. The only way through it…is through it, unfortunately. What works best for one person isn’t necessarily what is going to work best for another, but quitting cold turkey was best for me. I counted the number of days, then weeks, then months, and now years from when I had my last cigarette. What kept me going when I was tempted to cave was not wanting to start that clock over. It was SOO hard…but it DOES get easier the further away from it you are. On the RARE occasion now when I am tempted (usually in a social situation), I remind myself how damn hard it was to quit.. and just don’t do it (I also find that 98% of the time I find it repulsive and am not tempted). Good luck!

        1. Chauncy Gardener*

          Are you me? That is exactly how I had to do it too. Sometimes, very rarely, I have a dream where I am smoking and I wake up and think “Nooooooooo!! I don’t want to go through quitting again!!”
          And I say go for it, Anon Smoker! It’s exceedingly unfun to quit, but it is a very finite period where it’s bad. And then YOU’RE A NON-SMOKER!! Which totally rocks.
          Good luck!!

        2. Onomatopoetic*

          My partner downloaded an app that counted not only the days, but also how much money they saved (cigarettes are extremely expensive here). It was a huge motivator, because they’re pretty frugal.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’ve with people who were quitting cigarettes. One thing that can be forgotten is that there are several components to this habit. If you are used to a 15-minute outside break twice a day, create another reason for a 15-minute outside break. I know this works, because I was the reason for one co-worker. I wanted to get away from my desk before I got crabby, and she wanted to get away from her desk without a cigarette. So we did laps around the building. Rainy days, we did laps up and down the middle of the building. We kept that up for a few months until she coincidentally went to another job.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, nobody in my office smokes but we sit a lot and it’s pretty common for somebody to go walk around the parking lot and back just to move for a little while.

    3. Kal*

      Depending on where you are, there may be programs out there to help you through it. Pharmacists and other medical professionals often have information on quitting methods that they can go over to try to see what might work for you. Since stress if often a major aspect of what draws people to smoking, and you’re also still dealing with a stressful job and a recent death, finding as many resources as you can to help with that stress will help with the quitting as well, especially if you can find small daily rituals to take place of smoke breaks in your workday that you use to get a breather in between being on for work.

      And one of the most important things – if you give quitting a try but it goes badly and you go back to smoking, that doesn’t make you a failure or mean you’re stuck forever. Most people who successfully quit take several tries as they figure out what works for them before they can get to where they want to be.

    4. Quitter*

      I tried and failed many times. And then mental floss had an article about most influential books. The easy way to quit smoking by Allen cart. It’s very cbt heavy and reframed those ideas of how hard it will be. Preparing for a couple days of physical withdrawals, being tired, moody. And as it’s a stimulant mirilax was really helpful for me (sorry tmi but I never had a dr who helped me with cessation address this and it always contributed to not quitting. )
      Good luck. You can do it.

    5. Ruby*

      Don’t avoid quitting because of your job.

      Try on this sentence: “my job won’t allow me to quit smoking.”

      Does that sound like a good employer?

    6. Dahlia*

      Yo, talk to your doctor/pharmacist about this. You don’t have to cold-turkey it!! They can help you out with things to make the transition smoother.

    7. JSPA*

      look at it the other way–if things already suck, it’s actually an ideal time to quit, as you’re not slamming the cold-and-clammy misery down onto what would otherwise be a lovely month. And enough people will be doing a dry February (and some of them feeling it, and feeling feelings about how much they’re feeling it) that a bit of extra grump will be reasonably seasonable.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I don’t smoke but I’ve used this approach for other things I didn’t want to do: “This month already blows chunks so let’s do this, too, and get it over with.” I still hate doing it but I very much love having it done so it’s not clouding up the future.

    8. Anonforthis*

      Just a thought…it’s not exactly the same, but similar. I had to taper off the dosage of a prescription medication that I was on that significantly affected my moods. I knew this was going to happen and that it would take a little over a month (I planned out the withdrawal schedule in advance), but due to the nature of the withdrawal, it wasn’t always obvious to me in the moment that I was being “moody.” I confided in a trusted coworker ahead of time that I was going to experience some withdrawal symptoms, and that I wanted them to alert me if I was acting strangely or moodily, because I may not be aware of it. It helped knowing that I would have a second person who would be willing and authorized to say something before it reached levels of “management taking notice.”

    9. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My Grandma tried to quit and failed eight times – but was successful on the ninth. She never gave up – and just kept going back to try again. Eventually sugar free gum and walks with a new puppy worked for her (gum for the oral fixation and puppy for the extra trips outside to go walk). Will it work for everyone – nope, the key is to just keep trying till you figure out what works best for you personally. And yes, check with the pharmacist and your Dr – because maybe they can also help you quit.

      You got this!!

  9. Please Remove Your Monkeys from My Circus*

    Not at all the point of the letter but: I literally can’t conceive of a work environment that would allow for daily leave-the-building coffee breaks in the middle of the day. My perception of “normal” is definitely skewed (thanks, 17+ years in nonprofits!), but…must be nice. I’ve taken an actual, away from my desk lunch break maybe 2 dozen times in the past decade. Maybe.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Lunch breaks I agree with you but I’ve found leave-the-building coffee breaks to be really common in my area of nonprofits! Sometimes it’s the only moment of quiet you get.

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Really? The only job I’ve ever had that wasn’t an environment where one would leave for a break is teaching children for obvious reasons.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      In my experience, leaving the building for lunch or coffee break was most common when I worked in a city. In Midtown Manhattan, I had several coffee shops on my block. In jobs located in suburban office sprawls, it has been rare to have anything within walking distance.

      1. Anononon*

        Yeah, when I worked downtown in a major city, I left the office at least once more often than not, either to grab lunch or coffee or run a quick errand. That was the case for a variety of jobs in that location, private, non-profit, government, etc.

      2. Please Remove Your Monkeys from My Circus*

        That’s definitely part of it—suburban location, so leaving for anything more involved than a walk around the block involves driving. But the office culture of All Meetings, All the Time doesn’t help—I’m routinely booked straight through any reasonable lunchtime, so I couldn’t go somewhere even if I wanted to

        1. AdequateArchaeologist*

          If you use Outlook/Teams there’s a function where you can block a period off daily on your calendar. It might be default labeled as “lunch” but I’m sure you can change the setting. (I discovered this today and am quite pleased with it.)

    4. no sleep for the wicked*

      It’s not ‘must be nice’, it’s choose the right working conditions and lose the vocational awe.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. I couldn’t work in an environment that didn’t allow for breaks during the working day. But thankfully my job isn’t very meeting intense, so I’ll always have time for lunch. My manager, who has lots of meetings, schedules an hour’s lunch break every day.

    5. Someone*

      This is extremely common if you work in a downtown area. I can leave my building for coffee and be back at my desk in 10-15 minutes with coffee from at least 6 different places.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I have about the same number of different places where I get coffee when I’m at the office, although I usually go to the nearest one.

  10. Rake*

    Right? I was expecting something like, ‘ it looks like there’s a basketball in her sweater and she keeps complaining about a small foot on her bladder while coyly hinting at her upcoming leave.’ When a coworker of mine gave up coffee and was always running to the bathroom, it was because of her stomach ulcer. This level of assumption is obnoxious.

  11. Seeking Second Childhood*

    For LW1, if I had a time machine I’d recommend making sure you fond out what else is on the employee’s schedule as soon as deadline slips. You nay need to say “Project D needs to be done Tuesday. Stop work on Projects A B & C, and if anyone says otherwise send them to me.”
    You might find that someone has been countermanding your message.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Oh the typos… some days autocorrect overcompensates, and today it does nothing.

  12. Popinki*

    I once had a coworker start a rumor that I was pregnant because I was going to the bathroom a lot. I had undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, which makes you need to pee constantly. When I heard and told him to cut it the fluffballs out (I used a different word starting with F when speaking to him, obviously) he said everyone knew it had to be a joke because there was no way I’d ever get pregnant.

    Why, yes, he was friends with someone in upper management. How’d you guess?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “he said everyone knew it had to be a joke because there was no way I’d ever get pregnant”

      I have a lot of thoughts that also include the word fluffballs

  13. Beth*

    Never ever EVER assume someone is pregnant. The stakes are way too high if you’re wrong — or even if you’re right. Wait until they say something, and if they don’t, keep waiting.

    1. Dutchie*

      Sometimes you are right, until you are not.

      You don’t want to be the person who made your colleague announce their pregnancy before they wanted to, only to then have to share with everyone they lost it.

    2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Nothing feels worse than to be fat and have people congratulate you on your pregnancy.

      It’s happened to me a few times when I wear dresses. IDK why, but all dresses tend to make me look shorter and fatter, and the few times a year I do wear a dress, I get the pregnancy thing. Why people feel it’s OK to blurt that our to strangers is anyone’s guess. Just stop.

      1. CarolynM*

        Used to wear scrubs as part of my job – as I leaned over a patient she put her hand on my belly (yes! she actually put her palm on my stomach!) and asked how far along I was. I am missing that filter that comes between your brain and your mouth – usually I can fake it a little, but when you shock me, there is no filter and no faking it. I looked at her, smiled with a smile that is NOT a smile, and chirped “Nope! Just fat!” and then left the room.

        I hope the experience was memorable for her and has made her think twice before TOUCHING strangers or assuming they are pregnant.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, absolutely.

            When I was pregnant, I wore my RBF with pride, because it meant that I was apparently unapproachable in public, and nobody tried to touch my belly without my permission. The only people who touched it with permission were my husband, and my best friend’s then 3 year old daughter (as well as the health care professionals I saw during my pregnancy). The first words out of her mouth when we arrived were “are you going to have a baby?” At the time I was about 7 months pregnant, and my friend asked me to read a story to her daughter while she was breastfeeding her 3 month old baby. I did so willingly, and because her mom’s recent pregnancy was so fresh in her mind, she asked if she could pat my belly. I let her, because she was 3 years old, and she had just become a big sister, so babies were on her mind. My son kicked hard enough that she felt it. The look of astonishment on her face was very funny.

            My sister’s childfree by choice, and while she’s a wonderful aunt, I didn’t share any pregnancy stuff with her. I don’t think it’d ever occur to her to pat anyone’s belly. Neither my mom nor my MIL ever showed any interest in touching my belly, for which I’m grateful. Saved a lot of potential awkwardness that way. I love them both dearly, but we aren’t a touch-feely family.

  14. Meghan*

    Nobody is “obviously pregnant” unless you have X-ray vision and/or you currently see the baby being born. So many other conditions can cause nausea and appetite / diet changes. How awful would it feel to say “congrats on your obvious pregnancy” just for them to respond “I have cancer”??

    1. George Pig*

      I mean seriously. Nausea and no caffeine? I’m gonna go ahead and assume it’s chemo instead of pregnancy.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Or commenting on someone’s “obvious” pregnancy only to have her tearfully explain she was mid-miscarriage.

      (I was quite spiteful; fortunately she has the hide of a rhino)

    3. Dino*

      I did eventually ask my therapist after a few months of wondering every week at our appointments. But she was literally 8 months pregnant by the time I felt okay asking, and I did ask instead of assume. I said “I’m sorry to do this but I feel weirder ignoring it! Are you expecting?” Then we were able to talk about her maternity leave and set up appointments for after she’d be back. But a coworker? Hell naw, leave it alone until they say something.

  15. Required*

    You are SURE she’s pregnant because of nausea and no caffeine. Was there weight gain? If not, why pregnancy? No caffeine and nausea are caused by lots of things. Why not assume she’s having chemo?

    1. Observer*

      You’re making the same mistake that you are pointing out. Weight gain is caused by a LOT of things. And given the time line, weight gain would make me LESS likely to say pregnancy.

      Bottom line is that, besides the fact that there is simply no good reason to comment on a pregnancy even if you actually KNOW that’s what it is if the person in question doesn’t want to talk about it, there is absolutely NOTHING obvious here.

  16. Pascall*

    Literally never understand why people feel compelled to give a single care about someone else’s body. If they’re feeling sick, just come at them with understanding that they’re feeling sick and accommodate as needed. You don’t need to know the back story of their health issues, pregnant or otherwise.

  17. Ray Gillette*

    First question reminds me of a fun bit of TV trivia. In Star Trek: Voyager, there’s an episode where a ship of cloaked alien scientists perform experiments on the crew. Captain Janeway is plagued by terrible headaches and is extremely irritable. I always thought her performance felt very authentic, but I recently learned that Kate Mulgrew had quit smoking right around the time the episode was filmed. So the performance wasn’t really a performance! I wonder if the writers adjusted Janeway’s symptoms to match what Mulgrew was dealing with, or if it was a coincidence, or if Mulgrew timed her quitting around an episode where her character was cranky and in pain.

    1. Ashkela*

      You know, two of the cast of ST:V have been doing a podcast as they rewatch the show and talking about all kinds of background info. You might look up the podcast for that episode (that’s what, 4th season I think?) and see if they commented on it. Podcast is The Delta Flyers.

    2. allathian*

      Something similar happened in Stargate SGU. Robert Carlyle, who plays Dr. Rush, quit smoking and caffeine cold turkey when they were filming the show. So his nicotine withdrawal symptoms on the show were genuine.

  18. Falling Diphthong*

    They may stumble upon a very talented individual for their team.

    Movie version: “I was just going about my usual day, went for coffee, and this dude walked up and said “Hey! I bet you could use a database developer like me!” and I realized he was right and I was so fortunate that he just coincidentally happened to be in my usual coffee shop and coincidentally thought I looked like a person hiring database developers with his skill set! What luck!”

    Much more likely real life scenario: “Had to fend off some weird stalker when I wasn’t even caffeinated, is nothing sacred?”

  19. Falling Diphthong*

    Pregnant coworker OP:
    One of my coworkers didn’t announce a pregnancy until she was in the third trimester, because she had had a series of miscarriages. People knew, but figured out that she did not want to talk about it yet with anyone.

    That’s assuming this is a pregnancy and not the other things that can cause stomach upset. (And I’ve been at a mom gathering of strangers where people congratulated the woman wearing sea bands because of course we all know why you have those.) If someone indicates they’re not up for talking about the reason for their symptoms, follow their lead.

  20. Stitch*

    When my brother was quitting smoking, he was completely unbearable. So I’m sympathetic to both parties here.

  21. Anallamadingdong*

    For me, the period where I cut caffeine and was nauseated all the time came before the 12th week of pregnancy which is considered the time when it is safe to let people know. The chance of losing a pregnancy decreases significantly after that time, so if she is pregnant, its possible she wants to wait until that time to tell people. I know I did.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah. I’m in an area where people in general drink so much coffee, that the health authorities aren’t even trying to persuade us to quit completely, 200 mg caffeine per day is considered a reasonably safe maximum dose (two small cups of percolated coffee, or a Starbucks small coffee) for a pregnant person. When I was working, I made sure to save my two small coffees for drinking at work, even if it meant going to the office half asleep.

      I guess I was lucky in that my then curvy (now fat) figure meant that I was well into the third trimester, at around 32 weeks, before I had to switch to maternity pants. I’d lost a lot of weight (about 30 lbs) before getting pregnant, and I’d saved my large pants, and I could just go back to them until I had to switch. I only bought one pair of maternity pants, and wore them every day to the office, and sweats at home.

      I had to tell my boss much earlier than I would’ve preferred, because she found me asleep at my desk one day. I was lucky not to have much nausea, but I was *so tired* the first few weeks. My postpartum exhaustion was nothing compared to that.

  22. Roscoe da Cat*

    I remember way back in high school, my mother, who was a director at a non-profit, quit smoking. For weeks, everyone was warned about it if they had to meet with her. She yelled at me for washing the dishes in the sink when the dishwasher was broken…crazy times.

  23. ResuMAYDAY*

    LW might have a blessed event that doesn’t feel very blessed. Maybe she doesn’t want a child and/or is giving it up for adoption. Good for you for following her lead on this one.

  24. Ashkela*

    Yeah, I can think of at least three medical conditions that are NOT pregnancy that the one employee could be experiencing, including infertility. Unless the baby is crowning, shut your mouth and don’t say a WORD. Whether or not the letter writer and other office person are also able to get pregnant is moot.


    1. Dutchie*

      Even if someone is crowning, don’t say a word. You don’t know what is going on, maybe they are giving the child up for adoption, maybe the child will not survive long after birth and they already know that, maybe they were very happy about this pregnancy (just waiting to announce until the second trimester) but discovered yesterday that for the whole duration of their marriage their husband has been cheating on them. Just don’t say a word unless the person you are talking to has told you they are pregnant and giving you an indication of whether or not they are happy with their pregnancy.

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

    The pregnancy question is making my eye twitch. I know this is old, but OP, you do not KNOW that someone is pregnant because they aren’t drinking coffee and are getting sick! Many stomach/GI issues can cause nausea and giving up coffee and other acidic food is one of the first suggestions made to help manage those symptoms. When I saw the title of the question, I thought it was going to be something along the lines of “My coworker has a stomach the size of a basketball but hasn’t announced their pregnancy” (at which point, I’d still suggest not saying anything until they do for several reasons), but what was shared has to be the least compelling evidence of pregnancy I think I’ve ever heard.

    (For the record: the reason I say not to assume even if someone is visibly pregnant is because the situation could be more complicated than you realize. I’ve known someone who had a stillbirth very late in her pregnancy who still looked a little pregnant after that ordeal. I was just talking with someone recently who asked someone when they were due and the person had a tumor, not a baby, in their belly. You just don’t know what’s going on with people and most will proactively share that they’re pregnant when they want to talk about it.)

    1. calonkat*

      Well, my sister had some stomach swelling late in her cancer treatment that would have been mistaken by busybodies as “oh let’s go congratulate her”, which would have worked out poorly for them. (She was pretty plain spoken). I suppose that was a good thing about the pandemic, it possibly saved lives from tongue lashings.

      People’s bodies can be a variety of shapes, and what is “obvious” is really not. Pregnancy is one of those things that most people don’t miss (well, I did, but it was quite the set of circumstances) and you don’t want to be the person who congratulates the terminal cancer patient on the “good news”.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. A very good friend constantly looks like she’s about 7 or 8 months pregnant. She was slim when I first got to know her when we met in our early 20s, but then she had a psychotic episode, and has been on some medication for that ever since. It may, or may not, be the cause of her apple shape. Her legs and arms are slim, and that makes her belly stand out even more. She also chooses to wear either a skirt or maternity pants, because both her legs would go in one pant leg if she wore plus size pants that fit around her waist. She told me once that the best thing about turning 50 and looking every year of her age, is that people have finally stopped asking her if she’s pregnant.

  26. Jam on Toast*

    I had extreme morning sickness during both of my pregnancies. Seriously, I could throw up three times from the same meal, and the symptoms lasted almost to the end of the second trimester, meaning that I have literally spent twelve months of my life throwing up. It was an utterly miserable experience.
    If anyone had nudge-nudged me or asked coy questions about the state/status/occupancy of my uterus while I was trying to cope with this near-debilitating condition, I would have thrown up on their shoes just for the principle of it.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      My friend threw up because her husband pointed out a pigeon to her. They had a sign up in their house that counted the number of hour since last vomit.

      1. Jam on Toast*

        My husband was/is a sympathetic up-chucker. Even then, it was pretty funny when I’d yell at him to pull over so I could throw up and he’d be 10 feet down, throwing up in concert because I’d set him off. At home, he’d have to flee to the backyard when I was being sick. He’d leave the kitchen door open and shout encouragements at me, like a football coach calling plays from the sidelines.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Jam, at least it was only six months- I was nauseous and throwing up for the full nine both times. Both kiddos ended up healthy, and hubby was supportive both times – but throwing up that much gets really old really fast.

      No – there will not be a third – 18 months of puke was more than enough for me.

      1. allathian*

        Honestly, I’m astonished that anyone’s willing to go through that more than once! That said, I find the idea of vomiting fairly distressing, not quite to the point of emetophobia, but nearly. I’ll do almost anything to avoid vomiting myself, so I guess I got lucky in that I never needed to vomit during my pregnancy. I did feel queasy, and eating was difficult in the first trimester because most food smells made me nauseous to the point that I ate most of my food cold so it didn’t smell so much.

  27. I like stripes*

    To the important project delivered late writer…

    One time my boss asked for something time sensitive and said in an email this is high priority. So I got right to work on it. But then she would come into my office in person and sit down for like thirty minutes once a day about other related data projects and I would start to work on those. And then she would come back to email and be like what’s taking so long with this priority??! And I said well you had me work on these different but related tasks…I’m confused which needs to happen first? What I should have noticed but did not due to my inexperience was that she was making a paper trail of priority and that was the trail I needed to follow. Or otherwise correct her *in* the paper trail. Now I know to be explicit in verbal and written mediums about projects that seem blurry. Check in to see if wires were crossed for sure! Usually there’s a reason.

  28. Lora*

    First cancer I had, the chemo and pain control meds both gave me horrible nausea and I had to give up a lot of beloved yet strong-smelling foods (like coffee) for a while. And the surgery left me infertile at a fairly young age, so for many years afterwards when someone congratulated me and I had to say “Nope just fat” it really hurt. Worse, people try to recover from the embarrassment of your obvious pain by blathering about miracles and medical advances and really, it’s just digging the hole deeper.

    Keep. Mouth. Shut. Do not mention pregnancy, babies, anything, unless you are directly told and specifically told that you, personally, may share this information with others. Do not touch people on their body. Do not pat their belly, they are not a lucky Buddha statue, for all you know you are patting their grapefruit size fibroid or giant ovarian cyst or agonizingly painful endometriosis surgical site.

    One of the secrets to happiness in this life is learning how to mind your own business. Seriously. Until she tells you she is having a baby, it’s none of your business.

    1. allathian*

      I wish I could upvote this post.

      Seriously, this needs to be embroidered on a cushion: “One of the secrets to happiness in this life is learning how to mind your own business.”

  29. Richard Hershberger*

    I know a guy who one year gave up coffee for Lent. The following year his coworkers passed around a petition asking him not to do that again.

    1. calonkat*

      I regret that we didn’t get a letter out of that from the employees or the guy.
      “Dear Alison, my co-workers are passing around a petition…”

  30. Anon for this*

    One caveat for LW 1: I work on a team where everything we are assigned is high priority, and it is very known that we get more work than our manpower is able to handle because people keep quitting. It’s possible, though not likely, that he didn’t get the assignment done because he’s having too many “high priority” assignments sent his way and he didn’t know how to push back, or clarify what is truly critical.

  31. PinkiePieWorksHard*

    For LW#4, Wow, that was obviously an older question….I can’t imagine going up to anyone I don’t know at a coffee shop at this point. If this were pre-pandemic, I would echo “Don’t do it” with the exceptions of well-known Silicon Valley coffee shops, but if you’re in that networking insanity you probably already know it and have already overheard 10 VC pitches already when just trying to answer your email and sip a latte.

  32. Lyngend (Canada)*

    I had the coworker who turned real nasty once she quit smoking. Ended up complaining to my boss. I think it got a little better after that.
    Sympathy to anyone dealing with cranky people regularly. I still do so, but it’s not my coworkers any more.

  33. DataSci*

    There is an ancient Dave Barry joke about never assuming or asking if someone is pregnant unless you actually see a baby emerging from their* body. That goes double at work. They may not actually be pregnant, but have a condition or be using a medication that may mimic some pregnancy symptoms. They may be pregnant and wanting to keep it quiet for any one of a number of reasons, from being high-risk to not wanting to get sidelined on projects. There are absolutely zero benefits to the “I know your secret!” approach, especially when you may actually be wrong about it.

    *He says “her”, because as I said ancient. Updating the language here.

Comments are closed.