coworker watches adult material in our shared office, what to say when an interviewer warns of long hours, and more

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

1. My coworker watches porn in our shared office

I work at a state agency with a gentleman who has for the third time now had his cell phone loudly start moaning. If anyone has ever viewed a pornographic video, you KNOW the moaning I speak of. It is him and me in an office with him behind me, apparently watching porn on his cell phone. Three times now he has forgotten to mute his phone so I have heard this loud and clear while he fumbles to mute or stop the sound from happening. It is his personal cell, but it is on the state’s dime and an unacceptable place to engage in the behavior.

I have the toughest time knowing that this is where his mind is while we are working. My immediate supervisor and this gentleman are longtime acquaintences so what am I to do? She does not know the person I get to see, only what he wants her to see and perceive him as. Help?

Oh my goodness, please talk to your HR department immediately. It’s not only unacceptable for him to be watching porn at work, but it’s also unacceptable for him to be exposing you to it. Skip your supervisor and go straight to HR — sexual harassment is very much their bailiwick and it’s appropriate to go straight to them. (And when you do, feel free to explain that you were uncomfortable reporting it to your boss because of their longtime friendship. That’s a dynamic good HR people will want to be aware of too.)

2. When I ask for a raise, should I mention family expenses or just focus on my work?

I am preparing a presentation (letter, examples of work, emails of praise) to ask for a significant raise (15-20 percent). Part of the reason I am asking is for my recent and overall excellent work. The other part is that I could really use the financial bump. My family cannot afford to make needed upgrades on our home or seek out therapy for our autistic child, and both are before taking into account skyrocketing health insurance premiums and general societal inflation. Do I include the personal/family information or keep it professional by including only examples of my excellent work?

Keep it entirely work-focused! Companies pay based on what your work is worth, not on what your expenses are. And that’s a good thing — we don’t want Jane to be paid less than Julie because Julie has kids to support or a higher mortgage. (There are occasionally situations where personal expenses might come up in a very limited way — like if your salary isn’t a living wage in your area, it’s not inherently off-limits to mention that. But even then, the focus of your argument should be on the value of your work.)

3. How to tell people I’m giving up management

I was offered a team lead/management role about a year ago. I had some trepidation because I loved my normal individual contributor role and had minimal interest in management, but there was a big need for leads and I thought I should at least try.

Cut to now and I’ve realized management is really not for me. The hard parts are really stressful and I don’t find the good parts rewarding. My manager thankfully heard me out and we’re working together to move me out of people management into a more technical role. My question (and his) is, how do I communicate this to my team and the rest of the company without hurting feelings or having people think it’s something being done TO me?

My team is fabulous, and I think we get along pretty well. Although it’s the truth, saying things like “I don’t like being in a position where I’m supposed to evaluate people’s behavior” or “interpersonal interaction is very draining to me” feels like it would hit the wrong notes. Or even saying “I really want to not be a manager” makes me worry that might think they were hard to manage.

Conversely, I’m scared that simply saying “it wasn’t working out and I’m moving to a non-management position” might make them think I’m secretly being demoted and be upset on my behalf (we have had a recent case where a manager was demoted without public comment and then left the company, so it could be on their minds).

I might be overthinking this, but my manager is doing me a big kindness by letting me give up this role and I want to make sure I convey that clearly and he doesn’t face any blowback from it. He’ll take over my team from me, so I don’t want any risk of resentment either.

You could say, “I learned management isn’t the work I like best” or “I loved my old job and thought I’d try this but realized after a while that X is much more fulfilling to me.” The key part, though, will be to include that you asked for the move: “I’m really grateful that Jane was willing to hear me out and let me return to what I like best.” Or, “I approached Jane about changing the role, and she was great about it.”

No matter what you say, some people will always wonder if there’s more to it, but you can minimize speculation if you stress the “I asked for this change” part.

4. What to say when an interviewer warns of long hours

I have an interview-related question. During an interview, the interviewer said, “This job isn’t just a simple 9-5 and then you clock. You’ll have to put in extra hours, not like until 5 am but it will be long hours. What do you think about that?” or something along those lines.

I panicked and stuttered an answer out. I think the question and that environment is unreasonable to begin with, but what are some ways to answer so one would indicate they are hard-working, without also offering to sacrifice work-life balance?

You can’t answer that question without knowing what kind of hours they’re talking about, so a good response is, “Can you tell me more about what the hours typically look like?” From there, your answer depends on what you hear. If they describe hours that seem reasonable to you, you could say anything from “That sounds fine to me!” to “I don’t mind working longer hours when it’s necessary to get the job done, as long as there’s balance and flexibility when people need it” (or whatever is true for you).

But if they describe hours that you know you wouldn’t want to work and you’re willing to walk away from the job as a result, you can be up-front about that: “I don’t mind working longer hours on occasion when it’s necessary, but I’m looking for a culture that values balance over the long-term, and I don’t believe long hours are sustainable when they’re every week. Does it still make sense for us to keep talking?”

5. My old job is still using docs from my Google account

Recently, I quit my job of eight years. In this role, I was a manager and had created many Google docs which I shared with the owners and the rest of the team. The docs range from forms used with clients, reporting, the employee manual, and everything in between. Prior to my departure, I either transferred ownership of the forms to the owners or gave instruction on making copies in cases where ownership could not be transferred to a business email account due to using a personal Gmail account to create the originals.

About a month ago, one of the employees contacted me to ask that I share a doc with a new employee. I again gave her instructions to copy the doc and assign a new owner to the copy. I let her know eventually I would like to delete all these docs from my personal email so it’s important that she follows the steps to continue using them.

It’s now been three months since I quit and I see they are still routinely using my original documents. I would like to delete these and reclaim my Google drive and head space. Do I need to give them notice and instructions again to do something if they want to keep using the docs? Do I just delete them? Surely I can’t let them keep using them when I can see their client and company information on them.

You’re perfectly entitled to just go ahead and delete the documents; you’ve given your old colleagues plenty of warning. But assuming you don’t have ill will toward the job, it would be a kindness to issue one final warning letting them know that you can see they’re still routinely using docs from your account and their access will be fully revoked as of ___ (pick a date a week or so from now) and they should make sure they’ve copied over anything they need by then. You can send this to individual users, but the most important person to send it to is their manager so she knows she needs to deal with this with some urgency. Then, once that date comes, go ahead and delete.

{ 558 comments… read them below }

  1. Viki*

    OP 2, it unfortunately does not matter about your life expenses re: home improvements, child care etc when it comes to raises.

    If I only have 100k to divide among my team for raises, it has to be on work value not personal. I can care about you personally, but I can’t use that to determine raises because it’s about rewarding/compensating work.

    Stacy needs a new roof, but is mediocre, while Ruth has been stellar and doesn’t have any known expenses like that–not something I as a manager can factor in.

    1. UKDancer*

      One of the things that used to annoy my mother when she was working was that the management (all men apart from her) used to try and give men better raises “because they have a wife and children to support” and give the women lower raises “because her husband supports her so she doesn’t need the money.” Reward people based on their work not their domestic situations.

      There’s a scene in West Wing where Mrs Landingham tears a strip off Jed Bartlett about the fact a female teacher at his father’s school is underpaid because the male teacher has 4 children and my mother says she knows just how she would have felt.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        I had a teacher talk about getting paid less than male colleagues earlier in her career because “the men have families to support.” She was the sole breadwinner for a disabled husband, but the men had families to support.

        1. BlueSwimmer*

          In my early years as a teacher back in the early 90s, I worked at an all-boys Catholic school. All male teachers were paid more than female teachers to support their families. If they were single, the excuse was that they had to pay to take women on dates so that they could find someone to marry, so they needed a higher salary. The women teachers argued the we had more clothing expenses because the school dress code specified dresses or skirts with hose for the women- the male teachers all wore school polo shirts that they got for free with khakis every day.

        2. Third Generation Nerd*

          My grandmother was fired from her job the day she got married because “We need the jobs for men who have families to support.” She had been supporting herself and her widowed mother at the time.

      2. shedubba*

        I had someone who questioned me going to grad school because in doing so I was “taking a spot away from a man who needed it to support a family”. That attitude is so frustrating.

        1. Shiba Dad*

          I’d like to say that I’m surprised that this way of thinking still persists. Sadly, I’m not at all surprised.

        2. Jennifer Juniper*

          Ummm….that doesn’t even make any sense, since grad students aren’t know to be making much money, AFAIK.

          1. Chili pepper Attitude*

            The grad school does not pay a lot but a man “needs” the spot in grad school so that afterwards, he can get the higher paying jobs to support his family. If a woman got the spot in grad school, she would get the better job and prevent him from getting it. At least that is the thinking there.

            1. EPLawyer*

              It’s not even that. She take the spot from a guy who needs it to get a good job to support his family, but she is just going (to GRAD SCHOOL) to get her MRS. She won’t actually use the degree to get a good job, she will just stay home and have babies while being supported by her husband.

              I really wish that wasn’t the attitude.

              1. NotLegalAdvice*

                A friend of mine who went to law school said this attitude was really prevalent in her program. Even among some of the women!
                In California.
                In the 2010s.

                It’s insane that this is so prevalent.

                1. Anonymous4*

                  A relative was in law school in the ’80s and was snottily informed by an elderly (male) professor that SHE was taking up space that a REAL law student could have used.

                  She found him to be a real inspiration to her career.

                  She just retired after 30-some years in the EEOC.

        3. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Waaaay back in the late 70s – I was a broke college student interviewing for a file clerk job during the summer break. The office manager, who was a woman, asked how my father felt about me possibly taking a job away from a ‘hard working family man.’ I told her the truth, that my father charged me rent for the summer and it was his idea for me to get a job, but she wasn’t impressed.

          I don’t think people are as vocal about their bias today, but I have no doubt some people still think as she did. Sickening and sad.

            1. Umiel12*

              Comments like this are why I wish there were a “like” button in this forum. Since there isn’t one: LIKE.

            2. Nanani*

              I’d bet cash this woman had an ironclad reason why it’s okay for HER but not for some other women. She’s not like other girls, ysee

              (read with maximum sarcasm)

              1. somanyquestions*

                Phyllis Schlafly made it so no hypocrite had to feel bad about telling others to stay in the kitchen while she worked.

                1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                  Although watching that one woman look at the tapes of those kind of rallies in Handmaid’s Tale was well worth the price. Snicker.

        4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          One of my earlier jobs in IT after leaving my former career, someone asked me how I felt taking a job away from ‘an able bodied family man’.

          Oh the temptation my disabled backside had to remotely reformat that person’s hard drive…

          (Didn’t do it of course. Do not give into evil IT thoughts…)

          1. Mimi*

            The subtext that as a disabled person you don’t deserve to have anything more than government handouts is especially charming here.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Oh they’d probably have been the sort to complain about disabled people getting ‘their tax money for doing nothing’ too. Disabled life: damned if you work, damned if you don’t.

          2. the cat's ass*

            I admire your restraint.

            This sort of BS is still out there; I’m embarrassed to admit that i got my last raise by pointing out that it was getting to the point I couldn’t afford to work there.

            1. PT*

              I worked somewhere where we treated employees poorly: below market rate wages, skimpy and expensive benefits, a lot of employees kept at fifteen minutes under full time so they wouldn’t qualify for benefits at all.

              It was not at all uncommon for someone to say, “I like working here, but I can’t afford to continue working here if I don’t get a higher pay rate/a position that includes benefits,” or even to say they had to leave because of pay/benefits not working financially any more.

              We all understood and it was never inappropriate to say. Managers would do what they could to accommodate it, either helping the person add responsibilities/change jobs internally to meet their needs, or figure out a way to transition them to very part-time to accommodate them when they got a new job without losing them for their core function (say the person was a Llama Groomer and a CPR instructor, you might arrange for them to stay on as a CPR instructor and run 4 Saturday trainings a year while replacing them as a Llama Groomer.)

          3. a tester, not a developer*

            “I’ve learned to live with it – just like you seem to be OK with taking a job away from a man who’s not an a55hole”.

          4. Sparkles McFadden*

            Oh yeah. I got the “Taking a man’s job” a lot. I also had a boss who would only give OT to “family men.” When several of us filed a union grievance (because the contract stated overtime needed to be posted and distributed fairly), one guy confronted me to say “You are taking food out of my childrens’ mouths.” Yeah, OK.

            The “able-bodied” thing makes your case extra nutty.

            1. no kids mo money*

              Sparkles – one could argue to that man that if he has so many children, he shouldn’t get OT because he should be at home taking care of his children in the evening….

              I think a lot of people with children forget the no discrimination on family status policies cut both ways. You can’t discriminate against people with children but on the same page, you can’t discriminate against the single or childless people because they don’t have children.

              I haven’t taken a Christmas holiday in years because all the parents freak out at the concept of having to work over Christmas. Ignoring the fact that I DO have family that I would like to see. Joke’s on them though, because I did 3 weeks of coverage on a manager when no one else wanted to (I even had to cancel a vacation that year because one of the parents “forgot” to mark that they would be out) it did give me a leg up on a promotion.

        5. Meep*

          So many questions…. Like why should that man be in grad school if he needs to support his family? Grad pay is abysmal. He is better off using his Bachelor’s if he really needs to support his family.

          1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

            No kidding, when I was in grad school the first time, I made <15k USD/year as a teaching assistant. In the 21st century. And I was single, without kids. And job prospects in the field were dismal when I graduated.

      3. Cat Tree*

        Yes, this is where my mind went first.

        I also heard about proposals to have a lower minimum wage for teenagers, as a way to make it easier for the service industry to get cheap labor. The assumption is that teens are fully supported by their parents and they only have jobs to buy trendy clothes and video games, without considering teens who are either largely supporting themselves or even helping to support their family. But even if they are just doing it for pin money, they should be paid the same money for the same work.

        1. Mimi*

          Hypothetically, I could perhaps see an argument that teenagers generally are much less experienced and require more training (though this still privileges advantaged kids who don’t need to get their first job until they would earn a higher price-point), but in order for it to make any sense to me in practice, minimum wage would have to be a liveable wage — perhaps including teenager minimum wage, if “teenager” was defined in such a way that it might include self-supporting adults.

          1. pancakes*

            There isn’t extensive training in most entry-level jobs available to teens, and what there is of it, anyone new to working there would need. I have a JD and bar membership, and would need training to work the equipment in a Dunkin’ Donuts because I’ve never worked in one before.

        2. alienor*

          Yeah, I had jobs off and on from age 16-17 and consistently from age 19, and my father, whom I lived with, borrowed money from me on the regular to pay bills. I’m sure there are plenty of teenagers who don’t really need to work–that’s one of the reasons my daughter didn’t have a job in high school. (After my own upbringing, I was determined to make sure she didn’t need one, though she could have worked if she’d wanted to.) But employers don’t know who does and who doesn’t, and even if they did, it’s not fair for anyone to do the same work and not earn the same salary.

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            There’s also a real danger of employers preferentially employing teenagers that they can get cheaper. There’s definite downsides for employers to do this, teen workers are often governed by more stringent break requirements and there are some things (mostly related to cigarette and alcohol sales) that they aren’t allowed to do, but I can see employers finding ways to work around that for much cheaper hourly employees.

        3. a tester, not a developer*

          Ontario (Canada) has a student minimum wage that is about 90 cents an hour lower ($14.10 vs. $15 for over 18) – the argument has been that it makes it worth the hassle to the employer of having to mess with schedules for kids who can only work certain shifts/a limited number of hours, etc. Students can only work a certain number of hours a week, can’t work during school hours, can only work certain parts of a job e.g. a 14 year old can work a cash register, but can’t do food prep until 15.

          1. HQetc*

            Which on some level makes sense, but it’s also a policy choice for the benefit to come at the workers expense rather than the government. Like, they could offer a 9oc/hour tax credit to employers who hire teenage workers, and that would also give them a chance to enforce things like training and fair hours. I get that it’s complicated, and Tester I’m not mean to argue against you here (I know you’re just pointing out a model), just pointing out that there are other ways to incentivize companies that don’t conflict with the equal-pay-for-equal-work thinking.

        4. Rachel Morgan*

          In some states, teenagers DO have a lower minimum wage, unfortunately.

          Effective January 1, 2022:

          Michigan’s minimum wage will increase to $9.87 an hour.
          The 85% rate for minors aged 16 and 17 increases to $8.39 an hour.
          Tipped employees rates of pay increases to $3.75 an hour.
          The training wage of $4.25 an hour for newly hired employees ages 16 to 19 for their first 90 days of employment remains unchanged.

        5. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Yes. My husband, the retired teacher, knew kids who were working 40 hours a week to support their families (and still going to school) because in 2010, jobs were hard to find.

      4. RagingADHD*

        Back in the late 60s when my mom got pregnant with my eldest sibling, she was forced to quit work when she started showing. (This was an official written policy, and completely legal at the time.) Her employer very magnanimously said that she was such a valuable employee, they’d happily hire her back if anything happened to the baby.

        My dad’s totally unrelated employer gave him a raise to compensate for the loss of her income.

        Just unbelievable and disgusting by today’s standards, the whole thing. The more I learn about the past, the more I understand my mom’s suppressed rage.

        1. EPLawyer*

          “Her employer very magnanimously said that she was such a valuable employee, they’d happily hire her back if anything happened to the baby.”

          Let me pick my jaw up off the floor. I so hope I am not reading that right. Because that is not just sexist it is GROSS for them to come out and say that.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            When people complain about maternity protections this is the sh*t I want them to read.

          2. Panhandlerann*

            My mother taught third grade for many years. Back in the 70s, she on several occasions had younger colleagues who, when they became pregnant, were told by the administration that if they had a miscarriage over the summer, they could have their job back in the fall (I presume, if the miscarriage happened before the job was filled, which typically wouldn’t happen till latish summer). Of course, it’s the most awful sort of thing to say, but it seems to be considered perfectly acceptable at the time.

            1. Observer*

              Yet, these are the same people who are against providing safe abortions. Because what a lot of these bosses were ACTUALLY suggesting is that mom-to-be “trip on the stairs and have an accident”, aka a back street abortion.

              They would not SAY that, but what it comes down to.

              1. Anon for this one*

                Maybe? Or possibly they were trying to be supportive in a weird and sexist way, that “if your plan A of Being A Mom falls through, you can come back to plan B of Having A Job”?

                1. BabyElephantWalk*

                  Yeah, no, that’s not supportive. Supportive would have been not firing women over becoming a mother, not telling them that they are allowed to work if and only if their pregnancy ends poorly.

        2. UKDancer*

          Yes. I always feel annoyed when people say that life was better x number of years ago (mainly in the 1970s). For a lot of people it really wasn’t, especially if you were female, LGBTQ, disabled or otherwise non conforming. My Godmother couldn’t get a mortgage as a single woman, some gay friends got kicked out by their families and most of the older black people I know had really troubling amounts of racism.

          1. tangerineRose*

            My grandma, who was in the so-called “greatest generation” would talk about the good old days. She also said that when she was young, people would be mean to her because she was Italian-American. She never seemed to put the 2 things together.

          2. EmmaPoet*

            I was recently reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s collected columns for the Missouri Ruralist. One of them, written in 1920, began with her and Almanzo complaining how busy they were and Laura said how in the good old days, everyone had time to live and enjoy themselves, instead of work, work, work. Then Almanzo suddenly said, “I never realized how much work my father did. Why, one winter he sorted 500 bushels of potatoes after supper by lantern light. He sold them for $1.50 a bushel in the spring, but he must have got blamed tired of sorting potatoes down cellar every night until he had handled more than 500 bushels of them.”
            Laura asked what his mother did in the evenings. Sewing and knitting was the answer. She made everything that the family wore, from undergarments to winter coats. And all of it was sewn by hand, from yarn she spun and cloth she wove. And his father did the harvesting with a sickle, not a machine, and cut all the hay with a scythe. He wondered how his father ever got it done.
            Laura looked down at that point at the magazine in her hand, and realized that her mother had done the same thing. She was always working in the evenings, where Laura only did that in an emergency. She didn’t have to.
            So even people who lived back in the “good old days” did that kind of looking back, and also remembered that they weren’t always so good.

            1. Crooked Bird*

              So basically “the good old days” means “when I was a kid, I had some fun times.” It does track pretty well, actually!

              1. EmmaPoet*

                Yes. I can honestly say life was better for me in the 70s, because I a child and didn’t have any of my serious medical issues back then. But from a wider perspective of the world, it really wasn’t always great for everyone else.

        3. PhyllisB*

          I remember those days. When I started working as a long distance operator, (early 70’s) pregnant women were required to go out on leave when they started to show. Of course it wasn’t paid time until after the baby came. Luckily, by the time I started having children in the 80’s, the union had made them change that policy.

          1. new*

            By the time I had my baby in the mid eighties, me and all my friends were working practically up until delivery. There was no discussion of my marital status (I was single) or need for more income, or not. I had no problem getting credit on my own as a single woman in the mid to late seventies, or opening bank accounts, or anything else.

            That said, I bet male underwriters were getting paid more than me, even though underwriting was male-dominated and paid more than claims examining or contract writing, both of which were female dominated. I definitely undervalued myself and did not negotiate hard. In fairness to me, there was little to no pay transparency, which is something I love about being in the public sector now.

            Some of these comments sound more like the fifties and sixties to me. Anyone facing this nonsense now has a sex discrimination claim in the US, if the employer is big enough.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              No the 70s and 80s and even 90s were still like that in many parts of the world. Women being still relatively “new” to the workplace, they couldn’t speak up about anything, they had to be grateful they had a job. I remember a friend of my mother’s in the late 70s talking about not wanting to go to some guy’s workshop because there were photos of naked women plastered all over the walls (like, there was no room to hang a calendar) but if she complained, the guy would say that’s how the world works and refuse to take them down and if she didn’t like it she had to lump it.

        4. LizWings*

          And go back a little farther than the 60s, to the 30s and 40s and 50s when women were made to leave their jobs as soon as they got married. My great aunt used her maiden name (everybody changed their names then) and didn’t tell anyone she got married so that she could keep her job. She worked her way up in the company and became quite successful. I wish she could have known that I named my daughter after her.

          1. Momma Bear*

            Or drop out of school if they got married to their going off to war sweethearts because you know it couldn’t be for love and had to be for a baby and that would set a bad example *eyeroll*

            I had a job where deference was given to single mothers and while I have loads of sympathy for that situation (was raised by one), I didn’t think it was right to punish me for being married. I worked hard, too.

            But to answer the OP, I would stick to the facts about job performance, tasks, role, etc. I would not mention the household. If a raise of the amount you want can’t be had where you are, dust off your resume.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              My mother made it through high school even though she married while a junior (an escape marriage, but it worked out just fine), but she managed to not show with my oldest brother during her graduation ceremony. Then again, this was the same school board, more or less, who had to deal with my paternal grandmother explaining Exactly Why they would not change my dad from being left handed (yes, it was decades earlier, but apparently she was memorable).

              But we all know that such workarounds were very much the exception, and for all I know, my mother lied through her teeth about not being married and managed to get my maternal grandmother to forward all her mail to her.

          2. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

            What an inspiring story and a beautiful tribute via your daughter’s name. I’m imagining something like Pamela or Bernice that radiates action and authority.

      5. Barbara Eyiuche*

        My mother and my aunt both had jobs that paid women less because men had families to support and women didn’t. The bosses applied this rule without actually looking at the living situations of anyone involved, because the men were all single, but my aunt was a single mother with a child, and both she and my mother were supporting their disabled parents.

        1. Anonymous4*

          My mother had several children to feed and clothe, and she discovered that a new graduate who had never done the job before was getting paid the same amount she was, and she’d been there for several years.

          She complained to the office manager about it, explaining that she didn’t see any way that it could be fair, and she did get a raise — but I bet it wasn’t much.

      6. Orange You Glad*

        A friend of mine (who is male) was incredibly impressed that a former employer of his gives employees pay bumps when they get married and have a new child. I explained all the issues with this but I’m not sure they all got through to him. I’m a single female so there is no husband to support me and I have no desire for children. Does that mean my contribution is less valuable? Add in that child-free people tend to take on the majority of overtime/extra work so parents can get home on time and that makes for a lot of resentment among employees.

      7. Nanani*

        This is exactly why paying people according to their work is part of progress toward equality. It’s “equal pay for equal work” for a reason.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          As long as the boss doesn’t play the ‘slightly different title’ game. We all know that this is still happening.

    2. londonedit*

      Exactly, and where does that line of thinking end? I choose to live closer to the city because I can’t afford to buy a flat anyway, so my rent is high but my travel costs are lower than for someone who lives 50 miles away and commutes in. Jane and her husband have home improvements to make and children to support, but I live on my own and therefore have to shoulder all my living costs by myself. If I choose to buy a car for personal use, can I ask my employer for more money because my monthly expenditure has gone up? Or on the flip side, can my employer tell me to move somewhere cheaper or sell my car instead of giving me a pay rise? Can Dave have more money because he has a gambling problem and spends half his salary on horse racing every month? No. There are so many reasons why it’s completely impractical for an employer to take into account someone’s personal circumstances when it comes to salary. As long as they’re paying a decent wage for the industry/location and they’re keeping up with the cost of living, that’s all they can do – they can’t be responsible for how people spend their money.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yeah and think about it: this also invites your boss to offer their opinion on how legitmate your expenses are. Not good.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        We’ve had letters on that!

        Surprisingly, the boss’s invitation to look over that OP’s monthly budget and identify areas where OP could cut way back was not met with enthusiasm.

        1. Meep*

          I still think I would do it just so I could see what they were thinking. And then I would expect for me to look over her budget. Then again, if the person is anything like I imagine (a real person I know), I could imagine a lot of C.C. debt on their end.

      2. IndustriousLabRat*

        Sure does, and there was a pretty outrageous letter on that exact topic a while back. It put the absurdity of this line of thinking, taken to its full conclusion, in a bright and unflattering spotlight!

      3. londonedit*

        ‘You say you want a pay rise, but don’t you think that if you just stopped going to Starbucks and cut out all those avocado toast brunches, you’d be able to afford to live without one?’ /s

        1. Kal*

          And this sort of thinking doesn’t end with the relatively benign judginess of other people’s shopping and such – in the past when my partner has had to skip social events with coworkers because of not having much money, one coworker asked them why they don’t just divorce me because my disability makes me expensive and I wasn’t contributing anything. That person was a glasshole, but we know bosses aren’t immune from being glassholes so imagine a boss pressuring an employee to get rid of a disabled family member to reduce household expenses.

          Having bosses making pay decisions based on household costs is just a very bad path to go down on for so many reasons.

    4. John Smith*

      Seconded. A married colleague of mine asked me why, when we were on the same salary, I couldn’t afford to go out as much as he does. I explained it’s very expensive being single and he just looked at me and said “so why don’t you ask for a single person supplement in your salary”. It would be nice….

      1. SaeniaKite*

        Ugh that especially rankles given that a single person supplement is usually an extra charge you have to pay for hotel rooms/activities because you’re taking a spot they would normally get twice the per person amount for

        1. Beany*

          Aren’t hotel rooms usually priced** by the room size/amenities, rather than the number of occupants? I mean, I’ve never seen a quote go *up* when I select “1 Guest” instead of the default “2 Guests”, keeping the same room. I mean, you could say that not being able to split the bill with someone else counts as double-charging me, but that seems like a weird interpretation to me.

          (**Live in the US; don’t know what’s standard in other places.)

          1. alienor*

            I’ve seen it apply to cruise ship and resort bookings. I think the idea is that they’re not going to be making as much money off you because two people in one room would purchase twice the extras (excursions, drinks at the bar, gambling in the casino if there is one etc) beyond what’s included in the package price. It really sucks.

          2. Anonymous Hippo*

            There is a max, and sometimes and extra charge for like a cot. For example a double room (two queens) you can book 4, and if you pay extra you may be allowed to put 5, but they won’t allow more than 6.

            (I came from a family of 10 plus dogs and we snuck into a lot of hotels to avoid this when I was a kid as we couldn’t afford multiple rooms).

              1. Huttj*

                college club anime conventions.

                “How many people are you going to have in the room?”


                “There’s a limit on six people per room.”

                “then we’ll have “six””

                1. WeebTrashAnon*

                  I am forever grateful that I am now in a financial position where my friends and I can afford to have an actual reasonable number of people in a room at conventions. Volunteering for the conventions tends to help. But I do not miss the days of cramming as many people as we could physically fit into a room, with more people on the floor than in beds.

                2. Nessun*

                  The best was when you wanted to split but didn’t have enough people because someone backed out – and then you met some random person or two who needed a space and they ended up giving you $40 and sleeping on your hotel room floor. Sooooo safe. Ah, my Uni days when I somehow had no worries about any of this!

                3. Mr. Shark*

                  Huttj, haha. I’ve had similar things with hotels. Hotel that allowed pets…
                  “You can’t leave your pet alone in the hotel”
                  “But I need to go to work”
                  “You can’t leave your pet alone in the hotel”
                  “Okay, no problem, I won’t”
                  What they don’t “know” doesn’t hurt, I guess.

              2. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

                Now I have nostalgia for sharing beds with my classmates when we went to (not technically mandatory but yes, mandatory) conferences that we couldn’t afford, all interviewing for the same jobs that none of us would get! Actually, no, I don’t.

      2. Mimi*

        … had he never had to live as an independent adult prior to getting married?

        I guess if he got married right out of school, or lived with relatives at least until he got married.

      3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        What a weird question. Maybe you’re supporting a relative in another state. Maybe you’re giving your money to charity. Maybe you prefer to prioritize awesome streaming services over going out. Maybe you love going out, but not with him! It’s none of his business!

    5. Butters*

      If excellent workers find out that one person is getting a raise because they need to do home improvement projects and have a child and they get nothing or less because they’re single or don’t have children they’re going to be looking for a new job. I know I would! I couldn’t afford to purchase a home as a single person due to my low salary and student loans, but you can bet my employer took exactly zero of that into consideration.
      People really need to remember that having children is not the fast lane to more pay or first pick of vacation time!

      1. The Tin Man*

        “People really need to remember that having children is not the fast lane to more pay or first pick of vacation time!”

        This is a very aggressive take that seems like it comes from something you’ve had to deal with, not the letter writer. They are desperate and struggling to pay for therapy for their autistic child, not thinking that they should have been on the “fast lane” to more pay simply for having a child.

      2. Daisy Gamgee*

        People really need to remember that having children is not the fast lane to more pay or first pick of vacation time!

        Do you really think that people undergo the indignities and dangers of pregnancy, the training and expenses of becoming an adoptive parent, the upheavals and mess and sleep deprivation of caring for an infant, the vast costs of daycare, and the constant worry and responsibility of parenthood to obtain “more pay and vacation time”?!

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          I don’t think people go through those things *for* pay or preferencial vacation times, but many people do seem to see it as a side benefit. I have certainly had a non-zero number of coworkers inform me that I shouldn’t be taking vacation around the holidays because I don’t have kids. Never mind that my parents have lived a minimum of eight hours drive from me my entire adult life, and they might like to see their kid around the holidays.

          1. Daisy Gamgee*

            Could that be more about those coworkers being inconsiderate jerks who should allow you your fair turn than about parenting being an overall moral failure ?

            1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

              I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I’m not saying all, or even most, parents do this. It’s definitely a thing that happens though, and I’ve heard it from people that I otherwise consider quite reasonable.

              1. Mr. Shark*

                Yup, I agree. It’s not all people, of course, but there definitely is this idea that just because people are single, they can get the worst vacation time, worst schedule, more inconvenient travel for work, etc.

    6. pancakes*

      I don’t think an unwillingness to get involved in reviewing employees’ expenses is unfortunate at all. It would be wildly intrusive and paternalistic for employers to do that.

    7. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      An nogood manager can or wants to factor in these kind of things. Can you imagine, “Well, Lazlo is an Ok worker and needs $ to address his chronic blood disorder, but Nadia is great when she is great and not when she’s not and has a kid, while Guillermo is awesome has caregiving duties for Nandor, Colin is meh and has no external expenses, so let’s do ……”? You can’t fairly factor in anything but work and who the hell wants to be trying to figure out if chronic disease vs child care vs dependent adult care is “worth more”

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes, where does this sort of math end? Does an employee get less because she has one kid to someone’s three? Does someone get more if their kid is sick? How does divorce factor in? How about college for the kids? “Your kid got a scholarship so no raise for you!”

            1. Gracely*

              Dear AAM,

              My job pays me in room & board, but not much else. My boss has promised me a huge promotion in the future once I prove myself. I started 11 years ago, and after getting tired of waiting on my promotion, I left briefly for what seemed like a better offer with a different boss. That job turned out to be a scam. Luckily, my old boss was so desperate for me to return that I was able to negotiate a day off and regular breaks, so that’s a huge improvement, even if it’s not the promotion I wanted.

              My question is, how many times do I need to save my boss from himself before I give up on the promised promotion? I could always go back to Panera…but the promotion is something I’ve wanted all my life, and if I leave, it would be giving up my dream.

              PS: My boss’s cohorts always call me the wrong name, and they also make huge messes I have to clean up. Any suggestions?

    8. Dust Bunny*


      My whole department is good workers. It’s a *good* thing that I can’t be penalized because I don’t have kids or a house (mostly because I can’t afford a house, while my married two-income coworkers can. We could just as well make a case for paying single people more because they don’t have a second income, aren’t eligible for as many tax breaks, have to call an Uber instead of their husband if the car stalls, etc.).

      1. WindmillArms*

        This is why I’ve never understood the argument about married people having “a family to support.” To me, having a spouse sounds like a second income-earning adult! Single people have no other streams of income and no backup.

    9. Curious*

      This is the flip side of what employers are seeing currently: The wage for a job isn’t what the employer would like to (or thinks it can afford to) pay, or what you would like to (or think you need to) earn — it’s the wage at which someone who the employer is willing to employ is willing to work.

    10. no sleep for the wicked*

      I was denied a good paying county job (that I was absolutely qualified for) in an area with few good jobs, because those kind of jobs ‘are for men with families’.

      1. irene adler*

        My first job out of college was meant as a “second income” job for the wife (swing shift position). It was not meant to be someone’s sole source of income. THAT income was earned by the husband.

        Hence the low salary.

        The HR person herself explained all this to me.

        Yet, when I met my co-workers, almost every single one of them was struggling to subsist on this income alone. Folks lived in rented rooms or with (too) many roommates. It was bad.

    11. generic_username*

      But it’s also kind of fortunate that it isn’t based on personal expenses… we don’t all want to have to share our personal details with our coworkers and managers.

    12. Ama*

      OP 3, I did something similar a few years ago, and overall I found it easier to tell people what I missed about the work I was going back to than what I disliked about management. People seem to accept your framing that it’s a good thing more if you’re focusing on things you enjoyed about your previous role and looking forward to going back to.

      1. SometimesALurker*

        I have an acquaintance who went from being the executive director of an organization to job-hunting and was looking for individual contributor roles. Whenever she talked about it, she’d say, “I’m looking for my life to be a little less QuickBooks, a little more [specialized software that people in our industry work with],” and everyone instantly got it. In that case, it was a very generic thing she disliked about management *plus* a desire to get back into the content of the kinds of roles she had previously, but I think it’s the same idea.

    13. A Feast of Fools*

      All of the male managers in my upward chain of command are married with a stay-at-home spouse.

      I have had a hard time getting them to understand that I, a single woman, am also a Head of Household and sole income provider for three people. And that I do *not* have anyone keeping the house clean and in working order during the 8-10 hours a day I put in at work.

      They seem to have trouble conceiving of a world where there isn’t an unpaid helper running the household.

  2. Really*

    #2 is nothing new. 1983 husband is on business trip with new employee (NE). NE was working on making a budget as he was getting married in a week. He was lamenting he needed more money as he had college loans to pay and wanted to know about COLA raises. Husband pointed out company doesn’t care how he paid for his degree just that he had it and that they are paying him based on that. Also unlike NE’s mother’s job there was no union contract and he would be getting a cost of business raise based upon business needs not COL.

    1. Meep*

      Not to defend NE, but the company as a whole doesn’t care. Some managers very much care. My jerk of a former manager loved to insist SHE paid for everyone’s degree, house, car, Starbucks coffee, whatever. She once declared she paid for a guy’s PhD despite him already having it when he started.

      Point is, both sides usually suck.

      1. pancakes*

        I don’t think it is usual for people to be as paternalistic and as delusional about their munificence as your former manager! What you’re describing is on the level of delusions of grandeur.

      2. BPT*

        Michael: Phyllis is getting married. And I am in the wedding party. She has asked me to push her father’s wheelchair down the aisle. So, basically, I am co-giving away the bride. Since I pay her salary it is like I’m paying for the wedding. Which I’m happy to do. It’s a big day for Phyllis. But it’s an even bigger day for me. Employer of the bride.

    2. Littorally*

      Overall it’s true the business doesn’t care about expenses, but there’s something a little off about saying “we want you to have the degree but we don’t care that you have expenses related to getting it.” If you want employees with the degree you gotta be prepared to pay for employees with the degree. That’s a little different from children or mortgages or what-have-you.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Well, I think the view is that you get paid more if you have the extra degree because you’re, at least in theory, more qualified for the work. If I get a Master’s in Renaissance literature there is no reason my Job That Is Not In That Field should consider it since it has no bearing on my qualifications to do my work. If I get an MLIS then I would be more qualified and (actually, in my case I’d be qualified for an entirely different position that my workplace might or might not have open) but I would be qualified for a higher-level, and thus higher-paid, job.

        1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

          I’m in my first job in a very specialized field where there is official guidance from a regional governing body on how people should be compensated for degrees they have over and above the one required for the position. I like the idea of it on one level–dammit, I put a lot of work and time into that first grad degree, and it is actually somewhat relevant to the work I’m doing now!–but at the same time, I feel like I’m asking my current community to pay for a crappy life choice I made in my twenties.

      2. Mr. Shark*

        Oh, for the most part, you are getting paid for the degree. Most degree jobs get paid more than non-degree jobs, sometimes even if the positions are the same. It’s a travesty in some instances, since you can have a degree and still be awful at your job, and another employee may be great at the same position but not have a degree and be paid less.
        There are definite exceptions when the degree is well worth it, of course.

    3. Nanani*

      It’s important to note that focusing on the value of your work – and not your personal expenses – is important for making progress toward equal pay.
      Paying based on expenses is one way to get gender disparities of the “HE has a family to support, SHE has a husband supporting her” variety. Or HE has a career, SHE has a hobby until they have kids. Or what have you.

      So actually it was pretty new in 1983, to not give NE a bigger paycheck for getting married (that his wife would never ever get if they had equivalent jobs)

      It’s good to look at whether the job is paying enough for you, but not to ask them to raise the pay because of your special circumstances.

    4. irene adler*

      Stupid me- if my expenses increase then I know it’s time to find a higher-paying job. Maybe even pursue additional education to facilitate this endeavor. Never thought about asking the boss to hike my pay.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        I’m a co-owner of a small business. We have a part-time scheduler who works 15-20 hours a week, calling customers and scheduling jobs. She decided to send her kids to a private elementary school and then told us that we needed to pay her more so she could cover the new expense.

        Um, no?

        I told her that we’d understand if she needed to leave us for a full-time job but that we have no need for a FT scheduler. And, besides, the amount she was asking for wouldn’t even be achieved if we doubled her hours.

        She then tried to argue that we owners could just pay ourselves less to cover the difference she needed.

        Hard no.

        She’s a high-school dropout and this is her first non-babysitting job even though she’s in her late 20’s, so I’m trying to be understanding while explaining how business actually works

      2. The OTHER Other*

        Do your employers use this same logic when they set their prices? Are they charging the same prices for their goods and services they were 10 or even 5 years ago? Do they figure “well, our costs have gone up, we’re going to have to get into a higher end business to charge more?” I dare say not.

        Restaurants, grocery stores, and car dealers increase their prices more or less with inflation. This is basically what inflation IS. Why are workers alone exempt from this spiral of increasing costs when it comes to being paid as opposed to paying them as consumers?

        Upward mobility through education and increasing your skills is great, but it’s not as though the people working the gas stations, driving the busses, etc should be seeing their pay diminish each year.

        1. The OTHER Other*

          To be clear, I’m talking about COLA, and not someone expecting to be paid more because they have more kids or buy a house.

          1. irene adler*

            And I agree with you!
            I assumed -in my comment above- that COLA is an annual thing added to the paycheck. Because it is unrealistic to pay an employee the same salary year after year for the very reason you cite- inflation.

            As A Feast of Fools points out, the employee took on the additional expense. It’s on them to find the means to pay for that expense. When I have additional expenses – new digs, new vehicle, a new someone to support- it is on me -not the employer- to find the way to pay for this.

  3. M_Lynn*

    #3- another key is in the months after the change, try to be visibly happier and still engaged at work. If no one picks up a negative vibe from you, they’ll see that your actions match your words and there won’t be doubt.

    1. It's me*

      Yes! Also it would help if you can have a bit of an upbeat tone when making the announcement.

      Or at least try to get a handle on how stressed you are about the announcement itself so that you don’t project that – others may pick up on your stress and assign that to feelings about the move. Easier said than done, but if you convince yourself that this is no big deal (because it isn’t!) you’ll project that and others will follow your lead.

      1. Spero*

        Agree on upbeat tone. I think saying something like “I really like working with this team. But I found I don’t like being a manager, and if even such a great team as this makes me realize that then I don’t think I should continue down the management path. Being an individual contributor/SME was just a better fit for my brain/style/work life! I’m really grateful that (new role) will let me still work with team/in company in a way that works for us all”

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I know someone who stepped back into a senior SME role after being, and not liking being, a manager. She and her manager both told the team at a meeting. This was the before times, so the 2 of them brought in coffee and breakfast goodies, and did the announcement the same way they’d announce a promotion. She was so clearly happy that it was obvious it was voluntary. I don’t think the team felt like it was their fault, or I never heard it mentioned, since she was a good manager and no one had had any issues with her work.

      1. Momma Bear*

        We had a few people do this. The statement was basically that this person was transitioning to a technical role and this other person would become the team lead because that suited their preferences/skills best. It was just a quick statement and nobody really thought more about it. Usually it was mentioned at a leadership meeting or during a generic reorg announcement. I actually respect that because not everyone wants to be or should be a manager and better to retain someone’s skills than frustrate them into leaving.

    3. Malarkey01*

      I’d also focus on what you’re glad to be doing instead of focusing on what you didn’t like in management. Like “I really missed doing x and am so happy to get back into those weeds” instead of “I didn’t like managing or didn’t like x part of the management role”. It’s subtle but subconsciously will get people to focus on the positive and understand why you are making the change.

  4. Loulou*

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the answer to #3, but I feel like the first two scripts out of the four stand alone on their own, and adding either of the things after Alison’s “though” could come off as a little defensive or odd. That is, if someone said “I realized I preferred my old role/didn’t love managing” I would assume they meant they were the one who asked for the change.

    1. MediocreMillennial*

      I assume Alison added that language because LW#3 specifically mentioned concerns about it blowing back on their manager, but I agree it has to be phrased right!

      Personally, I would use language like, “I realized my passion was more on the technical side, so I’m very grateful Jane was able to work with me so I could focus on that full-time!”

      1. allathian*

        Ugh, I don’t want to police other people’s words, but this one gets my goat every time. Passion doesn’t belong in the workplace, any workplace, ever. It only gives employers more opportunities to take advantage of or even abuse their employees. Maybe it’s a millennial thing, to expect to feel passionate about a job, but if so, you’ve been sold down the river. As a gen-X person, I’m sorry.

        I’d say something like “I realized I’m much better suited to technical work, and really don’t enjoy managing people, so I’m very grateful…”

        1. EBStarr*

          All right, I’ll bite. As a millennial so thus I guess the target of this, I’m confused. I agree that passion can be used against an employee by an employer but are you actually saying it’s never a positive for any employee to have a job that gives them a sense of meaning and accomplishment? Because an unscrupulous employer might take advantage of them? What if they are well paid and well treated too? This just seems like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

          I actually don’t describe my job as a passion because I have a creative pursuit that I care more about, but I do love and care about my job, and I normally work 35 hours a week and receive a significant amount of money in return. Loving my job enriches my life in the same way anything you care about can enrich your life–and since I spend 35 hours a week on it, I find that a boon. It’s a lucky situation to be in, and I don’t buy in to the idea that someone’s life is incomplete if they don’t have a “passion” for their livelihood (reeks of privilege) but I don’t think it’s a situation that merits this kind of indignation either.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            I agree. I mean, I understand the underlying idea but this – “Passion doesn’t belong in the workplace, any workplace, ever.” – seems like really strange and excessive overkill, as well as yes, pretty language-policing.

            1. EBStarr*

              Replace “passion” with “porn” though and it’s an excellent response to one of the other letters! :-D

          2. FridayFriyay*

            Completely agree with this. It is possible for people to be passionate about their paid work and still have appropriate boundaries and not be taken advantage of by their employer. Just because that dynamic CAN be toxic in some cases doesn’t mean it is NECESSARILY toxic in every case, or even most cases.

          3. Eldritch Office Worker*

            The entire nonprofit sphere would go under if we banned the word ‘passion’. Are there issues? Yes. But there are also good people doing good work they really care about (and being compensated for it).

        2. Perfectly Particular*

          I’m GenX too and find that to be a weird line to draw. I’ve worked in the same industry for 20 years – of course I have some passion about it, or I would have moved on by now. It doesn’t necessarily open the door for abuse, as long as you are aware of the trade offs you’re making and continue to make them willingly. Like the OP – there may be more money in management for them, but also more stress, and that’s not a trade they’re willing to make.

          1. londonedit*

            I agree that the whole ‘You don’t need more money because you should be doing this job for the PASSION and the LOVE’ idea needs to die immediately (it’s still prevalent in my industry, publishing) but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with someone describing an area of their job that they particularly enjoy as their ‘passion’. I’d probably be more likely to say ‘my real interest’ or ‘my true skills’ because ‘passion’ feels a little OTT for me personally, but it’s a legitimate word to use in general conversation.

          2. Esmeralda*

            I’m a boomer and we never heard the word “passion” associated with “work” back in the dark ages, when dinosaurs roamed the offices.

            I like my job a lot, I get a great deal of satisfaction from helping students. I’m not passionate about it… But plenty of people do feel that way about their work and there’s nothing inappropriate about it.

            What’s inappropriate = telling people (especially young people) that they need to find their passion and make that passion their work, insinuating that any work where you don’t feel passionate about it is not valuable or that any worker who doesn’t feel passionate about the work is not as valuable.

            1. pancakes*

              Many of the people who popularized the idea were / are boomers. Steve Jobs gave graduation speeches saying things like, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Oprah Winfrey: “Follow your passion. Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

              1. new*

                Boomer here. Did not follow “passion”, followed the money. I came from a poor family though. Following “passion” has always been for those who could afford it.

                1. pancakes*

                  It still is, yes. I was not trying to suggest that every last boomer followed the platitudes that some of them popularized!

                  A good read on this topic that I have recommended before — and was eventually extended into a book — is Miya Tokumitsu’s 2014 essay in Jacobin titled “In the Name of Love.” She points out that the mantra of do what you love is “the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.”

        3. bamcheeks*

          This is policing someone’s words though. I agree that any kind of coercive language around passion or the imposition of passion is a Bad Thing– people shouldn’t feel that they OUGHT to be passionate, or expected to perform passion, or that something is missing if passion isn’t the way they would describe their relationship to work. But requiring people not to use the word passion if that is how they feel about parts of their work is going to the opposite extreme.

        4. ecnaseener*

          Sorry, if you didn’t want to police others’ words I don’t believe you would’ve posted this. The point you’re ostensibly trying to make is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

        5. Falling Diphthong*

          I am a gen-X person who finds passion for what one does a perfectly understandable concept. Not a requirement, but not something to object to either.

          You can have passion for the work and also want work-life balance, a comfortable salary, and dental.

        6. JSPA*

          That’s like saying you can’t have”work friends,” because friendship is… rare and special? Predicated on a level of honesty and openness not suited to the workplace? Can leave you missing a workplace?

          The idea that being passionate about a type of work locks you in to a specific workplace is not logically defensible. By now, even “astronaut” is a job description with multiple employers.

          “If people in power sense I’m happy, this will be used against me” is not most people’s recipe for a happy, fulfilling OR well- remunerated career.

          “Follow your passion” was crap advice because often, decent jobs don’t exist, doing the things humans are passionate about as barely-adult humans. Not because it’s bad to have already found good work that you legitimately are passionate about.

        7. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I’m an old, as in 50 is way closer than 40 at this point, so Gen X too, and I am passionate about my work and the communities I work with. So much so I need to try to not come off as a little intense if I am outside of work. Passion is what gets me through those really, really boring a tedious tasks (I hate you travel claims and budget reconciliation/justification) and is the only think that forces me to have attention to detail (not my strong suit). Passion for work is the same a passion for another person, in the wrong relationship it can lead to you being exploited, but in the right one it can make everything better.

          1. After 33 years ...*

            It’s because I have passion for my work that I become frustrated when various things prevent me from doing it effectively.

        8. alienor*

          I’m also a Gen Xer and I’ve never felt passionate about my work ever–I entered the field I’m in more or less by accident 20+ years ago, and at this point I can’t afford to take the massive pay cut that starting over would require, so here I stay. I’m a little bemused when I encounter people who *are* passionate about it and I often suspect them of faking (because come on, we’re not saving lives or making art here) but I also wouldn’t tell them that they’re not allowed to feel that way. In the end, I think really being passionate about work is rare, but if you’re lucky enough to have found it, why not embrace it, as long as you’re not allowing yourself to be exploited?

              1. alienor*


                I took an entry-level job thinking I’d be there for a year or so, then go on to my *real* career…whoops.

        9. Midwest Teacher*

          Could you sound any more condescending? I’m a millennial and I’m in my mid-30s. We are not young adults fresh onto the workforce. Insinuating that anyone who is passionate about their job is naive and being taken advantage of by their employer is completely absurd. Heaven forbid someone be happy and fulfilled by their career. How dare they bring that energy into the workplace, where they presumably will spend a significant portion of their life, right? Of course passion shouldn’t be a requirement for any job, and I don’t think you should have to love what you’re doing to excel at it. But to claim that passion about your career is something negative is messed up. You are so far off base with this take.

      2. JSPA*

        Like this one best!

        Or even, “I feel people should give management a try, in case it turns out to be their hidden superpower. But my first love has always been [fil in details of individual contributor role,] and I’m so happy they could make a spot for me there.”

        Possibly adding, where applicable, “but I can totally see you as an excellent manager, and I support you exploring that, when the time is right.”

    2. Anima*

      Assuming is not always understood. Some people need to have things spelled out, and this wording will keep the letter writer in the better-safe-than-sorry-territory, I believe.

  5. Jamboree*

    Re #5: Don’t the forms actually belong to the company as they were produced when LW5 was the company’s employee. Oh, is the issue that the company is essentially using his personal google drive to store their resources? That makes more sense, come to think of it. Never mind.

    1. CB212*

      Yep. I’m a contractor/consultant and I haaaaaate when clients ask me to keep everything in my own cloud storage instead of accepting delivery. It can be very hard to reclaim that space, and it’s not part of my contract to host their files indefinitely.

      1. Candi*

        Not Always Right is currently reprinting Clients from [Heck] stories (I think NAR bought them out?)

        On the story “This Is How You Make A Web Designer Scream”, someone in the comments suggested that OP charge the client for storage space for their website they didn’t want to go live yet.

        Maybe you could charges clients storage fees. Hopefully if you set it high enough, the clients probably will very quickly find they can take delivery.

        1. AJoftheInternet*

          NAR either always owned or owned for a while CFH, to my understanding, and recently closed them down due to low submissions.

          Also, I absolutely never let clients store their stuff on my space without having it upfront that they pay. If they need a shared drive, I just open with, “So I’ll need access to your cloud storage.”

          1. CB212*

            Yeah, I do media creation and often my producers are also contractors, & they say they don’t have access to the agency dropbox/ permissions; at a couple of agencies it’s apparently just the norm to have all the editors and others use their own storage. (Lazy and cheap, obviously, but they’re the ones who write my check, so.) I do always ask for a hard drive for final delivery +/or access to their space, but honestly I’m not in a position to walk away from a couple months of work over cloud storage.

    2. Candi*

      I think one lesson that can be taken from this is this is another time to not use personal resources for work. The Google Docs was a good idea, since the doc can be shared without having to make copies, but the business should have their own account(s).

      If the company knows this and doesn’t want to pay a fee for the Business side of Google’s Office functions, well, they need to suck it up and quit using using OP#5’s account to avoid paying those fees.

      If OP is feeling nice, they can Download the docs into a .pdf or .docx format and email them to the manager, but they don’t have to at all.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        I want to mix ideas. Give them a reasonable deadline, like 2 week’s notice, then send all of the documents to the manager just before shutting down their access.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          And it might reduce ridiculous complaints to temporarily replace each Google form with a text line saying Manager has been sent the originals.

          1. Malarkey01*

            Agree. While you have the right to stop hosting them, it can leave a very bad taste in everyone’s mouth and references when they lose access to work product (although yes you gave them warning). Saving them as pdf or docx and sticking them on usb/emailing/transferring to the company honestly should have been done during the 2 week notice transition.

            Also just never ever store things on your personal site. If you need to create a new Google just for the “business you” do that over mixing the two.

        2. a heather*

          Yeah, I would give them the deadline, then make them inaccessible (but not yet delete) them on the deadline. Especially if you’ve been telling them to do something but they haven’t done it, a deadline isn’t likely going to be enough until it bites them. But I am too nice.

          1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            This is what I would do. Many people do not listen until an actual consequence happens, however many times you warn them. (Currently trying to get teenagers to take good care of their laptops, for which they are financially liable.)

            1. Momma Bear*

              I’d forward the old emails where you detailed how to make a copy and that you want them to stop using the originals, and add that by x date they will be deleted. And then just do it. Sending the old emails to the boss and whoever will be a reminder that this conversation has been had, repeatedly. Please stop.

          2. Free Meerkats*

            Yeah, it doesn’t matter how much warning the LW gives them, they aren’t going to do anything until they can’t get the form they want.

            I’d send an email to everyone who uses the forms and their managers (maybe up to the VP level) giving a one week notice. Then shut off access at the one week point. When (not if) the bellowing comes forth, give them one more week grace to copy and reenable access. Then I would copy them to a thumb drive and delete away.

          3. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            I agree, a very close deadline that says “will be deleted” (and making the files inaccessible on that date, with actual deletion in the future) seems more likely to get results from them than sending another “please download ASAP” reminder. Keeping the files in place (or getting a new share link) for a little while after the soft deadline sounds like less of a pain than putting them all on a thumb drive and sending it over.

            The email could include
            – an ominous subject line
            – email chain from earlier, with dates
            – the fact that they were warned to take their copies on X, Y, and Z dates
            – name and size of each file
            – the share links to each file (for their convenience)
            – the most recent date when someone from that company has accessed the file, to prove that it’s still in use
            – the date when they will be “deleted”
            – if possible, snitch-cc to one and two levels up from the actual culprits, to enhance the urgency if those people decide to follow up on this

    3. Squidhead*

      In addition to not wanting to commit her drive space to the company’s documents, someone CURRENTLY AT the company needs to be in charge of allowing appropriate access to these files and revoking it when employees move on. OP, as a now-former employee, won’t know who should have access (and shouldn’t need to know!).

      Maybe these files aren’t proprietary in any way, but I’ve been in a situation where I thought a former employee might tamper with a file they still had access to (basically just because they could). Because the original owner of the file had also moved on, it was easier to copy the important bits into a new file owned by a current employee and move on.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s like a special variation on “What if the sole person with access was hit by a bus?”

        “What if the person with access leaves for another job? Or retires?”
        “Won’t slow us down, we’ll just call them whenever we have a new employee.”
        “What if they die?”
        “Ouija board.”

      2. Observer*

        In addition to not wanting to commit her drive space to the company’s documents, someone CURRENTLY AT the company needs to be in charge of allowing appropriate access to these files and revoking it when employees move on.

        Not the OP’s problem, though.

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          I mean, it sorta is, in the sense that OP has expressed an interest in not screwing over the old employer (or they would have already cut off access to their personal Drive). It’s more in the vein of an argument the OP can make to the old company: “Not only do I not particularly like storing your documents for you, I’m not in a position to properly control access to them for you. It’s a lose-lose situation, now get your crap off my Drive. K thnx bye”

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

      In addition to the final warning, I would change permissions or end sharing. The documents still exist (for now), but they will no longer be accessing the OPs drive to get them. The OP may need to be the one to download a copy and email it, if possible.

      1. Dutchie*

        This seems like a good solution. OP can revoke the access. If there will then be any questions, they can email the files, which will be a clear cut end to this problem.

      2. Khatul Madame*

        IMO this is the optimal route. Here’s how it will go:

        LW sends a final warning to ex-job that files will not be accessible starting a week from the date.
        Ex-job summarily ignores the LW’s warning.
        A week later, LW removes access permissions but keeps the files where they are.
        X days later someone from ex-job tries to access LW’s Google drive, fails, and panics.
        When informed of the problem, LW reminds ex-job of the warning and reiterates that her private Google drive will be private from here on out.
        LW transfers all the ex-job documents from the cloud to a flash drive and mails to ex-job with delivery notification and return receipt.
        The end.

        1. Beany*

          Agree with the above, except LW should be invoicing the company some non-negligible amount for anything they send/do after the deadline.

          1. Colette*

            You can’t unilaterally decide to invoice a company. I mean, you can, but they have no obligation to pay it, and it’ll make you look really out of touch.

            1. The OTHER Other*

              …as out of touch as an employer storing their work materials on an ex-employee’s Google drive indefinitely? And having that employee administer access, again indefinitely? The point here is to get the former employer to take action, not collect money.

              1. Observer*

                Yes, but it’s not going to work. It will just make them roll their eyes and ignore the invoice – and make them MORE likely to ignore the rest of what the OP says.

              2. Colette*

                Is the company going to ask her for a reference in the future? Why blow that up to make a poorly thought out point?

            2. No Longer Looking*

              It’s not unilateral, it’s after the deadline “if the company asks for the files, you send them an invoice for the cost of the USB stick, postage, and transfer time. They have the option to pay and receive copies of the files, or not pay and not receive copies of the files.

        2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          All of this just seems like too much work for the LW, to me. They no longer work there, and are no longer being paid to manage these files – Why is this route, with all the effort, time, and expense it entails, optimal for them?

          I’m on team single email (get your files by x date) and delete on day x+1. Then the LW can stop worrying about things that aren’t their problem or responsibility any more.

          1. Joielle*

            Yeah, I’d send an email to the manager, CC everyone you know of who uses the documents, attach the documents, and say you’re removing the sharing permissions and deleting the files. Problem solved in one email.

          2. Khatul Madame*

            Because people from ex-job will not just leave her alone after that.
            LW already tried to resolve the situation and people didn’t pay attention. If she goes the quick surgical route, she’ll get panicked calls, emails and general bother. Therefore I suggest a little more grace up-front. It is not THAT much more work.

            1. Colette*

              Why wouldn’t they? If she’s already sent them the documents, if they follow up, she can just forward the email with the documents again. Why make them follow up to get the documents?

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      And that also means that LW was storing company documents in a personal account. I’m surprised anyone with awareness of IP etc allowed this to become (what seems to be) a standard business process for this team!

      1. Squidlet*

        This often happens when the company has inadequate tools or software for people to get their work done. Especially in more niche fields. I use tools like Miro and Airtable which many companies don’t have a license for.

        1. BethDH*

          Yes, this happens to me frequently, and often the specific situation is that they do have a tool that will work, but is not what the tool is built for. So I can spend a lot of really frustrating hours trying to do a one-off layout in Word, or pop into my own design tools and do it in five minutes and export it.

        2. Mimi*

          It can also happen when the provided tools are less convenient than free tools, as well. I’ve seen people use personal dropbox (on company email accounts, at least, but still not legit in terms of licensing and not controlled by the company) because they don’t like to have to connect to the VPN to get to the file server, or whatever.

      2. 2 Cents*

        I was this OP at my last company. We weren’t given the adequate tools to effectively/efficiently do our jobs. I was able to offload all of the files before I left, but yeah, it was only because I was super proactive about it.

      3. CJ*

        There’s also audit security implications. (That quiet screaming you hear in the background? That’s the company’s accreditor.)

    6. tamarack and fireweed*

      OP5 really needs to shut down access to the documents. But it is smart (and kind) to remain aware of likely human failure. So what I would do is:

      a) Download a copy of all the files and zip them together.
      b) Transfer the zip file via a free, secure means such as Firefox Send (presuming it’s larger than ~10 MB) or normal email (if it’s < 10 MB) to a contact person at the former company (Cc: a manager, if this person isn't one), with the cover email clearly saying that this is the final hand-over of files and that you will not be keeping a copy going forward.
      c) Delete the files from the shared drive.

      Whether or not OP5 keeps a copy of the zip file privately is a matter of judgement. Advice must always be not to do that, though experience shows that occasionally it can be beneficial to be able to "accidentally find" that there is after all a copy of the file archive left that for *some* reason hasn't been deleted, how could that happen…… ?

      1. Chlorite*

        Agreed with this! I’d probably keep blank template documents in my Drive depending on how complex they were to show ways I’d innovated at work, but Google Docs are essentially only every Word Suite file types. Email the copies instead of waiting for Old Company to make them and then remove their shared access—OP can choose to be done with this in lieu of continuing to wait on Old Company.

        1. Narvo Flieboppen*

          When I was laid off for COVID closure, I asked my former employer for permission to pull copies of the tools I had created to show to future employers as examples of my work. I also showed them the sample data I created to replace their actual database, to demonstrate none of their info would be compromised. They were happy to agree to it.

          1. Momma Bear*

            I think it’s valid for OP to keep copies as a portfolio but remove access/rename them/download them.

      2. OftenOblivious*

        Yes, I was going to suggest the same. If it’s not crazy big, email the files. Or as also suggested, cut off access but don’t delete the files.

      3. Marmalade Today*

        The problem with the “copy the files and send to the manager” suggestion is the Google Drive docs may be dynamically updating, with connections to other data sources. In that case, the end users really do need to go through the originals updating access and permissions until the documents are viable with out the OP’s credentials.

        Alison’s suggestion of communicating a clear deadline, then deleting, is good.

    7. Observer*

      Oh, is the issue that the company is essentially using his personal google drive to store their resources?

      That’s exactly the problem. Which is why the OP would be wise to make sure to send and email about it – and make sure that it goes to a bunch of different people, not just their former manager. They want to make sure that no one can claim that the OP didn’t give the a good enough opportunity to get their stuff.

  6. Eric*

    #2, I do think you can mention general inflation. “The 4% raise you are offering really just covers increased COLA. I’d like to see my compensation reflect the larger role I’ve taken on at XYZ Corp since my salary was last set. “

    1. J*

      As a manager, it falls flat when employees mention inflation to me as a justification for a bigger raise. Inflation affects everyone. It is not a reason for me to give you more of the raise/salary pot than another employee.

      1. TheLinguistManager*

        My current company handles this pretty well. Not only do I know how and to whom to pass feedback from a direct report we aren’t adjusting to COL/inflation/the market, but we’re always very clear that merit increases are always entirely separate from COL increases, and we have the two on separate cycles.

      2. Mimi*

        In my discussions with my manager about raises, mentioning inflation doesn’t mean “You need to give me a bigger portion of the merit raise pot,” it means “Company needs to have a separate pot that also covers COLA.”

        It’s entirely legitimate for an employee to point out that this “merit raise,” when adjusted for rampant inflation, turns into a “merit you only have slightly less buying power than you did last year.”

        1. zinzarin*

          Or an actual “merit downgrade” as has happened to me often. “Here’s more money; you can buy less with it than you could with the money we gave you last year. Good work!”

          1. Chickaletta*

            LOL, this is my company. They gave everyone a “4% raise” last year when there was 7% inflation. I have less purchasing power than I did 12 months ago, but my HR is giving itself a pat on the back and doesn’t understand why employees are still leaving over pay.

        2. SpaceySteph*

          Yup, I got a merit not-quite-break-even this year. My company does not do COLA raises. It sucks.

      3. SomebodyElse*

        I’m with you on this. Often there is an overall pot based on X% of my team’s salary. I have discretion within that to divvy up based on performance. But just as it’s not my problem that Employee A’s expenses are more than Employee B (and it doesn’t come into any decisions on allocation) it’s also not my problem that inflation, costs, etc. are increasing.

        1. Chickaletta*

          But, inflation *is* your problem if you have employees leaving for jobs that adjust to the market.

      4. urguncle*

        As an employee, when my “raise” means I’m barely making more than the year before, if not at all, I’m not going to consider it a raise, nor should my employer.

      5. For the Moment*

        While a manager can rarely do anything about how the pot is split, this is feedback to the business (and goes to the manager as the face of the company to their staff) that the company is not actually increasing useable compensation by deciding that base raises don’t/barely keep up with inflation. Its reasonable to notice that useful compensation isn’t increasing with an increase in responsibility and be honest about that.

        1. ursula*

          Yeah, I had to have a big-picture conversation about this with the rest of our leadership team and ED, because I looked around and realized that everyone on that team except me owned their home (and had for years) in our city where the COL for renters specifically was skyrocketing – rent on a 1BR nearly doubled over the 10 years I lived here. They were thinking of COLA as the government-standard 2% or whatever, when the actual cost of living for the majority of staff (who rented, like me) was actually rising at more like 10% per year. They all had an abstract sense of “yes, the city is getting so expensive nowadays!” but it took me showing them the math that, after 2 promotions and a 40% salary increase, I had the exact same amount of spending money that I did when I started for the org 6 years ago, to start a more serious conversation about how we set our salary scales and calculate automatic pay increases. So I think in edge cases there can be some utility in talking about actual living costs.

      6. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        COLA is not a raise, mate – it’s what you should be giving everyone. If you give someone only that, you’re effectively saying they deserve no raise at all, because you’re not increasing their ability to save or buy things, merely maintaining the buying power of their current wages.

        If you’re not even meeting inflation with your COLAs, you’re just degrading their wages every year, and your employees should be walking away from you and finding work somewhere that actually values them and the growth of their experience over time.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          At my last job, “merit” raises were 2%. Nation inflation, IIRC, was over 3%, and local inflation was more like 5%. But people stubbornly insisted those were “merit” increases only, no COL adjustment.

          Lots of companies do this. That’s why, in tech at least, you have to change jobs every two or three years to get ahead and not lose out to inflation.

        2. Cold Fish*

          I like your perfect world. Unfortunately there are many, many, many companies out there that don’t even pretend to give COLA raises. And job hopping is not always possible, especially in smaller communities.

          My company is one of the better paying places in my town, yet they never give COLA raises. Leaving my job for a lateral equivalent position at a different company could realistically mean taking a 20-30% paycut. There are a LOT of people around here that still think $15/hr is a GOOD salary (and houses, except theirs, should cost $50K) so that $16/hr job is great! Why aren’t you bending over backward to get that job?

          Perhaps there may be more remote positions available as the pandemic ends that may help ease this disparity in smaller towns but I don’t plan on holding my breath. And there are personal reasons holding me to this town so moving is not an option at this time.

      7. The OTHER Other*

        As someone who has been both a manager and an employee, it falls flat when increases of 2-3% are called “merit increases” when they are not even keeping pace with COLA. IMO unless the company is in severe trouble, COLA should be automatic for all employees not on a PIP and merit increases should be based on merit.

        But I’ve worked at several places where the company was too lazy to do the actual work to determine who gets merit increases and so just gives the same 2% across the board, regardless of merit, or claims “times are tough” and freezes compensation for the rank and file and yet pays C-suite executives millions of dollars in bonuses.

        1. Rosemary*

          “COLA should be automatic for all employees not on a PIP” — if COLA increases are not based on merit, why shouldn’t someone in a PIP not receive it? To me, that implies that it IS at least somewhat based on merit.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            I think the general idea here is that giving a pay raise (even COLA) while someone is on a PIP undercuts the severity of what a PIP should be – it sends a contradictory message of “Things seem to be fine” when they aren’t.

          2. The OTHER Other*

            Interesting point. My reasoning: Because someone on a PIP is failing to meet expectations in some significant way. COLA should be automatic for everyone meeting minimal standards, someone on a PIP is not, and loss of COLA is among the consequences of their work not being up to par and the organization/manager is having to spend time on remedial training and supervision.

            1. pancakes*

              That seems really weasel-y to me. Someone on a PIP is still producing work valuable enough as to justify keeping them employed and giving them a chance to improve rather than simply firing them. Working people should be paid for their work. Having to train and supervise workers is a cost of doing business, and not everyone on a PIP is going to need extensive re-training or supervision. Someone who needs to improve their metrics or work faster, for example, has a straightforward target to hit that likely won’t require much, if any, additional training.

      8. Claire*

        As an employee, it falls flat if my manager doesn’t consider inflation! Presumably my manager has more power than I do to advocate for a larger raise pot to upper management.

  7. Ayla*

    On #3, I think I’d want my main focus to be on specific positives of the new role. Something like, “I’ve loved working with my team but I’m really excited to spend more time doing [technical work]; I’ve missed that!”

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This is I think the best way to approach it – find and focus on some new and challenging aspects of the individual technical role you are moving into and how excited you are that manager was able to create this new role for you. Keep your comments positive and focused on learning new skills and tacking new projects, and how supportive and awesome manager is.

    2. Beth*

      Yes, very much this. “I didn’t like managing” could be heard, in the wrong light, as “my team was difficult for me to manage.” On the other hand, “As much as I love my team, I found that I really missed technical work, so I asked to move into a role where I could spend more time on it” is hard to read as anything but positive all around.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree. I pretty much burned out a few years ago after climbing the ladder and realising the upper echelons were not for me, so I freelanced for a while and then got a job doing the hands-on stuff that I actually enjoy and am good at. Had a few questions in interviews about why I was interested in taking a ‘lower level’ role and whether I was sure I wouldn’t get bored, but I just said that I’d had the chance to really consider what I enjoy doing and the roles that use my skills to their best advantage, and I’d come to the conclusion that I wanted to move back into a role with hands-on editorial work. I’d then speak a bit about what I really enjoyed about that sort of work, and people seemed to be impressed – I think it showed a good level of self-reflection and I think the overall tone of positivity that I used (talking about the things I missed and wanted to do again, rather than the things I didn’t like about the other roles) showed I was genuine and I knew what I was doing.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        This is very much why I’ve stayed where I am, despite the fact that I could if I wanted to rise even higher in management. I LIKE fixing things, I adore solving the problems that tech support brings in and in this place most of what an IT manager does is managing the systems not the people (they do still need management but IT staff tend to be like cats – give them what they need and don’t micromanage) so I still keep my techie skills.

        My current boss – director of IT – doesn’t even have an administrator logon.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Yup. I want to stay with the interest that got me into the industry in the first place. Not end up in meetings about contract negotiations or what management buzzword we’re gonna force on the staff this month.

            Also, I really envy your job. I love books :)

            1. Lore*

              Don’t be too envious. I have pretty much the same job on the US side and it’s not always pretty to see how the sausage gets made. There are definitely authors I cannot enjoy reading anymore because I know how much they torture their production teams! (On the other hand there are authors I will recommend to everyone because they’re such a joy to work with, so I guess it comes out even in the end.)

              1. londonedit*

                Yes, I was going to say it’d be a great job if it wasn’t for the authors :D

                It’s project management basically, making sure the books get to their various editorial stages on time and making sure everything’s top quality and the author isn’t too much of a nightmare to manage. I also don’t work on the world’s most thrilling books! But I do get to do some hands-on editorial stuff (collating proof corrections, reading through things to make sure everything’s present and correct, etc) and I have a lot of autonomy, and I’m good at pushing books through the schedule and making sure everyone’s on time and happy.

      3. MsM*

        I had to make the same call not too long ago, and that’s pretty much the exact wording I used. My coworkers were very supportive.

    3. Rainy Cumbria*

      Yes, something like “I’m really excited to be moving to a more technical position, it’s what I do best / enjoy the most”

  8. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – If the recruiter is telling you that there are long hours to the role, it’s okay to ask what that means. Eg. they might tell you that during busy season, everyone needs to work 12 hour days for 3 months on end. Or it might be that the office opens at 7 AM and closes at 7 PM. Or it might mean they need you to be available on call on weekends occasionally. You need to know what they mean by long hours before you can tell them whether that will work for you or not.

    Being told of long hours is not – in and of itself – a red flag about the organization per se, but it may make the role or the company simply not a viable option for you. It’s good that they are up front that their business expects something out of the ordinary. That way, you can decide if a) you can do it and b) whether what they’re offering makes it worth it.

    1. Wendy*

      This can depend heavily on the industry, too. Say you’re a computer programmer – in some corners of the industry you can expect to be in “crunch time” a significant portion of your tenure, to the point where there’s a culture of companies providing on-site dining/childcare/gyms/recreation because they want you there for those 14-hour days. In other sub-specialties of programming, even using the same skills, you may have occasional weekend projects but generally put in your forty hours and be perfectly fine. The industry standards are usually something you can find out ahead of time and aren’t necessarily company-specific, although of course you can ask questions to figure out how entitled the company feels to your free time :-)

      1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        This is definitely true. Systems people have a similar dichotomy. I’ve been “on call” for some percentage of weeks at virtually every job I’ve ever had, but what percentage, and what “on-call” really means can vary *wildly*. I’m “on call” 50% of the time at my part time contract role, but neither of the two “on call” people had ever been called, so it’s not exactly a problem. At a previous role I was “on call” about 30% of the time, which seems better. Except there it meant there was a near 100% chance you would get woken up at least once in any given week, and a good chance it would happen more than once.

    2. Cassie*

      Agreed – I’m glad they’re being upfront about it to OP more than anything. I work in an industry with long hours and we’re always super transparent about it. It does mean we lose out on good candidates (unfortunately I don’t have the authority to actually change the hours) but better to lose them early on than 6 weeks into the job.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        And these questions can reflect that the last person was insistent on leaving at 5 every day despite a culture where that wasn’t normal or workable, so the interviewer is trying to head that off early this time.

    3. MK*

      Your b point is also very important. After they tell you what the hours are, and assuming you are willing to do them, it provides a nice cue to ask what the compensation is, as in “I am willing to work these hours, as long as the salary reflects the time commitment I will be making for the job”.

    4. Snow Globe*

      When the interviewer says “not until 5AM…”, I’d assume they are trying not to say what the actual hours are, because they are Not Good.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        That stood out to me, too. Like they didn’t want to admit that they’d kept people to 2am.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          Yeah I look at this and see so many red flags that I’m not sure I would bother to ask for clarification, just withdraw my application.
          I work in a 24/7 coverage position so I work night shifts, weekend shifts, take periodic on-call shifts, etc. All of this is made clear to every applicant– you will be working these hours at this frequency, you will be doing this kind of coverage. We don’t pussyfoot around it because we don’t want to hire and train people who aren’t up for the shifts we need. That’s a waste of everyone’s time.
          A company that doesn’t want to be up front about the hours they expect is trying to trap you.

      2. Laney Boggs*

        Yes, this is exactly what I thought! “Not a 9-5, but you won’t be here until 5am, her her”

        Okay, so will I be here til 4am? Midnight? 9pm? 6pm?

        And are we talking every day, every week, once a quarter?

        1. Cait*

          And beware if, when you ask for them to elaborate, they continue to be vague. “Y’know… not like into the wee hours of the morning. But just late. And every once in a while. Often enough…” – red flag red flag red flag red flag!

          1. Momma Bear*

            Agreed. OP needs to ask for clarification. I have worked long hours during a specific busy season and been fine with that, but if I were asked to work long hours regularly? No. As an example, daycares will kick you out of you’re late and not everyone has childcare backup. I decided long ago that work/life balance was more valuable to me than being a butt in a seat for 12 hrs a day. Most jobs have “oh crap” days but if that’s routine…I’d worry about what else that meant for the work/culture. I’d also want to know if the late hours created comp time or not.

      3. alienor*

        Right? I’d be wanting to hear something like “not until 10 pm” or “not until midnight,” and even that would be unacceptable unless it was a very occasional thing.

        I also think it makes a difference if those long hours require you to physically be in the office or not. I’m much more willing to finish up a project or take a Zoom call on my sofa at 10 pm than I am to be sitting at a desk somewhere, wearing the same clothes I’ve had on since 7 that morning, with a trip home still ahead of me if I want to sleep in my bed.

    5. Smithy*

      This is 100% true.

      I’ve worked at three different international humanitarian organizations in the US, two HQ’ed on the east coast and one HQ’ed on the west coast. All three positions were salaried and contained “some long hours” at “off peak times”. In practice, the way that functioned was different in all three places. While all three offices work with earlier time zones, the west coast office hours were essentially 6am-5pm. Not everyone would always start their day at 6am and work straight to 5pm, but it was always acceptable to start a meeting that early and rare to schedule anything after 5. One East Coast city, normal hours were far more around 9:30-7pm for most staff and then the other was a far more staggered dynamic where some started as early as 6 and others as late as 10am.

      Across all three, I’d say that total hours worked during genuine busy times were similar- but what that looked like in daily practice was not. So even with industry institutional knowledge, still good to ask based on other cultural dynamics that in this case were impacted by city and/or time zone.

      1. alienor*

        Same here. When I worked on the West Coast, non-standard hours meant being on a call with people in Europe at 6 am. Now on the East Coast, it means being on a call with people on the West Coast at 7 pm. The company I work for at the moment alternates their standing meetings so one week it’s a [time zone] friendly time, and the next week it’s a [different time zone] friendly time, so no one has to deal with inconvenience more than half the time.

    6. Mimi*

      When I was interviewing for my current job, the manager asked, “This job has an on-call portion and involves occasional after-hours work; are you okay with that?” and we went down a several-minute rabbithole of “How late is the after-hours work? And how frequent is ‘occasional?'” “How many times in the past year have you been woken up in the middle of the night for on-call stuff?” And THEN we got back to, “Okay, yes, to answer your original question, I’m okay with that.”

      I’m pretty sure it was a more intense answer to that question than he was expecting, but I also think it contributed to a positive impression of me, because I was clearly thinking through doing the actual work and its impact on my life.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Interviewing is a two way street. You are finding out if you can work with the company norms as much as they are finding out if they want you.

        I think the OP is stuck on how to answer because they want the “right” answer to this that will get them hired. They are only going one way down the street, instead of using the informaiton to decide if they want the job or not.

        1. Smithy*

          This is also a case where overthinking the “right” answer can risk not getting the information you want and also coming across as either bland or unimpressive.

          I am in a place in my work life where I can largely guess what “long hours” will mean, though I do know there’s room for significant variation within that. When told if I can handle that, I can certainly say “yes, I’ve worked in this field for x years and am familiar with these situations where long or off hours are required”. If you just want the job and want to say more than yes, I think versions of that answer show agreement with some professional understanding of what that means.

          But I have to imagine that you’ll show far more insight by asking a few more questions about what it actually looks like. And while that might rub a hiring manager the wrong way, that probably just tells you more about the hiring manager than the hours.

    7. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, this is important. I’m on an interview panel this week and when candidates ask about typical working hours I try to be specific about quantifying it. A candidate asked about weekend work and I said “occasionally but not often”. Fortunately I immediately realized that our definitions of “not often” could be very different so I was able to give more detail right away.

      And your point B is very important. OP wants to know how to answer the question so they can get a job offer, but maybe this isn’t an offer they even want. Of course that’s in an ideal world where they have other options. Sometimes you have to take any job to pay the bills. But a job with truly long hours isn’t one I would be thrilled to take.

      1. Galadriel's Garden*

        Oh man, this. I interviewed for a legal admin position many years ago, when I was trying to land a more “career track” kind of role. I was being paid well enough and was generally fine with my work and coworkers at the time, so I was in a spot where I could be a choosy as I looked. I will never forget this interview; it was such an awkward dumpster fire when everyone universally realized that this was not going to be a good fit at the same time. I was already not feeling it pretty early in the interview based on the general vibe, but when we got to the following conversation, it was…not great:

        Me: is overtime the norm in this position? (note that I was coming from a position where I worked OT pretty routinely, but with a long commute was getting sick of the inconsistent and unpredictable hours)

        Panel: well sure, we have to crunch sometimes. Sometimes the lawyers sleep here, haha!

        Me: how often do you find that the crunch periods happen?

        Panel: *starting to look a little awkward* probably once a month or more, depending on case load.

        Me: in that case, how much overtime on average would you say you work a week? Do you get heads up, is there a volunteer system with the admins, or does it just sort of happen?

        Panel: oh you know, 10-15 hours a week normally, more if it’s busy. (they’re all looking at each other at this point). And yeah, it just sort of…happens. You look at the clock, you realize it’s 8 pm, you know how it goes!

        Me, very much knowing how it goes and actively trying to avoid more of that: w9uld you say the salary is reflective of a 50-55 hour week average?

        Panel: *long pause* uh, yes?

        Me, mentally noting that the recruiter told me the pay for this position is only $6k more than what I was making at the time in a fairly high cost-of-living area: …okay.

        Needless to say they did not make an offer, I did not have any desire to receive one, and that interview ended pretty quickly after the OT conversation. Honestly, it was one of the best learning experiences in an interview for me.

    8. The OTHER Other*

      It definitely requires some digging to find out what “more hours” means. How many more, and how frequently? And is it just part of this particular industry, or is it because the company is understaffed, or is the culture warped to the extent that they take perverse pride in overwork? I interviewed at places where people were bragging about how long it’d been since they took any time off; at one, when I asked follow up questions, the person realized how it sounded so he said he took time off just last week. He was referring to what normal people call a weekend.

      I would ask people IN the job about their hours rather than take the interviewer’s word for it. And definitely divide the salary offered by the # of actual hours worked to get a realistic hourly rate. That $80,000 salary might sound good at first, but considering you are working 80 hours a week for it, it really means you are working 2 full time $40k jobs. Does it still sound like a great job?

    9. El l*

      Yeah, agree with pretty much all the comments above.

      OP, a key principle for office life is, “Sign no blank checks.” If you push back at working at 2 AM and they say, “You said you were fine with long hours!”, then that is signing a blank check to them.

      So if you ask for clarification and they say, “Well, we have deadlines roughly once per quarter where you may have to work late into the evening”, depending on situation that’s probably okay. If the answer is, “We’ve been really busy with deals and we’ll need your full commitment anytime those pop up,” then they’re asking for an unlimited commitment from you (and unless you’re an extreme personality about work, decline).

    10. Joielle*

      Yes, exactly. For me, I’ve found that I don’t mind working long hours – even frequently – as long as I can mostly decide when and where to work those hours. If I make a 6 pm dinner reservation on Thursday, I need to know that I’ll be able to leave at 5 pm that day, even if it means working until 8 Monday-Wednesday. The one job I left because of the work-life balance, it wasn’t so much the hours as the unpredictability (due to other peoples’ poor planning) that I couldn’t stand.

      Just another thing to think about when deciding how to answer that kind of question!

  9. LilyP*

    “You’ll have to put in extra hours, not like until 5 am but it will be long hours”

    Oh well as long as they let you go home by 3am that sounds totally reasonable! /s

    1. Willis*

      Right?? Phrasing the hours like that is either stupid or really shady or both. Maybe this was just a super inexperienced interviewer (or a bad joke I guess?), but I’d be pretty concerned if that’s how my prospective manager was describing work hours and then expecting a response. I’ve interviewed with consulting firms that expect 60-70 hr work weeks and generally they made explicit in the interview, presumably to increase their chances of hiring someone who’ll actually stay for a decent amount of time. I hire now and our work weeks can be over 40 hrs when traveling, but we explain that clearly to candidates and flexibility they can expect in return. Like, of course the OP can ask for more specifics but unless they gave a pretty solid answer, I’d be really leery that they didn’t offer the specifics initially.

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, saying, “are you okay with long hours?” but not specifying what those hours actually look like is weird! “Long hours” is relative– are we talking occasionally putting in an extra 1-2 hours a day for a busy week? Are we talking 12-15 hours days? Are we saying most days involve working until 7pm? If the interviewer wants a real answer, they have to ask a real question.

      1. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

        Yeah, the 5am reference is a major red flag. Could be a lot of working until midnight.
        If you are considering this job, definitely talk to current staff.

        1. The OTHER Other*

          Yes, nice of them to let you go home in time to turn around and get back to work in the morning. Maybe you’ll even have time to take a shower!

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Though in its way, it’s a reasonable heads up.
        • Job is not a clock-out-at-five-regardless role.
        • And I don’t mean “sometimes you might need to put in 1-2 hours at home.”

        1. Cat Tree*

          I mean, it’s better to know it before an offer is made than after I start working there. But the way the recruiter phrased it seems like they are trying to minimize it rather than be clear about it.

          1. Imaginary Friend*

            Yeah. I get that the recruiter was making a joke, but I need the context of “what do you consider regular hours” to really interpret the info. Maybe they think 10-hour days are fine and it’s not until you get to 12-hour days that it’s actually “long hours”.

    2. Beth*

      Yeah, this phrasing makes me think they consider 1am to be a perfectly normal time to be at work. At least they’re being clear about that! It’s definitely a work setup that should be actively chosen, knowing what it is.

    3. Love to WFH*

      I interviewed for similar manager jobs at company A and company B. At company A, I would be a peer of Bill’s. One of the other interviewers commented that “Bill works 100 hours a week.”

      I didn’t get an offer at A, and really didn’t mind. I got the job at B.

      Two years later, I have a candidate from A. He interviews, we make him an offer and he accepts.

      He later told me that when he asked for the day off, his manager at A said “if you’re using this day to interview, you’d better get the job because if I find out, I’ll fire you.”

      If you can afford to, stay away from companies that expect long hours, it’s _possible_ the interviewer the OP mentioned was exaggerating. Some people personally work long hours simply because they’re inefficient and/or fixated on it as part of their self-worth; however, a good manager should have dealt with that.

    4. MCMonkeybean*

      Yeah, that’s very concerning to me. I would be worried about working until 10pm or later every night. Last year I had a month of working until about 2am and had several breakdowns. The fact that *5am* was his example of what wouldn’t be happening is so wildly extreme that I would assume the reality is pretty bad.

    5. Smithy*

      Yeah….that’s a worry.

      And partially because it’s too jokey and all that – but also because the difference between “doable crazy extra hours” and “impossible crazy extra hours” truly does vary so much from person to person. I am not a night person. Night shifts or anything that is expecting highly productive work input after 9-10pm – that’s not me.

      However, if you need me on a 5am call? Sure, fine. 11pm call, silently dying and whining inside. And goodness knows, based on how many people globally work night shifts, there are many people different than me. So if I’m not put in a situation where we’re realistically talking about what extra hours look like and how that function is achieved….I can’t tell you whether or not it’s something I can do.

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        Some days I have to be up for a 5:30 a.m. meeting, but it’s not because my workload is impossible, it’s because the meeting is being run by people who work on the other side of the world, and time zones are a thing that happens.

        Working from home is a reasonable way to handle those days, because I can fit in a nap later on.

    6. Generic Name*

      Honestly, with that phrasing, I don’t know that there’s any point in clarifying exactly how long they mean. Setting the bar at “don’t have to pull all-nighters” is not a good sign. I think ending the interview there would have been appropriate if you know that you aren’t interested in working 60 hours plus.

    7. Nanani*

      Same thought.

      There is a big difference between occasional late nights in the busy season, and being expected to work late all the time. Also, are you being fairly compensated for that extra time? Definitely ask! Maybe it’s not an hourly rate job but it’s still shady AF if they expect you to work twice the hours of a normal job without paying to match.

    8. just another bureaucrat*

      I feel like this was either a really failed joke when what they mean is sometimes you’ll be here till 5:45 pm and people make a big deal of it because the rest of the group is only here till 5:00 on the nose and this joke is hilarious to me because I know this but I don’t realize that I’m the only one who knows that 5 am is such a wild exaggeration as to be funny.

      Or…it’s usually like midnight to 2 am before people leave.

    9. DiplomaJill*

      I had a company ask in my first interview if there was any flexibility in the daycare pick up time… I took that as a giant red flag, and declined the second interview. Years later I met someone whose husband works there and asked her about it — she confirmed, dodged a bullet.

  10. Heidi*

    Re: Letter 5. It sounds like giving them the fish isn’t isn’t something OP wants to do and teaching them to fish didn’t take. So now OP needs to leave them on an island where the only hope of survival is figuring out how to fish on their own. I would download all the docs, send them to whomever, and then delete the originals from my Google drive.

    1. Eden*

      Yes! Email copies of the forms to the team. We can talk about not “having” to but it seems like a great idea to me to make sure no docs get lost even if you give them warning.

    2. LCH*

      i would do this too. are we talking 100s of documents or something that makes it a real pain? otherwise this seems simplest as far as cya and my own conscience.

    3. SJJ*

      I was thinking similarly along the lines of this or, as someone else mentioned, give them notice before deletion then stick to it.

      My evil twin wants to just move files/folders to another spot where original links wouldn’t work. Then watch chaos ensue when you send them the old links and they don’t work… “Huh, that’s weird… somehow the files are gone now…”

      Wait a week, then “find” the docs and send them the copies via email. Then delete.

      But that’s my evil twin.

  11. raida7*

    5. My old job is still using docs from my Google account

    Contact the best person there, tell them you are remove access to all the documents as of COB Friday.
    Tell them that after that date any documents that have not been copied by the business can be purchased from you at a rate of $xx per doc/form/whatever.
    If they think that’s harsh – you don’t work there, the docs will be deleted next time you clean out your Google Docs. The business needs to take this seriously and this is the most clear you can be, even though it’s not your job any longer to look after the business. The business needs to take steps to have all the files it needs to function, as such here is a clear deadline so that it can be completed and this loose string tied off.

    1. blakey*

      The documents are the legal property of the business. Contact the right person, email the files, then delete them. Trying to charge them for access is a Bad Idea.

      1. Mockingjay*

        It’s not unreasonable to charge a fee for work activities or for use of personal equipment or accounts after formal employment ends. OP 5 had a clear transition plan to turn everything over before he left. The company took the lazy route of still using his personal site instead of copying the docs and retaining those elsewhere. Fees might be a good motivator to get Ex-company to do what they should have in the beginning.

        1. Observer*

          No, they are more likely to be a motivator to the company to get nasty. The OP should not keep the files. That’s it.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Oh agreed – but at the same time OP no longer is their employee, and they are still using her GoogleDocs storage to benefit them. OP attempted to get them to download what they wanted/needed when they left – and apparently that didn’t happen (as OP is now coming to realize).

        Personally I’d combine both of these approaches. I’d download and transmit blank working copies to the business of everything, but in that transmission email I’d alert them to the fact they have until X date to come and get anything else in this drive they they need. After X date all company access will be terminated and anything still residing there will be deleted.

        1. Chlorite*

          But the argument could be made that OP created the documents as an employee and then *while still an employee* didn’t do the necessary tasks to ensure Company had access to them and they weren’t hosted in a private account.

          It doesn’t make sense (and wouldn’t be enforceable) to charge Company for a problem that could have been proactively solved by OP while they were employed. The state things are in now—personal hosting of company documents—is annoying for sure, but it’s more the result of oversight on both sides versus anything malicious.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I wouldn’t be charging for sending the files – company already paid for the creation through OP’s salary at the time. What I suspect is going on is this is a small company that tried to cut corners and not pay for corporate accounts for things so employees ended up using personal storage accounts to make up the shortfall.

            Unfortunately for the former company, OP is no longer their employee and really has no reason to keep storing their property.

      3. That IT Guy*

        The storage they’re on is not legal property of the business and OP is well within their rights to reclaim it.

    2. Eden*

      Doing that guarantees that everyone at the old company will think OP is a loon. We’re giving advice to a real person here.

  12. Ivy*

    #3 – I went through something similar recently, and my approach was mostly “I’ve realized I miss/wasn’t ready to give up technicalRole”. I think that’s a readily understandable thing to other people also doing technicalRole and pretty common at least at certain types of companies, and should read as neutral – I haven’t heard any concerns from anyone on the team about it.

  13. Magenta Sky*

    OP 5: If you’re feeling generous towards them, you should be able to download a local copy of those docs, drop them into a zip file, and email them to your contact. (If it’s over 20 meg, it will actually add the zip file as a file on your Drive – until you delete it – with a link in the email to download it). If they’re in Google Docs format (rather than, say, Office), you can download them (from the File menu) as Office files (or several other formats), which they can either open in Office (or whatever), or drop into *their* Drive and work with them directly there.

    Explain they need to figure it out, because you will be deleting the files (or at least the sharing settings if you want to keep them yourself – but you don’t have to tell them that) in xx days.

    Then wash your hands of the entire affair, because they have everything you’re willing to share with them, and have full control over it themselves instead of relying on your generosity.

    1. Squidlet*

      I was going to suggest something similar. If you can be bothered. Create a new Gmail account (OldJob_Docs at or something), transfer ownership of the docs to the new account, send them the login details, and remive your own access from the docs.

      Definitely you need to do something to remove yourself from this without burning bridges.

      1. Alice*

        Doesn’t work if LW has a paid account and the volume of files is over the free storage limit. I’m assuming, if the volume of files was small, they would have been transferred already.

        1. Beany*

          I didn’t get the impression that it was a size issue, just a “yeah, we’ll get round to it, but we’re not organized enough yet” issue.

    2. Nela*

      I wouldn’t even use my own Google Drive to host the ZIP. I’d upload it to WeTransfer, which automatically deletes files after 7 days and reminds recipients they haven’t downloaded it yet. Time to wash your hands of this.

  14. TiredMama*

    I need some links to times that reporting a coworker for watching porn or doing something similar and telling HR worked out. It’s hard not to think HR will talk to him and then he’ll make OP’s life difficult.

    1. Wendy*

      I haven’t had to deal with this issue personally, but from my friends’ anecdotal evidence… this depends HEAVILY on your company’s HR and culture, and you can probably guess before you go whether or not HR will take you seriously. Two good outcomes: one where a male co-worker was telling off-color jokes to the mostly-male office and my (female) friend got the (female) HR person to “overhear” a joke or two and then call him in for a chat to tell him in no uncertain terms that his humor wasn’t appropriate. In that case, the HR person was able to blame it on “what if a client overhears you” and he acknowledged that he hadn’t used good judgement. I don’t think he ever pegged my friend as the source of the initial complaint, and (as I understand it) he did dial back the offensive jokes quite a bit. Second good outcome: a male boss who spent my then-teenage friend’s whole first few days at her new job trying to see down her cleavage. She went to HR and the boss was not exactly *fired* but was removed from overseeing interns. In that case, though, HR was her dad so YMMV :-P

        1. shedubba*

          It strikes me as supremely poorly thought through to sexually harass the intern whose dad is HR.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I’m betting this idiot did similar things with all female interns and just thought that because he’d never been called on it before he’s never going to be called on it ever.

            1. it's-a-me*

              I wouldn’t presume he realised that the interns were human. Just floating boobs for his pleasure.

        2. Anonymous Luddite*

          Well, for all the places that say “we’re just like family,” one has to expect a little nepotism.

    2. emmelemm*

      Higher chance since OP says they work at a state agency. Government agencies don’t need that kind of grief on their hands.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Yeah. As soon as I saw the words State Agency I went “Oh no.” Even on his own phone that is Very Much Not Allowed in a state agency. HR may be only okay but porn watching is not allowed on the taxpayer’s time.

        1. emmelemm*

          They live in fear of the “state employee caught watching porn in the office” story on the 5:00 news!

        1. anonymous73*

          If he’s using the company wifi they can see it. Considering he’s dumb enough to watch porn at work, he’s also probably dumb enough to use the company wifi to watch it.

    3. Batgirl*

      Surely no organization needs the legal liability of porn guy who is skiving off work to boot. It’s in the employer’s interest even if they don’t care about their employees.

      1. Sherm*

        That’s a good point. People like to say “HR isn’t there to protect YOU, it’s there to protect THE COMPANY!”…Welp, since sexual harassment can lead to lawsuits and bad press, it’s definitely in their interest to intervene.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This seems like a textbook “Nopety nope, the company does not want a lawsuit about Fergus’s watching porn in the shared office, nor his constantly “forgetting” to turn off the audio.”

          HR wanting to protect the company can be perfectly cognizant with HR stomping anyone watching porn in the shared office into tiny smears.

      2. Beth*

        Yep. Even if your HR meets the worst stereotypes of HR and truly does not care about people, keeping Porn Dude around wouldn’t be in their best interest. He’s a legal liability; he’s a paycheck that isn’t getting work done; he’s distracting other employees and making it harder for them to focus on work. There’s not much justification here to keep him on board.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The thing is in that case to make it clear that his habit is making you feel uncomfortable/harassed. You need to use the right language to ping to HR’s radar that the viewing behavior in question is problematic.

        2. Observer*

          Even if your HR meets the worst stereotypes of HR and truly does not care about people, keeping Porn Dude around wouldn’t be in their best interest

          True. This is why HR *COMPETENCE* is so important. Because if they are competent, they understand that whatever they may think about “boys will be boys”, etc. Agencies like the EEOC, and a jury are likely to NOT be ok with that. Obviously, it would be better if HR were also horrified. But if it comes down to it, I’d rather deal with HR who don’t personally care, but understand that it’s an unacceptable risk to the company vs HR who is horrified but thinks that they “can’t do anything about it” because of Reasons.

        3. TiredMama*

          Porn dude was kept at my federal agency for years. He finally retired because he was ready, not because anyone did anything about his porn habit. It was almost like management and HR was afraid to deal with it.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      HR will more than likely say the information came from IT, or another source monitoring use of company time/wifi etc. I’m IT, we’ve been used as the gotcha so many times and we’re okay with it. It’s really hard for one person to make life difficult for the entire IT department.

      It’s far better to report people watching smut at work than to suffer through working with someone you know is watching this stuff in the same office.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Would that still work where he is using his own phone, not the office pc/laptop?
        Do HR normally actually get you to look so they have proof, even where you are not actually the source of the complaint?

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          1. If he’s using the company wifi on his phone oh yes we can see it.

          2. Often. In this firm we’re their first port of call after a complaint or suspicion like that. In my experience the kind of people watching smut at work are not very good at covering their tracks – or they do really obvious stuff like trying to mask their behaviour (using VPNs is a favourite and sticks out like a sore thumb)

          1. Bagpuss*

            I thought that might be the case but wasn’t sure,
            My only personal experience was trying to do the opposite – needing our IT people to temporarily remove / amend our filters because if you need to be able to find and instruct an expert to prepare a report about levels of risk for certain types of behaviour, the sites and CVs you need tend to get caught / trigger the same alerts as if you were searching for inappropriate material.
            We occasionally get similar issues with medical reports.
            (We do have a provision in our IT policies that basically says “tell IT first if you are going to need to send / receive / search of this stuff”, but people don’t always remember!)

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Oh yeah, I got several departments with machines on a different connection to our main network that are not as heavily filtered. Kind of sandbox machines if you will. One is because they need to receive executable files for a piece of hardware that send our firewall screaming if you try to download them on a regular box.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Not so much, but in my experience most people tend to forget their phone has a ‘use wifi where available when accessing large data’ setting that’s on.

              I’d still be happy for IT to take the flack over finding out someone has been watching smut at work. We’re better able to shrug off one guy’s hurt feelings than whoever actually did the report.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              While I can picture the defense “No one could possibly have known about my porn because I download it at home!!!” it’s not a good defense.

              1. WantonSeedStitch*

                I don’t think it would be a defense, so much as a way for the porn-watching coworker to figure out that it could only have ben the OP who told HR about it. (“I was using my own phone and I downloaded it at home, so there’s no way IT could have known. Must have been OP who ratted me out.”)

              2. Bilateralrope*

                I was more thinking the defense of “lets see your proof” knowing that they don’t have any. Followed by complaining that HR is making stuff up using the lie about IT finding it as evidence.

                1. pancakes*

                  What’s his reasoning as to why HR would make something like this up, in this scenario? They’re meanies? There’s any number of scenarios that could happen but it doesn’t follow that HR should rely on the most nonsensical ones as justification for inaction. It’s ok to have standards about people watching porn at work.

                2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                  It’s the same as say someone filing a sexual harassment case with HR because their coworker keeps touching them inappropriately. There may not be any visual proof of the incidents but the culprit going ‘there’s no proof!’ will make them look really, really guilty.

        2. DecorativeCacti*

          “Companies pay based on what your work is worth, not on what your expenses are.”

          Tell that to my fiancé’s boss who demanded to see our family budget when he asked for a raise! Nevermind he hadn’t gotten a raise in years. Disregard the insane amount of business he brings in. Minimum wage and COLA increase? Never heard of ’em.

          The worst part is he showed them! Ugh. I’m still bitter.

          1. DecorativeCacti*

            That was definitely meant to be its own thread and not a reply. Sorry, the comments don’t play nicely on mobile for me.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            His boss sucks. There was a past letter with a similar situation you might want to read. Here’s the title to search so Alison doesn’t have to approve a link:
            “My boss wanted to go over my personal budget”

    5. WoodswomanWrites*

      The letter writer works for a state agency. That means it will addressed pronto by HR because their lawyers know the law, and the potential for litigation if they don’t follow up. OP, that is a hideous situation to be in, and I hope you’re talking to HR yesterday.

    6. Person from the Resume*

      I fear it will be a he said/she said.

      It’s his personal cell phone. In my experience with the federal government office if there is wifi in the office, it’s intended only for work equipment only, no for use by personal cell phones. It might be different if the office has a guest wifi for customers to use while there so the employee is using that. I expect, though, that a guest wifi would have some blocks to prevent access to porn sites.

      He denies it’s not porn. He doesn’t know exactly what video it was but he doesn’t watch porn at work or his has gross friends that send a video or link and he just innocently clicks it and turns it off the moment he realizes he’s being pornographically Rick Rolled.

      This should not stop the LW from reporting it. Reporting it should stop it from happening again as he knows that the LW will not put up with being sexually harassed this way any longer. I can’t guarantee it if the porn consumer is buddy-buddy with the boss, but this is the way to do. Also request a new officemate since now the LW will always wonder when the guy is watching on his cell phone if he’s watching porn.

      1. Omnivalent*

        We don’t know what HR already knows about this guy, or will find out when they start tsking a look. It’s amazing how often an incident of creepy behavior is not the first or only problem with an employee.

        Also, he’s “forgotten” to turn off his audio three separate times. This isn’t merely about what he is watching on his phone, this is about his harassing the LW. If his excuse is that he just happened to accidentally click on the wrong link three separate times when his audio just happened to be on, that’s not going to impress anyone.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          I agree that he probably hasn’t forgotten 3x but is getting a thrill by his coworker knowing what he’s doing.

          I agree it should be reported.

      2. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        Definitely report it, with dates and times to make the IT search easier.

        I do play mobile games with ads, and unfortunately some of the ads have pornographic noises, but — if I were caught playing those games at basically any workplace I have been at, I would have been in so much trouble anyway!

    7. fhqwhgads*

      Or they walk him out, because it’s unacceptable to do this once let alone have a repeated pattern of it happening.

    8. Meep*

      My husband’s first job had a guy who was watching porn on his work computer IN the office and was let go pretty quickly before it could even be an issue. It was his work computer, but I imagine the same here.

    9. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      There’s something to be said for standing up and saying to him “Frederick, that is gross and disgusting and 100% inappropriate for a work environment whether I am here or not. You can watch whatever porn you want when you’re not in the office, but in here it needs to never happen or I *will* make your life hell.”

    10. LizM*

      I don’t know about the State, but in the Feds, it’s actually one of the few things I’ve seen people fired for on the first strike.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It’s also one of the things that’ll get you initially suspended then fired on first offence at our firm in the UK. And it usually takes a lot of paperwork to get someone fired in the UK.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, I was going to say it’d get you immediately suspended and then fired everywhere I’ve ever worked in the UK. Pretty sure it’d count as gross misconduct (I was going to say ‘rise to the level of’, but…)

          1. Cassandra*

            mmm…except if you’re an MP and your part-time work place is the British Houses of Parliament. Then feel free… :-)

    11. Librarian of SHIELD*

      At my former library job, the policy on viewing inappropriate materials was the same for staff as it was for customers. If you’re caught, you’re immediately removed from the building by security staff and banned from the premises for a period of several months. And since staff can’t do their work if they’re banned from the building, it’s immediate termination. I actually witnessed one employee being escorted out of the building for it.

      1. Anonymous Luddite*

        Fascinating re: customer response. Don’t know where you are but all three local library systems around here (big city, left coast) will issue patrons a “privacy screen” and will only interfere if it goes outside the boundaries of legality.

    12. Zennish*

      Depends on the HR Dept. and the administration. Around here, assuming it could be proven/corroborated, watching porn at work would most likely be an efficient way to avoid the pesky PIP, and get escorted straight to the parking lot, we’ll send any personal items by mail.

    13. geek5508*

      How much do you want to bet that he really hasn’t ” forgotten to mute his phone so I have heard this loud and clear while he fumbles to mute or stop the sound from happening”. I’m sure it is deliberate on his part. This makes it an immediate HR issue

    14. Aitch Arr*

      No links for you, but in my 20+ year career in HR, I’ve done plenty of final written warnings and terminations for porn watching at work.

  15. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    #2 The increase in your health insurance premiums is important too because that’s a decrease in your benefits/decrease in your take home pay. I’m not sure, though, because this affects everyone in your office I imagine. Alison, what do you think?

  16. LilacLily*

    OP #1, is it possible your coworker is being RickRolled by his friends…?

    For context, back in my home country, not too long before the pandemic, boomers discovered the joys of what was essentially RickRolling their friends… but using an extremely pornographic audio taken from an adult movie instead of Never Gonna Give You Up. They’d send each other seemingly innocuous audio messages and/or videos that would start normally, then out of nowhere would shift to the sound of a woman VERY LOUDLY moaning in the middle of sex; these audios and videos were edited in a way that the moaning was so much louder than the rest of the innocent content, anyone around them could hear it loud and clear when the moaning started, even if their phones were on a low volume or if they were wearing headphones. And that was essentially the joke, to embarrass their friends publicly by having whoever is around them at the time think they’re watching porn. It was a terrible joke done in extremely bad taste and I hated it.

    From how you describe your coworker scrambling to turn off his phone every time the moaning starts, I wonder if the same thing isn’t happening to him. Granted, if I knew my friends were pulling this sort of crap on me I’d make a point to ignore any and all media they send me during work hours and go through them only after I’m home, but who knows, maybe he’s easily fooled or his friends are finding more creative ways to get him to click through the traps they’re sending him. Either way, for sure do talk to HR like Alison suggested, but also, I wonder if he’s not just getting trolled by some crappy friends (in which case he really should consider getting some new ones).

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      That’s not a good enough reason for the number of times this has happened.

      If his friends are sending him this stuff as a prank, then one time would be understandable. But once you know that sometimes your friends will send you NSFW videos as a joke, you should also know not to open messages from those friends in places where viewing that kind of materials would be inappropriate. Either way, this guy is displaying a MASSIVE lack of judgment and that in and of itself can be a reason not to keep an employee on.

    2. pancakes*

      If that’s the case it’s fine for HR to tell him he’s a fool for continuing to click unknown links and needs to stop immediately.

    3. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Even if this were the case, broadcasting porn is essentially sexual harassment of those within earshot IMO.

    4. RagingADHD*

      That might be a plausible excuse ONCE. Maybe.

      If the coworkers is stupid enough to keep clicking mystery links at work after one incident, then he needs consequences to learn better.

    5. LizM*

      I don’t think it’s OP’s job to figure that out. She is being subjected to porn in the office, and that’s not acceptable.

      If HR determines there are mitigating circumstances (like the files were opened accidentally), they need to have a *very serious* talk with OP’s coworker, along the lines of, if this happens again, you’re gone.

      I could maybe see it happening once, but after that, OP’s coworker should know better than to open audio or video files at work in a shared office.

    6. Daisy Gamgee*

      If I cared to I could probably go back through every post about sexual harassment and find some comment that finds some outlandish reason why the perpetrator is actually innocent. What particular confluence of sexism and wishful thinking leads to this constantly happening?

      1. Just a SAHM*

        My exact thought. Why is someone always going to laughable extremes to explain away sexual harassment or racism or sexism or (insert term here). I am so over it.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      From the professional perspective of someone who has heard literally every excuse from people for having porn at work:

      Incredibly unlikely. Like in the realms of ‘being struck by lightning twice, 15 minutes apart exactly, while wearing a blue polka dot jacket and fluorescent leather boots’ odds.

    8. Anonymous Luddite*

      I don’t know what it says about my flinty black and jaded heart or that I’ve been reading the comments too long…
      I read the Allison letter and thought to myself, “There’s going to be someone in the comments who will try to offer a semi-plausible reason for why the dude was watching porn at work.”

    9. Observer*

      OP #1, is it possible your coworker is being RickRolled by his friends…?

      First time? MAAAYBE.

      After that? It’s about as likely as the mythical guy who “fell” onto his phone with is privates exposed and somehow the phone “accidentally” took a picture and sent it to someone else. (I’ve heard the story with various parts of the anatomy.)

      Please stop trying to excuse the inexcusable.

  17. Squidlet*

    OP3, I was in a similar situation a few years ago.

    I was offered (or rather, asked to take) a Team Lead role because they couldn’t find enough senior people (both from a technical and soft skills perspective). I hesitated because I know that I work better as an IC, but decided to do it for 3 months and re-assess. After 2 months, I let my manager know that I wanted to move back into my previous role. (It’s very much project-based work and people move between teams fairly often, although not so much between roles. So this didn’t cause major disruptions.)

    I simply told people that I missed the work I did before and had asked to be moved back. It didn’t really raise any eyebrows.

  18. Dylan*

    OP1 – I don’t want to doubt that something inappropriate is going on, however the way you have worded the sound you are referring to gives me pause.

    I’m based in the U.K., and for a number of years now there is a very common method of trolling/rickrolling/pranking someone whereby they are sent a link to a video that is innocuous, however after a few seconds the audio switches out to a very recognisable and extremely loud pornographic moaning.

    The sound you have heard, has it been the same audio clip repeatedly? It’s common enough to have occurred to people here that most people in an office notice ‘that’ specific sound/audio clip as being something the recipient has not intentionally viewed.

    I don’t want to doubt you or be too charitable to someone who is potentially doing something gross, however I’ve unfortunately had it happen to me previously and I have absolutely no interest in watching porn at work.

    1. Cocofonix*

      If that were the case, then they can explain it to HR. The advice doesn’t change. It’s not up to the OP to speculate on or investigate a sexual harassment issue that skeeves her out at work. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest the OP declare that she can no longer share an office with this person but would remain professional were he to keep his current role.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      See the answers to LilacLily above.

      I’ll also note this: if I were credulous enough to keep opening such audio links from my dipstick friends ON SPEAKER after the first such incident, I’d still be a bad coworker. A good coworker would apologize profusely after one such mistake, not keep making the same one and trying to hide it.

      “I’m not watching porn on purpose, I just keep falling for the same prank on work time” is not the excuse people are making it out to be.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      I think that when blatantly bad behaviour from perfectly capable adult men comes up there is this tendency to ascribe it to a sort of benign incompetence. Maybe the guy just fell for the exact same prank, three times in a row, at work, without thinking to apologise and explain that that’s what had happened – silly billy! I think it’s closely related to the same sort of weaponised incompetence displayed by, again, perfectly capable adult men who mysteriously can’t figure out how to operate a vacuum cleaner or feed their kid, and I don’t find it especially valuable to entertain. Apologies if my tone is a bit snippy but it’s just something I notice a lot and I find it deeply aggravating.

        1. Observer*

          Yes. But COMPETENT HR understands that they don’t employ “boys”, they employ adult men who are supposed to be basically competent.

          Which is to say, competent HR, is not going to fall for it.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        This. There’s a great article from a few years ago called The Myth of the Male Bumbler that discusses this phenomenon in detail. I’m not including a link–don’t want my comment to go to moderation–but it’s easy to find with a Google search.

    4. RagingADHD*

      So you’re saying it’s incumbent on the LW to listen *more closely* to the porn sounds, to see if they can identify it better? Let it keep happening a few more times so they have sufficient evidence to make sure they aren’t being “unfair” to the coworker?

      Perhaps you’d like the LW to describe the sounds for you in great detail?


      1. LizM*

        I said this above, but it’s not OP’s job to figure this out. She’s being subjected to inappropriate material in the workplace, and HR/her supervisor need to deal with it.

        I’m feeling a little salty reading some of the responses trying to justify this behavior, because it’s just one more example of women being told to not trust their instincts because “it was just a joke,” or “he didn’t really mean it.” I’m so over that attitude in the workplace.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’ve worked in IT for nearly 20 years, have heard every single excuse there is for someone playing/storing smut at work and the number of those ‘rickroll’ video claims that have turned out to be true?


      1. Observer*

        Now, this is a story I want to hear. But, honestly, it still sounds like a monumental level of incompetence needs to be involved.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Pretty much, although ‘clueless’ can apply to every single case I’ve ever investigated. There’s always a lack of intelligence factor – from claiming IT ‘hacked their device’ (we have no desire to do things that’ll lead to more calls in the queue) to ‘my computer went to that site all on its own, it must be a virus’ (nope, the logs show you manually entering the url).

          You get very jaded in this job.

    6. Anonymous Luddite*

      Said it to Lilac Lily and will say it here: I read the original letter and thought to myself, “There’s going to be someone in the comments who will try to offer a semi-plausible reason for why the dude was watching porn at work.”
      I feel like a mashup of Count Von Count and Avenue Q: TWO! Two attempts at semi-plausible reasons! A-HA-HA!

    7. Put the Blame on Edamame*

      ” It’s common enough to have occurred to people here that most people in an office notice ‘that’ specific sound/audio clip as being something the recipient has not intentionally viewed.”

      It is, huh? Because I’m in the UK, in a Very Online role working with a wide people of mixed levels of familiarity with the internet and I have never ever encountered this.

    8. Observer*

      however I’ve unfortunately had it happen to me previously and I have absolutely no interest in watching porn at work.

      3 times? And you still not only open these messages in the office, but you leave your audio on?

      If the answer to that is yes, then your coworkers have a legitimate complaint. Because the first time is genuinely something that you probably could not have expected. After that? No, that’s as much on you as your idiot friends (and I’m being kind in my characterization.)

  19. Squidlet*

    OP4, I would have some concerns about this. “You’ll have to put in extra hours, *not like until 5 am* but it will be long hours” – that’s a huge red flag!

    Using 5am as an example is like telling you that you can expect to work until midnight.

    Not to be alarmist, but I would want to know:

    – how often does this happen? From the phrasing it sounds like “all the time”
    – how late is “late”?
    – how much advance notice do you get that you’ll need to work late (can you plan around it or are you expected to put your life on hold for the foreseeable future)?
    – how often is it required or expected e.g. financial year-end or all the time?
    – WHY is it necessary? Is it normal for this industry? Is it because they are understaffed? Or because they make unreasonable commitments to management or clients? (Obviously you can’t ask like that but the reason for long hours is important IMO)
    – will you get paid overtime or get time off in lieu of overtime?
    – will you be expected to clock out at 5pm but carry on working?
    – does this extra work have to be done at the office or can you do it later at home, once you’ve taken care of personal stuff?
    – is it just “working late” on a normal workday, or is there an expectation that you’d be available on weekends or holidays?

      1. Mockingjay*

        Yes. I had a boss like this in my early career. He’d make us stay late working on proposals (11 or 12 pm, 2 am on weekends – we worked every one), then expect us in at 7:30 am on the dot (8 am on weekends). After a few months, I was exhausted and didn’t care whether I came in at 7:30 or 7:35. He wrote me up in my eval for tardiness. I stopped staying late, stopped coming in on weekends, and applied for a transfer.

      2. JustaTech*

        This is an excellent point. I’m a scientist, which some times requires being in the lab at odd hours (because the cells don’t care that it’s 3am, they care that it’s been 18 hours since you last fed them and if you are even half an hour late they will die and ruin weeks of work). But when I had days or time slots like that (3am, ugh), my boss expected me to go home as soon as I was done and not come back until the next day.

        I explained this once to a friend who was considering applying to a job at my company, on a day where I’d been in a 5am and was heading home after lunch with her and she was *amazed* that I was “allowed” to go home. I said “honey, you need to get out of that post-doc, they’re not treating you right if you think that going home at 1pm after coming in at 5am is awesome”.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          One of the things about virology I do not miss is the growing cell lines bit. So many odd hours…

    1. LCH*

      my biggest question for long hours will always be why. why are they necessary? that will tell you a lot about a place.

  20. Squidlet*

    OP5, it sounds like a small company (“which I shared with the owners and the rest of the team”)?

    If there’s someone in an Information Security or Legal role, you could let them know that the company is effectively hosting company docs and *client data* on a former employee’s personal account. You could include a redacted screenshot of said data just to drive the point home. Let them know that you uncomfortable with this continuing and will be forced to delete everything by X date if it’s not resolved.

    Maybe that would spark a response?

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Based on upon experience doing contract IT work for small companies that’s probably not going to get a response, even in countries that have really strict data security rules.

      What I’d do (and have done) is give them a deadline for when those documents will be deleted off your personal drive – instructions for how to set up their own storage and move the data (coz I’m nice) – and follow up emails counting down to when they will be deleted and that there are NO backups or hope of recovery if they need them off your personal drive past that date and there will be no work done by me to aid recovery (because sometimes I’m not nice)

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I proposed up above sending them blank working copies (IE all client data stripped out, I’m not encrypting this email) and at that time telling them that company access to the google drive will go away and all remaining company documents will be deleted on X date (about two weeks out). According the OP’s post they gave the company directions on how to download documents from the Google Drive when they handed in their notice, so I don’t know if I would give them those directions again.

        (The key is then sticking to the no more access and deleting everything when the deadline passes.)

    2. RagingADHD*

      Why do they need to escalate anything or make up stuff to get a reaction? None of this is LW’s problem. They sent the links, they can notify them of the deadline and delete them, done.

      As a matter of fact, if the LW went ahead and deleted the docs immediately, the coworkers already have everything they need to retrieve the files.

  21. Squidlet*

    OP1, I’m really sorry. This is so gross. And because you share an office with this revolting person, you must be on tenterhooks waiting for the next outburst of moaning.

    I’m astonished that after doing this THREE TIMES he still hasn’t figured out that he needs to use headphones or something.

    Maybe *you* should consider wearing headphones to block him out, while you decide whether to speak to HR or not.

    Do you have a trusted senior colleague that you could ask for advice?

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’m astonished that after even one incidence of being caught he hasn’t figured out to not watch porn at work.

      Once the knowledge that your coworker is watching porn on company time is in your head there’s very little headphones or sound blockers will do about it. It’s an exceptionally gross feeling knowing that someone near you is getting off at work.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Well, except that nothing happened (to him). So why wouldn’t he continue? His boundaries are not the same as mine or yours, nor has he had them challenged.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Fair, accurate and true comment.

          Still makes my skin crawl thinking about this and I’ve done a lot of these investigations. There’s just something uniquely disgusting about it. And I hate that people still feel that they can’t report this kind of stuff, even though I totally understand the reasons why.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      He doesn’t need to use headphones, he needs to stop watching this stuff at work, full stop, end of story. I mean, come on.

      And I don’t think it’s a case of him not figuring it out. He just doesn’t care and has experienced no consequences, or possibly thinks it’s entertaining or gratifying to see other people’s reactions.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, I think a lot of people (OP included) have a specific idea of what sexual harassment is so they don’t realize that this is also sexual harassment. Even if he always used headphones from now on, OP already knows about the porn and feels uncomfortable just knowing it’s happening. I would too. This is illegal harassment and I hope they have good HR to shut it down.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Right, absolutely. I also think that these kind of “accidental” incidents often serve as a precursor to other, escalating forms of harassment once the person doing it has gotten everyone used to the idea that oh, that’s Gross Dave, better put your headphones in while he’s around etc etc. It really needs to be dealt with immediately, by someone with authority, in the clearest terms.

    3. Shiba Dad*

      He has forgotten to mute three times. Probably means he has watched porn at work many, many times.

    4. Batgirl*

      Someone who takes a risk like this in the first place has very optimistic settings about their ability to get caught, or the price to pay if they do. Something like:
      – Whew, I muted just in time there, before she heard me.
      – Even if she did hear, she can’t tell what it is.
      – Even if she can tell what it is, why would she care?
      – Even if she did care, what can she do?
      – So even if she tells someone it’ll be a slap on the wrist.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I bet he’s got a lot of responses locked and loaded. “She must have heard wrong”, “what proof does she have?”, “the boss is my friend so I can do what I like”, “it’s something I need to concentrate”, “what I do on my phone is none of her business”, “oh come on, it’s not like I touched her!”

        Etc.etc. Fortunately any halfway decent HR department has ways of dealing with such ‘excuses’

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I would give roughly even odds between technical incompetence and needing to regularly escalate the odds those around him know in order to get the same thrill.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        Ding ding ding. More than once and it’s because he likes it. It’s not because it’s accidental.

    6. pancakes*

      The advice they received in the answer here is sensible and a second opinion isn’t necessary. They should go straight to HR rather than dithering over this.

    7. anonymous73*

      Nope. OP wearing headphones doesn’t resolve the issue, and a second opinion is not needed here. OP needs to go to HR. People not reporting things like this, or HR not doing anything about things like this, are why OP’s colleague thinks this behavior is okay. It doesn’t even matter if he’s wearing headphones or using his own phone. YOU DON’T WATCH PORN AT WORK. Period. (Unless you work in the porn industry of course).

    8. anonanonanon*

      I just…don’t get it. I’m not anti-porn by any means, but there is a time and place, man. And that time and place is in the privacy of your own bedroom by yourself or with a willing partner. Why do you want to be turned on at work?

      1. Onomatopoetic*

        I agree! I can admit that I’ve read the occasional smutty fanfic when it’s slow, but I really can’t understand people who watch porn at work. Especially when sharing an office!

    9. Observer*

      I’m astonished that after doing this THREE TIMES he still hasn’t figured out that he needs to use headphones or something.

      Nothing astonishing here – it’s almost certainly not the case that he hasn’t “figured it out”.

      Maybe *you* should consider wearing headphones to block him out, while you decide whether to speak to HR or not.

      Wearing headphones is not a bad idea. But why should the OP hesitate to go to HR? The ONLY reason that should cause her to hesitate is if HR is not competent. Otherwise?

  22. shalimar*

    Re #4 I hope more candidates will actually say something like what Alison recommends when the “long hours” verbiage gets thrown out in an interview. This ridiculous expectation of being available long hours won’t change until enough people balk at it and refuse to participate in it. I applaud the younger generation who are making it clear that they aren’t going to “live to work” like their parents (i.e. me) did.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I know. But long hours are very common in some industries. Sometimes because it’s a seasonal thing, but certain industries have the issue constantly.

      At least this person was being honest in the interview.
      I once had a bait and switch on a salaried job that you wouldn’t think would have much overtime, but did every single day (like 9am to 11pm). You realized pretty quickly your $36k salary was less than the hourly minimum wage working those long hours.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think the difference is if long hours are the norm for your industry you need to make sure you are staffing and shifting appropriately so that your employees are able to have that work-life balance.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Right. We had that letter from the investment banker a while back complaining that new hires aren’t willing to work the industry’s standard hours, and most of the comments on that letter pushed back on the idea that those hours should be required at all. Some of the industries that currently have those requirements will need to make some changes to their business models because the next generation of workers has made it clear they’re not interested in those workloads.

    2. no sleep for the wicked*

      I’d be tempted to ask if the long hours were only needed while the other person needed to pick up what is essentially a second position is hired.

  23. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#5, Can you put a huge header on each document in big red letters that they will be deleted on April 1st, or whatever? And then follow through and do so.

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

      Now there’s a thought… leave a final warning IN the document. An email can be overlooked or dismissed but demonstrating that the OP can, if she wanted to, alter the files will get their attention. They might have thought they had transferred them over and didn’t realize it was shared and not residing in their Drive.

    2. anonymous73*

      Honestly at this point, they don’t deserve it. They’ve been asked several times to stop using them, and shown how to transfer them. I don’t even think I would provide a final warning. I’d just delete them.

    3. irene adler*

      Good idea! Hope they catch on and take copies of all they need.

      Course, this might result in the LW receiving emails asking that the template header be corrected to remove the header warning as it is not part of the actual document.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        The maliciously compliant might take this as an invitation to delete the whole document, and at that point I’d be cheering them on.

    4. Anonymous Luddite*

      Quibble: I agree with the idea but disagree on the date. (April Fools)
      I understand that’s why you said “or whatever” but still. As a matter of corporate policy, nothing I do at work happens on April 1 for the simple reason of preventing any possible misunderstanding.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this, but on this site people often fill in humorous details when the details don’t matter…..

        1. Anonymous Luddite*

          You mean this isn’t just a website for llama groomers and teapot painters?!?!?!?

          And I also remember having a delicate conversation with a friend who couldn’t understand why no one took her “student walk out for gun safety” seriously because it was scheduled on 4/20.
          Yes, it was the anniversary of the Columbine shooting and yes, that number has other meanings. See also the discussions about 14/88, etc.

    5. Observer*

      That’s a lot of work.

      An email, perhaps a zip file on one of those services that autodelete after a certain amount of time, and that’s it.

  24. ecnaseener*

    From LW4, “I think the question and that environment is unreasonable to begin with.

    I disagree that the question is unreasonable! The environment definitely is – but if you have a really tough environment that you know is a dealbreaker for a lot of candidates, I would argue it’s a good thing to be upfront about it and say “here are the work conditions, what do you think?”

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Echoing Eldrich – when my shift at work is hiring we are very, explicitly clear that we are Second Shift, your work hours are non-negotiably 4pm to 12am. While it’s only 8 hours, we want you to really clearly understand it’s second shift and you’re not going to be able to flex to different hours. Not everybody is wired in such a way that they can work the hours that second shift works, and we acknowledge that – but they still get tons of “oh, you mean we can’t flex the schedule to work whenever I want” comments/questions during interviews.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Adding – the hours are also explicitly stated in the job postings as well – so we’re not bait and switching there either.

    2. RagingADHD*

      The environment may or may not be unreasonable, because it’s so vague. The question is eminently reasonable, because it immediately raised a dealbreaker for LW.

      That’s what the interview process is for.

      1. ecnaseener*

        True, I’m going off of the assumption that “not 5am” meant something bonkers like “maybe 3am”

  25. Not So NewReader*

    OP #3. A couple of things I hope you can let go of, because it might be easier to navigate this if you do.

    Managers don’t evaluate people’s behavior, rather they evaluate people’s work. The latter has a much narrower scope. That may just be a typing-while-tired word choice but it’s important to remember that everyone is in charge of their own career choices and how they handle their own position with the company. Your boss is in charge of how his career plays out and likewise with your cohorts.

    You are concerned about what people think or feel and you are concerned about what they think of your boss. This is very kind of you, however it’s almost like setting yourself up to fail. We can’t control what others think and we can’t control others relationships with each other. Alison’s script here is a great one. Hang on to it. And let people do as they wish with this message. Your life will go on in spite of what any one else thinks.

    FWIW, there are a good number of people out there who would not have even attempted to manage. Bravo for attempting. Keep that part of you who is willing to try new things. Now you are a day older and a day wiser, you can take what you learned here and make different choices the next time you pick out a new thing to try.
    A young friend of mine quit college. Her mom was so very disappointed and upset. I chatted with my friend. I told her in looking back over my own life the big deal was NOT in quitting something, the big deal was finding the next thing to try to aim for. If we live a long life, we will probably quit many, many things. Look around and start to think about what your next new goal is. And anything is fair game. Maybe you’d like to get a pet, learn a new language, plant a garden, etc, it can be anything. It’s in thinking about the next thing that you are moving toward, that will help you put this manager position in perspective.

    Can I just say? I think you have excellent self-awareness and that is a huge asset. I wish you the best.

  26. Delta Delta*

    #2 – Not for nothing, but if I’m a high-performing employee and I’m denied a raise because Jane Has Kids And Needs It More my response is that I am quitting.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I’m not old enough to have heard “but so and so has a family to support with a SAHM and kids, you have a husband to support your family so your income is just extra”.

      But I have.

      And well. My response to TPTB involved the fact that their choices were theirs, ours were ours, and our pay should not be tied into our employer’s judgements on either set of choices. I don’t hold any of it against the coworker and I suspect he’d be right PO’ed over his being brought into the conversation to justify why they weren’t paying me enough.

  27. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Re: Google docs.

    If you feel better about it, give your previous manager a one-week warning and stick to it.

    If a company is large enough to have computers, servers/cloud storage and other related tech and software, there should be zero Google docs linked to personal email accounts. Heck, I’m of the opinion if it’s work related, it should be done using a work email.

    Some of our branches are still using Google Sheets and similar. We’ve been pushing for completely moving away from Google docs as access to them was via a personal email, they need to be shared and there’s no corporate back up. And I learned that should that Google account be hacked and personal data shared, the liability lies with the Google account holder, not the company you created them for.

    We had a Google sheet about three years ago (it was a previous director’s brain child) which was working until that person went on leave and suddenly no one had access to months’ worth of data. We had to recreate everything from scratch in Excel. And I was so confused as to why this was the way to do it when we all had Microsoft Office.

  28. Salad Daisy*

    #1 Going to HR is a good idea but I would not throw my supervisor under the bus just because they are friends with your colleague. They may not even know what is going on!

    1. Be kind, rewind*

      It’s not throwing under the bus. It’s alerting HR to a relationship dynamic that will affect how they proceed with the employee. They really should know.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        This. It’s about HR knowing that this manager may be predisposed to protect the troublesome employee, or retaliate if they reveal the source of the complaint. This makes it so they understand the importance of blaming IT, and telling the manager in clear terms what the issue was (rather than using a euphemism, like ‘culture fit’ or ‘pursuing other opportunities’), so the manager doesn’t think this is a good thing to go white-knighting for his friend over.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I agree – it’s not turning the manager into a human-shaped speed bump, it’s making HR aware that manager and Gross Dave are friends and that affects the office dynamics.

    2. anonymous73*

      They would not be throwing their supervisor under the bus. They have a legitimate concern because of the personal relationship between supervisor and colleague and HR needs to know why they didn’t go to their supervisor first.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      “So did you start with your supervisor, and what did they say?” is a very normal question for HR to ask.

      Accurately explaining “I didn’t start with my supervisor because she and colleague are good friends” is not throwing your supervisor under the bus. It’s helpful context for HR to understand some of the dynamics in play, including that other people on this team may have observed it but not reported it before now, and why. I think everyone assumes that the manager does not know about this–but if friends, the knee jerk response can be “Oh I’m sure he wouldn’t do this, he must have been watching some cat videos you misinterpreted” and “I should give my good friend a heads-up about his cat videos being misinterpreted.”

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        And OP even says in their letter that Gross Dave is a completely different person around manager – which makes Gross Dave grosser – he knows what he’s doing and creating a cover with manager for when complaints happen. Manager who only knows Good Dave will defend him based on what they know, not the Gross Dave everybody else knows.

        1. River Otter*

          Yep. When I complained to The head of HR about some of the nonsense my supervisor was pulling, the first thing she said was something along the lines of, “Well I’ve never had any problems with him.“ I knew then that I was wasting my time in her office. When TPTB have a good relationship with the person you are complaining about, you need a different Power That Is.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            That seems really naïve to me. Of course the HR person had never had trouble with him! Of course the people who have power to fire him have never seen his bad side!
            It continues to amaze me that managers/people in power don’t realize those who misbehave are not going to misbehave in front of them!

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      There’s nothing really here about the complaint to HR that could be construed as negatively impacting their supervisor.

      Unless HR starts to investigate and finds out that yeah, supervisor did know and said nothing because friends.

      Making a sexual harrassment complaint to HR and saying that you didn’t take it to your boss because of some dynamic or another is really common, at least in the complaints I’ve had to investigate from an IT perspective (if HR think a manager might be shielding the guilty party they occasionally ask us to pull *their* data as well).

    5. LizM*

      If the supervisor has not created an environment where OP is comfortable bringing this to them because of perceived favoritism, that’s on them.

      At a minimum, the supervisor needs counseling from HR re: how to avoid the appearance of bias, even if no actual bias exists.

      It’s not throwing a supervisor under the bus to acknowledge they have created an environment where it’s less than crystal clear that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated from anyone.

    6. Observer*

      I would not throw my supervisor under the bus just because they are friends with your colleague.

      Why is this throwing him under the bus? And why does the OP need to worry more about the boss that about having a workplace that is free of harassment?

      HR needs to know why the OP didn’t tall to their common boss, and needs to understand that dynamic that may be at play here.

    7. SnappinTerrapin*

      It’s pretty standard for harassment policies to provide an “outside the chain” complaint mechanism, for the simple reason that it is commonly understood that, no matter how objectively competent and conscientious a manager might be, there are a lot of reasons why an employee might feel more comfortable initiating the complaint outside their own unit.

      Close relationships (or perceived relationships) between supervisors and employees present just one category of examples for the proposition that alternate channels of complaint are appropriate for sensitive issues like harassment.

      Frankly, it is sometimes a relief to the supervisor for a manager outside the chain to handle those complaints. It is certainly beneficial to the employer for the complaints to be handled according to a defined protocol, and that is easier to do if it is handled by someone who has the time to be trained to do a competent investigation.

  29. anonymous73*

    #3 make it all about you. “I wasn’t sure about a management role and have since realized that it’s not something I want to do.” You could also add that you missed your technical role as well. As long as you are clear and direct about how this TYPE of role was not for you, and that it was YOUR decision, you’ve done your part. If anyone on the team takes it personally or thinks there’s more to it, that’s on them not you. There’s only so much you can do. Gossips gonna gossip.

  30. Recovering journalist*

    Taking #2 a bit further, when I was a newspaper reporter, we noticed that the younger, single reporters were always assigned to dangerous situations. We were the ones asked to do things like drive straight into tornadoes, run to active shooter situations, etc. The managing editor told us flat out that we didn’t have families so our lives were more expendable.

    1. no sleep for the wicked*

      The pandemic certainly put a spotlight on just how many (frontline)workers are considered expendable.

    2. Delta Delta*

      Like the woman who got hit by a car on-air a couple weeks ago? Then the very gross anchor sort of implied it was her fault because it was a strange layout and the cars couldn’t possibly know where to go. Sorry – but that whole scene grossed me out. (And if you haven’t seen it, google it, it’s recent and I’m sure it’ll come up)

  31. Serenity*

    OP3: Some years back, I had a coworker who was elevated to manager who turned out not to have the skills for the position. After several (exhausting) years, they returned to a “lower” level position they are extremely talented at. It was publicly framed as wanting to return to the project/ hands on/direct work, but everyone knew that they (and everyone they touched) had been struggling due to their inability to manage this thing in this way in this place at this time. It was face-saving for all involved, and everyone played nice. Years on, newer hires have no idea, because the person is good at their (current) job.

    I think your situation sounds completely different, because if you are at all competent, people will not see you as being pushed out. They know if you can do the job or not. Going back when you CAN do the work but don’t love it is different than going back when you genuinely couldn’t.

  32. Dwight Schrute*

    LW 1: ew what a creep. Please report to HR and send us an update! That’s such disgusting behavior and I’m sorry you’ve been subjected to it.

    Long hours: I once asked in an interview about the typical hours and one of the interviews said something similar about it not being a clock in clock out job and then cracked a joke about the other more junior colleague working extremely long hours. The other interviewees scolded him and said “don’t say things like that!” It left a sour taste in my mouth that wasn’t helped when I was emailed an assignment to do by the next day at 9pm. Ultimately I wasn’t offered the job but I don’t know that I would’ve taken it if I was.

  33. Meep*

    LW#5 – Following Allison’s advice, start by hiding the docs for two weeks and see if anyone notices. Then officially delete. It might be it is just convenient.

      1. Cocofonix*

        You’d be surprised that this is an effective method in IT for figuring out whether reports that users insist they must have, and will not give authority to remove even in the face of evidence that they have not been accessed for years. In spite of costs for IT to upgrade and maintain. Remove access then figure out which reports to reinstate based on request.

        1. Observer*

          Oh, it’s an extremely effective method in some situations. But that’s totally not relevant here. It’s really not the OP’s concern if these are still important to their FORMER employer.

  34. beansbeansbeans*

    So I am not OP #5 but I could be. I’m in this exact situation right now. I was so eager and exhausted leaving Toxic Job that when my (awful) manager insisted I download everything to a Google drive so she “would know where it all was”, I just did it to be done with it (all these files exist on our internal drives, she just refuses to navigate them).

    I have made several ownership transfer requests but she has ignored them so far and I keep getting access requests, which I ignore. I’m torn between just deleting vs using the advice above, like giving them a warning or just downloading and sending them all in a zip. But honestly I have no desire to ever communicate with this manager again. Oh also, I haven’t worked there in a YEAR.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The warning advice is if you want to preserve the relationship – if you’re past that, delete away.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      After a year, plus no desire to maintain a good relationship? Delete that stuff and put it forever out of your mind :)

    3. animaniactoo*

      If the files exist on their drives already, there’s nothing for you to keep/access/transer. Lock out the access tomorrow. Or wait… what are you doing today?

      Can you e-mail a manager above them, and/or a co-worker? “Hi – just to let you know that I’m cleaning up my cloud storage and I know that some people have still been using the documents there even though they all exist on your internal drives. As it’s been over a year since I worked there, I’m deleting the documents that are stored in my personal account now. I just wanted to make sure that you are aware that nothing has been lost even though some people may think it has.”

      1. beansbeansbeans*

        I am still close with one team member (who reports to my former supervisor) and thought of doing this, but it felt a little unfair to her (why should it be her problem) / will be immensely obvious that I would rather do anything else than have to speak to former manager, lol. But I may yet! These responses are encouraging :)

        1. animaniactoo*

          For your co-worker – you’re doing it because you know the chitstorm that will hit her office. It’s not a problem you’re giving her, it’s the favor of a courtesy head’s up so that she is braced for impact.

          Because you could delete with no notification at all after all this time. But with a head’s up, co-worker can figure out a couple of scripts for herself;
          “Those were identical to the ones we have on X drive. It’s not a problem.”
          “Beans hasn’t worked here in a year. The most up to date files are on the X drive.”

    4. Purple Cat*

      If everything already exists on your internal drive I think you have an even easier out.
      Replace the files with a new file that lists “where” roughly they can be found on company’s internal drive, I’m sure you don’t have the paths memorized anymore and leave it at that.

  35. animaniactoo*

    LW5 – if nobody has suggested this yet, you can export the files that are left there into an Excel or Word format (which also makes them importable again for their own Google docs account if they set that up).

    Would it work to export them, bundle them up, e-mail them with a note that says “Despite several requests for transfer of ownership of these documents, this never occurred and I no longer should have access to these nor am able to continue to host the storage for them. Please find a copy of the documents in question for your future usage, I will be deleting my own copy within 2 weeks and will no longer have any access at all.”

  36. ArtK*

    LW4: Years ago I had an interview and the interviewer mentioned that they were on long hours. I asked what they were like and they said 14-16 hour days. I’m fine with a couple weeks of crunch time to get a product out, but when I asked how long this was going to go on, the interviewer said “oh, 2-3 years!” I noped out of there quickly!

  37. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

    For #5: I am totally dependent upon Google Drive/Docs for both work and my own personal stuff. I think it’s an amazing tool, and really handy for sharing docs and editing/commenting. Here’s my top tip for using Drive/Docs for work: Make a new account using your work email address. DON’T mix up your personal and work accounts! That way, when you quit, it’s IT’s problem, not yours. You really don’t want strangers lurking around your personal digital space. If you work for the wrong kind of employer (i.e. the petty, vengeful kind), they could make a legal case that since you used your personal Drive for work, everything in it belongs to them. Don’t put yourself in this position.

    1. Macapito*

      I agree with the spirit of this, but would share that one of my departments did exactly this, the person who made the account using the work email address never shared the log-in info, then left on bad terms. IT wasn’t able to ever access the account or files. The employee refused to answer emails and phone calls. I don’t know if it was IT not knowing how or IT truly not being able to, but it was a cluster that nearly cost the department its required accreditation. A year later, the org transitioned to Office 365 and cloud-based work, which solved the problem that we had tried to use Google Drive/Docs to fix.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        Depending on how IT locks out/deletes accounts when people leave, I could also easily see a scenario where someone leaves unexpectedly*, IT automatically processes the term, and the team can’t reset the password because of no access to the email account. I’ve seen people think they had all day to get any last stuff done and IT processes the term early in the day and they’re locked out.

        * Could be a no-notice quit, a firing, the ever-terrifying bicycle accident with amnesia, during a parental leave of the person who was supposed to take care of doing the backup…

        (A manager of mine once worked at a startup where all the technical information was in the head of the lead developer, who was an avid bicyclist. They’re fine as far as I know NOW. They wiped out, conked their head, spent a scary amount of time unable to recall anything important about work, and ASAP after recovering their memory/ability to do brain work, spent a couple weeks on documentation. It could easily have been a much more tragic story.)

      2. Bagpuss*

        That sounds like an IT issue. Surely IT should have had access to the work e-mail and ought to have been able to do a password reset even if they didn’t have the log in details?

  38. Madtown Maven*

    OP#1: There is nothing about your coworker’s behavior that qualifies him to be called a gentleman.

  39. MicroManagered*

    I noticed that “My coworker watches porn in our shared office” is the top “You may also like” link and assumed Alison was reposting an oldie-but-goodie… But no, it’s a different letter from 2013.

    HOW?! HOW are there multiple “my coworker watches porn in our shared office” posts?!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Because all of these gross dudes (because it’s normally but not always a guy) all assume they are Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof and Will Never Be Caught.

    2. Daisy Gamgee*

      In part for the same reason there are multiple comments in this (and every such) discussion defending the porn-watcher.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Or ‘are you sure that’s what you heard/saw/experienced?’

        Yes. Believe the letter writer.

      2. MicroManagered*

        The only possible defense I can think of is mayyyyyyyybe it was the last thing opened/queued up to play on his phone and he didn’t realize it? I’ve done what at work before.

    3. Hollywood Handshake*

      When I taught high school there was a teacher I worked with who apparently had been doing this in his classroom while his students did work/took tests for years. Only got caught/was fired when he didn’t realize his computer was connected to the projector for the entire class to see. So so so gross.

  40. Rage*

    Use of the word “bailiwick” in #1 has made. my. day.

    I hereby declare it my “Word of the Week” and am going to use it at every opportunity, just because I can.

  41. Trawna*

    #5 — I guess I don’t understand why an employee would use personal systems to complete and store company work. Company work needs to be done and stored on secure company systems that are accessible to approved users. Is that not standard business security and ethics?

    1. cubone*

      A lot of people do not care/understand/appreciate information management and security. I had a boss who insisted on making a “business gmail account” and having our team migrate files to this platform, because his last job used Google Business for storage. We had our own storage systems. He just didn’t like them. IT was too overwhelmed/busy/exhausted to care.

    2. Colette*

      That really depends on the business. It’s a good practice, but what do you do if your company doesn’t have storage to use? What if they don’t have an IT department?

    3. pancakes*

      It is, or should be. Saying that it should be standard doesn’t address what employees should do when they find out their workplace doesn’t meet that standard.

      1. Trawna*

        It’s possibly sheer privilege that “I can’t even” on this.

        I guess what I would do, pancakes (YUM), is to the best of my ability, provide work that can be accommodated by my employer’s systems or lack thereof.

  42. DrSalty*

    For Google docs – just download them all, email the PDF/docx files to your contact and tell them you’re deleting the cloud copies, and then delete the cloud copies. Problem solved.

  43. shuu_iam*

    OP3, if you’re worried about your team feeling like they were the reason you gave up management, it might help to frame things as something like, “I realized if even with such a great team I still wasn’t finding the work fulfilling, it definitely wasn’t for me.” Something similar to that could help emphasize that it really wasn’t about them and you appreciated your time together, and that any other team would have driven you out of management faster rather than kept you in.

  44. ImGladImNotAlone*

    Why oh why do people call men “gentlemen” when they are anything but?! It’s just wrong.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      More professional than ‘creepy disgusting (redacted)’ ? /only slightly joking

    2. Generic Name*

      Shortly after 9/11 the New York Times was criticized for referring to Osama Bin Laden as “Mr. Bin Laden” in their news coverage. Folks were saying that OBL did not deserve to be treated that nicely. The NYT replied something along the lines of “using the Mr. does no refer to Mr. Bin Laden’s gentility but to ours”.

  45. Dust Bunny*

    I wasn’t technically management but I was a supervisor at an old job, many jobs ago, and I make no bones about telling people that I would not willingly do that again. I wasn’t terrible but people-wrangling is definitely not my strong point (and anyone who knows me doesn’t need to be told this). I like the hands-on stuff better. I think you can say that without making it sound like you’re disparaging management jobs.

  46. No Dumb Blonde*

    #3 – this was me 15 years ago. I was one of two team leads on a complicated IT project that was scheduled to take several years to implement, but which had been short on leadership from the beginning. The lead role included no additional salary and many additional headaches, as those roles often do. The project manager, whom I otherwise liked and worked well with (and who wasn’t at fault for the lack of leadership — she had been a victim of poor decisions by higher-ups, too), asked me to be more like the other team lead, who was a micromanager. The project was under such duress already that the PM seemed to buy into the belief that our experienced, hand-picked team of developers would achieve more if I rode my team all day long like the other team lead did (which most of them didn’t like, obviously). I disagreed with that philosophy, and I asked not to be a team lead anymore so that she could recruit someone else who fit that mold better. She understood and explained my role change to the team. I also made it clear it was my choice to step back into my individual contributor role, which was already valuable to the team because it was one of those roles that a team only has one of, and it deserved all of my focus. My status/role change wasn’t viewed as a problem, at least not by anyone whose opinion mattered to me.

  47. BlackBellamy*

    #4 When someone tells me “you will be expected to work long hours” what I hear is “We don’t believe in investing for proper coverage”. If your profit margins are so thin that you need to make people work 10-12-14 hours a day, perhaps business isn’t for you.

  48. Laney Boggs*

    It’s not a 9-5 (pm), but you won’t be here til 5am!” is so deliberately vague – I don’t blame OP #4 for being freaked out.

    Soo, are you there until 4am? Midnight? 9pm? 6pm?

    And how often? Every day? Every week? Once per quarter? Once a year during defined crunch times? It’s a weird comment, I would have been nonplussed too.

  49. RagingADHD*

    LW#5, I am constantly surprised by how many otherwise competent people have no idea how Google Docs actually work, and don’t read instructions.

    They just click the share link in the email, and believe they have “downloaded” the document because it now appears in their Google Drive. They don’t really understand anything about ownership vs sharing, and only go back to ask for a share link if they are denied access. They’re just saying words that without actually comprehending the system.

    Regardless, it’s not your job to teach them. Send the note to the manager with a deadline and let them figure it out.

  50. CM*

    OP#3, do you know the term “individual contributor”? Might help to think of (and talk about) your transition that way — you prefer being an individual contributor and are looking forward to doing that again — rather than thinking of it as a demotion or non-management position.

  51. Alexis Rosay*

    What a good script for interviewers who ask about working long hours. I could have really used that a few weeks ago when I was in a similar situation. I want to communicate to potentially employers that I can occasionally work longer hours or after hours if it’s crunch time or an emergency–but by definition, crunch time or emergency cannot be all the time, and I’m looking for a balance that is sustainable overall.

  52. Abogado Avocado*

    #1: It’s not just that it’s inappropriate to watch porn on one’s phone while at work, but there’s also a question here about whether your co-worker is using the government wifi — in other words, government resources — to pursue his porn habit. If you think he’s also on the government wifi while doing this, mention it to HR. Most government offices have strict rules about not using the wifi to view porn.

    1. pancakes*

      There’s no particular reason to think he isn’t, but that’s for HR to investigate, not for the letter writer to speculate about. They don’t need to try to sort it out before approaching HR.

  53. President Porpoise*

    Guys, for #1 I really don’t see a problem with turning around and loudly exclaiming “What the hell are you watching?!” and then trotting off to HR. No need to be embarrassed by this jerk’s boorishness, and no need to wring your hands on how to hide the fact that you’re the one reporting him.

    It’s a STATE AGENCY job. He’s an adult who has been in the workplace for a while (not some brand new intern who might have some excuse, maybe-ish?). He knows what he’s doing is wrong and that he is at risk of termination if he’s caught. He should absolutely be fired, and if he’s surprised, then he’s stupider than I think – and that’s a high bar given the circumstances.

    1. LizM*

      I feel like I’m at a point in my career/sufficiently fed up with this kind of behavior, that I agree with you.

      But I have also been in situations in other periods of my life (personal and professional), where I was being sufficiently gaslit and or had real safety concerns that would have stopped me from confronting boorish behavior in the moment. Women are conditioned to let stuff like this slide and give men the benefit of the doubt (look at all the posts suggesting that this was an accident or a prank from friends) to avoid making a scene.

      1. Generic Name*

        SAME. I could not agree more with this statement. I recently reported a coworker for sexual harassment. Annoyingly (and inappropriately) HR was all, “you should have come forward sooner!!”. Well, the reason I didn’t come forward sooner was because I was in an abusive relationship and I was conditioned to accept all sorts of unacceptable behavior from men. I am out and safe, and I’m realizing I don’t have to just sit there and pretend to laugh while internally squirming when someone says something inappropriate to me.

    2. RagingADHD*

      The LW or anyone else in that position is certainly entitled to do exactly that. I hope they feel empowered to. But I can also understand the hesitancy to do so in the moment. It can be due to a lot of things:

      1) it’s really common for your mind to flip into a mode of “Is that what I think it is? No, it can’t be. That’s impossible,” because that’s a protective response when faced with something shocking or outlandish.

      2) it’s really gross and embarrassing. There’s no NEED to be embarrassed, but that doesn’t stop someone from feeling embarrassed anyway.

      3) if you didn’t say anything the first time, it gets harder to overcome that cloud of denial.

      Wanting to hide the fact that they were the one making the report can be a very practical response if you don’t trust the hierarchy to have your back and do the right thing. Retaliation happens all the time, and it isn’t always dealt with as it should be.

  54. Snaffanie*

    LW #3 – No advice, but I left a job managing a team and running a department for one in which I have none of those responsibilities, and I’ve never been happier. I like to be the worker bee, not the one organizing all the other bees! :)

  55. CD*

    The response to #2 is interesting to me, and I disagree. I’ve seen employers who value their team members find a path for promotion, etc, for staff who are unable to meet living expenses with their pay if at all possible. Things like permitting WFH to save on childcare, or reduced hours for PT work, etc, if that person’s skills are vital. Also, I have no issue being direct with a company if, for example, their COL increases are not matching inflation, or pay is below market level for local living cost, or their health insurance plan is subpar and does not allow fair cost-sharing for medical conditions a staff member has to live with — discuss the value of your work, yes, but be frank with something like, “the total pay and benefits at this role do not allow me to meet all my basic living needs and unless we can discuss a path to increased compensation, I won’t be able to stay here in the long-term.” Employers need to pay their staff a living wage, period, and I think it’s important to point out directly to companies when they are not. Work doesn’t happen in a bubble, employees are humans. Especially in this job market, there is no reason to stay with someone who can’t meet your needs. I feel especially strongly on this point when it comes to the cost of healthcare and rent.

  56. ExecAsst*

    RE #2 – My grandmother was widowed with two young children in the 1950s, and had to start working to support her family. After a few years, she learned a co-worker (male) was making much more than her, she asked about for a raise and was told that he made more “because he has a family to support.” She pointed out that she did too. (She still didn’t get the raise because she was a woman, but that’s a different thread entirely.) If you base decisions on pay and raises on individual circumstances, it easily slides into bias — parents “deserve” more than those without kids, married people more than singles, etc. Even reimbursement/expense policies shouldn’t take people’s financial positions into account (in my opinion) – for example, no one should have to pay for work expenses and wait to be reimbursed, regardless of their (perceived) financial position. Everyone’s financial situation is their business and shouldn’t be a factor in fair pay. I know it is not that simple – of course! – but I’m glad that Alison regularly affirms this in this column.

  57. Sivvy*

    #1 – I know that I am clearly in the minority here, and maybe I have totally misread the letter…LW1 has heard a porn moan three times from co-workers phone, co-worker then rushed to mute the phone.

    I just can’t make the immediate assumption that he is actively watching porn. I would most likely think that his phone unexpectedly made a vulgar noise and he panicked when he realized he had forgotten to silence his phone. Like the co-worker has a remarkably stupid text alert noise or something on their personal phone or something.

    1. Observer*

      Really? And just how did his phone make a vulgar noise all on its own?

      If the guy actually uses a sound like that as his standard alert, then it’s not really better than “actively” watching porn. In fact, in some ways it’s worse.

      But why would you try to make up some outlandish reason to excuse disgusting behavior?

      1. Sivvy*

        My phone could totally make a vulgar noise all on its own – if I had a vulgar alert noise and I didn’t have my phone silenced. Or if I was scrolling on Instagram on a break, cuz every now and then a post will be loud and scare me so badly I drop my phone!! And then scramble to mute it.

        I just meant, I did not read the letter to say that the co- worker was actively on their phone at the time of the moan. If they were on their phone, then yeah: hello HR.

        I have managed folks in the past that had similarly vulgar, crude, or not safe for work alert noises on their phones, so I would legit believe co-worker had a stupid alert noise. And as long as that noise is never heard from their phone at the office again, I honestly don’t care what their alert noise is.

        Do I think that it’s vile and says a lot more about them than they think? Absolutely. Do I lose any respect I may have had for them? You betcha.

        And boy – have I heard all kinds of excuses around: porn, strip clubs, and even sex workers. I processed expense reimbursements for ages. I have seen things man.

        1. Observer*

          if I had a vulgar alert noise and I didn’t have my phone silenced.

          Having that kind of sound set as your standard alert is no better than actively watching porn.

          And the fact is that the OP has already been subjected to it *THREE TIMES* so, it’s HR time anyway.

    2. Anonymous Luddite*

      Unless “state office” is Scotland Yard
      … and the co-worker is the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock
      … and he just received a text from Irene Adler.

      Otherwise, Three! Three semi-plausible excuses for watching porn at work! A-HA-HA!

    3. pancakes*

      In the unlikely event he has a remarkably stupid alert noise of that nature, despite being embarrassed by it, that doesn’t change the advice. HR can tell him to change it.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I have heard every excuse in the book from people accused of watching/listening to porn at work and ‘maybe it was a ringtone my friends set as a joke’ is number *consults book* 37.

  58. Mike*

    For #5: Move the document to the trash and let them know. The document will still be available for 30 days. When they access the document they’ll get a popup telling them it has been trashed and prompting them to make a copy.

  59. Orange You Glad*

    #5 – I agree with what others have said regarding a deadline and then cutting off access. My takeaway though is that personal accounts should never be used for work files. Even if you had set them up in your personal account by accident, they should have been moved to a company-owned account before they went into general usage. If the company doesn’t want to create google accounts or pay for their business services, then at least create a new generic account with only your company documents and pass on the login info when you leave.

  60. photon*

    OP3 – I wonder how much this varies in industries. I’ve seen multiple people in tech move from management to IC again, saying they just enjoy the technical work better, and it’s a non-issue. Maybe the difference between writing code vs. managing is more obvious than in a lot of other industries (where management is often the only way up?). Regardless, good luck!

    OP5 – Maybe you could ask them who to reassign ownership of the documents to, and do that? Then you could delete the shortcuts on your drive.

  61. Faith the twilight slayer*

    Alison, I have a question about the raise topic. I realize it’s not appropriate to bring up personal expenses, but do you think it’s unprofessional to bring up inflation as a whole?

  62. Macapito*

    For #5, I would download all these documents into a .zip file, put the .zip file onto a USB drive, delete it all from Google ASAP, and, if I hear nothing from the company, delete the .zip file after 6-12 months. I would keep anything I had created as work product that could benefit me professionally later on. If I was feeling very nice and had a healthy separation from the employer, I would proactively email the .zip to whoever is appropriate.

    I think sending out one last email with “hey, going to delete these files now! I really mean it!” is likely to go just as ignored as the other warnings. People tend to kick the can until they run out of road.

  63. LittleMarshmallow*

    LW 5: totally agree you can just delete them now, but I’m perplexed why you would make documents like that on a personal account instead of on whatever teams, sharepoint, shared drives, or other documentation systems your company uses. In future roles, I hope you’ve learned that it’s not the best idea to use personal accounts for stuff like that. In my company it could get you fired so be careful in future roles! I am making some assumptions and realize there may be companies out there with zero infrastructure to do stuff like that, but I’d have to think that’s more of an exception than a rule.

  64. caseykay68*

    RE the google docs:

    I’m always surprised the people use personal google accounts for work things. You do know you can make a google account using a work address, which protects from co-mingling work like this. You don’t need to have gmail.

  65. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP4: “not like until 5 am but it will be long hours” Just the fact that this interviewer called out 5 am as an actual reference point for “not that extreme”, would have me running for the hills. Another thing to watch out for: companies that use the phrase “work-life balance” in promoting and describing their work environment. This seems counter-intuitive, but in my experience, it is a yellow flag. Companies that really have work-life balance may not mention this at all, because it’s such a non-issue. Companies that struggle with work-life balance and may predictably not have any, due to the type or size of the business, will pre-emptively claim (falsely) they have work-life balance, knowing that candidates will suspect it is a problem.

  66. Lalitah*

    LW#5: Google docs allows you to export those documents to a zip file that you can email to former colleagues with a note that says that you will be deleting files from your *personal* Google account and suggest that your co-workers establish a company drive to house those documents. Nice, diplomatic, and you get to reclaim your Google drive.

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