my boss butt-dialed me and I heard an awful conversation, company wants us to provide mental health support to our coworkers, and more

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

1. My boss butt-dialed me and I heard his abusive conversation with his wife

Help! I logged into Teams this morning to find a voicemail from my grandboss, presumably an accidental dial. He doesn’t normally call me but he was covering for my boss last week and so I was a recent call on his phone. The actual message was almost five minutes long and mostly dead air but Teams had transcribed a few sentences that were very garbled but the language that was clear was wildly (wildly!!) inappropriate.

I saw the Teams transcription first but when I listened to the message it was actually worse. The transcription had several iterations of the F word, but in addition, the word transcribed as the nonsensical “coat” was actually a different, very derogatory C word. At first I assumed his voicemail had been hacked. Surely, right? But it was his voice and a (possibly drunken) conversation with his wife and involving the dog. And abusive of both. What do I do with this information? I feel terrible for the wife and especially for the poor dog. But I also feel terrible knowing this. Do I speak to him about it? Send it to HR? Or just delete it and pretend it never happened?

I’m fairly new in this job and have had a good relationship with this man but I will never unknow this information and right now I am extremely bothered. I’m also dying to tell someone because this is right up there with the craziest things that have ever happened to me at work.

That’s terrible. I’m leaning toward “delete and pretend it never happened.” Obviously you can never unknow what you now know about him, but I can’t think of any particularly good outcome from mentioning it to him (other than potentially embarrassing him, which he deserves, but there’s too much chance of him taking that out on you in some way since he has power over you and is, clearly, an asshole). You could send it to HR, but there too it’s unlikely to have a particularly productive outcome — they’ll tell him to be more careful about accidental dials when he has employee numbers in his phone and probably nothing more. You have every right to involve HR if you want to, but it’s not likely to solve the real problem … which is that you now know this man is a jerk.

2. My company wants us to provide mental health support to our coworkers

My company decided to implement a mental health first-aid program. The idea is that people at all levels of the company can take some training and give support to people within the organization who are struggling with mental health concerns.

In theory, I think it’s a good idea but I can’t help but feel wary about it, particularly as although they claim it’s confidential and I’m sure that they will try hard to make sure that it is, I just feel that having a colleague or manager knowing your mental health concerns would be uncomfortable at best, and dangerous at worst. And while I’m sure people would try to remain unbiased, I know that it would affect the way people see others if they knew about some of their mental health concerns.

Nooo, it’s a bad idea. More support for mental health is a great thing — but trying to provide it through untrained colleagues is not. (And yes, they’ll have “some” training. It’s not the same thing.) And that’s before we even get into the privacy concerns you raised, which are real and serious. People shouldn’t need to worry that the reason they missed out on a promotion or high-profile project is because someone at work knows they’ve been grappling with mental health issues. (And that happens — too many people have been passed over after disclosing, say, depression because their boss worried that they “couldn’t handle” the stress of more responsibility.)

If your company wants to provide more mental health support, they should fund actual mental health support (like offering strong mental health coverage as part of their insurance, ensuring those services are low-cost and accessible, offering free and confidential help through an EAP, and being flexible with employees who need time off for therapy or other treatment), not try to cobble it together with amateur volunteers.

Updated to add: It depends on the details of the program! A number of commenters are describing programs that are confined to learning how to recognize when someone is struggling/how to deal with someone in crisis before passing them on to professional support. It’s worth learning more about your program to figure out if it’s a well-implemented version of that or if it’s more invasive.

3. Coworker is organizing a housewarming gift for a colleague

I have a new coworker who is asking us to contribute to a housewarming gift for another coworker. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

The company gifted me flowers when I had surgery last year, but my coworkers didn’t give me any gifts, nor were there any gifts given when I moved house a few years ago. We do Christmas presents but that’s about it, not even birthday stuff. I’m okay with not receiving or giving gifts as I feel it puts undue pressure on my colleagues.

Not sure what’s appropriate. Must I contribute? Will I look like a grinch? Our office is only four people. My boss has already said yes.

No, you don’t need to contribute. It’s complicated by the fact that your boss has already said yes, but you could say something like, “We traditionally haven’t done housewarming gifts when people move, or even birthday stuff. I think that’s good so no one feels pressured to contribute, and we avoid hurt feelings if someone’s occasion gets overlooked.” If you want, you could add, “If you really want to do something, how about we all sign a card?”

It might not stop this particular collection if it’s already in progress, but (a) it’ll explain why you’re not participating, (b) it might give cover to others who don’t want to participate either, and (c) it might stop future ones.

Alternately, if you don’t want to get into all of that, it’s always fine to just say, “Sorry, not in my budget!”

4. Why do people keep scheduling me outside of my provided availability?

I’ve recently been looking for a new remote role, and when recruiters or hiring managers ask for my availability (just via email – no Calendly or Greenhouse link), I’ve been very careful to provide blocks of time with the corresponding am/pm designations and time zone. I’ll say, “I’m available from 2 pm–5 pm CT” which to me means I have a hard cutoff at 5 pm CT.

Unfortunately, on more than one occasion I’ve had meetings scheduled outside of these provided blocks (e.g., using the example above, from 4:30 pm–5:30 pm, or 5 pm–6 pm). At first I figured it was just a clerical error (and maybe it still is), but it’s been happening so often, and even with people in my own time zone, that I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’m the one out of touch.

It thankfully hasn’t caused too many issues yet, but I just wanted to throw it out there and be sure I wasn’t committing some sort of business faux paus. What are your thoughts?

You’re not out of touch. But there’s definitely a thing where some people read time blocks like that and think it means you’re available to start at 5 pm. They shouldn’t read it that way, but they do. The easiest way to head that off is by writing something like, “I’m available from 2 pm–5 pm CT, with a hard stop at 5 pm.” (That gets clunkier when you’re listing multiple time blocks, though.)

5. How do I write nice letters about employees to their boss?

I recently have been running an exhausting gauntlet of international bureaucracy, and instead of complaining about the frustrations, I have resolved instead to write nice letters on behalf of all the workers I have found particularly helpful. I want them to stay! I want them to get promoted! I want them to get a raise! I want them to generally be around to be great for other people! But I feel vaguely silly sitting down at the keyboard to write … whatever it is I want to write. What do I say? “This person was really fast to answer emails and easily saved me two weeks of frustration” doesn’t sound glamorous, so … help?

You can say basically that! But it’s even better if you flesh it out a little more. For example: “I want to tell you what a help Valentina Smith was when I needed her assistance recently. I was in Frustrating Situation X and she did Helpful Thing Y and Helpful Thing Z. She was responsive and efficient, explained each step I needed to take, and made a difficult situation much easier to navigate. I want to make sure you know what a wonderful job she does.”

But really, don’t worry about getting it exactly right — just sending along the praise is the important part, and too few people do it.

{ 557 comments… read them below }

  1. Jess*

    I’ve always thought of mental health first aid as being more “training to recognise that someone may be genuinely struggling” or “how to appropriately and sensitively deal with someone in crisis” before promptly passing them onto THE APPRORIATE AND WELL-TRAINED SUPPORT. (EAP, counselling, etc.)

    Just like normal first aid. You can put on a bandage or keep someone alive until they get to an ambulance or an actual medical trained professional.

    If LW#2’s employer is framing it as anything more extensive than that, I’d be worried.

    1. Moira Rose*

      This was my thought as well. I took workplace-provided suicide prevention training, and that is really important stuff that should absolutely be touted far and wide. The implication of “first aid” is just slapping the metaphorical tourniquet on, not doing all the stuff that comes after.

        1. DEL*

          Mental Health First Aid, along with QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) should be mandatory trainings for all employees, regardless of work. It doesn’t prepare you to provide counseling (which would be inappropriate), but what it does do is help make you more aware of warning signs. Can be helpful for both personal and professional lives. A critical element is that there are organizational policies and resources to help support the training, such as an EAP.

    2. NPO Queen*

      That’s what it was when I took the course. Just how to recognize when a person is in crisis and keep the situation from escalating until actual help can arrive. Went through a bunch of different scenarios, like if someone is schizophrenic and how handling that differs from someone who is suicidal. My training also included wording on how to speak to the police/911, since there had been some recent shootings of mentally ill people at the time. None of this was appropriate for how to counsel a coworker, the idea of using mental health first aid for that just boggles my mind.

    3. JSPA*

      Yes, this. “First aid” is about “what to ignore vs when to gently point someone towards, “we have resources, here are some, if things were bothering me, I might try one of these three first.” It’s like knowing the signs of a stroke or heart attack… not treating a stroke or heart attack.

      That, or it’s about helping with the mental equivalent of bactine or a bandaid. General, “how to talk and listen so people feel heard” stuff.

    4. Crisis Social Worker*

      I am a mental health professional who has taught Mental Health First Aid. It is an excellent, evidenced based, eight hour course that comes with a manual. It is meant for people with no or little knowledge of mental health, to help them identify symptoms of a mental health crisis. If this is what the OP is talking about, she should attend the training.

      1. My Dear Wormwood*

        It’s a 12-hour one over 2 days here in Australia! And run by the same organisation that does CPR, regular and wilderness first aid training. It’s the mental health version of on-the-spot first aid rather than professional medical treatment.

      2. Jerab*

        I’m glad other people have commented on this. My organisation is very supportive of mental health first aid training and has a list of people who have been trained, alongside the list of ‘physical health’ first aides. It’s a great programme.

      3. Irish Teacher*

        It doesn’t sound like her concern is about people attending training or about whether or not she should attend herself, but that she seems to have the impression (or perhaps she knows for a fact) that her boss is going to encourage anybody who has a mental health problem to go and get help from those who have done the training. And no matter how good the training is, there may be people who don’t listen properly or who think “I don’t need these so-called experts telling me what advice to give; it’s just common sense.” I know people who think like this, people who think mental health problems just mean “being stressed over a problem” or “being sad when something bad happens” and that the solution is to basically tell them to stop worrying or cheer up. Hopefully, most of those people wouldn’t sign up to do something like this, but…it doesn’t sound like there is anything to prevent them from doing so if they wanted to.

        It doesn’t sound like the concern is about the training but rather about what is expected from those who take it. There is, in my mind, a big difference between recognising a mental health crisis and being able to report it and being expected to be the go-to person for anybody experiencing mental health problems and possibly even having people you work with who may not know much about mental health thinking you have some training in counselling. It sounds like the company may be giving the impression the people who do the course will be trained in counselling or something similar and the LW is concerned that people may go to them, believing they have more knowledge than they really do.

        The course sounds cool but I’m not sure if getting people in the company to do it “so they can provide support to colleagues struggling with mental health issues” is the best idea.

        I will add that as a teacher, I have colleagues who have done training on mental health and so on and, even when they are the same courses, what people get out of them seems to differ greatly. Some are very knowledgable, for lay people and have an understanding that meets what we need as teachers and also know who to refer to when an issue arises that goes beyond that. Others, while very sincere, seem to just have picked up some of the mantras and apply them to everything, often in an overly simplistic way.

        Hopefully, the company does just want people to do the course and doesn’t have any expectations of those who do it, but it kind of sounds like people will be encouraged to go and talk to them if they are in crisis.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Also, it still has the same problems that Alison raises — you point someone at resources because you think they are having a mental health crisis. This person is now labeled in your mind as “the person with mental health issues.” Look how much arm chair diagnosing goes on here. Can you imagine an office with people who are now “trained” to spot people in crisis?

          Nope the best thing a company can do is make sure they have GOOD mental health coverage that people can actually access. Then make sure that is well known. So people can choose on their own what to access and how. Without their coworkers knowing.

          1. Nina*

            my company tried implementing ‘mental health first aiders’ and all that happened is that now people deliberately avoid saying anything remotely downbeat in front of the listed ‘mental health first aiders’.

            1. AnonToday*

              I wonder if that’s what happened with the Nurse Advice Line a few months ago. I called in with a question about some symptoms that turned out to be no big thing, and apparently she thought I was just calling because I was lonely. That triggered a lengthy questionnaire about things like “how long has it been since you hugged your best friend?” (uh, we’re in a pandemic and she isn’t hugging anyone but her partner so idk, 2019?) “did you shower today?” (no, I shower at the end of the day) and ended up with a recommendation to check into the psych ER if I can’t get anyone to come sit with me all night. (We’re in a pandemic and my middle-aged friend group doesn’t really do sleepovers anyway. WTF?)

              Luckily, I thought of calling a friend who assured her I could stay at her place, in case they decided to have the police bring me in when I didn’t surrender myself. (And then we didn’t actually meet up because she thought Advice Nurse was making problems I hadn’t had before calling and it was 10 pm by then.)

              But I am NOT going to call the Nurse Advice Line again unless I need to get prior authorization for the ER and I’m not sure if I should use first aid and wait for urgent care, or just call 911. They give bad advice anyway, such as not knowing the difference between maintenance and rescue meds for asthma.

      4. Kaboom*

        I took the MHFA training for work last week. I found it to be triggering and inappropriate. I will not assist a coworker who I think is struggling with mental health, or who I think is suicidal. And I find it highly inappropriate to ask anyone to do so. I will tell my boss and then walk away, as it is none of my business nor in my job description to deal with that. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true.

        1. Heather*

          That does sound really harsh! I’d encourage you to try to reframe this for yourself. First aid training is often a little scary or uncomfortable, but it’s important. And presumably you would help a coworker with a physical injury, and not just walk away and say “this isn’t in my job description”? It’s really not that different.

          1. Apples*

            No offence, but responding to someone saying they found talking to a suicidal coworker upsetting and inappropriate by essentially saying “well that sounds like a you problem, suck it up” is a great example of why MHFA is bound to go wrong…!

            1. Kaboom*

              If you experienced childhood molestation, would you want to have a conversation with a coworker (at WORK) that you barely know about THEIR molestation? Probably not. Expecting strangers to take on your psychological trauma, even for a minute, is not anywhere comparable to grabbing an ice pack if they fall down a step.

              1. Jess*

                I don’t think it’s that kind of expectation, though?

                It’s more like – Coworker X seems to be upset. We don’t know it, but they’re dealing with issues or memories about their molestation. I have (hypothetically) MHFA training and so when I see them having some problems at work – more than I would expect from someone having a bad day – or in crisis, I feel confident on how to approach them, make sure they are safe, and direct them to the appropriate support or let their manager know if that’s the right thing to do. Ideally, the training would also mean I have scripts to redirect the conversation sensitively if the coworker starts to tell me details that I’m not equipped to deal with.

            2. Heather*

              Of course it’s upsetting. Sometimes we have to deal with hard things. If I were having a mental health crisis I’d hope people around me didn’t just bury their head in the sand because they found it upsetting.

              I found parts of first aid training pretty hard to stomach (the training I went to had pretty graphic pictures and videos), and I found it really hard to shake some of the visuals. I even had nightmares about specific accidents/emergencies we’d practiced happening to people I care about. If I were to happen on a real emergency situation I’m sure that would be extremely traumatic. But I’m not going to just run the other way because it might be triggering for me.

            3. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

              Or, a great example of what’s needed to make a safe, effective MHFA training (and not all training meet the same standards).

              The mental health first aid training I took, like the physical first-aid trainings I’ve also taken, included clarifying that being trained to offer aid does not confer an obligation to do so, especially not at the expense of one’s own wellbeing. Before offering aid to someone else, we were instructed first to check in with ourselves: assess whether we felt capable of maintaining our own equilibrium and appropriate boundaries (not attempting to DX, treat, judge or pry into personal details; people who did these things did not pass the course), and able to practice harm-reduction and crisis-response techniques until the crisis resolved or professional help could take over. We were specifically instructed NOT to involve ourselves if doing so would increase the number of people in crisis!

              Participants in the MHFA training I took were encouraged to step out of the training and/or speak privately with a (trained professional) facilitator if the training was distressing, and the training was structured with plenty of breaks to decompress, during which people could opt out with minimum notice. We had a few dozen participants in a variety of roles in the organization (a large university: participants included undergrad and grad students, senior and junior faculty and staff). Several people disclosed (without sharing personal details!) that they had experienced mental health issues at one time or another, in themself or someone they interacted with. Most felt the training was helpful because it put those experiences in context, as something that a large fraction of the population deals with at one time or another, that is usually transitory and responsive to intervention: knowing it’s normal and that most people who get help soon feel better, makes it much less daunting whether the difficulty is one’s own or someone else’s.

          2. lucretia thott*

            Talk of suicide or trying to coach someone who is suicidal, is extremely triggering for survivors of suicide, and could provoke a mental health crisis for that person.

            A person who has PTSD from being a survivor of suicide, might never need to disclose their condition much less be in mental health crisis, except for some ill-advised and irresponsible program like this.

            The possibilities for liability and discrimination are astounding.

            1. Anon for this*

              I may have told this story here before, but my university is unfortunately a good example of exactly this problem. Student suicides happen every few years, and the last time, the university decided the best response to the tragedy was to (1) publicize again the campus resources for anyone in mental health crisis, and (2) also not disclose that the student death reported in the news was a suicide. They then pursued these twin goals by emailing the whole faculty and instructing us to begin our classes that day by asking if students wanted to talk about the just-announced death or anything related to it, and giving them information about suicide prevention, recognizing crisis in themselves and others, and access to counseling resources.

              Most of us put 2 and 2 together and realized that the death must have been a suicide, but we weren’t sure and didn’t know anything else about the situation we were supposed to discuss (using their tips for taking about suicide) in class. Our students, by contrast, had heard more details through their social networks, so in some classes they ended up giving the faculty member information (which was sad and disturbing, and some students were hearing it for the first time as well). And of course, more importantly, untrained faculty members suddenly opening a discussion of suicide in, say, a math class could be a real problem for many students. We were told to “be mindful that some students will have had experience of this issue with a loved one or attempted suicide in the past themselves,” but no recognition that this was a very good reason not to spring such a discussion on people without warning in an unrelated context like a classroom. And no recognition that faculty members might also have such a history and be disturbed and harmed by the requirement to go into the classroom equipped with a bullet-point list from the counselling centre and spend time leading a discussion about such a painful subject.

              My university is sometimes pretty callous about harm for which they don’t think they can be held legally liable, but in this case I think someone well intentioned made an awful, awful decision, and it has shaped my thinking about institutions and mental health ever since.

              1. AnonToday*

                That’s absolutely horrifying.

                I don’t have anything coherent to say past WOW.

            2. WillowSunstar*

              Not to mention, are they going to hold the employee providing mental health support who is btw, untrained as a mental health specialist, responsible if the employee they are trying to support actually commits suicide? As someone who’s been affected by other people’s suicide several times throughout my life, this would be a nightmare. You can try your best to help the other person and urge them to get treatment, etc., but short of physically restraining them yourself, it’s not always preventable. Unless and until we get better mental health laws in the US, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have employees responsibile for other’s mental health.

              1. pancakes*

                Employers generally don’t get to decide whether you are or aren’t personally on the hook quite that way. Courts and judges haven’t been waiting on employers to make their minds up about this. We have laws.

                I hope you’ll read the comments from people who’ve been through training in similar programs, or do training themselves. Pretty much all of them have clarified that the point isn’t for everyone to learn how to be service providers, but to learn how to handle a crisis if one happens. The goal is for the person in crisis to be pointed in the right direction to get the care they need, not for their coworkers to provide the care.

            3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

              I think it’s important to note that the official Mental Health First Aid training–at no point–asks you to “coach someone.” That’s not what it’s about. Just like learning CPR allows you to help in emergency situations even though you are (presumably) not a doctor or nurse, the course helps people identify, understand, and respond to (by contacting someone who can help if it is a crisis situation like one that would require CPR) a variety of mental health and substance-use situations.

              The class is more like if a person is short of breath and says their arm is numb, you’d tell them to see a doctor about heart problems or a stroke. Not say — “Oh, that’s nice. Not my problem.” as someone else said upthread.

          3. Smithy*

            I had to took CPR training many moons ago and during that training realized I probably did not have the mental character to ever perform CPR unless there was absolutely zero other option in the universe. This was confirmed a few months later in a restaurant when someone had a heart attack and when the call came out for anyone who could do CPR, the fact that I absolutely froze confirmed that fact (a few seconds later someone else came to the scene).

            I do believe in a true emergency setting with no other option, and particularly if I had emergency services on the line talking me through it – I could handle it. But I am not ever going to be a first responder in that capacity. While I don’t think that making the request is inappropriate – I think it would likely be beneficial to have drop out points for people who realize it’s not for them.

            1. Rain's Small Hands*

              This is one of the reasons you train a lot of people. Some people in the moment will freeze. Others will instantly remember training in great detail and spring into action – and you can’t really be sure which will be which (if they aren’t medical professionals, who learn to spring into action regardless of their inclination, but that can take some time – the first person that codes might cause frozen panic rather than a measured response, even for someone getting a nursing degree).

              1. Divergent*

                This is why we get a first aid refresher every couple years to maintain our basic first aid certification in my field: because if we practice it often enough, the hope is we go into auto mode, say the scripts, and do the right things.

              2. Nesprin*

                It’s also a really important part of first aid training that your first priority is to protect yourself and you are allowed to decide whether you want to render aid- which is 100% optional.

                If being a part of mental first aid would not be safe for you, or you feel like you don’t want to, those are exceptionally good reasons to not take part, and any training that pushes you to do something you don’t feel comfortable with is not a good training.

          4. Kaboom*

            Taking on someone’s mental trauma dump while theyre in a mh crisis is not the same as grabbing a bandaid when they cut themselves making a posterboard for a presentation.

            1. Heather*

              Why does that have to be the comparison though? Maybe it’s about just knowing not to say “oh don’t worry so much! Have you tried yoga?” to a depressed coworker and instead direct the person to the EAP.

            2. Atalanta0jess*

              MHFA does not recommend that you take on someone else’s trauma dump.

              Is it hard and stressful to help someone in a crisis? Yes. It’s hard and stressful to do CPR too. But it’s also hard and stressful and just really shitty to see someone whose life is at risk and just walk away.

            3. Parakeet*

              Lots of people here with weird and uninformed ideas of what’s covered under MHFA or PFA. If we’re talking about one of those trainings in this case, nobody is being asked to take on someone else’s trauma dump, and providing aid is (as many others have said) optional.

          5. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            Dealing with mental or physical injuries is not in everyone’s wheelhouse for lots of reasons, and that’s ok.

            1. Sylvan*

              Okay, but if you see that someone’s hurt or sick, do you just keep walking past them?

              This thread’s kind of alarming. I’m not an unusually empathetic or helpful person and I can’t ignore people like that.

              1. Pippa K*

                No, I wouldn’t walk past, but nor would I try to splint someone’s broken bone. As others have said, a lot depends on exactly what the company means by “give support” – I’d be happy to learn how to respond appropriately to someone in immediate crisis, as an emergency, but it wouldn’t be appropriate or reasonable for me to talk to colleagues in a therapeutic way. So – help person get needed health care, yes. Provide needed health care myself, no.

                1. Sylvan*

                  It’s sounding like you’d do basic fist aid as typically instructed in a first aid course.

              2. Despachito*

                But you will probably only do as much as to save their lives, and then hand them over to a trained professional.

                I find it nonsensical and VERY dangerous to think a layman can provide anything more than that. I cannot imagine that, as a complete layman, I should be the go-to person for a coworker in mental crisis. What else can I realistically do than to refer them to a specialist? Even with a bit of training I could do a lot of harm.

                If the training is like “don’t say X, Y or Z, and refer the person immediately to a specialist”, then I’d assume it is OK, but overall it is an extremely stupid idea to dump on ordinary people a responsibility like this.

                1. pancakes*

                  Who is saying that you should be the go-to person in that scenario? Apart from people who don’t know what this training entails and are assuming that’s how it works?

                  If someone has a mental health crisis in your presence at work, you will have to decide how to handle that, whether you’ve had training or not. My understanding is that this type of training is meant to get people who have no particular understanding of what a mental health crisis even looks like to recognize them as such, to the point that they can hopefully point a person experiencing one in the right direction, whether that’s an EAP referral, a hotline referral, or something else. The idea is to respond appropriately, not to be the provider of any and all services the person needs.

                2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                  This– “only do as much as to save their lives, and then hand them over to a trained professional” is exactly what the MHFA training teaches people to do.

                  People learn how to give reassurance and where to find information, listen (vs. “Oh, that’s not a bad day! Have you tried listening to fun music?”), and encourage outside/professional help if the situation calls for it.

              3. Phoenix Wright*

                This is not at all what Kaboom said, so I don’t know who you are addressing with this comment.

              4. Nesprin*

                If you see someone who is hurt or sick and don’t feel like you could safely help them, the best thing to do is call 911.

                1. pancakes*

                  A lot of people don’t seem to be able to recognize whether someone is hurt, sick, or has something else going on. It’s a big problem. Calling the police on someone who is typically more in danger from the police than they are a danger to others is also a big problem. It often goes very badly, and cities that have set up non-police resources for people in crisis (like the one in Eugene, Oregon) have had some success with those. The better educated the public is, the better those programs are going to work. They’re not going to work well in places where people are inclined to think, for example, that a kid who talks a lot about seeing demons is making awkward jokes, or that someone who says increasingly and alarmingly paranoid things just needs to take a little break from being online.

              5. cubone*

                I teach MHFA and suicide prevention specifically and I tell students that recognizing they are not in a position to help is a strength, not a weakness. Both physical first aid and mental health first aid present a risk to the responder, and taking into account your abilities and willingness is an appropriate part of the training. However, in both cases, in place of responding yourself, you absolutely should be alerting another response person to support.

                1. Sylvan*

                  Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry. Recognizing that you don’t have the skills to help and you need to alert someone else is fine.

                  I’ve been hurt in public and ignored by people who saw it happen. Someone stepped over me once. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, including that person. I participate in first aid classes so hopefully I can help someone else.

                2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                  I’m delivering a MHFA class later this month and will be stealing your first sentence to add to my content. Thank you for sharing it!

            2. nobadcats*

              Back when I worked at Big Aero Company, my direct boss had Hep C and disclosed his status to me. A few months later, our grandboss called me and three other co-irkers into a meeting to discuss emergency contingencies of D suffered an attack from the interferon treatment he was getting, with D’s consent. A negative reaction would have required risk of blood exposure before emergency services arrived and we needed at least one person to volunteer to take care of him. Everyone else in the meeting had kids. I said, “I don’t have kids, I’m not gonna have kids, I can keep a supply of PPE at my desk (since my desk was right outside his door), and can contain the area around D.” Everyone shifted uncomfortably. I said, “I am a licensed crisis intervention counselor and have worked in medical situations and understand and can implement the protocols for protection. I’m worried about potential exposure for your kids. So, since D has allowed us to volunteer for being the point person should he have a negative reaction to his treatment, let me go first.” I kept gloves and other supplies at my desk just in case.

              Everyone else noped out of being even a cursory responder, I was there for him, but I understand the resistance to a highly infectious Hep C situation. Fortunately, he didn’t have an episode.

              I think there are levels though, and different types of responding to emergencies. Having a team that is ready to respond to emergencies is key. Do they have the tools/training for situations? How much info needs to be revealed? This situation was particular. We wouldn’t have time to wait for the EMTs to contain the situation. D had been very supportive during a personal emergency of mine, which was not his purview, but I didn’t judge him, nor he me. I realize this is unique.

              But in general, even though I overshare, I would be pretty uncomfortable sharing what D did. Not everyone has a weird past of being trained in crisis and medical emergencies.

            3. EventPlannerGal*

              Then they don’t have to volunteer to become a mental or physical health first aider! I don’t know what kind of programme you are all envisioning where you get dragged off to watch training videos with your eyelids propped open with toothpicks or something, but I can promise you that that is not how is usually goes!

          6. bluephone*

            I don’t know Kaboom’s specific situation, or the LW’s situation, etc. But I personally have lost a loved one to suicide and also had another loved one survive at least 1 suicide attempt (I was the one who called 911) and has been struggling with mental health highs and lows ever since (made worse by losing their child some time back). I have my own mental health struggles too and honestly, the only reason I myself haven’t gone so far as actual attempts is because I am very good at guilt-tripping myself about it, based on those bystander experiences.
            Which is all a very long TLDR way of saying: I am in full agreement with Kaboom here. If my coworkers are going through mental health stuff, that certainly sucks and I have all the empathy. But I can barely manage my own health drama (mental and physical) on top of my loved one’s MH stuff. So I absolutely do NOT have ANYTHING left in the tank for other people’s mental health stuff*. A coworker has the same access to resources as I do (EAP, insurance, etc) and also knows how to use Google. I do not get paid enough to worry if they’re in crisis, I am not actually a licensed or board-certified mental health professional, and I am honestly all tapped out after years of worrying about and taking care of my loved one (and myself). So I fully stand with Kaboom on this, not even sorry in the least. If there was ever a “put your own mask on first,” it’s this.
            And yes, PTSD around mental health stuff can affect “bystanders” too. It was YEARS before I could even talk about my involvement in getting my relative help that day, even in therapy sessions with my own therapist. I’m getting very twitchy now, just writing about it. So no, I cannot and do not want to have a front row seat to a coworker’s own struggle with this. It sucks but there we are.

            *I had to set this boundary with some social media friends too recently. I know they’re having a hard time and that sucks…but I cannot be the person they send their “everything sucks, my life sucks, I wish I were dead, no I don’t want to hear about resources available to me, no I don’t want to go back to therapy, I just want to send you photos of my self-harm escapades” missives to. You know how to call 911 just as well as I do and again, I am beyond burned out with this.

            1. Kaboom*

              Thank you. Everything you said is valid. I also have always drawn a strong “this is work, and it should be treated as such” line when it comes to professional vs personal. Unless you’re in the mental health field, I feel like it’s inappropriate to introduce certain job expectations into the work space. Companies SHOULD advertise the EAP program, and have an open door policy with HR and let everyone know their (hopefully) positive stance on mental health days and work life balance. But to expect carol in accounting to recognize the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia in a colleague and give them resources is a bit much. I have a degree in psychology and counseling, and I don’t work in that field for a reason.

          7. Sylvan*

            Seriously agree here. Helping people when something goes seriously wrong is scary and overwhelming, but sometimes you have to do it.

        2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

          Would you consider it appropriate for managers to have such training? I think as a boss I would want to have it.

          1. Nina*

            When having a mental health crisis is as unstigmatized and unlikely to cause negative repercussions to my entire career in that company as breaking an arm, sure, that would be great. Until then, butt out of your direct reports’ mental health.

            1. just some guy*

              It depends so much on the workplace and the people involved. Disclosing mental health issues to the wrong people/org can be catastrophic, but masking unnecessarily can be just as harmful if it gets in the way of receiving support from people who are willing and able to be supportive.

              I’ve worked for bosses who I would never in a million years have trusted with my mental health information. I’ve also worked for bosses who I did trust with that info, and being able to share it made a world of difference. Both types of workplace/co-workers exist; neither “trust nobody” nor “trust everybody” are good strategies.

            2. Allison S*

              One of the things that I haven’t seen addressed yet (still reading comments so maybe someone brought it up further down) is that one of the goals of MHFA is to reduce that stigma. I’m actually teaching it this week, and the entire first module is on stigma, and one of my goals is to teach my students that everyone has mental health and a mental health struggle is no different than a physical health one.

      5. Bob-White of the Glen*

        I just took this course last month – excellent course! Recommend it highly.

        And it was to help out in a crisis situation (how to talk to people in a crisis, how to approach them, etc.) NOT to offer any type of counseling to co-workers. Surprising good advice on dealing with irate customer service situations too.

      6. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        So glad you popped in to say this! I’m a trainer for the MHFA program in the US, and I provide training to employees in the company where I work.

        The purpose is not to provide mental health first aid to coworkers, but to recognize signs for the population our organization serves and in their personal lives. There is ZERO information in it about how to treat someone in crisis–to the point that one of the steps is to encourage the person to seek outside/professional help.

        The program is wonderful when promoted as enrichment for employees and not a way to help each other (although I’m certain that happens).

    5. LiteBriteExpert*

      Yep. I’ve taken the course–it’s really about introducing people to what different mental health disorders may look like and hopefully make them less scary and give you a couple of concrete things you can do to help people if they are struggling. It’s a good training for lay-people to just get them comfortable with the concepts–it’s not intended to turn you into some kind of therapist.

      1. Allonge*

        Also, I imagine it does not come with any obligation to take your mental health issues to your coworkers first , any more than a classic first aid / CPR certification for all staff stops people from going to their doctors.

        OP2, ask what it’s about and what the expected outcomes are! Then it will become clear.

        1. Raboot*

          I feel like that’s addressed though. “The idea is that people at all levels of the company can take some training and give support to people within the organization who are struggling with mental health concerns.” Not “point to resources” or “identify a crisis”, it’s “give support.”

          1. Allonge*

            I don’t know – for me ‘give support’ can very much cover ‘point to resources’ (I am a librarian!) and in some cases even ‘identify a crisis’. The devil, as always, is in the details.

            I would hope that any reasonable training will include boundaries like ‘don’t randomly diagonse people’ and ‘intervene only when requested’, for example.

          2. Elsajeni*

            Right, but “mental health first aid” is also a specific type of training that usually has a meaning more like the “identify a crisis/point to resources” stuff people are describing. What they’re calling the program, and what the OP describes as the point of it, don’t line up. I think it’s worth the OP finding out more and clarifying whether it’s the name or the description that’s out of whack — if the “give support to people who are struggling” thing means what they think it does, or if someone is trying to describe “identify a crisis and know how to call in appropriate help” and doing a bad job of it, or what.

            1. cubone*

              I think OP, and a lot of commenters here, are conflating MHFA and Peer Support training (and by OP, I mean likely their company). What a lot of people are describing re: giving support and trauma dumping sounds like peer support. MHFA is not peer support.

              (source: me, I train both programs)

      2. EPLawyer*

        Oh goody, now we have laypeople with no clinical background having “some idea” of what different mental health disorders look like. With no way to differentiate between an actual mental health disorder and someone just having a lot going on right now. Again, we do not want coworkers diagnosing their coworkers.

        As noted above, metnal health is a LOT different than physical first aid. If someone is bleeding, you can apply direct pressure (or whatever steps needed, no tourniquets on the neck, folks). Or if they fell you know not to move them. Then you WAIT FOR THE PROFESSIONALS. There is nothing comparable in mental health. Because the signs aren’t obvious.

        1. independent agency fed*

          Eh, I’m an attorney who took the MHFA course, after being CPR trained for years, and the aims are the same, to assist in crisis moments until professionals arrive, how to talk to 911 and first responders, point out EAP or other resources, and it is emphasized REPEATEDLY that no one should even be attempting to diagnose or provide counseling/therapy, JUST listening without judgment. The emphasis in learning about the disorders really is that they don’t perfectly manifest in whatever stereotypes and expectations we each have based on biases. The training was helpful to me in working with law students but we weren’t advertising it as “here’s our MH Aides” but as another tool to help when overwhelmed students, alumni, and other attorneys needed more resources while giving laypeople better language and space to practice the skills we were learning. Now that bar association events have resumed, I’m definitely using the training again in non-crisis mode, just reminding people of resources.

        2. cubone*

          I agree with you that layperson mental health support should never cross into the boundaries of clinical support, and no one should diagnose their coworkers. I also very, very much agree no one should be obligated or required to perform first aid of any kind.

          I disagree strongly that physical and mental first aid are vastly different and that physical first aid is, as you’ve described, cut and dry while MHFA is not. Tourniquets are used improperly by well-meaning citizen responders CONSTANTLY. CPR can damage and injure humans immensely. We still teach first aid because the risk of first aid techniques causing harm is less severe than the risk of people not receiving first aid at all.

          Mental health first aid is, in theory, the same. The risk of doing nothing is seem as worse than the risk of laypeople using basic skills. It’s absolutely true that we have research pointing towards the negative impact of many mental health interventions (but most of this research is identifying the harmful impact of CLINICAL interventions, not community interventions). But at a systemic level, we still are operating with the understanding that interventions in crisis (physical of mental) are preferable to no interventions.

        3. Willow Pillow*

          People already have “some idea” of what different mental health disorders look like… but it’s stigmatized. As someone with several of them, I would still prefer the person with a bit of knowledge, as opposed to thinking that I’m just being difficult or lazy.

          I’m also a certified first aider, and that training looks at the fundamentals (i.e. airway, breathing, circulation) and not the underlying conditions. It’s triage based on those fundamentals in order to give the professionals time to do their jobs without endangering the casualty. The first aider isn’t supposed to differentiate, as you put it.

        4. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          Beg to differ in this one: “Because the signs aren’t obvious.” They are most of the time, but people want to ignore them because they’re uncomfortable. Or they don’t know how bad they are. Or they are worried they might upset the person more.

          Having been suicidal in my past, I was forever grateful to the person who recognized what was happening, took the time to listen to me, and then helped me by gathering a list of therapists nearby. At no point did they diagnose me, which is essentially what the MHFA program teaches.

        5. Nina*

          I’m autistic, with a suspected bipolar II comorbidity, neither of which I can afford to get any kind of professional help for, diagnosis was enough of a stretch financially. I’m doing surprisingly well at work, I have a high-stakes, high-pressure job and a lot going on at home, and under absolutely no circumstances do I need or want any of my colleagues knowing about any of that.
          I was really upset and concerned when my company instituted a MHFA program because now I have colleagues who are actively on the lookout for people whose ability to pretend to be fine is maybe a stretched a bit thin. Physical first aiders are fine because physical injuries are not stigmatized and affect your ability to do work in predictable, measurable ways that are not open to interpretation by your boss. Mental health first aiders, especially MHFA who will consider for a nanosecond reporting to your boss that you have an issue, are fckn dangerous.

    6. just some guy*

      This was also my experience of MHFA training. When I took it, it was at an organisation that also had an EAP. It wasn’t intended to substitute for that EAP or for professional care.

    7. CaptainMouse*

      I’m a doctoral level psychologist, and took the MHFA course this past winter. I found it useful. But taking it should always be voluntary, I can’t imagine having a workplace insist that everyone get the training. Also, the emphasis is on getting the person to appropriate professional help.

      1. I'm in a better place now*

        Hard agree on this! Our company made all the managers do it, which, fine, whatever, but it still needs to be optional. Not least because I was having a bit of my own mental health crisis at the time and being forced to roleplay a mental health situation with our HR woman and our CEO was Not Fun. :O

      2. independent agency fed*

        Yes!!!! This a 1000 times, yes, voluntary, and truly, just first aid services.

    8. Rocky*

      My old work tried to set this up, but it was definitely NOT a recognised course. It was couched as “peer support” where you could access a team of would-be helpers from among regular staff members, to talk about your work-related mental health issues. It was a misguided attempt to de-stigmatise mental health issues by treating them ‘just like we would an injury’. My team was the policy team, so we had to be the bad guys and point out “what happens if someone has a severe psychotic episode? Will we be providing their ‘peer carer’ with trauma counselling? How often would we expect the ‘peer carer’ to meet with their person, and what about the impact on the ‘peer carer’s’ own workload? How would we make sure it’s kept truly confidential?”. For added amusement I should point out that my workplace was the work health and safety regulator. You’d think people would know better LOL.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        “just like we would an injury” means having insurance cover mental health issues fully, proving accommodation the same way you would for a physical injury or illness and not penalizing people for asking it, and giving out information on how to access resources. It might even cover some training for supervisors in particular in best practices when an employee is in crisis, to not make things worse.

        I certainly hope they’re not giving half-assed *physical* medical training to employees so that coworkers can get free medical treatment from them.

      2. cubone*

        I apologize that what I’m about to write will absolutely come across as extreme and I don’t mean it to but I am seeing this throughout all the comments and people need to understand:


        1. Rocky*

          Cubone, I totally agree. And AcademiaNut, luckily free medical treatment is a given in my country.

    9. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I thought the same: recognize signs of distress, have a few actually helpful ways to encourage them to find professional help, info to refer them, or worst case when to call first responders.

    10. Tara*

      Mental health first aid training is really common in the UK and doesn’t ask you to take the place of an actual professional.

      Alison I’m disappointed you don’t seem to have researched this even a tiny bit before answering.

      1. Fikly*

        You are making a huge assumption that what you understand to be mental health first aid training is what this company means, and not, you know, them trying to claim they are doing something while spending no money on it, which is classic capitalist nonsense.

        The key phrase in the LW’s letter is “give support.”

        1. Emma*

          That’s a reasonable assumption, though, because mental health first aid is a defined thing with clear boundaries. I do think the answer to this letter would have been a lot better if it included “this is what mental health first aid is; it’s appropriate for the workplace, but some of what the employer is saying here doesn’t line up with what mhfa actually is, and that’s a cause for concern”

      2. Raboot*

        Well I’m disappointed at all the comments who didn’t read the letter beyond the first sentence. OP says the idea is that people can take the training so that they can “give support” to coworkers. They go on to frame it pretty clearly as something that has privacy concerns meaning information is expected to be shared.

        1. Emma*

          I don’t think it’s that clear, really. The “give support” bit is vague; “support” can mean anything from identifying that someone is having a crisis and sending them home with a number to call for professional help; to gently suggesting the EAP (appropriate) to the ongoing peer support thing mentioned by another commenter (wholly inappropriate).

          LW has privacy concerns, which is reasonable since it doesn’t seem like the company has been at all clear about what the training entails. If it’s accredited mental health first aid training, then LW’s privacy concerns are unwarranted; but LW wouldn’t know that because the company hasn’t given them enough information.

          1. Lt*

            Right, it’s possible that OP is misinterpreting what the company means or doesn’t have enough information yet. I agree it would have been useful for Alison to do some research on how mental health first is can be used appropriately by employers and provide that information.

            1. just some guy*

              Even if the company is actually trying to do a peer counselling thing and just calling it “mental health first aid”, and even if one thinks that both those things are bad and don’t belong in the workplace… they’re different things, and it’d have been better for Alison to clarify the difference.

              As it is, her answer is likely to confuse people as to what MHFA actually is, and that’s led to a lot of talking at cross purposes here in the comments.

          2. Allonge*

            Exactly. And to be honest, one of the best ways to know for sure is to attend the training.

      3. anonnie*

        It sounds like it might have a meaning in the UK that it doesn’t have in the US.

        1. Lt*

          Nah, the US has mental health first aid training too and it’s just like other first aid training- it’s intended to identify a person in an emergency and provide basic care until professional help arrives.

        2. louvella*

          Mental Health First Aid is one particular training offered by one particular organization with a set curriculum, inside and outside of the US.

      4. Anon Today*

        I’m in the UK and have seen this model go spectacularly wrong in person – I had a single panic attack due to long term overwork in extremely difficult circumstances. My MHFA trained co-worker reacted by telling me off for working too much and then telling me off for not working enough in an area which affected her. She also let me know why my panic attack was less valid than ones she had had in the past.

        My co-worker just didn’t have the knowledge or skills to cope with peer counselling nor the ability to recognise she should be helping me towards resources. Why should she? She was not educated in MH nor was she an empathic person. Her only qualifications were a one day course and personal experience of MH issues. I think this approach is dangerous because this kind of short term training can be misunderstood by people and institutions as warranting them to rush in where angels fear to tread.

        1. Heather*

          I’m sorry that happened to you! It sounds like your coworker didn’t learn much. But by your logic nobody should get (traditional) first aid training either because they might not react well in an actual emergency. I’m not sure that argument holds up.

          1. pancakes*

            It doesn’t. I nonetheless fairly regularly see people here suggest that training programs, advice, etc., should basically be geared towards the least capable people and least careful readers, so as not to confuse them. The classic “race to the bottom” approach, but for education instead of financial incentives. People who are not capable can and do confuse even the simplest things, and under-educating everyone else in an effort to suit their needs is a bad idea.

            1. Anon Today*

              What happened to me was a result of my org’s belief that MH care could be delivered by staff who had a day’s training. It was not ok.

              Taking MH more seriously and respecting the complex skills and deep knowledge required to recognise what is wrong and help effectively would have avoided un-necessary harm.

              1. pancakes*

                I agree that what happened to you was not ok. I don’t agree that it’s a good reason for people to not have this training. The comment above from independent agency fed (9:33 am) is consistent with my understanding of how this training is meant to work, and I think makes a good case for employers to continue offering it.

          2. Anon Today*

            I’m not quite sure why my concerns about MH ‘first aid’ would preclude traditional first aid? Especially as MH is traditionally stigmatised in the UK, and is often seen as ‘not a real problem’ which can easily open the door to people ‘having a go’ – or organisations trying to recruit people with no knowledge of what they are doing into administering help such as CBT (which happened in that same organisation).

            Mind you, I have also had to thwart co-workers from buttering burns, so I might be open to discussion of whether it’s generally better to encourage people to ask for professional help rather than act in potentially harmful ways!

        2. Allison S*

          I’m an instructor for MHFA and I’m really wondering how your coworker left the course thinking that was a good way to support someone having a panic attack. I mean, we stress being non-judgmental and not comparing people so much! It makes me angry that someone who was supposedly trained would respond that way because it makes the training seem ineffective when it’s actually really good.

      5. Irish Teacher*

        I don’t think it’s the training that the LW is concerned about, so much as the expectations of those who have taken the training afterwards. I don’t think anybody believes the training is asking people to take the part of an actual professional, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the company doesn’t expect that. I mean, they may not. Maybe the boss explained it badly or the LW misunderstood, but it sounds like the company is expecting quite a lot of anybody who undergoes this training. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that the company knows what the training actually teaches or that their expectations are in line with the training’s.

        I will say as a teacher, I have had colleagues who apply training where it doesn’t really fit or who do training on something and then appear not to fully understand it and implement it badly or who consider themselves experts on something they’ve taken a day’s training on. Heck, when I was a kid, I had a teacher ask my mother if I were dyslexic and scare the heck out of her. I was reading three years above my chronological age and have virtually none of the characteristics associated with dyslexia but because I have difficulty with spelling and she was teaching me Irish and I got confused between English and Irish spelling rules (yeah, starting to learn to spell in two languages simultaneously can be confusing and I am aphantasic which explains a lot, but didn’t know that when I was at school) and did things like spelling words with “oa” (more common in English) instead of “ao” (which is more common in Irish). Irish also has a habit of having a string of vowels in a row and it’s easy to confuse the order. “Gheobhaidh” is an Irish word, for example. So yeah, my point is that it’s not just about whether the training is valuable or not, but also about how those trained are going to use it. I am sure whatever training she had on dyslexic didn’t intend for her to diagnose it solely based on somebody’s spelling in a second language, but she clearly didn’t realise that.

    11. Super Admin*

      This is what it should be, and certainly what it is at my work. I’m actually a little unimpressed with Allison’s dismissive response here. Obviously it has to be handled right, but mental health first aiders can be a great addition to the workplace.

      Mental health first aiders are about to become a requirement in the UK for companies over a certain size, and the intention is for certified (multi-day intensive course) volunteers to be able to act as an intermediate step for anyone who wants to talk about their mental health. In healthy workplaces, like my own, they offer a safe first step for anyone seeking professional help or advice (mhfas can suggest where best to go and what resources are available, including EAP).

      1. TechWorker*

        In addition, at my (large) organisation, we have both a few MHFA at our office, and also contact numbers for MHFA in other departments. I’ve never used it, but if I was worried about confidentiality I’d talk to someone in another department who has zero impact on my career.

        1. UKDancer*

          Same here. My company provides a list of MHFAs and if I ever wanted to speak to one I’d pick one in another part of the company with no impact on my work. I’ve never needed to use the service but one of my friends is an MHFA and it’s definitely more around pointing people in the direction of support, helping them access the EAP and clearly not a substitute for professional help.

          Training as an MHFA in my company is voluntary because they recognise that not everyone wants to be one or is fitted for the role. I’ve not done it and would prefer not to because it’s not my strong suit. On the other hand I have done the physical first aid course as well as defibrillator training.

          1. londonedit*

            Yep, same. I’ve done a basic mental health at work course which was aimed at raising awareness of potential issues and offering tips on how to open up conversations, but I’m not a qualified MHFA. We do have several in the company, though – it’s voluntary but their contact details are made available and you can choose to speak to someone from outside your department. Their role is to offer initial support to anyone who might be struggling and point them in the direction of the EAP and other resources that can help.

          2. Aww, coffee, no*

            Also in the UK, and it was the same for our company. Becoming a MHFA was entirely voluntary, we had a full day of training from an accredited trainer, and it was all about where and when to point people at support, including the company EAP.
            It also included significant training on confidentiality, including that the only way a person’s manager / management train should be involved would be at that person’s specific request. (Unless it’s that rare case you when someone is so bad you need to call first responders – and even then, don’t share details.)
            I am a MHFA, but not a physical first aider because I’m bad at other people’s blood.
            OP#2, I’d encourage you to find out more about the program, and if it isn’t structured with properly trained volunteer MHFA’s is that something you can push for?

        1. Emma*

          I think it’s just less common in the US than it is in many other countries, but if it’s catching on in the US, that’s a good thing.

        2. Heather*

          It’s really not. My US company has the same system. I’m surprised so many people hear have never heard of it – guess it needs to be promoted better!

      2. No cape needed*

        I agree. I have undertaken MHFA training through work and found it important, supportive, valuable and nothing like what Alison assumes in her answer. It is first and foremost a suicide prevention campaign and it saves lives. I’m disappointed, frustrated and worried by the response here which clearly lacks awareness and understanding.

      3. Apples*

        I’m in the UK and I agree with Alison. I would never talk to one of the mental first aiders at my work because – they’re coworkers! They may seem like distant coworkers at the time, but you never know who you’ll end up working with later, who they’ll talk to, or who they’re friends with (what if your manager is the source of your misery but they’re good friends with that manager?). If a company wants to make it clear that benefits like EAP are available, they can do so via clear benefits documents/HR systems.

        1. AnonToday*

          I definitely agree about the risk of confiding in anyone at the workplace.

          I think the problem they’re trying to address is that just telling people “EAP is a thing here” doesn’t necessarily help people realize that they *need to go to the EAP*.

          Frankly, I wouldn’t go to the EAP because the last time I went, the EAP told me I had a delusion about my academic credentials because “obviously you aren’t smart enough to have been admitted to college.” They went on to say that they weren’t going to look at my transcript (GPA 3.2 at a second-rate state uni) because I’d just bring in a utility bill that I believed was a transcript. He cajoled me into signing a release so he could talk to my boss so she could give me accommodations during treatment; instead, she fired me for falsifying my application. MY ACTUALLY TRUE AND FACTUAL APPLICATION. If anyone had, y’know, contacted UC Second Rate, they would have confirmed my dates of attendance, GPA, major, whatever. But because I was on a prescription that made me me sleepy and confused, of course I couldn’t be telling the truth about my education.

          1. pancakes*

            Your former employer handled that terribly. That is not a reliable indication that everyone’s EAP is terrible and should be avoided.

    12. Olive*

      I think Alison has the wrong impression of mental health first aid in the workplace too.

      As I understand it, the purpose is to be a starting point or immediate response but not a long term solution. The volunteers are trained just like a physical first aider would have suitable training. They can listen and signpost to appropriate sources of support including the EAP.

      I think having MHFAs also helps to destigmatise mental health difficulties in the workplace, though that needs to be backed up by the other messages employees get about mental health within the company.

      I can see it being more of a challenge to make confidential and accessible in a smaller company. Where I work, you can approach mental health first aiders in other departments and locations if you want to.

      1. tamarak & fireweed*

        My guess is that it’s a mix. The whole stuff in the letter about confidentiality certainly smacks of expectations of an ongoing engagements with fellow employees’ mental health needs in a way that would indeed be inappropriate (and harmful most likely!). But that may be a misconception on management’s side, if the training they have contracted is indeed of the type commenters here cite.

        I do think that at least team leads upwards should be able to correctly recognize and act in a mental health crisis situation (with the expectation that in most workplaces, this would be an extremely rare event).

        1. ND and awkward*

          I didn’t read the confidentiality bit like that – a single event can require ongoing confidentiality as simple as “don’t tell people about the time you found Jo having a panic attack in a meeting room”.

          1. tamarak & fireweed*

            Something like that would happen with and without “first aid” training. And I did read “give support to people within the organization who are struggling with mental health concerns” as more than a one-off crisis situation that is well handled.

        2. pancakes*

          Yes, that’s my impression too. It seems that management is not very knowledgeable about this area or great at messaging about it, but knows just enough to have decided that they want people to have this training.

        3. Mel O*

          I have a serious mental illness and the idea of mental health first aid programs makes me cringe. My perception is that the classes are a way to do something for people with mental health issues without doing the hard stuff (normalizing taking leave when it is needed without penalizing the employee who takes it, providing sufficient paid sick leave, offering health insurance that has good behavioral health benefits, addressing the use of stigmatizing language in the workplace, embracing work place flexibilities whenever possible, making sure supervisors understand the reasonable accommodation process). Note that many of these are good for all employees, not just the ones who are in a mental health crisis. I would prefer for my employer to make it easier for me to avoid a crisis in the first place. Good health insurance, generous paid leave programs and flexible work schedules are so much more helpful and allow me to address my challenges without requiring me to disclosed a stigmatized condition associated with discrimination in the workplace.

          1. WillowSunstar*

            Agreed. We have to get to a place in the US where people don’t have to fear losing their jobs, much less losing out on pay raises, if they admit to having a mental illness at all. So many people in the US need to keep their issues a secret at work because there’s still an environment of prejudice, even if it’s not legal in places. Also, companies have to start providing better benefits.

    13. Madame Arcati*

      Exactly Jess. We have mental health first aiders just as we have physical ones – for immediate help before signposting other help, passing on to the professionals etc as necessary. There’s just no way it could affect promotion or opportunities at work any more than sticking a plaster on someone’s finger would. The reasons for this are extensive and dull but admittedly may include the advantage of a huge faceless company – it would probably be more awkward in a little company where everyone knows everyone.
      I suspect cultural differences may be influencing my answer a little though – it’s one thing to point to resources provided by public healthcare and another to direct someone to expensive care options possibly not covered by insurance.
      Do US offices not have normal first aiders that have some training eg from the Red Cross, so if you pass out or staple your hand etc there’s someone to help? They aren’t trained professionals either… but they are obligatory here. I don’t see how mental health first aiders are more dangerous. But I suppose the (perceived by me) attitude to public liability in the US, tied no doubt to the lack of free healthcare and ergo insurers wanting to reclaim costs from whoever they think is at fault, might make even physical first aiders a legal worry. Is someone offering first aid in the US vulnerable to being sued, in short?

      1. Anonymouse today*

        This thread is v interesting. Australian Government here and we have mandatory mental health first aid for the whole Dept…more than 4000 people. Safety is a really big deal in my Dept, including psychological safety. That said I would never disclose my own mental health condition to my employer in a million years so there you go!

      2. Allonge*

        I am also wondering where the disconnect is – we, too have physical first aiders and they don’t go around offering health advice or measuring people’s blood pressure! They just know where the first aid kits are and how to get down from the 15th floor if there is a fire and someone fainted. The whole point is that we hope never to have to use their knowledge, but it could come in handy some day.

        So if the concept works the same, the mental health first aiders could perform a useful function in emergencies too.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes, I mean the MHFAs in my company don’t wander around trying to give mental health advice. If you want one you approach them and ask for it. As a physical first aider I don’t wander around trying to use the defib device on people either.

          It’s a service people can approach or not if they need. It sits alongside the EAP, the Trade Unions and the other things the company has for the broader staff wellbeing.

        2. pancakes*

          We have those here too. (At least, in NYC high rise buildings we have them; maybe not in other parts of the US).

        3. Riot Grrrl*

          Right, people seem to be broadly assuming that taking the training means you go around the department with a clipboard asking people to rate their depression level on a scale from 1 to 5. From what I’ve seen it’s just “what to do in case of emergency”. How is it ever bad to know how to handle an emergency?

          1. AnonToday*

            It’s bad when people misread situations and do things like call 911 to take an Autistic person to the psych ward for a meltdown that someone thinks is a psychotic episode, when all they need is to sit in a quiet place for a while with some food & drink. (Likewise if someone with diabetes acts strangely because of extremely high or low blood sugar, they don’t need someone assuming they’re on drugs or having a mental health crisis.)

            1. pancakes*

              It’s very bad, yes. But I can’t tell from your comment whether you believe people in those situations are more likely to make an accurate call without MHFA training? Or whether you support the training? My thinking is that training people on basic information is going to be an improvement on the status quo.

      3. doreen*

        I have never worked anyplace in the US where there were first aiders with training from the Red Cross. Even at my last job (with the agency that runs the prisons) , the only training we got was in using automatic defibrillators ( which don’t require training) and CPR. Nothing about what to do if someone passes out or has a seizure or a nosebleed that won’t stop except to call for an ambulance. So I expect that some of the issue might be a cultural difference. Also, mental health first aid training is relatively new in the US and I mostly see it offered in settings where the beneficiaries of the first aid will not be coworkers but the people served by a public or non-profit agency such as students, or probationers or crime victims , and my guess is that it’s not that common in other workplaces.

        But some of it is also due to a misunderstanding of what “mental-health first aid” actually is. It’s exactly like physical first aid, in that it’s meant to help someone identify who needs immediate assistance and/or further assistance. Someone providing physical first aid will for example, try to stop severe bleeding while waiting for an ambulance – they don’t provide first aid instead of calling the ambulance and they also don’t call the ambulance for a small cut that needs only a band-aid. Similarly , someone trained in mental health first aid will learn how to assess a situation for a risk of suicide or self-harm and call an ambulance if it’s warranted – or may just provide a sympathetic ear in a situation where there doesn’t seem to be any risk of self-harm. I’m not sure if it’s the OP or the employer who misunderstands what mental health first aid is, but it’s not a matter of telling your co-worker about your mental health concerns. It’s more a matter of noticing a co-worker’s behavior and taking appropriate action , whether that’s calling an ambulance or suggesting EAP or just listening.

    14. Harper the Other One*

      Yes, I think better advice for OP would be to find out what the COMPANY means by “support” by the mental health first aiders. It could mean “you will have a list of company resources to direct people to if they ask” and “managers can call you for advice if they have concerns about an employee’s state of mind,” which would be completely appropriate. But if the company’s idea of “mental health first aid” is “staff who have taken a 12-hour course can counsel their colleagues” that’s a different matter.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        To clarify: concerns about an employee’s state of mind also doesn’t mean extensive assistance/diagnosing, more things like “are X, Y, and Z significant warning signs for a mental health crisis.”

    15. Not So NewReader*

      This has been a very informative read here in the comments section. To me, it sounds like management themselves do not understand what this course is and what the goals of the course are.

      I have learned to be skeptical of company courses. For example a course was presented on X. I thought that X would be useful in my work day so I signed on. It turned out that X was some fringe theory that someone had and probably useless. The course description only vaguely related to the topic matter. I almost left mid-course.

      This here sort of reminds me of that situation, as OP is not certain what the goal of the course is. To me this is reflective of management’s inability to clearly explain the course and its purpose. It sounds like management read a brochure and said, “Oh let’s do this.” without any deeper understanding of the course.

    16. Anon for this*

      Some more UK context: we’ve seen huge cuts to mental health services over the last decade or so. At the same time, a lot of mental health charities have run campaigns with a ‘just talk to someone!’ message, aimed at both those who are experiencing mental ill health *and* at bystanders. Having been the subject of a well-meant but unhelpful intervention myself, I tend to be pretty wary of anything encouraging amateurs to get involved where there isn’t the professional support to back them up. And there often isn’t.

    17. Sopranohannah*

      Yes, we take the Mental Health First Aid course as part of my job in healthcare. The instructor described it as CPR for mental health. It’s a good course and honestly fairly useful on recognizing and handling emergency situations. It sounds like these employers are thinking this course is far more broad than it actually is.

    18. EventPlannerGal*

      Yes, agreed – mental health first aid is a specific and IMO quite useful thing. (It sounds like Alison and some commenters might not be familiar with MHFA, but it’s really quite widespread and worth knowing about!) If the company is presenting it as broader than it is then that’s an issue, but I think it’s worth the OP looking into it further to figure out what exactly is being suggested.

      1. Willis*

        Yes, it seems like the advice should have been to get some clarity on what the program/training actually is. As it’s written, it’s hard to tell if the OP is misinterpreting the training, management is presenting it incorrectly, or the company is trying to implement something other than a typical MHFA class commenters are picturing.

    19. MHFA Trainer*

      Thank you…as a mental health clinician and MHFA trainer for employers, this response was disappointing. The MHFA model has been researched internationally with a great deal of success. The intent is not to get people to disclose mental health issues, but rather equip people with the knowledge and skills to have a conversation to connect someone to the appropriate resources if they’re seeing signs someone is struggling. Most employers signing on for MHFA do offer mental health resources and they’re offering this as a way to help ensure those in need are able to access them.

      1. Colette*

        I believe that there are good MHFA programs. We don’t know if the OP’s employer is following one of them, or if they’ve developed their own thing they are calling mental health first aid.

    20. redflagday701*

      I feel like the people who are disappointed with Alison’s answer about mental health first aid need to remember that (besides the fact that it seems to be much better known in the UK than in the US) there have been so many Ask a Manager letters about employers who are totally misguided in their approaches to mental health. Without more detailed information, it’s super easy to jump to the conclusion that this is a business that thinks “mental health” is really about telling employees to have a positive attitude and encouraging them to overshare with each other — because based on the people who write in to this site, there’s no shortage of those. (It’s also worth remembering that a benefit of cultivating a knowledgeable, thoughtful commenting community is that commenters catch stuff like this.)

      1. pancakes*

        There’s not much chance of it becoming better known here if people unfamiliar with it continue to insist on guessing at what it might be rather than making a point of learning what it is.

        1. redflagday701*

          I mean, I just learned what it was from this thread, and I assume I’m not alone, which seems like a positive development and not something to sound grumpy about?

          1. pancakes*

            I’m a lil’ grumpy about the people making guesses because there’s no need to guess at this stuff.

            Since you mentioned it, I also don’t think “it’s easy to be dismissive when you don’t have all the information you need” is a good reason to be dismissive. It’s a good reason to gather more information.

            1. redflagday701*

              I didn’t mention being dismissive or justify being dismissive; I said that past experience on this website makes it easy to jump to the conclusion that an employer mental-health program that asks employees to engage in some way with their co-workers’ mental health is a Bad Idea. I think part of the issue here is that if you don’t already know that “mental health first aid” is an actual thing, it sounds vague and generic enough that it’s not necessarily going to occur to somebody to Google it.

              Anyway, I’m glad I know about mental health first aid now.

              1. pancakes*

                You did, yes. You are talking about jumping to conclusions, which is a form of being dismissive. One of the dictionary definitions of dismissive is, “feeling or showing that something is unworthy of consideration.”

                Of course people don’t tend to know what they don’t yet know, but thinking something sounds “vague” is generally a good reason to seek clarification, not a good reason to assume one already knows all there is to know about the vague idea or phrase.

                1. redflagday701*

                  I can tell you’re pretty set on being right about this. You’ve been a terrific ambassador for the cause today.

                2. pancakes*

                  I’m not an ambassador for this cause. If you’re only open to learning about new causes on days where people accept everything you say without disagreement, you’re likely to miss out on a lot.

                3. Rocky*

                  Pancakes, I see the point you’re making and it’s valid, we should never dismiss something because we don’t understand it. But in my case the people extolling MHFA were themselves misunderstanding it, and were proposing it as long term peer support between workers. I don’t need to know everything about the correct definition of MHFA to know that this was a bad idea.

                4. pancakes*

                  I’m not sure I follow this. Are Rocky and redflagday701 the same commenter? My dialogue with redflagday wasn’t meant to be about the way MHFA was taught in Rocky’s workplace. I don’t see where anyone would think it is, or think that I had any visibility into that.

              2. pancakes*

                I want to add, regarding this point –

                “I don’t need to know everything about the correct definition of MHFA to know that this was a bad idea.”

                What, if anything, does this have to do with whether the community here understands MHFA? A poor application of the basic idea in one person’s workplace — an idea which apparently reflects a misunderstanding of MHFA — shouldn’t be used to dismiss a multinational program. I am not questioning your assessment of your own workplace. I am questioning what it’s meant to say about MHFA. It doesn’t actually say anything about it at all. The fact that people somewhere misunderstood should not be a lodestar.

            2. Willow Pillow*

              It feels very “I’ve tried nothing and I’m all out of answers” as well, like people have made their minds up in advance. If you can comment on AAM you can search on Google.

        2. Riot Grrrl*

          Yes, there is a TON of guessing in this thread about what people think this training might consist of. And true to the nature of this commentariat, people assume it’s the worst, most invasive, most tone-deaf, employee-hating regime they can possibly conjure up in their minds. Two and half minutes of googling “mental health first aid” would show you that that is not what it is.

          1. Pippa K*

            Two and a half minutes of googling “mental health first aid” would show you that is not what it *might be*, but some of us have experiences of employers handling this badly. Combined with the generally-lower access to health care resources in the US and the mostly at-will employment environment, it’s really not unreasonable that a lot of people will instantly recognise how this could be done badly in the workplace. This thread has been interesting and informative, but as someone familiar with both US and UK workplace contexts, I’d be a lot likelier to use MHFA resources in the UK for several reasons, and would advise anyone to be really cautious with this at my US employer.

            1. Riot Grrrl*

              Yes, any program that can be implemented at all can be implemented badly. Point taken. You are correct. However, there seems to be a broad misunderstanding in these comments of what it is even attempting to be. A number of people are not objecting because they think the program will be misapplied (though, yes, some are); rather people seem to be under the impression that such programs are designed to draft people into being amateur therapists. And that is most definitely not what they are designed to do.

              1. redflagday701*

                Again, not denying that many people are jumping to conclusions, but I think it’s tough because “mental health first aid” is not a name that immediately signals “Google this” the way, say, “pomodoro method” or “CBT” does.

              2. EventPlannerGal*

                Agreed. I think there’s a lot of… pre-emptive scaremongering, almost, going on in this post. Quite disappointing.

                1. Vinessa*

                  The catastrophizing here is out of control. At this point, the LW is probably going to dismiss the entire training right up front regardless of what it actually entails (and I can’t blame her, really).

    21. Koalafied*

      I had the same thought – first aid is not meant to be in lieu of professional medical care. It’s basic emergency treatment that can be administered in the wilderness or on the side of the road before rescue workers/EMTs arrive.

    22. Parse*

      I always interpreted it as a useful training for someone like a dorm RA, who is in a position to recognize worsening mental health, or an EMT, who may have to approach someone having a mental health crisis in order to provide care. I hope this is a workplace-appropriate version, like, ‘here’s a nice way to approach someone who is struggling with their workload,’ or ‘here’s are signs that your colleague may need a referral to the EAP.’

    23. Student*

      Have you ever had “mental health first aide” from somebody who’s bad at it? Because I have. And it can just make things worse. Much like physical first aide, if done improperly, it can just make things worse.

      I had an experience at work where I was potentially exposed to something lethal but slow-acting. Fortunately, I personally avoided exposure, but several of my close co-workers on my project were not as lucky. My boss at the time, who was not at the exposure site, noticed that I was shook up by it and suggested I talk to the company EAP. This boss also was a veteran and he pointedly told me how my experience was not a big deal compared to his military experience and made some snide comments about how this would give me job security because corporate HR would be afraid to ever fire me since I now had this work incident on file. I did not go to the EAP because, despite his referral, given the subtext of the rest of his comments I was actively worried that it might get back to my boss and he’d think me “damaged” and “weak”, and give me less resources and worse assignments because of it.

      That’s one example. I’ve had several others, though this was the worst one by far.

      So, when some reputable organization comes up with a “mental health first aide” certification that is comparable in rigor and in evidence-based application to the Red Cross medical first aide courses, and requires regular re-certification to stay valid, then we can talk. Until then, this is just corporate hogwash and cheap virtue-signaling that gives a whole lot of unqualified people false confidence in their ability to help others.

      1. pancakes*

        That is terrible, but the problem there was not that your employer offered an EAP; it was that your boss was a huge jerk. The solution is to try to get a better boss, not to do away with EAPs.

      2. Allison S*

        Mental Health First Aid is a reputable certification. I’m an instructor and I’m certified by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Whenever there is an update to the course (like when a virtual version was developed for covid) I have to re-certify. I have to deliver at least three sessions a year to maintain my certification. The course itself is research-based and continuously re-evaluated.

        It sounds like your boss wasn’t actually certified. He was just a jerk. Nothing about what he did indicates he took the training. It’s awful that that happened, but it’s not because of mental health first aid.

  2. Moira Rose*

    LW4, I think people tend to understand the acronym “NLT” (no later than). So I might say, “I’m available Wednesday beginning 2PM EDT and ending NLT 5PM EDT” [because it’s Eastern Daylight Time where I am — that’s something else to look out for, I know some places west of the East Coast don’t honor DST, but I’d never think of that if I were scheduling a meeting with someone outside my time zone].

    1. JSPA*

      “I can do up to an hour at 2, 3 or 4 pm”? It sounds more constraining, but they’d normally understand it to mean that you can equally well do 35 minutes at any time fitting within the relevant hour.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I’m pretty acronym-savvy overall, I think, but I’ve never come across that one and don’t think I’d be able to intuit it from context if you hadn’t spelled it out here.

      1. Jolene*

        Agree. I have never heard this, and I’d be very confused. (My career has been in DC and CA – maybe it’s a Midwest thing?)

        1. Scooter*

          Nope, not a MW thing. I’m in Minnesota and have never seen it, and would not know what it means.

            1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

              Heh. I have an ex-friend St. Paul native who used to insist that MN was “actually” in the Pacific Northwest because he thought it sounded more swanky. It was especially cringeworthy when he’d reblog photos he found of the Oregon seashore and tag them “Never leaving the Pacific Northwest.” Like, my dude, that is nearly 2000 miles away from Minnesota, and you have never even been to Oregon. Quit being a poser.

        2. WellRed*

          I had to read the comment several times to figure out what NLT meant (need coffee though). Is it even an acronym or simply an abbreviation.

          1. Beany*

            If you define acronym as “abbreviation that can be pronounced as a word” (e.g. NASA, laser), then no. It’s “en ell tee”.

        3. OP4*

          I’m pretty Midwest, but I think the biggest association with “NLT” around here is going to be the Bible translation instead of “no later than,” unfortunately. If it was more commonplace, I’d definitely consider it!

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Agreed, I work in a context where I’m drowning in acronyms (routine ones and jargony ones) and that’s a new one to me

      1. Allonge*

        Yes, I would spell it out. What OP is communicating should not be difficult to interpret already, and for whatever reason it does not work, so time to use more words. I can start any time from 2pm and need to finish by 5 pm. Or better yet, 4:30.

        1. WellRed*

          This is what I do. If I’m done for the day or have another mtg at 5, my availability is only until 4:30.

      2. OP4*

        I’m realizing this is probably the way to go in order to cover all my bases. At the time, I had a lot of flexibility/availability in my schedule, so, like Alison mentioned, I was worried it would be a bit clunky to do anything other than “2pm-5pm CT” in a list of 3-4 other available slots.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Also, you don’t have to list ALL your availability. If you have a lot of open slots, you can pick and choose which ones you want to fill. So say you have a lot of free time on Tuesday, some on Wednesday and a lot on Thursday, you can say you are only available on Tuesday and Thursday, leaving Wednesday still open if something else comes up, or you just want some time to put your head down and focus without interruption. That way, you don’t have to worry about clunky in the midst of listing a lot of availability.

          This goes for everybody scheduling. Obviously, know your office, know your schedule. But just because someone asks, doesn’t mean you have to list every conceivable availability you have unless its SUPER IMPORTANT (few things are)

          1. OP4*

            That’s definitely a good rule of thumb! I was out of work at the time, and treating the interview process as my full-time job, but I still tried to buffer in times for a walk, lunch, interview slots for other roles, etc. throughout the day (ie. Not have back-to-back meetings). But a lot of the times, these emails were asking for availability over “the next couple weeks” hence the longer lists.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              That’s a good idea. During my last search, I had one day where I had seven interviews/phone screens lasting anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes. I was exhausted.

        2. Jack Russell Terrier*

          I think you could make a list of each availability and put at the top start-end time. That streamlines things and makes the info stand out:

          Thanks for your interest. I look forward to talking and exploring …
          ………. ———– …………………….
          ————- ………….. ———————

          Start and End times I’m available:
          Mon 7/11 3-5
          Thur 7/14 10-12
          Friday 7/15 1-3

    3. Jessica*

      NLT is a nice acronym but I’ve never heard it before. If I were listing a bunch of times I’d probably just list them and say in words that the end time of each block is the time I’d need the meeting to end by.

    4. Winston*

      I usually say something like: I’m available starting at 2pm and have another commitment at 5pm.

    5. short'n'stout (she/her)*

      It seems that some people aren’t familiar with your abbreviation, but I think just spelling it out, e.g. “ending no later than 5pm EDT” is a perfectly streamlined way to express it :)

    6. londonedit*

      I’ve never seen NLT as an acronym for ‘no later than’. I’d be confused and would wonder whether it was some sort of time zone I wasn’t aware of. I think just saying ‘I’m available on Wednesday afternoon between 2pm and 4pm’ is perfectly clear.

    7. philmar*

      NLT (and the corresponding NET) is very common in the military and therefore I would assume military-adjacent jobs such as government. Just letting you know you’re not crazy, people do know what it means.

      1. Ubergaladababa*

        Yes, NLT is very common in my government job, but it would be weird to see it for meeting availability in my office. We use it for deadlines/due dates. “We’ve just received this tasker from exec sec and need any edits NLT COB today.”

        1. Valancy Snaith*

          This is definitely a government/military thing, but correct in that usually turns up in regards to deadlines. “We need a response NLT 1100,” yes, but “I’m available from 9 and ending NLT 1100” I have never seen.

          1. kittycontractor*

            Oh this is more clear. I grew up in the military and worked in government most of my adult life and that’s how I would recognize it, not in regards to appointment/meetings. I didn’t even associate the two.

            I do think this thread is a good reminder than no one should ever assume that others know about acronyms or that something is “universal”.

    8. Mockingjay*

      OP4, it might help if you provide consistent time blocks of availability. “I am available MWF from 2:00 pm until 5:00 pm.” Rather than 2 – 5:30 on Monday, 3 – 5 on Wednesday, and so on. Add Alison’s hard stop recommendation if needed.

      I get it; scheduling is a bear these days with flex times and meetings across time zones. I would add though, since these are for interviews/phone screens, after business hours might be the only time a hiring manager has for an uninterrupted discussion. If feasible, include an after hours block at least one day during the week.

      1. OP4*

        I found that most people were very apologetic when scheduling outside my availability and/or asking permission first before scheduling. But I n these particular instances, there seemed to be a miscommunication re:what was considered part of that available time frame.

        That being said, it’s been interesting to read the comments and see everyone’s take and nuance on verbiage. What I assumed to be a given that “-“ meant “between” by default, is obviously not always true (even though from my experience, it was still sufficient ~95% of the time), so I’ll look into utilizing more direct language in the future.

    9. Esmeralda*

      Spell out NLT. That’s the first I’ve seen that acronym.

      If you want people to really understand your time limitations, be excruciatingly specific.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yes — and know that people will still read it wrong/ignore what you say sometimes! I have said something like, “I am free anytime Tuesday afternoon after 12:30” and they say “OK, how about 11am on Tuesday?”

  3. Retired (but not really)*

    #2) In regards to the mental health training, I can see it being beneficial only if it were designed to raise awareness and give suggestions of ways to be more mindful of individually becoming more empathetic to others. But expecting everyone to become essentially a counselor to everyone else – no,No,NO!

    1. What even*

      Usually, mental health first aid trainings are very, very specific that the job of the aider is to recognize the signs of a potential mental heath crisis, broach the topic with the person who is struggling, listen nonjudgmentally, and provide resources to professional treatment.

    2. Elizabeth Bennett*

      My sister is a commercial airline pilot (her dream job!) after 15 years as a RN. Her company has a volunteer program for which she signed up, where she has been trained to help other pilots in the company have someone to talk to if they’ve had a bad experience. She is mostly a sounding board and is trained to identify those who need more professional help and can refer them, but a lot of the cases are talking through things and helping them settle their anxiety. She would by no means ever try to be their therapist! In her industry, I think it is helpful to have someone else who implicitly understands the job for talking through things.

  4. KatAlyst*

    Regarding availability, for my personal peace of mind I always pull back before any hard cutoff–aka: available 2-4pm, in a scenario where the next thing starts at 5. Part of this is protective, some is because I’m chatty & wouldn’t want to have to cut off abruptly, but the big picture is to create a bubble for that activity or conversation and still leave time to clear my head space and refocus on what’s next.

    1. Julia*

      Came here to say this. Honestly I think it’s good practice not to give people all the way until your hard stop time. Good practice for both parties. If I schedule a meeting with you I’d like the comfort of knowing you have some breathing room in your schedule without me having to manage that for you.

      Of course some people at senior levels don’t have the luxury of doing that because they only ever have like half-hour breaks in a packed schedule. But by the time you’re at that level you can just tell people how you want them to schedule meetings.

    2. Ubergaladababa*

      But this only works when meetings are relatively rare. I don’t have room in my calendar for this kind of padding and even if I did, finding times that I and my colleagues are both free is difficult enough that this would make things much, much harder.

      1. KatAlyst*

        Agreed, but if you’re scheduling with someone like a recruiter I think there’s more leeway to box them in (out?)

    3. Koalafied*

      Same. It was a game changer when I realized that nobody ever said I have to offer up every window of time that I’m not actively in another meeting. If I don’t want to be in back to back meetings all day, I don’t have to be! If I’m working 9-5 on a given and have a 2-3 lunch and a 3:30-4:30 meeting, I can respond that I’m available between 10 and 1 that day. I pretty much never book anything for the first hour or last half hour of the workday, or without leaving half an hour between meetings.

  5. Schnapps*

    WRT to the mental health support, “mental health first aid” is not the same as mental health care. The first aid part is about triaging (like you would do for physical first aid), providing care in the moment of a crisis, and getting them to the resources they need for longer term assistance.

    So if it’s a mental health/psychological first aid thing, then that’s fine – its in the moment help and making sure the patient can get to resources to help them in the longer term. If the employer would couple them together, with peer-assistance in the moment, with rapid access to longer-term care, that would be great.

    I say this as someone who is certified as a Psychological First Aid instructor.

  6. Cat Lover*

    #2: are you talking about the Mental Health First Aid training course? If so, I actually disagree with Alison. It’s a great course that everyone should take. I took it in college when I briefly worked for residence life. It’s a National program in the US.

    Think of it like AHA first aid- everyone can benefit from learning basic first aid and CPR.

    1. FG*

      Yes it’s long been known that peer counseling – with specific training – is quite helpful at the HS & college level, so I wouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand.

      1. Fikly*

        Of course it should be dismissed out of hand. Peer counseling at a school is an entirely different situation than at a job, because for one, peers are not peers at a job. They are people who have power over you, even when they are at the same level, and knowing private information about your mental health can have direct consequences on what opportunities you have (even if it’s “well, let’s not overload them, they’re stressed right now) what peer reviews you get, and so on.

        Also, long been known? Quote your sources, please. Mental health is a wasteland in the US, and peer counseling is used a stopgap, due to lack of coverage and trained providers, and mental health is doing very poorly among those populations pretty much however you measure it.

        1. Venus*

          I’m curious to see the sources, because all studies of mental health programs that I’ve seen show that effects tend to be very short (people forget what they are taught and return to previous behaviors within a few months). I’ll look up some sources if FG does.

          Also to Cat Lovers point:
          Alison is right. Mental Health First Aid is okay, but it is absolutely no substitute for a trained therapist! If I have a broken bone I want it fixed by a medical professional, not someone who took first aid.

          1. Cat Lover*

            No one is saying it’s a substitute, hence my comparison to first aid training versus, say, being a paramedic. Everyone, imo, should know basic first aid and CPR. Basic Mental health knowledge should be taught.

        2. MHFA Trainer*

          To avoid confusion, MHFA And peer counseling are quite different. MHFA has been heavily researched and is supported in many countries all over the world.

      2. cubone*

        Peer counselling DOES have great research behind it but Peer Counselling/Peer Support and Mental Health First Aid are two completely different programs.

    2. Macaroni Penguin*

      Yeah, I’ve taken the Mental Health First Aid and it’s great. It’s just the brain equivalent to basic First Aid that’s ubiquitous in society. In fact, when I last renewed my standard Red Cross First Aid, they had a mental health component. Essentially, mental health first aid is training to help (you and the other person) until the professionals can step in.

    3. yala*

      iirc, they had that at our office, but I think it was badly explained. My coworker signed up thinking it was for her mental health, and was disappointed that it was not. I almost made the same mistake.

      Me personally, I cannot. I’ve had to deal with too many mental crises in people close to me, to the point that dealing with it, or just being around someone visibly in crisis can be a trigger for me. It seems like a nice enough program, but if they’re EXPECTING folks to participate, then that’s unfair. A lot of people just Can’t.

  7. Sue*

    I wish I could think of some way to OP #1 to check on this guy’s wife to be sure she’s ok. I would have trouble sleeping knowing how abusive he was and just ignoring it all. I kn

    1. Sue*

      Not sure what happened there..but I was going to say I know sometimes support or just knowing that someone believes you can be an enormous support in an abusive situation. Unfortunately, I can’t come up with a solution that makes sense.

      1. Aelswitha*

        Whatever happened I’d be saving a recording of that convo, if possible. In addition to support women need all the proof they can get. She may never need/use it, but once it’s gone it’s gone.

        1. NotARacoonKeeper*

          Yeah, my thought too. OP could email it to herself (personal email), archive it, and try to never think about it again unless they hear of stuff going south in the relationship. I would feel terrible knowing I deleted evidence that could have helped an abused person.

        2. Koala*

          I agree, save the recording for proof. I’ve heard of abusive situations where it was notes kept by coworkers of injuries etc that were the evidence that finally got the abuser convicted.

        3. Smithy*

          This is my thought. If there’s a way for the OP to forward the VM to their own phone/save in a hard drive.

          Not that the wife would necessarily know, but it’s there in case the OP ever is in a position to offer it. Also, if there’s any way for the OP to think of this as “doing something” maybe that will help. So often the advice of “doing nothing” can make us feel helpless and depressed – regardless of how sound and thoughtful and reasonable.

          The OP can basically record the date and circumstances in as much granular detail as possible (Grandboss was filling in for boss, called me on X date, call lasted 10 min 45 sec and was about Llama Inc account, likely left my name at top of queue for potential butt dial, screen record of text, audio record, etc.). Then if you have two email addresses, take all of this (including the recordings and any screen shots) and then email it to yourself.

          Not necessarily a perfect legal record – but a way to feel like if anything else weird or bad ever comes up at work or with this man and his wife, you do have that record you can show either HR or give to the wife/her legal team. You can always say, I was new on the job, junior and worried but wanted to keep a record in case.

        4. Generic Name*

          I agree. “Delete and forget” has the consequence of siding with the abuser. I say “keep just in case”. OP doesn’t need to contact HR, but keeping the recording my help someone in the future who it sounds like could use some help.

        5. Old retiree*

          I was thinking that the recording should be kept, but for far less altruistic reasons. Grand boss might realize that the call had been made, and take it out in OP in some fashion. If that occurs,the recording might be OPs only defense with HR. But I tend to think the worst in people.

      2. MK*

        I understand what you are saying, but being contacted by a complete stranger who works for works for your abusive spouse has as much chance of harming this woman as helping her.

        1. Koalafied*

          Unfortunately I agree. It’s a kind thing to want to help. This just isn’t really a situation where a stranger has much they can offer, I think. I think the most LW can do is be kind if she ever meets the woman, be on the lookout for other signs of trouble from the abuser (in general/in the office), and hope the wife has someone she can trust in her corner. It feels inadequate because it is – but sometimes we aren’t positioned or equipped to do something that would be adequate no matter how much we want to be.

      3. Two Chairs, One to Go*

        Same. I don’t know what to do but I’d want to do something. Is this something a domestic violence counselor could talk OP through? An expert might have better ideas and I’d seek an expert outside of HR

        1. ladyme*

          I would call The Hotline and get their advice. Maybe OP could share a copy of the voicemail with them. If there’s a way to discreetly reach out to the wife, they’d probably know how.

      4. anonymous73*

        You’re making assumptions based on a letter from someone who heard ONE conversation. I’m not making excuses for his behavior, but OP knows NOTHING about this man and his relationship with his wife. They are not friends or even friendly outside of work and this is none of their business. He could be abusive on the regular or they could have had a bad fight. We don’t know and neither does OP. They need to stay out of it.

        1. ladyme*

          Really, a bad fight? Could you share an example of a situation where that wouldn’t be abusive? We don’t know the extent, but I’m coming up blank on that one.

          1. Gardener*

            I don’t know about their fight, but a few weeks ago my husband removed several large rocks from our yard and laid them all out in front of my vegetable garden. I have to carefully pick my way over them in order to get to my garden during gardening season. They are too large for me to move by myself, and I have asked him several times to at least move enough that I have a clear path to the garden.
            Sunday morning my foot slipped as I was moving through the rocks, and I fell and wrenched my back badly. I could barely get to my knees between the back pain and the rocks under me. Anyone who heard our ensuing fight–without the context–once I finally made it inside and crawled up the stairs for the heating pad which was in the bedroom where he was still asleep would have probably thought I was abusive. Pretty sure I’d have made a whole ship full of sailors blush with my language.
            So, yes, context. (I was definitely verbally abusive, but I could have easily broken one or more bones, including possibly fracturing my skull, when I fell. I didn’t, but that was pure luck.)

          2. doreen*

            I don’t know anything about their fight except what the OP described- and the only specific things mentioned were multiple instances of the F word and use of the ” very derogatory C word”. Aside from that, there were no specifics, the OP simply described the conversation as abusive. I’ll take the OP at her word that she found it to be abusive – but that doesn’t mean the wife found it to be abusive. It’s entirely possible that the boss and his wife are just foul-mouthed people who use that sort of language whenever they are upset.

        2. Mademoiselle Sugarlump*

          I agree. OP has no idea of their relationship and as commenters below mention, some people do use this kind of language during a bad fight and don’t consider it abusive. I’m one of them.

          1. Pearl-clutcher*

            Also, in English speaking countries outside North America, the c-word is a lot less strong than it is in the US. Check out THE CROWN.

      5. Anna*

        Whew, yeah, this is so tricky! I definitely understand Alison’s point about how there’s probably more risk than benefit to taking it to HR, but if your HR has proven to be at all responsive, I think I’d still be inclined to go to them, just to share the knowledge more generally that this guy is abusive. Even if there’s not much they can or will do in this exact situation, I would hope it might color their perspective of him down the line and maybe have some effect if future issues come up around him.

    2. Kate*

      Yes, I have to admit I’m a bit surprised that Allison’s advice was essentially to simply ignore it and move on. I’m wondering if the original letter had additional context not included here? When I see the word “abusive” I worry that something criminal has occurred. The person’s wife and pet were mentioned, and the writer specified that the voicemail indicated abuse towards them both…I think there’s a big difference between cursing towards your wife and about your pet (which is still absolutely deplorable), and saying something to imply that he has before or plans to physically hurt either of them.

    3. RagingADHD*

      Well, I hope whatever the LW chooses to do centers the wife’s needs instead of their own. A few sleepless nights is a small price of compassion compared to the big price the wife could pay if LW inserts themselves into this situation inappropriately.

      Keeping the recording is a good idea, but this is one of those painful scenarios where anything the LW tries to do is likely to make it worse – not least of which by violating the wife’s sense of privacy and agency by revealing they listened in.

      I can’t imagine how degrading it would be if LW shared this with HR without her consent, so even more people (that she didn’t choose to tell and has no reason to trust) were listening and sharing it around behind her back.

  8. Daria grace*

    If this is anything like the mental health first aid course I did, it’s not about trying to provide untrained therapy (the course actually discourages it) but instead about recognising signs something has likely gone seriously wrong for someone mental health wise and then in safe, appropriate ways helping them get connected to the right professional support or emergency services. I’d encourage people to do the course

      1. cubone*

        I deliver trainings in MHFA, peer support, and suicide intervention (all certified) and these comments are hard to read. I mean, clearly it’s not been well-communicated, and I have absolutely no doubt these programs have been misused (and people are very much allowed to not want to do them!!!). I’m not angry about it, but it just is really wild to see so much conflation of many, many different topics into one black and white concept.

        1. Riot Grrrl*

          Ugh, I’m so sorry. One of my true pet peeves, is when people who have never done Job X opine with great confidence how easy Job X must be or how we don’t really need anyone to do Job X. What’s happening here is a cousin of that attitude.

          1. cubone*

            it’s sort of … fascinating. it’s obviously an extremely weighted topic and I have … a lot of thoughts about mental health awareness and training programs overall, which are not all “it’s flawless and everyone should partake” by a looong shot. It’s not that people commenting are “wrong”, it just feels like a lot of inaccurate info is overlapping with strong personal feelings (which are extremely valid) and creating this sort of tornado of confusion and aggressive reactions to other people’s strong personal feelings (aka a comment section).

            Really, if I could explain 3 principles in response to this, it’s:
            1) no one should ever be forced to do a mental health training (unless it is a job requirement for legitimate reasons)
            2) mental health trainings (of various kinds) have a place and a purpose currently. we benefit from the right ones delivered to the right people in the right places
            3) mental health trainings need to continue to evolve and have clear research, evaluation, and be co-developed by people with lived experience

        2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          After reading some of the comments, my read is that we have a group of people who haven’t taken the Mental Health First Aid course and don’t know what it is about making (wildly incorrect) assumptions about the content and intent.

          I have only seen 1-2 comments from someone who is knowledgeable about the course with incorrect info, and one wasn’t even incorrect but they didn’t like the triggering content (which means the person who taught it did a bad job presenting the information and giving content warnings, but that’s another story).

          1. Nina*

            I haven’t taken a MHFA course, you’re correct, I’m going off info I’ve received from my company about the MHFA program they’ve initiated and apparently had people trained in. The information I’ve been given is that a group of employees have been trained to ‘recognize the signs of a mental health issue or crisis’ and ‘provide support and point people to appropriate resources’. This is vague enough to make my reasonably functional neurodivergent and mentally ill self very very anxious that there are now people in my workplace who are actively on the lookout for people with mental illnesses and may or may not know not to tell my boss that I’m one of them. I’m neurodivergent enough that my ‘actually doing fine’ looks outwardly startlingly similar to many other people’s ‘actively in crisis’ and I’m worried that that kind of thing isn’t accounted for in MHFA training.
            tl;dr it’s been presented to me as more of a mental health police than a mental health ambulance, and I’m not a fan on that basis.

            1. Allison S*

              To hopefully set your mind at ease, one of the things we talk about in the course is stigma and why people might not want to disclose, as well as confidentiality. I teach my students to respect that and that unless someone is in danger, there is no need to share what someone said (or, in your case, suspicions of mental illness) with anyone.

              I also teach that they aren’t to be looking for mental illness, but mental health struggles. There is no diagnosing going on. So, anyone who took the training shouldn’t be on the lookout for someone with mental illness so they can tell that person’s boss. They are on the lookout for someone who is struggling, at which point they should approach that person and offer support in a non-judgmental way.

              1. AnonToday*

                What Nina said (and I second as an Autistic) is that we have behaviors that are NOT A CRISIS FOR US that look like what non-Autistic people do when they are in a crisis.

                I won’t speak for Nina, but I have had strangers assume I was in a mental health crisis because I was crying and according to them, “normal” people don’t cry unless they’re on the verge of suicide. For me, it could just mean that I’m having sensory overload because I gave in to social pressure not to leave the noisy networking session when I first realized it was time to go home.

                Apparently if people don’t have an active and busy social life with lots of hugging and meals in restaurants on a daily basis, this means they are “socially isolating” and need a psych evaluation. An Autistic person would be doing this to recuperate from too much social/sensory input at work (and an understanding of how COVID is transmitted).

                1. Allison S*

                  I can’t speak for other instructors, but I do teach to this. I talk about the importance of understanding someone’s baseline, rather than just assuming. I tend to give the example that I’m a neruodivergent introvert, so my baseline will look a lot different than my neurotypical extroverted coworker. Whenever I teach about signs and symptoms, i also get my students to brainstorm non-mental health reasons for them. Crying because of overstimulation would be one great example.

                  If someone actually told you that about socially isolating then I’m sorry. They were incredibly wrong and that’s not something the course teaches. I do think that if someone is crying or their behaviour has changed so that they aren’t a social as they were before, it’s a good idea to check in. But that’s all it needs to be. A simple, “are you okay?” and an offer to talk if they want. That’s what mental health first aid teaches.

                2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                  What Allison S said. I work that bit in when we cover panic attacks, because the program has you specifically ask someone “Are you having a panic attack?” or “Are you in crisis?” rather than assuming. If the answers is yes, the nest step is to ask the person what has helped them in the past before jumping in with your own solution.

  9. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    LW 1, is there someone outside your organization you can send the voicemail to? I don’t know if law enforcement could do anything, but I’m sure there must be animal rights groups that could act. And that was a really depressing sentence to write.

    1. NLR*

      An animal rights group isn’t likely to be able to act against a private citizen on the basis of a voicemail, especially if he was just being a jerk to the dog verbally. If there was evidence of more than verbal abuse your local SPCA/shelter/animal control might be able to show up and ask questions but it’s unlikely if it was just verbal.


    2. Maggie*

      I don’t think it’s at all realistic that any animal rights group would be able to take action based on a voicemail of someone yelling at their dog. The most they could do is knock on his door and talk to him. I guess I’m confused what action a non governmental/non law enforcement group take with this.

    3. Double A*

      I’m confused about if there was anything more than abusive language in this call which is definitely not something anyone could help an animal with.

      Honestly I’m kind of side eyeing the LW for having more sympathy for the dog but the past years have shown us where women rank in people’s estimation so that sentiment is sadly common.

      1. Kalongdia*

        Based on the Letter-Writer’s reaction, I’m wondering if he was only* verbally abusive to the wife, but they could hear the dog being kicked/hurt physically in some way. Some abusers would definitely do that in front of their victims in a “this could be you” situation .

        *I absolutely hate the way this is phrased, because it seems to minimize what the wife was going through, and that is not my intention at all. Any type of abuse is horrible, I just can’t seem t figure out a different way to phrase this

        1. I&I*

          The LW doesn’t say the dog was hurt physically, just that the ‘conversation’ was ‘involving’ the dog.

        2. Mary*

          I had a similar initial read as Kalongdia, where there was verbal abuse of the wife and physical abuse of the dog. Looking back at the letter again I’m not quite so confident about it, but I can see where they got that impression.

      2. BuildMeUp*

        I don’t think it’s fair to assume something like that based on one sentence in the OP’s letter. They could easily have just been referring to the dog having less agency in the situation – not being able to leave on its own, etc.

      3. Allonge*

        I would not read a lot into the ranking thing. Feeling terrible ‘especially’ about the dog could just mean that the wife – however terrible it must be for her – still has more choices in this situation than the dog.

        1. I&I*

          There are many more ways to threaten and blackmail a human being that speaks English than there are with a dog. Let’s not assume we know what her ‘choices’ are.

          1. Allonge*

            I can with 100% certainty say she has more choices than the dog. She is most likely in a terrible situation but let’s not deny she has agency.

            She has a concept of future, she can hopefully still imagine a scenario where she is not abused, she is likely a grown adult who can set limits on what she tolerates and she can make a choice to leave. This is not easy! But still a lot more than a dog can do.

      4. Dog person*

        Feeling the same as Double A. I love dogs! That people on this thread think the action for OP to take here should involve animal welfare groups/animal enforcement over human welfare groups/law enforcement reflects, sadly, how little our society values and supports women entangled in abusive relationships.

        OP, keep the recording for now. If you are in the U.S., I would call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233) to see what they advise.

        1. DaisyGJ*

          In the UK, the equivalent number is 0808 2000 247 – posting in case anyone needs it, not just OP.

      5. Myrin*

        That seems like a pretty unkind reading of a clearly distressed OP who feels terribly about this all around, doesn’t know what to do, and wants to help.

        (And FWIW, I tend to emotionally deal worse with violence against animals than against humans. I remember feeling that way even as a kid although I can’t explain why. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I feel like animals have less agency and power and fewer choices when dealing with violent humans than other humans (Probably also the reason why I feel worse about violence against children compared to against adults.). I imagine that’s not actually always true but it definitely feels like that to me. Doesn’t mean I don’t feel terribly about violence against humans or that I don’t help whenever I can but I can, on a purely emotional level, deal with it better than with violence against animals. And from what I’ve heard, I imagine I’m not the only one.)

        1. Koalafied*

          I agree with this. Abused humans *can be* trapped in situations without m/any options, or without any good ones, but abused pets virtually *always are.* Abusers try to isolate their humans victims by limiting their contact with people outside the home – pets are typically isolated from anyone outside the home by default, in a way that nobody would ever think is weird or suspicious. Humans being abused have at least the option of reaching out for help if they feel safe doing so; pets being abused have no ability to reach out for help even if they wanted to.

          To be clear this is really a “douche vs turd” competition where both versions are awful and no human or animal should ever be subjected to, and I think unless/until domestic violence ceases to exist we should *always* be asking what more we can be doing, and never accept any occurrence as inevitable. I just think we have indeed made more progress with violence against humans than we have with violence against pets, because of how little agency pets have, literally being the property of their owner in the eyes of the law.

          1. socks*

            I’m not saying anyone is bad for their gut reactions, but I think it’s better to say, “This is my gut instinct even if it isn’t necessarily right or fair,” than to write a comment explaining why you think abuse victims are a little bit responsible for not leaving their abuser.

      6. philmar*

        I think it is because someone abusing an animal is pretty straightforward and actionable. someone kicks their dog, you can call the animal welfare people. someone hits their spouse, there’s a complicated legal situation with he-said-she-said, whether or not the spouse will admit it’s happening, whether the police will help or make things worse, whether reporting it will cause greater consequences to the abused spouse….

        1. ecnaseener*

          How is any of that a reason to feel worse for the dog than the wife? You’re saying the dog is more likely to be protected.

          1. hbc*

            1) The dog is *not* more likely to be protected in equivalent situations. They are considered property, and anything that actually gets an animal removed from a home is so egregious that it goes way beyond most human abuse cases, and often it’s only temporary. I say this as a person who has fostered seized animals and had to return them to their original situation.

            2) People are acknowledging that human abuse victims often choose to stay with their abuser. There’s complicated reasons behind that, but the only way you guarantee them protection is basically abducting them.

            Of course, if the guy is just yelling at both of them, no one is getting protection.

            1. I&I*

              Does someone deserve less sympathy if they ‘choose to stay with their abuser’? Nobody thinks things through and decides, ‘Being bullied and intimidated makes me feel great; think I’ll sign up for a lifetime of that!’ People stay because they’re too worn down to think they deserve better, or because however bad things are if they stay, leaving would be even worse.

              None of that is a reason to feel less compassion for them. If anything, it’s a reason to feel more.

              1. socks*

                Yeah, the victim blaming in this thread has been appalling. (And “she has more choices” IS saying she’s more culpable in her own abuse than the dog is.)

                1. I&I*

                  The reason it’s ‘easier’ to pity animals, I fear, is that it’s harder to find ways to blame them. Doesn’t seem hard to blame her, though.

                  Everyone: we know nothing about this lady except that her husband is abusive. She could be afraid that if she leaves, he’ll hurt her or those she loves – and she could be right about that. She could be in the process of leaving him right now – EVERYBODY is a partner who ‘chooses to stay’ until the moment they leave. She could want to leave but have nowhere to go. She could have been twisted round till she blames herself. We simply don’t know.

                  Or she could be choosing to stay because she doesn’t see a better alternative, and you know? That’s really, really sad for her.

                  There is zero reason to assume she’s ‘choosing’ anything. And even if she was, less sympathy than a dog? Really? Even if you love dogs, come on.

                2. pancakes*

                  It’s also disappointing to see people continue to talk about sympathy as a resource as if it’s the one thing victims need. Sympathy is a wonderful thing but it’s typically not as useful a resource as things like hotlines, shelters, education, and training. Sympathy in online comments is relatively unimportant in comparison but it’s the one people like to argue about most often, as if simply saying the right things is an important contribution in itself. Looking to get indignant about people who have a very distant connection to this couple’s life and their dog’s life not making all the right noises in comments is a low-stakes diversion and shouldn’t be mistaken for a form of activism.

                3. I&I*

                  True (replying to pancakes), but it’s not as if this comment thread has shelters and hotlines in its gift. This is a comment thread where people share opinions; if the fact that they aren’t activism is a strike against them, there’s no reason for anyone to post at all. This isn’t an activist space, and it doesn’t pretend to be.

                  I mean, if you have a comment that constitutes activism, go right ahead. That’d be great.

                4. Despachito*

                  But the dog has literally zero choices. I hope we will agree that a human has slightly more than that.

                  I do not agree that it means implying that she is “culpable” in what is happening to her

                5. Koalafied*

                  Agree, Despachito. It’s very difficult to talk about domestic violence in short form with the appropriate nuance, but it’s equally problematic to portray abuse victims as utterly helpless with no agency as it is to blame them for not being able to prevent/end their own abuse. A compassionate stance is one that gives people agency while understanding that agency means the freedom to use your own judgement to determine whether an action is in your best interest. It’s not one that views victims as passive or helpless but one that recognizes some situations don’t have perfect or even good solutions available and supports the choices the victim makes without blanket judging some choices as wrong or saying their choices are the reason they’re being abused (when in fact they might be the reason they’re currently safer by staying than by trying to leave).

                6. I&I*

                  Literally nobody’s saying the wife has no agency or choices. Only that this isn’t a reason to feel more ‘terrible’ for the dog than for her.

                7. Koalafied*

                  It’s really litigating precious few words here, but I didn’t parse the phrasing as meaning that the dog deserves more sympathy, but that the dog’s situation is especially bleak. You can at least imagine scenarios where the woman has or gets the support she needs and is able to get out of the situation someday – there’s room to have hope for her. There’s essentially no hope whatsoever for the dog, which is what I took feeling “especially terrible for the poor dog” to mean – that while the wife might be okay in the end the dog certainly will not be. It’s not about which creature deserves more sympathy, it’s about which situation feels more hopeless.

                8. pancakes*

                  I&I, I certainly don’t disagree with you that people express opinions in comments. It doesn’t follow that every opinion expressed is equally sound, productive, or worthy of extensive discussion. Trying to tally sympathy you’ve seen for the wife vs. the dog is not helpful, and simply saying that people have opinions doesn’t make a case for this being a helpful or worthwhile line of discussion.

                9. pancakes*

                  No, that’s not a pity at all. People should be looking to activists with expertise on this topic for guidance on the best ways to do activism. You said as much yourself earlier: “This isn’t an activist space and doesn’t pretend to be.”

          2. Philmar*

            I’m saying it’s easier to do something about the dog, which could be why LW focused on the dog, because they saw a clear course of action.
            I agree that a person being abused is worse than an animal being abused.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Around here people who work with animals are keenly aware that they can be front line people. Upon entering a property (legitimately) they can gather information for a police report. I know of one instance where animals were being abused and I simply said, “There are children on the property.” This triggered a phone call to CPS because of a correlation between animal and child abuse.

      While it’s disturbing to me how our systems work, I think it’s important to use whatever inroads we can find to try to stop the abuse.

    5. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Pretty sure it’s not illegal to yell at your dog. Wrong, certainly, but not illegal. Maybe you could find an organization that would be willing to act anyway, but what are they supposed to do? Steal the dog I guess? Maybe knock on this guys door and tell him off?

      Likewise, I’m pretty sure yelling at someone isn’t illegal. Awful, definitely. But nothing law enforcement can charge him for.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        You know, I am not clear from the phrasing of the letter whether “involving” meant the yelling AT the dog or yelling ABOUT the dog. Or something else.

        I’d advise the LW to keep the voicemail and consider reaching out to a domestic violence hotline for guidance. I don’t think there’s anything actionable from a mostly-silent voicemail with some garbled abusive language, but I have zero qualifications to back that up.

      2. RagingADHD*

        There are very few places where its illegal to yell at your wife, either. If all the LW heard was yelling and name calling with no indication of physical abuse, there is nothing to be done either way.

  10. Tussy*

    #4, one way to word it that might be clearer is “I am available between 2pm and 5pm”. I agree with Allison that people might be reading it as you are available for the full hour of 5pm, I can see this happening given the way outlook and other e-calendars set out their hours.

    1. Zeus*

      +1, I came to suggest the exact same wording! Make it clear that the block you are free is between these times, and not outside of them.

    2. tamarak & fireweed*

      Yup, maximum clarity around the hard end might help in the end.

      Also I was wondering if the people booking a meeting for 4:30 really think it won’t take more than 30 min, but don’t know or don’t care about editing the end time. In any event, “I’m available from 2 pm onwards with a hard stop at 5, so the latest meeting time I can accommodate is 4 pm” might be a good way.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I have to do this. I used to tell clients I am available anytime in the afternoon, so they ask for appointments for 5 p.m. Which is still technically 5 p.m., but you know, the end of my working day. I want to be done by 5.

        So now I say, I am available any time after Noon, my latest available appointment is 4 pm. (if its friday I say 3 p.m. because who wants to work late on a friday?)

    3. violinosaurus*

      yes, this! came here to say that I switched to ‘between’ and the difference was immediate :)

      1. OP4*

        That’s an interesting point! Definitely makes sense, but I’m intrigued that it made such a difference from “-“ which I personally interpret as “between” anyway.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yes, using the actual word “between” or “to” makes a surprising difference. I’ve always tended to avoid relying on the hyphen to communicate “between” in my own writing, because some pedantic/anal part of my brain feels that the hyphen really means “from the time before the hyphen to the time after the hyphen” so “from 2p-3p” eats away at me, the way someone erasing a blackboard and leaning a half inch of a chalk line behind eats away at me, because the “from” is spelled out but the “to” is omitted, instead of both or neither being included.

          I fully appreciate I might be the only person on Earth who finds this asymmetry so vexing, but it stops me from ever using the hyphen convention in a sentence. I’ll still use it for things like event invitations where it’s a non-sentence line that says “Time: 6p – 8p ET.”

          Or when I’m offering several possible ranges and the wording starts to be cumbersome I’ll write something like, “I’m free anywhere inside these windows:
          Wednesday 2p-4p
          Thursday 10a-12p or 2p-3p
          Friday 10a-1p”

          I do notice people are most likely to pick a time outside my stated window when it’s the latter – not sure if it’s because of the hyphen or just the added complication of offering so many windows compared to one or two or something easily summarized like, “between 2 and 4 every afternoon this week.” But they pick a bad time less often when I list them out one line per day than when I try to weave it into a sentence.

  11. River*

    #5) I love that your calling people out for their contributions. I recently recommended that we spend the first 10 minutes of our team offsite calling out the partners that went above and beyond. I had a few people in mind when I suggested the activity because they are shining stars who don’t get enough recognition and i had a C-level exec in the room. Each person was limited to 3 recognitions. Our VP wrote each person an individualized letter with their management chain up to the CEO CC-d to call out their contributions. We decided to continue the recognitions at each quarterly event.

    I would be honored and touched if I ever got a letter like you’re suggesting. Just knowing that i made someone’s day a little brighter makes me feel better about the job I do. Kudos to you for handling frustrations so positively.

    1. NYWeasel*

      I try to regularly write notes to specific coworkers, where I tell them things I appreciate about working with them. I simply cc their manager when I send it over, bc who doesn’t want their manager to hear when they get compliments on their work? It’s been really well received every time I send a note out.

    2. Koalafied*

      One of my favorite things to do when I have unremarkable/adequate service at a fast food place is to write the customer feedback address with something like, “I just wanted to express my appreciation for the crew at X store. They always get my order right even when it’s complicated and I’m in the drive thru.

      Because you know places like that, nobody ever uses the feedback address except to lodge (often ridiculous) complaints – I mean how “above and beyond” can you really expect someone working minimum wage to go? Doing their job competently is reason enough that they should be commended. Anna in my experience store managers genuinely view customer feedback like gospel and are just as likely to be put in a good mood and reward the employees for a generic positive comment as they are to come down on them for a baseless complaint.

    3. JustaTech*

      One thing I’ve done when someone on the phone has been super helpful is to ask to be passed on to their boss/supervisor/manager at the end of the call, saying “I want to tell your boss what a great job you did” (so the rep doesn’t think I’m secretly mad or something).

      It feels really good to take all the energy from being frustrating, and the relief of getting it fixed, and turn that into praise for someone else doing their job well. (Most of the bosses have seemed surprised and pleased when I’ve done this, so hopefully it doesn’t hurt anyone’s metrics.)

    4. tangerineRose*

      It’s wonderful getting letters like that, especially when the boss is cc’d. It doesn’t have to be a big literary effort, just say something about how helpful the person was, etc.

      My only caveat is to try to make sure you aren’t praising them for something that strictly speaking they shouldn’t have done.

  12. Maggie*

    I’m unclear on number 1 – did OP hear these words on the recording or is the only thing that was at all intelligible the few lines that teams transcribed?

  13. Matthias*

    LW4: I’ve started saying “I’m available from 2 to 4:59” to make double sure people get that is the end of the timeframe, before that too many were going “Cool then it’s settled 4 it is!” too

    1. SG*

      If I got a message from someone saying “2 to 4:59,” I would think that was odd and question their knowledge of professional norms, and I would wonder why they didn’t just say 5. What I do is say, “I’m available within the window of 2:00-5:00.” I’ve never once had someone then schedule something with me past the end time.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I’m confused – what’s wrong with setting a start time of 4 when you’ve said 2-5?

      1. Matthias*

        Nice catch! :D My mistake, I originally wrote 1 to 3:59 as an example, then changed it to 2 to 4:59 to match OP’s timeframe, but then forgot to adapt the next number. Should have been “I’m available from 2 to 4:59″and then people going “Cool then it’s settled 5 it is!”

    3. Just a different redhead*

      I tend to go ultra-specific in a different way, and put “I’m available starting at 2 pm ET but would need to end by 5 pm ET” – maybe a little awkward for multiple time ranges, but I can put it as a little row template or just at least state the first one that way then switch to shorthand of “Thurs 7/7: starting 11 am ET – ending 1 pm ET OR starting after 4 pm ET” etc.

  14. Leenie*

    When I really want to recognize someone, I’ll often send an email thanking them with some specificity about how they went above and beyond, and CC their boss. People respond really well to that, in my experience.

    1. Debora*

      I’d always be worried that they might have bent some rules to go above and beyond, and might get in trouble with their boss of they found out.
      Once I had to take the bus, and there was an annoying buzzer going off non-stop on this thing. Bus driver kept his cool, tried to fix it without delaying service. And I sent an email to the company complimenting him on that. He also let me (and everyone else) ride for free. I did not mention this. Maybe his boss was absolutely fine with letting people ride for free in this situation. Might even be company policy. But it also might not and I did not want to risk getting him in trouble over it.

      1. Leenie*

        That makes sense. I usually do this with work things, where I know the parameters. But it’s a good thing to keep in mind in situations where people’s approved options might be more limited.

        My main point was that I thank the person and loop their boss in. When I was young, I worked for someone who wasn’t a bad boss in most ways, but I heard more than once that someone had sent compliments along and he would just never tell me. Honestly, I think he didn’t want me to realize that I was excelling and probably had a lot of other options. So I like like letting the employee and the boss both see the same message.

  15. Gertie*

    Ugh, housewarming gifts should only be given when you’re invited to someone’s house. Sometimes these things are never ending when you’re in a large department. Do I want to spend my lunch at a baby shower and buy something off a registry for a coworker that doesn’t work on the same floor —who I’ve literally never had a conversation with? And I don’t want to contribute to a spa session for my boss’s birthday or petco gift card for a “new pet parent” ( yes that’s real).

    1. annonagain*

      Ugh I agree. I don’t think any of these type of gifts should be happening in the workplace. Especially not organized ones. If someone at work you are friendly with has a baby or wants buys a new house, and you want to buy them a small gift, great. But do it on your own. Asking other people to contribute is presumptuous and puts people on the spot or feeling resentful.

      The other thing I will say is that if it’s a norm in the workplace to give wedding and baby gifts, then it’s actually just as nice to give a housewarming gift to the single, childless coworker who buys a new home. To be clear, expecting coworkers to buy gifts for ANY of these events is too much and then where do you draw the line? But to have only babies and weddings celebrated and gifted is not inclusive of all employees, and if that’s happening, and then the person who is always gifting and never celebrated bc it doesn’t include marriage or babies, buys a home, then I think doing the same type of thing for them is actually kind of nice. I just think none of this belongs in the workplace – let friends or family do that, or the individual people at work you have actual relationships with and choose to do on your own. The collective as a group thing that only celebrates some people and some occasions gets old fast.

    2. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I had a couple of coworkers who were out on leave due to having a baby, and I didn’t even know they were pregnant. So when the email to contribute to a gift came out, I ignored it. I figure that if we weren’t close enough for me to know they were pregnant, they weren’t close enough for me to give them a gift. I don’t mean that in a petty way, but it’s a good way for me to personally draw a line in potential never ending office gift giving.

    3. Rayray*

      I agree. I really get sick of contributing money to all these kinds of things. I set a rule for myself a while ago to only contribute $2 max but I have also declined to contribute at times too. All the birthdays, baby presents, wedding presents, etc really add up. I think one place where I’m willing to give a little more is when sending flowers for someone who is dealing with the death of a family member. I really do want to contribute to something to show that I do care for them.

      1. annonagain*

        That’s a good point. I would too. The best companies I have worked at have a department budget/allowance for things like a department baby gift, going away gift, bereavement flowers, etc. Everyone just gets to feel good signing the card, but the company picks up the cost. It really does help cut down on all those pesky “contribute” asks and feeling obligated to give, etc.

  16. Aglaia761*

    For anyone that needs to share availability with a recruiter or a friend…or whomever and you don’t want to use your work scheduler. If you have Gmail, the free boomerang extention has offered meeting scheduling for about a year. It’s not super intuitive and if you already have it for scheduling emails, you probably haven’t even noticed it.

    There is a tiny red schedule icon with the word Meet next to it. If you click on that, you’ll have 4 options to share your availability with someone. I recommend using either the suggest times or the bookable calendar. Both will adjust to the other user’s timezone.

  17. Zelda*

    LW5, this is cynical of me, but please give a thought to phrasing your thanks to make sure you’re not getting anyone in trouble. If there’s any chance they bent the rules for you or interpreted the heck out of some policy until it was in your favor, still definitely say thank you and praise them to their bosses, but tread carefully. Like, I recently filled out a comment card giving major props to the guy at the car service center who helped me figure out that I did *not* need to spend big bucks on a certain service, but what I told his bosses was that he “ensured that I was getting the right service at the right time.”

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Absolutely this. If you suspect that someone bent the rules for you, your praise needs to be expressed more obliquely, perhaps referring to their “sympathetic and compassionate manner”.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah, even if you don’t suspect. You never know what helpful and reasonable thing they did might technically be against a corporate policy. I’ve been advices to be extremely specific in a complaint – so the management has enough info to conclude they agree that whatever happened was inappropriate, but to be vague in a compliment – so all they’ve got to go on is Very Happy Customer and can’t decide “hey that super helpful (presumably non-harm-causing) thing you did? Stop doing that!”

  18. KateM*

    OP5, “easily saved me two weeks of frustration” sounds pretty glamorous to me!

    1. ILoveLlamas*

      I came on to say the same thing. He is your Grandboss. He holds a lot more power in this dynamic. Archive that email in your personal files (not on any work computer) in case something awful comes up in the future (that directly affects your interactions with him or something horrible in his personal life that warrants additional evidence). DO NOT speak of this to your coworkers. I know this will be hard. You are young and new to this role. You may not have a firm grasp of the office politics (not trying to belittle you, but to help you understand why you need to let this sit). I know you want to help, but you also have to look out for yourself. I know this all sounds harsh and cynical, but if he catches wind that you have that recording, you will be looking for a new job. People like that use their power to destroy others.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yeah, good tip on saving the e-mail. I think that is ABSOLUTELY a good idea. And I agree about not saying anything. He has more power, AND he’s shown that he is an abusive person.

  19. Lee Merry*

    LW1: If he is abusive to his wife I wonder how he is treating his female staff.. Saying something to HR might make them take a closer look but there’s probably a bigger chance that they will see you as drama-seeking. As sad as it is to write that.

  20. BubbleTea*

    I disagree with Alison on number 1. I think LW should approach a domestic abuse organisation for advice on this, and keep the voicemail. It is evidence of a crime (at least, what is described would, unless a one off incident, constitute a crime in England and Wales). I work in this field and it is often hard to prove psychological and emotional abuse. A recording of it occurring, freely provided by the perpetrator (so no issues around illegal wiretapping or recording), is invaluable.

    The wife may not have reached out for help yet. But she might do, and the local domestic abuse service can help her to access that evidence and take it to the police.

    I would say, go to the police yourself, but there’s too much risk they’d blunder in and put the wife at risk, even if they say it wasn’t provided by her.

    1. Rubber Duck*

      Yes, this – recording someone, even in a conversation you’re a part of, is illegal in many parts of the US as well, which makes ‘proving’ this type of abuse for police or a court extremely difficult. A domestic violence group will be the best resource to help you decide how to proceed.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        IANAL, but the lovely thing is that if you’re butt-dialed and aren’t near the phone, you haven’t ever pressed record or turned on an app… it’s a nice position to be in. Also, if it’s evidence of a crime erasing it might also have legal consequences, like Obstruction of Justice, though the LW would be unlikely to be charged under any circumstance I can imagine.

        1. boo bot*

          Yeah, he basically recorded himself and sent it to her, even though it was by accident; I can’t imagine it’s illegal to receive a voice mail.

    2. Maggie*

      I don’t disagree that the grand boss is potentially abusive and totally in the wrong but is it seriously a crime to yell at someone in the UK? I guess maybe if it got crazy enough you could be ticketed for disturbing the peace in the US.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Without going too far off track, “yelling” could possibly constitute assault. But I suspect that BubbleTea was actually talking about our domestic abuse laws which have recently been updated to include nonviolent conduct such as coercive control and financial abuse. A pattern of yelling at a spouse could fall under that umbrella.

        1. Pearl-clutcher*

          Without going too far off track, “yelling” could possibly constitute assault.

          I suppose it “could.” Is it likely to? No.

  21. PX*

    Re: #2 – yeah, like others – I’ve worked in companies where Mental Health First Aiders were a useful resource and not at all like what Alison is describing. Essentially it was just key people in various departments (so you could go to someone outside your line of command/business) who could help signpost you to appropriate resources, share basic advice or even help you work through issues you are facing in terms of the work impact. Something between a mentor, HR or first line EAP for example.

    Like those above, I feel like the dismissiveness of the answer here is actually doing a disservice to what this position actually is.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      Indeed. A mental health first aider isn’t an “enthusiastic amateur” (and I thought that phrasing was unfairly dismissive) who is going to mess up your career by telling everyone you are bananas, any more than a physical first aider is an enthusiastic amateur who is going to mess up your career by telling everyone you’re a clumsy oaf.

      1. Apples*

        But how do you know? A MHFA is just a volunteer who got a training course. They basically are amateurs. As far as I know, there is no legal consequence if they do go around saying you’re bananas. I’m sure the role will attract caring people, but it’s obvious it will also attract malicious workplace gossipers/bullies.

        I also looked at some guidance from MHFA England and they’re encouraging first aiders to ‘confidentially’ log their conversations, including the theme of the conversation. How many MHFAs do you think actually know how to store those logs in a secure way, or make it clear to people that they’re logging that? That information could easily be leaked. They’re also required to breach confidentiality if they think you’re a harm to yourself/others, which is just a judgement call on their part. Personally, I don’t have trust that the role is going to be performed well by most MHFAs.

        1. Allonge*

          Look, all these are legit issues and should be addressed, but the concept can be valid all the same. Especially if all staff is encouraged to take the training, these can be sorted out. And nobody obliges you to disclose any medical conditions.

          I guess what I don’t get is how more information on mental health can be a bad thing. People who are interfering busybodies already gossip about others. Why not give accessible info for the ones that are reasonable?

          1. Unfettered scientist*

            Well for one, because the training is voluntary and will likely empower gossipy busybodies under the guise of “helping” others.

            1. pancakes*

              I don’t doubt there are people who would take away all the wrong lessons, but it’s not as if gossipy busybodies tend to wait to feel empowered before meddling in other people’s business as it is. They do that without any particular training all the time.

              1. Apples*

                Your employer doesn’t usually encourage you to go and disclose your problems to workplace busybodies. They do encourage you to disclose your problems to workplace MHFAs. The company is implicitly endorsing them as people who can help with your mental health, while doing no vetting and accepting no responsibility for the outcome.

                1. pancakes*

                  It is far from clear that this particular program is meant to encourage people to disclose their problems to coworkers who’ve had the training. A number of people who’ve had MHFA training have clarified in comments that that’s not what their training was about and not how the program is meant to work.

            2. Riot Grrrl*

              By this logic, we also shouldn’t offer people medical first-aid training because it might empower busybodies to dig into people’s medical histories? So… no knowledge for anyone then?

              1. Unfettered scientist*

                The difference is there’s no stigma associated with twisting your ankle on the stairs in the same way that “I’m having a panic attack” will follow you.

                1. Riot Grrrl*

                  Knowing what to do in an emergency does not change the fact of an emergency happening or not happening. If someone has a panic attack in the break room, they have a panic attack in the break room. That is a thing that has happened. It is a given. It’s better that someone on the premises know what to do in that event than that everyone stand around scratching their head in bewilderment.

                2. Allonge*

                  Malicious busybodies will see a panic attack or anything aproaching it and will spread rumours about it with or without a training. The more people understand about mental health issues, the better the overall reaction will be.

                3. just some guy*

                  There is a LOT of opportunity for stigmatised topics to come up in the course of physical first aid.

                  That person who just twisted their ankle – they fell, and they’re not speaking clearly when asked how they’re doing. Could that be concussion from the fall? Or did they fall because they’re having a stroke? Are they under the influence of alcohol/narcotics? Diabetic hypoglycemic episode? Do they have cerebral palsy? Or a connective tissue disorder that puts them at increased risk of sprains etc? Are they pregnant, in a jurisdiction where that fall might be investigated as an illegal attempt to induce a miscarriage?

    2. anonymous 5*

      I read the dismissiveness of the answer (through an admittedly very cynical lens) as a recognition that the *company* might not understand what the position actually is–or, perhaps a greater concern, what it *isn’t*.

      My cynical lens: my employer (higher ed) floated the idea of training faculty and staff on mental health support, and even had a (contractually required) professional development day devoted to it. When I asked one of our union reps about liability in the event of a student crisis, it came out that administration had envisioned saddling faculty with accountability (and risk for penalties) far beyond what the intended training would have actually prepared us to handle.

      Thankfully for us, the idea seems to have been set aside. I would personally love to take a MHFA course, but not from my employer…possibly this is the same for the LW?

      1. Pippa K*

        Yikes. Thanks for mentioning this – it’s something I’ll ask about the next time this comes up at my institution.

  22. Kate, short for Bob*

    LW1 – too many bees. If grand -boss’s wife ever comes into the office you could put some flyers for your local DA service in the bathrooms, but otherwise anything more direct could create more risk for her. But keep the recording – if you ever hear they’re splitting you could offer it to her for evidence.

    LW2 – also bees. Not just because there’s too high a probability of it not being peer to peer and power differentials coming in to play, but also because mental health problems aren’t all burn out, anxiety and depression. People suffering more serious problems don’t always self-select out of the milder end of the treatment spectrum – a friend was at a Ruby Wax event when she was promoting a book on managing mental health with mindfulness and fewer drugs (iirc), and she was blindsided by someone asking how she should apply this to her ongoing treatment for schizophrenia.

    And then there’s the risk that the problems someone notices in a co-worker are related to something they’re going through with sexuality or gender identity, or the recent arrest of a close friend, or the undocumented status of a relative, or domestic abuse, or any number of situations they wouldn’t want to discuss at work. Bees …

  23. UKgreen*

    I have constant wrangling with students about my availability. I’ve found that if I write ‘from 2pm to 5pm’ they’ll start a meeting at 5, but if I say ‘BETWEEN 2pm and 5pm’ they’ll get that my block of availability is those three hours only.

    (And TBH, if I need to be done and finished by 5pm I’ll probably say ‘between 2pm and 4.45pm’ to be on the safe side!)

    1. londonedit*

      I had to do this for a meeting with someone in a different time zone the other week – I didn’t want the meeting to run on past the end of my working day and I was concerned that the person I was meeting might not fully compute that ‘middle of the day’ for them meant ‘I’m finishing work in an hour’. So I said I was available between 2pm and 4pm UK time, so that even if they did misinterpret and ask for a 4pm meeting I’d still have an hour to speak to them before the end of the day.

      1. Ama*

        I was trying to schedule a call with someone in the Pacific US time zone recently (I am in Eastern US time zone), and she very clearly wrote back “I am available 10-1 Central time” (fully wrote out “central,” no chance she accidentally hit C when she meant E or P). So I wrote back “OK, I can do 10:30 Central time.” Yes, I probably should have confirmed since as far as I knew neither of us was in that time zone but in these days of work from anywhere I assumed she was traveling or something (she also had a tendency to take several days to respond to any emails so I just wanted to get it on the schedule and not do another round of waiting).

        Yup, she put it on her calendar for Pacific time and then acted like she had no clue how I could have possibly thought she meant a different time zone. A lot of people don’t seem to proofread their own emails — I’m sure she thought of course she put Pacific time, but she very clearly did not.

  24. KelseyCorvo*

    #4 – “between”

    “I’m available between 1 PM and 3 PM
    also between 6 PM and 7 PM”

  25. After 33 years ...*

    Mental Health First Aid: As one of the more than 500,000 Canadians who have received this training through the Mental Health Commission of Canada, I can attest to its value. I am very grateful for the MHFA programme and am pleased to display my certificate of completion in my office.

  26. Helvetica*

    LW#5 – I once wrote to my local airport, after a member of their security staff had been suuuuper helpful in getting me and my cat through security. The guy took us to a separate room, knew how to handle animals, and was so calm that my nerves – already on edge due to internationally moving with said cat – were calmed a lot. I did not know the guy’s name and in my frazzled state did not think to ask but later wanted to show my appreciation so sent a nice e-mail mentioning the date and time and expressing my appreciation for their good training.
    Fast forward a couple of years , and I tell a friend that the security at this airport is good at handling animals. And she says that her friend is the head of security and told her a story about how he had received a very nice letter about one of their employees, praising their conduct with a cat. So, the story came full circle!

  27. Helen W*

    #2 – I am/was a MHFA at my office and I have to say that doing a one-day course (maybe 5 hours in total) does NOT prepare people to adequately handle their colleagues’ mental health issues/queries. I thought the training was going to be far more intensive or, at the very least, constantly refreshing with follow ups etc. I’ve had that singular session about 3 years ago and nothing further. I’m now trying to distance myself from the whole process because I realise what a terrible idea it is.
    One main part of the training was that we always direct people to the EAP but we were still on the front line. Some things I heard were INTENSE. I did not feel equipped to handle that and it ended up affecting my own mental health.
    MHFA is a good idea in principle but in practicality, it does not work.

    1. Katie*

      It works very well, when companies invest in it properly and support it. I’m sorry yours hasn’t.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        +1 We receive ongoing support, and regular updates from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

        1. cubone*

          MHCC is great. So is CMHA. Also supposedly I have heard anecdotally more and more places with non-clinical frontline staff (eg. an academic advisor at a college) are leaning towards ASIST/safetalk (suicide prevention skills) over MHFA because they feel it is more clear about crisis skills and steps.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      (All my comments seem to be stuck on moderation/my browser is broken again so apologies if his comes across broken)

      That’s generally been my number 2 concern about this kind of training – that there’s invariably no protection or instruction against those who will take it too far. Whether that be drastically over sharing or prying into other’s thoughts far too much. As someone with a lot of issues, some stigmatised a lot, I don’t want any questioning, or to sit through training that’s going to make me feel a lot of those issues are a really big deal that need a cohort of coworkers to investigate, or to have someone watch me constantly for signs of them.

      I’m also aware this is my issue and I primarily deal with it by avoiding such training and walk-in away when someone starts showing far too much interest in my mental state. If the training is optional, if it’s conducted by a professional, if there’s emphasis placed on ‘when you’ve gone too far’ then I don’t have so much an issue.

  28. CQ*

    OP#4, you might find it helpful to add a note to your availability that makes it clear you don’t want to take on any appointments that start at your closing time, something like “2–5 pm, last appt. at 4:30 pm”

  29. DJ Abbott*

    #2, The idea of volunteer mental health scares me a little because I know the type of person who would apply for that. The person who always runs to help whether they know what they’re doing or not, whether they’re trained or not. They *think* they know and if they don’t, can easily make things worse.
    I used to be like that and I’ve seen others do that, and I think using volunteers with minimal training for this is spectacularly bad idea!

    1. TechWorker*

      The people that have taken the training at my workplace are those who have been open about their own mental health challenges (depression) and really do not fall into that category. I don’t think it’s guaranteed to fail!

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Probably not if it’s just for first aid as has been mentioned. I was thinking of partially trained, over-eager people providing full-on counseling. That would be a disaster.

  30. Testerbert*

    I may be reading into LW2 more than is perhaps required, but they aren’t concerned about the high concept of the MHFA training and the benefits it could provide both those needing assistance & the organisation as a whole, but rather how their organisation would handle the very real issues surrounding such a system. I for one wouldn’t trust that having a discussion with a MHFA would necessarily remain private if other supposedly ‘confidential’ discussions have become public knowledge in the past, or if I know that management is very….proactive in tracking down who exactly left anonymous feedback etc etc.

    I’d need more details before calling the whole thing as a bad idea, but it would need to be part of wider structured system whereby the MHFAs actually have useful resources to direct people towards. It would be less than helpful to provide first aid, only to then say “Well, the company isn’t paying for any sort of assistance beyond this, so good luck!”

  31. Report it*

    LW1 – I used to work in HR for a domestic violence advocacy organization. Unfortunately, with the info you have dropping the issue could be disastrous. Abusers will often inflict more pain on animals first because they can’t fight or talk back and because it’s inflicting so much mental anguish on the partner. They attempt to manipulate their partner by inflicting injury on the animal. 9 times out of 10, that animal dies or suffers grave injury. It will continue to escalate, eventually putting the wife in more danger. Please call for help. You may save her life. She may not know how to, have the strength or resources to, or believe she can depending on how bad the abuse is. He may control every aspect of her life and not let her near a phone or computer. If you saw someone in a burning building, would you try to help in whatever capacity you could? This is no different. Her life (and the dog’s) are at stake whether it’s physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.

    I’m sorry you had to hear that. Please seek counseling yourself to work through your own emotional needs due to this. It’s incredibly weighing.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Please come back and provide actionable advice instead of guilt-tripping. Who should she call? The police won’t do anything about verbal abuse.

      1. Observer*

        Thanks for saying that.

        I agree with the people who are saying that the OP should save a copy of the recording, to us if something comes up. But beyond that? What on earth is the OP supposed to do? Who are they supposed to call? And what are the people who the OP calls supposed to do with a single unclear recording anyway?

        @Report It, having worked in HR for a domestic violence organization has not made you into an expert. And this “advice” shows it.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I’ve been in an abusive relationship and yeah, this kind of ‘you MUST do something or else someone will die!’ talk really, really doesn’t help. It’s like telling me I *had* to report to the police when I was r*ped because think of all the other people I’d be saving.

          As hard as it is, the best thing OP can do with no contact with the wife is leave it be but never trust that man.

    2. pierrot*

      Who can she call for help? The police generally aren’t going to do anything about a second hand report of verbal abuse. If the police were called and they did actually intervene, that could cause the husband’s violence to escalate. I do think the LW could call a domestic violence hotline to see if they have any suggestions, but anything beyond that has the potential to backfire.

      I’d feel differently if in the voicemail the boss made a direct threat to his wife’s life, just because of the urgency of that situation and the fact that cops would be more likely to respond to something like that. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely see the voicemail as evidence that the husband is abusive, but realistically with just the voicemail I don’t think the police or any kind of outside authority would have the ability or desire to intervene. Because of this, I don’t think reporting it would justify the potential for it to cause harm.

    3. Manchmal*

      For those that lack imagination about who the OP could call other than the police, googling “domestic violence advocacy organizations” provides an excellent lead…

      1. pancakes*

        This is a weird thing to say in response to someone who worked for a domestic violence advocacy org. “Imagination” has nothing to do with the disagreements people are having on this topic.

      2. Observer*

        True. But calling those organizations is NOT going to save this woman’s life. Because actually, none of these organizations have the power to do anything with the recording.

        Sure, it wouldn’t hurt the OP to call them – they could provide advice on what the most help thing the OP could do. But whatever it is that they advise, its NOT going to be to “bring in the rescuers in white capes”.

      3. I should really pick a name*

        If the LW is asking what to do, then they haven’t considered that option.
        Explicitly saying “try calling a domestic violence advocacy organization” is helpful.
        Saying “Please call for help” is not specific.

    4. Maggie*

      Where does it say he did anything physical? I’m super confused. If I tried to report a voicemail of someone yelling the police would laugh me into oblivion. I’m not defending the boss I just don’t know what there is to report other than that he yelled and called his wife names

    5. RagingADHD*

      When you see someone in a burning building, you can see the building. You can see the person. You know for sure what they need. The LW has never met or spoken to the wife and has no idea what she needs or wants. Does the LW even know where their boss lives?

      What exactly would your DV organization tell the LW to do?

    6. Pearl-clutcher*

      If you saw someone in a burning building, would you try to help in whatever capacity you could?

      Once again, all we know for sure is that “The transcription had several iterations of the F word, but in addition, the…very derogatory C word.”

      Stunningly, some people curse like a sailor. That is not inherently abusive, and I think it is leaps and bounds away from “seeing someone in a burning building.”

  32. Busyness of Ferrets*


    Alison, I usually respect what you say here but I’m very put off by the “delete it and pretend nothing happened because it could affect your job” advice when someone is being abused.

    This is old advice. Not good advice. Someone needs help and you’re telling the world to ignore them.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Here’s the thing: what *can* you do? You cannot stage a heroic rescue and reporting it to the authorities is often the most dangerous thing you can do. I’d also advise against trying to contact her and asking what she would like to have happen.

      It’s a very very hard thing to hear or see, but it’s way worse to be the one being abused and unless she decides to leave or take action there is nothing you can do. Believe me. I’ve got the scars to prove it. Someone else getting involved would probably have escalated matters.

      In short, if you suspect someone is being abused, the best thing you can do is present a safe, nonjudgmental harbour and if there is a way to do it *safely* to get them access to information and resources to help. And look after your own mental state because it’s horrible to witness something you cannot stop.

    2. Dino*

      What the hell is OP supposed to do? She’s a veritable stranger to the wife, and mentioning to the grand boss about what she heard won’t change his behavior.

      Sometimes we don’t have the power to affect change. It’s good to recognize that.

      1. Pool Lounger*

        I was in an abusive relationship. I would have been grateful to a stranger who sent me a recording like this of it happening. Then I could prove it. Not even to cops, but to family and friends. I would havve welcomed anyone telling me they knew what was happening and telling me to get out.

        1. Elenna*

          I sympathize, but unfortunately it doesn’t sound like OP has any way of contacting the wife.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Just because you would have, doesn’t mean this person would. For all we know, it might make it tougher. Or just be ignored as some stranger sticking their nose in.

          Unfortunately, based on one single phone call we don’t know what is going on. The OP doesn’t know other than it SOUNDED abusive. The best advice for OP is to politely pretend they never heard it. UNLESS something else occurs.

        3. pancakes*

          People whose family and friends demand proof of abuse before they can be supportive of victims should probably be looking to organizations that can help them instead of wasting their time and energy trying to prove something they know is happening to people invested in believing it isn’t.

      2. Heather*

        She could at least call a hotline, talk to someone with training on how to talk to abuse victims, get some advice on local resources, and maybe find a way to pass that on anonymously to the wife? It’s a long shot but it’s better than doing nothing.

        1. Colette*

          How should she contact the wife? Should she give the husband a note to pass on? Find out where she lives and knock on the door?

          The reason people are saying she should let it go is because there is no good way for her to take action, or to contact the wife without going through her husband. They’re not friends; they may not have ever met. The OP doesn’t have her email address or cell phone number.

          1. Heather*

            Yes, obviously I’m advocating passing a note through the abusive husband or showing up unannounced, as opposed to looking her up in the phone book or on Facebook…

            1. Observer*

              It’s not like either of your suggestions is actually significantly different than passing a note through her husband. You are suggesting communications paths that the husband is almost certainly monitoring.

              1. Heather*

                Well, I guess OP should just sit back and try to convince themselves that they did all they could by writing to Alison about it, then.

                1. Allonge*

                  OK: why don’t YOU contact the wife if that is the obvious way to go?

                  OP does not know the wife any more than you do, has no way of contacting her (certainly no way of contacting her that is not much more likely to be seen by husband, who is OP’s boss).

                  Us wishing it were otherwise does not make it so.

                2. Observer*

                  Yes. Maybe they should. Because there really is nothing else for them to do.

                  Following YOUR suggestions would NOT help and would almost certainly make things worse. So, I think that stepping back is DEFINITELY the way to go.

                  I realize that you were being snarky with an unanswerable come back. But guess what? It doesn’t quite work that way.

    3. Colette*

      Not everyone can solve every problem. The OP doesn’t know the wife. What specifically should she do (and what will be the physical cost for the wife and the financial cost for the OP for doing it)?

    4. Observer*

      Do you have any ACTIONABLE advice for the OP?

      A couple of people have responded with supposedly actionable advice – except that it isn’t. And the one piece that MIGHT be actionable is actually poor advice because it makes a lot of assumptions and could make things worse. Maybe not – but the OP simply doesn’t have the information to make that decision.

  33. Ubergaladababa*

    But this only works when meetings are relatively rare. I don’t have room in my calendar for this kind of padding and even if I did, finding times that I and my colleagues are both free is difficult enough that this would make things much, much harder.

  34. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    LW #1, while I agree with Alison that that nothing good can come of confronting this a-hole, I WOULD NOT delete the voice mail or the transcript. Forward it to yourself or keep it in some other way. You never know when you may need it to help his wife, dog, or someone else. Good luck!

  35. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Re LW#2: We have one person in our company certified to train others in MHFA and the demand for her services is quite high and country-wide to the point where other provinces’ budget lines and other branches’ budgets lines are used to cover her time because her boss won’t let her travel otherwise to deliver it.

    We offer it on occasion as part of our Education program as well, either with this single staff person or with external consultants and the interest is extremely high with long wait lists. And it’s a commitment too: it’s not free (our other courses are), there’s work to prepare before you even start the course and there’s a limit of 15 people per session. You can’t just flake off if you change your mind (this is an issue with our other courses.) Just because it’s popular doesn’t make it meaningful or well used by those who now have it. (I’m of the opinion that we are not in the business of mental health and this should not be offered by us due to the huge administrative load it puts on the secretaries.)

    This is the hot topic right now. “Oooooh, mental health is so important! Let’s learn!” You can’t even get people to sign up for regular first aid or to volunteer for JHSC but *this* is now the thing that people want to take.

    Ironically, I am a first aider and JHSC and I can’t get my employer to spring for it for the JHSC or current first aiders (but we offer it to our members). I could have used it recently when something came up that was JHSC related but it was very clear it wasn’t truly JHSC related but a mental health related issue and I had no tools on how to handle this poor coworker’s situation.

  36. Coach*

    I’m sorry, the advice to someone who’s been made to witness a superior abusing their spouse is to IGNORE IT and NOT TELL ANYONE?

    what the actual f.

    1. L-squared*

      Sometimes you have to do what is in your own best interest. I, like Alison, don’t see any good outcome of the LW bringing up a drunken butt dial to HR. And really, what is the desired outcome here? The likely won’t fire someone for this. So he may get a talking to about it. But what does that do for the LW? Its neutral at best, and could have bad outcome at worst.

      Sometimes its not worth the fight.

      1. Coach*

        FOR STARTERS: maybe the letter writer could ask an expert in domestic violence and not send an anonymous letter to a columnist who answers office questions about potluck etiquette and people who pee on the seat in a shared office bathroom. For crying out loud.

        1. Leenie*

          That’s dismissing a lot of difficult, important, and helpful advice that Alison has given. If you really thought this was such a useless, frivolous place, you probably wouldn’t spend time here.

        2. Observer*

          Yes, they could ask an expert in domestic violence. What exactly do you think that they would tell her?

          That’s the key thing. There is at this point nothing that a domestic violence hotline is going to tell the OP that’s different than this advice, except maybe to keep a copy of the recording and transcript. Because these agencies are not magicians, and THEY KNOW IT. They also know how hard it is to help victims of abuse even when you have a lot of information and active contact with the victim. In a case like this? Zero.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            I’m genuinely very grateful for your voice of reason in this thread. As a former victim it’s really hard to express ‘her safety over your feelings about justice’.

            An advice line is going to ask if they have any means to contact the wife without her husband knowing about the conversation in order to pass on ‘hey here’s where to get help’ information. The answer here is ‘no’ so they definitely won’t suggest tracking her down/contacting the police to track her down and will likely just say ‘save the recording but don’t get involved’

            Because the instant anyone gets involved in a domestic abuse scenario it has a high probability of severe escalation. And at the end of the day it’s best to consider the victim’s ongoing safety risks above all else.

    2. pierrot*

      I agree that the LW should save the voicemail and potentially call a DV hotline to see what they suggest in this situation. That said, I disagree with your suggestion that the LW should directly intervene based on the voicemail.

      let’s say the LW goes to the police with this voicemail. There isn’t enough evidence to actually charge the boss with anything, but they pay a visit to the boss’s home to investigate. Unfortunately I think there’s a significant chance that this would put the spouse in more danger because abusers tend to lash out at their victims if they believe that the victim reported then. There likely wouldn’t be anything in place to protect the spouse if this occurs because the voicemail alone would not be enough in many places for the boss to get arrested.

      If the LW knew the spouse, I think it would make sense if the advice was to talk to the wife directly. Unfortunately, the LW does not know the spouse so their options are limited. They could contact the wife anyway, but as other comments have said, a stranger calling about how they think your husband is abusive probably won’t go over well.

      Other LWers and readers have discussed their own experiences of surviving domestic abuse and how it intersected with their work. I can’t link to it right now, but there was a detailed post written by a DV survivor in which she talked about how workplaces can support people in ongoing abusive relationships. The context is very different than what’s going on here, but the gist of that post was that outside intervention had a strong likelihood of creating more harm, especially when the LW wasn’t ready to end the relationship yet.

      Maybe if LW has a trustworthy HR team, she could go to them with the voicemail. That’s a big “if” though. There’s definitely a lot of HR workers who would see this as a private family matter that’s outside of their purview. In essence, I definitely think that the voicemail is evidence that the boss is abusive, but I don’t think it’s actionable enough to warrant the LW directly intervening.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Exactly this. I get the urge to help, it’s a lovely urge. But you’re so likely to make things worse for the spouse AND yourself, and not solve anything. I can’t see HR intervening beyond what Alison said, and again that’s not helpful.

        IF the spouse came by and you could…leave some literature out for them to see, put something up in the women’s room, something passive, that’s a good option. If you have no interaction with the spouse? OP is just not positioned to be helpful here.

        1. kiki*

          Yes, I think part of what makes domestic abuse so difficult to deal with is that anyone on the outside, even if they’re aware of what’s going on, can’t know what will make the situation better or worse for the victim without talking to them. If LW knew their grandboss’s spouse, there might be more LW could do, but as it is, any action on LW’s part has the distinct possibility of making the abuse the victim faces worse.

          My first thought was to submit the audio to HR in part so that there’s an official evidence trail that could come up in some sort of investigation. But if HR were to alert Grandboss, even if it were to discipline him in some way, there’s a high likeliness that Grandboss would lash out even more at his spouse.

        1. Smithy*

          It depends on how it’s phrased…if you called to say you wanted to report an abusive voicemail, likely not. However if you called and asked for a wellness check because of suspected domestic abuse – who knows if or when a cop might show up, but it’s FAR more likely.

          And where this becomes difficult, is that it’s not that the voicemail would be investigated, it’s that a uniformed cop (or two) on patrol would be sent by the house at a time of their convenience (vs a time when the husband might be known to be at work) saying who knows what and that they’re there to make sure everyone is alright. So if the wife is being abused, she has no idea who called this and likely very little ability to prove to her husband that she didn’t request this.

      2. Marie*

        Yes. Finally some sense. I was in a frightening two month abusive relationship/marriage/ summer. To summarize: My son had just returned from visiting his father for the summer. I was a teacher. My principal knew that my sister was helping my son and me move miles away and get restraining order. Plans were in place and followed: sheriff on stand by, my son was picked up from us at school; our cat the first rescue by my sister and me during move out. The most frightening part? I had confided in one coworker. The night before the planned move he called and left long voicemail (back in days of answering machines) from him and his wife re help and concern. My heart is still beating as I remember calling my mom and asking her to leave longest voicemail in world —recording over message I could not figure out how to erase. Thankfully she was able to record over that message and we escaped. Please. Be. mindful. And careful. You can save the message but beyond that more harm than good can occur.

    3. kittycontractor*

      I get that initial reaction, but the problem is that there isn’t really anything that can be done at this time. The issue is that the LW only has a voicemail as evidence. And a voicemail that, arguably, may be unintelligible at points. Going to the company/HR will likely only result in the co-worker being spoken to at the worst, likely it be formally ignored but become part of a rumor mill) and that will create only more pressure on the abuser who will bring that pressure home to his wife and animals. Unless the LW has a relationship with his wife (doesn’t sound like it) cold-calling the victim will only put her on the defensive. Finally a voicemail is simply not going to be enough evidence to give law enforcement and/or animal abuse agencies power to step in with assistance. A well check (for either her or the dog) will only anger the abuser more and make him feel threatened. The LW could call a national (or local) domestic violence hotline to see if they have any advice on how to proceed with the recording and how to watch for signs from here on out.

        1. kittycontractor*

          Sign could come in forms from him too. My father gave a lot of signs at his work that he was abusive and a had significant anger problems. People just excused it as he was grumpy/or in a mood because they weren’t aware that things certain behaviors could also be an indicator of more significant problems. He was charming enough that his little pissy outbursts were just hand-waved away. Now there’s nothing too much that the LW could actively do except maybe keep note and remember instances because, hopefully, if the wife can get out, these observances from an outsider may help her in building a case.

          Also it’s always good for anyone to be more cognizant of abuse indicators just as a general rule of thumb, IMO.

          1. pancakes*

            In many, many situations — I think we can safely say most — it isn’t going to be appropriate or helpful for people to speculate that moments of grumpiness or moodiness they see in coworkers indicate abuse at home. I’m not sure how you envision people following up on that, either. “You really flew off the handle at Tangerina about the copier paper. Do you talk to your wife that way?” seems unlikely to be successful. Likewise suggesting the same to HR.

    4. Smithy*

      My advice would have been to save the VM privately, screen shot any transcripts, and then detail the circumstances around the situation (essentially why the OP was in a position to be butt-dialed, her relationship with the grandboss and company to date, etc.). And from one personal email address, send all of that to another personal email address. If nothing else, it would provide a record and context with fresh details on what happened with a time stamp that should it ever be relevant would support the OP or Grandboss’s wife. And then hopefully doing that level of action would help the OP feel they had done something.

      I say all of this because as distressing as the voicemail is, it’s also not a huge amount of context where HR, the police or even animal control would be empowered to do much. And might not even be the primary issue. Early at one job I had, I was filling my water bottle when a senior staff member came up behind me and poked his finger through a hole in the seam of my shirt and said “boop”. I froze and had this creeping sense of looming sexual harassment doom. Now as it turned out, the senior staffer in question was wildly problematic, unprofessional and difficult in 101 ways – but sexual harassment was actually not one of them. He also happened to be gay – not that it wouldn’t entirely preclude physical harassment/hazing of a younger woman – but that wasn’t the case and wasn’t what I initially assumed from incident #1. OP’s grandboss might just have a major alcohol abuse issue where abusive language is a feature, it’s not the primary concern of his wife.

      1. Books and Cooks*

        “OP’s grandboss might just have a major alcohol abuse issue where abusive language is a feature, it’s not the primary concern of his wife.”

        That was my thought, too. Or the situation might be a total anomaly, where the Grandboss is not a drinker, and the two drinks he had went to his head and made him behave oddly (or maybe he’s on a new medication, or a medication that has this sort of thing as a side effect–I’ve heard of people doing some crazy things on Ambien, for example). Contrary to popular belief, there is not **always** veritas in vino; I’ve known more than one really lovely, good person in my life who once or twice said or did some really out-of-character things when drunk.

        I trust that the LW heard what she believes was abuse, and that there was/is reason for her to believe that. But the only thing we were actually told was that some four-letter words were used, including one which many consider to be really awful. (I myself do not, actually, and for all we know, Grandboss’s wife doesn’t, either.) We don’t know if LW heard Grandboss striking his wife and dog, or just yelling foul language at them. I personally grew up with an abusive mother who loved screaming insults and cuss words at my older brother and me, so I never, no matter how angry I get at my kids or any loved one, use that kind of language…but that doesn’t mean other people don’t, or that there aren’t some people who accept that kind of thing when angry/arguing and think it’s no big deal.

        I guess my point is, just because the LW heard something abusive, doesn’t automatically mean there is actual abuse going on (unless LW actually heard Grandboss hitting his wife, which I assume she did not or she would have mentioned it), or that Grandboss’s wife is a victim. I hate saying that, because it could sound like making excuses or handwaving abuse, but the fact is that the only thing the LW knows is that she heard something abusive, with no other context. Think about the LW who is in a BDSM relationship, and how her coworkers believed she was being abused. I once had a couple who regularly came into the restaurant where I worked; I thought the male half of the couple was a real bossy jerk, always ordering his girlfriend around, until the day she let slip that they had a D/s relationship. You just don’t and can’t know anything for certain based off of one short recording.

        If I were the LW, I’d certainly keep the recording & transcript (GREAT idea about typing out the circumstances etc. now while it’s fresh!), and keep my eyes open. I’d watch how Grandboss relates to women in the office. I’d maybe even consider cultivating a relationship with Grandboss’s assistant (if there is one)–not becoming close friends, but at least getting to a “small talk” status, if I had time and it wouldn’t be weird. But beyond that, there are just too many factors and variables, and a misstep in this situation could cause major problems not just for Grandboss’s wife, or Grandboss, but for the LW herself.

    5. Sylvan*

      Today’s theme is the bystander effect.

      On the other hand, I don’t know what I would do if I were OP1… Contact a domestic violence resource and ask them for advice?

  37. TJ*

    LW2 – A previous company I was at did this. The people who volunteered were exactly the people who shouldn’t have been involved.

    After the team had been setup but before they had any training, those in my department introduced themselves in the middle of an all hands meeting.

    They went into details about their own personal struggles etc. They didn’t handle it well and triggered several people including me who weren’t in a position to step away from the meeting.

    I had a strongly worded meeting with the management team afterwards as no-one should have been put in that sort of position at work.

    It was all very well meaning but it was a disaster in practice.

    1. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

      “The people who volunteered were exactly the people who shouldn’t have been involved.”
      THIS. You’re going to get so many overzealous “savior” types who are going to absolutely trample boundaries left and right.

  38. Threeve*

    LW3: being hit up for office gifts sucks, but the time to address it is either 1) if you hear someone musing about starting a gift or 2) after the fact (“I have some concerns about making that something we do consistently.”)

    When collecting money for a gift is already in process? Sorry–just chip in the minimum and sign the card.

    “Sorry, not in my budget” is going to make you look like a jerk. (Or like someone who is seriously struggling financially).

    Also: sending a you nice bouquet of flowers could easily have cost $60+. This might not be as unequal as you think.

    1. WellRed*

      I notice OP said it was a new employee taking up the collection. This would be a great time to set them straight, as it were, on office norms at this place.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Yep. I bet new person came from an office where they celebrated EVERYTHING. So this office needs to let new person know that its just not done here.

        Also, just because SOMEONE ELSE decided to start collecting money does not obligate ME to chip in. If I had no say in the decision, then no I am not required to participate. If someone thinks I am a jerk for not just handing over money because asked, then so be it. Otherwise you get things like “Hey I bought us a refrigerator, your share is ….”

    2. Colette*

      I disagree. If it’s a standard collection – i.e. when someone leaves they buy a gift – it’s best to chip in when you can. But you’re not obligated to chip in, especially when it’s something that isn’t part of the culture.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The company sent the bouquet though. That’s different than coworkers chipping in.

      It depends on the culture of the company. For a small company where the new coworker is being overeager (which is what this sounds like) I think Alison’s script is perfect to explain “that’s not what we do here and here’s why”

    4. Rayray*

      I disagree that it makes you look like a jerk to say it’s not in your budget. You should be able to simply say that and let it be done. Every time there’s a collection, I only find out when the request for money comes around. People need to be able to accept a “No” with grace. You have NO idea what your coworkers are going through. A couple dollars may only be a couple dollars but it adds up after a while.

    5. Hen in a Windstorm*

      “Sorry, not in my budget” does NOT make you look like a jerk. It makes you look like a competent adult who can manage their own budget and uses their adult words to say so. I’m always amazed that the person trying to spend my money for me somehow isn’t the jerk, but I am for saying no.

      Note also you are implying that if someone can’t afford a gift, they should lie about it and spend money they can’t afford so they don’t “look like” someone with money problems. Because that would mean…? Check your judgment. You are part of the problem.

  39. L-squared*

    #3 Theoretically, I agree with Alison. In reality though, I don’t know that you can do this in an office that small and not look bad. If you don’t care, that is totally fine. But with 4 people, it seems as though you will be the only one not doing it. The idea that it won’t affect your relationships is probably naive. While I don’t typically recommend doing something you aren’t comfortable with, I also think throwing in a few bucks would probably be in your best interest. Think of the awkwardness when coworker says (probably in front of you) here is a gift from me and boss, and leaves you out of it.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Eh it depends. The person organizing is new, that’s different than being the curmudgeon with something your coworkers are excited about. I think it can be gently shot down.

      1. L-squared*

        but the boss is in on it too. so in that case, i dont know how much it will be shut down

    2. OP#3*

      Hi L-squared, I agree. It’s totally awkward and I hope that this doesn’t become a normal thing in the office. I told the coworker that I got something already and followed through. That way I at least had control over what I gave and how much I spent.

  40. animorph*

    LW5: Just wanted to chime in about not worrying about getting the letter absolutely right. Sincerity rather than making it sound glamourous makes a world of difference! It doesn’t have to be a long message, either, a short paragraph is plenty.

    I’ve (unfortunately) been a patient far too many times at the hospital I work at (I work in IT though). Each time I make sure to read the staff member’s badge and when I’m back at work I’ve sent them an email copying in their line manager thanking them for their care. The latest one was a junior doctor and her consultant. The consultant was just as pleased as she was to receive the email!

  41. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

    Re LW#5: I’m both an educator and a parent. Before I got back into teaching, I used to fall trap to those crazy twee Pinterest “teacher appreciation” gifts that take forever to make, look cute in photos, and are wanted by exactly 0% of teachers.
    My gift to my son’s teacher this year was a Target gift card, a nice card written by him, and a hard copy of an email I sent to the principal, singing her praises. She was practically in tears when she thanked me. Never underestimate how important those letters are!

    1. EPLawyer*

      God yes, your children’s teachers do NOT need another hand painted picture of World’s Best teacher. They have a ton of those already.

    2. Troutwaxer*

      Awesome. My spouse is a teacher, and you got that almost exactly right. But I’ll give you (and everyone else) one tiny bit of coaching. Next time, buy the teacher a gift card from an office supply store.

      1. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

        Thanks but I don’t really need any “coaching.” As I mentioned I’m an educator myself and I chose Target GCs deliberately. They can get school supplies there if they want, but they can also choose to get something that’s a treat just for themselves. I don’t like giving gifts with strings attached and giving office supply cards is basically telling the recipient that I expect them to spend it on their classroom and not themselves. If that’s what they choose to do, great. I also have no problem if they want to get a new sweater, AirPods, or hell after this year a case of wine.

      2. Broadway Duchess*

        What an odd choice — coaching a teacher on what to purchase *for* a teacher from the position of being the *wife* of a teacher?

          1. Troutwaxer*

            I have to apologize. I didn’t notice that the original poster was a teacher. My bad.

            1. Observer*

              That’s not the only reason it was a bad suggestion though. Giving a teacher a gift card to an office or school supply store says something very different from giving them a gift card to a store that sells those things, but also things that they could use for themselves.

              The first says “hey I want to help pay for the school supplies you are required to pay for on your own.” That’s not an entirely bad thing, but it really perpetuates a REALLY problematic idea. The second type of card says “Hey, you are awesome and I want to give you a gift to show that.”

              1. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

                Yes, I could have *maybe* ignored the super condescending tone of the comment if the suggestion was at least a good one.

      3. Avocadon’t*

        Um, I’m a teacher and I wouldn’t want that. A gift for teachers should be for them to spend on THEMSELVES, not on their classroom. Give a gift card to a store you know they like. Better yet, give a visa gift card or cold hard cash.

    3. Harriet Jacobs*

      Well done!
      I’ve been teaching for 30 years and cherish every thank you note.
      We had one wonderful family who wrote the principal (copied to the superintendent) every year with praise for their children’s teachers. To be honest, the kids were amazing and made us all look awesome.
      The Target gift card is a perfect choice because you can use it for classroom supplies or something personal. I keep getting Starbucks gift cards which I have no use for, I don’t drink coffee and have no interest in their other offerings.

  42. Phony Genius*

    On #4, I would use the phrasing “I am available for three hours, from 2 pm – 5 pm CT.”

  43. North Wind*

    #1 Here are some very generalized tips on how to handle witnessing domestic violence from the National Domestic Violence hotline org.

    If it were me I’d have a hard time pretending nothing happened, but I wouldn’t know what to do that would be useful and not trigger him into something worse. So I’d call the DV hotline and ask what they advise me to do, and then take those steps. I’d frankly be willing to lose a job over this if it came to it, but I am *particularly* light on my feet in leaving grossly unhealthy relationship dynamics, and others’ mileage may vary.

  44. Nonny Mouse*

    LW 1, I’d probably keep the recording in case it became evidence one day, but then I’m a pack rat.

  45. kiki*

    LW 2: At my previous company, all managers had to take a mental health first aid course and I thought it was really beneficial, especially with the pandemic and everything that’s been going on since 2020. The course was more about recognizing signs of mental health issues and offering up resources and options for legitimate support, not managers becoming pseudo-counselors to their direct reports. I really benefitted when my manager recognized I was likely deeply depressed. She gave me two weeks off (that didn’t count against my PTO) and was able to get a list of resources to me that was super helpful. I was able to be promoted, so I don’t think that counted against me in any way. I was also so depressed it was impacting my performance at work a lot– if I had continued down the path I was on without some help, I likely would have been fired. Getting that intervention from my manager saved my career in a lot of ways.

    I think the implementation of this program makes a big difference. Having managers act act as replacement counselors is definitely a recipe for disaster, but providing education for certain individuals about recognizing signs of mental illness and equipping them with some basic emergency response protocols is fine, if not great. Having a bunch of folks becoming volunteer counselors for your company… not good.

  46. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW #5, I think this sounds like a lovely thing to do! When I worked in retail, I had a few customers do this for me and I really appreciated it. The only thing I would caution you about is to make sure to focus on things that the company probably values and stay away from anything that might get the employee in trouble (e.g., they didn’t follow policy exactly). When I worked in sales, customers appreciated the time I took to solve problems for them, but the company’s perspective was that I should just direct them to the customer service phone line and get back to selling. So compliments on how I took an hour to solve a complex problem likely wouldn’t have done me any good. Though, obviously, I don’t know what organization you were calling and what their expectations are.

    When I say nice things about employees, I tend to focus on how kind/pleasant they were to work with, how they understood the issue immediately, how efficient they were at solving the problem, how knowledgeable they are about whatever it was, how they made a suggestion for a solution that was even better than what I was hoping for. As far as I can tell, these are pretty safe topics.

    1. kiki*

      Upvoting not mentioning something that could get an employee in trouble. When I worked in retail, I had a customer who was sincerely thankful I was truthful about the pros and cons of getting a store credit card. I warned her that it could potentially have a negative impact on her credit, so she shouldn’t sign up if she’s looking for a house or anything like that. She wrote a sincerely thankful and appreciative letter about me to the corporate office, but then I got reprimanded for not pushing the store credit card.

  47. Carrie Mo*

    For the time blocks, why not just write “available between 2 – 5pm CT” or “available 2pm until 5pm CT”.

  48. jane's nemesis*

    #3 reminds me of something that happened to me years ago that I’m still annoyed by:

    I had to have urgent surgery on my hand due to an accident and was out of work for a couple days and then when I came back to work, was hampered by the recovery and in obvious pain for a while. I really should have taken a few weeks off to recover but as the surgery was unplanned, I didn’t have the leave saved up for it and couldn’t afford to go unpaid. My department (organized by my immediate supervisor) signed a generic get well card and that was it. That was fine! It was an acknowledgement and I appreciated it.

    About six months later, a more senior (but not leadership) colleague had *planned* carpal tunnel surgery on her hand, for which she was out of work for a few weeks to recover, which she had plenty of leave saved up for. My department (organized by head of the department) organized a get well card, a bouquet of flowers, AND a gift basket of treats to be sent to her home after the surgery. I was irked. and THEN, six months or so later, she had the same *planned* surgery on her other hand and though I was out of the department by then, I heard she got all the same gifts AGAIN. :|

    1. jane's nemesis*

      I should be clear: we were all asked to pitch in for the flowers/gift basket for her first planned surgery.

      1. OP#3*

        Hi jane’s nemesis,
        You’ve pinpointed why it’s annoyed me too! Thank you for making me feel normal :)

        1. jane's nemesis*

          I’m glad I was able to validate your experience! I would have been annoyed in your case too!

  49. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    The ONLY thing I can think of for the mental health volunteers is something where coworkers who volunteer know how to navigate the EAP website but not actually giving advice or anything. So maybe a few people on each team who someone can go to to help find resources instead of bothering HR. But even that is a little icky for me.

    As sophia said to rose in Golden girls: “Your heart is in the right place but I don’t know where your head is!”

  50. I’m Not A Regular Lawyer, I’m a Cool Lawyer*

    LW #1, I would consider saving the message in the (hopefully unlikely) event that your grandboss commits an act of violence against either his wife or the dog and the message needs to be provided to law enforcement.

  51. Cataclysm*

    One of my big concerns with the company training mental health volunteers (aside from the issues Alison listed) is would the volunteers actually be treated correctly for this? As in, would their workloads be adjusted to account for the time they’re spending on counseling? Would they get any sort of compensation for taking on emotionally draining work that is probably literally above their paygrades?
    I highly doubt any of those things would happen.

    1. kiki*

      Agreed. I can see this becoming an emotional labor suck largely taken on by women and femme-presenting people. And it becomes one of those extra responsibilities that is expected to get done in some magical time that is neither off-hours or interfering with their day-to-day work.

    2. UKDancer*

      I mean my understanding of how MHFA works is that you’re not a counsellor or spending massive amounts of time doing it. You’re a point of contact and a means of helping people get the help they need. It’s not intended as a massive time commitment. The same as being a physical first aider isn’t a massive regular time commitment. I had to provide 2 people with plasters recently and it took 5 minutes each (and most of that was writing it in the stock book that I’d used them).

      It’s not as though you’re providing regular counselling. MHFA is emphatically not a substitute for regular therapy or other mental health interventions.

      1. UKDancer*

        I’d add that it’s been voluntary everywhere I’ve done it. Not something that people are forced to do. Most of those who do it are people who have an interest in mental health issues and the courses are usually over-subscribed when our company runs them. I don’t do it because I prefer other forms of corporate activity.

      2. kiki*

        I think we’re not clear on what exactly the program will entail for LW’s workplace, but even if it’s a true MHFA program, it can take up more time than may be expected, especially if a lot of people are struggling with their mental health or if somebody is having severe issues.
        When I was a new employee, I was asked if I would volunteer for the safety committee. I think the manager who recommended me for it thought it would take an hour of my time once a quarter, perhaps more if there were actually some sort of safety issue. That was accurate for the first two quarters, but then in the third quarter we were supposed to design an active shooter and gun safety plan which ended up taking two weeks of 2-3 hour meetings (there ended up being debate as to whether folks could open-carry in our office and then people on both sides were enraged and needed to bring their concerns to the committee, which was just a bunch of new employees with no safety experience wearing neon vests).

        These volunteer assignments always seem like little things, but in my experience there’s always more. It’s important for companies to recognize what they’re asking of employees.

  52. anonymous73*

    #1 stay out of it. While I realize the grand boss used company equipment to leave this message, the way he treats his family is not your concern.
    #3 just say no. You do not need to provide an explanation as to why you won’t contribute. And while I realize this is more difficult in an office this small, you are NEVER obligated to give money for a gift no matter what the reason. If the money collector is pushy, then go with “it’s not in my budget” but I always push against lying because that generally causes more questions. Set a boundary and stick to it.
    #4 I’ve found that being VERY specific is needed. IME they ignore things or don’t read everything you’ve stated. Specify and end time – don’t assume they know what you mean.

    1. anonymous73*

      And before anyone comes AT me after reading some of the comments on #1, we have no idea if grand boss is an abuser. OP heard ONE conversation between him and his wife. Maybe he does this on the regular or maybe he had a bad day and decided to take it out on his wife. I’m not excusing the behavior, but hearing one conversation does not prove he abuses her. OP is not friends with grand boss or his wife and there would be little for them to do in this situation.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        I wonder, could the OP even hear anyone else on the line besides grandboss? It could be that he was just angry and ranting at no one. Especially if he was drinking and had a fight with his wife, he could have just been out in the garage or in his car yelling at nobody.

        1. Not your typical admin*

          I agree with this. The LW has no idea of what was actually happening on the other end. There’s nothing she can do with the limited information she has. I also think we need to be careful with making snap judgments when we get a glimpse of someone at one of their worst moments.

          1. Books and Cooks*

            Yes, these were exactly my thoughts. Abusive language does not automatically mean real abuse, and especially when it’s heard totally out of context. I’m not surprised how many people here are taking it as given that the Grandboss’s wife is in real physical danger, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks that automatic assumption is a stretch based solely on what the LW knows and passed on in the letter.

            There certainly may be abuse, I’m not saying that’s impossible or that the LW is definitely blowing it out of proportion. It’s just that the LW doesn’t know, and neither do we. (And as far as the dog…again, assuming LW didn’t hear actual physical violence, well…I never call *people* names, but I call my German Shepherd names all the time. Brat, a-word, d-word, etc. He is all of those things. He is also incredibly spoiled, loved, and well-treated [and incredibly loving, affectionate, and smart], and has never been physically disciplined/hit. He knows lots of words–food, eat, drink, squirrel, walk, outside, etc.–but he has no idea that “d-word” means anything negative, so I’m not going to worry about calling him that.) I know the LW heard the tone of voice, so she knows better than me, but tone of voice is also not everything, and everyone is different.

    2. OP#3*

      Thanks anonymous73. The collector was thankfully not pushy. I find this type of contribution gift giving requests really awkward. Plus the collector had already gotten something on their own for my coworker. This was an additional gift! I’m not sure why there’s such a big to do about this and I really don’t want to start making a big deal about every life event.
      I just want to add that if I was invited a housewarming party I’d gladly bring a housewarming gift. It’s just the manner of asking. I’d rather the person chat with me quickly in person instead of emailing.
      I’m pretty sure this is awkward for my coworker on the receiving end too as she said she wasn’t expecting any of this…

  53. IT Heathen*

    I have found a lot of people do better visually, so I tend to use Excel to make a little table with the times I am available in green and the times I am not blacked out. It really helps when you work across multiple time zones.

  54. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    #1 I tend to say just delete everything about this unfortunate butt dial call and act like it never happened. You simply do not know enough about this person’s personal life or relationship to report anything, and it is actually none of your business.

    Will it change your thoughts on him? Sure. You can file that in the back of your mind as “he’s horrible to his wife,” but again this isn’t your business, or even the company’s business to invade the privacy of an employee’s argument with his wife.

  55. She of Many Hats*

    LW 1 – Some industries and roles (medical, education/teachers, more?) have mandated reporting for abuse. You may have to report to HR or other mandated agencies if this fits your situation. The other angle you can use with HR is the potential alcohol issue that led to the accidental call & overheard language. But do bring it to HR if they’re effective because there’s a good chance Boss will notice he accidently called you and be paranoid enough to retaliate to neutralize his risk (your knowing & maybe talking).

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        This is correct. It is only for minors or vulnerable adults. I work in a place where everything is confidential except child abuse.

    1. Observer*

      This is really is not a mandatory reporting situation. For one thing, mandatory reporting generally concerns children or vulnerable adults, sometimes students. For another, mandatory reporters have a reporting path something that’s obviously not the case here.

      Also, if the OP were a professional with mandatory reporting requirements, don’t you think that they would be aware of them?

  56. merida*

    OP 1 – I agree with the others who suggested keeping the voicemail. I’m not certain what I would do, but personally I think I would err on the side of going to law enforcement right away with the voicemail and not going to HR about it. In the short run, HR probably would just tell the grandboss to be more careful about accidental calls and voicemails like Alison suggested, which would cause him to realize that OP had gotten the voicemail and had complained to HR. I feel like there’d be a potential retaliatory threat for OP – at the very least, cause some amount of tension between them if Grandboss knows that OP knows how he treats his wife and dog! Shudders.

    A welfare check by law enforcement (what police may do if they are alerted to the voicemail), while not a perfect solution either, at least would focus on the wife’s safety more than the work component. Plus a welfare check would likely keep the OP anon, since a call for a welfare check could conceivably come from anyone – a neighbor, family member, etc.

    I’m really wrestling with this one… There’s no professional obligation to do anything about the voicemail, but is there an ethical obligation? Having good boundaries and staying out of colleague’s drama is normally a good rule of thumb, but what if your call to law enforcement is the one that helps make the case against the abuser? This letter has me thinking that while I have heard some great advice from AAM on how to approach a colleague who you think may be a victim of DV, I would have no idea what to do if I thought a colleague *is* the abuser. Oof.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      He police are not likely to do a welfare check based on a verbal recording but I’d still advise against it. Mostly because police do not seem to know how to deal with these situations without escalating the problem and also because it is a very real danger to the person being abused.

      (Source: was in a very abusive relationship and if the police had come round he’d have acted normal for the duration and then done horrible things to me in retaliation)

    2. Observer*

      but what if your call to law enforcement is the one that helps make the case against the abuser?

      Unlikely in the extreme. Also unlikely is that the police will conduct a welfare check – which might be just as well, as those tend to end badly for the victim.

  57. Riot Grrrl*

    #2. Several years ago, I had a friend who worked at a library. One day, one of her coworkers went back into the reference section and proceeded to just… flip out. She began tearing books off the shelf, yelling and screaming and crying, and generally destroying whatever she could get her hands on. No one knew what to do. People were simply frozen. Eventually things sort of calmed themselves down. An ambulance was called. The coworker was never seen again. Fortunately in that case, no one (including the coworker) was seriously injured. But things could have been much worse, and reading between the lines of my friend’s comments, it would have been nice to have a reaction better than stunned immobilization.

    My understanding is that Mental Health First Aid is designed for situations like this. It’s not designed for anyone to become that coworker’s therapist nor to become an instant police officer. It’s “what to do when an emergency arises,” something other than just standing around stunned. If someone slips down the stairs and is lying on the landing, no one should rush to become that person’s personal doctor. But you’d hope for a response better than standing around stunned. The same is true for a mental health emergency.

    I think a number of personal factors will determine if MHFA is right for LW or not. My guess is that some people really should not attempt it. (Just as some people are really not built for dealing with medical emergencies.) But the institution of MHFA itself does seem to have some merit from what I know, and I hate to see the entire field maligned just because one implementation of it might not be right for one particular employee.

    1. Riot Grrrl*

      I should add that this coworker exhibited odd behavior for months leading up to this incident. Most notably she was becoming increasingly cheery to an almost disturbing extent. One of the more troubling behaviors was that she would aggressively and vociferously agree with anything you would say, practically before the first word was out of your mouth–something I witnessed myself. My guess is that MHFA would have equipped people to recognize some of those signs.

  58. Alexis Rosay*

    I used to be a high school teacher and I attended some trainings that were basically crash courses in providing therapy to students. Because apparently that’s something else teachers are responsible for now. It got over my head real fast, with a student confiding her fears that she was schizophrenic. Thankfully I was able to connect her with the school psychologist, but it was a great demonstration of why amateur therapy is a terrible idea.

    I’ve attended mental health first aid trainings, on the other hand, and thankfully they were very much not that.

    1. Humble Schoolmarm*

      Yes! I don’t want to be an amateur therapist or even volunteer guidance councillor for exactly the reasons you mentioned, but knowing more about how to tell the difference between “Being 12-15” and major red flags would be really valuable for me and my students. (I’d also love some training on how to broach these issues with parents who don’t want to hear the words ‘mental health concern’, but that’s outside of the scope of the letter.).

  59. Gingersnap*

    Re #5, I once was “lent” out by the org I worked for to the university across the street for admin support at a conference both orgs were co-sponsoring but was being run through the university. The professor in charge at the university sent a letter to my boss after the conference expressing his thanks for my assistance. It was completely out of the blue and I received a cc’d copy as well. I still have that letter and though a small gesture it made me feel very appreciated, even as a lowly admin.

  60. Observer*

    #5 – Letters of praise.

    Please do NOT try to make your letters “glamorous” or “exciting” or whatever it is you think your proposed letter is missing. Because those don’t help anyway. The jobs you describe are not glamorous or exciting in the least bit. And it’s the very mundanity of your description which makes it so important. Because when you are under pressure and dealing with a difficult and complicated situation, what you want is the “forgettable” who just does their job and does it efficiently, politely and well without talking themselves up, going on about how they are going to MAKE YOUR DAY, or trying to “be your sunshine for the day.”

    You might want listen to a podcast called My Unsung Her. It’s basically recordings of times when people did something nice that had a really big effect. What’s really interesting is how many of these stories are very mundane yet had such a great impact that people remember them years later.

  61. J*

    Re: Letter 5 and how to compliment someone for just being helpful. I helped someone a few months ago with an issue that was pretty straightforward. My involvement was actually pretty minimal, and just involved knowing who to contact and then following up. When the issue was resolved, she sent me an email that said “Thank you so much! You created a miracle. I am absolutely amazed by how fast it was fixed. (Description of how the issue was resolved for her). I am certain that it would not have been possible without your help.”

    To be honest, it made my day. The work I do is generally not super glamorous and pretty invisible if done well. In my particular instance, I don’t really have a boss, so alerting superiors is not important to me. But if you want to thank someone for being especially helpful, some version of the above with a cc: to their boss would be amazing.

  62. Susanna*

    Thank-you note writer: it’s so important that you are writing one that it doesn’t matter how eloquent it is! My husband travels a lot for work, and he makes a point of getting the names of people who were nice or helpful – especially at hotels. He says when they have their morning meetings, the manager will mention to everyone in the group that so-and-so was given a shout-out by a guest. And people do read them! On Air France since, my birthday came mid-air, and the flight attendants brought me champagne and a pastry. I emailed the general customer response mailbox, saying how appreciate I was (forgot to get names), and they emailed back quickly, saying thanks for the thanks, wanting to know exactly which flight – which means they were going to make a note of it in that flight crews’ files.
    Another thing you can do (maybe not in your particular case here) is to tweet out something nice. I did that one with both 1-800-flowers and JetBlue (the flight crew managed to keep us all sane after a very bad series of coincidental delaying events). Very quickly I got DMs back asking for names or other identifying info so they could mention it to those employees. But what they liked, too, i think, is that they got some free public thanks via social media.
    There’s so much anger and hate these days – let’s all try hard to extend thanks and appreciation when we can.

  63. A Pound of Obscure*

    LW #1: I am one hundred percent sure that if I were in the same situation, I would let him know that I know, while downplaying it as much as possible. A creep of this caliber needs a wake-up call, and because I’d have evidence in hand that he wouldn’t be able to dispute, I would gladly accept the risk of backlash. If it were me, I’d download just the transcript portion, attach it to an email to him, and say as unemotionally as I could muster, “I just realized I received a voice mail from you at X o’clock but I haven’t listened to it because I couldn’t make out the transcript and thought the message might have been sent in error. I just want to be sure you weren’t trying to reach me regarding the XYZ project.” Then make popcorn while awaiting his response.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’d strongly recommend OP or anyone else in this situation NOT do this. Not only does it put your health and job on the line but it also has enormous potential to cause him to go home after and do *worse*.

      Please don’t.

    2. Ada*

      I grew up in an abusive household and was in an abusive relationship, and I really can’t agree. If the guy really is an abuser, a random employee confronting him isn’t going to be a “wake-up call”, it’s going to be one more thing for him to take out on his wife.

      Also, I don’t love the “make popcorn while awaiting his response” part of your comment — I’m sure you didn’t mean it like this, but…it comes across as flippant? This is potentially a lives-at-stake situation.

    3. pancakes*

      There are so many other, better occasions for popcorn than this one. It’s not a reality show, and trying to provoke a showdown with someone you think is abusive or know to have anger management issues isn’t safe.

  64. Morgan Proctor*

    LW 1… low-key send it to the wife. Anonymously, of course. She can use it during divorce proceedings. Don’t do anything else, don’t let your boss know you know!

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      For one its not going to be anonymous because the boss is going to be able to see who he called at that time..
      another thing is this is one conversation/fight. He was yelling at her not beating her or the dog. I think its a little dramatic to send the recording.

    2. Riot Grrrl*

      This is awful advice. Even if it is somehow possible to send the recording anonymously, all this is going to do is make her feel incredibly violated and paranoid that someone witnessed a trying and embarrassing moment for her. After receiving that, she’ll be reduced to wondering every time she meets one of her husband’s friends, relatives, or associates, “Is this the one that knows?”

  65. Nicki Name*

    #1, is that “abusive” as in he uses language that shows he clearly doesn’t care about his wife and dog, or “abusive” as in you have reason to suspect that physical harm is being inflicted? If it’s the latter, I don’t think you can just delete and forget this.

    If you hear your neighbors fighting, and what you hear is alarming enough, you’re entitled to call the police. This isn’t any different. If that’s too big a step for you, absolutely call one of the organizations people have mentioned above and get some expert advice.

    1. merida*

      Yes, +1 on the differentiating here. I’m not sure there *should* be a difference, but I feel like there is a difference in the minds of police (and American culture as a whole) between saying “F you” to someone and saying other horrible demeaning things constantly, gaslighting, etc. (ie verbal abuse) and saying “I’m going to f** hurt you.” The later is more likely to be actionable; the former will likely be written off as someone just “having a bad day and blowing off steam.” Ugh. If Grandboss is making threats to his wife in the voicemail, that absolutely should be reported to law enforcement!

      To be clear, both verbal and physical abuse *should* be taken seriously by law enforcement but I don’t think they are, or at least not in my experience with reporting abuse that I witnessed. Sigh.

    2. Observer*

      If you hear your neighbors fighting, and what you hear is alarming enough, you’re entitled to call the police. This isn’t any different

      The fundamental difference is that if you call the police in the moment when you hear a fight going on, it is *possible* that you will prevent harm. With a recording? No. ESPECIALLY not with a recording like this, where it’s not even completely intelligible.

  66. SpicySpice*

    Yeah, hard pass on telling my co-workers my mental health struggles. And a SUPER hard pass on the office busybody deciding they’re an expert on mental health and trying to “help” me because I’m having a couple of struggle days. This just sounds like more corporate overreach, and replacing services we should have already with “worker perks”.

  67. Avril Ludgateau*


    Recently there was a letter where a person in a hiring role was lamenting that applicants were too specific and too narrow in sharing their availability; instead of outlining their full availability over three days, they would give only one time that worked.

    But your case is why I am entirely in favor of that approach. People skim these emails or maybe they’re trying to pull a power play, I don’t know, but it is so frequent of a “miscommunication” that I’m fully on team “I’m going to give you exactly one time I’m available and you’ll work around that.”

  68. Off the record*

    I have family members who experience psychosis – breaks with reality. I find it really encouraging that any workplace might train someone (or many people) on how to handle that while they are waiting for the professionals to show up, and I do consider it to be comparable. Psychosis isn’t common, but neither is a broken arm in a workplace.

    We do tend to stigmatize people who experience intense mental health crises we and expect they’d never be in a professional workplace or in polite society. That means we often don’t have great scripts to handle when something dramatic happens.

  69. Atalanta0jess*

    There are lots of comments here from people who are speculating about Mental Health First Aid. I am a certified MHFA instructor, and just want to make clear that the fidelity model* will NOT:
    1) Ask you to take on a situation that is too traumatic/triggering for you.
    2) Be someone’s long term support.
    3) Be someone’s therapist.

    It WILL:
    Give you tools to recognize and respond compassionately, responsibly, and within your lane as a lay person, when someone you encounter may be having a crisis. Just like you might call 911 when you see someone who is exhibiting symptoms of a stroke or heart attack. Just like you might do CPR when someone needs it, but you sure wouldn’t try to perform a surgery.

    It’s a really good and appropriate program, focused on supporting each other as non-professional human beings who care about each other. I know some people prefer not to GAF about those in their workplace, and I think that really sucks…and MHFA is probably not for you. But if you do care about the other humans in your vicinity, it’s a great program.

    *Is it possible you’ll encounter an instructor who uses the name and goes way outside of fidelity? Yes. Not probable…but possible.

  70. LW2*

    Hi everyone, i’m the person who wrote the letter about the mental health first-aid course.
    As some commenters may have guessed, I am actually based in the UK and there has been a strong push recently here to destigmatise mental health all the while cutting budgets for mental health services, a very difficult circle to square.
    It’s great to hear though that my worst fears are unfounded and that the mental health first-aid seems to be something different than what I thought it was, and hearing that others have had positive experiences with it has change my opinion somewhat, although I don’t think I will ever use it myself because of the power dynamics in play at work.
    I’m sure we’d all like to believe, myself included, that no confidential information we learned about a person could change our behaviour towards them but unconscious bias exists and I don’t feel comfortable sharing my struggles with people who can determine my future in the company.

    1. Kiwiapple*

      Hi LW, Thanks for jumping in the comments. Letting us know you were a UK based LW could’ve helped answers both from AAM and commenters.

    2. Allonge*

      Hi, that is great to hear! Reading through some comments from people who took this training, it’s really unlikely that you would in any way need to use the services of your colleagues. And if any of them are pushy about it, please feel free to push back, because they are doing it wrong.

  71. Ms. K*

    #1 Depending on exactly what you heard on the phone, most states have anonymous animal abuse hotlines you could call if you think what you heard warrants it.

    #5 It’s awesome you’re making sure people are getting positive recognition to their superiors!

  72. OP#3*

    #1 – You now know more about your “grandboss” than you did before, but this was taken out of context as a butt dialled call. I would ignore it.

    #2 – A lot of people may open up to a colleague about mental health issues and it would be nice for coworkers to have a basic understanding and give support. But it should NOT be the primary way to give mental health support in a workplace. Having a formal employee family assistance program where professionals give advice is the best way for a company to support their workers. We give professional development on Psychological First Aid, so other colleagues have the ability to help others get help. BUT there is also psychologist extended health and the assistance program too.

    #5 – any positive feedback even if you think it doesn’t sounds can make someone’s day. The fact that you took the effort to say anything is awesome!

  73. career coach near the sea*

    LW1– I didn’t see this when skimming the comments, but I would strongly recommend saving the voicemail message and transcript (including having the original time stamp). Your boss might eventually see on their phone that they left a long message and may even put two and two together of what might have been recorded. I personally wouldn’t do or say anything right now, but this is the kind of documentation that you might want/need to have in the future.

  74. Delphine*

    Whether you believe the correct course of action for LW1 is to do something or to do nothing, we should all be horrified at this insidious aspect of domestic abuse and how it traps women and other victims. There are basically no well-known resources for witnesses to use, there is very little immediate positive impact witnesses can have, and there is the potential that witnesses jeopardize their own wellbeing (in this case, risking her livelihood) if they do try to help. Even if the witness manages to reach someone and alert authorities, that still doesn’t mean that the wife will be helped.

    The most effective action might be to help the dog–you can usually call in anonymous complaints and many rescue organizations will do a mandatory check. I once called in a tip about a severely injured cat when the owners wouldn’t help the cat out and wouldn’t let me take the cat to my vet.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, it’s pretty horrible that it’s so hard for someone on the outside to do anything.

      I’m sure you’ve heard of the “serenity prayer” that goes something like “grant me the strength to change what I can, the patience to bear what I must and the wisdom to know the difference” Sometimes you really must stand by. And it’s hard. But that doesn’t change that reality. But it’s also good to acknowledge it.

  75. Jessica Fletcher*

    #1- Depending on the details about the dog, I might make a report to the local humane investigations. (Please don’t tell me the details! I don’t want to know!) Sometimes they work out of an animal shelter, so google or look at your county website. If you don’t have a separate humane officer, it might just be the local police. Whoever has that responsibility should be able to check on the dog.

    Overall, I’d save the voicemail. He may end up in legal trouble for hurting his wife at some point, and the recording of this incident could help.

  76. toolittletoolate*

    We have a mental health program in our workplace, and it is NOT a peer-peer support or anything like that. It is just a program to help people recognize when someone might be experiencing some mental health issues and point the person in the right direction to many other resources available, including Employee Aid programs, local agencies, and our insurer. Also, the people trained are not managers or supervisors and no one is required to report anything to anyone. It’s giving people skills to be informal information conduits.

  77. Flare*

    LW#1: I once was butt-dialed by my ex-husband while he was talking to the counselor his new girlfriend made him go to (after he straight refused to ever go see one during our marriage), and he was ranting about me and how I was turning our children against him (no, bud, that’s a thing YOU did). Anyway. I heard quite a bit of the rant because at first it wasn’t clear to me what was happening — and my name was being said so I was like what? what? Eventually I hung up and called him back and left a voicemail to say hey so you butt-dialed me, and if you want to talk about any of these flaws of mine as relates to our children, let me know. He called back later and was like, ummmmm well if you heard you know what I think. I figured if he wasn’t willing to say anything to me even with that existing framework, I didn’t need to care about his opinion. This is of course not the same — it wasn’t directed at you and it’s awful, but I did think about whether you might use a similar approach of like, “There was this weird garbled message on my Teams, and most of it was really unclear. I decided probably it was a message left in error, but in case you actually wanted me to work on something, or something I needed to know, well, I didn’t get the memo.” Which allows him to know this happened but also doesn’t require either of you to acknowledge the content. ?

    LW #5: I like to also copy the employee themself when I write these emails, so that in case the boss is the kind of turkey who doesn’t look at this as an opportunity to be happy at the employee, the employee still gets that rush of feelgood. :)

    1. Observer*

      For #1 – I totally disagree. What do you think it could possibly accomplish.

      From where I sit, I cannot see any upside at all to your idea. Either it won’t work or the boss will know now that the OP heard a very ugly side of him. It’s not going to change his behavior at home for the better, but it might cause him to go after the OP.

      1. Books and Cooks*

        The only thing I could see it accomplishing is that, if Grandboss saw a several-minutes-long outgoing call to LW on his phone at that time of night and put two and two together, it could “reassure” him that LW did not actually hear or understand what he was saying–thus protecting LW from any potential “I’d better get that one out of here, she heard me!” retaliation from Grandboss. A cheery, “Hey, I see that you called me, but the message was so garbled that I have no idea what you said–were you going through a tunnel or something?” **might** be worth saying, to throw him off the scent.

        I don’t know if I’d do it, but it did also occur to me as an option to suggest, for that reason. LW might not want Grandboss suspecting her of having heard something like that. Only LW knows whether Grandboss is likely to see that he accidentally called her, though, or if her workplace is one where such a missed call would be mentioned, and if she is able to pull off such a line with confidence. (Maybe this is more of a “something to keep in mind if Grandboss seems to be acting oddly toward LW,” or “…if Grandboss treats LW differently next time he sees her.” Because unless LW has access to Grandboss’s phone, there is a definite possibility that he will see the call, see what time it was made, and suspect what might have been recorded, and LW does not want any of this blowing back at her.)

  78. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    Alison, An idea for you…. maybe something for the Interesting Jobs feature?

    I realize that LW#1 may 1. not be taking the capital letters, proper noun, Mental Health First Aid training, and that 2. they may be taking that training but work at a company that is doing harmful things like asking people to use that training to help counsel coworkers, which is in direct opposition to the what the program is intended to do.

    What I would hate is for someone to turn their nose up at attending a MHFA class in the future because of the misinformation spread in the comments today–largely by people who have no knowledge of the program and are making some really off-base assumptions simply because it has the words “mental health” in it.

    There are quite a few folks in here who are certified trainers (I’m one and, although it is not my full-time gig, I do the trainings for employees where I work) for the international Mental Health First Aid program. What about interviewing one or two about the program for the Interesting Jobs feature you do?

    1. Hrodvitnir*

      What I really want to hear is the experiences of people with chronic mental health issues both with doing the training and with working with MHFAs. Because as one of those people it makes me feel very unsafe.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I used it myself and it was very useful for me to find low-level support from a colleague trained to listen. It’s not meant to be a substitute for therapy — it’s about finding people who can be there to listen, soak up a few tears and have a time out with you. Like, say, ringing the Samaritans or whatever.

        That’s it.

      2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        There is no “working with MHFAs” — it’s not a thing. Mental Health First Aid is a program that helps people listen and learn how to direct others to resources. There may be a mental health first aid team at a workplace, but the proper noun MHFA is not a team.

        I suffer from some pretty damaging mental health (and back in the day substance use) issues–as a trainer for the program, I would have LOVED it if people in my life had had the training. Both because they could have been more compassionate and better equipped to listen to me, but also better equipped to recognize when it wasn’t just a bad day or to tell me to listen to some happy music vs. realizing I’m suicidal.

      3. Atalanta0jess*

        It’s pretty much the same as talking to someone else in your life, but they are less likely to say something stupid, and more likely to have an idea of what resources you could try. They are also perhaps more likely to ask if you’re ok if you’re seeming off kilter.

        And of course it’s very optional to talk to ANYONE in your life about your struggles. They’re not trained to push beyond a check in, and in fact there’s a lot of talk about respecting boundaries when people don’t want to engage.

  79. blue*

    A signed card with genuine well wishes is ALWAYS SO MUCH BETTER than some random gift. I can’t remember who gave me what for my wedding but I keep and treasure all the handwritten notes.

  80. MHFA Trainer*

    Worth noting: “Mental Health First Aid” is a specific, evidence-based curriculum by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. I have seen some groups refer to trainings as MHFA when they are not, but if your company is sponsoring true MHFA, it’s legitimate.

  81. Youngten*

    Op 1:
    Imagine that you accidentally walked in on a coworker using the bathroom. Pants down. And you noticed an offensive tattoo on their cheek. Yeah, it was irresponsible of them to not lock the door but the embarrassing tattoo thing you was never on display in the workplace. That basically what happened here. Yeah it sucks that you heard that but much like the offensive tattoo, it’s kept separate from work. Listen to Alison’s advice. Delete and move on.

    1. just some guy*

      That’s not what happened here, though. Having an embarrassing tattoo isn’t comparable to being abusive to a person and a dog.

  82. MaY*

    I experienced the same thing as LW4 lately and was just as confused! On the first occasion, the recruiter scheduled me for a date that I hadn’t listed as available, and on the next, she scheduled me for a time before the block of available time I’d given. Fortunately I was able to make the meetings work anyway and I guess I just assume that people have a lot to deal with and their brain gets scrambled trying to pull their calendar together…

  83. Wait, I'm a what?*

    Hi All,

    I am LW#1. I want to clarify that the abuse I noted was verbal, not physical. I was shocked but also just really confused. The grandboss seemed a pretty mild-mannered person and clearly there is more to his story. He is sort of a “I’d like you better if you smiled more” guy which is creepy but calling his wife those names and berating the poor dog is something I could never have guessed.
    In addition to my concern for the wife and dog, I was also in a panic thinking that I must report this because it was right there on Teams where I was (and still am) afraid that it would flag some internal monitoring process (if that’s even a thing) due to the language. It was just so ugly any way I looked at it. And what if he’d called a customer instead of me? Yikes!
    I did look into reporting it to our Hotline but I think I have decided to just let it ride for now. I deleted the VM (due to fear of the monitoring) but I did keep a screen shot of the transcript on my personal device. Complete with date and sender’s name just in case.
    A couple of commenters were concerned about my mental health and they weren’t wrong. I was useless for the rest of that day. Perhaps I need to work on my own resiliency because this really rattled me even though it wasn’t “about” me at all really. I appreciate this site and all your comments. Thanks!

  84. LittleMarshmallow*

    Whenever I’ve had direct reports I absolutely loved getting positive feedback about them. So often people only tell you about the issues so it’s great to hear when one of your people is doing well. I definitely don’t care if it’s clumsily worded. Even a vague “Kelly is really a pleasure to work with!” is welcome. I look at it as that you’ve taken the time and made the effort to reach out so my employee must be doing something right because people don’t do that for average performance typically.

    It’s also so much more fun to get to tell your reports that someone said they loved working with them instead of having to have a tough conversation. It always makes my day!

  85. H3llifIknow*

    “When can you ask about about benefits in an interview process?”
    I’m sorry; I disagree with all the “don’t bring it up in the first interview” nonsense. Maybe it’s different in the govt. contracting world, but whenever I’ve been headhunted or applied for a new position, I get that stuff out of the way in the phone screen: “I’d be looking for $XYZK to move, and at least 4 weeks of vacation time.” Because for me, that’s a deal breaker. I’ve got 20+ years of experience; I’m not going “backwards” for a job–especially if I’m perfectly okay where I’m at. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with multiple interviews only to hear “oh we start everyone out at 2 weeks PTO” etc… because I would say No immediately. Same with other benefits; I don’t take medical because military healthcare, but I do take Dental and Vision. I want to know up front what I’d be gaining or giving up. I already know going into an interview that I’m probably capable of doing the job, either because they reached out to me via LinkedIn or a referral or because I read the job dx beforehand. YMMV, but I’m a big advocate for being up front about what it will take to get you to move forward.

  86. Anony445*

    #1 My boss butt-dialed me and I heard his abusive conversation with his wife

    Stay out of other people’s lives when it comes to your work relationships. You do not want your grandboss to have a grudge on you bc more than likely if you report it, he will just get spoken to by HR and you will have to deal with the consequences of reporting on your own higher-up. Yes they say you will be protected and should be protected but often what’s written in policy is not always done in the real world.

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