what to say in response to “I’m sorry” from employees

A reader writes:

I manage employees in a job where arriving on time for shift coverage really matters. When my employees are late to work without notice, most of the time they apologize with a simple, “Sorry I’m late.” I struggle with how to succinctly respond when it doesn’t warrant a formal sit-down. If someone is 15 minutes late to their shift and they haven’t been late before, when they come in and say, “I’m sorry I’m late,” I don’t want to say, “It’s okay,” because it’s not really okay — they do need to be on time. But I don’t want to lecture them on their first or even second minor infraction.

When someone says “I’m sorry,” and it’s not “okay” but you want to convey that you recognize that they know they messed up, what’s the best thing to say?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Is it okay to have my employees drive me to and from work?
  • My colleague loves meetings and jargon
  • Offering prayers to a colleague

{ 222 comments… read them below }

  1. Alex*

    “I appreciate your apology” is a useful phrase to keep in your pocket when you want to acknowledge someone’s apology without absolving them of their transgression.

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      I think in this example though, the OP kind of doesn’t appreciate the apology though; they want the behavior to change going forward. I guess it’s better than nothing, but the OP is still not happy, but not willing to make it a whole thing.

      I teach in a university and I have students who come in late, some of whom make a whole production of it rather than just quietly come in and find a seat. When they apologize, I (not unkindly) tell them, “Take a seat. We’re discussing…” I try not to give too much attention (some are looking for exactly that), but I won’t make it a big deal unless it’s a recurring issue. Just move them forward to where they need to be. I don’t need an apology. I need it not to happen again.

      1. Quickbeam*

        Re: lateness…..I come from a shift to shift profession where 15 minutes of coverage was a huge PIA. I needed my managers to address it and not let it go otherwise I am working over every day. So once? Sure. Routinely? It’s an issue.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        “I think in this example though, the OP kind of doesn’t appreciate the apology though; they want the behavior to change going forward.” I think the OP doesn’t appreciate the apology because it’s an acknowledgement that the person made a mistake–she says that she wants a way “to convey that you recognize that they know they messed up.” It’s perfectly possible to appreciate an apology but still want the behavior to change, which is what I think the OP was saying here.

        For example, when a close friend does something that is worth apologizing for but not something you want to the friendship over if the friend recognizes they messed up. Not everybody will apologize for things they’ve done wrong, even to a friend. In that case I do appreciate an apology, so I have to find a way to convey that I appreciate that they did apologize, but also convey that it can’t happen again. I think “I appreciate your apology” followed by (in the OP’s case) something like “I do, however, need you to be on time going forward” is a useful way to convey that.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah I remember an intern who arrived late on his first day (he hadn’t realised the walk from the metro was uphill!). The boss took one look at him and said “this is the first time you’re late, and it will be the last”. It worked with him, he was actually impressed.

        I’d go with “I’m glad you made it, please don’t let this happen again”.

    2. Cold Fish*

      “It happens” could also be a good phrase. It acknowledges the apology and the fact that everyone is late sometimes. But it also leaves the door open to further discussion if it is happening more often than it should.

  2. Xavier Desmond*

    On the last question, if someone messaged me to offer their prayers it would make me pretty uncomfortable as a non religious person. I obviously wouldn’t want to offend the person sending the message but neither would I want to say “I really appreciate it” because quite frankly I wouldn’t be appreciative.

    1. Chriama*

      What about “thanks for thinking of me?” It’s one of those things that is often more social grease than conscious thought (similar to the ubiquitous how are you? > fine, thanks)

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Exactly. I’m an atheist but I also know that someone’s prayers for me or my family usually come from sincerity, care, and concern. Even if they don’t, all I need to say is, ‘I appreciate the kind thoughts,’ or ‘Thank you for thinking of me/us.’

        1. Mannequin*

          All I need to say to someone that wants to pray for me is “please don’t.”

          Praying just makes people feel like they are “helping” when they aren’t actually doing anything at all.

      2. Laney Boggs*

        I mean, theres just no reason to say “I’m praying for you” unless you have hard evidence the person practices your faith.

        And, personally, I think its on the condolence-giver to be conscientious, not on the person grieving/suffering to find a delicate way to sidestep “I’m praying for you” that could be (best case) empty or (worst case) downright upsetting

        1. Laney Boggs*

          And yes. Admitted atheist. And every single “I’m praying for you!” After my brother died made me want to bite them. Sorry not sorry lol

          1. Nomayo*

            Same here. Especially from people who knew I was not at all religious.

            I was as gracious as I could be, but it was through gritted teeth.

        2. Loulou*

          I think it’s much better to avoid saying “I’m praying for you” for all the reasons people have already mentioned, but I don’t think it’s true that the only reason to say you’re praying for someone is if you know they practice your faith! People can and do pray for people of different faiths all the time.

          1. Claire W*

            Whether you actually pray for them or not is up to you, but I think the point is that there’s no benefit to _telling them_ you’re praying for them unless you know that’s something that they’ll actively appreciate rather than another thing where they have to politely respond without causing upset when they’re already going through something difficult. It can come across like your desire for people to know about your prayers is more important than how the recipient will actually feel.

            1. Loulou*

              Yes, I definitely agree — you shouldn’t say “I’m praying for you” unless you’re sure the other person would welcome your prayers (which in most cases, you probably can’t be). I just find it odd to say that the only reason they would is if they share your faith, which seems very specific.

            2. Free Meerkats*

              The benefit to the prayer is looking sanctimonious and low level proselytizing. They’re letting you know that they are a Believer. The benefit to the prayee is … nothing.

                1. merry*

                  Why do you think that someone telling someone else that they’re praying for them requires charitable interpretations? Do you think the praying people are wholly unaware of the fact that not everyone appreciates their prayers? Do you think that this one, unlike all those others, is somehow specially innocent of the impact they and their religion has on others?

                  What WOULD be charitable? Letting someone else spray religion on you because it makes them feel better, even if it makes you fell worse?

                  The thing about praying “for” other people is that it is about the praying person, not the ‘recipient.’ If it was NOT about the praying person, they wouldn’t need to tell you. They would pray their prayers and trust that those good vibes or whatever were going to get where the magic prayer powers put them.

                  Telling someone you are praying for them is a performance you put on, for yourself and for others. It lets you tell yourself lots of stories about how good you are, without actually having to do anything.

                2. Loulou*

                  This comment is a lot! I think in general, well-intentioned gestures merit a charitable interpretation. The alternative is to go through life hopping mad about a lot of things that might not be worth being mad about.

                  As I’ve said numerous times, I think it’s better to avoid mentioning “prayers” at work for the reasons people have already brought up, but this reaction is pretty extreme and offensive to practicioners of quite a few religions (and I say that as an atheist whose family practices a minority religion). I would also say most of your objection to “praying for you” also applies to “thinking of you,” aside from the part about religion (which is, again, the reason I support not saying it at work/in situations where you’re not positive it will be appreciated).

                3. Lizzo*

                  I think @merry makes an important point: is expressing concern and care for a colleague about doing something that is beneficial for the colleague, or is it about publicly demonstrating that you (the person who wants to express concern) are caring and concerned? In my personal experience, many of the “I’ll pray for you” people fall into this second category, and are merely performing to demonstrate what good Christians they are.

                  Publicly, express support for the colleague in a way that is appropriate for the workplace, the situation, and the colleague. Privately, if you believe in the power of prayer to bring about change, then go ahead do it.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                I don’t know – an orthodox friend of mine finds it comforting to be told explicitly that she’s in someone’s prayers when she’s having a tough time.

                But I think the point is that Your Mileage May Vary so wildly that it isn’t worth risking unless you are *very* familiar with your audience. And in the context of a workplace it’s generally inappropriate to talk of religion at all.

                If OP believes their prayers will help, they should go ahead. But I would go for language like “thinking of you” when speaking to coworkers.

                1. LittleMarshmallow*

                  I’d like to bring an observation I’ve had over the years. Y’all can feel free to jump on me about it, but know that I’m aware this is merely anecdotal opinion. :) Also, will caveat that I was raised with a very religious background (however am currently not tied to a church). To me, there is a difference between the wording “I am/will be/have been praying for you” and “You are/will be/have been in my prayers.” The first one feels more “holier than thou” in tone to me. It’s minor and maybe not helpful to anyone, but maybe it is.

                  Oh, and side note, I get why people don’t want to offer grace to religious people considering all the damage organized religion has done, but in my own experience this particular thing (praying for people that are hurting) almost always does genuinely come from a place of caring. They almost always believe that there is power in prayer and hope that comfort will come to those they pray for. Not that people that are hurting should have to worry about that and whatever, but if it does happen to you, I’d say it’s safe to assume good intent, say a quick “thank you for thinking of me” and move on.

                  Personally… I’d rather have someone just say “I’m praying for you” than the much more awkward “so how are are you doing really?” In that sappy tone with the stupid head tilt. Don’t make me say “oh, ya know, hanging in there” because we all know you don’t actually want to know… haha so yeah, that’s my pet peeve.

              2. Niska*

                I’m in a pretty minority religion, and whenever someone tells me they’re praying for me, it can come across as a slap to the face. I know it’s not meant that way, but it’s one more thing that Christians can do that I can’t. I feel very othered by it.

                1. Splendid Colors*

                  I agree. My faith specifically discounts the theology behind “praying for someone” and emphasizes actually doing something helpful if you can or just “keeping you in my thoughts” if you can’t. (i.e. send casseroles or give someone rides if that’s applicable, otherwise just letting people know you care about them if you can’t actually do anything.)

          2. STG*

            Sure but the unconscious assumption when you choose to use prayer over ‘thinking of you’ is that prayer somehow means more.

            It may mean more to you but I assure you it doesn’t for others who aren’t religious.

            1. Loulou*

              I’m not sure if by “you” you meant me or just a general religious person — I am actually an atheist, so maybe that’s why, but I don’t understand the phrase as meaning “more” than “thinking of you,” just being more specific. I would take the statement pretty literally but again, definitely agree with the advice to avoid it in most cases.

              1. HCW*

                I agree with you: Better to avoid it. That said, if someone tells me, “I’ll be praying for you,” I’m happy to mentally translate that to, “I’ll be thinking of you,” “wishing you comfort / peace,” whatever, and take it in the spirit it’s (usually) intended.

                1. Koalafied*

                  Also an atheist here, and that’s how I feel about it. I know that when my cat slow blinks it means “I trust you,” when my dog wags her tail it means, “I’m happy to see you,” and when a religious person who I generally know to be a good person says, “I’m praying for you,” I know they mean, “I care about you.”

                  I also know that it’s somewhat easier for me to take this stance because I was not traumatized by religious family or institutions growing up, and that for people who were it’s much more entirely fraught than a simple mental translation. The people whom they have experienced hearing, “I’m praying for you,” from have often not been generally good people to them. The people whom they recall in their minds for a hypothetical scenario where someone tells them that, are not people they generally knew to be good people.

              2. Daisy Gamgee*

                Having been encouraged to pray for people to leave their religions for mine and to leave the people they loved for heterosexuality, and later being told I was being prayed over to return to the church and to leave my chosen partner for heterosexuality, lends the phrase “I’m praying for you” a certain context, and I know I’m not the only person who has that context due to their experiences with those who make a point of the phrase.

            2. Splendid Colors*

              I’m one of the people who is tired of hearing “thoughts and prayers” after preventable tragedies.

              Plus, I’ve noticed that folks in my UU church who don’t believe that prayer is all they need to do to help WILL offer a casserole or a ride. The folks who believe in prayer use that to end the conversation before I can ask for a Tupperware of leftovers or anything.

        3. Polecat*

          I am an atheist with cancer and until I got cancer I hadn’t realized how many people just assume that everyone is Christian. It’s gotten to the point where I want to start pretending I am a Wiccan and tell Christians that I am casting a spell for them. How about just saying “I’m sorry you’re going through this it, I’m hoping for the best for you.” There is no reason to bring religion into it. Unless someone is a member of your church or you know for a fact they are Christian, don’t talk about prayer to them. Stop assuming everyone shares your belief in Jesus.

          1. not a doctor*

            I’m sorry you’re in such a frustrating situation, and especially sorry about the cancer. I do want to gently point out the irony in (justifiably!) complaining about people assuming everyone is Christian, while also implying that everyone who prays is Christian/believes in Jesus. Everyone in my Jewish family does the same thing, and I’m sure most of them even do it at work. I’m conscientious not to unless I know the other person would appreciate it, regardless of their religion.

            1. Hogwash*

              This person is talking about people offering to pray for them specifically, not all people who pray, so it’s a fair assumption that they know these people and don’t have to make guesses about their faith.

            2. Loulou*

              When reading any comment on this blog about religion I tend to mentally substitute “my white christian family members/coworkers/neighbors” for “religious people” because as far as I can tell, that’s what people are usually referring to. In this case, I’m guessing OP (who I am sincerely very sorry for) may know these people they’re referring to are Christian, though I read the comment the same way as you at first.

              1. Niska*

                That’s a pretty good assumption. I know people can have religious trauma from all types of religions, but at least in America, it’s the Christian right that are doing the most harm, and Christians are (usually) the ones who assume everyone believes in Jesus until told otherwise. Because of that, I would feel much more charitable if a Jew or Muslim told me they were praying for me than if a Christian did it.

        4. ursula*

          This part. Priority to the preferences of the person receiving comfort, not the person giving it (so long as they can still give it honestly).

      3. Xavier Desmond*

        In reality I would probably say this or something to this effect but I would still feel uncomfortable that I’m having to be nice when someone has inserted their religion into my hardship.

      4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Exactly what Miss Manners recommends and why she does. It lets the recipients of your concern know you care about their current situation full stop.

      5. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is generally what I use, because it’s not worth the angst of getting into my (lack of) religious beliefs with them, especially the people it will deeply worry because of the effect this will have on my immortal soul. My spouse comes from a conservative, Christian area, and it is assumed everyone is a God-fearing Christian and praying for people is the best thing you can offer them in a time of need (and maybe a casserole, which I wouldn’t turn down). “Thinking of you” is watered-down and like you’re not doing all you can. I try to keep that in mind, when I get annoyed at being prayed for – it comes from a good place and telling them I’m not a believer creates more problems that it solves.

    2. LMK*

      I agree. I had a coworker who constantly told me she was praying for me, even after I told her I was a nonbeliever. It’s rude to push your religion like that.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        When my niece died, my sister and BIL were devastated over the loss of their child. At the funeral, a woman patted my sister on the arm and said, ‘Don’t you worry, God knows what he’s doing.’ I don’t think my sister heard her, but I was livid. It was beyond inappropriate and thoughtless, definitely pushing a belief onto grieving parents.

        It’s also a far cry from ‘I’m praying for you.’ To this particular atheist it means about the same thing as You’re in my thoughts.’ I still choose to look at it as a caring gesture rather than a religious one. If the person wanted to witness to me, or make me pray with them, that’s another story.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          That’s horrible, but I’ve had similar experiences and I think that’s why “I’m praying for you” sends such an itch up my spine. I’ve also heard it passive aggressively in terms of “you poor sinful child” or variations thereof and it just doesn’t feel sincere or positive to me, it makes me instantly defensive and angry. Impact > intent.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I can understand that – I’ve also heard ‘I’ll pray for you’ in those tones from people I worked with, but it wasn’t common.

            OTOH, I was raised in a devout, fundamentalist religion, hence my atheism. At home, at church, and in general, ‘praying for someone’ could be a long, insulting, extremely judgmental process. Maybe God loves and forgives his children, but our church members didn’t have to.

            So when people say IPFY as a reaction to my/my family’s pain or challenge, and they do it when I’m not around, I’m not bothered by it. I’ve seen so much worse!

        2. Constance Lloyd*

          Oh man, I think this just unlocked a very deep understanding of why unsolicited Christian gestures irk me so greatly. When my brother died of brain cancer a month after his third birthday plenty of people tried to reassure my parents with the usual Christian platitudes which… are infuriating, but what does one say at a toddler’s funeral? But the real problem is I now associate, “I’m praying for you,” with the few people who saw that funeral as the appropriate time to try to convert my parents. So I know people mean well and actively work to interpret prayers as a neutral statement, but my gut reaction is a viscerally negative one!

    3. Andrea*

      I am a religious person, and I also don’t love when coworkers say they’re praying for me. It’s not a huge deal to me and I’m not a jerk about it (I say “thank you, I appreciate it”) but it’s weird for me.

      My thoughts on it are: you’re praying for someone because you want things to be better for them. You’re TELLING them about it because you want them to feel comforted. Not everyone is comforted by knowing that someone is praying for them, and if your reaction to that is “well they should be!” then you need to reflect on whether you actually want to comfort them.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Exactly. Center the struggling person, don’t just blindly assume that what comforts you will comfort them. (Goes for a lot of non-religious attempts at comfort too!)

    4. Lenora Rose*

      As a Christian religious person, I find I actually prefer *asking* over doing, and way too many Christians won’t offer you the option of nothing at all, just of asking to pray, or prayer without asking — which is not nearly as nice as they would say it is.

      But even within asking, there’s a kind of heirarchy I wish would be more common. “Would you prefer prayer or good wishes?” (giving two options which make it clear that refusing the first does not create bad feeling) Is often less awkward than “May I offer you my prayers?” (which requires you to explicitly say “Don’t, please” and return awkward to sender) but both are still far and away better than “I’m praying for you.”

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        Please don’t do this. I know you are well intentioned but don’t ask people if they want you to pray for them or not. It’s going to put anyone who would prefer to say no in a more awkward situation. If you want to pray for someone just do it, you don’t have to ask or tell them about it.

      2. Bethany*

        I don’t think this is good either. It forces people to disclose their status on religion at a time when it’s the last thing they want to be thinking of.

      3. cara beth*

        Please don’t ask! You are putting the onus on the afflicted person and they have enough to deal with without having to do the mental calculations to decide if it’s safe to tell you no. That is unkind.

        If you feel the need to pray, do it. Just don’t tell me about it. I really don’t care, it makes things weird, and I’d rather not know.

    5. Danielle S.*

      I’m a self-professed Christian who does pray for the people around me – but I also have good friends who are atheist and pagan, so I know that me saying “I’m praying for you” is wholly unwelcome to them. And that’s just in my personal life.

      Professionally, unless I know for sure SURE the person would appreciate “prayers”, I generally send a message like, “I’m thinking of you and sending good vibes your way! Let me know how I can help.” Or a variation like that. Hopefully it keeps it neutral while still conveying the message that I care.

      1. Daisy Gamgee*

        FWIW, “neutral while still conveying the message that I care.” is certainly what I would get out of your good vibes message, and I think that’s the best way to go about it.

    6. Koala dreams*

      As an atheist, I would hear “I’m praying for you” and interpret it as “I’m thinking of you”. I do think it’s better to say something more neutral in the workplace though, unless you know your co-workers well. Religion can be a touchy subject for people.

  3. AthenaC*

    re: Prayers – I would only say that to a coworker who has at least periodically mentioned spending time at church. Otherwise I would “keep them in my thoughts.”

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This. Two of my coworkers are moderately religious and the other two of us are hardcore not religious. Keep it at thoughts unless you know very well that prayers would be welcomed.

    2. Rayray*

      This was my thought to. It’s pretty apparent on my current team who is religious and who isn’t, so I’d maybe change up how I said something depending on who it was.

    3. Spero*

      Agree. I also live in an area where people say ‘I’m lifting them up in my prayers’ and my version of that is ‘holding them in my thoughts this (day/week/etc)”

    4. Lady_Lessa*

      One place on the internet where I hang out uses “mojo” for that purpose. I find that it works nicely.

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yes, this.

      I’m not a follower of the prayerful faiths, and often when they tell me that they “pray” for me it implies their desire for my conversion. No thanks. I don’t mind if people “pray” for me, just don’t tell me about it.

      “Keeping you in my thoughts” works well, because it leaves the details out. It could be a prayer, a spell, an offering to the FSM, a well wish, or whatever. If you keep it vague it causes no friction, which I would assume is the intent.

      If I tell someone I’m “keeping then in my thoughts”, that’s just what it means. Any other stuff is extraneous.

    6. Insert Clever Name Here*

      As a person who prays, this is my thought process, too. Even then, I’m likely to use “thinking of you” in work situations even if I know that someone else is a person who prays as well.

  4. Falling Diphthong*

    OP2, you say having your employees drive you to and from work saves you time and stress. I’m sure it does! It probably does not save them time and stress, and you are not a safe person for them to tell that this isn’t working out for them.

    1. Casper Lives*

      Yes OP comes across as selfish and overstepping based on her assertion this isn’t a big deal. Daily rides to and from work is a HUGE deal.

      I love my manager more with many of these letters.

    2. HotSauce*

      I really get along with my boss and I would still find it stressful to have to drive him to or from work every day. I use that time to mentally prepare for work or unwind or vent to myself. Plus I sing along with the radio, loudly & badly, or listen to murder podcasts or romance books on Audible. My boss doesn’t need to know that I enjoy a bodice-ripper from time to time.

      1. Gumby*

        I usually alternate between a few different podcasts, but in this situation my boss (who lives in the opposite direction from me and who would *never* ask for a daily ride) would be treated to the one that he’d be least likely to be interested in. I’m thinking a few hours of getting into the NQS, injury reports, and multiple overscoring rants / resigned short monologues might change his mind about ridesharing. I do have co-workers who would happily geek out with me and turn a 40 minute commute into a 2-hour podcast + follow-up discussion; probably good that none of them live in my direction either.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I didn’t see the OP offering to drive half the time to save the employee time and stress.

        1. Cee*

          This! That was my first thought. Commuting expenses can be huge, especially if you live far away like OP mentioned.

          It seems like the employee would only benefit here if they were able to split costs.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      my thought when reading that was “no shit.”
      And if your employee brought in two sandwiches so you didn’t have to deal with lunch, that would be less stressful, too.
      I kind of get how the morning commuter got roped in. Maybe he volunteered because he thought OP would offer to carpool, not be chauffeured. Maybe OP fished around saying “I don’t really know the way yet, it’s long,” something that pressured him into driving.
      Because how did evening driver get roped into driving boss part way? There’s no way he thought it could turn reciprocal. So he’s just going directly home everyday because he has to drive his boss part way.
      Dude. Not cool.
      You are being a jerk about this.

    5. Forrest*

      Man, my thought was that it wouldn’t save me time and stress. That’s time when I have to be Doing A Social and making conversation! Sat by myself on the train and able to play mindless games on my phone or read my Kindle or GTFO. :D

      1. EnidWhatever*

        Same. I could tolerate this once in a blue moon, but the pressure to make conversation with my boss every single day would probably give me an ulcer. I’d spend every day dreading it.

    6. Artemesia*

      Car pools are one thing although having the boss in the car pool is probably not great. But this is just exploitive. It is a PITA to have to pay for a car and then be at someone else’s beck and call in its use. Maybe she wants to sleep in and take half the day off. Maybe she likes to run an errand some mornings. Maybe the guy driving home would like to have the freedom to do something after work on the spur of the moment — but they have a freeloader who is also their boss requiring jitney service.

      SOOOO bad. And the LW doesn’t mention taking his or her turn or buying gas — which would still be a bad idea but at least not quite as abusive.

  5. EmbracesTrees*

    Even as a peer, I think it’s fine to say, “Jane, I have trouble following the point of your emails sometimes because there is so much jargon and so many acronyms — some that aren’t even common in our industry! Your contributions are always important and I want to be sure I’m understanding everything. For the sake of clarity, do you think you could spell things out more, or use plainer language? I’d really appreciate it!”

    And if she didn’t or refused, if what she’s doing isn’t just annoying but it risks misunderstandings in your work flow, I’d start asking her about it overtly: “Jane, you used ROUS in that report. What does that mean?” … “Huh, I’ve never heard that used before. Can you just say ‘Rodents Of Unusual Size’ so there isn’t any miscommunication?”

    1. Certaintroublemaker*

      This. (Also, heart eyes for the Princess Bride reference!)

      I also wonder whether LW would have any traction going to their manager to ask them to encourage plain language in communications throughout the department. It’s considered best practice for nearly all communications, except possibly in scientific write ups where the jargon-y, obscure details are important. https://www.plainlanguage.gov/about/definitions/

      1. Wintermute*

        Yes! This! Working in IT, and with many military vets (both fields prone to normalizing dense, impenetrable thickets of jargon and acronyms) I’ve always advocated for adopting plain language standards especially for anything communicated outside of the team or that could have legal importance (for instance, when I worked in a heavily regulated industry and trouble and service tickets were potentially subject to regulatory subpoena).

        It’s also no coincidence that the one field they’re still heavily normalized in, science, has seen numerous scandals like the Bogdanoffs who were able to cobble together enough semi-plausible nonsense to become well-regarded PhDs without ever actually doing any meaningful research or writing anything actually intelligible– one of their paper’s central thesis, obscured behind references to the big bang, foccault’s pendulum and other mashed up terms drawing randomly from classical Newtonian, Einsteinian and quantum physics, was “a swinging weight passes through at least one point”. An observation that is hardly a major contribution to the field of human knowledge.

        1. Certaintroublemaker*

          I work in IT as well—it’s a constant battle! Especially when legal/regulatory stuff gets involved. I can fight in my department, but I can’t fight the lawyers. :-(

      2. Nesprin*

        Oh it’s considered best practice in science as well- if you have to use an acronym, you spell it out the first time (IYHTUAAYSIOTFF)

    2. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      This is a very interesting situation. Jane’s communications suggest that she doesn’t understand office norms or empathize very well. But someone “who has shown great skill in revamping struggling teams” would seem to be just the opposite.

      When you engage her on the problematic communications it might be helpful to keep a framework of office dynamics in mind and refer to it appropriately.

      1. Wintermute*

        It could well be in their organization they really just need an adult in the room to settle down the shenanigans, or someone who is comfortable delivering tough messages and not accepting excuses.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’m in a tech-adjacent field, and we had a person in IT who used to throw all sorts of IT acronyms around as a way to assert their superiority over all the idiots who didn’t understand what they meant. I grew up around the military and government, so I’m pretty fluent in acronym and figuring things out, but I also sat back with a literal bag of popcorn in the meeting where they tried to pull that BS on a higher-up who stopped them every few minutes to ask for an explanation of some jargon or acronym, and, at the end of the meeting, pulled them aside and suggested they work on making their meetings “more accessible” so that everyone could participate and avoid unnecessary issues down the line.

      1. OP #3*

        OP here. This was part of it 100%. (The update is in another comment.) Jane (actually John) understood that it wasn’t considered best practice to use that much jargon and have in so many meetings (where he literally read project plans to us word-for-word), but did it anyway to assert some dominance and command the illusion of respect and deference. I’m making him sound like an ass, which he wasn’t. He was well-intentioned but paternalistic. He likely wasn’t feeling secure in his job and this made him turn up the jargon quite a bit.

    4. inkheart*

      And because she seems to value formality, remind her that in formal reports it is a general rule to spell out the words in the acronym first, then show the acronym. Like, “We have rodents of unusual size (ROUS) in our dumpsters.”

    5. OP #3*

      I’m the letter writer for this one and I have an update as it was several years ago. So “Jane” was actually “John”, but I swapped the genders because I had a lot of colleagues who read here and was sure they would recognize him. There was definately a bit of old-fashioned sexism on his part as well (he reported to a female boss who he referred to as “the bossette”, and often referred to female colleagues as “members of the fairer sex”. There were several stong female leaders on the team, and I think he really didn’t know how to handle that. He was nice enough, just stuck in the past, clueless, and thought his way was best. This made it a lot harder to get him to change his meeting and jargon habits. Deep down, I think keeping us in meetings having to listen to long-winded, jargon-heavy explanations was his way of asserting some dominance. Long story short, he promoted his junior and management didn’t really know what to do with him because once the new system and processes were in place, he was very lost. He was put on a cross-functional project for a while, and then was let go. He did get a new job elsewhere and is still there, so hopefully it worked out for the best.

      1. Artemesia*

        I consulted with an organization who had a guy like this in a critical function who had buffaloed his boss and the subordinates with his arcane knowledge LOL. I was exploring some of the issues and wondered why they were not cross training staff on some of this stuff since the year had busy times for some employees that were slack for others. He got all puffed up and said we cannot expect these low level people to use boolean mathematics and I just sort of looked at him and said ‘you mean ‘and’ and ‘or’? ‘yes’ and ‘no’ —- he was so deflated. They mastered the data issues in a week.

          1. Kal*

            This also made me laugh. I’m pretty sure I learned what boolean meant as a teenager wanting to cheat in the Sims 2. And I was far from alone in that – it’s easier to remember how to type in your boolProps when you know what it means.

      2. Jacey*

        Ugh. Well, glad you all weathered his tenure okay!

        I don’t know if this is helpful advice for you or not, but it was once very helpful to me so I hope I’m passing that on: you don’t have to spend time or energy acknowledging the “niceness” of someone engaging in bigoted behavior whenever you talk about them. I know it’s quite possible you know that or prefer to describe him more even-handedly! But as someone who used to expend a lot of social grace to people who weren’t bothering to return it… just thought I’d mention it.

  6. Smilingswan*

    I wouldn’t call having your employees schlep you to and from the office a “small favor”. It’s actually a huge imposition, regardless of how close they live to you.

    1. Casper Lives*

      Especially because OP claims she lives far from work…but an employee is dropping her off halfway to his home.

    2. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      Agreed! What an uncomfortable position to put your employees in. I am barely human before 10 am. I’m imagining the commute is at least 45 minutes. The only good side of having a long commute is having that time to yourself to listen to podcasts or music, or just get your head together for the day. I’d hate to be stressed about picking my boss up on time too and then having to spend all that time with them making awkward small talk. And like, I’m very much the person who will stop for Starbucks even if I’m running late. I don’t want to do that with boss in the car. And the LW doesn’t even mention if they’re chipping in for gas etc which i would do even if I got a ride from a coworker (let alone a direct report) ONCE. Just a whole lot of nope in that letter.

      1. Velocipastor*

        Completely agree! My Old Manager lived in the same neighborhood I did and somehow, I was the person who had to be her ride when she needed to drop her car off at the mechanic around the corner. I’m a “leave the house at the last possible second” person and we had to be at work at 8am on the dot so this would usually require me having to leave home a half hour early to meet at the mechanic, wait for Boss to do paperwork, and then get us both to work on time. Then I got to use my lunch break to take Boss back to pick the car up. This was once every few of months and it was annoying. I can’t imagine having to do it daily

        1. AnonInCanada*

          I hope your old manager at least compensated you for the extra time it took to get them to and from the mechanic and the extra wait time to deal with the paperwork. This is already an overreach of power and borderlines AH territory. It would be triple-AH territory if they didn’t.

          (Oops, silly me should also stop using non-standard acronyms as also discussed in this thread: AH = a$$hole!) :-P

          1. Velocipastor*

            No because it was always framed as a “favor” outside of work hours — like the LW is doing here — and I was young and it didn’t occur to me that “no” was an actual option on the table.

            1. AnonInCanada*

              If that’s the case, manager is a quadruple A$$hole for taking advantage of the situation. Sorry, but this really would grind my gears, because that manager knows full well of their overreach. GRRRR!

    3. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I had a co-worker who thought it was a small favor for me to drive them home. Except that I had to wait 15-20 minutes for them to finish and then drop them off 10 minutes past my home. On paper, it looked like a “small favor” but it was costing me almost an hour every time.

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        I had a co-worker at one contract who was delighted to learn my commute, because I took the commuter train to an express bus that used the HOV (high-occupancy vehicle, AKA carpool) lane. Which meant that in the evenings, if I rode with her instead of on the bus, she could take me to the commuter train, which gave her the advantage of the carpool-lane, and got me home a little earlier. Sounded good, right? More comfortable and she was a great conversationalist. However, she was really bad about leaving at a given time and it ended up not saving me any time at all, and I was getting home later than I wanted to, so… I just took to telling her that I’d be at the bus stop out front and if she got there before the bus did, she’d get a rider! What Do You Know? She started leaving on time.

  7. Chriama*

    The automatic “it’s ok” is something I struggle with too. I wonder if more women than men struggle with it, or if it varies more by country/region/culture?

    Anyway, like the idea of saying “I appreciate the apology, but __.” Fill in the blanks with a description of how their lateness affected you, or ask what caused it and how to prevent it, or even just say timeliness is critical for this job. In the personal sphere, I’ve used “I appreciate the apology, but I’m not ready to talk to you yet” to acknowledge the apology without feeling like I have to move past the whole situation.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I was thinking along those lines. “I understand it happens sometimes. I know you feel unhappy about it and did not do it on purpose. Going forward, was this a one-off accident or did something change in your daily schedule that will make this happen again?”
      Just because it’s good to open a dialog. Especially if it is a first timer.
      “My kids flushed my car keys.” or “they closed the main street in my town because a water main broke”
      are different from:
      “I moved the kids to a daycare farther away” or “they are doing long term construction on the main road in my town.”

      1. Allison*

        I like “it happens,” I might expand on that to say “it happens, but please make more of an effort to be on time going forward.” If it keeps happening, I might have a conversation to address the lateness, get to the root of why they’re always late, and make it clear that it is important to be on time and I do expect them to make more of an effort.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Please don’t say this the first time/on very, very rare occasions. Someone who is virtually never late already makes an effort to be on time. They’re going to be (justifiably, I think) PO’ed if they lose all credit for that because they got stuck in traffic twice a year. I got a verbal reprimand once from my boss because I had to pull over in blinding rain and was 15 minutes late, and all I could think of was what a raging b*tch she was for apparently expecting me to perform the impossible. It was the only time I was late in 11 months at that job, and I narrowly missed being written up for it? #ftg

          1. Not your typical admin*

            This! Most people who are late once in a blue moon are late because of a sucky situation out of their control. Flat tires, traffic, kid spilling their breakfast on you, ect. There’s no need to make a bad day worse. I love the “everything okay?” response. It gently acknowledges the issue without reprimanding the person.

            1. Office Lobster DJ*

              I also thought a genuine “Everything OK?” was pretty genius for a first or rare incident. Plus, the person’s answer will tell you a lot about where to go from there, if anywhere.

              As for acknowledging the apology itself, I’d probably just say “Thanks.”

              1. AcademiaNut*

                Yes, I see these as two different situations – person who is normally on time is late due to unusual circumstances, which warrants an “everything okay?” or something like that, and someone who is regularly late, where the apology isn’t enough.

            2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              My current boss uses “we’re all human” for first/infrequent tardiness. But if it becomes a problem then she has a sit down with you – with the goal being what is causing this issue and what do you need to change to fix the problem. But that sit down doesn’t happen till it’s Blatantly a Problem.

          2. ecnaseener*

            Agreed, “make more of an effort” is really pretty rude when the person has been perfect up until this point.

          3. Chriama*

            I think it also depends on how long this person has been working there and what their track record is. Someone’s late in their first week? I’d probably ask what happened and remind them of the importance of being on time going forward. They’ve been around for 3 months? I’ll probably let it go with an “it happens”.

    2. Wintermute*

      yup! I’m a huge fan of the three-part feedback model for disciplinary-type or serious error-related conversations:

      you say what happened, in neutral terms. “you didn’t communicate that certain bot automation processes were not to be started to the next shift.”

      You say why it mattered. “Because of this, they started them as is normal process. This caused the bots to try to do their work but because they were broken they were writing nonsense into customer accounts.”

      You state the impact. “The quality assurance team is having to go through and correct 150 customer accounts by hand.”

      You ask for what happened, “can you tell me why you didn’t let first shift know about the broken bots?” AND YOU LISTEN. There may be a good reason for it, maybe they weren’t DOING the turnover that day, maybe they had an email saying they’d been fixed and all was well. Maybe there’s a training gap like no one ever told them bot errors go into the turnover.

      You close by detailing any disciplinary steps and stating clear expectations, “I am not going to write this up with HR because it’s the first time this has happened, however, I need you to make sure that any and all ongoing errors go in the shift log, do you see any obstacles to that?”

      simple, concise, it doesn’t sugarcoat but it does give you room to listen and evaluate the situation.

      1. Daisy Gamgee*

        Is this really necessary when someone who hasn’t been late for six months is ten minutes late one morning?

  8. Dust Bunny*

    If it’s a normally-reliable employee’s first (or exceedingly rare) tardy, don’t get hung up on driving home to them that it’s not OK. If they’re always on time otherwise they already know it’s not OK. Everybody gets stuck behind a four-car pileup once in awhile and they probably are already a bit frazzled. Having my boss double-down on it not being OK would really tee me off–I’m never, ever late unless there is something completely unexpected and unavoidable, so don’t breathe down my neck about it.

  9. Hiring Mgr*

    Is it really not “ok” if someone who’s never been late comes in 15 minutes late once? That aside, i liked Alison’s idea of “Everything Ok?” which conveys the right tone without getting into the apology language

    1. Loulou*

      It might be “okay” like they won’t be penalized or drop in OP’s estimation for being late one time, but not “okay” in the sense that lateness, even a one time lateness, causes logistical problems for others and can’t happen frequently.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        On the other hand, I can easily be an hour late without causing logistical problems for anyone but myself. Timeliness is next to irrelevant as long as my work gets done. That has been the case in almost all of my positions, and only in a couple of them have I ever not been chastised for my “lateness causing problems.”

        This was particularly hilarious when I was working in a data entry center in my 20s, and was one of two people out of over 30 who could and did produce the target Daily Work Objective volume in about four hours, but sure, tell me I’m causing problems by not being early. After I had been promoted out of that position they had a brief stint of trying to increase people’s work volume with a bonus incentive – the other fast producer literally doubled her pay during that period. I asked if I could switch back so I could rake in the bonus cash, but was told no. :)

    2. Artemesia*

      the problem with ‘it’s fine’ being said once is that things that are difficult once soon become routine. Watch Woody Allen’s film. Crimes and Misdemeanors to see this in its full glory.

    3. KAZ2Y5*

      This letter is in the context of shift work. And as a night shift worker, no it is not ok. I have one person who replaces me and I can’t leave until they get here. I understand that things happen but I still don’t like it and want to go home as soon as possibly. Also, I’m not sure exactly when this letter was written but people who are going to be late should be calling in and letting work know as soon as they know they will be late and are able to safely call. It’s one thing to wait 15 to leave when you know you will have to wait 15 minutes and totally another thing when you have no idea how long you have to wait but just know that you can’t leave until the other person gets here.

  10. AcadLibrarian*

    For the lateness, there are so many factors. Where I live, traffic is a nightmare. One day it might take you 45 minutes to get to work, the next 90 minutes. And honestly people just can’t plan that much of a buffer into their commute. Added to that, we are in a hands-free state, so unless you have a newer car with hands-free technology, you might not be able to call. Consistent lateness ought to be your concern. Every once in a while? I don’t think there’s anything to do despite the need for shift coverage.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Reminded of Alison’s statement about “things that happen when you work with humans,” because yes, with the best will and most organized schedule in the world, something is going to happen to a person and they will be late.

    2. Alexis Rosay*

      This varies greatly based on the job, though. For a lot of jobs it’s probably not fair to expect people to build in a 45 minute buffer, but when I was a teacher, yeah, that absolutely would have been an expectation. There will be 30 kids there at 8:15am who legally need to be supervised by an adult at all times, and there are not exactly extra adults in the building who aren’t incredibly busy with their own jobs and their own kids to supervise. I usually arrived around 45 minutes early for this reason (it’s not like I ever ran out of work to do). There are plenty of jobs where being on time is so important that folks need to factor in things like variable traffic.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        For a teacher, the buffer doesn’t mean they are sitting there doing nothing – so you plan to show up earlier than needed for supervision, and spend the time in marking, lesson prep, etc. On those rare days where the 45 minute commute turns into a two and a half hour one due to an accident on the freeway plus construction, the coworkers scramble and make do, because showing up for work two hours early every day isn’t reasonable, even in critical coverage based jobs.

        Where it tends to really suck is for hourly work (particularly of the low paid variety), where you’re expected to start the coverage critical work the moment your shift is scheduled, but also expected to regularly show up 45 minutes early and hang around unpaid (in a cramped break room if you’re lucky) so that you’re never late. That, to some extent, can be covered by appropriate staffing – not having only one person scheduled for a critical shift, and having some overlap between shifts. This is particularly true for cities that have unreliable public transit.

      2. Artemesia*

        When I was a teacher I was required to be in the building half an hour before the start of class at 8 — precisely to avoid this sort of mini disaster of a classroom uncovered because of a traffic jam.

        1. Rara Avis*

          Maybe it’s because I live in one of the top-5 worst traffic cities in the country (US), but at my school we have systems for first period coverage due to traffic calamities. Because you can’t come in 3/4 hours earlier to account for the road-closing disasters that happen with frightening frequency. The big rig that crashes and dumps a load of scrap metal across all lanes of the only highway between a suburb and the city. The fatal bus crash that drew 12-15 emergency vehicles — no one in the 5-mile stretch between exits got out of there for hours. The times when I was commuting by train when the train hit someone and we had to sit on the train for hours. The time (pre-cell phone) when the school van meeting the train broke down, and we never got picked up.

  11. Dust Bunny*

    Documentation should be clear, so excessive (and nonstandard!) jargon is a pretty big no-no. My area of employment has its jargon but if I started writing stuff with a lot of obscure or nonstandard terms my bosses would rein me in pretty fast. Is there someone who has the standing to address all this with her?

  12. Triplestep*

    I would also recommend looking at what messages you’ve given to your staff – either overt or implied – over how big a deal their start time is. Obviously this doesn’t apply to the letter since these employees need to cover a shift, but if it barely matters what time the person comes in, they might be surprised that you’re keeping track.

    I had a job that I was told started at 8:30 in the interview. I asked if I could stop at 8:40 because I had a child to drop off at the school bus, and I was told it was no problem. Come to find out that the office culture meant that people typically got on at around 7:30. This was an architecture firm where everyone but the owner worked crammed in together in one studio. Even though the business owner had OK’d my start time, he would do things like come up behind me at about 8:45 and say “Oh you ARE here. We didn’t know if you were coming in today.”

    1. Rolly*

      Clarity is always a good thing, but this is about shift coverage. Not office culture in a place like you worked. I highly doubt it’s anything like what you experienced.

  13. nope*

    OP2, for many, the commute to and from work is the only alone time they have all day. I would consider this a major imposition and not a “small favor.” This increases a person’s time at work, whether you realize it or not. They have to be “on” for you, their boss, while driving. Please find another way to commute.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This. My commute is my downtime. It’s the 45-60 minutes I have to myself each day to transition from boss mode to parent mode and get a few blissful minutes of quiet, bad music, or my favorite podcast. I like my boss a great deal but would not want to share my commute with them, particularly every day.

  14. awesome3*

    I really like the suggestion of “everything OK?” Will need to save that one in my back pocket in case it’s ever needed

  15. tessa*

    “Thanks for letting me know.”

    Then ,if it becomes habit, start a conversation. My own boss doesn’t care if we are 10 or 15 minutes late consistently, because the nature of our work allows for that. Also, life happens. But as Alison has pointed out before, if start time becomes an issue, it’s time to talk.

  16. tessa*

    I want to pull out my eyeballs when powerpoints and docs are read word-for-word.

    Pull. Out. My. Cheap. Ass. Eyeballs.

    Right Out.

    Please stop!

    1. Birdie*

      Not only does this happen in my office, but they put whole paragraphs on every slide! Drives me mad. I’ve seen lots of bad powerpoint usage over the years, but this office is absolutely hands down the worst–and they seem perfectly content to be that way! If you point out maybe you don’t need a Wall Of Text, the response is usually “but that’s how we always do it.”

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I’m a teacher, and sometimes we get a Google Slide to present to our homeroom classes. Those slides are terrible! Too many words, distracting graphics, weird colors & fonts. I end up paraphrasing and shortening the message on the fly.

    2. ArtK*

      I recall an instance back in the days of transparencies and overhead projectors. There was some policy change that had to be communicated to all employees. IIRC we got an e-mail about it but were also required to attend a meeting. The manager running that meeting had made a transparency of the text of the e-mail and read it to us. There really wasn’t any Q&A because the change was clear and uncontroversial.

      That company had promoted a bunch of relatively inexperienced people into management roles and didn’t provide any training. That same manager lost a very good employee by being a bean-counter and not taking into account the difficulty of various tasks. If you did fewer tasks than the others on the team, you got marked down.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Arrrgggh! I loathe that!

        At my current job we had a meeting about the federal vax mandate. We already had had emails about it and how to document our compliance, but we had a one hour meeting with all the background and going over how to fill out the form in great detail. When it was over I said to myself “This should have stayed just an email.” There was no new information that hadn’t already been covered.

        I understand that there are people who don’t/won’t/can’t read emails with good comprehension, but they should have made the meeting optional, so that those with questions could ask them, and the rest of us just would fill out our forms and be done.

        Then again, I am generally down on meetings that could have been an email.

        1. inkheart*

          I hope this was not an in-person meeting, about vax mandates, because wow, how tone-deaf can you get!

          1. Curmudgeon in California*


            No, it was over Zoom. The company is about 90% remote.

            It was an hour long Zoom meeting, everyone at the company, which literally went over a presentation that had already been emailed to everyone.

    3. Wintermute*

      There’s a comedian that does “workplace comedy” who has a whole schtick entitled “life after death by powerpoint” and he has a brilliant bit about that:

      -Comes from
      -The fact

      1. tessa*

        Oooo, I remember this from a few years ago. Hilarious! Thanks for the reminder, Wintermute!

    4. Delta Delta*

      I had a class on GIS mapping in college. The lecture was at 8:30 a.m. and the lab was later in the day. The professor had some emergency at the last second, and couldn’t teach in my semester so a well-meaning TA stepped in. But had never taught before. And read powerpoint slides word for word. At 8:30 in the morning. In the winter. In the north. About maps.

      Friends, I have been to hell and back and it was that.

      (The lab was very interesting and I learned a lot because I was doing stuff, so this was not at all a waste)

    5. urban teacher*

      You’ve met every staff development trainer. And sometimes they ask/tell people to read the powerpoint to everyone else.

    6. OP #3*

      OP #3 here. It was actually a project scope document. Much worse IMO. Jane (actually John)’s PPTs were a sight to behold though. He was more of a “save your questions until the end because I have several hundred animated arrows on each slide and I want to go through it without any distractions” type. Lordy.

  17. T.*

    I used to tell my (preschool/elementary) students you don’t have to accept the apology but you need to acknowledge it “thank you for your apology”. It’s not ok to hit one of your peers so “it’s ok” is the wrong response to the apology. I think the same goes for any apology where what was done needs to be recognized but it’s time to move on.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s great for children. Some things sound really condescending when said to adults. I think Alison’s response is much more appropriate.

    1. Claire W*

      To be frank, if I had worked somewhere for numerous years and was briefly late for the first time EVER, and the response included “please be mindful in the future of arriving on time” I’d actually be quite offended. That’s fine maybe for a new employee or someone who didn’t realise it mattered, but for a long-term employee’s first lateness (which OP specifies this was) it’s quite insulting to act like you need to tell them to pay attention to the time, as if they haven’t been doing that every single shift, and as if completely unpredictable and uncontrollable things can’t make someone late one single time. it makes it seems like the lateness was directly related to them not being ‘mindful’ rather than something outside of their control.

      1. ThanosX2*

        Yeah, that may be what would push me to dust off the old resume with a vengeance. Not everything needs to be a Oh So Witty Rejoinder all the time.

    2. AnonInCanada*

      I’m very cognizant of being on time to anything I need to be on time for. If I’m ever late for anything, it’s because it’s truly something beyond my control. Think “a sinkhole opened up 100 metres in front of me on the freeway and swallowed every car in every lane” out of my control. If I were given those words, I would be very mindful of finding another job, because I would not want to work for you. Ever!

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. I’m firmly in the “if I’m a few minutes early I’m on time, and if I’m exactly on time I’m late” camp. In my current job I have enough flexibility that being late is practically never an issue. Pretty much the only exceptions I can think of are in-person meetings/development days at the office that start at 8 or 8.30. I use public transit and if the train is late or has been canceled, there’s not much I can do about it. (Hasn’t been an issue for as long as we’ve been WFH.)

        If I’m actually late for something where it matters, I’m already in an anxiety spiral, because I really hate being late, and a “please be mindful of being on time in future” would only make me feel worse. But yeah, when I worked in customer service, and coverage was necessary, I was always early so I could clock in on time.

        I try not to hold others to the same standard, but I admit that I don’t have much time or respect for people who are always (more than about 5 minutes) late, regardless of the reason.

  18. Mannheim Steamroller*


    “Fergus, since you regularly arrive around 9:15, should we put in a request to Timekeeping to officially change your hours to 9:15-5:15?”

  19. Aarti*

    I am annoyed by the manager who is making her employees drive her back and forth from work every day by proxy! I don’t even like to ask my staff to take me to the dealer to pick up my car, luckily I have two excellent repair shops within walking distance. And my staff feels pretty comfortable saying no to me, but I also don’t put them into positions like this. Drive yourself or find another manager to carpool with. Also someone else mentioned this, are you giving them any gas money or anything?

    1. Television*

      I’m amused every time I read a letter asserting “…but it doesn’t affect my objectivity at all; I’m perfectly professional…” whether it’s sleeping with a subordinate, asking people for money, sending people on personal errands or asking for favors that technically become job duties.

      Everything done as a manager affects objectivity, that’s why there is a clear line of demarcation because what’s “convenient“ to a boss versus a subordinate is only so because of hierarchical privilege. The OP doesn’t seem to get that and reads like a huge jackass. I would start taking the bus if that were my boss, even during Covid.

  20. Zan Shin*

    Re long meetings and reading the printout aloud…. I would probably email Jane “is it possible to email us the document in advance so we can arrive prepared to discuss it? Thank you.”

    1. OP #3*

      OP #3 here. It was a few years ago, but I actually tried that. And Jane (really “John”, it was a man) did send the doc, but still started reading the damn thing word for word. We were like WTF. A few people politely objected, but John informed us that people often don’t actually do the reading in advance and proceeded pick up reading to us like we were a bunch of kids. It was clearly a power play, and I wrote the letter to AAM literally as soon as I got back to my desk afterwards!

  21. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    In pulling info and putting together a case to present to my boss a request to work from home 1 day a week instead of being in the office full-time (yes, I know. This and other reasons have me job searching) I found that working from home ONE day a WEEK would save me roughly $30 a month in gas. and I don’t live that far from work!
    I cannot IMAGINE being asked to go so out of my way for my boss on a regular basis just for their convenience. I know the original letter was published years ago, but even then gas prices weren’t cheap!

  22. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

    I do appreciate prayers, but the wording of “thinking about you” makes me feel more comforted than “praying for you” or “prayers”, or “”. Prayers is so overused that I don’t really think people are thinking about me at all when they say that.

    1. Jacey*

      This is my feeling, too, but for a slightly different reason! I was raised non-religious and don’t have a clear picture in my head of what praying for someone is like. But I definitely know what it’s like to have someone in my thoughts! So it just feels warmer and more comforting to me to hear that.

  23. PotsPansTeapots*

    #1- Most of my in-office jobs have involved some phone coverage element; especially during a busy time, I noticed and was cranky if a co-worker showed up even a few minutes late as is meant more calls in my queue. I think saying, “Glad you’re here, it’s been crazy on the phones/registers/whatever,” lets an employee know they have a role where being late has consequences for their co-workers without being unkind if it’s a once in a blue moon thing for them.

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      #4- I’m a religious person, so I do get the urge to say I’m offering prayers. I am praying for you and that’s meaningful to me! That said, I still think saying, “You’re in my thoughts,” is better.

      If I feel the urge to say “prayers” in an inappropriate situation, I remind myself that my religious values include appreciating the diversity the world offers and showing people kindness, especially in difficult situations.

    2. Squidhead*

      I do this when an oncoming nurse is late. “Glad you made it safely! You’re taking patients X, Y, and Z” in a brisk “the shift is already underway, so hurry up and get caught up” tone.

  24. Alex Rider*

    RE: Employees driving mananger to/ from work. You are overstepping. Your employees most likely feel like they cannot tell you no. Are you offering gas? I use my commute to decompress and I would not want to spend it making small talk. Find another way to work.

  25. Not_Me*

    OP2, you are abusing your power by having your employees drive you to and from work. You are their boss and they may feel scared/nervous to say no. They may be late to pick up their kids or partner. They may be late for their 2nd job or miss their doctor appointment because they feel too scared to say no. Personally, I would tell you no, boss or not, but others may not feel so comfortable standing up to their boss like that.

    Do you offer them gas money? Or do you just hop in the car with your subordinates? If they said no, would you truly be ok with that? You said them driving you around doesn’t impair your objectivity. Well what about if they said they can’t do it, would that impair it? What do the employees who take extra time to drive you around get for doing you favors?

    I’m assuming you are an adult and should be able to manage your own transportation to and from work without burdening those who report to you. It just annoys me so much when managers do things like this and act like it’s no big deal when they know that it is. Drive yourself to work or take public transportation.

  26. MisterForkbeard*

    I’ve had some success with the “I’m sorry” by saying “I appreciate that, but I need you to learn from this. Do better and it’s forgotten.”

    It’s simple and it works reasonably. And it has worked some wonders on younger folks who play video games, due to this meme: https://youtu.be/Mwf3EPnusVQ?t=19

    1. Dust Bunny*

      If the person is only late very rarely, they know how to do better. Do none of you people ever get stuck behind massive accidents? Even if you leave plenty of time to get somewhere you can get hung up by things over which you have absolutely no control.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Seriously. Rarely am I grateful for the DC commute, but at least people here understand how wildly unpredictable any sort of commuting transportation is in this area. Even the best laid, most leave-in-advance plans are foiled at least once every other week by an overturned mango truck on the Beltway or the subway catching fire. I’m pretty sure there is a full genre of poetry, especially haiku, devoted to the random breakdowns of the DC Metro.

        I also don’t take management advice from video game characters.

    2. Ozzie*

      I’ve never had a work day ruined faster than when my boss says this to me. If someone is already running late, or made an error, that is not a habit/pattern, you’re condescending to them while they’re already probably dealing with whatever caused them to be late/the stress of being late (or having made an error). They’re not going to learn anything, because there likely isn’t something to be “learned”. Except that their manager lacks compassion and understanding, perhaps.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        Learning that *is* important – it lets the employee know that they are not appreciated and should be job-hunting. It’s probably not what Forkbeard hopes to be teaching though.

        1. Ozzie*

          VERY true. It definitely does present as a big ol’ red flag, especially if an employee is already uncertain they wish to stay.

    3. LilPinkSock*

      Yikes. Please don’t. If it’s a one-time thing, the employee probably already knows how to do better.

    4. allathian*

      It might work for a new employee, especially a young person in an entry-level job. Especially if they’ve been to a school where students aren’t marked as late unless they’re more than 15 minutes late to cut down on the admin. It’s incredibly condescending to an employee who has a great track record and who’s rarely late, and when they are late, it’s due to circumstances totally beyond their control.

    5. ceiswyn*

      If I have been held up in a traffic jam caused by a crash that required the air ambulance to be called, and I come in to you telling me to learn and do better because OF COURSE I can just grow wings and fly, you will be in receipt of my resignation just as soon as I can find a new job.

  27. urguncle*

    Op 2: You mentioned that this saves you time and energy, but is it saving any time or energy for your employees? It doesn’t sound like you’re offering to drive or share responsibilities. You seem to have moved knowing that it would affect your commute, most likely because it was advantageous for another reason and letting your employees pick up the slack. I feel very uncomfortable for the people who are giving you rides.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Right, what’s the upside for the employees?! I can see taking them up on their kindness for a few days (tops a week or two), while you sort out how to commute from the new home and buy a car or whatever. But it can’t be an ongoing solution.

      1. inkheart*

        Right. Your (LW’s) employees figured out how to manage the commute, and so can you. By not managing your own commute, you are totally taking advantage of them.

  28. Ozzie*

    If the employee doesn’t have a habit of being late, they probably already know an apology doesn’t fix it. But they also can’t really do anything else – they can’t make themselves not late, so there isn’t really anything better for them to say, either.

    Also, it’s always very, very annoying to be nit-picked on something that isn’t a pattern, when you already know it’s not really ok. Especially if it was caused by something well outside your control. (Like a bus/train not showing up! They they may have had to walk further, catch a different bus/train to be 15 minutes late, to then have a manager tell them they’re wrong for being late, as if they don’t care, despite always being on time… auuugh I’m getting flustered just reliving this)

    Alison’s advice is spot on. It’s fine to acknowledge it, but do it in a way that expresses that you at least understand that something may have happened to cause it, not that they’re simply being lackadaisical.

  29. Khatul Madame*

    “Glad you made it!”
    Perhaps more weighty and not as appropriate to one-time lateness: “Apology accepted”.

  30. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    all the British commenters limber up for a discussion of “sorry”

    Apologising and accepting the apology aren’t necessarily literal. You can also choose to respond in accordance with the usual script. “Sorry I’m late” is the noise we make when we arrive after we were expected – it doesn’t always mean “I am contrite” or even “I arrived later than I intended”.

    You could try:

    “Hi” (or good morning, or whatever) to acknowledge their arrival

    “Thanks” to acknowledge the apology

    I like Alison’s “everything OK?” because it recognises that Stuff Happens and may even uncover a problem that can be solved (“my entry pass doesn’t scan any more so I keep getting held up by security”).

      1. Bluenoser*

        Sorry I’m late! My Timmies-loving Canadian heart isn’t sure what else you would say if you’re tardy. Whether the late comer is sincerely regretful varies widely, but “I’m sorry” is always what you say.

  31. OP #3*

    I’m the letter writer for #3 and I have an update as it was several years ago. So “Jane” was actually “John”, but I swapped the genders because I had a lot of colleagues who read here and was sure they would recognize him. There was definately a bit of old-fashioned sexism on his part as well (he reported to a female boss who he referred to as “the bossette”, and often referred to female colleagues as “members of the fairer sex”. There were several stong female leaders on the team, and I think he really didn’t know how to handle that. He was nice enough, just stuck in the past, clueless, and thought his way was best. This made it a lot harder to get him to change his meeting and jargon habits. Deep down, I think keeping us in meetings having to listen to long-winded, jargon-heavy explanations was his way of asserting some dominance. Long story short, he promoted his junior and management didn’t really know what to do with him because once the new system and processes were in place, he was very lost. He was put on a cross-functional project for a while, and then was let go. He did get a new job elsewhere and is still there, so hopefully it worked out for the best.

    1. Huh*

      Referring to women in the work place as “bossette” and “members of the fairer sex” is not a “bit” of sexism. It’s full on sexism, and I suspect there was some harassment along with it. We really need to stop making excuses for these men.

      1. OP #3*

        OP#3 here. I would say it was benovalent sexism (much as I loathe the term) with a huge dose of unconscious bias. Nothing that would be harassment (because all of the women compared notes) but more annoying and condescending. I think the fact that he was an older man in an office where there were some strong women who were younger than him, coupled with the fact that the job he had with us was “a step down” (his words) from what he was previously hurt his ego. So he was treating us like children to make himself feel better maybe. Strangely, he wasn’t even that old! Mid 50s. But he acted much older and definately thought of himself as generations removed from most of the team, which was not the case as many of us were around 40. I remember venting to a colleague once and they said “Yeah, but he’s from a different time”, to which I replied “He’s only six years older than my boyfriend FFS. “

        1. Huh*

          There’s no such thing as benevolent sexism, and unconcious bias does a lot of damage. Again, stop making excuses for these men.

          If he was treating the women differently than the men (which he was) and it was impacting their jobs (which is likely since it impacted yours to the point you wrote in about it), he was harassing them. Just because it’s not egregious doesn’t make it ok or “benevolent” (seriously, wtf is that about?!?).

    2. Nanani*

      Yikes, well I’m glad he’s gone.
      This makes the “let’s read it together” meetings sound extra condescending like he doesn’t trust the rest of you to understand the document :/

    3. hamsterpants*

      I’m glad he was let go. Sometimes people like John are able to pull the jargon wool over everyone’s eyes, or at least those of management, for way too long.

      1. Windchime*

        I used to have a boss whose name actually was John, and he was a bullshitter extraordinaire. He spoke fluent Acronym with a big side helping of jargon. He could talk for 10 minutes and people would leave the conversation wondering what the heck he actually *said*. I never could tell if he was actually super smart or if he just knew a lot of words.

  32. hamsterpants*

    #5. I am an atheist and once had a colleague, upon hearing about something difficult happening in my life, ask if it would be ok if she prayed for me. Her tone was of genuinely asking. I thought it was very sweet and said yes, though her manner was such that I would have felt comfortable saying no as well.

  33. Cafe Lighting*

    I used to work in a very busy restaurant where being on time was very important. One day I ended up being about 20 minutes late because I read my schedule wrong and didn’t realize it until it was too late to get there on time. I apologize to my manager and his response was something a long line of “No problem. I don’t worry about it unless it becomes a regular thing.”. When you say it’s okay you are basically saying that you are excusing the behavior not that it’s okay to be late. Excessive tardiness is very different from a normally punctual employee who is late a couple of times a year.

  34. Hogwash*

    There’s a huge conversation around religious trauma and deconstruction right now. I think there’s more awareness of how many people have been deeply harmed by religion, and it’s an important thing to note when we’re talking about a phrase like “I’ll pray for you.” It seems harmless, but in my case it has the potential to send me back to a very dark place. I think it’s best to say something more nuetral if the intent is really to comfort.

    Also, there are many religions but in my experience here in the US, “I’ll pray for you” tends to be an evangelical Christian thing. I like to keep Matthew 6:5 in my pocket for folks who can’t take a hint.


      I’ll be thinking of this comment tomorrow–we will be reading that verse in our services. A good reminder that our performance of religiosity can be both inauthentic and deeply harmful. Thanks.

  35. LilPinkSock*

    #1: I find the phrase “Thank you” to be an effective answer to an apology for something that’s not a crisis but isn’t really ok. If more discussion needs to be had, then I’m not dismissing an issue.

    #2: I’m sure you’re saving wear on your vehicle, stress, and cash from having your employees serve as your chauffeurs. It’d be one thing if this were a real rotating carpool, but it seems like you’re just taking advantage of people who may not feel comfortable saying no. Please stop.

    #3: I’m a Christian and a praying person, but unless I know for sure that a colleague would welcome prayers, I keep it to myself. “I’m so sorry, you’re in my thoughts and I’m ready to support you however you need” is a better all-purpose approach.

  36. Matt*

    Here’s the thing about “I’m sorry” in this context (Where they’re late and it’s in a situation where it matters) when dealing with someone who has a habit of not being on time and has not improved, despite stating they can and will –

    They’re sorry they have to have a conversation about it, and they’re sorry they have to pretend that they’re listening and care.

    They are not sorry about how their behavior impacts their coworkers. They are not sorry how it impacts customers, nor how it impacts the business.

    And if you give them an inch, they will take a mile, and other employees will resent them, and you for allowing it.

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      I read the prayer one and thought I was going to be reading about prayers being offered TO a colleague. The letter and response were still very good though.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, but that doesn’t apply here. They’re late and it’s in a situation where it matters, sure, but they’re not habitually late.

  37. Koala dreams*

    “It’s okay” or “Thanks” means “I appreciate the apology”, not “It’s okay to be late “. “No need to apologize” could mean “It’s okay to be late”, although often it doesn’t. Most people understand the difference, but if you worry people wouldn’t, you can make it clearer by adding something: It’s okay, just don’t make a habit of being late. / Thanks, everyone makes mistakes sometimes.

  38. TootsNYC*

    You do not have to accept every apology you are given–not even in a social situation!

    If it’s not a frequent occurence with them, say, “We missed you; X needed to happen.” you can add “Glad you’re here” or something. or “Now that you’re here, would you tackle Y? it’s behind schedule.”

    You can use a pleasant tone, but you don’t have to accept the apology. Probably you should acknowledge it, but I think responding to them is enough.

    If it’s frequent:
    “Don’t be sorry. Be on time.”

    That seems harsh, but you can deliver it without meanness.

  39. RPOhno*

    I’ve grappled with that one both at work and at home, and I settled on mostly replacing “It’s ok” with “Thank you” or some variation thereof. Because if there’s something to genuinely apologize for, then the person apologizing’s actions negatively impacted someone else. It’s not ok, but awareness and accountability are always appreciated.

  40. Evvie*

    I’m so glad “everything okay?” was the suggestion. It shows you know this isn’t normal and you actually care. I was ready to be torn apart when my alarm didn’t go off one day (as a teacher!) but my boss said “hey, you’re super reliable, and it happens to everyone on occasion. Just be sure to plug your phone in every night.” She had gotten someone to cover and was genuinely scared I had been in a car accident or something.

    I had a totally different response from another boss when I walked into an optional 830, informal, all hands meeting at 832 after handling an emergency medical issue…first damn thing she ever said to me was about how I would need to be more responsible. Cool cool, I’ll plan my medical events better. (I had actually gotten there BEFORE her. She SAW me.)

  41. PinkCandyfloss*

    When someone says they’re sorry they’re late to a meeting or anything, I usually just ignore the apology and ask, “Is everything OK?” and then after listening to their answer we move on to normal conversation. If it was a habit I would pull them aside for a sit down to figure out how to address and find a solution. But for rare occasions I just express polite concern and then move on.

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