CEO says he’s being bullied, getting a job offer at an inconvenient time, and more

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

1. CEO says he’s being bullied by the staff

The CEO of my company has a history of being terrible at his job. He fell into the role and thinks his title alone makes him qualified when in reality a big part of everyone’s job is making sure he isn’t involved in things or fixing the issues caused by him being involved.

Recently we did a culture survey that universally criticized the CEO to the point where the third party HR company felt ethically bound to give him a heads up on the results. His response was to fire the third party company and to come out and tell his employees that he feels he was being bullied by the staff!

Have you ever heard of this happening, or is this guy unique? Sub-question, what would you recommend if you were an employee or the CEO?

It is definitely not typical for a CEO to claim he’s being bullied, considering that he has vastly more power than most/all other employees in the company. And bullying isn’t “someone is saying negative things about me after being invited to provide feedback.” (I mean, assuming the feedback provided was reasonably work-related and not about, say, his hair or his body or so forth. But even then, the power dynamics mean it wouldn’t be bullying; it would be an intense culture problem that he’d have to solve with his high levels of power to do so.)

It sounds like he needs significant management training and coaching, or to deputize someone else to do the day-to-day management while he steps back into a role focused on whatever he’s actually good at. His employees … well, presumably their best bet is to see him for exactly who he is, be realistic about what means for their jobs, and decide it they’re up for staying under those conditions.

2. My mom says I should tell my new manager about my previous work problems

My mom has been giving me advice my entire life — some of it is good. Usually I feel like the advice she gives is based on her experience (she is a very emotional person) so I tweak it a bit to make it work for me.

Her most recent advice was based on work. I work for a very large firm and I’m still a bit new (6 months in). I’m in a totally new industry so I’m having trouble keeping up with the concepts and work since I don’t have any training in this field and I’m still adjusting to corporate culture. The last project I was on I was rolled off. It was a more difficult client and truthfully I made a lot of mistakes because I lacked experience. Because of the situation, I got some bad feedback on my quarterly review. I’m worried that if it happens again on my current project, they’ll put me on an improvement plan which is basically a 60-day notice to leave the company. So I’m currently doing the best job I can. I’m learning skills on my own time and being proactive in the work that I do.

My mom’s advice is to let my current project manager know about all the things that happened in the past and bluntly ask them to guide me (probably because my manager and I come from a similar cultural background). I don’t think this is a good idea and instead I asked if we could have weekly feedback sessions to make sure I’m aware of any performance issues and so I can correct any behavior (this didn’t happen on my last project, but it is common practice in our firm).

She’s very upset that I wasn’t up-front with my project manager about the situation and said that I was setting myself up for failure by not letting him know because what if he finds out from someone else. I think it would be too personal and too emotional, but what do you think? Am I in the wrong?

I’m with you; I wouldn’t take that advice. It’s not that it’s too personal and emotional, exactly; it’s just that it’s too much. You already did the important part: you asked for regular feedback so you can make sure you’re aware of any issues. That’s exactly the piece to ask for! If you give him the context about what happened previously, there’s a risk of undermining yourself; he could start seeing you through that lens and be looking for problems where they don’t exist. (That’s not a guarantee, of course. But there’s no reason to risk it.) Also, your mom’s concern about what if he finds out from someone else isn’t really an issue. In fact, he might already know; it’s not uncommon for managers to share that kind of info. But if he finds out later, it won’t be a problem that you didn’t tell him. People don’t normally make a declaration of previous work problems to new project managers.

Stick to what you actually need from him, which is ongoing and candid feedback. That’s something anyone should want, and he doesn’t need the background to know why you in particular are asking for it.

3. Getting a job offer call at an inconvenient time

After a multi-month intense interview process for a role I really wanted, I recently got a phone call from a hiring manager (with other members of the team also on the call) offering me the position! The problem was that when the call came, I was in the middle of a very noisy airport and about to get on a very long flight. The flight was going to be overnight, and I would be unreachable until the next day (and very groggy/jet-lagged even then). I ran around looking for a quiet place to talk but there really wasn’t one close enough to my gate.

The noise around me was clearly audible throughout the call. I kept needing to ask the hiring manager to repeat himself because I was having trouble hearing him, and this was clearly annoying to him. At one point he stopped to ask, “Is this a good time for you to talk? Should we call back later?” I apologized profusely for the noise and explained that I was about to get on a plane and would be unavailable the rest of the day/night and this really was the best time to talk. We did finish the call, but the hiring manager was clearly annoyed throughout.

Now I am wondering if I handled this correctly. Once I picked up the call and realized it was the hiring manager, should I have just told him to call me back the next day? Or said I couldn’t talk on the phone but to please email me the offer and details? The last thing I want is to start a potential job off on the wrong foot, so any advice for future situations like this would be appreciated.

Once the issues became clear, it probably would have made sense to say, “I’m so sorry, I’m in an airport so there’s a lot of noise. Once I get on the plane, I’ll be unreachable until tomorrow. Would you rather schedule a call for tomorrow instead or even just email me the details of the offer?”

But he had agency here too. If he was so annoyed, there’s no reason he couldn’t have said, “We’re having a lot of trouble hearing you. What’s a good time for us to call you back?”

4. Our coworker keeps interrupting us when she comes in to print

I know this is such a minor issue, but it frustrates me and my colleague to no end. I share an office with my colleague, Cecil. I have a very public-facing role that Cecil will occasionally step in for if I’m ever unavailable. People come to our office with some regularity to retrieve things from me or use our printer. When someone knocks on our door, Cecil and I take it as an indication that someone needs our attention, so our focus is taken off of whatever we’re working on. Typically, when someone needs the printer they don’t knock and don’t even always acknowledge us since they don’t necessarily need our help with anything. This is how it’s been since we both started and it’s worked out really well for us.

Enter our new colleague, Jane. Jane is very social and friendly. She often comes to our office just to print things and knocks every single time. One day when she came by multiple times, I politely told her that she really didn’t need to knock just to use the printer. Cecil jumped in and politely explained how it broke our focus.

It seemed like Jane understood in the moment, but the next day, instead of knocking, she announced herself as she entered and announced that she wasn’t knocking. The first time it happened, I made a joke that she didn’t even have to tell us she wasn’t knocking and she laughed. Then some time after that it became a combination of announcing herself and knocking. Now it’s a combination of knocking, announcing herself, letting us know that she’s just printing, and starting a full conversation.

On the days that she needs to print a lot, this is very distracting and frustrating. It’s easy to lose my place with the things I’m working on and can be difficult to refocus. Sometimes I just really can’t afford to break my focus so I end up ignoring her while Cecil carries the conversation, but I really don’t want to seem rude. I know you usually recommend directly addressing issues with the person, but what do you do when that clearly doesn’t work?

It sounds like so far you’ve only joked with her about it. Instead, try saying in a fairly serious tone, “I hope this doesn’t sound rude, but it’s much easier on us when people come in and get what they need without announcing themselves. Since there are so many people in and out all day, that’s the only way we can stay focused.”

If that doesn’t work, it’s fine to stick with ignoring her. It might help if Cecil does too. If you both commit to it, it’ll probably work — although you’ll probably feel rude if you’re both ignoring her, so you might need to say the first few times, “Sorry, we’ve got to ignore you to focus on what we’re doing.”

Also … can that printer move somewhere else?

5. Letting new trainees know I’m leaving

I am responsible for internal training at my current company; I handle all our initial onboarding and generally act as a point person for new hires. I recently accepted an offer somewhere else and submitted my notice.

We have several new people starting midway through my notice period, so I’ll be responsible for welcoming them onto the team as usual, but I’ll only get to spend about a week with them. I’m probably overthinking this, but I’m wondering about the best way to tell them about my departure. I worry that it will reflect badly on the company—and that it will feel awkward to simultaneously give them a warm welcome and tell them I’m leaving. Any advice for how to address it?

It won’t reflect badly on the company! It’s entirely normal for people to leave jobs periodically. Most of the new people you’re training probably just did it themselves.

Just be matter-of-fact about it and tell them what to do after you’re gone: “This is my last week here before I move on so I won’t be around for questions after Friday, but Jane will be able to help with anything you need after that.”

{ 318 comments… read them below }

  1. Not A Manager*

    Why was the third-party culture survey company “ethically bound to give [the CEO] a heads up on the results”? Were they hired by someone else, like the board of directors? If the CEO hired them himself (after all, he’s the one who decided to fire them), they why wouldn’t they just wait to produce their report or whatever?

    1. Casper Lives*

      I wondered about that too. Is this a small company? Is there a board of directors? I’m curious how he fell into the role without nepotism.

    2. BB8*

      When I started reading OP1, I thought it was my workplace, so I can answer for my company. My company always uses a recruitment firm for the director level. It’s standard for this recruitment firm to do a 3-month, 360-type review with staff and other stakeholders. And this feedback is always shared with the new hire.

      After reading the whole letter, it sounds a bit different from OP1. Our process is explicitly intended to give feedback to the new hire, and for OP1, it sounds more like the survey was supposed to be a general HR thing. Although we do have one thing in common—our new directors both took the feedback very poorly! Ours didn’t use the word “bullying” but I do believe the words “cruel and inhumane” were used. I feel for OP1; it’s hard when the new person at the top is a real dud, especially when your workplace has historically been a really healthy and functional place to work.

      Seriously, between this letter and the one from a few weeks ago about the new CEO trying to change the company culture for the worse, I’m a little worried several of my colleagues are sending letters to Alison!

    3. Susan Calvin*

      I could see it being the kind of setup where OP works for a small, fairly autonomous subsidiary of a larger company, where the larger corporate entity has ordered the review, but otherwise this is indeed odd.

    4. FashionablyEvil*

      I read it as, “these results were so bad that we felt we had to tell you before they were shared them with any sort of larger group.”

      1. Rose*

        Same. I’ve worked for a few large tech companies where a third party does these and then shares the outcome with the entire staff. If that outcome was going to be a lot of complaints about the CEO it does seem kind to give them a heads up.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        That’s my interpretation as well. My manager hired an outside company to evaluate our 30 person department. The company rep gave us all surveys and did an overall assessment after observing some team building exercises. The rep’s conclusion was that the boss was the problem. He told the more sane among us this, because he was pretty sure she would not share the results once she read them.

    5. Myrin*

      I don’t think the letter meant “bound” in any kind of contractual sense but rather that the survey company felt that the first time the CEO heard about the results couldn’t be at a meeting with everyone else present (or however the results were supposed to be shared) because they were so harsh and critical and they wanted to give the CEO a chance to compose himself/calm down first.

      1. hbc*

        It could even be a misunderstanding about how it was originally supposed to be shared. Just because the employees were supposed to hear about it at a big meeting doesn’t mean the CEO/head of HR/other bigwig wouldn’t reasonably expect a heads up on the big takeaways.

        Of course, the next step isn’t usually pouting about the results and cancelling the presentation, but the pre-gaming isn’t the problem.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, I can’t imagine a situation where the CEO wouldn’t have the results of something like this first, before it’s presented to staff generally. Maybe the OP meant more that the external company had flagged it up – so instead of saying ‘Here are the results of the survey’, they’d said ‘Here are the results of the survey. We felt it prudent to mention that there is specific feedback regarding your performance in particular, which you may wish to review in private before sharing the survey more widely’ or something. Just so the CEO didn’t forward it to everyone without having a heads-up that it was pretty critical of their own behaviour.

          Of course the CEO is still terrible and reacted in a ridiculous manner, but I can see why the external company might have flagged it like that.

    6. The OTHER Other*

      I’m wondering why neither I nor anyone I know haven’t just “fallen into” CEO roles, LOL.

      But Alison’s advice is good, though I would probably add “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” given his reaction to professional feedback is to shoot the messenger and indulge a persecution complex. Unless there are some really great perks with this job, I’d look for another one not saddled with this awful CEO. Your job doesn’t have to be this way, and shouldn’t.

    7. DK*

      Not saying it was actually unethical but giving anyone a heads up on something like that seems more unethical to me then if they just followed their normal process

  2. GelieFish*

    #5 – It may not work in your situation, but if you can get away with it put earbuds in. Occasionally I do. There is nothing playing, but people think I’m on a conference call or taking a class.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      I assume this was actually for LW4.

      When having the conversation with Jane that her current approach is really breaking your concentration, you also might want to note explicitly that you understand that it probably feels very rude to her to come barging into your dedicated space and not to acknowledge you (which is how we got to not knocking but speaking instead), but that you want her to understand that just coming in and out for a business reason is not quite the same as entering the space to meet with you.

      You can say that it would help you out a lot if she could think of the printer as being in a separate space, and assume that you all don’t even notice the printer foot traffic coming in and out.

      A lot of people really are raised to make sure that they acknowledge people or speak when they pass them, such that it feels very impolite to encounter your colleagues, people you ostensibly have a good relationship with, and not to speak.

      I agree that Jane really didn’t get the hint when she started … awkwardly announcing that she wasn’t knocking, but you probably need to both be blunter AND acknowledge how she is feeling, which is rooted in wanting to be polite.

      Also, if the printer can’t be moved, can you separate it somehow, so it feels less like people are walking in and out of your office? Can you put it behind a screen or a file cabinet or closer to the door or something, so it feels like there’s a printer area that is separate from your office?

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        When having the conversation with Jane that her current approach is really breaking your concentration, you also might want to note explicitly that you understand that it probably feels very rude to her

        Seconded. This whole question reads to me like Jane feels rude and awkward for interrupting you and maybe even like she’s “using” you for the printer. It’s not logical, obviously, but lots of people have experiences where they’ve been taught to perform social pleasantries in order to earn permission to a space.

        Alison’s language is good, but I also think you’d be ok with something like:

        “Hey, I hope you don’t feel like you have to announce yourself or greet us everytime you use the printer. I know it can feel awkward to just come in and ignore us but that’s actually easier for us because it allows us to maintain focus.”

        Or whatever.

        1. Colette*

          The problem with saying something like “I hope you don’t feel like you have to announce yourself” is that it’s not clear – Jane could easily be thinking “Oh, I want to, it’s not an obligation”. The OP has to say “Please do not announce yourself”.

          1. Anonym*

            I think it may also be extra effective (and more comfortable for OP and Cecil) to point out that this is what they ask of all colleagues! It’s not just Jane – it’s not personal.

            Something like, “Because there are so many people using the printer each day and it can get really disruptive, we ask that everyone just pop in and grab their stuff without knocking or saying hi, unless of course they need something from one of us directly.”

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yes, I think that is good language for the initial request but since the first request didn’t get the results desired the next conversation definitely needs to be more direct. Less “you don’t have to” and more “we really need you *not* to.”

            Hopefully after she’s been there a while and is used to having to go into someone else’s office to print she’ll eventually feel less weird about it. I’d probably feel awkward too (and agree that it seems like the best solution is to move the printer, but I will assume there is some reason it makes sense there. I’d hate having to go into someone else’s space every time I had to print things though).

            I am having trouble understanding how she took a request that essentially boiled down to asking for less noise/distraction and responded by like tripling and quadrupling the amount of noise/distraction lol. But I’m sure she somehow thinks this is the most polite way to handle it, so it’s time for some more direct language for sure.

            1. ferrina*

              I wonder if this is a case where LW hasn’t been as clear as they think. I can be a little dense on social expectations + raised by passive-agressive people, and when I hear “you don’t have to” I hear “you technically shouldn’t and sometimes I don’t want you to, but normally you should do this”. But if you say “Don’t do this” I hear “don’t do this” and I’m happy to not do that!

              1. RecdByEmily*

                Whoa there is no reason for you to be hostile.
                As Alison noted, LW might just needed to be blunter and more firm. LW told Jane she doesn’t need to announce herself, but then when Jane does do it, Cecil interacts with her like it’s fine, muddying the waters of what Jane should/can do.
                LW and Cecil need to be more firm. First time, straight up say to her “We’ve talked about this, but we really mean it. You need to stop doing this.” Second, third time, more terse: “We told you to stop.” If it persists, no words just a quick pointed stare, and then just straight up ignore her.

                1. BuildMeUp*

                  Cecil interacts with her like it’s fine

                  And more than that, the OP does as well! The OP says she sometimes ignores Jane, meaning some of the time she’s still joining in on the conversation.

        2. KayDeeAye*

          I get why the OP and Cecil have settled on this rule wherein people knock if they actually want to talk to one of them but otherwise just walk in – I see how this came about and I do understand. But it seems like a very awkward arrangement to me, and by that I mean awkward for both the OP and people who need to retrieve something from the printer.

          It is, in my world, really unnatural and rude to not knock before entering an office with a closed door. And I mean, reeeeeally rude. In fact, in my workplace, we normally give a slight knock even if the door is open! So I also get why Jane has so much trouble with this rule/custom/whatever you want to call it. I agree with those who’ve said that the OP and Cecil need to simply tell her the rule rather than hinting or joking about it. They may need to repeat it a couple of times, but assuming Jane means well, that will probably solve the problem.

          And yeah, I agree with Alison that that printer should be moved if at all possible. It shouldn’t be sequestered in an office with people need to keep the door closed.

          1. Loulou*

            Yes! I would feel super awkward walking in without knocking and not greeting the people in the office. Both of those things are incredibly rude to me, even if they’re not in this context. This setup sounds really weird to me!

          2. Ama*

            Yes in my office (pre-pandemic) a closed door of any kind on any space (individual offices or a public space like the staff kitchen) meant someone needed privacy/quiet for something and you should 1) only interrupt if there was an emergency and 2) definitely knock first. If the door must stay closed and the printer must stay in there I would suggest a sign for the door.

            But yes either a second printer or a new location for that printer seems like the best option here.

            1. quill*

              Yeah, especially because what if you actually needed privacy when someone else needed the printer?

            2. Dust Bunny*

              same with mine. Our doors are always open unless someone’s on a call or doing some other “do not interrupt unless there’s blood and/or fire” thing.

          3. Merci Dee*

            Interesting, the way people’s experiences can color the way they interpret some of these letters. I didn’t get the idea at all that the OP and Cecil were keeping their office door closed, because the OP didn’t specifically mention a closed door in the letter. I just kind of assumed the door would usually stay open since so many people have to come in for the printer, and folks would knock on the open door if they needed OP or Cecil specifically. Under those circumstances, where the door is open, it doesn’t seem rude at all to me to enter for the printer without disturbing the office occupants — it would seem rude to me to announce myself and distract them if they had expressed a preference for printer users to just come in and do what they need.

            1. Koalafied*

              I also assumed the door was left open, as that doesn’t preclude someone who wants to get your attention from preferring to gently knock on the door (or doorframe, sometimes) rather than surprise you by suddenly being at your desk when you look up.

            2. KayDeeAye*

              You’re right – I did assume a closed door since the OP stressed the need for concentration, but the letter doesn’t actually say one way or another.

              But the thing is, in my workplace and in every other place I’ve ever worked, walking into someone’s office without knocking (even if the door is open) would be considered incredibly rude, and entering without acknowledging the people in that office would be beyond rude. As I mentioned, I understand perfectly why that isn’t the case here, and Jane should definitely be told (politely and kindly, but also directly) that she needs to stop it. But what I am saying is that it is to me understandable why she is having a problem with it. I would in her place. I would adjust, of course, because ignoring a direct and reasonable request like this would be even ruder, but it would be difficult at first.

              1. Merci Dee*

                Oh, certainly. If someone with an office hasn’t otherwise expressed a preference, then I default to pausing at the door and knocking or calling out a brief greeting — to me, that’s just showing consideration for the person you need to speak with. But I agree with you that it’s all about adjusting and making accommodation for the person whose space you’re entering so as to cause the least amount of disruption. It just doesn’t appear that Jane is willing to make that adjustment. She seems to me like she’s going to do what she wants to do, regardless of what someone else has requested.

                1. KayDeeAye*

                  Maybe, but I’m not sure. The OP needs to be clear, and I am not sure that has actually happened. Instead of saying “Jane, you really don’t need to knock,” the OP and Cecil need to say, “Please don’t knock.” There’s a difference!

          4. londonedit*

            I’d definitely feel weird about barging in through a closed door without knocking. I’d still feel weird about walking into someone’s workspace without saying hello to them, but if the people in the room asked me to please not interrupt them when I came in to use the printer, I’d understand that and wouldn’t knock or say hello from then on.

            1. Dust Bunny*


              Our offices have a weird set-up where my office is also a pass-through to another part of the workspace. It’s not as weird as it sounds, I swear, but I have to train every new crop of interns to not apologize all the time as they walk through to the other workspace–it’s unavoidable and it’s a given that “my” office is at least partly a shared space. It’s fine. Just go through.

          5. Hildette*

            I’m not 100% sure Jane means well. I think Jane might want to force a conversation. There are some real passive-aggressive warning bells going off here, such as “Here I apcome, entering your office, NOT KNOCKING, ha, ha!” I could be wrong, but Jane does not sound unlike other “friendly” types I have worked with/lived next to/ shared DNA with who are going to MAKE you have cheery chat with them on their schedule, or else.

            1. BuildMeUp*

              I mean, this is possible, but there isn’t enough context in the letter to jump to this conclusion. Either way, the best next step is for the OP to be more clear about what they’re asking of Jane.

          6. Evelyn Carnahan*

            Yes me too! When OP was describing this, I assumed that they work in a fairly open area in the office like a receptionist desk or something – not a closed office! I really don’t understand why a communal printer is in a closed office, even if one of the people in that office has a very public role.

      2. Asenath*

        I had to add somewhat less direct ways of communicating at work to the style that comes naturally to me, but honestly, with Jane, I’d go with my my default style and say something like “Jane! I was serious! Just come in without knocking, without saying anything, and use the printer!”. I might add “You’re really distracting me from my work.”. Not as a first response, of course, but it sounds like Jane has become MORE distracting since she was first asked to not knock and chat, so this isn’t the first time that’s been pointed out to her.

        1. Lynn Marie*

          Don’t say “it’s ok not to knock or speak,” say “please DON’T knock or speak.”

        2. Expiring Cat Memes*

          Yeah it sounds like OP has already given Jane many polite variations of “stop it” and it’s just not sticking. Cecil isn’t helping by continuing to engage in polite conversation with her either, he’s just reinforcing the expectation and behaviour.

          If it were me, eh, at a certain point I think it’s okay to let a little annoyance through. When I’m the target of someone’s constant interruptions I’m a big fan of *looking obviously interrupted* plus “oh hi, what would you like me to do?” or some variation of that. “Nothing? Ok well I have to focus, but sing out if YOU DO ACTUALLY NEED ME DO SOMETHING”. I only shout that bit in my head, but still, it’s never failed me once on hailing them a clue taxi.

          *Full disclosure: I’m in total BEC mode with Everything ATM and this would drive me absolutely bonkers, so I’d defer to the more reasonable people here.

          1. Loulou*

            I actually think it’s really bad to let your annoyance at a coworker show, especially when the behavior in question is as basically harmless and well-intentioned as Jane’s. Have I ever done it? Yes, I’m human and we all have bad days…but I’ve felt awful about it and “be a little nasty to someone nice to get your point across” is NOT an acceptable strategy!

            1. pancakes*

              Yes, agreed. I also agree with Lynn Marie above, the letter writer should be clear about saying “please DON’T knock or speak.”

            2. Oakenfield*

              Ignoring a request and teasing about ignoring it is not harmless or well-intentioned. Annoyance is a small, natural consequence.

              1. Evelyn Carnahan*

                Except the way that LW4 described it, it doesn’t sound like they or Cecil have flat out said, “Jane, do not knock or announce yourself when you come in to get something from the printer. It breaks our focus and we can’t do our work. I know it might feel rude to do that, but it’s part of our workflow.” Especially if LW4 and Cecil have sort of joked along with Jane. Jane just might not get it.

                1. Hildette*

                  I just can’t get past “Here I come, NOT KNOCKING!” To me, that seems like a dead giveaway that Jane is absolutely picking up what’s being put down, and she’s peeved at being suppressed/controlled (in her perspective). Again, I could be wrong, but the Jane I’m picturing is a common breed.

      3. Despachito*

        I am with you in thinking that OP in fact wants Jane to step out of the behaviour perceived as standard and polite, and do something which would be in other circumstances perceived as impolite or rude.

        I can easily imagine myself being Jane and thinking “I cannot just barge in, do my stuff and storm out, or else OP will feel slighted and it will be my fault.” And I would appreciate being said exactly what OP said in their original post, mixed with what you are saying – that OP definitely understands that not saying even “hi” might feel rude to Jane as a polite person, but in fact it is exactly what they need her to do (because so many people keep coming to make their copies and it breaks their concentration) and assure her they will definitely NOT hold it against her, on the contrary.

        I do not think hinting would do the trick, and I definitely do not blame Jane that she did not understand the the hints (I probably wouldn’t, too). I think there is everything in the wording in OP’s original post, and it does not sound offensive, so I’d stick to that, plus saying that OF COURSE you understand it appears strange to a polite person but it is the best way to go.

        (I get it is difficult to just say in real life the exact things written in the original posts – they usually summarize the problem very well, explain the background, and are not offensive at all, but I wonder why is that?)

        1. Oakenfield*

          But would you really ignore a direct request and then tease your coworker about the fact that you’re ignoring it as Jane is doing?

          1. BuildMeUp*

            But the OP hasn’t made a direct request yet:

            I politely told her that she really didn’t need to knock just to use the printer. Cecil jumped in and politely explained how it broke our focus. […] The first time it happened, I made a joke that she didn’t even have to tell us she wasn’t knocking and she laughed.

            A polite, “Oh, you don’t need to do that” and a joke are not direct. It’s far, far more likely that Jane is just misunderstanding the situation than that she is cackling away in her cubicle about deliberately ignoring OP’s wishes.

            1. Merci Dee*

              But Cecil did explain that it broke their focus, so Jane has already been told why they don’t want her to knock. And even though Cecil told her that what she’s doing interrupts their focus, she continues to still do the same thing and has actually escalated her behavior to more than just a knock.

              1. BuildMeUp*

                There are mixed messages coming from Cecil and the OP, though. In addition to the softened language and jokes, they’re still frequently having full conversations with Jane when she comes in: “Sometimes I just really can’t afford to break my focus so I end up ignoring her while Cecil carries the conversation, but I really don’t want to seem rude.”

                Meaning sometimes the OP ignores her, and the rest of the time they chat. It is very, very likely that Jane is just not catching social cues and thinking, oh, everyone’s laughing and chatting, this is fine. Putting some sort of nefarious motivation onto Jane is really not helpful here.

                1. Despachito*

                  Absolutely, and I understand why Jane does not get it – OP and Cecil are indeed sending mixed messages (perhaps coming from the same place as Jane – they do not want to sound rude), and I do not see it as Jane’s fault, as there are no clear social cues for her to latch on.

                  It might help if OP and Cecil show that they really mean it by not engaging in the social talk, and it will definitely help if they are able to convey this message as “this is an awkward situation for both sides, and both sides are polite people trying to do their best, let us figure it out together” rather than blaming Jane (or themselves, for that matter).

      4. SeluciaMD*

        This is the perfect way to handle it and I wish I’d sent this question in on my own behalf about 20 years ago. I could have really used this advice!

        I used to be a paralegal and the partner I worked for changed firms and brought some of the core team – myself included – with them when they moved. When we first arrived, they were struggling with where to put the team that would be adjacent to where the partner’s office was. As I also handled some of the administrative functions for our group (like assembling filings) in addition to my desk and filing cabinet, I needed some open prep space to organize and assemble document packages. The only good place they had near the partner’s office was the room where one of the printers lived. I found a workable balance with most people pretty naturally – I’d stay focused on my screen or project and they’d duck in and out as unobtrusively as possible. But there were a couple of people that just did not seem to know how to grab something off the printer without having some kind of social interaction. I was really young then and such a people-pleaser that I had no idea how to talk to those people about how disruptive this was for me and ask them to stop.

        LW4, do not be afraid to be more clear! You will save your own sanity. I think GammaGirl’s phrasing is a very smart and thoughtful way to frame the issue that should hopefully keep Jane from having hurt feelings but also clearly understanding she’s got to stop doing what she’s doing. GOOD LUCK!

    2. Lab Boss*

      When I got my first lab job there was a poster of lab behavior tips- not direct procedures or safety rules, just general behavior guidelines. One of them suggested that when you’re doing something and can’t be distracted, wear headphones (it was an old poster). If music would distract you, wear the headphones without music as a sign that you can’t be distracted. If you find headphones uncomfortable, consider getting a brightly colored hat and telling everyone in the lab it’s your “do not disturb hat.”

      My private career goal is to get myself a “do not disturb hat” and demand everyone respect it.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        I tend to use full on headphones, because at least then, there’s a better chance that someone is going to notice that I’m wearing them and not stand there talking at me for five solid minutes before they realize I’m wearing earbuds.

        1. Hazel*

          This happens to me a lot because my hair covers my ears, and if my back is to someone, they would have no idea that I’m on a call. I have cables and wires going everywhere on my desk, seeing earbud wires plugged into the computer wouldn’t register at all. I usually turn around and start waving my arms to indicate that I’m on a call and can’t talk now. Although if my housemate is talking to me from the other room, they don’t see the arm waving right away. :-P

          1. ScruffyInternHerder*

            All of that? That’s why I switched to the full headphones on a band. Most of the time my hair covers my ears, I err on the side of wireless so there ARE no visible wires, and people insist on coming up behind me to chat.

      2. Evelyn Carnahan*

        I once worked with a woman who had a laminated Do Not Disturb sign that she would tape to herself. It worked, but I think a hat or even maybe a sign on her desk/computer would have worked just as well.

        1. Lab Boss*

          At that point I would have to assume she wasn’t trying to be the most efficient, she was just committed to doing a comedy bit, and I respect that.

      3. SixTigers*

        I love the “do not disturb” hat! I’m coming up with all sorts of mental images of assorted “do not disturb” hats, and each one is brighter and more obnoxious than the last, and I love them all.

  3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    OP4 – seriously that Printer probably needs a new home last month. It’s an inconvenience for everybody I bet to have to enter your workspace just to print – and a huge distraction to you and your coworker now that you have the person who has decided to turn every print job into “huge social occasion. And after you move the printer put up and keep up for at least a month a sign telling everybody where the printer has moved to. When Jane opens the door dramatically and acts shocked, just refer her to the sign and don’t engage beyond that.

    If the printer can’t move for whatever reason, try having one more very firm “this is what we need you to do going forward while printing conversation.” If that doesn’t work I think Alison’s ignore suggestion is probably the best bet.

    Finally, does Jane have a manager that you can talk with about the disruptions she’s causing while being over the top social when coming to print things?

    1. Casper Lives*

      I’m not sure OP needs to go to Jane’s manager before at least telling Jane the issue directly. OP hinted and joked, and is frustrated Jane didn’t understand she was serious. OP needs to ask Jane directly and calmly not to interrupt unless Jane needs help.

      I think that happens a lot for questions here. It’s not uncommon to think you’re being direct when you haven’t said it directly. I catch myself doing it too, but AAM has got me trying to communicate more effectively.

      1. Eyes Kiwami*

        Agreed, OP seems to think they have been clear and direct: “I know you usually recommend directly addressing issues with the person, but what do you do when that clearly doesn’t work?”

        However at no point have they said in a non-joking, direct way, “Sorry Jane, we can’t talk when you use the printer” or “Please don’t chat us up when you use the printer, we’re on a deadline” or “Sorry, can’t talk, need to focus.”

        Often hinting and joking does work, but the next step is to escalate to direct request.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Yep. LW has kiddingly said what she would have understood meant to please stop greeting us every time you use the printer, but obviously Jane needs to hear it in somewhat stronger language to understand it’s not a suggestion or a polite / insincere decline. (…especially because, as I noted upthread, Jane probably is someone who was raised to believe that it is very rude not to acknowledge someone when you step into their space.)

          Jane also is new to the office and new to the office culture and is trying to be friendly to her new coworkers. LW, who already understands the office culture and has a lot more information, has joked around about it at about a 2.5/10, but Jane needs to hear it not as a joke at a 4/10 to get the message.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            I do think it’s important for the OP to realize that what Jane is doing is really, really, really normal polite behavior. In many workplaces, including my own, walking into an office with a closed door without knocking would be considered *incredibly* rude. In fact, in my workplace, we usually give a slight knock even if the door is open! Ignoring the other people in that office would be rude to the power of 1000.

            I understand why this isn’t the case here, but the OP needs to realize that what Jane is doing is really normal, and so in order to break her of this habit, an honest but kind discussion will be necessary. Assuming Jane means well, you might have to repeat it once or twice (“Jane, remember when I explained to you that you shouldn’t interrupt when all you need is to retrieve something from the printer? This is a perfect example.”), but that will probably take care of the problem.

            Although the best answer, of course, is to move the printer out of the office of people who need to keep their door closed!

            1. Loulou*

              Yes! OP on this thread described Jane as opening the door “dramatically” and being “over-the-top social,” which is actually a wild way to put it! I see why OP and their officemate need to make the request they did, but they should recognize that in making it they’re actually the ones who are out of step with how things usually work.

              1. Jora Malli*

                I don’t know. I have a coworker whose method of entering my office could absolutely be described as “dramatic,” so that’s what I pictured when I was reading the letter. She may not be intentionally engaging in the I Have Arrived At Last behaviors my coworker does, but I understand why it would feel that way to OP if it’s happening multiple times per day.

                OP, if you can’t move the printer, can you try to push for an IT solution that allows people to pick up their print jobs all at once? My office’s print system holds on to jobs until the sender enters their code at the printer, so I can send my print jobs throughout the day as they come up, and then go pick up everything all at once instead of making six trips.

            2. Smithy*

              Absolutely this – it also sounds like Jane is new to this workplace and depending on what kind of employer/style of work Jane does…..there may also be some COVID-socialization misfires happening here as well.

              If Jane has been remote work due to COVID more so than she was prior to the pandemic, there may just be some socialization rustiness happening as well. So being in a newer job and the desire to be both polite and perhaps also make friends, I think there’s just a lot of space for empathy while also acknowledging how much this does annoy/disrupt the OP.

              I recently went to my first work happy hour post COVID at a job I started during COVID, and my goodness….it was weird. At one point I had a running dialogue in my head to not tell colleagues “wow, you’re shorter than I thought you’d be”. So if I came off as less than perfect socially calibrated, I hope there was a little grace all around.

            3. Koalafied*

              Just to note, the letter doesn’t actually say that the door is usually closed or that Jane is opening a closed door. As you note, it’s common in offices to knock on open doors to get the occupant’s attention as well, so just the fact that people knock doesn’t necessarily mean the door is usually closed. I kind of assumed it was usually open exactly because it would be way more strange to keep a communal resource in a closed door office than in an open door one.

            4. MCMonkeyBean*

              I agree that wanting people to basically ignore them when they get things from the printer is going to feel rude to most people–but it is odd to me that Jane seems to have heard their first request to please not knock because it is distracting and responded by *increasing* how much she is interacting with them when she comes to use the printer!

              But hopefully all that is needed is one direct “no, really, please just don’t even acknowledge we are here unless you actually need us for something” conversation. Definitely they should not go to her manager and complain that Jane is… being social with them. That would be a very unreasonable complaint without ever having asked her directly to stop!

              1. londonedit*

                I can imagine that Jane is thinking ‘but if I don’t even acknowledge them, that’ll be really rude’, feels awkward about not knocking, and is overcompensating. What she isn’t thinking is ’25 people a day come to use this printer, it’s got to be incredibly annoying for OP when everyone insists on knocking and/or saying hello and/or striking up a conversation’.

                1. Le Sigh*

                  It reminds me a bit of people who struggle with not bringing a gift or a side dish to someone’s house, even when people have asked them not to bring anything. For some people, not doing that feels rude and foreign, and they feel like they have to no matter what because otherwise they’re being rude, that’s just the rule. I argue that what’s rude is ignoring someone’s stated requests, but yeah.

            5. Despachito*

              I think this cannot be emphasized enough – what Jane is doing is a NORMAL THING, and what OP wants her to do is atypical (yet perfectly logical given the situation with the printer, which is weird but there may be possible reasons why it has to be placed where it is and cannot be moved).

              OP – please be aware that you are the one asking an odd thing for Jane to do. You definitely have the right to ask it and be heard, but some of the wordings I read here seem to me unnecessarily harsh and not fair towards Jane.

              I’d suggest:

              1) if possible, have the printer placed somewhere else
              2) if this is not doable, make very clear to everyone how you want the situation to be handled. Tell Jane/anyone who disturbs you: “We are not happy to have the printer sitting in the same room where we are working, but unfortunately, this cannot be changed for the moment. So we are at least trying to minimize the interruptions it causes us. I know this sounds strange, but we have asked every person in this office not to knock on the door and not to greet us if they are just going to print, as with the amount of people coming to print it would be difficult for us to get distracted and have to concentrate again on our work so many times a day. Can you ask you to do this as well? Of course if you need to discuss with us anything work-related, we are here for you, this is just about the printer. Thank you for your understanding.”

              Or perhaps put a leaflet somewhere around the printer explaining this policy “If you just want to print – please do not knock or talk to us, if you want to talk about work, you are of course welcome”.

              From what I read, it has not yet been said clearly enough. I am very bad at taking hints and I remember times when I was hurt and sad because somebody appeared angry and it was obvious they thought I did something wrong but I had no clue what it was. On the other hand, if I understand the reason, I’d be more than happy to oblige. It is worth a shot with Jane as well.

              1. Jamie Starr*

                I’m not sure I would say what LW4 wants is atypical. I really think it depends on office culture. For most of my jobs, I have worked in rooms of varying sizes with anywhere from 2 – 10 other people. Sometimes we had printers that were shared by other departments and it would be more disruptive for every person who came in to make a copy or pick up a print job to say hello. By the same token, I have had to go into another department’s space to pick things up off the printer, or to use a special piece of office equipment and I don’t say hello because I know they are all working/concentrating. (Usually the first time in the situation I’ll say, “I’m not going to say hello every time because I know you’re busy/working.” I have never had any co-worker say, “No, please interrupt us every time!” ha) I think the key here is communicating clearly with Jane that no knocking/talking is the way it is done at this office and it’s not rude. It’s actually rude to keep ignoring the office procedures!

              2. fhqwhgads*

                It is not normal to walk in and say “here I am, not knocking” multiple times a day.

            6. Oakenfield*

              Ignoring requests then teasing the person who requested the change is really really really polite behavior? I absolutely disagree. It is obnoxious behavior.

              1. BuildMeUp*

                Oh, come on. Not ignoring people when you go into their office is considered polite behavior. Don’t put words in KayDeeAye’s mouth.

              2. Tyrannosaurus Wreck*

                Oakenfield, you are all over these comments insulting Jane baselessly. In what way is that helping to answer op’s question?
                As the majority have already noted, op should try a more direct approach with Jane first. Ascribing malice when we have no evidence of it is counter productive.

            7. Unaccountably*

              In my workspace, that is also rude. Also in my workplace, what would be a lot ruder is disregarding people with attention-intensive work when they specifically ask you not to knock when you come in.

              This isn’t like walking into a one-person office where there’s nothing in there you need. It’s more along the lines of a common utility space. It’s also rude not to adjust your ideas of what “rude to the power of 1000” is when you’re dealing with different types of situations and spaces, or with people who have made reasonable requests about how to use that space.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed, I’m realizing now that my comment spaced out oddly. I was thinking that maybe talking with the manager after giving one more serious, no jokes involved conversation with Jane a try. If that failed as well, maybe it’s worth trying to ask the manager if he can please let Jane know that being quiet and quick when going to print things is the office culture here.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          The sequence I’d go with is first give matter of fact but very direct instructions telling Jane to not interrupt when she comes to visit, then one or two rounds of completely ignoring any overtures when she comes in to reinforce it. After that if Jane keeps it up or doubles down on the interruptions, bring it up at a higher level.

          Right now what the OP has done would be clear to someone who is good at picking up indirect communication, which would work for a lot of people but not everyone.

          Also, I would add to the chorus of “move the printer!”. I had a similar temporary setup during office renovations (but facing away from the printer, and working late), and it was really distracting. Either I noticed everyone coming in, which is good from a safety perspective, or I tuned it out and nearly jumped out of my chair when someone did need my attention.

      3. generic_username*

        Agreed. it doesn’t sound like Jane is taking up a lot of time being unnecessarily social, it just sounds like she’s breaking concentration multiple times by announcing herself whenever she comes in and out.

    2. gsa*

      “Also … can that printer move somewhere else?“

      I was thinking the opposite…

      What rocket surgeon decided to put two people in the print room… aka, “We can get more ‘office space’ if we put two people in the print room.”

      Regardless, some thing or two bodies need to move to another location.

      1. Mockingjay*

        It’s probably on a network. I’ve had my own printer at a previous job, which was on the project network. Because it was very good quality, lots of people used it. I’d be working quietly and it would start spewing pages, followed by colleagues who waltzed into my cubicle to wait until it finished. Boss put an end to to the ‘sharing’ when the costs of the color cartridge replacements went through the roof. I was relieved to have my focus back.

        Move the printer or restrict its use.

        1. pugsnbourbon*

          Some copiers still have a fax option and need to be on a phone line. This was the case at my old job and when we remodeled, the printer could have gone in two places: in a cubby down the hall, or directly across from my (low-fronted) cubicle. I’ve never been so thankful that it ended up in the cubby. I would have ended up the de facto paper, ink and repair person – which I’m sure is another annoyance for LW4.

    3. Cambridge Comma*

      Perhaps the printer could be placed closer to the door with one of those cubicle walls behind it, so that OP doesn’t even see the people who just grab things from the printer.

    4. Not Australian*

      Actually, a screen would be a good idea; it would emphasise that the printer effectively has ‘a room of its own’ and isn’t sharing a space with the two co-workers. But if it *c an* be moved, then it probably *should* be.

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      From what was described I don’t think I’d start with the Jane part at all, as it seems she’s the worst ‘offender’ but no doubt other people coming into the room also break OPs focus though maybe to a lesser degree. I know how all those minor interruptions add up…

      Instead I’d start with the “can the printer be moved or can Cecil and I move” part, with whoever has influence over that. The business reason is that it harms productivity and (if its true) is distracting when you’re doing client-facing work.

    6. QuickerBooks*

      Anybody else immediately think of the old SNL “Making copies…” skit? This is the opposite of that.

    7. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Yeah, move the printer. How is OP not distracted when people walk into her office WITHOUT saying hi?

      1. Koalafied*

        I can definitely ignore anyone who isn’t talking to me or making some kind of repetitive, grating noise, like my dog murdering a squeaky toy. Anything else is basically non-existent to me when I’m deep in concentration, especially routine things that I expect to happen and understand why they’re happening.

        The only stuff that distracts me is someone actively getting my attention by calling my name, or someone doing something that’s unexpected and loud, and it’s only really a problem if it’s also sustained. E.g. someone dropping/breaking something loudly will cause me to look up because it’s loud and unexpected, but if I look up and see that the dropped thing is being taken care of and there’s no further noise, I’m back to my focus in a half a second.

        I’ve also worked in downtown offices where sirens of fire trucks and presidential motorcades we’re a daily occurrence that you quickly stop even noticing because even though they’re loud as hell, they’re also normal enough background noise that my brain doesn’t suddenly wonder, “what’s that??”

    8. Velocipastor*

      Agreed about moving the printer. I feel like this is also very much “A Thing” with printers, or at least has been in my work experience. At every job I have ever had, I have been next to the printer and people always want to talk to me while they wait on their copies. Most recently, the printer was positioned in such a way that people standing there were directly face to face. I think it is human nature to acknowledge other people when you’re that close to them.

    9. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

      I don’t understand why companies are so stingy with printers. If Jane is printing that much, why doesn’t she have a printer at her desk.

      1. kittymommy*

        I’m wondering if it is larger, multi-use printer. Where I’m at 1 or 2 people have small desk printers but the vast majority use the office printer/dax/scanner. We just upgraded and it’s a couple grand at least.

        But none of our departments stick them in someone’s office…

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yep, I have a dinky printer for myself, but if I want to print a *lot*, I’ll send it to the central printer so it doesn’t take 3 hours.

      2. generic_username*

        For large companies, it can be incredibly expensive and overwhelming for IT to maintain and order for so many printers. I do agree with you in some ways, but my company recently went through the effort to decrease our number of printers while upping security for each printer (so instead of giving small printers to individuals, every floor now has 2-3 printers that are password release printing). The printers function better (because there are only two types to maintain) and we no longer walk to the printer to find that someone has printed 100 pages of nonsense they’re never going to collect. But also, we don’t have those printers in someone else’s office….

    10. AnonInCanada*

      Either that, or get Jane her own printer for her desktop so she doesn’t have to continually barge into OP#4 and Cecil’s space and continually disrupt and interrupt. I could’ve written OP#4’s letter–the main office printer is in my office since there’s really nowhere else to put such a monstrosity. As are the label printers. The number of times my day gets interrupted because someone needs a label printed — especially when they barge in without knocking and start barking “I need such-a-such label” when I’m on the phone or trying to focus on a task — UGGGGH!!! They can go print them themselves–the computer the printers are connected to is right there, easily accessible, with the label printing program open. But no, it’s much more convenient for them to interrupt me.

      1. LW4*

        Hi all – LW4 here,
        First, I want to thank you all for some really wonderful advice and some much needed laughter at the situation. Second, I can’t believe that I have an update to this already, but I received news today that Jane is no longer with the organization. I don’t have any details on the situation, but I am very shocked.
        I also wanted to respond to some of the most common comments:
        The printer is in my office as Cecil and I handle confidential materials on a daily basis. It is not the only printer, but it is one of the few color printers. Cecil and I keep the door closed because the hallway is a high traffic, noisy area.
        One of my favorite solutions was to put the printer closer to the door, which is doable and would definitely create a sense of separation between us and the printer.
        Although I won’t have to have the conversation now, I do appreciate those who pointed that Jane was probably very concerned about appearing rude herself by not acknowledging us or knocking. I can see that now and some of the scripts you’ve provided will help me assert myself in a kind, but firm way in the future.

  4. Paisley*

    OP1, the CEO is full of it. It is almost impossible for a manager to be bullied by one of their reports, and it is completely impossible for a CEO to be bullied by workers. Alison is on the money with her advice as to what needs to be done.

    OP2, you and Alison are both right. I’d also add that, if your company has an HR department and they are any good, if you have any inklings of history repeating with this new manager being equally unhelpful and unsupportive, and also willing to throw you under the bus, I’d have a confidential conversation with HR and discuss your concerns just so there is paper trail later on.

    1. John Smith*

      Totally agree. I’ve been accused of bullying two managers (aka holding them to task for their sheer incompetence and their own bullying and toxic behaviour) and raised this very point at a disciplinary hearing which was quickly abandoned. Also our department manager received similar (professional) criticism and decided we were referring to someone else. How such people manage to keep their job is beyond me.

    2. Green great dragon*

      It is possible for a CEO to be bullied by junior staff – there was a letter here recently from a business owner whose new hire and friends were bullying-adjacent if not actually bullying.

      That is not what is happening here.

      1. Allonge*

        Exactly – it may be rarer due to the power differential but a group of people can bully anyone if they are sufficiently motivated. People don’t become immune to nasty comments, self-doubt or anything else that might be difficult to handle just because they are appointed managers – and a bully will always identify a potential target.

        The case described by OP does not seem to be bullying! But if the comments were about ‘his hair or his body’ – yes, that could be bullying.

        1. anonforthis*

          I think if a CEO can be bullied, it’s extremely rare and the threshold for what constitutes bullying is extremely high. If you have the most institutional power out of anyone in a company, you can easily prevent bullying of yourself and others. It has to be a very extreme circumstance in which you are getting bullied.

          It’s far far more likely that a CEO complaining of “bullying” just got his ego bruised. Critical survey answers aren’t “bullying”.

          In my university, the first female dean of the engineering school got ousted by a bunch of male faculty members who campaigned against her. I followed the story closely and honestly, the reasons that were given seemed like BS to me and the whole thing just reeked of good ole’ institutional sexism. But even in that situation, I would hesitate to describe it as “bullying” in the traditional sense. Bullying implies a power dynamic.

          1. anonforthis*

            Basically, “bullying the CEO” sounds to me a lot like the phrase “reverse racism” in relation to critical comments about white people. It’s…just not really a thing. Even if the comments in both cases are legitimately mean, the weight of them is not the same as when you’re going after people with less power/status.

      2. Colette*

        I disagree. Someone you have power over cannot bully you, because you can stop the behaviour at any time.

        1. Littorally*

          Eh, that’s situational. I can think of plenty of scenarios where I would see something happening upwards as bullying — however, unless the OP is eliding significant detail, this ain’t it.

        2. Allonge*

          Gently: this is like saying you cannot be abused by someone who is physically weaker than you – it may be difficult to conceptualise, but it’s just not true. There are different kinds of power and different ways to bully people.

          Now, giving feedback on a survey, as long as it’s about work matters, is not bullying. But, again, there are plenty of things that are.

          1. Colette*

            I mean, they certainly try to bully you, but you are in charge. You can take action, up to and including firing them.

            I do agree that someone could treat their manager badly, and that someone who is a terrible manager might let it continue, but that’s a choice, because they have the power to stop it. In my opinion, a key factor in bullying is that you’re trapped in a situation and can’t change it. That’s why it’s an issue in schools – kids have to go to school and can’t just change or move to a new neighbourhood. As an adult, you have a lot more choices. It could still happen (for example, in a situation where you can’t move and have to keep a particular job because there aren’t many options), but if you’re allowing someone who works for you to bully you, then I have to wonder why you’re doing that.

            1. MK*

              Plenty of women are abused by their partners, despite not being financially dependent on them and having strong support networks. They also gave the power to stop it, because they can leave, they have the means to do so and people to support them. It often doesn’t work that way.

              I agree that it would take a pretty exceptional set of circumstances as well as a specific combination of character traits in the people concerned, to have a CEO bullied by their staff, and it probably isn’t happening here.

              I will say, however, that this sounds like a very dysfunctional workplace, and the CEO isn’t the only part of it. What does it mean that the staff is making sure he isn’t involved in the work and correcting his mistakes? If they are indeed sidelining him and going against his requirements for the work, even they ate right, I can understand why he might not feel in control of this company.

              1. Colette*

                I would argue that an abusive relationship is a different problem, and that the emotional investment in a relationship is considerably stronger than the investment in having a particular person working for you.

                1. MK*

                  I am not saying it’s the same, just that having the power, in theory, to make something stop doesn’t mean you can’t be placed in a difficult position. In the workplace, sure, a boss can fire people, but can they in practice fire everyone, or even a bunch of people at the ame time, without putting themselves at a disadvantage? As I said, it’s not common, but it’s not always as simple as “boss has all the power”.

            2. Susie Q*

              “I do agree that someone could treat their manager badly, and that someone who is a terrible manager might let it continue, but that’s a choice, because they have the power to stop it. ”

              You are BOLD in assuming that managers have the ability to make it stop. Not all managers have the authority to fire people, etc. I am unable to fire anyone that I manage. I can reach out to HR in the same way as any employee.

                1. Susie Q*

                  True. The CEO can’t get bullied by employees. The board? Yes. But employees, absolutely not.

            3. MsSolo UK*

              I don’t know – it’s really not uncommon to see female managers in male dominated industries writing in here because some of their staff are engaged in an active, organised campaign to try and unseat them, which I think can meet the definition of bullying. Some of that’s because there’s more than one kind of power, and though the manager may have power over their employee’s continued employment, their employee may be a physical threat to them. Additionally, depending on where you sit in the organisation and its culture, there may be constraints on the manager’s ability to straight up fire people.

              It’s much harder to come up with a scenario where the CEO is constrained, though. Perhaps if the CEO is literally the only black member of staff, or only openly gay member of staff, or marginalised in some other way, a combination of microaggressions and open prejudice from a large portion of the staff could constitute an organised bullying campaign because the power the CEO ought to wield wouldn’t be practical to do so – firing your whole organisation is not going to be your first solution. Though frankly, if the organisation’s culture is that toxic and bigoted, where a person is made CEO in order to make them easy to harrass, maybe shutting up shop would be the best solution!

              1. Forrest*

                I think that’s the thing— free to leave / unable to leave is never a simple binary, it’s always about the costs of that decision. But being more senior nearly always correlated with having more wealth and the more job opportunities, even if they aren’t all at the same status as the role you’re in. You might still be constrained by location, bad mental health, and inability to make a decision or imagine a different scenario or whatever, but in purely financial and “other thing you can do” terms, you’re unlikely to be as constrained as someone more junior.

                1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

                  Exactly. I’m a manager who was getting bullied by my staff (according to my HR team, the behavior occurring was bullying) and I seriously thought about leaving. But I’m brand new in this role, I moved my family to a different state, I would owe back a sign on bonus, and I would be unlikely to immediately find a job that paid as well and taking a pay cut isn’t an option as I’m the family breadwinner. Just because one has a “manager” title doesn’t mean they have the knowledge, experience, cultural capital, or institutional support to get rid of problem employees.

                  Again, though, none of that is what’s happening in Letter 1!

      3. Nope*

        A CEO has the power to hire and fire, and/or to make your life at work completely miserable. In a capitalist system, CEOs more than any other managers, hold the very livelihood of their workers in the hands. They can also trash workers’ future career prospects and their ability to earn enough money to keep themselves fed via bad references and general gossip.

        Based purely on the power imbalance, and the fact that the vast majority of workers do not have trust funds or other financial cushions to fall back upon, the likelihood of a CEO ever being truly bullied by those under them on the totem pole is extremely slim. It is possible, but extremely unlikely.

    3. SnappinTerrapin*

      A person can have “power” at their disposal, but be too weak personally to exercise it.

      That would be further evidence that the individual is not a good “fit” for their job. It is, unfortunately, all too common to see people holding leadership billets who lack the necessary knowledge, skill and abilities to do their job.

      In this case, the CEO is too weak to lead, but is mistaking his subordinates’ acknowledgement of that sad reality for an inappropriate pressure to manipulate him into doing something he shouldn’t do, rather than a reasonable request that he do what he actually should.

      I can think of some thin-skinned politicians who feel persecuted and bullied by legitimate criticism, who are occasionally manipulated by people who see their weakness more clearly than they see themselves. A trusted subordinate could manipulate this CEO into becoming a puppet to “prove” he is strong enough to “get things done.” In that scenario, the eminence grise could be accurately described as “bullying” the CEO by playing on his sensitivity to the other subordinates’ criticism.

  5. Manager*

    Re the CEO: while in this case, it sounds like he is reacting poorly to feedback, upward bullying is a thing that causes real harm. Concerns about it should be responded to appropriately, especially since work place codes of conduct typically assume the bully is someone higher up than the person being bullied.

    1. Observer*

      Both of these articles use a definition of bullying that would be funny if it were not so problematic, and minimizing of actual bullying. The JAN article has some other problems as well.

      1. WhatMe?No*

        Yeah, from some of the behaviours described in these articles, anyone grappling with mental health issues or workplace stress would be defined as “bullying” their managers by not being able to keep up with the demands of their role and then seeking any kind of external support to appeal for their jobs…

        Sounds like DARVO.

      2. The OTHER Other*

        I agree, for example: “ Multitasking during remote meetings, refusing to return to the office…” Oh, the humanity!

      3. Koalafied*

        The JAN article has some other problems as well.

        “Pity the poor manager, who they been employed for, and for which they receive good compensation.”

        Well, if that’s not an objective statement befitting a scholarly research paper, I don’t know what is.

    2. TechWorker*

      Yea, insubordination or refusing to do things is not.. bullying; and the manager generally has power to stop those things from happening by… managing.

      Saying that I remember some teachers at school who were treated awfully by our class & in a way that you could definitely refer to as ‘bullying’ – there the teacher also in theory has the power but not necessarily the skills or support… I suppose in some incredibly dysfunctional workplace the same could be true of managers.

      1. Beth*

        Yeah – I started to read one of those articles, but couldn’t finish it because my eyes were rolling too hard.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        The class can gang up on a teacher (I remember we did once, when a singularly incompetent teacher was hired to replace my favourite teacher ever – she had resigned by the end of the first term!), and likewise workers can push back as a group/form a union etc.
        But at an individual level, a manager who lets his report bully him… probably doesn’t have the right personality for managing.

    3. SatsumaWolf*

      The examples of “upward bullying” presented in these articles are…not bullying. These articles articulate a complaint about a power shifts, where those in positions of power over students and employees are now seeing people standing up for themselves and challenging problematic behaviour, or they are describing behaviours which could be tackled by managing more effectively.

    4. Xavier Desmond*

      Both of these articles use a ridiculously broad definition of bullying. The first one claims that 75% of employees have engaged in some form of upwards bullying which is clearly absurd.

    5. Antilles*

      “Multitasking during remote meetings, refusing to return to the office, ignoring directives and belligerent acts of behaviour”
      Not one of these is actual bullying – and in every single one of these, the manager has the power to stop every single one of those things immediately.
      If an employee is multitasking during a remote meeting, you can tell them to pay more attention. If your employees refuse to show up to their assigned place of work, you have the power to politely tell them that no, showing up to work isn’t optional. If your employees are ignoring you and being belligerent, you have disciplinary actions up to and including firing to get them to stop.

      1. Whoop There It Is*

        Multitasking during remote meetings is bullying?? That is truly absurd. If I wasn’t paying attention during a meeting and my boss took that as a personal attack, I would be very concerned about their judgment. This just sounds like a bad manager who doesn’t like remote work.

      2. quill*

        Yeah, that’s not bullying, that’s either being busy, rude, or (in the case of return to the office) none of the supervisor’s business.

        The faith in that article is so bad that it smells like rotting eggs.

      3. Elsajeni*

        Certainly there are managers who don’t have ultimate hiring/firing power, or whose attempts at disciplinary action get undermined by someone above them, and having a hostile employee who refuses to do work or is belligerent or whatever can be a really difficult situation for them — but even then, I think it would have to be a pretty specific set of circumstances to reasonably describe it as “bullying.” (And if it did rise to that level, I would think the higher-up who’s either refusing to step in or actively protecting the badly-behaved employee is just about as responsible for it — so thinking of it as “an employee bullying their manager” may not really be the right framework anymore anyway.)

    6. Purple Cat*

      Get tougher: The remote work environment requires strong leadership. The open-door policy has made it harder for bosses to lead without being undermined.

      from the Maureen Kyne article. Wow. I think that tells us everything we need to know about the quality of the rest of her article.

      1. Hazel*

        I agree. Just wow. If a boss thinks they’re being undermined, they can, you know, actually do their job and manage the underminer(s).

      2. Whoop There It Is*

        Yikes. This is so adversarial! Sounds like an unskilled manager with a fragile ego — no thanks.

      3. Forrest*

        How interesting to think that strong leadership and “getting tougher” are the same thing.

      4. Seen It All Before*

        I was a newspaper business columnist for over a decade and that article read like hundreds of press releases from authors trying to invent business trends that didn’t actually exist. The formula is like this: make an outlandish claim that a little-known (actually non-existent) problem is happening more and more in business, call yourself an expert in that non-existent problem, self-publish a book about it, then send out press releases offering tips and mention that you are available to provide your coaching and consulting services to corporations to fix the non-problem for them.

    7. WindmillArms*

      Every single one of these examples of “upwards bullying” is actually just “terrible management.”

    8. Casper Lives*

      These articles aren’t showing “upward bullying.” The first is an editorial and the second is a blog post / article on The CEO Magazine with a laughably broad definition of “bullying.” Wow. I didn’t think I’d find such removed-from-reality perspectivas this morning.

    9. Xantar*

      I have to say, you’ve managed to convince me never to take The CEO magazine seriously about anything. Their article is so absurdly self-serving that it reminds me of all the people who argue that cryptocurrency is the future and cite articles from Bitcoin Magazine to back themselves up.

      1. pancakes*

        You inspired me to have a peek. Yep, that sounds about right! It’s almost hilarious. “The flexible working arrangements, created by the coronavirus pandemic, have created a dangerous power shift that has resulted in bosses being bullied” – oh please!

        1. Jora Malli*

          It’s honestly just one more example of what we’re seeing all over the world as people who are used to being the center of attention and control start having to share that attention and control with other people.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Which, given some of the boss or coworker behavior that people write in about, is really saying something.

    10. Nanani*

      YEaaaah no.

      You can’t really bully someone with power over you.
      “Upward bullying” sounds like somebody wants to feel special and included in this talk of bullying and decided mundane things that are not at all bullying fit.
      Kinda like how every mental health issue that gets mainstream attention is suddenly diluted to the point of meaninglessness, this “upward bullying trend” does not exist. It can’t exist, because that’s not how power dynamics work.

      1. Delphine*

        I wouldn’t say this is an absolute. You could probably bully someone who supervises you if other power differences exist, beyond the work hierarchy.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yeah, if you know they’re banging their secretary and you have their wife’s phone number for example

    11. Starbuck*

      What on earth? These articles are junk. I’m getting strong whiffs of “my employees are pushing back on poor management and that’s mean.” I seriously question the motives of anyone who would write these pieces, or share them…. very bad faith and anti-worker. Why on earth would management/bosses need special policies to protect them when they can just fire people?

      1. Starbuck*

        Also if anyone want to feel inspired to… let’s say… devour an ~upper crust~ meal, go on over to the Lifestyles section of that CEO magazine. Wow. I hope this doesn’t get me in trouble for upward bullying ;)

        1. Seen It All Before*

          Are you trying to say CEOs should not spend $1,320 on cheese made from donkey milk?

    12. urguncle*

      Absolutely wild that the take here is like “employees *who already very likely make less than us* asking to be treated like humans with intrinsic worth is actually bullying.”

    13. Lenora Rose*

      I think the CEO responding poorly to feedback might have read those articles and believed for a second they were accurate reporting.

      Upward bullying can happen, but it’s not what those articles describe; it happens more to middle managers whose upper echelons won’t give them firing power or support — so they don’t actually have the tools needed to manage recalcitrant employees.

      (It happens more often to people who are of some kind of minority, and especially people brought in for equity reasons with the expectation they will take the fall for poor equity programs or other failing issues, and given a staff who aren’t likely to cooperate. In which case it is usually actively abetted by the upper echelons.)

    14. Nope*

      Yes, upward bullying can cause real harm. But it is also fairly rare, especially in comparison to the extremely frequent downward bullying that occurs constantly.

      A worker bullying a manager is rare and, when it does happen, an irritant at most; a manager bullying a worker is an extremely common workplace problem that damages the health, relationships and livelihoods of the workers impacted.

      Bullied workers frequently end up with health so badly impacted that they are left at risk of dying early, and can also end up unfairly (and often illegally) fired with badly damaged earning capacities. This basically never happens for the handful of bullied managers out there.

      1. Nope*

        Actually, having read the articles linked to…I’m going to call BS on the “upward bullying” spoken about within them. It is utter garbage.

  6. Eyes Kiwami*

    OP2, it sounds like both you and your mom agree that the goal is to get you more support this time around and ensure you do well and keep your job. Your mom seems to think your manager is owed some kind of…reckoning of your past failings? Preemptive apology? Like you should bundle up your weaknesses and fears and dump them on your boss’s desk for them to sort out and fix? I’m speculating based on the fear that this info will “come out” if you don’t announce it.

    But actually, “bluntly asking [manager] to guide [you]” is exactly what you’re doing by getting regular feedback! And doing the work of sorting out and dealing with your weaknesses and fears shows a maturity and capability to your credit. Like Alison said, your boss may already know about your past mistakes, and if they don’t see you make new ones because you’ve improved, then why would you be in trouble for not “revealing” past mistakes that you’ve recovered from? Why would your boss care about mistakes you used to make and now don’t? And if you do continue to make mistakes, surely your boss will find out for themselves without advanced warning!

    Basically, it sounds to me like you and your mom are actually aligned on what the concerns are and what the goals are, but her advice seems to come from a place of anxiety and overwhelm–“how do I fix all this I’m so sorry I’m a failure please fix it”–whereas your approach is more proactive in actually fixing your processes by yourself. This is all speculation so sorry if it’s off-base, but anyway I think you’re on the right track!

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      This is good advice. I think if you unload the history of your previous project onto your new manager, it may not do much other than make them think you might need a lot of hand-holding. (You definitely do need training and regular feedback, but it sounds like you’re addressing both of those issues – though make sure that you speak up if there’s additional training you need.)
      If the subject of the previous project comes up with the new manager, you can say that you recognized that X was an issue and you are doing Y and Z to address it.

      Also, as someone with a mother who sometimes Has Strange Ideas, I’ve found that a good recipe for my continued sanity is to discuss my work with her only in the most general terms. Your mother doesn’t know anything about your work unless you tell her, and there’s no law that says you have to tell her. So experiment with not telling her certain things – or just saying “I’ll definitely think about it” and then changing the subject when her advice seems off-base or you’re not going to follow it.

      1. El l*

        Absolutely right.
        Asking for feedback is legit.
        What isn’t legit is to send the message that OP can’t hack it on new projects. Which is the message OP is sending if they ask their boss to “guide” them. Because unless you’re entry-level, a certain amount of “figure it out on your own” is expected of you as an employee by your boss.

      2. Ginger ale for all*

        My mother has odd advice too. She continually tells me that I will catch a man if only I wore more red and had flashier clothes. JMO, red shirts, rhinestones, and rosacea aren’t things I am going to combine. I ignore her romance/fashion advice. You can ignore your mom’s advice on certain things too. You already handled the situation beautifully. If she persists, let her know that your solution is working and then put her on an information diet.

        1. Selina Luna*

          Is your mom trying to have you play in the Grand Ol’ Opry?
          Also, do YOU want to “catch a man”?
          ALSO also, why would red of all colors be the man-snaring color?

          1. Ginger ale for all*

            I have a guy but this was her advice years ago. I just tell myself that I was born with two ears when I hear bad advice. One ear for the garbage in, one ear for the garbage out. She is one of those people who looks great in red. Funny thing is that my dad keeps telling her how much he loves her when she wears brown. It’s his favorite color.

    2. KateM*

      Yeah. Why would my boss need to know that in 4th form (or whenever it was) I struggled with long division (assuming it’s relevant to my job) when I have no problems with that anymore?

    3. Lab Boss*

      If OP2 is really concerned about her past history, she could talk to her current manager about *specific* elements that gave her trouble before. Not by giving the entire story of her past troubles, but in one of her feedback sessions she could bring up something like “On a previous project I had a lot of trouble knowing how much we were allowed to change our design goals once the project started. Can we take some time at these meetings to go over when that is and isn’t allowed?”

      It’s acknowledging a past problem but in a focused way. An employee who comes to me and says “I messed up a lot” gives me questions, an employee who comes to me and says “I messed this up before and this is what I need to know to not mess it up again” impresses me with their focus on improvement.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree with this. I think it would be good for the OP to proactively talk to their boss – not to lay out their whole history, but as you say, to say ‘I’m aware that I’m still getting up to speed on X, Y and Z, and I’m concerned by how my lack of experience impacted the Oatmeal project last month. Now that Porridge is getting going, I don’t want to make the same mistakes. I know that I need to [things learned from previous project], but I’d appreciate it if you could let me know whether there’s anything else I need to be looking out for so I can stay on track with this one’.

    4. All the words*

      Well said. And in my experience a person who demonstrates that they *want* to do a good job and is actively trying to improve is much more likely to get the guidance they need. I believe managers can generally tell if someone’s doing not great work because they just don’t care that much. I doubt they’d feel greatly moved to spend extra energy on those employees.

      1. NancyPCat*

        That person is also much less likely to be put on an improvement plan or have other “adverse” consequences. If I have an employee who I know is actively working on improvement and showing at least some results, I’m less likely to think s/he needs an improvement plan because s/he is already doing the work. And I would always rather have an employee who’s trying to improve than one who thinks they know everything.

    5. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      Yes, exactly. Telling the manager her “issues” is priming him to look at her negatively because he’ll be on the lookout to see if past mistakes are being repeated. What OP did is actually perfect.

  7. nnn*

    #4: if it’s not possible to find a whole new home for the printer, would it be possible to put it just outside the door that people keep knocking on?

    Or, if not, could it be put just inside the door? People might feel less need to talk to you if the printer is *right there* while you’re *way across the room*.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m almost wondering if the printer may be in an area that was a front desk at one point. I’ve seen that set up before, and the door is the back door from the office to the front desk.

      Still – I think new home for the printer is the best solution – and preferably a home that isn’t also an office for some other staff member.

    2. turquoisecow*

      Also, does the door need to be closed all the time if people are just coming in without knocking sometimes but not other times? Like if someone needs to talk to you they knock but if they need the printer they don’t? That would confuse me, too, because I would assume if there’s a door to an office and it’s closed, the person inside is busy and doesn’t want to be disturbed, so I would knock if it was urgent (like I need this printout immediately, I guess?) or otherwise wait until it’s open to talk to the person if it’s not urgent. I don’t blame Jane for being confused.

    3. Musereader*

      yes, just inside the door with a screen or baffle board behind it/ between you and it so that you are out of sight, even just a cheap japanese style folding screen around it

    4. College Career Counselor*

      I know some people aren’t fans of signs (because they can be taken as passive-aggressive), but if this is a closed door that two people are working behind, what about a sign that says something like this:

      1. If you’re picking up a print job, please enter without knocking (we’re on deadline)
      2. If you specifically need one of us for something, please knock to get our attention

      But yeah, that printer needs to move like six months ago.

      1. Sloanicota*

        It sucks because I can almost understand that to Jane, it feels almost rude to silently walk into a room where two colleagues are and *not* acknowledge / address them – although once she tried it out a few times she might realize it’s actually totally fine! But it’s a slightly awkward cultural thing. Sympathy all around.

        1. introverted af*

          This was my thought – to me it’s just good manners to acknowledge I have entered your space. It’s like walking through a (reasonably) small lobby and not acknowledging the receptionist/security/etc. in my head. And also only a couple experiences of a colleague jumping when they realized you’re in the room because you moved quietly to avoid distracting them put me off that significantly. But I would definitely contain it to a basic hello unless they started some additional conversation.

        2. generic_username*

          Same. I’d have to work really hard to not say “good morning” or “good afternoon” every time I walked in.

  8. Nodramalama*

    #3 it kind of sounds like the hiring manager did indicate that they wanted to reschedule and OP implied there was no other time.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes I got that impression also. Both sides didn’t communicate very well here. By asking “is this a good time?” rather than just stating it, I think it’s often taken that ‘yes’ is the socially expected answer. Keeping in mind that from OPs perspective, they still don’t actually have the offer and it could be yanked away even very last minute!

    2. Reba*

      It would have been nice for the hiring manager to be really clear in their question, “is there a better time, like tomorrow or next week”? Because it sounds like OP was thinking there was no better time *that day* and assuming that the conversation had to happen immediately, when perhaps that was not the case. And to say “I (hiring manager) would like to reschedule” rather than putting that to OP to decide.

      I think this is one of those situations where it’s common to feel you ought to acquiesce or be as agreeable as possible, because the employer has power over the applicant and the applicant wants to do everything right and be easy to work with or whatever! Especially with an active job process, you might worry that you would be rejected if you don’t jump to it.

      So even though the employer said “is this a good time?” I could see myself saying “oh no haha this is great” even when it’s an inconvenience to me.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I would be all the less likely to admit to it not being a good time when it’s a possible future boss, rather than just a colleague, and here it was not just a possible future boss but *several possible future colleagues* too!!!! They’d had to liaise to find a time when everyone could take part in the call, and rescheduling would maybe prove tricky.
        But when you have to organise a call with several participants, surely it makes sense to loop the person you need to call in too? I can’t get my head round the fact that several people had to put aside their everyday tasks to take part in a call, but OP had no idea they were going to call then.

    3. Smithy*

      Recently I’ve had offers come by way of an email saying “when is a good time to talk”, we schedule a time, and then I receive the offer.

      Each time I kind of assume that’s the stage we’re at in the interview and kind of internally scream about how ridiculous this is and can’t they just email me the offer letter and then provide a time for me to ask questions. As irritating as I have found this process – largely cause I’m at the pins and needles stage and just desperate for the offer – reading this letter I’m very grateful to not find myself in that situation.

      While I do understand the technical and unemotional pieces about finding a good time to speak in a quiet place, by the time you’re receiving an offer – there’s often nervousness, anticipation, anxiety, etc at play emotionally. And opting to postpone until after an international flight, providing yourself buffer time to get out of the airport and to a quiet place to take a call, and then either remain awake for the call (if it’s at a tolerable business hour) or go to sleep to wake the second you can take the call……that all sounds like torture.

      In a similar situation, I think the best option would be to share that you were about to take an international flight, go under anesthesia for surgery or whatever other significant delay you might be encountering. Then request if it might be possible for details to be shared via email and then catch up via telephone to discuss any questions.

      1. Commenter*

        Yes, email does seem like a good solution here! I can understand wanting to actually ‘make’ the offer via phone, but that’s sort of the only thing that needs to be shared in-person right (I’m sure there are unique cases where this is not true, but it’s not clear to me that this is one of those cases)? I feel like most offer calls, especially in a situation like this, could be ‘OK well we just wanted to give you the good news, we’ll send your offer letter via email now, why don’t we set up a time in 3 days once you’ve had some time to review’? Maybe some jobs like making the salary offer live so it’s harder for people to negotiate (like, they haven’t had time to think about it)?

  9. JM60*


    This is one of the reasons why I don’t like calls as a means of communication. You never know what someone is in the middle of when your call is interrupting them.

    I also hate feeling like I have to answer calls when I’m looking for a job.

    1. Nancy*

      That’s why phones have voicemail and the ability to turn the volume off. Some conversations cannot be done through email or tex.

      1. Rocket*

        Yeah this was my first thought. OP was in a busy and loud airport. Why did they even answer the phone?

        1. quill*

          Presumably because they were afraid they would miss something while on the airplane / knew a job might call but didn’t expect a long conversation.

          1. Rocket*

            Okay, but like…it’s okay to miss things when you’re on a plane and call people back when you’re available. Having a cell phone doesn’t mean you need to pretend you’re available 24/7.

      2. JM60*

        Sure, you can let calls go to voicemail. But most people won’t feel like they can do that to a potential employer they’ve been interviewing with.

      3. The OTHER Other*

        Seinfeld has a joke pointing this out. “What is the point of answering the phone with ‘I can’t talk now’? Just don’t answer it!”

    2. Elder Millennial*

      A very easy solution to this specific problem seems to be to send an email to ask for a convenient time before making a phone call.

      Sure, it means you have to wait a bit to make the call, but it means that people don’t have to be available all day and it means that you don’t *still* call at an inconvenient time despite all the waiting next to the phone people do.

    3. LaLa*

      I’m not in the habit of making unplanned phone calls, but when I *do* make them now (and way back, in the dark ages, when I was a hiring manager,” my first question after saying hello was ALWAYS, “is this a good time to chat?”

      Sounds like neither the hiring manager nor the letter writer in this case handled this well.

    4. Zee*

      I also hate feeling like I have to answer calls when I’m looking for a job.

      Same! But I have actually had it happen, more than once, where I missed a call from someone who wanted to schedule an interview and they just dropped me from their candidate list (never responded to my calls or emails).

  10. Brightwanderer*

    OP2, one thing I want to flag – you say that being put on an improvement plan is a 60-day notice of firing. Are you sure? I know that some companies do operate that way, so if you’re certain yours is one of them, I believe you. But also, I know that way too many people think/have been taught that a PIP always equals firing, rather than an actual chance to improve (and actually – it almost sounds like that would be helpful to you? If you had a clear guide of what you need to do over the next few months with goals to meet?). So I think it’s worth checking that piece of info if you’re not sure.

    1. Allonge*

      It’s worth checking for sure, but… if someone is six months in and still has major issues with the entire industry and concepts, and the company culture, it may be better if it’s treated like it anyway. There is a limit to how much time both OP and the company have for this experiment that does not seem to be going well.

    2. Pants*

      I’d also add: why are you sharing so much with your mother when she doesn’t always give good advice? Tell her what she wants to hear and go about your business.

      1. Nameless in Customer Service*

        Yes, this. LW#2, you may have to put your mother on what’s known as an “information diet” — if you don’t tell her about something she can’t give you bad advice about it. My next comment will be a link to a past AAM letter where there was discussion of this and of how to deal with parents generally.

        1. Pants*

          When my mom says “the world needs more lies,” this is exactly the situation she meant. “Information Diet” is a far, far better way to say it! :-)

      2. Rocket*

        Because some people like their moms? And recognize them to be human beings who can’t be expected to give great advice for every circumstance?

    3. The OTHER Other*

      I was going to say this. If PIP’s at this company are simply a prelude to inevitable firings, either the company isn’t using them very effectively or the people put on the PIP’s are not making the changes they need to make. Since LW indicates they are new to the corporate work world, perhaps their opinion about PIP’s has been based upon rumor, which is notoriously unreliable.

      I have put several people on PIP’s. 2 flourished, 2 at least became OK/good, another moved to a job in another department (which I helped him get) where he flourished, and only 1 was terminated.

  11. Medusa*

    #3: I feel like everyone could’ve handled it differently. You could just have not picked up because you were in a noisy airport. They could just have sent you an email. You could’ve picked up and once you realized it was too noisy to really talk have said that you were about to board a plane so if it was possible to email you and you’d get back to them once you landed. Or they could’ve said that it sounded like you were traveling so they’d email you and you could get back once you landed. I don’t get why they were so annoyed

    1. Loulou*

      Okay, but if you were waiting to hear from a job you really wanted, and you were going to be truly unavailable for the next day+, wouldn’t you pick up? I quite literally can’t imagine being able to stand the suspense!

      1. Smithy*

        Absolutely this. The power dynamic is just not the same.

        Now….my last job offer came with an email from the HR rep saying “when a good time for us to talk next” and offered me meeting times up to a week out. I do understand that had I been juggling a number of offers/traveling overseas perhaps that would have been appreciated. But for many jobseekers….I would have happily scheduled a meeting time within the next fifteen minutes had it been offered.

      2. Rocket*

        If I was in a super loud airport and there was no quiet place for me to slip into? No, I would have let it go to voicemail.

        1. pancakes*

          I might do the same. If I did pick up I’d say, loudly, “I’m sorry but I’m in a noisy airport, please call back and leave a voicemail and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” This isn’t complicated.

      3. generic_username*

        Yeah, and I feel like it being a conference call/a bunch of people being on the line, would make me feel weird about asking to reschedule the call. Like, they all gathered specifically to call me with good news. My guess is that the caller was less annoyed about the noise and more annoyed about the call not being a big show of joy and gratitude because of the noise and distractions. They would have probably had the same disappointment had OP not picked up, OP just wouldn’t have heard it. Regardless, I doubt it’ll impact their working relationship with the person

      4. bookworm*

        Yeah, when I was just out of college on the tail end of the great recession I got an offer call (and accepted the job on the spot, oops!) while on a NYC subway platform. I was young and it had been a rough time (I was in NYC because I was traveling to a close friend’s memorial service). Cell reception was spotty and the trains are SO loud when they pull into the station. In retrospect I should have let the call go to voicemail and answered later, but I was young and desperate for a job and some good news and didn’t feel like I could risk them just moving on to the next candidate. My future boss was great about it, and ended up being a great boss all around.

        The reaction of the person making the offer feels like maybe a yellow flag about the offer as a whole. if the person making the offer is going to be your supervisor, I’d think back on the interview process about whether the person showed other instances of being a passive-aggressive communicator, or being unaware of power dynamics at play in situations. Also worth reflecting on your own communication style more generally and whether it seems destined to clash in unhelpful ways.

  12. Alanis*

    I worked for a company that set up a monthly staff survey with a free text box. One of the the staff used the free text to recount what she (admin level) considered bullying behaviour from her manager (director level). There was a famous all-staff meeting where the words ‘saying your manager is bullying you is actually you bullying them’ and ‘the staff survey is not for negative feedback’. Yes this was entirely indicative of the level of management at that organisation. The free text box was removed from the staff survey, it was run 2 more times and then it disappeared.
    I think the learning from that is that bad management who doesn’t want to hear that they are mad management, won’t acknowledge they are bad and feel the only reaction to negative feedback is punishing the messenger just shouldn’t do staff surveys.

    1. All the words*

      My employer loves these surveys, except for the first year they conducted them. It had been a particularly rough couple of years. The workload was overwhelming, we were on mandatory OT for over a year. When we’d meet a goal we’d be thanked, congratulated, and rewarded with an even higher goal for the next day. They refused to hire adequate staff. Raises were pathetic. People were exhausted and fed up.

      Then came the survey announcement. Management was super excited about it and bullied us relentlessly to participate & be honest, promising to go over the results with the staff & their plans for addressing concerns that seemed widespread. It was going to be the greatest opportunity to make the workplace better for everyone! Rah rah team!

      So we dutifully answered the survey honestly. Once they saw the (scathing) responses management pretended that the whole thing never happened and it was never mentioned again. This was many years ago and most of those managers have moved on. We still do those surveys. Now I answer everything with “neither agree nor disagree.” It’s gotten to be a much better workplace over the years though.

    2. Beth*

      I remember when a former employer interrupted us in the middle of a desperately busy crunch time to require us to lose half a day sitting in a training on . . . I barely remember what; I think it was supposed to be on self-care under stressful work conditions, but the training was utter garbage. I wondered if the trainers had been hired because someone at their company was either sleeping with or blackmailing someone at mine — it was that bogus.

      Afterwards, we were given surveys and asked for honest feedback. I honestly responded that I thought the training was an appalling waste of time, and that the money spent on it should have gone to salary increases for the overworked staff. I was told that negative feedback wasn’t helpful, that it hurt people’s feelings, and I should focus on the positive. Apparently the training was supposed to have been a nice fun break.

      Not long afterwards, I started to positively focus on getting out of that industry.

      1. All the words*

        So they weren’t looking for “feedback” as much as they wanted to hear compliments & ego stroking. But hey, the survey and training gave you the push you needed to get out, so I guess that’s good?

    3. TrixM*

      This reminds me of my last employer who carried out a staff satisfaction survey weeks *after* they announced they were restructuring (outsourcing) most of the IT branch. 200 of us out of around 4000 employees total.

      It was hilarious. For some reason, the IT branch only gave a 30% “approval” rating for senior management, while giving our immediate bosses glowing reviews. I’m actually surprised it was as much as 30%.

      The company did not announce the results that year. We knew about the results because one area of the IT branch was actually responsible for working with the survey company and distributing the dumbed-down results package to all staff. At least until the executive put the kibosh on it.

      It was on the back of declining ratings from the IT branch over a few years – when you’re running your IT operations at 15% less staffing levels than even PwC consultants say are necessary for the workload, said staff will notice.

      Well, at least with outsourced IT, they don’t need to worry about those pesky staff surveys. I hope they’re also enjoying the 350% IT delivery cost increases that a little bird whispered to me about a couple of years subsequently.

  13. Helvetica*

    LW#4 – if I were working there, I’d feel awkward entering a room where people are working and *not* acknowledging them, even if I don’t need anything from them specifically. It feels ruder to me to just pretend that you’re not there. However, if the colleagues used Alison’s script to make it clear that they prefer to work this way, I’d feel less awkward. Since Jane is new, and since you have not been as clear as you think you have, please do explicitly say that you do not want nor need to be acknowledged.

    And also, yes that printer or you need to move somewhere else!

    1. JustaTech*

      Maybe OP4 could recruit some help from their other coworkers who are good at picking up their printouts without knocking/announcing themselves? Like, if OP and Cecil aren’t getting through maybe Mary and Bob could also say “hey, I know it feels weird to ignore OP and Cecil when you grab a printout, but they really do prefer it.”

      Because the “please ignore us” is weird in a general way, but it’s also clearly a thing that does work in this specific workspace.

  14. Sean*

    LW1: The fact that the CEO fired the bearer of bad news demonstrates perfectly his unsuitability to be in charge of anything, let alone a company.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Yeah. if the COMPANY allowed him to be CEO (presukming he is not an owner), then the COMPANY has a serious problem. Why are you still there?

      You can’t care more about the company’s success than the people charged with it being succesful. If the company fails because of this guy, you aren’t going to get any awards for trying to save the company. If you leave and it fails, NOT YOUR CIRCUS NOT YOUR MONKEYS.

  15. pixel pusher*

    #4 Oh gosh. As somebody who’s not great at picking up on social cues, and as somebody who talks more when nervous, I am afraid of being my office’s Jane!

    1. 1,000 Snails in a Lady Skin*

      As someone who knows I’m 100% a “Chatty Cathy”, I also fear that I’m a Jane and distracting people from their work!
      I agree with all the advice that says to be direct, I’d rather know early than be annoying forever!

  16. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

    LW2 you say you’re ina new industry with little training–that’s worth bringing up at your 1 on 1 meetings.
    There’s many ways a company can help: send you to training, provide reading material, set you up with a mentor, assign you to assist a senior employee, assign you to a series of smaller projects while you build your skills… but they won’t necessarily know what you need until you talk.
    Don’t feel bad asking–a well run business invests in its employee’s training!

  17. Richard Hershberger*

    LW3: I received the call in response to my resume while I was in the recovery room with my wife and newborn daughter. I walked out to take the call, explained where I was, and had a very brief conversation that mostly set up a better time to talk. I got the job. This was twelve and a half years ago. It is am amusing anecdote that makes it easy for me to remember when I got hired.

  18. SherSher*

    I could have written the first letter! Our grandboss was exactly like this. We spent those years doing more damage control than anything else, I sometimes think. And when the survey results showed that he was the problem, what did he do? He blamed it on the executives below him. Fortunately, he finally left and has changed jobs again I heard recently. As long as he isn’t working with me, IDC!

  19. Not So NewReader*

    OH, OP 2. Mom needs an information diet. It’s not just that her advice is off, but she also gets “mad” over it if you don’t follow the advice. ugh.

    Very seldom in life do we get to keep something because of our tale of woe. We see this all over the place. The bank won’t let me just have my house because my husband died. They don’t care. They want their mortgage payments regardless. Jobs go down a similar road. Employers don’t care what has happened in the past.

    I get it. Things “should be” a lot different. But “should be’s” don’t serve us as what runs in real life is different. Ideal World vs. Real World.
    As you get yourself settled in this job you can vow that you will look for opportunities to mentor (formally or informally) others who cross your path during your working career. In current time, you can keep your eye peeled for that friendly cohort who is willing to give you random tips. If you show yourself as open to well thought out advice, people tend to come back with more.

    Working at improving the areas that the boss told you about is perfect. In the end, you could have a boss who finds you to be a very impressive person. It takes a strong work ethic to set our hurts/fears to one side and dig in to correct our problems. A good boss knows this. As a supervisor I had people who worked very hard to get on track. Their reward for this was they became some of my key people. Their willingness to learn and grow inspired me to give them new tasks and special projects. This is because I knew I could trust them to work it though and ask me questions if they had a problem.

    I sense a bit of despair here in your letter. I hope I can encourage you that you are getting some important things RIGHT, such as taking feedback in a professional and adult manner. This is worth something, OP. I hope sometime soon you get to see how much it is worth.

    Just like life- at work the choices we make when the chips are down is what makes us or breaks us. You can come out the other side of this and be really proud of yourself. I know this can happen, I have seen it too many times.

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      This is SUCH great advice.
      I second all of it. And please do put your mother on an information diet. She doesn’t need to hear this much about your job. You sound like you have really good instincts and you don’t need them overridden by her inaccurate advice.

    2. E*

      agreed, why would you be sharing this level of detail with your mom about your professional life in the first place?

      1. Loulou*

        Comments like this come up on every single letter about a parent’s/friend’s/spouse’s advice and the answer is literally always “because different people are different than you and conduct their relationships differently.”

      2. Nanani*

        Because they’ve always had a close relationship and mom is safe to talk to about other things?
        Because work is a normal thing to talk about with close people?
        Because they’re living with mom? Because mom asked?

        Lots of possibilities and I’m not even the OP

      3. TrixM*

        Also, given the comment about the shared cultural background as the boss, it seems possible the LW is from a culture that is more closely involved with family day-to-day. If they are also a minority in the wider culture, it’s pretty common that people in that position consult with family on strategies to get ahead. It also might help explain some of the mother’s anxiety about “coming clean” about something there is absolutely zero need to come clean about.

        Also, LW sounds fairly young to me, so there’s that. I agree that a mild information diet for mother that this stage is a good idea. “I’m consulting with manager as you recommended, mum, and they have generously agreed to having these meetings with me every week.”

        Then, if LW wants mother to feel like she’s not being left out of the news loop, give one or two nuggets about meeting details, such as if boss gave specific feedback or a task assignment. Also, importantly, relay any positive feedback boss gives!

        But in general, I think it is a good idea to somewhat scale back the amount of info shared with family. I wouldn’t disregard all their advice, at all – going to boss and asking for more guidance is a great suggestion. But as Alison implies, that kind of situation is not a confessional for all your work sins ever.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m going to echo the advise for an information diet for mom. It sounds like she wants so badly to help, but that the times have moved on from her a bit.
      In a lot of ways the information diet related to work has greatly helped my relationship with them, because they were in very different fields from me.

      1. quill*

        Seconded: an information diet isn’t just for parents who you don’t have a warm relationship with! It’s also for parents who mean well but have no experience in your field / can’t give good advice / give advice you can’t follow / worry enough that managing their worry increases your stress / really think you shouldn’t travel on the bus in Chicago because it’s “not safe.” Practice with little boundaries! And don’t think this means you can’t still use that parent’s emotional support, just give fewer details. Instead of telling the whole story when she asks how work was, say something like “A little frustrating, we had some technology issues but it got fixed by the end of the day,” or “I learned a new process.”

        1. pancakes*

          Yes, good point.

          It’s interesting here that mom wants the letter writer to take a sort of confessional approach to work problems with their manager, while the letter writer would probably benefit from being more circumspect and reticent with regard to both their manager and their mom.

        2. Software Dev (she/her)*

          This always weirds me out that people’s immediate go to is this weirdly infantalizing approach. Obviously an information diet is a must for parents who continually overstep boundaries or have narcissistic traits, but parents are also adults who can be reasoned and communicated with. And I know a lot of people will say “well not /my/ parents” and that’s fair, do what you have to to keep your sanity and maintain the relationship, but I think in this case I’d push back on your Mom and talk about why you feel its a bad idea.

          I feel like some people have decided the only way to have a parental relationship is to keep the peace by never disagreeing and sometimes that’s true…but not for everyone?

    1. Mental Lentil*

      “Hi Jane! Just here to pick up my printouts! It’s too bad you don’t have a door so I can knock and not disturb you. Oh, you’re in the middle of something? Never mind me, just here to pick up my printouts! Have a great day and I’ll see you the next time I need to print something!”

      Seriously, though, Jane sounds like she is just trying to fit in and is being extremely awkward about it. I have been like that in the past.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Jane might genuinely enjoy a revised office set-up that had lots of people dropping by for a quick friendly chat throughout the day.

        I agree that Jane is being awkward and trying to fit into the office, not evil. “How to act in the print room” is not something she could readily observe for cues from wherever she sits, so she’s defaulting to treating OP and Cecil like people-not-furniture, when treating them like furniture-not-people really sincerely would help.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          I like this phrasing. This helps people who don’t pick up on these clues.

          I got a very strong “Making copies!” vibe from the letter.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I almost get the feeling like OP is to the “making copies” point, but Jane is possibly just so new she doesn’t realize that she is breaking the office culture around the printer. I think having a very explicit, firm, but polite conversation with Jane about what OP needs is the first thing to try.
            Oh, and get with Cecil and make sure you are both on the same page. Having the two of you respond the same to Jane’s interruptions will cut them down faster than if you’re both reacting differently will.

            1. quill*

              Neither OP nor Jane necessarily has to change, but that printer needs to be moved out of the office, which they presumably have so they can have either privacy or a sound buffer.

  20. Shiba Dad*

    OP1 – Twice I have started working at companies after a third party consultant evaluated operations. In both cases the consultants determined the owners were the main problem. In the first case, the Very Well Known Consulting Firm was fired (not sure about second case). In both cases the consultants’ findings were ignored.

    People in authority often have egos in proportion to that authority. Often those egos are pretty fragile.

    1. Whoop There It Is*

      In my experience, it’s also that people in leadership often *think* they want to improve things, but when they hire a consulting firm to dig into it and the consultants say, “Here are your problems and here’s how to fix them,” there’s no appetite to do the hard work to make change. (Particularly when it’s culture change, or paying people more.) My old job paid a consulting firm to do a salary survey that found everyone was grossly underpaid, but the company didn’t have the budget to fix it, so they gave us all a $1K/year raise and went ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Sometimes the leadership is in a bubble and expects the consulting firm to just affirm what they’re already doing, or thinks that paying for an expensive report on the problem is the same as fixing it.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      This has definitely been my experience working in small companies. The boss has set everything up himself, he’s worked hard to get there, and is rightfully proud of being master of all he surveys. Then there comes a point where the qualities that got him to that point are just not enough to keep the momentum up, because the growing firm has needs that he just doesn’t have the time or inclination to explore in any depth (typically a proper HR department rather than just Amy who deals with the payroll along with the accounts), which is when he decides to ask for advice. I expect they’re hoping to be told to invest in a Shiny New Thing, and instead they get told that they need to treat their staff better, and pay the juniors a salary on a par with other firms, and hire more staff dealing with administrative nitty-gritty, rather than more developers and designers (those who he considers does the “real” work).

  21. Twisted Lion*

    OP4 I have a typewriter in my office (yeah I know…. but our business still uses it) and 2 other people come in all the time to use it. I try to ignore them because I don’t have time to always talk. But inevitably they will break my concentration. I cant move mine because I need to use it daily and be at my desk to answer phones for the C-suite executive. Its just…. ugh. I hate it.

    They both have their own typewriters but insist mine is better which makes no sense to me. So I feel your pain. I hope you can get your printer moved or just be more frank with her and be like please, we cant talk to you.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Oh, heck no. Use your own damn tools.

      “Oh, Jane, is your typewriter broken? Let me give you a maintenance order form. Luckily you can fill it out by hand.”

      Also, leave something in there … some hard to line up document that you’re “about to get back to”. “Sorry Jane, I’m in the middle of something there. You’ll have to use Fergus’s typewriter if yours isn’t working.”

    2. just another bureaucrat*

      Ok typewriters are something where 100% you can have better and worse ones and if yours is used daily I’m not at all surprised it’s better. But that is actually a very sensible thing to say. That said getting the others cleaned up and made to work better is something that can be done and something to look into to solve it, assuming that yours isn’t just a superior model.

      Mostly I just wanted to say a typewriter!

      1. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

        I would love to get rid of mine, but too many state agencies still use paper forms that I have to type.

        1. Observer*

          I don’t know where you are, but in NY (City and State), every Agency will give you a PDF version of their form if you ask.

          If not, here is the way to get around this: San the documents into a PDF file. Then you have three ways to fill it out.

          1. Most work to set up but the best if you are going to be using the same form over and over. Get a program that allows you to create / edit PDF files. Turn the file you just scanned in, into a form. Then you can fill out the form, print it off, and then reuse the form. No more typewriter.

          2. Use a PDF editing program to add the text in the spots you need to fill out the form. That’s a good option for situations where you are not likely to use the form again.

          3. Use a PDF reader that has a “typewriter” function. That lets you enter text where you want and you can generally print it off. That’s also a good choice for one-off forms. And it’s generally free.

          It’s well worth it. Filling out forms with a physical typewriter tends to be much more time consuming and annoying than doing it on computer. And doing it on computer makes it easy to keep a copy of the form you filed without needing to keep tons of paper.

      1. BadWolf*

        Me too — although I’d imagine it would be handy to dash off a quick envelope or label. Easier than trying to guess how to do the layout and load the printer with the right paper/angle/etc.

      2. Camellia*

        Typewriters do not surprise me. Because I work in insurance. And there are states (in the USA) that still require forms to be completed in BLUE ink, which means they can’t be completed or copied electronically. Oh, and we still have to have a fax number. Because folks just won’t let go of these out-of-date things.

        1. Casper Lives*

          Does it have to be handwritten? My PDF program at work allows me to creat text fields in a PDF, change the text color (to blue for this), and we have a color printer / scanner.

        2. Observer*

          It’s increasingly easier to simply refuse to do fax, although I do agree that there are SOME situations where you really can’t do that. But that doesn’t mean you need a fax machine. There are a bazillion services that let you “rent” a fax line for a few dollars a month. All your faxes go to email and you use a print emulator to send faxes.

          As for the Blue ink? That’s the biggest joke. Just get a color printer and put all of the text that you need in blue ink.

          It’s a joke not only because it is SOOOOO easy to bypass, but also because the underlying reason for the idea is a few decades out of date.

          1. Jamie Starr*

            I still fax things….to the IRS! Maybe like once every couple of months. They won’t accept the documents by email so it’s either fax, or a trip to the post office to wait in line so I can mail it certified return receipt. Nope! Faxing is faster and less expensive (both literally and when factoring the value of my time).

      3. Ginger ale for all*

        Libraries sometimes have one for patron use. They get popular at certain times of the year for craft projects, etc.

    3. Observer*

      They both have their own typewriters but insist mine is better which makes no sense to me.

      That’s different. You have standing to insist that they do NOT use your typewriter. And if they like yours better, they should request that their typewriters be replaced.

    4. Casper Lives*

      I’m curious what industry needs a typewriter in this day and age! Is it carbon copies?

      I suspect some opposing counsel to use typer writers for filings because of the spacing and the type face. A computer could ape that but these guys say refuse to figure out virtual meetings, so I have my doubts.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          Didja hear the one about the 3.5″ floppy diskettes?

          (Yeah, it’s a real thing. I think Ars Technica did a story on it once.)

  22. anonymous73*

    #3 I think you both handled it incorrectly. I get that you wanted to talk to them because you were excited about a job offer, but you should have explained where you were, let them know when you were available and set up another time. Or asked if they could email you the details and talk about it later. Assuming you did get the job, I would also keep the annoyance of the hiring manager in the back of your mind. I wouldn’t call it a red flag, but maybe a yellow one. You can’t just call a job applicant randomly and expect them to be able to drop everything immediately to speak with you, and then get annoyed with them when they can’t give you their undivided attention. I just hope this isn’t a sign of them being difficult to work for.
    #4 It’s clear that hints and jokes aren’t working. Tell Jane what you need from her. “When you come in to use the printer, please pretend we’re not here. The continuous interruptions break our concentration and we lose focus on our work. Of course if you need something from us or have a question about work, we’d be happy to help.”

    1. Rocket*

      See and for #3, I don’t understand why people who are unavailable or going to be severely inconvenienced by being on the phone answer. This is what voicemail is for.

      1. anonymous73*

        I feel the same, but I’ve also been excited for a potential new job opportunity and if I recognized the number and knew who was calling, I’d be afraid that if I missed the call I’d miss out on the opportunity. So I’d probably be inclined to answer, let them know where I was and try to reschedule at a more convenient time.

      2. bookworm*

        I think there are a lot of different “phone cultures” that end up clashing against one another. For example, I tend to instinctively interpret an unscheduled phone call from an business contact as “I have something important and sensitive to discuss with you audibly and you should pick up if you possibly can” because if you were OK with leaving me a voicemail, why didn’t you just email or message me on whatever platform we use (text, teams, slack etc) instead? Or the voicemail is the cryptic, anxiety-inducing “Hey, it’s ______, give me a call back when you have a sec.” I’m aware that not all people interpret phone calls this way, but there are a lot of us who do.

  23. Fernie*

    LW4, I was Jane at a past office! A colleague kept the key to a storeroom in her desk drawer. Although I am not a vampire, I Could Not bring myself to cross the threshold of her cubicle without announcing myself and getting her permission to enter. She tried a few times to say, casually and politely with a wave of the hand, “Oh, you don’t have to ask me when you need to use the key!” But I did not get the message until she was very firm and very serious.

    Jane might also have a deeply engrained rule about entering another person’s space. which means you’ll have to be very firm and direct to override it.

    1. jane's nemesis*

      Thank you for clarifying that you’re not a vampire. Though, that’s totally something a vampire would say…. *narrows eyes*

      1. LW4*

        It’s times like this where I’d love to give awards for comments. I admit I had to screenshot your comments for posterity.
        And thank you to Fernie for your insight as a former Jane!

  24. Chauncy Gardener*

    Re-the CEO in OP#1’s post:
    He’s being bullied?? That’s just breathtakingly amazing. Just when I thought we’d seen everything on AAM, this comes along.
    Alison, you’ve got lifetime employment!

  25. Similarly Situated*

    So I’m in a similar situation than that of OP4. We have a designated printer in our cube for our team, but other teams nearby who do not have their own printers (this is a story all it’s own) often use our printer. We have a Jane and I have just started ignoring her, although I’m close to having a direct conversation with her when the appropriate time comes up as it’s a relatively open office, Alison’s script will come in handy. She is newer and probably doesn’t realize how disruptive it is to say something every time she grabs her printing. I also want to say that just moving the printer is not always a great solution, and neither is cutting off everybody’s access to it. Sometimes you just have to work with the situation you’re given! If I could authorize Jane’s team to have their own printer because they use ours so much I very well would.

    1. TrixM*

      In that situation, I would say the suggestion to put up a head-height (for a standing person) partition between you and the printer might be helpful. It just needs to be one width of partition so that you’re not in anyone’s eye line as they use the printer.

      Also, I have to wonder about all these people using the larger printers directly next to them or in a confined space. Many emit particles and ozone that aren’t “toxic” per se, but are actually not great to inhale all day long. At least with a chunk of partition, it might provide a slight barrier so that the air circulation might reduce some of the particle cloud in your immediate vicinity.

  26. Calibri Hater*

    LW #1

    I worked for a super small company co-founded by two family members. One of them had an ego the size of New York State for literally no reason. His vision for the company changed every other day. He dressed like a total slob (as in, activewear and baseball caps) even for important meetings. He would isolate partners and competitors when everyone else at the company wanted to take opportunities to collaborate. He talked a big game and lost deals, constantly overpromised and disappointed customers. He was a big reason why I left; I actually enjoyed working with his relative and the other people in the company.

    So many people just fall into being a leader when they have absolutely no business leading.

  27. Purple Cat*

    So many questions for LW1.
    If they had access to the results before the 3rd party company was fired, I assume they’re at a higher level of the company themselves? If CEO “fell” into the role, somebody “gifted” it to him. Who is that person? And are they aware of the survey results? This company seems big enough that there’s either a Board of Directors or a global company that can be reached out too.

    Totally frustrating, and absurd to equate honest negative feedback with bullying.

    1. Daniel*

      Given that this board or this company installed this guy in the first place, I’m not sure if I’d be confident with them addressing this in any real way.

  28. Sara without an H*

    OP#1: Your CEO is not going to change. Egotism and insecurity make a bad combination. You may want to start looking around for a position elsewhere.

    OP#4: Move the printer. It’s probably going to be easier than retraining Jane.

    1. Failing Up*

      Moving a giant office printer is easier than having a polite, direct conversation with Jane?

      *Spends days and political capital trying to move this printer to another part of the office, even though it has been perfectly fine for most people for probably decades*

      *Takes <60 seconds to say "Jane, I know you mean well, but actually please don't address us if you just need the printer. It's distracting and that's how we roll. See you at the water cooler!"

      1. Observer*

        Spends days and political capital trying to move this printer to another part of the office, even though it has been perfectly fine for most people for probably decades

        Well, it actually we don’t know that it’s been “working fine” for everyone. Sure, the OP and Cecil have developed an MO that works well for them. But it’s totally not clear that it’s working for everyone else.

        I don’t know if moving a printer makes sense or not. But it does not have to be a situation where the OP needs to burn capital and tons of time. On the other hand, it’s not a given that all that is needed is one 60 second conversation with Jane and then all will be well. In fact, I suspect that even if Jane does do as she’s asked, she is going to be extremely uncomfortable with the whole thing. That’s not the OP’s fault, and they DO need to have that conversation. But it does speak to the issue of whether this set up is really “working fine”.

        1. quill*

          They’re going to need to have that conversation with anyone else who comes by and is new to the printer layout. And it makes way more sense for a printer to be in an actual shared space.

  29. Get that guy a Puppers!*

    LW 5

    Three years ago, I started a job in which my boss announced she’d taken a job outside the area two days after I started. Other than the fact that oh – Gail’s going to be my boss and not Bonnie – it wasn’t a big deal since I hadn’t built a rapport with Gail. It’ll be ok, especially since it’ll be possible for them to know about the transition from their first day.

  30. HannahS*

    OP4, I feel like I know this lady! It doesn’t sound like you’ve clearly told Jane that it’s your *preference* that Jane come in quietly without interrupting you. She’s a social butterfly who’s default setting is to talk to people. It’s honestly not a big deal to say something like, “Oh, hi Jane, sure, come in–listen, because we share an office with the printer we have people coming and going all day. When you come, could you please come in and get your stuff without knocking or talking? I know it feels weird, but it’s really distracting to us otherwise.” Then, every time she doesn’t do that, don’t engage in conversation. “Oh, hi Jane, sorry, I’m just in the middle of something right now,” and repeat as necessary. She might feel uncomfortable and make a show of tip-toeing in and stage whispering or something, but stay the course and it’ll likely or at least dramatically decrease.

    1. Camellia*

      This right here: “Pease come in and get your stuff without knocking or talking. I know it feels weird, but it’s really distracting to us otherwise.”. That’s what needs to be said.

    2. Jaydee*

      I agree. I think this is a situation where Jane has an underlying assumption about what is polite or appropriate – greeting/acknowledging people and getting their permission before entering their space – but that is the actual opposite of what the LW and Cecil want. That needs to be addressed directly so Jane can recalibrate her definition of appropriate/polite behavior.

      And I think explaining it from LW4 and Cecil’s perspective is crucial. This is not a “we don’t want to talk to Jane” thing. This is not an “it’s okay to be impolite to us, we don’t mind” thing (which Jane might be especially sensitive to if there’s a perceived hierarchy in the office between people in Jane’s role and people in LW and Cecil’s role). This is strictly a business necessity, productivity thing. And laying that out – 10 employees grabbing things from the printer on average 4x a day is 40 interruptions per day or 5 interruptions per hour or 1 interruption every 12 minutes, which means if everyone says hi to LW and Cecil every time, they will get literally no work done because research shows it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain focus after an interruption – should help Jane see that actually it’s *more* polite and appropriate to grab your print job quietly and not interrupt LW and Cecil. She may still feel compelled to say hi the first time she comes in each day or something, but you should at least cut her interruptions way down.

  31. Sylvan*

    OP1: You know, the former governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, claimed to be bullied by the state’s residents. Some people don’t do well in positions of authority. Most know their limits and stay out of those positions (I never want to be a manager!), but some end up… like this. I think the solutions are to find a new job or wait for this guy to make an exit.

  32. Phony Genius*

    LW1 used the phrase “third party HR company.” Is that a common thing, to have a third-party company handle HR?

    1. Dino*

      My company does it. It works about as well as you would expect. I will never work for another place that doesn’t have dedicated HR.

    2. WindmillArms*

      At my last job we had third-party HR because it was a tiny company of maybe 5-6 people. Mostly the outsourced HR dealt with stuff like contracts and benefits and pay, not interpersonal stuff!

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        My limited experience has been that it works well when you’re looking at < 10 employees, MAYBE 15 total. Any bigger than that? Hire someone dedicated. (Mileage varies)

        1. JustaTech*

          Better outsourced HR to people who know what they’re doing (laws and regulations and stuff) than just leaving it to the owners who don’t have any idea. Even if they’re not malicious they can still be doing it wrong for *years*.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      You can outsource almost anything. I’ve had outsourced HR before, when the company was <25 total people and the owner didn't see enough HR work for an FTE.

      Dunno how common it is, but it's not unheard of.

  33. Just Me*

    OP 2 – I’m kind of confused about what your mom means when she says you should tell your manager “about all the things that happened in the past and bluntly ask them to guide me (probably because my manager and I come from a similar cultural background).” Is this about things that happened in the past related to your previous client, your past job(s), or your personal life and cultural background? If it’s the last one, then yes, Alison is right that it’s not relevant here (assuming you’re in, say, the US)–in many cultures the proper way to solve a problem is to give your superior context about your life and past experiences and to defer to their authority for advice and guidance (which is what it sounds like she might mean) and that wouldn’t really be the way to go in this context UNLESS you’re struggling to adapt to the work environment because you’ve been working in, say, a different country. But I was also curious if she meant, “I know you’ve struggled with xyz in your jobs [such as having difficult conversations with clients, because of a previous issue with an awful client] and so you should tell your manager that you are worried to be assertive because of these experiences you’ve had professionally and you them to give you feedback on how to do that, and your manager who is also from teapot culture may be more understanding and helpful.” If that’s what she means, she may not be completely off-base.

  34. The Lexus Lawyer*

    OP2 – I mean this in the kindest way possible…maybe it’s time to have mom be less involved in your work life.

    I’m not saying don’t tell her anything, but it sounds a bit problematic that she’s getting upset at you for not following her instructions in the workplace

  35. Observer*

    #4 – If you can’t get the printer moved because you need easy access, can you ask that a second printer be purchased for the rest of the staff? Maybe a lower end printer could be put in your office for just you and Cecil, the “big one” (if yours actually qualifies) could be moved to a more convenient spot.

  36. Esmeralda*

    Haha, I’d be ready to shout “F you Jane”. But as we know, that is not appropriate.

    I would, however, stop her the very next time she pulls that b.s. (knocking AND announcing AND chatting? — yeah, she’s pulling some passive aggressive crap there).

    Tell her straight, not rudely but without any of the niceties because you’ve already done that and it hasn’t worked. No more Mr. Nice Guy!

  37. anonforthis*

    This reminds of how in my last job one of my middle managers thought she was being victimized by our team members because she was being rightfully criticized for her shitty managing and also had a formal complaint filed against her for racial discrimination. She thought it was just a “misunderstanding”.

  38. Elizabeth West*

    Dear moms and other family members,
    Please stop trying to give work or job-hunting advice when you don’t know what’s going on with someone’s workplace or don’t have any idea what they do.
    Thank youuuuuu.

  39. mkl17*

    LW2, Don’t despair. I’m guessing you are a recent grad in a large firm who got dumped on a hot project as your first introduction to the company. I was in the same boat- recently hired into a badly managed project at a big four consulting firm. Zero work experience and in way over my head. It turns out I was a very fine consultant and a very fine employee – but it took a decent manager and a decent mentor. Hopefully your new manager is exactly that, but if not, don’t be shy about finding a new employer. It wasn’t until I went into a good consulting practice (which happened to be a quirky four person firm in a super niche field) that I got superb training. And coincidentally, there I got to do operations assessments at over 50 Fortune 500 companies and man was that an eye opener. I saw crappy employees flying under the radar of absentminded bosses, great talent withering under crappy bosses and some talented and happy people thriving in the right place. It’s a cliché but it really is about fit. It’s tempting to blame yourself when the first fit isn’t right because you don’t have any other professional context- but I can tell by your letter that you’re diligent and conscientious. My bet is that you landed on an overwhelmed project team, didn’t get the coaching that you say is standard for all employees (not to mention brand new hires!), and will do great once you find the right fit. Read all the pages on AskAManager, keep asking your boss for weekly feedback, don’t be afraid to leave this company if they don’t deliver and definitely don’t take career advice from someone you know is overly emotional. You’re going to be awesome.

  40. Anna*

    I so rarely disagree with Alison that I felt compelled to comment. CEOs absolutely CAN be bullied by staff, when they are the CEO of a nonprofit and staff members of the nonprofit are in cahoots with members of the nonprofit’s Board of Directors. I have no idea if that is the dynamic at play here or not, but I’ve seen it happen frequently enough I think it is important to bring up.

    1. Upward Bullying is Real*

      100% this. It’s a great reminder that in complicated organizations, power dynamics aren’t always top down, especially if you’re in middle management. I think about times when someone got a promotion. I’ve witnessed line staff attempt to sabotage them, often in more subtle ways. It has very real professional and mental/emotional consequences, especially if you work in a more specialized sector.

      Comments like the ones left here saying that employees cannot bully those with above them in hierarchy lead to gaslighting of managers who are experiencing it. Women and people of color are also more likely to experience it and not receive support, leading to negative consequences.

      There are certainly poor managers/senior staff who bully those below them and need to be dealt with. But bullying behavior from line staff needs to be addressed too, both peer-to-peer and subordinate to supervisor. Not addressing bullying behaviors–regardless of where someone is on the org chart–will quickly lead to a toxic workplace.

      1. Kit*

        Upward bullying is only possible if it is enabled by an authority above the person being bullied – the Board, for example, or an employee’s grandboss/C-suite (for lower-level managers). A CEO is very rarely in such a position; we’ve had letters about various non-profit boards enabling the bad behavior of volunteers/staff, but it is comparatively unusual, because of the amount of authority a CEO/director/top-level executive holds.

        More importantly, it sounds like this CEO is not beholden to such a power structure, which means that he’s complaining about bullying when what is actually happening is that he is uncomfortable with feedback. Not everything that makes you feel bad is bullying; sometimes, that is the natural consequence of being told that you’re a jerk, and feeling bad can spur you to change and become better! Or, as in this case, it can cause you to shoot the messenger and insist that the people who are pointing out your flaws are the real jerks. Sadly, this kind of response is unlikely to change absent a serious reality-check being delivered to CEO, and obviously neither external HR nor his employees are going to be able to deliver it and have it received.

    2. Observer*

      Let me put it this way – employees bullying their bosses are outliers to start with. When it’s the CEO that’s even more an outlier – enough that it is totally unreasonable to jump to that in a case like this. Even your example (which is NOT common in non-profit sector, for anyone else who is reading) shows how much of an outlier this is. Because it’s THE BOARD who is actually involved. In other words, the actual bullies are not the staff, but the Board, who are in a position of power relative to the ED / CEO.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        “In other words, the actual bullies are not the staff, but the Board, who are in a position of power relative to the ED / CEO.”


        That’s *still* not upwards bullying, since the power is still coming from above (i.e., the Board).

  41. RagingADHD*

    LW2, if you’re old enough to be out of school and have a full time job, then you’re old enough to re-assess your relationship with your mom and how much of her advice to take vs ignore.

    Of course your mom has given advice your whole life. That’s a necessary survival mechanism for children (aka, “Wash your hands. Don’t touch that, it’s hot. Eat your vegetables.”) By the time we’re adults that directive, instructive relationship is supposed to shift into more of a mentor/mentee situation.

    It sounds like you struck the right balance with your manager of what to ask for and what to disclose (or not). Finding the right balance with your mom may be a bit trickier but you can do it. If her being upset about your choices is a problem, tell her less information about your decisions.

  42. Don't kneel in front of me*

    OP#3: if you’re in a situation where you can’t take a phone call then DON’T TAKE THE PHONE CALL. I am perpetually confused by people that choose to accept phone calls when they aren’t able to devote their time, attention, or environment to the caller. You’re wasting your time and the caller’s time if you can’t have a productive phone conversation.

  43. Despachito*

    I think exactly the same. It seems much more logical that Jane misunderstood the hints and is joking in good faith than that she is maliciously mocking OP and Cecil. It would be quite brazen, moreover for a newcomer, to do that.

    And I think if OP assumes misunderstanding rather than ill will, her attitude towards Jane will be much less angry and much more likely to succeed.

  44. Ginger ale for all*

    Although Jane is now gone, I would look into moving the printer anyway. Google the words – printer, fumes, and health and you will see why it might be a good idea to move a high volume printer to a place away from employees. Or perhaps add an air purifier.

    1. Don't kneel in front of me*

      Laser printers emit ozone. Air purifiers emit ozone to purify the air.

  45. C Average*

    Regarding #3:

    There’s a now-legendary story at my previous employer involving an offer call.

    It’s important to set the scene. The hiring manager happened to be on vacation in Hawaii when the decision was finalized and it was time to make the call. He’s walking on the beach, feet in the Pacific, sunglasses on. He punches in the number for the new guy he’s about to hire.

    The new guy is in his car when he gets the call, and he’s polite and friendly as he accepts the offer. “Thanks so much. Yes, that’s perfect. Looking forward to it. See you then.”

    The new guy THINKS he’s hung up; meanwhile, the hiring manager is waiting for the new guy to hang up.

    The new guy launches into a profanity-laden orgy of pure joy. “I’m going to work at [company name]! Yes yes yes! Oh, f— yesssss! This RULES! This is so f—– awesome!”

    This went on for some time until somehow the hiring manager was able to alert the new guy that, um, he was still on the phone.

    (The new guy went on to be a wonderful employee. The story was told many times, with great enthusiasm, by the hiring manager.)

    1. TrixM*

      Erm, I have to wonder why hiring manager didn’t just simply hang up, at the obvious conclusion of the call, or especially when the guy commenced his screams of joy.

      It’s great they had the right attitude about it, but hanging on even longer to “draw it to his attention” just seems really odd to me!

  46. owen*

    OP2 – one thing that strikes me regarding your previous project troubles is that you write wrt the weekly meetings you’ve requested on this project, that “(this didn’t happen on my last project, but it is common practice in our firm)”. It’s worth considering how much impact this had on your performance on that project.

    Clearly you made mistakes, as you say: but crucially, if you (particularly as someone new to the industry and inexperienced) did not have regular feedback sessions in that project, I would say that your manager in that project made perhaps more serious mistakes.

    I just wanted to mention this as it reads as though it was presented to you (in the bad feedback on the quarterly review you mention), and as though you believe, that all the mistakes were yours…. and while I don’t want to minimise your ownership of those mistakes, I do want to mention that it sounds like if you had had the support that is usual in your firm in the form of the weekly meetings you have with this manager, some of those mistakes could almost certainly have been avoided or at least mitigated!

  47. notasecurityguard*

    OP1. I once heard a principal at a school during the typical end of year “good job everyone” meeting start it with “so we had a good year but there’s something i’d like to address. i’d heard people went behind my back to complain to [headquarters] and that felt like being raped…”
    at which point i was very glad i was wearing my sunglasses during that staff-wide meeting and sitting in the back because im pretty sure my eyes shot right out my goddamn head

    in her defense she was a jehovah’s witness and had apparently been to the dentist a few days before for a root canal and was on either vicodin or oxy.
    but still

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