my younger employee doesn’t know professional norms

A reader writes:

I’m a 30-year-old female manager. We recently hired a new employee who is 25 who came highly recommended and will be building out a role that we haven’t had filled in years.

Despite the fact that our age difference isn’t large, I am kind of amazed by the generational difference between us (millennial/Gen Z). My employee has some behaviors that would have been unprofessional in the office environments that I worked in at his age, and I’m trying to figure out where to draw the line in terms of enforcing workplace norms. Overall, the quality of his work is good so far, and our office leans casual, so I don’t want to overcorrect.

Here are a few examples:

1. He refers to me as “boss” and somewhat hilariously refers to our executive director as “big boss.” This is in both written and verbal communication with me.

2. He has responded with the Face with Steam emoji 😤 in response to a request to turn in his timesheet early so that I could approve it before leaving for vacation. He also proposed using this emoji in a tweet sent by the organization. Maybe I am just way out of the loop re: emojis?

3. Multiple times he has been late to our weekly 1:1 due to running late picking up lunch.

I’m trying to figure out what kinds of professional behavior are most important for me to stress, and what’s okay to let go. I never expected to feel like the Old Person™ in the office!

I think you’re attributing this too much to generational differences when it’s really just about being new to the work world. Some people pick up on professional norms pretty quickly (or had families who taught them to them, or did internships where they learned them) and some people take longer. That’s always been the case with young people new to working; it was the case with Millennials too, as well as with everyone who came before them.

You’d be doing your employee a favor by helping him learn office norms. At a minimum, you definitely need to tell him that he needs to be on time for meetings and needs to time his lunch accordingly since that’s a pretty significant thing that’s inconveniencing you (and will inconvenience other people if he does it to them).

And when he addresses you as “boss,” respond with, “Please just call me Jane.” When he calls your director “big boss,” say, “You should just call her Lucinda.” You can be matter-of-fact about it; use the same tone you’d use if you were letting him know how to pronounce someone’s name.

The emoji response … if it had been a different emoji, it wouldn’t be a big deal at all. Casual, yes, but not egregiously so. But the face with steam emoji? An emoji that indicates irritation in response to being told to turn in his timesheet is a pretty weird misstep, and you wouldn’t have been out of line to drop by his office and say, “Did you just send me an irritated emoji when I asked for your timesheet?” This wouldn’t be a Big Talk; it’s just a “huh?!” moment. (Although after that, if you see other signs that he doesn’t recognize that his response to a work request from his boss should be different than his response when messing around with friends, there’s a larger conversation to be had.)

I know the examples in your letter are just a few of many, so one litmus test you can use to decide when you should address something is whether that behavior would bother you if it were happening in isolation without the rest of the issues you’re seeing — i.e., being late for meetings would be a problem even if he were otherwise professional (so address it) but if there’s smaller stuff that’s really only irking you because of all the rest of it, leave that alone.

Sometimes with someone new to the work world, a few small nudges on stuff like this will get the message across and you’ll start seeing more professional behavior quickly. But other times it doesn’t. If that’s the case with your employee, then at some point you should have a bigger-picture conversation with him about professional polish — framed as, “You do good work but some office norms can be hard to figure out when you’re early in your career, and learning this stuff now will help you and your work be taken more seriously.”

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{ 568 comments… read them below }

  1. Alexis Rosay*

    This sounds like an issue specific to this employee, not a generational difference. I have worked with many Gen Z interns and young employees–in many cases younger than 25–and like all groups of people there was a huge range, from those who were simply unable to get the job done to those who were more poised, professional, and skilled than older employees.

    1. Julia*

      There’s two related issues. One is that Gen Z is no different from how millennials were at their age – so behaviors like this are not “Gen Z behaviors,” but just new-to-the-workforce behaviors.

      The other is whether people who are currently 25 are on average more likely to be unaware of professional norms, regardless of what generation they’re in. I’d argue they are. I mean you’re right that there’s a huge range of behavior, but it’s also true that the newer you are to the workplace the more likely it is that you haven’t caught on yet. Nothing wrong with acknowledging that.

      1. Julia*

        Also, if we recognize stuff like this as possibly attributable to this person’s newness to the workplace, it can help deal with this employee more compassionately. Instead of “you have an problem specific to you with being unprofessional, and other Gen Zers I know don’t have this problem,” it becomes “you may not be aware of these norms so let me clue you in”. Which is a better approach IMO.

        1. Unaccountably*

          My own efforts in this area have not been successful, but I agree with this comment anyway. Even if the problems with acculturating to a workplace are problems experienced differently from group to group, you still want to address individual behaviors with the individual displaying them. You’re looking to change one person’s work habits, which is usually manageable; not trying to change an entire generation’s, which is not.

        2. Katt*

          Omg, I first entered office work at 20 as a student, and I was a DISASTER. Always late, going to the bathroom once an hour (I genuinely had to pee because I’d drink like 1 L of water throughout the workday, but then I’d spend 10 minutes in there looking at my phone), sitting at or ON people’s desks and talking to them until I was told to go away by someone else who was annoyed at my constant chatter, continuing to do so even though I was constantly told to stop, I was even the reason that a few vague emails were sent out to the floor, as well as whenever I had a question for coworkers I would be SO unprofessional in my wording…

          Luckily for me, I was somehow a star employee despite all of this (no, seriously!), and they were very patient. They also sat me next to my supervisor’s desk so that I was less tempted to do those things I shouldn’t be doing. It took a few years, but I wisened up. I even got hired on permanently during that time after graduation. Had I not been so great at my job, I highly doubt I would have gotten the same amount of leeway in the beginning there.

          So, um… yeah… Improvement is possible, and let me just say, it is FAR more likely if you come at it from the angle of “hey, you might not know this, but…” Meanwhile, you can laugh at my cringe-worthy behaviour from those early career days.

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        Wasn’t it brought up in the comments of a letter last week that the recent graduating classes missed out on some in-person career prep because of the pandemic? I think that’s something managers need to consider for the next few years.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, it’s pretty likely that someone who’s 25 may be in their first in-person office job, even if they graduated a few years ago. I know a 25-year-old who finally got a job recently, which is mostly remote, and I can tell he’s nervous about doing anything in person! Because he doesn’t know how to do it!

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            My partner has a student intern this year. She’s 20 years old and had literally never used a printer until she started this internship. The printer is apparently her greatest nemesis. I have been regaled by more “The Adventures of Jane the Intern and the Hard Copy Dragon” stories this summer than seems at all reasonable, but it’s hard not to feel bad for her. She has no point of reference.

        2. Ama*

          This is a good point. Before the pandemic I had a fresh-out-of-college direct report who went through a lot of bumps navigating the difference between her student work job and a full-time 9 to 5 job (including learning to organize info for herself, managing her own time on projects, etc.), but one place we never had to talk about was her front facing customer service, because that student work job (which was handling a reception desk for one of the departments at her school) gave her a lot of that experience. But with so many university admin offices being fully remote or having limited open hours for the last two years, I don’t know how this group of graduates learned any of that stuff.

        3. Ann O'Nemity*

          This is my take on it too. I know the OP says there is only 5 years between them, but my goodness the world has changed in those five years! We all need to stop expecting students and recent grads to be as polished as their pre-pandemic counterparts. These folks missed a good deal of in-person career readiness training and modeling. Judging them for generational differences is bullshit. The best we can do is offer grace, understanding, and mentorship to help them have a chance at getting back on track.

        4. Willow Sunstar*

          Yes. I learned these norms by temping in offices in my 20’s, but I’m not sure that today’s graduates have that same option. They might be able to temp still, but it will probably be remote work.

          1. TrainerGirl*

            I am so glad to have had the opportunity to temp in college. I wasn’t so lost when I got my first post-graduate job because I’d been in many offices and learned norms from those temp jobs.

          1. Just Another Zebra*

            Sure, but that’s assuming they graduated in 4 years and don’t have any additional degrees. And even if that is true, they would have graduated less than a year before the world shut down. I know very few people who graduated with a bachelors in 4 years and immediately started working at an office job. Most took 4.5 – 5 years and spent a good six months floating through retail / food service before landing a professional job.

            I’m not saying it’s not possible. Just not likely in my experience.

            1. Katt*

              Anecdotally, many of my friends (including myself) had office jobs before or within 6 months of graduation, but we also all had co-ops/work experience/placements. I got hired on permanently at my student job after graduation, for example, which was office work.

              Likely the bigger issue is that this employee probably graduated anywhere between 6-12 months before the world shut down, depending on semesters. I was lucky enough to graduate in 2018 but that still feels like barely any time before!

      3. Mike*

        Maybe if we make AAM required reading for college students, we can nip some of this in the bud!

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      At my last job, there was a 38 year gap between one of our long-time employees, Bob, and our staff attorney. When the attorney started, Bob was constantly complaining about how this guy didn’t know what he was doing and he was too young and what did he know anyway and how could he know anything, etc. Finally, I asked Bob to be a bit more specific about what the problem was, and I’m not making the following quote.

      “All Attorney does all day is look at our situation and questions, review whatever information we send him, check the law, and provide his OPINION on what to do. That’s all it is. His OPINION. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not legally binding! Is that what is going to happen? He doesn’t know! What’s the point of any of that?”

      I was too stunned to break the news to Bob that he literally outlined the job description of a staff attorney. It was pretty obvious that he hated our staff attorney because of his age and nothing else.

      1. Anonym*

        I am trying to imagine how a staff attorney at a private enterprise could provide legally binding direction… perhaps by also and primarily being (somehow without conflict of interest) a regulator, legislator or judge??

        “How dare he, just, like, DO HIS JOB CORRECTLY?!”

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          That was the most bizarre detail of it all!

          Bob had his job since the 1970s. When did we ever have a staff attorney who could unilaterally make something legally binding?!

          What’s the alternative here? Having no legal guidance whatsoever? Hiring a medium with a JD instead?

          Wait. Did I just come up with a new pilot for NBC? Medium, Esq.

          1. Anonym*

            I love that and would 1000% watch it. I want to see someone with psychic powers resolving operational issues with legally binding force! “Carol, you must increase the compensation budget by 18% to eliminate the attrition based risk of institutional knowledge loss leading to further weakening of control processes and thus inevitable regulatory action… OR YOU WILL GO TO JAIL.”

          2. MI Dawn*

            Oh my god that would be hilarious and might cause me, a very non-TV person, to actually watch it.

          3. Calamity Janine*

            a medium with a JD, you say…

            (this is when the camera slowly pans over to a shelf of video games, containing the entire Ace Attorney series.)

            (okay, fine, one protag has the JD and the other protag is the medium. most of the time. things happen like cross-examining a parrot. probably do not tell Bob about this, however, as he would want to immediately hire the attorney-and-medium combo of the Wright Anything Agency.)

            1. Arabella Flynn*

              I have a dance instructor with a JD. He is exactly as eccentric as you would assume. He did work as an attorney for a bit, then decided it was killing his soul and went back to art. I believe he’s now adjunct faculty at a well-known conservatory, on top of teaching our community class.

              1. Gyakuten Manager*

                Hold it!

                The spirit channeling technique also produces drastic physical changes, so it’s hard to deny in court that there’s an actual event happening here when the 17 year old girl suddenly physically turns into a 7 foot tall monk.

                There’s definitely room to work with this if the person in question is just a regular ol’ Sylvia Browne medium.

      2. Important Moi*

        I know someone like this. They actually believe they know the law better than the lawyer.

        I remember one conversation in particular….

        Moi: There opinion is probably based on nuanced factors in the law they didn’t share with you (because you’re not a lawyer and that’s not your job)…

        Them: No. The law is clear on this. I know more about this than they do….

      3. Unaccountably*

        But… I mean, IANAL, but, like. I feel like Bob’s objection is… not valid. I wish you still worked there and could go ask Bob to spell out specifically what he expected the staff attorney to do for eight hours a day.

      4. Me*

        This reminds me of a comment made by an auditioner in a very early season of American Idol along the lines of, “Who does that Simon Cowell think he is, judging me like that?”

        To which someone replied that his job title was, “Judge.” His whole role on the show was to judge the contestants.

      5. Emmy Noether*

        Giving Bob a lot of benefit of the doubt, it could be the attorney is using a lot of hedgey and uncertain language when giving his opinion. We have one attorney who has the habit of expressing everything with “more/less than 50% probability” (always with the 50). At least one manager rolled his eyes at that, because 51% is really no useful basis for a costly business decision.

        But Bob is still wrong. It is the nature of the law that a lot of it is uncertain. Especially in things like intellectual property, or tax, or other business-type law, there’s a lot of nuance and case-by-case. And I much prefer the guy above to our other attorney, who bloviates about being 100% certain, and turns out to be wrong half the time.

      6. Merrie*

        At ThankfullyNowOldJob, I had a second-in-command who had the same professional credential as me and was responsible for her own professional work, but I was the one in charge of the department, which is very normal in my field. She had some real issues with my authority and it was an ongoing struggle. I’ll never forget when she complained to my supervisor about “Merrie keeps telling me what to do all the time” and he looked at her like she had three heads and said “Merrie’s your boss, it’s her job to tell you what to do”. Smh.

    3. LTR FTW*

      This letter and some of the comments seem to be on the brink of ageism. I’m not loving the “oh no I can’t be the office old person that would be awful” vibe.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I don’t think it’s that it would be awful, it’s that it’s a weird transition when you’ve spent all your career to date as “the young one” and for many of us, the pandemic means that it was less of a gradual thing and more of a sudden jolt.

        I had a similar moment not long ago when I realised I was too old for a specific role aimed at supporting young adults. I’m not a young adult any more, I’m just… an adult. You’d think the divorce and the baby would have been what clued me in but no, it was a scheme for 18-25 year olds

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I can see how not understanding an emoji can make someone feel behind the times, but yeah the terminology about generational differences and being the old person is not great.

    4. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, I work in a huge department of a huge company and we have quite a lot of people who are young and somewhat new to the workforce. Most of them aren’t chronically late and they don’t respond with annoyance to a request from their boss.

      Work culture is changing and it’s partly due to the newest generation. But that means things like slightly different but non-offensive words, and emoji use in general but still respectful.

      1. Jasper*

        My personal inclination is to use excessive emoticons (particularly in chat), because I’m a little in between generations, but modern software tends to turn those into emoji, so…

    5. Beth*

      My boss, who is in his 70s, uses emojis more often than any of the rest of us in our office (ages range from 30s to 70s). They’re a bit annoying, but not because he’s using them incorrectly; they are effectively and accurately communicating in visual shorthand. They’re just annoying emojis.

    6. Ann Onymous*

      It also just feels strange to blame a generational difference when there’s only a 5 year age gap between the letter writer and the employee.

  2. voyager1*

    Those three things together are pretty annoying. The boss thing could be a joke, but that doesn’t sound like what is going on. With emojis, generally they are unprofessional, but it is a know your workplace thing too. If people use them, then I will. If people
    don’t then I don’t. Being late to 1:1s is a big deal. That shows disrespect. That to me is the most annoying of all his behaviors. All this together though, you should definitely talk to him.

    1. Suzie SW*

      I think the “emojis are unprofessional” mindset has to fade away in this highly virtual work world. When do much of our communication is via text, emojis do a lot to communicate who we are, how we’re feeling, etc., and to help us relate to one another when we don’t get nearly as much face time as we used to. Non-verbal cues are such a key component of expression, and emojis do a lot to replace that void when instant messages and emails are the primary mode of communicating.
      (But I completely agree that this particular emoji is unprofessional in the context!)

      1. Cold and Tired*

        I do have to agree on emojis themselves no longer being unprofessional. Microsoft teams has a couple of them embedded everywhere these days so they’re common in teams chats and meetings. However, I think not all emojis are created equal so some are more accepted than others.

        1. Kristi*

          I suspect a good litmus test is whether saying the thing the emoji communicates in English would be considered unprofessional. A response to “please turn your timesheets in” with the words “I am fumingly angry” would be bizarre. A response of “Oops, sorry” (which some emojis would communicate) would be quite acceptable.

          1. KateM*

            I wonder if emojis show up differently depending on version or what not, because I recently got a new laptop and emojis in MSTeams look different than they were on old laptop. Most notably, I do think one of emojis in chat looks now like “steam from nose” when what I did was “facepalm” or “headdesk” or something like that.

            1. This-is-a-name-I-guess*

              It’s an update to Teams, not an effect of your new laptop. Either your old laptop wasn’t updating automatically OR you got your new laptop right when the new update came out (just a coincidence). I suspect the latter, because the updates are new. We noticed them last week.

              1. KateM*

                Good to know, I was thinking my emojis looked to people creepy like that all the time without me being any wiser!

                1. Fae Kamen*

                  Your concern makes sense though because is also true that emoji look different on different platforms though—for example a text message between an iPhone and an Android. The Teams emoji should be the same across computers, though I have noticed when I use my phone to send a message on Teams, I later see the iPhone-style emoji on my (Mac) computer screen.

            2. Audiophile*

              In discord that emoji is triumph.

              It’s the same if you use Messages on Android and search the emojis.

              I can understand reading it as mad or steaming though.

          2. Yennefer*

            Zoom associates words to all emojis – the emoji used by this employee is called “perservere”. I mostly use it to mean “perservere through some task that’s slightly annoying, but necessary”. Just want to call out that emojis can be ambiguous, but I don’t believe “fuming angry” is the most widely held interpretation of this one. Most platforms have word descriptors for what the emoji means, but those don’t usually cover all use cases.

            Based on my interpretation of the emoji… it’s slightly inappropriate, but not as inappropriate as some have indicated.

            1. Koalafied*

              On Android phones, this emoji is call “triumph” and is supposed to indicate forcefully exhaling through one’s nose to commemorate a job well done.

              I think I recall from a piece I read a couple of years ago about the way different renderings of emojis on different systems can cause miscommunications, that this particular emoji is the one that has the most widely varying interpretations from one platform to another!

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                This is why I don’t like emojis outside of the very basic expressions.

                A simple smile-face, crying-face, or thumbs up? Sure, those are fine because they’re very straightforward and easy to interpret. But I’ve seen too many miscommunications just like this where a wink emoji looks playful to the sender but pervy to the recipient, or where one person thinks the steam-nose indicates triumph and another thinks it means extreme irritation.

            2. Gato Blanco*

              I do wonder if there is a misinterpretation/different meaning of the emoji on the younger employee’s part? I have a few cousins in high school and college who use this emoji to mean that they are breathing hard, like working really fast to get something done.

            3. Lady Ann*

              I’m an old millennial/young gen X (depending on who you ask) and I agree with your interpretation of that emoji, the context I have seen it in would be more like “I just completed this 20 page report in record time” or “I made all the annoying phone calls that I had on my to do list,” not “I am annoyed at you having asked me to do this task.”

            4. toolittletoolate*

              when there are this many different interpretations of an emoji, I would say it’s time to use your words.

              1. Lydia*

                Exactly what I was thinking. Just based on the responses in this comment section, this isn’t a good response to a request from your boss.

            5. Daniela*

              I had no idea how to interpret that emoji until I read this post, and this response. So defintely it could just be that the employee interpreted it differently. I would ask them what they mean with the emoji and let them know how that emoji could be interpreted.

            6. Avril Ludgateaux*

              I was about to say – the steamy nose emoji is that in Japan (where most emojis and this specific one originated), it’s not meant to suggest anger or frustration. It’s a “buckle down and get to work/do your best/FIGHT” aka “gambaru” emoji. Persevere, triumph… however you describe it, it is meant to evoke tenacity and concentration, not consternation.

              That said, I would suspect most people in the West don’t interpret it the original/intended way. I myself use it as an alternate angry-moji, more often than not.

            7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Given that people are interpreting it differently, it might be wise to avoid using all but the most common emojis? I would refuse to learn the exact meaning of emojis, they should be glaringly obvious, if not, only used among people you are sure will interpret them the same way as you.
              Here, I’m not sure what the new hire is trying to achieve, whether he’s expressing annoyance at having to do a bit of admin, or annoyance with himself for not having done it already or what.
              I used to have a post-it saying “If in doubt, leave it out” on my computer at work, sounds like this guy could use one too.

          3. Darsynia*

            I wonder how much of his use of that emoji is shaped by what it’s called? In many of my online spaces its designated ‘victory’ and I find that just… bizarre. Maybe it’s meant to be a ‘used up all my energy and effort and have won’ steam exertion face… but it’s just, not. I think ambiguous emojis shouldn’t be used at work for this reason! I’ll never forget seeing someone feel like they’d been sent a death threat when another person responded to their MLM pitch with a solo skull emoji. The hun was REALLY upset but to me (and likely the person who sent the skull), that is more often used as a ‘well this all turned out very badly!’ kind of a reaction, almost an ‘oh crap!’ instead of ‘you should be a skull,’ or however threateningly it was taken. When things are not universally understood, that’s a good sign to err on the side of caution!

            1. Gato Blanco*

              Agreed. I just posted this elsewhere, but I do think that it’s possible the young employee was not expressing annoyance, but breathing hard, like working very quickly to get something done. I have a few younger cousins who use this emoji in such a context.

              1. lyonite*

                So, that might be better, but it’s still not great. Like, he wants a gold star for all the work he put in to submit a timesheet? I agree with the general advice to let him know that only the most basic and easily-interpretable emojis should be used at work. (Smiley, thumbs-up, etc.)

            2. MissBliss*

              I mean, even further than “well this went poorly” I understand from my younger siblings that a lot of people use the skull where other people might use LOL. It could’ve just been as simple as someone responding to an MLM pitch with an LOL equivalent.

              1. Koalafied*

                Yeah, I see people using it like, “this is so funny I’m dying, no, I’m actually dead.”

          4. Kacihall*

            On slack, I get email notifications of my messages (which I have tried to turn off but the settings don’t stay. ) Any emojis we use come across as the description in the email. :) says :slightly- smiling-face: and u giggle so much whenever I see it.

          5. GythaOgden*

            Yeah, this.

            I’ll use a smiley face emoji quite often in casual communication. I’d never use it in something serious, particularly when dealing with timesheets, and never use something that indicated frustration.

            This does extend to words too, though. If the guy had expressed frustration with words, we’d still be here. We have a new colleague working with us. She’s lovely, but she makes a lot of mistakes, and because I’m responsible for posting stuff out, we communicate by Teams. She constantly forgets to send stuff out; I’m not her boss, but we have a shared spreadsheet that shows exactly what I’ve sent out and when. She keeps asking about people on that list, I keep reminding her if it’s not on the spreadsheet I haven’t sent it, she doesn’t know how to use the spreadsheet, and she gets chewed out by the people she’s forgetting to send stuff too.

            She’s so nice it’s almost forgivable, but on the Teams channel we use with her boss in the loop, she’s made unprofessional comments, which in context looked like she was swearing /at/ me rather than expressing frustration. (It wasn’t profanity or obscenity, think along the lines of a Sheldon Cooper style ‘good lord’ — which could mean, ‘good lord I forgot’ or ‘good lord, did you lose it or something?’, but you can’t read body language over Teams.)

            Her boss immediately responded in the chat to tell her to print another document and get it sent out. If it hadn’t been for the fact that in person I like her, and her boss saw it and corrected her on it, it would have been something I’d taken to my boss.

            It does matter. I gave it the most charitable explanation, but it blindsided me because I was pretty certain I’d sent everything out. The lack of body language/tone of voice over email and IM makes a difference to the recipient. People can probably get away with positive responses, like ‘awesome’, ‘cool’, ‘fab, thanks!’ in casual business written conversation, but it’s also the negative tone of the emoji that irritated the LW.

            (As regards mentoring: I definitely agree that people might well be out of the loop WRT working in person. That department has had a few issues with staffing and has lately returned in-person due to the previous person finding it hard to do stuff that had to go in the post the same day, so when she left they did bring it back in house so it was easier to get the post to us in a timely fashion.

            (Public sector IT in the UK has a real issue, because the rates of pay are fixed. We do have people who have worked with us a long time, but they’re senior or management. But even so, there is a dilemma here — I like this girl, she’s obviously very new to the workplace, and her scattiness is something that can be worked on rather than a fatal flaw. She sees me as a big sister and I’m happy to have her as just someone to talk to in an otherwise empty office. But she does need a bit more guidance on how to focus and get everything done. I’m not in a position to do that, but I like her enough that I hope she gets that mentoring and blossoms as an employee.

            (Besides, that department needs a bit of stability. It’s dealing with essential smart cards that provide clinicians and admins with access to the medical records database, and is pretty important to the smooth running of the health service. I just want this girl to succeed because she’s just so /nice/ and needs help, rather than censure. Being nice about stuff really does help you bond better with other people and help things run smoothly. It would make the difference, I think, between keeping on someone who needed a lot of coaching on professional norms and ditching them.)

          6. Erin*

            This is the advice I’ve given to several new hires, of all generations, that I’ve onboarded regarding emoji use. If they wouldn’t say “I’m super irritated that you are asking me to do X” then don’t throw the emoji that represents that emotion into the conversation.

            I think I may also fall on the conservative side of emoji use at work. I’m totally here for a thumbs up/100/yes/no/heart to communicate or accentuate things quickly. But, a few months ago, I found out that a particular emoji that I (GenX) feel like represents “cute” actually represents being sexually aroused within GenZ. Who knew?!

          7. Canadian Librarian #72*

            Yeah, I could see myself (depending on the environment and my relationship with the person sending me that email) using an emoji in a response. But it would likely be the facepalm emoji, accompanied by “Oops, sorry about that! Thanks for your patience, the timesheet is attached”, not “*steam emanating from nostrils emoji* here’s the timesheet” which communicates disrespect.

        2. TechWorker*

          Yea I don’t think it’s even the emoji, it’s the sentiment behind it.. I think it’s really common to exaggerate (crying laughter does sometimes get used to mean ‘mildly funny’, and the head blowing off steam one again maybe some people use to indicate irritation rather than anger… but that’s not the point here! If you were having a friendly conversation with your manager about a really annoying client or process and you used that emoji it would come off VERY differently to this, which is basically like saying to your boss ‘your request annoys me’. Definitely a ‘huh?’ moment.

          1. This is Artemesia*

            She would not have bridled at a thumbs up emoji — sending ‘I am annoyed’ when being asked by a superior to do something is unprofessional.

        3. tamarack and fireweed*

          Yup, and whole professional teams load emoji sets into their Slack workspaces.

          The first two sound like the employee is cultivating a humorous personal style, and also – this bit is good – feels comfortable with the LW. TBH I also might use a steaming-ears emoji, as a humorous “ARGH another bureaucratic little task I need to get off my plate! RIGHT ON IT!”. (My main job is scientific research, so time sheets are obviously not something that shows up as intrinsically high on my list of priorities – they just have to get done. No one else benefits from me being on top of them…)

          The last is somewhat irritating.

          I’d probably handle the first two with a “I get what you mean, or at least I think I do, but not everyone will, so my advice would be to tone down the obvious jokiness” and the second with “listen, let’s make sure we schedule these when you can be reasonably sure to be on time as my schedule is dense, and I really need for things to start/end when scheduled”. But in my personal field none would be a huge deal if the rest of the work is high quality.

        4. Jasper*

          The Teams set (Thumb up, heart, laugh, surprise, sad, angry) is not just everywhere, but theyre also fairly simple and not shaded with meaning, like The Youths use emojis. There’s a big difference between indicating happy or sad, and going peach eggplant puff of smoke. And you should still be exceedingly judicious about using the angry face, but not *because* it is an emoji.

        5. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

          My team uses teams reactions(not exactly emojis) to do official consensus votes.

      2. thisgirlhere*

        Yea, the LW struck me as out of touch on this one (and I’m roughly her age). I get that in this context, this particular emoji was bad, but emojis in general? The new normal for sure. It could just be that her particular workplace is a no emoji zone, and she should explain exactly that.

        1. Observer*

          Not entirely. When dealing with external communications, you need to be careful. A lot depends on the rest of the company’s communications. For some companies it would be totally on brand, others no biggie either way, and for others a big deal. And given that they are still using a fairly manual time keeping system (with timesheets that need to be submitted to the manager), I suspect that the public face of this company may be rather staid.

          And to the OP’s credit they do understand that this may be company specific or not that big of a deal. It’s not “out of touch” to recognize that “these norms may not be as important as I thought”.

          1. Jasper*

            The external communication angle (using it in the public tweeter-twat) is separate from what you do in internal communication, though.

        2. Merci Dee*

          I work for a company where the corporate HQ is in Korea. For years, the company tended to lean toward more formality in its communications. Even so, about three or four years ago, the internal IT group that built and administers our company-wide messaging system pushed out an upgrade that fixed a handful of small glitches . . . and included a screen of about 45 emoji that we could choose from for our internal messages. We were thrilled to get the emojis, even if the selection was limited, because they really can help clarify the emotion behind communication and help to foster good relationships when your home base is hundreds or thousands of miles away from the home base of the person you’re collaborating with to get your work done.

          1. This is Artemesia*

            interesting as since body language is soo different in Asia in interpersonal relationships, I would think emojis would be a real minefield.

            1. Merci Dee*

              All of the emojis are pretty tame, so nothing that could really cause any problems. Some smiley faces, a clock, a cup of coffee, a sun, a moon, a star, a rainbow, one pretty flower, one wilting flower, a thumbs-up, a thumbs-down, a dog, a bat, a cat, a present with a ribbon, a cake and candles. That kind of thing. You’d be hard-pressed to get into any trouble with most of these emojis.

        3. Smithy*

          I think this is one of those cases where diving into exactly what the problem or area of concern is becomes the most important thing.

          If someone were to tell me “emoji’s are unprofessional” – my immediate thought is a furrowed brow and to question where they work (and I’m older than the OP). However, like all communication, the content and context is important. Goodness knows the thumbs up emoji is pretty standard in most workplaces that use Teams or other internal chat functions, and a smiley face emoji at the end of a “Got it” email/message can do a lot for softening the tone. Also, gifs are really common on internal work emails as part of congrats/happy birthday messages. But – not all gifs and not all emojis are appropriate in all professional communication in the same way that not all language (slang, informal syntax, etc).

        4. CheesePlease*

          I’m 30 but work in more traditional field (manufacturing / engineering) and beyond the smiley face type emoji at the end of a message like “Thanks – the updated spreadsheet looks great :)”, emojis in communication are rare. And simply replying to a message from your manager with an emoji is outside business norms. I think it’s appropriate for OP to tell this new hire that their communication style needs to be improved a bit

          1. Anecdata*

            I’m 31 and also work in an manufacturing/engineering team that sometimes feels straight out of a time capsule (just got out of a meeting where the exec responded to our update with “thanks guys. uh, and *girl*”) and we use emojis frequently, but from a limited supply if that makes sense? ie, responding with a thumbs-up or + for simple agreement or acknowledgement; and a +100 or party-popper for strong agreement or congratulations stuff (and mostly over chat but not email); maybe crying or laugh-crying for mild sarcasm or poking fun, but only at ourselves. Anything beyond that I would use within my team or with people I work with closely but not eg. with an executive who I haven’t seen use emojis – less out of concern that it’d be seen as unprofessional and more just not wanting to make them guess what I mean.

            1. Martin Blackwood*

              Yeah, this is where I stand. The more basic emojis like smiley face, thumbs up, heart in certain contexts, are professional enough. Poop emoji, clown emoji, exploding head emoji? Not so mucj

            2. TheAG*

              haha having visions of the training session with a bunch of engineers (I’m just a regular biologist) I sat in a while ago where the teacher would say something, then “ok gentleman. Oh and lady…”.
              Ok dude make it maximum awkward lol

        5. TofuSpice*

          The steam isnt even bad.. People confusing it for frustration are the one outta touch; it’s more “I got this” or “For sure”

          1. Lydia*

            No, they aren’t out of touch. It’s not clear cut and can be interpreted in multiple ways, which is why it’s not an appropriate response.

            1. tamarack and fireweed*

              I would use it this way – as an ironic reversal.

              But then, it’s a proof-in-the pudding situation, where I first check that people are getting and are comfortable with my way of poking fun at myself.

              This particular LW’s pudding doesn’t have a proof inside.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Right, and workforces are full of we old, out of touch people in addition to the new, in-touch people. Maybe we can just all use our words rather than trying to puzzle out what a little picture means, for clarity. Thumbs up, smiley, laugh – fine, no ambiguity. If I have to interpret it, call my teenager, or look it up on the internet, that’s time out of my day I need for actual work.

          3. Allonge*

            OK but obviously it’s not 100% clear to everyone. So please take the extra second to type “I got this” or “For sure” in professional communications. It’s not that complex a message that it needs illustrations to get across.

          4. Emmy Noether*

            I’ve just had the thought that emojis might go the way of alphabets derived from pictorial representation, with the meaning slowly drifting away from the picture.

            I’ve very rarely seen the steam-emoji used, and I’d definitely naively associate it with frustration or anger, maybe even agression (like in comic books, when there’s steam coming out of the bull’s nostrils). This thread has made me aware that it may be drifting in meaning, but that new use heavily relies on people knowing that and not interpreting it literally. As evidenced here, the new meaning is far from universally understood.

            1. londonedit*

              Yeah, I’ve very rarely seen that emoji used, and not being someone who’s hugely up on current emoji usage I’d probably interpret it as expressing frustration or anger. My mum likes to use the wide-eyed shocked-face emoji a lot, and to her it means ‘wow’, but to me it means ‘OMG this is shocking’ so it always gives me a jolt when I first see it, until I remember she’s not intending to use it in that way! I definitely think that if there’s any ambiguity about an emoji you want to use, you should just use words instead – if this chap meant ‘On it!’ then he should have said so.

              1. si*

                Yeah, I’m an internet old and I use emojis all the time but I’m not really familiar with that one, presumably because my friends are also other internet olds and we use the stuff we’ve been using for years already. I would interpret it as expressing annoyance, too.

          5. Sassenach*

            I disagree on being out of touch. Steam coming from one’s head has historically been known to mean anger. It’s news to me that it means something totally different and I was today year’s old when I found that out.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Ageism is ugly, whether it’s oldies or youngsters being discriminated against.

          6. Canadian Librarian #72*

            Since when?? I’m a millennial and use emojis every day, I had no idea it supposedly means “I got this”. It sure wouldn’t communicate that to me, I’d assume the person using it was pissed off

          7. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

            Ok, and you could text your boss a chair emoji to show you think something’s funny. But…should you?

            Like congrats on knowing what emojis connote to people in the know, but it’s best for one’s SELF to not communicate with one’s boss in a way that requires they be “in touch” to understand. That emoji does not intuitively communicate “for sure.” At work (at minimum!) use emojis that are self-explanatory.

        6. Ellis Bell*

          It was that particular emoji she was objecting to, because he wanted to use it externally as well. Is that really out of touch? Even if other emojis are used in her company, I don’t think it’s a great emoji for professional communications. It just doesn’t have a clear unambiguous designation like thumbs up, or smiley face.

      3. CLC*

        Right an emoji like a smiley face or laugh is no big deal at all. But that’s because smiling and laughing are no big deal. But I would not want to convey anger to my boss asking for a task in emoji form or otherwise.

      4. Beth*

        Agreed that emoji are not automatically unprofessional. They’re contextual–I’d absolutely use them in a slack message to a colleague, I wouldn’t put them in an email to a new client, etc.

        The problem in this case is showing over-the-top annoyance to a small, normal workplace request. It’s got nothing to do with emoji use–it’s no less professional than if OP had asked in person and gotten a major eye roll back.

      5. Sam*

        Agree on the non- verbal communicative nuance! I think emojis can be a tool, as well. I often have to multitask during high level meetings which includes IM’ing my team corrections that need immediate implementation . I’m also trying to rebuild a department I took over from a very authoritarian and pedantic to a toxic level former manager. My team needs to know that 3 typos is no longer going to result in a written warning. Emojis and the gif of Mushu (dishonour on your family, dishonour on your COW!) have done more to reassure my team than all the 1on1’s we’ve held. My boss and grandboss have started doing the same – side note, my grandboss is a c-suite and thinks grandboss is a hilarious way to explain our food chain to people not familiar with our structure.

      6. The Rules are Made Up*

        Yeah, emoji’s, gifs, and memes are all used and acceptable at my workplace both in emails and teams chats. Though media tends to be a bit more casual than most. This particular emoji wouldn’t be cool to send to a manager asking for your time sheet but not because its an emoji, because it’s essentially saying “Uuggghhhh” to a regular work task from a supervisor. So this one specifically would come across really strangely.

        I’ve gotten truly frustrating/annoying emails before from another department that I’ve literally responded to with “?????????” (to just my team member who was leading the project and higher ranking than me, didn’t do reply all on that one) because I truly had no words for the nonsense. Her response was “I know, wtf???”

      7. old curmudgeon*

        I know many folks live by emojis, but I really, really struggle to figure them out. They’re tiny, for one thing, and my eyesight is poor, but even if I screen-magnify to get an emoji big enough to see, I very often cannot for the life of me figure out what the heck is meant by them.

        That’s a me problem, of course, not a problem for anyone else to fix, but it’s not a bad thing to keep in mind that there is no single communication form or style that works for everyone. If you put an emoji in your response along with actual words, I’ll probably be able to tell what you mean, but if you just send me an emoji, you might as well send your message in Old Norse, because I’ll have just about as much chance of understanding you.

        In the example about the timesheet response, I’d be just as likely to conclude that the poor fellow didn’t send in his timesheet because his allergies were kicking up and he was too busy blowing his nose as I would be to interpret that he’s mad about doing his timesheet at all.

        1. Unaccountably*

          Often if you hover your cursor over an emoji you’ll see alternative text that tells you what, in that particular system, the emoji is supposed to mean. If that fails, you can copy the emoji like you would a word and paste it into Google, which helps at least sometimes. You don’t have to try to figure it out for yourself until a number of alternative means have failed.

        2. allathian*

          That steam emoji can mean ‘persevere’ or ‘victory’ on some systems. I’m X-gen, and would interpret that as ‘fuming mad’ if left to my own devices, so I do understand where the LW is coming from here. That said, the LW should talk to the employee, I doubt he intended to blow her off with that emoji.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          you’re not alone in this. My partner regularly asks me to “add a smiley” to his texts so that they don’t come across as too harsh or whatever, because he can’t be bothered to write something like “thanks for your cooperation” and has no idea what emoji would be suitable.

      8. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yeah, it’s not the fact that it’s an emoji that’s is a problem. It’s that the employee responded to a request from their supervisor with frustration. I’d feel the same way about a verbal “Aargh!” or ” FINE, if I HAVE to.”

        FWIW, I’m over 40, and I use emojis all the time in messenger chats with my colleagues in the same age range. The whole letter is not an “age” problem so much as it is a “new to the workforce” problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone significantly older but who had never held a job before might have some of the same issues.

        1. allathian*

          The problem with this particular emoji is that it can be interpreted in several ways, including ‘perseverance’ and ‘victory’. So it’s not necessarily an expression of frustration.

          I get the feeling that the LW would prefer a more formal relationship with the employee.

          1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

            Ok but perseverance and victory are also weird responses in this context, right?

      9. Student*

        Show me somebody who communicates clearly and effectively with emojis about work first, and then I’ll convert. I have not seen them add any useful context to anything work-related. I see them mostly used to socialize.

        And whomever is responsible for the heart emoji in our TEAMS IM system can go die. I do not want work colleages sending me hearts under any circumstances, even if I need a transplant, but especially not when I am asking about work tasks.

        1. Smithy*

          I’ve worked on some large teams spread across different countries where there’s a mix of English proficiency. I really have found that a small set of emojis really can help clarify tone in emails/internal chats in ways that words can not. And communicating positive tone (or a silly tone – laugh emoji, or confirmation – thumbs up emoji) are all part of clear and effective communication.

        2. Unaccountably*

          You know the phrase “Je t’aime” in French? It means “I love you.” It also means “I like you a lot.” It also means “I like that shirt” or “I have a mild preference for this kind of sushi.” There is, in the Language of Love, no real translation for “I love you” in the way that English speakers use it; at least not that I’m aware of, and I’m fairly fluent.

          There’s a French movie in which an American exchange student says to his lover, “Je t’aime.”

          “Et moi aussi, je t’aime,” she says idly, barely bothering to wake up.

          “No,” he says in English. “I *love* you.”

          At which point she kind of gives him the stink-eye, because “I love you” and “Je t’aime” do not mean the same thing. So if it helps, you can consider a heart emoji to be saying “Je t’aime” and not “I love you”, because that’s a better Emoji-to-Natural-Language translation.

          1. Koalafied*

            I treat heart emojis like roses. Red heart is for capital-L romantic Love or best friends. All other colors are just conveying low-key affection or support, and I tend to match the color thematically to the message content if I can. If it’s a photo of a beautiful ocean scene, a blue heart. A yellow flower, a yellow heart. We have a heart emoji in our Slack at work that’s a gradient of our primary brand colors that I’ll use when people share uplifting stories about our organization’s work.

        3. usually anon*

          Socializing at/as work is a thing. It can be critical to success at some jobs. So can being chill.

          1. TheAG*

            Yes! generally I see them as just trying to add some levity into what can be a really stressful situation (or where I work…what is always a REALLY stressful situation) I don’t read too much into what the emoji means but just assume the person is making a connection.
            You can usually tell everything’s on fire if there’s gifs and memes flying around my department. We’re in the middle of making big dollar decisions 24/7 at a fortune 500 company. We’d all go batshit crazy if it wasn’t for some comic relief.
            And also when my people call me “boss”, I love it. Because I *am* the boss, and hard-fought for that.

            1. Atalanta0jess*

              People call each other “Boss” at my work too. Sometimes they call their actual boss that. My boss calls me that, and as far as I can tell it’s meant only with kindness. I don’t think that one is a thing, honestly. Like, what’s wrong with “morning boss!” or “sure thing, boss”?

              The big-boss thing is a bit odder, but I still find it pretty endearing honestly.

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                It’s funny to see LW talk about calling people “boss” as a gen-z thing, because I’ve always associated it with older men. A lot of people I work with unironically call managers/supervisors Boss, and sometimes use it for other people in a more playful way. Not at all uncommon to hear an exchange like “Hey Bub, hand me the drill.” “Sure thing boss!” Usually from guys in their 40’s-50’s, although I’ve heard some younger people do it too.

                I wonder if this is a class or regional difference that LW is mistaking for a generational thing?

            2. Employee*

              I started using “Boss” back when I worked at a very small company and I ended up being very good friends with the owner. My use of “Boss” in response to requests was a subtle way of letting him know that I understood that sometimes we were friendly and sometimes we had to maintain a boss/employee relationship. I can be facetious and boisterous, but I never want to come across as insubordinate.

              My bosses since then have always chuckled or smiled when I use it. It hadn’t occurred to me that some people wouldn’t like it!

      10. Emoji Science!*

        As someone who wrote a thesis on emoji communication, I fully agree with the idea that emojis can help us bypass the limitations of text-only conversations. The problem is that emojis carry very non-standardized connotations with them that are really heavily influenced by demographics; interpretations of various emojis are often wildly different based on age and other factors, and I think that’s something a lot of emoji-users don’t realize. It’s a tough problem to solve.

        1. Calamity Janine*

          honestly, though it would be inevitably doxxing yourself so i won’t insist, i think i speak for many a commenter when i say –

          dang i wanna read your thesis now

      11. Unaccountably*

        I don’t like emojis, I have disliked them ever since they were introduced and were still ASCII text (I am An Old), but now when so many jobs are at least partly telework I don’t know that I’d consider them unprofessional. Even I use them to convey tone every now and then, if I think I’m communicating with a person who doesn’t know me well enough to be able to interpolate my tone from text.

      12. CommanderBanana*

        My small team communicates mostly with emojis and gifs at this point, and the youngest person on the team is almost 40….

    2. Migraine Month*

      I don’t think that responding with an emoji is an issue in itself, at least in any office I’ve worked in (which tend towards casual). If he’d responded with a thumbs-up, smiley, or even an embarrassed or facepalm, I’d let it slide (again, depending on culture).

      But responding to an innocuous request–particularly from their manager–with an “angry” emoji? That’s not okay in any work environment.

      1. Anonym*

        Yeah, there’s an extent to which you should adapt emoji use to your environment AND the person you’re communicating with, but there are gradations. The most commonly used emoji are well understood. The one in question… well, the best case scenario would be that its use *could* be in jest, but it’s not clear enough to deploy at work with your boss. But most people will understand it as being angry/irritated/pissed off, which isn’t generally an acceptable emotion at work, especially for a minor and reasonable request.

        Don’t expect people to understand more eccentric communication choices. There’s the common stuff, and the stuff that is more specific to you or your social circle. The latter will result in ineffective communication. (See also sarcasm – deploy with care in a new work environment, as it may confuse or accidentally mislead!)

        1. Glen*

          Plenty of people have pointed out that the emoji in question is described in apps, and regularly understood, as “victory”, not annoyance.

          I don’t use a lot of emoji anyway and would definitely think this meant “annoyed” but if the employee in this story is familiar with it in a context where it is used differently it’s perhaps not surprising they didn’t recognise the way it looks.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. On some systems that emoji means ‘perseverance’, which would probably be appropriate in this case. I’d hate to work in an environment where it wouldn’t be appropriate to show *some* frustration at being asked to do a particularly onerous task, as long as most requests are acknowledged in a matter of fact way, if not cheerfully.

            1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

              I still don’t get why a “perseverance” emoji makes sense in this context.

          2. GythaOgden*

            Yeah, it happened to me with words recently, and even though I kinda knew she was not mildly cursing /at/ me due to her mistake, it was still unpleasant to be on the receiving end in a work discussion.

            You can argue intent all day long, but with communication, it’s not about intent; it’s about the actual effect on the recipient of the communication.

      2. Theo*

        Interestingly, he may not have meant it as angry. I see this emoji being used in my discord groups (where there is a wide age range — teenagers to grandparents) to mean “I am working hard to get this done in an expeditious fashion!!” It conveys determination, not anger. It’s still tonally Off, but less so.

        1. TechWorker*

          Oh interesting! If he means ‘on it right away’ that is a VERY different vibe. (Obviously, still needs the conversation because he needs to know it’s not clear, but that’s a more positive reading for sure!)

        2. The Rules are Made Up*

          I forgot about this but you’re right. I completely forgot that emoji is sometimes used this way. Still best to avoid at work since it’s up for interpretation (and the usual interpretation is typically not generous)

        3. Student*

          This is another part of the problem. There’s a gap in how emojis are used, and some emojis now have some very different meanings than their face value to the younger tech-heavy generation. I watched a emoji explainer wherein someone tried to explain to my generation that the cowboy emoji apparently means “I’m smiling but everything is terrible” among our children’s generation. I am baffled and can’t even tell if it is true, but found multiple supporting internet references to suggest that this and other emoji slang is a real thing.

          1. Unaccountably*

            Why on earth? Where can I view this emoji explainer? Because unless an entire generation associates cowboys with Brokeback Mountain or similar movies (for which I guess I couldn’t blame them), this is very weird to me.

          2. Ampersand*

            Good to know. The one that will forever confuse me is the upside-down smiley face. I’ve asked people younger than me what it means and no one seems to have any idea. At least I’m not alone in that!

            1. Mouse*

              To me, that one means something between “that didn’t turn out how I intended it to” and “fml everything is going wrong”. Kind of like “sh*t going sideways”.

            2. ecnaseener*

              Oh, I use that one at work a lot. It’s a sort of mild frustration, but facetious, not outright grumpy…basically like a wry smile.

            3. Elle*

              I read it as an upside down flag on a ship – a sign of distress!

              If one of my team used it at work, we might be having a chat about what support they needed, unless it was very obviously jokey in the group chat.

        4. turquoisecow*

          Yeah that’s sort of how I interpreted it, or maybe, like, an exasperated sigh (which would also not be a good answer to the boss’s request for a timesheet), not angry.

          I think, especially as the boss, OP has standing to ask what he means by that emoji. Will it maybe make her look old or out of touch? Sure, but it’s important to be clear in communication with a direct report, so I think that’s more important than his perception of her age and coolness. Better to say “hey, what did you mean by that?” than assume the worse and be angry at him for a misunderstanding.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, I agree. But also, I think that we need to stop policing other people’s emotional reactions, and that includes direct reports. Sure, it’s less than ideal if an employee responds with exasperation to a request, but if it only happens occasionally, I don’t think it’s a big deal. It only becomes a problem if the employee starts to respond to most requests that way, because then they’re clearly unhappy in their job, and it’s almost certainly showing in their work, and in their interactions with coworkers.

            1. Allonge*

              I disagree. Sure, there are larger issues in the world but this could cause the report a lot of pain later on.

              Part of being an adult at a workplace is to be able to respond to frustration with a level of professionalism. People get to feel whatever, but OP is not doing their young and somewhat clueless report a favor by not mentioning that ‘Aaaargh’ is not an appropriate response to a reminder about a small task (at least not in their work culture).

      3. Beeray*

        I think the main problem with emojis as demonstrated here is a lack of agreement about what some of them mean! I am 33, and I believe that the employee in this letter was intending to use the “steam coming out of nose” emoji to indicate being “pumped up” rather than angry! I have used this emoji like this too (though not at work) to communicate something like “ON IT!”

        On the other hand I myself have been very confused when someone uses what to me is clearly a “snot bubble” emoji (meaning that they are sleeping) or the “laugh cry” cmoji to mean sad crying.

        At work I use plenty of emojis in texts and Teams messages, but typically stick to the range of happy/sad/laughing, and only in informal work communication.

        1. a clockwork lemon*

          Some of this may be because different platforms use different emojis. I’ve definitely had to go back and make some edits to Teams messages when I’ve responded on my phone with what I thought was one emoji only to learn that it maps to Microsoft as something totally different! Think like a sweat drop “oops, my bad” emoji turning into a winky-face tongue sticking out–WILDLY different tones and emotional conveyances!

          1. Migraine Month*

            I’ve run into issues where I accidentally type an emoji shortcut when I’m just trying to end a parenthetical statement or send a file location. I’ve also received such messages, and it took me googling the emoji shortcut before I realized that the random “man” emoji a coworker sent me was just “:y:” in the middle of a piece of code.

        2. Bee*

          Yeah, I’m also 33, which puts me in a middle ground of “not totally fluent in all the nuances of emojis” but also “encountering & using them all the time,” and I wouldn’t take this one as indicating extreme anger! I’d take it as a combo of doing-this-asap with a touch of annoyed-I-forgot. The ambiguity means it’s not a good one to use in work communications, for sure, but I wouldn’t assume it’s coming from a place of disrespect.

          1. Joielle*

            33 here too and yeah, I’m sure I’ve misused an emoji before (which is why I stick to, like, smiley, laughing, and thumbs up for work communications. Maybe a shrug). I’d probably let this one slide because it may very well be a miscommunication about what the emoji means. But if there are future emoji-related issues, or just general disrespect/over-familiarity, then it’s a pattern.

        3. Nack*

          Yes agree! For a while I saw people captioning Instagram posts with an emoji that had a small smile and tears in its eyes. I interpreted this as sad, but eventually clued in that people meant “its so cute I can’t stand it.” A few weeks later my husband texted me the same emoji, which I now read as “cute,” but he meant “this sucks but I’m trying to be positive.” Emojis are not at all precise in their meaning and probably need some extra caution to use them in the workplace!

      4. GythaOgden*

        It’d be the same as if they used mild profanity (good lord!) in an email. It’s been done to me very recently and yeah, as the recipient of an email or message, without enough context, you do go straight to the uncharitable explanation. The person who mouthed off to me over Teams was lucky that her boss was also in the chat and could course-correct by giving her instructions as to what to do. He didn’t admonish her in public, but he did wrest control of the issue we were having back from her and she’s not done it since!

        It’s not that they used an emoji, it’s that they had an openly negative (defensive and possibly insubordinate) response to something their boss was asking them to do. Because email and IM are text-based, you can’t hear tone of voice or see body language, and so a negative interjection aimed at you can be interpreted worse by the recipient than it was necessarily intended. (I recently got into trouble for sending what my supervisor interpreted as a defensive response to feedback. I have worked for her for eight years, so I’m not necessarily in fear for my job or reputation, but yeah, it’s frustrating to be misinterpreted. On the other hand, however, learning good business communication is important once you get to relationships with outsiders who don’t know you and don’t have anything to go on other than a snippy-sounding email or an emoji signifying frustrating. People won’t always read it in the most charitable manner, particularly if they’re already having to chase up important documents, so it’s on you to be cognisant of your own tone and manners.

        It’s not as bad as Beck yesterday, but it’s pretty close and honestly this guy needs a lot more mentoring of the close and methodical kind all round, but the communication thing is really not small beans. It’s the sort of stuff that needs to get nipped in the bud because written communication is a huge part of business correspondence and bad habits now will escalate and get you into bigger difficulties later on.

    3. quill*

      Emojis being unprofessional overall in a chat within your team is not accurate, though his choice of emojis is. Face with steam might be acceptable in response to “Hey, critical machine for doing business is down for the day” as long as it accompanied some clarification that the irritation was at the circumstance and not your boss. His idea that it should be in a tweet sounds more like trying to leverage his (assumed) greater knowledge of how to be relatable, without realizing that it isn’t in line with the company’s goals.

      Being late to 1:1’s because of picking up lunch is DEFINITELY unprofessional though. Maybe bag your lunch on 1:1 day.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, or maybe go get your lunch a bit earlier? Or, if everyone goes to lunch at the same time (unlikely but it might happen), ask if it would be possible to reschedule the 1:1. Might not be easy, because many people, especially managers, are in back-to-back meetings, but I don’t think it’s inherently disrespectful to ASK.

    4. riverofmolecules*

      I actually think the boss/big boss thing is funny/cute. Though of course, how it’s taken by the actual people at this workplace is important too.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I mean, I’m Gen X and that’s how I refer to my boss and her boss to friends, but I would never do it with people who know the boss/big boss!

        1. Lydia*

          I’m also Gen X and I don’t think I’d use it when I’m talking directly to my boss or if my boss is part of the email chain. I have been known to call a boss “boss person” when talking to friends, but that’s about it. My boss and her boss both have names, I know their names, and I can use them.

      2. Alien or*

        I used to have someone reporting to me who called me “Chief,” which I found kind of endearing (we’d been friendly before the reporting relationship and became actual friends after it ended).

    5. Andy*

      I would not used emojis, if Microsoft teams would not converting normal text smilies to them.

      As long as management forces us to use Microsoft teams, it has to accept that business have infantile emojis … cause that is how it shows up there.

      1. DisgruntledPelican*

        I don’t understand why an emoji is anymore infantile than an emoticon. Either way you’re sending someone a picture of a smiley face.

    6. A lawyer*

      Boss and Big Boss might be a joke taken from a video game series (Metal Gear Solid) and ummm I could see myself making a similar joke, but only at a job where I’ve established myself, and only as a one off kind of thing rather than the thing I consistently call people.

    7. MustardPillow*

      I call my manager “boss” all the time. In a friendly and irreverent way. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. Emojis too like just chill. Work can be serious but people shouldn’t have to be.

      1. amoeba*

        I think even my boss has referred to his manager’s manager as “the big boss” in department meetings. He’s in his 50s and definitely adequately professional. My team has also (jokingly) called me “boss” to my face – so I really don’t see any problem with that one.

        The other two depend on context for sure – if my team member is 5 mins late for a call because there was an unexpectedly long queue for lunch, that would also be a non-issue. If it happens every week, sure, would start annoying me at some point and might be good to have a chat (although I’d probably address it as “this keeps happening, should we schedule the meeting 15 mins later?” if that’s possible with my schedule…)

        The emoji – eh, emojis in general are fine where I work – seems like this one is quite ambiguous so might make sense to alert them to the fact that people might take it as meaning frustration, which they would (of course!) not want. If the employee is otherwise motivated and doing good work and expressing annoyance at a simple request would be out of character, I’d honestly assume it was a misunderstanding.

        All in all – none of those seem particularly horrible to me, but then maybe my workplace has fewer professional norms than I thought…

    8. CharlieWills*

      I agree. A quick feedback would address emojis & nicknames but the big “no” of late to meetings would be discussed.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    100% agree w/ Alison here.

    People need to learn to pick up cues from their environment and change their behavior accordingly. Some parents/teachers/mentors do a good job of installing that in kids, some don’t. Some kids acquire that skill easily, some don’t.

    1. Lydia*

      When I worked with 16 to 24 year olds, my constant refrain was, “Start out like this very professional thing we’re trying to teach you, then observe how other people in the office do it. That will tell you what’s okay and not okay in that job.”

      1. The Rules are Made Up*

        And even then, unfortunately, hierarchies matter. And employment status. Interns can’t do the same things long term employees can get away with. Same for like, temps. And often for super new employees too. You have to give them a chance to know and trust you before you start getting too comfortable.

        I still remember one time right out of college when I was a temp and I was doing SUPER tedious tasks like scanning documents so the office could enter this century where files are mostly kept in digital files instead of having stacks of paper everywhere. And for the first week or so I observed to see if anyone else wore headphones, a few people did, so I did too, in one ear so I could hear if someone needed me. Music really helped with the tediousness of it. They fired me (had the temp agency call and tell me not to come back) because they said I wore headphones when they specifically told me not to (she never told me I couldn’t or I obviously wouldn’t have, I wasn’t dumb enough to do the thing I’d be explicitly told not to do when I sat outside her office). There was nothing about that job that would make a “no headphones, just for temps” rule necessary but I don’t think my supervisor liked me very much and from my first day all she talked about was how amazing the previous temp was.

        1. Lydia*

          Yeah, the hierarchy nuances were *really* hard to teach. I just avoided them by following up with “and if you aren’t sure, ask! It’s always better to ask before you assume.”

          1. The Rules are Made Up*

            So hard. Because it’s mostly unspoken rules that you’ll be judged for if you don’t somehow know. Not everyone is able to read hush hush social cues and secret rules.

            Though also, some of it SHOULD be common sense. Like the intern that ordered a beer at an offsite. The hosting company offered since they usually do happy hour around 4, but after I, the of age full time employee, politely declined, my underage intern proceeded to ask which beers they had on tap and ordered one.

        2. allathian*

          Your supervisor was an ass, she was just looking for an excuse to fire you. I don’t think you did anything wrong.

          1. The Rules are Made Up*

            I was so confused. She had been being kind of cold and short with me but never told me anything was wrong. But also, headphones are such a minor thing all she had to say was “We ask that you not wear headphones because XYZ blah blah” and then I would have went oh okay and stopped. Everyone else there loved me but there wasn’t anything I could do about the supervisor except somehow morph into the temp she loved so much. I’d never been fired before that and I SOBBED.

    2. Isben Takes Tea*

      And some people’s brains just don’t recognize those cues, or the subjectiveness of them (because they’re cues, not rules!). Being nonjudgmental but explicit for your office environment is a very kind thing to do.

      1. Annika Hansen*

        Yes, I am one of those people who doesn’t pick up on cues. Give me a rule, I can probably follow it, but I need to know that the rule is there.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Gen X here. In my second full time job, I had 2 inch Beavis and Buttheads standing on tacks on my bulletin board (in the front office). Every time I’d come back from a day off, they’d be down. Weird.
          After a month, my boss explained, they do not fly here.
          She was trying to give me a hint.
          I missed it.
          She spelled it out.
          She realized she needed to spell a lot of things out. It was a crash course in professionalism. I was grateful.
          So yeah, the generation doesn’t matter.

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            Does that mean you were…..breakin’ the law?

            (Against all of my better judgement, I could not help myself.)

          2. Luna*

            I dislike it when people hint. I don’t understand social cue subtleties, I would much rather someone take those down and say, “Luna, those are yours, right? Please do not use them at work, it’s unprofessional/disturbs some coworkers (because they didn’t like the show or the appearance of the characters freaks them out)/doesn’t fit with the work envrionment.”

            Then you know, and you even have a reason. And maybe you can ask if something else is okay, like more abstract stuff like thumbtacks that have cherry-blossoms on the front and you can use those as a means to put a bit of color and lightness into the work place.

      2. Unaccountably*

        I’ve tried this too, but unfortunately I can only be so nonjudgmental-yet-explicit. I need to have employees who don’t torpedo the relationships with stakeholders I’ve spent time and effort building. I’m busy – I am so, so, busy and that is literally why I hired someone; I didn’t just hire them so I’d have someone to parent now that my kids are grown – so I cannot provide explicit explanations for every aspect of office behavior and norms.

        It’s very kind, yes. I like being very kind. I think most people do. But unfortunately, in my experience, the type of people who don’t pick up social cues are also unlikely to realize that I’m being very kind to them and spending a lot of time educating them that I wouldn’t have to spend if I just fired them and hired someone who could pick up on office norms without my having to spell them out. And before people jump on me for that: like I said, I like to be patient. I like to be kind. I don’t like being impatient and unkind because I don’t like the person that makes me. But I have other employees and a company that pays me to assemble a team that will get work accomplished. I cannot afford – and honestly do not have the patience – to take on a full-time teaching and socializing role for every person I hire.

        It feels like people in the AAM comments are either all about being fair to bosses or all about being fair to employees. Both are great; we should all be both to the best of our abilities. But there are times when being fair to one employee means being unfair to others who have to work with someone who cannot pick up cues, and who have to pick up work or repair relationships damaged by someone who can’t figure out for themselves what’s okay in a work context and what isn’t.

        1. Currently Bill*

          Sounds like you need to focus on hiring folks who are already fully educated on office norms and pay them accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with that; it just means you’re not hiring entry-level folks at entry level compensation.

          1. Moo Sky*

            That was my first thought, too. Even one or two years of experience can make a world of difference in how much of a manager’s time needs to be spent coaching on professional norms. (Plus miscellaneous technical things like Outlook/meeting room scheduling, which doesn’t always come up before someone arrives in an office setting!)

        2. Calamity Janine*

          as i said below: i get you have a lot of pressure and responsibilities. but it sounds like right now you’re bringing a lot of your own baggage to the table, and that’s clouding your perspective. you’re overworked and burned out. you’ve hit your limit with some things. but that’s not really the fault of the letter writer nor the situation the letter writer is in, now, is it?

          especially when you are ranting about not having the ability to be a full-time teacher when, in reality, what’s under discussion is “perhaps all of 15 minutes of conversation that is easily part of the duties of a manager”. your anger has caused you to equate a reasonable request under discussion with your own feelings of being pulled in a thousand different directions and horribly overworked because of it. that’s the distortion that people are grumbling at you for… because it’s the distortion you’ve ended up bringing to the table.

          …and ableism, if we’re being honest. “sometimes a person may need a norm of a particular workplace spelled out as they do not grasp veiled clues” does not equal “well now i have an entire new full-time job of babysitting them”. given that there are quite a few instances of neurodiversity which means somebody isn’t going to pick up on the hint, it’s rather untrue to say that they’re all causing more work out of spite. those types of neurodiversity also often come with accusations of being selfish monsters who inevitably hurt others, which you are playing right into by saying that nobody ever thanks you for it. people with brains who work differently than yours aren’t monsters. you don’t have to be their caretaker. what you’re doing here is spending an enormous amount of time with a martyrdom act about how your coworker lost his legs in a car accident just to spite you, so now your life is full of misery and woe, for you must carry him and his wheelchair up the stairs and back down said stairs thrice daily… and then getting heated when someone points out wheelchair ramps exist.

          what’s going on here, really – and this may hurt, given how you are tossing out accusations of everyone else being defensive but not you –

          you’re burned out because you’re dedicating yourself to spinning your wheels on this one.

          it takes less effort, by miles, to have that clear, simple, easily-laid-out conversation of norms so that everyone is on the same page. following someone around in anxious worry to spot when they mess up so you can tut-tut disapprovingly? yeah, that takes a lot of energy. you know what also takes a lot of energy? resenting people for not knowing things you didn’t tell them, but being mad they didn’t magically know all of this beforehand.

          (especially when you take into account how sometimes, you’ll get it wrong, because workplace norms are genuinely changing. or you simply don’t know what a certain emoji means.)

          instead of lashing out at others – including the people you hire who you characterize with such vitriol – why not look at what you’re doing, and asking if *that* sparks joy?

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          I’m wondering if, in trying to be kind and expecting to people to pick up on cues, you may not be being as direct as needed to accurately convey what you need? I see this a lot – people who think that directly saying, “I need you to do X instead of Y.” is not nice enough when that’s really what managing requires. You can be kind and direct. It’s a kindness to the folks you work with to be direct with them about your expectations or what you need them to do differently next time. Managing is a lot less work when you’re clear and direct versus hinting at what you need or expecting people to mind read or assuming they come pre-packaged with skills for entry-level roles.

        4. Glen*

          Managing people is your job, and this kind of very minor coaching is part of it. Doing your job isn’t a kindness, least of all a kindness to people you’re in a position of authority over. That’s just incredibly gross.

          You are also very clearly neither kind nor patient in this context and are taking great pains to ensure that it’s obvious you are unkind and impatient. Claiming not to be immediately before and after explaining just how unkind and impatient you are just makes you dishonest, not kind and patient.

    3. This-is-a-name-I-guess*

      Some people come from socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds so different than generic American office culture that the amount they need to learn and adjust is much higher than young people with white collar parents. This means folks from blue collar backgrounds will often have a larger learning curve.

  4. online millenial*

    The emoji thing might actually be a difference of interpretation! I know the intent of the emoji designers is probably irritation, but I tend to see it used as a sort of “working hard/getting stuff done” sort of vibe in a lot of online circles I move in. Without knowing the full context of his usage, it’s hard to say if that’s the case here! But I know that I don’t think of that emoji conveying frustration or irritation when I see it at first. I think it’s still worth checking in with him about (and pointing out that emoji can have different connotations depending on your audience!), but he might not have been intending to be rude.

    1. Julia*

      Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ve seen it have two different meanings – one is frustration/irritation and the other is… resolve, or firmness, I guess I’d say. So for example: “new year new me! ”

      In this context it seems unambiguously like irritation to me. I know people’s interpretation of this stuff varies, though, so I could be wrong.

      1. StudentPilot*

        that sounds like reason enough to bring it up in with the employee – if it can be read both ways, then it either needs more context when used or it could be misinterpreted and cause problems. Doesn’t need to be a big serious conversation just “oh hey, that particular emoji can be read as either frustration or resolve, so just make sure you’re giving enough context that people aren’t reading it as frustration”

      2. Alexis Rosay*

        Hmm…I guess it could mean, “I’m working hard on getting this to you” ??

        I think Allison’s suggestion of asking whether OP intended irritation is good. I would have 100% have interpreted it as irritation and been annoyed, but it’s a good reminder to ask, rather than scold, in ambiguous situations.

        1. Lydia*

          Well, asking also has the effect of highlighting it to the employee that it wasn’t appropriate no matter the meaning. If it’s not 100% clear, it’s not a good way to communicate.

          1. Anonym*

            This!!! “If it’s not 100% clear, it’s not a good way to communicate.”

            First rule of communication!

      3. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        One thing I wondered about here is whether this is one of those “text can make it hard to convey context” things too. I have, upon occasion, used exaggerated and obviously feigned frustration over simple tasks as a joke. It’s usually funny, but it would definitely hit different via text and emoji.

        1. Greg*

          That’s why I use .gifs when I am making a comment sarcastically.

          Though that may be waaaay outside the norms.

      4. Becky*

        If you click on the link in the post for the Face with Steam this description appears:
        “May convey various negative emotions, including irritation, anger, and contempt. May also convey feelings of pride, dominance, and empowerment. ”

        So yes–very different meanings!

    2. Grey Squirrel*

      Now that you mention it, I do see the resemblance between that emoji and the anime “I will do my best!” face (eyes closed, deep breath out through the nose). Maybe that was what employee was going for?

      But more importantly, don’t be late to meetings with your boss… not cool.

      1. Trawna*

        I’m 60. Here’s my take:

        1. Boss/big boss — kinda cute, funny, respectful.

        2. That emoji: super busy; steaming ahead; it’ll be done soon

        3. Bosses: don’t schedule 1:1s at lunchtime.

        ttfn ; )

        1. Lydia*

          There’s nothing indicating they scheduled them during lunch. The implication is the 1:1 is after lunch and the employee is showing up late to them. That’s just…not okay.

          1. Glen*

            If the employee is late because they were picking up lunch – not eating, but picking up – then it’s very reasonable to think that their lunch break isn’t over. In any case scheduling a meeting directly after lunch with someone who leaves the office for lunch isn’t a great idea simply because any time you step out you can be held up. It does sound like the employee needs to plan better if it happens repeatedly but that doesn’t make it a good idea to schedule a meeting for 1pm with someone who takes lunch from 1230-1.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, this. So either the employee needs to go to lunch a bit earlier, or the LW needs to reschedule the 1:1. Asking someone to skip lunch for a 1:1 wouldn’t be appropriate.

            2. Lydia*

              Where I work, your lunch time is up to me, which means if a meeting is scheduled for 1pm, it’s on me to make my lunch schedule work so that I’m back at my desk at 1pm. And even if they all take lunch at noon or whenever, if you know you have weekly check-ins at 1pm, then maybe make sure you’re not still out of the office at that time.

    3. LCH*

      I think the inherent difficulty in interpreting, or multiple available interpretations, is something that makes emojis generally unprofessional. Because who knows what connotations they might have. Eggplant, anyone?

      1. M_Lynn*

        Words are just as difficult to interpret and have multiple meanings, so then what?

        FWIW, I’d totally use that emoji in this context but to reflect irritation at myself. Like, “oh I could have sworn I’d done that already” or “Dang, I forgot that this stupid timesheet system makes me hit ‘submit’ twice!” It wouldn’t ever be irritation at my boss who is reminding me.

        1. Anonym*

          The general agreement on of word usage is much greater than that of emoji, though. There may be ambiguity in both spheres, but they’re not the same degree.

          Most of us switch our language to an extent in a work context, the same way we switch broader decision making to ensure it works out the way we want it to. You have to do the same with emoji, incorporating the recognition that their use varies incredibly widely. Many people don’t use them at all, and many people use a lot of them differently than you do.

        2. pancakes*

          If this employee is doing something similar, it would be best for someone to let him know sooner rather than later that many bosses won’t want that type of commentary on how he’s feeling about whichever tasks he’s been asked to take care of.

          I think this is maybe a useful way to think about him calling people “boss” or “big boss” as well. If the audience for those jokes isn’t enjoying them, it’s time to stop. If he was only calling his bosses that in the presence of peers who found it amusing, the letter writer wouldn’t have included it on the list of things they want to talk to him about. It seems his audience is the bosses themselves, and they don’t like it.

    4. Voxtar*

      According to polls conducted by Slack, women use to mean a loss of money, while men see it as incoming money. There are definitely differences in interpretation!

      1. Voxtar*

        My comment above was about the money-with-wings emoji – it was removed when the comment was published!

      2. Alice*

        Yes, this is what I thought of too! There’s a definite issue with interpretation of emojis, so I would be tempted to raise it more as ‘I read this as you being annoyed, is that what you meant?’ than ‘why are you telling me this is annoying?’.

        Incidentally, one other thing the slack poll showed was that some people in the US use :) to mean they’re pretending to smile but frustrated, where people in UK don’t use it for that at all! It’s really made me think about how I use emoji and how they might be interpreted.

          1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            I was thinking I occasionally use emojis but stick to ones that are clear in meaning and then I learned from this article that 20% of Americans interpret the smiley face as “deep exasperation.” What? I guess emojis are subject to the same tone interpretations as text!

            1. Jackalope*

              By the way, can anyone explain to me what the upside down smiley face means? I thought I knew but I’ve seen it used in contexts where the meaning I thought was correct didn’t make sense.

              1. smeep248*

                my roommate and I use it when we are frustrated beyond reason and just smiling to get through the day. “So-and-so called out of work again and didn’t update their instructions like they were asked to last time and a got a flat tire and I forgot deodorant this morning. *insert upside down smiley*”

              2. WiscoKate*

                Personally I tend to use it to express frustration, awkwardness, or a sense of irony depending on the circumstances.

                For example. Today I worked from the office, which is not the norm. I forgot to change from my slippers to actual shoes. I used the upside down smiley when I was sharing with someone.

              3. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

                The way I see it used in my social circles (and so the way I use it) is that it’s pretty synonymous with “FML” AKA “F*** My Life.” Often with a heavy dose of snark or sarcasm in the statement it’s connected to. So…maybe a more polite, worksafe version of FML?

                The last two times I used it in online posts:
                “Really love how my neighbors keep sending their guests to park in my assigned spot instead of the guest parking lot when I step out for twenty minutes! :upsidedownsmileyface:”

                “I worked 5 PM to midnight, couldn’t get to bed until after 4 AM, then got called two hours later telling me to come back and work a full 8-5 because someone else called out. :upsidedownsmileyface:”

                1. sb51*

                  Yeah, it’s a fairly strong sarcastic statement to me and super not work-appropriate.

                  (There are probably retail/service workplaces where it’d be okay as snark where customers can’t see but not in any workplace where profanity isn’t standard phrasing.)

              4. Koalafied*

                I tend to use it in situations where there is no emoji that resembles the face I’m actually making, which is usually a sort of hybrid between confused, amused, and apathetic. A kind of “[thing we’re discussing] is weird, and I can see some absurdist humor in it, but I have accepted that this is in fact happening and needs to be dealt with, so I’m skipping over the part where we gape and/or laugh about how weird it is to the part where we just deal with it.” Or, “This is uncomfortable but true so let’s just sail past it into less unsettling waters.”

            2. Gnome*

              Huh? I generally only use the smiley and thumbs up. The smile I use to ensure text doesn’t come across harshly when short (as in smiling while saying “no” in person) or to otherwise indicate general positivity/goodwill (like after a typo or something). But deep exasperation I’d new to me.

          2. just some guy*

            Another trap with emojis – the same emoji can be represented quite differently on different platforms, so the face you see when you’re composing on an iPhone may not be what the receiver on an Android sees.

        1. The Rules are Made Up*

          LOL “pretending to smile but annoyed” is absolutely how I use that emoji. That or the upside down smile which is more obvious as an “Everything’s fine (no its not)” emoji.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            uh-oh, I think I need to stop using the upside-down smiley. It never occured to me to read it ironically! I always read it as silly-happy, as in “I’m in a mood to do cartwheels”

            1. lunchtime caller*

              that is hilarious to me, I’m imagining sending a sweet “can’t wait to see you!” message and ending with an upside down smiley….. ouch haha

            2. The Rules are Made Up*

              Looollll this reminds me of people who use the tears streaming emoji literally, like for actual sad things. Always makes my brain do a double take. And i love this because there’s an actual cartwheel emoji *insert tear laugh emoji* *insert wide smile emoji*

    5. SKiitemso*

      I also use it to mean “I’m working really hard” or “I’m expressing how much effort I put into what I just did”. Like “cleaned the whole apartment in 30 minutes (nose steam emoji)”. All my friends use it in similar contexts so I never caught on the irritated usage.

    6. Eleanor Rigby*

      I don’t know that I’m adding much new here, because the ultimate takeaway is that everyone interprets emojis differently and they should be used cautiously, with that in mind.

      BUT….what seems most likely to me is that the employee DID intend the emoji to express frustration, but in a joke-y way. I’ve had exchanges with friends where one us, for example, said we were running late and the other responded with the steam emoji. So it’s saying “I acknowledge this as an inconvenience but ultimately, it’s not a big deal, and I still have good humor about this.” Very gen z, very ironic, and not very in line with workplace norms if the employee did in fact mean the emoji that way.

      Just one more interpretation – and probably all the more reason to avoid the emoji, especially in this context.

    7. Observer*

      I know the intent of the emoji designers is probably irritation, but I tend to see it used as a sort of “working hard/getting stuff done” sort of vibe in a lot of online circles I move in.

      It would still be a mis-step in this context. You simply don’t respond to a request from your boss (especially one that says “hey, I want to make sure that nothing snarls your paycheck while I’m out”) with an indication that you’re working sooo hard.

      Also, it’s pretty tone deaf to not realize the common usage of an emoji like that, to the point that you would not think twice about sending it to your manager.

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

        So, it’s a misstep, yes, but if all of your peers use an emoji in a certain way, it’s not just a matter of common sense to somehow know that other generations might not use it that way. We pick up what we’re surrounded by, and emoji usage/interpretation has some really weird nuance to it.

        FWIW, I’m smack in the middle of the millennial generation and I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen anyone use that emoji to indicate genuine frustration. I don’t know how common it is to actually use it to indicate that you’re genuinely upset by something.

        1. Observer*

          I don’t think the issue is “common sense”. But if this is what’s happening, it’s certainly worthwhile for the OP to point out that emojis like this can be read in different ways and should therefore be used only in contexts where you affirmatively know that people will understand what you mean, rather than “assuming” because “everyone” knows.

    8. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I was surprised to learn fairly recently that everyone was this emoji differently than I expected — I kept seeing it in a social group and wondering why people were using what I think of as a steam/frustrated face! They were all using it to express a sense of accomplishment and industriousness. I can see where he might have meant “working hard to get it done”.

    9. The Prettiest Curse*

      I’m in my mid-40s. In a situation like the one in the letter, I’d either assume that they were in a rush and chose the wrong emoji or that they were using it in a way that I don’t understand because they’re much younger than me.
      I don’t think it’s worth getting worked up about something as minor as emojis, unless they’re being used in writing which is supposed to be very formal.

    10. gabe*

      Yes, I use that emoji to mean “on it!” or “got it!” when talking to my friends. I wouldn’t use it when talking to my boss, but if a friend texted me something like “Can you make sure you have the concert tickets?” I can see myself responding “you bet! [face with steam]”.

      1. The Rules are Made Up*

        Yeah I don’t think it would have come across as badly if they included actual words with it. Like “Oh! I didn’t realize I hadn’t sent, I’m on it!” you shouldn’t just send it by itself especially at work.

    11. Performative gumption*

      This is like my aunt sending what she though was a prayer emoji to someone in a condolence message. It was a high five emoji…

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

      See, and I’ve come to read it as…a comical representation of an overreaction? I think that’s the best way to explain it. Like, if you’re expressing disgust but you and everyone else know you aren’t actually disgusted. For instance, I might see an adorable cat in a video and write something like, “She’d better get treats every day” and include that emoji as an indication that I’m obviously v angry about the idea that some stranger’s cat isn’t getting daily treats (…but I assume people know I’m not ACTUALLY angry about it…this dumb emoji has layers…).

      1. lunchtime caller*

        yes this exactly, it’s like the joking form of irritation (when it’s not “working hard” which I also totally use it for)–I used to just earlier today in a “this is homophobia” comment when by homophobia we meant “a completely minor inconvenience in no way related to homophobia except we’re both queer”

    13. Nails*

      Another piece of information: the “face with steam” emoji is named :triumph: on zoom. Some workplaces will therefore interpret it as “triumph” because it is labeled “triumph” !!

    14. Beh*

      I agree, that would have been my interpretation too! Like, we’re both working hard so you can get to your vacation. Honestly it would have never occurred to me that it could be irritation. I feel like my reading is very informed by how I’ve seen it online.

    15. Hannah*

      Also an online millennial here with a lot of Gen Z friends and I can concur that amongst the younger generations, is not at all an emoji of frustration/irritation! They generally use it as a positive emoji, akin to “on it” or as a representation of hustling (is what I assume at least).

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Face with Steam From Nose, Emoji Meaning – A yellow face with closed eyes, furrowed eyebrows, broad frown, and two puffs of steam blowing out of its nose, as if in a huff or fuming. May convey various negative emotions, including irritation, anger, and contempt. May also convey feelings of pride, dominance, and empowerment.

      I get no positive emotions from this emoji. Only negative ones like irritation or anger.

      https://emojipedia.org/face-with-steam-from-nose/

      1. anonagoose*

        Not to be that person, but I would take any website billing itself as a dictionary of emojis with a grain of salt–they are so new to the lexicon, so context-dependent, and so, so generational that it’s a bit like relying on Urban Dictionary as an authoritative source.

        Personally, as someone in my early twenties who works with teens, I’ve never seen this emoji used to indicate anything other than “working hard/get shit done.” I would not call myself an expert, but the fact that the source you’re citing doesn’t say anything about that very common modern interpretation suggests to me that it is not particularly current and/or entirely reliable.

        To bring this all back to the OP’s question…I think it would be entirely appropriate to tell your employee not to use emojis in professional communications, period. Because of exactly this discussion.

    2. BluRae*

      I’ve seen it labelled as “trimphant” in some group chats, but that doesn’t make sense here?

      1. Loulou*

        I interpreted to mean something like “got it done! Ready for the holiday!” but I agree that’s weird compared to like…a thumbs up or writing “done.”

      2. Mornington Cresent*

        Same, I thought this emoji was called “triumph”, and I always use it and see my friends using it in a “I will do the thing!!” way.

        That said, I can see how it would read as irritated, as it evokes the “puffing steam out of ears with frustration” cartoon reaction.

      1. riverofmolecules*

        The definition you quoted does also say, “May also convey feelings of pride, dominance, and empowerment.” As others said in the comments here, it is also used to mean, “I am going to get it done.”

        But the ambiguity is important. It’s useful to remind new workers that they should be more clear in their professional communication, lest they annoy a supervisor or worse.

        1. Observer*

          The definition you quoted does also say, “May also convey feelings of pride, dominance, and empowerment.”

          Which is not exactly the best way to communicate to your boss. “Yay! Done!” is one thing, but “dominance”? Nope.

        2. Tracy Flick*

          All of this is well within “reasonable people may reasonably disagree.” Even so, if a supervisor who had been silently irritated with me for weeks – to the point of questioning my overall professionalism and fitness – told me *I* needed to be more clear in *my* professional communication, I would not be impressed.

          The employee isn’t the one with the clarity problem. The manager is.

          This letter is about no fewer than three niggling misunderstandings that would be the easiest thing in the world to clarify – but the LW, who is being paid to supervise this person, is feeling a lot of annoyance and confusion that they are completely failing to express. And as a result, the person who needs to know about that annoyance and confusion doesn’t know and can’t respond.

          Maybe the emoji in this context meant “playful annoyance” or “sincere irritation” or “perseverance” or “the raven flies at midnight.” The only person who can answer that is the employee, and yet the LW has decided to ask the entire internet instead of checking in with the employee.

          That’s unprofessional, and the alternate strategy they’ve chosen – wringing their hands about some global lack of professionalism, letting these trivial problems bias them against their employee – is unprofessional and damaging.

          I don’t think the employee is the one who needs more training, frankly. The LW clearly needs to practice basic business communication so they can be trusted to send messages like, “Hey, can you be on time to 1:1s from now on? Thanks!”

          And if you let your employee repeatedly show up late to your 1:1s without telling them to knock it off, you’ve effectively told them it’s okay. They’re not failing to pick up on professional norms. They’re picking up on the fact that you clearly don’t have a problem with it, as evidenced by the fact that you’ve never told them to do anything differently. That’s on you.

            1. Glen*

              The LW literally has chosen to write into an advice column after weeks of silent frustration rather than say anything over what are mostly very minor irritations at worst. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable comment to make.

          1. Atalanta0jess*

            *Applause*

            “They’re not failing to pick up on professional norms. They’re picking up on the fact that you clearly don’t have a problem with it, as evidenced by the fact that you’ve never told them to do anything differently. That’s on you.”

            YES, say it again!!

            Professional norms vary widely, as do personal preferences about how to interact. As do expectations around lateness. They’ve been late and you haven’t said anything? You’ve shown them it’s ok. They are picking up on the norms between you. So change them. Communicate. Ask about the emoji! It will be ok, and if you end up having to get rid of this person, at least you’ll know you gave them clear direction about what was needed.

    3. Cold and Tired*

      I think the problem is that emojis are flexible symbols that have a lot of different meanings for different people/in different contexts, so even if one person doesn’t read this emoji as irritated, another might. That’s a good enough reason to avoid it in a work setting with your manager, and op would be doing a favor helping her employee understand that nuance so they can avoid problems with someone less understanding.

    4. CatCat*

      I never even knew that emoji was supposed to be irritated. I thought it was a sneeze.

      (That doesn’t make sense in this context either. I think we may have no idea what the employee meant by it, which is a reason not to use emojis at work other than maybe a smiley in an appropriate informal context with people you know.)

    5. Hen in a Windstorm*

      I always thought of it like Yosemite Sam, steam coming out your ears, blowing your top… all signs of anger/frustration/irritation. When else would you forcefully breath out through your nose while frowning? Getting a painful medical treatment?

      1. LB*

        Agree, the expression on the face always looks more angry whereas if it was just a working hard/getting things done symbol, it would look more like the sweaty or tired emojis. Not to say that certain pockets of people don’t use it in a different way, but it seems like it was at least designed to indicate huffing with frustration.

        1. no thx*

          not to call you out personally, but seeing comments akin to “it seems like it was at least designed to indicate huffing with frustration” suggests to me that people are not aware/not considering that emoji originate from japan. an emoji being intelligible to you (generic) as a particular emotion doesn’t mean anything about what was originally intended, since it may not have been designed by someone from your own culture.

  5. EBStarr*

    Wow, emojipedia is amazing! I’m excited to know about this. I feel like I am often wrong about what emojis represent (Geriatric Millennial here). But also, I saw this: “May also convey feelings of pride, dominance, and empowerment.” Maybe he’s just proud to be filling out his timesheet? ;)

    Seriously though, I know that we tend to stereotype Gen Z as knowing all about emojis, but is it possible that he just doesn’t realize this face is supposed to be angry? Or, maybe he does get it but considers it to be so silly that no one would take it as anything but a joke? I feel like when I use the angry devil emoji, for example, I assume people know that that means I’m *not* mad, specifically because that would be such a ridiculous way to express anger? That doesn’t mean I’m going to send an angry devil emoji to a new manager making a straightforward request, obviously, but once I knew them better… well, I might. [insert Grimacing Face emoji here]

    1. EBStarr*

      >> Seriously though, I know that we tend to stereotype Gen Z as knowing all about emojis, but is it possible that he just doesn’t realize this face is supposed to be angry?

      And now looking at other comments I feel like I should have said “is commonly interpreted by some people as angry” rather than “is supposed to be angry”! So interesting how different social circles use these things so differently!

    2. Observer*

      That doesn’t mean I’m going to send an angry devil emoji to a new manager making a straightforward request, obviously, but once I knew them better… well, I might. [insert Grimacing Face emoji here]

      Well, that’s a key thing here. You don’t send it to someone who might very well take it in a different way than you intended it – especially if that someone is your boss.

    3. Zillennial Cat Lady*

      Hi, Gen Z (Zillennial? IDK) person here! We generally don’t interpret that emoji to mean “angry” or “annoyed,” even if that was the original intended meaning. It’s often used in a half-joking way to mean that you’re on the grind or working hard. So that’s probably the context he meant it in, especially considering that he was doing a work-related task.

      (Also, people interpret emojis in all kinds of weird ways – my late grandmother, bless her heart, thought that this emoji meant “calming down” because the person was “taking a deep breath.” So she would send us texts like “just did some Tai Chi” followed by that emoji. It was hilarious.)

  6. Loulou*

    Believe it or not, that specific emoji is supposed to represent “triumphant” even though I agree it looks like “irritated.” And to be fair, I don’t know how this employee meant it — but just an FYI!

    1. Leenie*

      It’s hard to imagine feeling triumphant over a request to turn one’s time sheet in early.

    2. Raboot*

      There’s no such thing as “meant to” when it comes to language, really, and I’d say the same goes for communicating with emojis. It means what it’s understood to mean, and the sender and reader might not have the same understanding.

      1. itsame*

        In this case, if I type :triumph: into slack I get the steam coming out of nose emoji, so I think it pretty explicitly *can* mean triumph on at least one platform. I’ve definitely also seen it mean both “ugh” and “I’m doing my best” out in the wild before. In this case, because emojis can have wildly different interpretations (even seemingly simple ones like the standard smiley face, which some communities use to mean, essentially, “I am smiling through this because showing my actual emotions would get me in trouble”) it’s probably best to ask for clarification instead of immediately jumping to offense.

        1. feath*

          :triumph: is the same way in Discord, which is the other popular chat program for people these days.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Even less of a “meant to” for emoji, which (according to linguist Gretchen McCulloch) are more akin to gesture than to words.

        And yeah different platforms sometimes have wildly different labels for the same emoji, choosing not to use the Unicode labels! So I wouldn’t put too much stock in those.

      3. Nails*

        Yep, it’s :triumph: on discord, slack and zoom – three major comms platforms used in hybrid workplaces. I think it’s fair that if it has a label people may interpret based on that label.

  7. Jmac*

    OP may be 30 but sounds 50. Calling your boss “boss” is wrong now? Using emojis in tweets is bad? God forbid your brand be relatable and get engagement

    1. AS87*

      I’m 35 and absolutely hate when staff who report to me call me “boss”. I have a name. I don’t call them “employee”. I use their names.

      1. Miss Suzie*

        I have a number of reports who are from the south and they routinely call me Miss Suzie. Not just plain Suzie. It’s a cultural thing. We should not get so hung up on names unless it is something rude of disrespctful.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          But they are using your name, they’re just putting a culturally-appropriate honorific in front of it. If they called you “Miss Boss” that would be a very different thing.

        2. Lydia*

          No, actually, that’s not true. It doesn’t have to be rude to you for it to be rude to me or vice versa.

      2. Heather*

        So that’s fine, and I think it’s completely fine to say “Hey, I actually don’t like being called that, please just call me Heather.” That’s totally different from thinking it’s a sign of disrespect, or a generational problem, or a universal taboo.

      3. linger*

        There is an asymmetry here, in that an employee often does have only one “boss”, which can make the label a unique identifier in context. The label can also be construed as a title (because it signals a higher status), which may make it sufficiently appropriate to some workplaces (though of course individuals get to determine how personally appropriate it is to them). By contrast, it is less common for a boss to have only one “employee”, so that the label is usually not a unique identifier; and also, that label is much harder to construe as a title, and in explicitly signalling a lower status, would be far less polite to use.
        (Military rank titles are an obvious exception to this: they are used in both directions, partly because any rank term also signals solidarity in the sense of shared group membership.)

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Calling your boss “boss” is wrong now?

      Referring to my boss as “my boss” when talking to a third person (“my boss asked me to fill out my timesheets”) is totally fine. Referring to my boss as “boss” directly (“Hey, boss, good morning!”) would be very weird in my office. When I talk to my boss, I call them by their first name.

      1. Making up names is hard*

        Right! I did refer to my boss as “my boss” when introducing her to my friend and immediately regretted it (we were not at work though; we ran into each other on the weekend). Later she joked about it… But yeah never say that again to her/in her hearing, but if Im just talking to my friends or family outside of work, then “boss” it is. Just gotta remember to introduce her as “our managing director, NAME” next time.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          “My boss” is fine. “My employee” is fine. “My sister” is fine. What’s weird is addressing the person that way in the first person when you’re speaking directly to them. You didn’t do anything wrong there.

      2. LB*

        Yes it comes across as either a little frivolous/sarcastic. It does sound very “new to work”; I remember in my early 20s there were several things I would say in a similar way with the ‘joke’ just being that it’s novel to be in a real office environment and actually have a boss. It’s not like overtly disrespectful but it is definitely mildly weird or annoying or at least makes you come across as green.

    3. FRC*

      This is unkind to the LW. Also, there are plenty of businesses that I don’t want to be relatable and all about engagement on Twitter. My local sports team? Sure. The public health office? Not so much.

      1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

        Wait, why wouldn’t it be good for a public health office to have good engagement on twitter? That seems like an excellent way to, you know, improve public health. Am I missing something?

    4. StudentPilot*

      I feel like there’s a lot of nuance that you’re glossing over. It’s not just “using emojis” it’s using inappropriate emojis – a smiley face emoji is fine, but when responding to a request from your boss an angry/irritated face emoji is not. Same with tweets – the emojis need to be relevant and appropriate. A plumbing company with a poop emoji in their tweet is relevant and (potentially) appropriate. An accounting firm using a poop emoji is…..probably not the look they’re going for.

    5. anon for this*

      I’m 32, and just had to have a discussion with my first ever direct report that calling me “Boss” makes me uncomfortable. It constantly felt like they were mocking me, or not taking me seriously. So no, I don’t think OP sounds 50.

      It’s one thing to say in conversation to someone “oh, my boss wants me to turn that in by the end of the week.” It’s another to say “Sure thing, boss!” with a wink and a nudge and the meaning that “yeah, right, I’ll get to that when I get to that because I don’t respect your authority.” Maybe it’s also contingent on the culture of your workplace, but it doesn’t fly in the ones I’ve experienced.

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        I totally agree with this. It does feel like he isn’t taking his supervisor seriously. It just has a sarcastic feel to it

      2. Esmae*

        In my experience, “boss” is what you use when “sir/ma’am” is too formal but calling them by their first name feels too informal.

        1. Junine*

          same. I’ve had managers who felt like I was mocking them or calling them old when I called them “Ms. Dinah” or “Mr. Gerald”, but I’m not comfortable calling them by their first name pretty much ever. “Boss” is a nice compromise, but if that *also* makes the manager uncomfortable, then I just don’t use their name to the max extent possible.

          1. Texan In Exile*

            In my first job out of college, the senior VP had to instruct me gently that in our office, we were on a first-name basis. When I was a kid, my parents had been very clear that adults were to be addressed as “Mr” and “Mrs” – and here I was with adults!

    6. Go touch some grass*

      Calling your boss “boss” and using emojis in response to “your timecard is late” is not relatable brand-building. It’s someone who hasn’t yet learned the difference between Discord and real life.

      1. Migraine Month*

        I would absolutely respond to a nudge to turn in my timecard early with an emoji–but that emoji would be a thumbs-up, not something that means/could be interpreted as “angry”.

        Then again, my team uses Discord for team meetings, so know your audience.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          Then again, I used to have a boss who would respond to my messages, especially when I was describing something that could potentially be a problem in the future, with a thumbs up, and it read really dismissive to me, like, “Yeah, sure, whatever,” in a way other people doing it didn’t, so it’s a know your audience and your tone thing.

      2. Regina Phalange*

        Oh weird, I’ve never used Slack but to me it very clearly conveys anger/annoyance and therefore it seems like a really inappropriate thing to send to a boss. But if the employee had used Slack maybe that explains it (though I guess “triumph” is also a weird thing to feel when asked for a time sheet?)

      3. Calamity Janine*

        counterpoint:

        for remote work, discord IS real life!

        …well, all right, slack is real life. but we all know that slack is just discord in a suit and tie

    7. Charlotte Lucas*

      I’m 50 & have had both office & non-office jobs. I’ve never known anyone to call their manager “Boss” directly, just as a descriptor to others. (I have seen it in British mysteries, though, when a DS is addressing a superior, & even that seems kind of regional.)

    8. Catgirl*

      Calling your boss “boss” is wrong if the boss doesn’t like it, and the emoji was a problem because of the message it sent. She asked for his timesheet and he responded with an emoji that means “I’m irritated”. That’s an inappropriate response whether he said the words out loud, typed them, or used an emoji.

      1. Glen*

        We really need an edit to Alison’s post that for many large groups of people the emoji in question does not in fact mean you are irritated but rather that you are hopping onto something immediately.

        1. Junine*

          agreed. the problem is not the specific emoji the employee chose, but that pretty much any emoji can have multiple meanings, including this one.

    9. Eleanor Shellstrop*

      OP never said calling your boss “boss” is wrong, or that using emojis in tweets is bad. Maybe re-read the letter before responding to it in a really unkind way.

    10. Gerry Keay*

      can we just. not with the generational warfare? the people who built our current internet infrastructure are in their 50s. none of any of this letter has anything to do with age, like literally nothing.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Agree. It is muddying the waters.
        The issue is that LW feels her new employee lacks professional polish.
        Let’s face it OP, someone probably felt the same way about you in the last decade – not because you are a millenial, but because the way you sat, walked, typed, talked on the phone was not how they thought it should be done.
        And you were told, or picked up by observing, how things were done in that office. If your employee isn’t picking it up, spell it out.
        But don’t be afraid to own it. It isn’t “because you are older, you don’t understand him,” it’s because he is new and hasn’t learned yet.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Agreed. I’m a boomer. I did equally dopey stuff when I was that new to the work world, back in an earlier century.

        If you don’t know, you don’t know. OP can spell it out for the newbie, it will be a kindness.

        1. Lydia*

          Exactly. It’s not like any one generation was born automatically knowing this stuff. Everyone learned those norms through trial and error, observation, copying, and questioning.

    11. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, it depends on context. “Sure thing, Boss.” when acknowledging an instruction is not out of line – it’s like an informal “Yes, Sir!” that acknowledges that your superior gave you a directive and that you will do it. But “Hi Boss!” makes it seem like you’ve forgotten their name already.

      But be careful with emojis. I literally got written up for using an eyeroll emoji when a coworker came off with something I considered over the top fawning. Some people are very sensitive about things like that, so now I keep to simple, cheerful emojis, and none in email.

      1. allathian*

        Ugh, a verbal reminder not to do it maybe, but written up? Your office sounds really uptight, I’m afraid.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Fortunately I’m not at that job anymore. There was a lot of politics that was just plain… weird

    12. Puggie Mom*

      This reminds me of my grandfather who always referred to his boss as, “boss man.” He did this in both the third person and the second person. So, this reference to the boss makes me think of someone much, much older. (**Note, my grandfather, who has passed away, was born circa 1908).

      1. allathian*

        Your grandfather worked in an era when people were more likely to address managers with their title + last name, or as Sir (or Madam, although female managers were extremely rare except in a few female-dominated professions like nursing). So I guess ‘boss man’ was as informal as he was comfortable being with his manager.

    13. DOES YOUR WIFE KNOW, TIM???*

      Call me boss and I will quickly show you why I am the boss.
      Call me by my preferred first name and I’ll show you a collaborative work environment.

      1. Lydia*

        I mean, this isn’t great either when you can just ask them to not refer to you that way.

      2. Heather*

        Ugh are you serious dude? And like… what are you showing us exactly? You mean you’re going to like beat him up or something?

    14. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’ve been working in corporate US environments for 25 years and I never heard anyone address a manager as “boss” outside of Cool Hand Luke. It just sounds… unprofessional and unpleasant. My boss has a name. That’s what I use to address him.

    15. Dona Florinda*

      That’s uncalled for. Not every brand needs to be relatable, and a lot of them definitely shouldn’t use emojis.

      Also, OP wrote in asking for advice, hence the mention about being called ‘boss’.

    16. UKDancer*

      I think there’s a difference between describing someone as your boss and using it to their face. So if I’m dealing with a supplier I might say “my boss is keen to have this by x date” or “my boss has asked me to set up a meeting to discuss tea pot production.” I call my boss by name when I’m speaking to them because that’s normal behaviour in my office.

      Likewise I prefer my staff to call me by name because that’s normal. I don’t call them “subordinate” or “employee” to their face. I call them by name.

    17. to varying degrees*

      I had never encountered the use of “boss” in the workplace until my new job. Everyone calls each other boss, even me. It’s construction so I’m not sure if that matters, but it still took some time getting used to.

  8. Charlotte Lucas*

    When I was a TA teaching Freshman Comp, our director told us that we weren’t just teaching writing skills – as one of the few non-giant lecture classes for freshmen, we were also teaching them how to be a college student. It can be frustrating, but it’s an important role. Now OP gets to mentor her employee in being an office worker.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Seconding the point that part of OP’s job as a manger to new office workers is to teach them good office etiquette.

      I also want to point out that the pandemic has disrupted how well and how quickly some people are picking up on professional norms, which makes it more important to explicitly correct things like calling his boss’s boss “big boss.”

  9. Brad*

    The shortcode for that emoji in Slack is :triumph:. I definitely don’t see it as having negative connotations.

      1. Witch*

        I don’t know. I’m 35 and recognize it as an emoji equivalent of “on my grindset.” I think if it was something like :eye_rolling: or whatever there’d be more of a clear cut issue, but the intern could be used to using the emoji differently.

          1. WulfInTheForest*

            I definitely have heard the word grindset before (I’m 29, it’s common online in the hustle culture.)

      2. starfox*

        I’m 31 and I definitely don’t associate it with being angry because I’ve seen it used enough times to know that’s not what it means. It means “okay I’m about to put in some work.”

        That said, I can understand why people might think it’s an angry face, and it’s realllllly not a great emoji to send without context in response to your boss asking you to do something.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      On Teams it’s “face with steam from nose” which doesn’t have any intrinsic connotations, but how Slack gets “triumph” from it is beyond me. If you saw this face in a comic strip, it would most likely convey anger or frustration as the eyebrows look angry.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        It always reminds me of a cartoon bull, specifically one who’s being embarrassed by Bugs Bunny.

    2. KayDeeAye*

      It definitely doesn’t look like “triumph” to me, but even if that is its meaning…the guy is triumphant about turning in his timesheet? Um, why?

    3. Heather*

      I read it as a joking way of saying “okay, okay!” about something he’s already been asked a million times to do. I would never interpret it as disrespectful.

      1. Wut*

        How is it not disrespectful to have to be asked a million times to do a work related task? He’s not a kid being nagged about to do his chores.

  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    This is not an age issue or at least you shouldn’t start from that point of view, especially when age is a protected class. I understand that federal laws don’t protect workers under 40, but some state and local laws do. You don’t want to be seen as picking on ANY age as a reason for poor behavior.

    When you want to say age, say inexperience instead because I suspect that’s what you really mean.

    1. thestik*

      The last line reminds me of something I overheard in the break room many years ago. Someone that was about mid-30s and was surrounded by mid-20 somethings remarked about his being old. One of the younger people sitting with him said that he was more experienced. This prompted him to say that he might encounter someone younger than himself with more experience, and that line has stuck with me ever since.

      Because of that memory, I feel like age and inexperience may both be the wrong words for this scenario. Something like behavior or ability to read the room seem to me like more accurate terms.

  11. Sunflower*

    When I was 25 (a million years ago), my boss had to tell me not to put my head down on my desk. If I was tired or not feeling well, I need to go to the break room, LOL. So it’s not about Gen Z. It’s about needing to learn appropriate workplace behavior.

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, I feel like it’s easy to focus on the generational component when in actuality you have a single individual in front of you who needs some instruction. I’ve done a lot of cringe-y things early in my career. Some of them may have been informed by the time in which I was raised, but a lot of them are just, “huh, I had not learned or intuited that yet. Noted.”

  12. Don*

    I am 52 years old and been cordially referring to my supervisors as “boss” for most of my working life. I’m surprised to hear someone take any umbrage at it beyond just saying “please call me X instead.”

    1. Old Cynic*

      I’m 65 and I said “hey, boss” to my managers over the years without any negative feedback. And I’ve been THE boss for the last 25 and it hasn’t bothered me for my employees to say that to me.

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I’m surprised about it, too. I haven’t used it often but I truly wouldn’t have imagined someone being offended by it unless it was being used in an obviously facetious manner. I wonder if calling attention to hierarchy has something to do with it?

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I think there’s a difference between occasionally addressing your boss as “Boss,” and always addressing your boss that way. I took this as the second version. I don’t mind being called Boss, but I wouldn’t like it that someone was never addressing me by name.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’m in my mid-40s and I still open emails to a former manager with, “Hey boss! How are things?” I had someone once who didn’t like being referred to as our boss because he claimed he didn’t like the hierarchy, but he had the power to hire and fire and he absolutely was our boss. It’s not like we curtsied every time he walked in.

    5. Heather*

      Right? The OP seems humorless to me. “Boss” is just a nickname, basically. You can ask him not to call you that but I don’t think he’s being disrespectful.

      I work in healthcare and a lot of our patients, of all ages, call the doctors “Doc” and certainly don’t mean any disrespect (quite the contrary, in fact). I realize it’s different because it’s not a workplace, but I”m just saying, flippant nicknames like “boss” and “doc” aren’t disrespectful.

    6. L. Ron Jeremy*

      I always think of “Cool Hand Luke” when someone called me boss. I suppose you’d be ok if you were called subordinate by the boss?

  13. Cold and Tired*

    I agree with Allison. I’m in my early 30s and am currently training in a fresh out of college new hire. While I can’t say I’ve run into weird emojis or job titles, there is an expected lack of understanding about workplace norms in general. But it’s my job as someone supervising this hire to help them adjust those behaviors, and give them the skill set to continue to be successful. It’s not like I was much different a decade ago, and was lucky enough to have someone teach me these norms to start with. And like, I had to teach the other day what the To vs CC lines are typically used for in email, which I’d honestly forgotten people don’t know coming out of college because I’ve been working long enough. But I provided feedback and now we’re good.

    Yes, it’s a little different with a 25 year old vs someone I know graduated 2 months ago, but if this person didn’t have a first job that helped with this, it’s understandable the bad behavior persists. But they’re still young enough to help course correct, so help them out kindly but firmly both for your own sake, and honestly their sake long term.

  14. Just Another Zebra*

    I’m trying not to nitpick language, but OP – after years of the media describing millennials like we’re all still kids rocking Hot Topic tees and complaining about our curfews, when we are in fact grown adults with jobs and rent and adult responsibilities, I’m surprised you would attribute a few minor nuisances to an entire generation.

    I do agree with Alison’s advice to have a touch base about some of these behaviors, because they are problematic. Being on time for meetings is huge. The emojis are annoying, but probably just a symptom of being new. Calling you, his boss, “boss”… seems like you nitpicking. But have the meeting and go from there.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I’m a Gen Xer in my mid-40s. My coworker, who was my age, was denied a major promotion because, despite meeting the qualifications, her boss said she was “too young.”

      I’m like, we’re middle age. The only thing we’re “too young” for is Social Security.

      1. Lydia*

        Is it possible to be over 40 and still hit that federal age discrimination law for being “too young?” (Yes, this would be age discrimination no matter what, but usually the Fed is worried about you being passed over for being too old.)

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      “I’m surprised you would attribute a few minor nuisances to an entire generation.” Really? I am not surprised at all–pretty much every generation gets described that way by the older generations and then turns around and does the same thing to the next one behind them.

      I don’t think not wanting to be called “boss” is nitpicking–you’re allowed to want an employee to use your actual name–but I don’t see it as too big of a deal if it’s in the context of (as how other people here mentioned) saying something like “Sure thing, boss” in response to a request. But it’s weird if he’s only calling her boss. And if he’s calling the executive director “big boss” to her face, I do think that crosses the line into unprofessional.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        A big yes to your first paragraph.
        Blaming an entire generation is a great way to avoid any responsibility. “Oh it’s that younger generation, they are all like that!”
        In that moment the speaker is relieved of any obligations to help the next generations.

        UH that is not how that works. If younger generations fail then that IS OUR FAULT. And all of us suffer the consequences of their failures. They failure does NOT mean we won by default, that is not how this works.

        OP be aware of false attributions. These are explanations that land on “there is nothing to be done about it, this is just how it is.” Any time you hear that pause and ask, “is this actually the correct answer here?”.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, people have been complaining about the useless younger generations for the last 2,500 years at least, and I suspect it goes back to the time when the first humans evolved to the point of having a spoken language. This doesn’t make it acceptable in the workplace, though.

    3. Lydia*

      If the OP does not want to be called Boss, as in “Hey, boss, did you want me to make this spreadsheet?” that is not nitpicking, that’s a preference the OP has and it’s fine for them to bring it up as something they don’t prefer.

    4. Student Affairs Sally*

      Hey now, I still rock my Hot Topic tees while I’m paying my rent and handling my adult responsibilities

  15. Lacey*

    I think this is definitely a difference in office environments.
    I’m pushing 40 and most of these would not be a big deal in my office.

    We use emojis a lot – I think my boss would be a little put off by the steam face emoji.
    I’ve never used it in any context, but I would also have read it as frustrated.

    The other two would not be a big deal at all.

    On the other hand, the job previous was a lot more formal, so any of these would have been a problem and people have probably been fired for less.

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

      I agree it’s more about office environment. I’d send my boss a table flip meme (jokingly) about having to submit a timesheet early, but we have that sort of environment. Some places even a thumbs up would be seen as unprofessional.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. Although I wouldn’t want to work in an environment where a thumbs up would be seen as unprofessional…

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I think being consistently late for a 1:1 would bother a lot of people, especially for an avoidable reason. People are commonly late to meetings where I work (we have packed schedules), but they alert the others ahead of time & apologize for it.

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

        Prior to using Teams and Slack, I’d agree about alerting others ahead of time on being late, but these days, in my office we just see that someone has a red dot indicating they are in a call/meeting…or yellow for away…and give them a few minutes. I think the protocol is changing slightly as more meetings take place virtually and there are ways to see if someone is available.

        But it’s also perfectly fine to have an environment where meetings are attended punctually, especially by junior staff.

    3. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I’m 43 and was waiting for the clear generational difference! Whether “boss” is an appropriate thing to call your boss and whether it’s ok to be late for a regular one-to-one if you’ve got to get something to eat depends purely on whether your boss minds. Some of my team have client meetings that overrun in the morning, and I would absolutely tell them to prioritise making sure they get lunch over meeting with me. Lots of this sounds like they are used to a more relaxed culture, not that they aren’t familiar with office norms per se.

      Not all office norms are norms everywhere, and it’s absolutely ok to be explicit about your preferences and office culture. That’s your job!

      (I once had a grand boss called Emma and a great-grandboss also called Emma— in one meeting I said, “I mean, does Emma think — not Emma-Emma, I mean Extra-Emma— does Extra-Emma think—“ We all, including my boss, used “Extra-Emma” from there on.)

    4. Observer*

      The other two would not be a big deal at all.

      Repeated latenesses would not have been a big deal? Not in any workplace I know of. It’s one thing to be late to the office in general, if you are not in a coverage based job. But being late to a 1 to 1 meeting? With your boss? That’s a whole different issue. I simply cannot see a functional workplace where that’s no big deal.

      1. allathian*

        I agree. That said, maybe the LW should reschedule the meeting so that it’s not directly after lunch.

        In general, it seems that the LW isn’t doing her job as a manager. She should tell the report that the emoji could be interpreted as frustration, even if he didn’t intend it that way. She should tell him that he needs to be on time for the 1:1s, and preferably offer to reschedule if the employee can’t get lunch earlier (under no circumstances would it be okay to expect the employee to skip lunch for the 1:1). She should tell him that she doesn’t like being called boss, which I think is a preference rather than anything inherently unprofessional.

        The LW needs to tell the report what she expects him to do, rather than expecting him to read her mind.

        1. Observer*

          The LW needs to tell the report what she expects him to do, rather than expecting him to read her mind.

          That is a very good point.

          Having said that, I do understand why the OP wrote in to find out if her expectations are reasonable. I think it’s a bit unfair to ding her SO hard for that.

      2. Lacey*

        I know that seems like a weird one to not be a big deal, but at my company no one is ever on time.

        I’m a pretty punctual person, I like to be where I’m supposed to be a few minutes early. So I’m super aware of how utterly unconcerned people are with being on time.

        And honestly, I’ve even worked at another company where it wouldn’t be a huge deal. Maybe some people would be bothered by it, but the culture as a whole was very much ok with it.

  16. The Crowening*

    I am so tired of just regular interpersonal differences/issues being branded as generational. Every generation has had to learn how to operate in the work world. Every generation has included workers who were professional right out of the gate, workers who NEVER bothered being professional, and workers who figured it out as they went along and eventually became successfully professional. Every generation has included workers who work their buns off and workers who disappeared whenever there was hard work to be done. Every generation has had to fight for the right to take time off or go home on time at night without being branded a “lazy [insert generational label here].”

    I had a boss two jobs ago who insisted that one of the employees in our group – a young woman – was an “entitled millennial.” Those were his exact words to me. He was referring to her this way because he didn’t like how insistent she was that things be done a certain way. She’d been there for a few years, he was brand new to the org. Rather than listen to her, he tuned her out, rolled his eyes, and decided she was just bratty. But in truth she was trying to save HIS behind from the consequences if certain processes were not followed. He was undermining her and setting himself up to run afoul of government requirements, all because he didn’t like that the young woman was insistent. (She wasn’t unprofessional. I was there – she was insistent but never emotional or impolite. This was straight-up sexism and ageism. And I did call HR and report him.)

    I realize OP didn’t say all this – sorry, OP, this isn’t aimed at you specifically – but just, ugh! Take generations out of it. Deal with people just as people.

      1. irene adler*

        Aww, the emojis didn’t work.

        Yes!!!

        Interesting story. Wonder if he ever realized she was trying to save his bacon.

        Had an interview that consisted entirely of the interviewer going off on how much he despised Millennials.

        I answered his first question – that I’d been at my current job for many years – annnnnd off he went.
        Twenty minutes about all the perceived shortcomings. Gah!

        Didn’t even get the chance to ask any questions. He ended the interview once the rant was over.
        (not really a loss though, right?)

        I’m not a millennial.

        1. The Crowening*

          He never did get it. I even tried to tell him, since he was venting to me, that “entitled” was never my experience with her and she knew that process inside-out. Bounced right off of him. “No, no, she’s an entitled millennial.” This was one of a SLEW of issues that this guy had during the few months he was in charge of that group. He was gone a few weeks after this particular conversation, not due to this.

          She is still there. ;)

          Unfortunately she has a whole new boss who also doesn’t want to listen to women, any women, except his boss, who is a woman. And he’s well entrenched in the company. Oh well.

    1. Loulou*

      I think sometimes people overthink these things and/or are looking for an explanation other than “this person is weird.” It’s the same way with all the “is this the new normal?” questions. We are living in strange times, yes, but also people are just people.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I wish more people would recognise that certain things are simply their preferences and articulate that— especially when they’re the boss!— rather than wonder why other people don’t automatically have the same norms as them!

  17. Daisy-dog*

    Another thing to remember is that the last 2 years have been really strange, so he may not have been able to pick up on the same professional norms that OP did at that same age.

    1. quill*

      Yeah, I’d presume that OP’s direct report reads as immature due to a lack of experience compared to when OP was 25 and the world hadn’t been (as) disrupted for the last two years.

    2. Migraine Month*

      Professional norms have also been changing a lot over the past two years. Work-from-home is the biggest change, but definitely not the only one.

      When I started in an office, you were considered a “go-getter” if you went to the office sick, and a slacker if you stayed home until it was certain you weren’t contagious. Good riddance to that.

  18. Purple Chairs*

    I agree with Alison and most commenters that this isn’t necessarily a generational issue, but commenting that I had the opposite issue with a direct report – I was 29 and they were ~3-4 years younger than me (a year removed from grad school). They consistently pointed out our age difference like I was ancient, and they erroneously identified it as a generation gap. We’re both millennials! I think what drove that was that I got married young, had three children, and had advanced quickly in my career, so it seemed like I had a generation’s worth of life experience on them.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I think in your early-to-mid-20s, even somebody a couple of years older than you can SEEM much more mature, especially if they have been longer in the workforce or have children. I remember when I worked retail, there was this one customer who used come in with her baby and I thought of her as a “real adult” (I was 21-22) in comparison to me until eventually, when she was joking with a colleague of mine who was my age and I suddenly looked at her and thought “gosh, she’s probably much the same age as us.” In my mind, the fact that she was a mother put her in the “adult” category whereas we were still in the “college student” category.

      1. Purple Chairs*

        Oh, for sure. I worked at a big box retail store in college and a slightly older coworker had a “real job” but was working a second job to pay off his student loans early. When he achieved this, he threw a party to celebrate, and we were so excited to go to a “grown up” party. We talked for days about what this grown up party would be like.

        We pull up, and the guy is outside peeing on a tree. Walk inside and there’s a beer pong tourney on it’s 79th round. Turns out, grown up parties aren’t that much different than college kid parties (at least, in a college town).

  19. Anastatia Beaverhousen*

    I teach undergraduate classes and I frequently see this behavior in my students, I attempt to teach it out of them by holding firm to deadlines and teaching to professional norms but I find that often the universities themselves encourage acceptance of late work, etc in a bid to improve student retention. For new professionals I would bet money that this is part of what you are seeing.

  20. ThatGirl*

    I’m 41/an elder Millennial; most of my team is either young Millennial or beginning of Gen Z.

    To me, the lateness is 100% worth addressing, but the rest of it is just kind of silly. I’ve never called anyone “boss” while addressing them, but I could see doing it in a lighthearted manner, and if you prefer to be called by your name — no problem, easy correction.

    And an emoji, we’re really arguing over an emoji? As has already been discussed, meanings can vary wildly depending on the person and the context; it’s something to bring up in the moment, sure, but not endlessly obsess over.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      May it is my computer but most emojis are too small for me to even see what they are. I don’t care if people use them or not. But if I don’t get their meaning because the emoji is too tiny then it might mean a few more emails to get things planned out.

    2. Marny*

      Agreed. The lateness is the only issue I see here. I read the emoji as him making a joke, like acting as if something that isn’t a big ask is SUCH a big ask. I feel like he’s just trying to form a lighthearted and friendly work relationship with her and she wants to ensure they stay more arms-length. But I don’t see that as worthy of a lecture about norms.

    3. MapleHill*

      I’m an “elder Millennial” as well (lol), but I’m gonna disagree here (further proof OP’s issues are not generational).

      First, I do agree lateness needs to be addressed, but I also wonder if it was part of the expectation setting when onboarding. When I was new, my manager discussed with me his expectations and one of those was that ‘if you’re on time you’re late’. He’s not truly that severe about it, but he was helping me understand his expectations as well as those of his own managers and I really appreciated knowing that I should absolutely never be late for any meetings because it would harm my reputation in the company (especially with upper level managers).

      I think the Boss thing depends on how often he’s using it. If he’s only EVER (heck, even 50% of the time is a lot) referring to the OP by Boss, then that would be annoying and kind of weird to me- like I’d wonder if this is someone who felt the need to defer to me as authority like how you call teachers by a title of some kind. Even though he may not be right out of college, maybe he still finds it uncomfortable to refer to seniors as peers. It was definitely an adjustment for me to start calling adults by their first name when I was a teen & right out of college and, as such, I try to help interns understand this is a norm in the workplace. If the Boss thing is just on occasion, I don’t see it as a big deal as long as it’s in a respectful manner…though I’d probably mention lightly that it’s better to use people’s names in an email.

      I don’t know that the OP is obsessing and, if so, I don’t think it’s about the emoji per se, but the emotion that particular emoji conveys. It’s a very inappropriate one in response to that request and would cause me to wonder when else this person is using inappropriate emojis with other colleagues that could rub them the wrong way. While I have on occasion sent an annoyed April Ludgate meme to my boss, that was after years of knowing him so he knows my humor. I certainly wouldn’t have sent one even within a year of working with him and the OP said this person is a recent hire.

      I think the takeaway is that OP needs to reset some expectations about some things she deems unprofessional and the reasons why so this employee can hopefully think a little more critically about the impact of their actions. It would probably also be good to let them know that it’s ok to make mistakes (if it is), but she wants to help them be successful and how they communicate is a key part of that (b/c communication isn’t only what you say/write, but how it’s received).

      1. Allonge*

        I don’t know that the OP is obsessing and, if so, I don’t think it’s about the emoji per se, but the emotion that particular emoji conveys. It’s a very inappropriate one in response to that request and would cause me to wonder when else this person is using inappropriate emojis with other colleagues that could rub them the wrong way.

        Totally this. It’s not about the emoji – OP’s report essentially told OP he is angry upon receipt of a request from boss. Even if that is not what he meant, it’s a good thing for OP to explain.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, as has been said multiple times in this thread, that emoji can mean multiple things, from frustration to triumph and empowerment to perseverance. Out of those, I guess perseverance and triumph would be the most appropriate one at work. When I started at my current job, we had a really clunky timesheet system that involved converting minutes to decimals. It took me two hours a month to fill it in, and I always felt like a winner when I’d done it. If that emoji had been around in 2007, I might’ve used it, at least in emails to my work friends.

    4. Calamity Janine*

      i’d vaguely posit that the Boss thing has way more to do with subculture than it does with age.

      i know that some people consider it important politeness to refer to people by title, and that for some folks, referring to your boss as, well, “boss”, is kind of like doggedly using ma’am and sir for your best friend’s parents. (it doesn’t help that people who often stick to this by-the-book children-should-be-utmost-polite thing are occasionally presented with people who say “oh, just call me X!” but then… don’t mean it. they just want to be seen to be giving that gesture, but expect it to be refused.) there’s also, well, to put it bluntly, kind of a racial element to this habit i have observed as well. sometimes the racists want black people to bow and scrape in ways that seem familiar after they’ve watched gone with the wind far too many times. i say that as a shot in the dark from my mayonnaise-blooded self, but i have seen this particular vibe, and i admit that i tend to hear it as a little comically old-fashioned (yet something that was more or less demanded ’round these parts not so very long ago). i could probably unfurl a map, point to somewhere else in america, and tell you with some confidence that you absolutely wouldn’t hear this linguistic tic in a different location and a different population there.

      big boss is more informal, mind you, and this whole ‘boss’ thing is something that can absolutely be done in a chatty way – equivalent to calling a doctor “doc”, or, as a weird stretch here lol, like Father Mulcahey on MASH getting referred to as “padre” – but i will also admit that… we don’t really have a fully agreed-upon word for “my boss’s boss” yet. “grandboss” is more commonly used around these parts, but it’s kind of an odd duck of colloquialism and informality in mirroring that family tree relation, too. “big boss” sounds a bit less menacing than “overboss”.

      …or as i joked below, the cultural difference can be that it’s some of this but also he’s a nerd that plays metal gear solid games lol

  21. Hiring Mgr*

    missing or being late to 1:1s seems much different than the others…. Calling you “boss” or using the emoji might be annoying but it seems more like a personal preference or your specific workplace environment, whereas being late to meetings (with your boss) is pretty much frowned upon everywhere

    1. UKDancer*

      Definitely. I think I’d say something about the 1:1 meetings to find out if the time slot is inconvenient and if so move them. Otherwise the employee should be asked to show up on time as a courtesy to others.

  22. Beth*

    With the emoji thing, you’re getting stuck on the form of the communication and not really fully focusing on or addressing the actual problem. It’s not professional to respond to normal workplace requests with obvious annoyance and irritation, no matter what form those emotions are shown in. Treat this the same way you would someone rolling their eyes and sighing dramatically at small requests.

    The other problems are even less generationally coded. They’re things that would be fine and normal in some workplaces (there are plenty of 45 year olds in the world who walk in five minutes late every day with a starbucks!), but since they’re throwing you off, I’m assuming they’re not the norm in your company’s culture. Just clarify expectations and move on.

  23. Ann Onymous*

    This might also be related to the pandemic. If this is a post-college job, most (if not all) of a 25 year old’s work experience has occurred during the pandemic. It’s harder to just organically absorb professional norms in a situation where a lot of remote work is occurring and certain expectations have temporarily relaxed to accommodate the challenges people have run across due to the pandemic (childcare, connectivity issues, no good workspace at home, etc.). I’ve noticed these same sorts of behaviors with new grads at my workplace who started during or shortly before the pandemic, so I’m now trying to be a little more intentional about providing guidance. There have always been some people who come into their first professional jobs with a better developed sense of office norms than others, but I think the pandemic has made it harder for people who don’t come in with a good sense of norms to develop them.

  24. takeachip*

    I’m curious who recommended this person for the role so highly! Is it possible that this behavior was acceptable at the previous job, or that the employee views himself as a hotshot who doesn’t have to play by the rules? We’re assuming due to his age that he just needs coaching, but I can’t help but sense an undercurrent of disrespect in some of these behaviors that’s got me wondering about his intent. Calling someone “boss” or “big boss” is so off to me, I would be inclined to suspect that it’s a passive aggressive way of undermining authority, especially since he doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with keeping his boss waiting. Maybe the guy is clueless, but the pattern would be a red flag to me for someone who may be a little full of himself. I’d love a follow up describing how he reacts to the coaching, because that will say a lot about where he’s really coming from.

    1. KRM*

      That’s a lot. The first two warrant a brief “please call me by my name, and also remember that emojis are open to multiple interpretations”. The lateness is a problem, but could also stem from his last job being 100% remote and maybe nobody had 1:1 with him. Or they had “company check in” where it didn’t matter when you showed up. Or maybe they had no meetings at all because they just didn’t. Regardless, it’s a lot to think this person is “undermining authority” when the OP hasn’t even had a basic “workplace norm” conversation with him yet. Don’t assume the worst.

      1. takeachip*

        I raised “the worst” as a possibility along with other possibilities, not a definitive diagnosis. And I said his response to the coaching would tell a lot about where he’s coming from. I’m 30 years into my career and I’ve seen plenty of employees who were in fact being passive aggressive or entitled and pushing boundaries with behavior that at first didn’t seem all that serious. I think it’s just as important not to under react as it is to overreact.

    2. Raboot*

      I think you’re reading a lot into it! It’s completely fine for OP to say “don’t call me Boss, call me Jane” and “don’t be late to our 1:1s” but it seems premature to ascribe malice to what could easily be immaturity/inexperience.

      1. takeachip*

        Sure, I said in my comment that there were lots of potential explanations for the behavior. I just wanted to raise the possibility that there’s something more serious going on that OP may have to contend with.

  25. CLC*

    The boss big boss thing just sounds like someone thinking something is charming that isn’t.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Agree.
      And if LW didn’t say, “oh, yeah, I don’t like that,” he may well think it’s his “thing.”

  26. NorthBayTeky*

    As a new employee, I see that emoji in the email as less than professional. Not just the one that was used, any emoji. Sure, if you get to know your boss well and they know you, sure, use any emoji you like, if you think they will be receptive. Otherwise, leave the emojis for your peers.

  27. Observer*

    I think you’re dealing with several different issues here.

    The lateness thing is a biggie and you need to deal with that immediately and firmly. I don’t care HOW casual your office is, you need o be on time for meetings. ESPECIALLY with your boss and outside clients. The occasional “I misjudged how long it would take to get lunch” is one thing – not great but for someone who has a solid track record, livable. But multiple latenesses in a relatively short time when you don’t have a track record? With your boss? That’s totally out if line. And it’s the kind of thing that a 25 should know even if they are relatively new to the workforce. Certainly, all of the young people I know understand that.

    The Emoji thing is actually two different issues. One is the one Alison called out. As she points out, you do NOT get to respond with irritation when your boss asks you for something, even when your boss is objectively wrong. I can see someone new to the workforce missing that. But, again, it’s still out of line no matter how laid back and casual your office is. If he’s any good, you’re going to be doing him a huge favor by stopping this behavior. And if you have the faintest shred of a thought that he’s doing this more to you than he might to someone else because you are a woman, that goes multiple times over!

    The use of emojis in general is not something I would come down on in *internal communications*. However, *external* comms are a different story. I agree with Alison that it’s not a generational thing, but a “new to the workforce” thing. I’ve told this story before, but it’s relevant here. A couple of decades ago we had a staff person who was GREAT. But they had a really, really bad habit of using txt and l33t speak in their emails. Our shared boss was NOT happy, and expressed it to me. I unofficially grabbed the first opportunity to point out to them that this manner of communicating is highly unprofessional, and should be reserved for very specific contexts (yes, there were a few situations where it would be appropriate to use that kind of thing). They weren’t happy with me but they did take it on board, to their long term benefit. The bottom line is that this is a good place to start coaching your employee on the difference between internal and external communications, and about how to gauge what kind of public presence the company maintains.

    The “boss” and”big boss” thing may or may not be a big issue. I do think that Alison’s way of addressing it is good. But if you get any sense that this is related to the fact that you are a woman, please keep an eye on him and see if you need to correct any other issues. eg If you think he’s using “Boss” because “it’s so WEIRD to have a WOMAN BOSS” or “Gotta remember that she’s the boss girl”, then that’s a problem. On the other hand he’s just being goofy because he thinks it’s a casual vibe or he doesn’t have a good feel for how to generally navigate a typical office hierarchy, then just using Alison’s language a few times should do the trick.

    1. Unaccountably*

      With regard to your last paragraph: I had a report who went around telling people that his senior colleague (a man with no supervisory responsibilities for him) was his boss, and I (his actual boss, the department head, and a woman) was his boss’ boss. On being told not to do it, he said it was “a joke.” When I asked him to explain what part of it was funny, he had no answer for me. Over time, it became pretty apparent that he just thought it was beneath him to answer to A Woman.

  28. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    The last item keeps bugging me, so I have to ask for more info – does OP’s office have a strict lunch break, and how close is the 1:1 to it? Like, are people only allowed to be out for lunch between 12:00 and 12:30 and then the 1:1 is set to 12:30? Because if that’s the case, then I’d have a hard time making it on time too, and would be asking my manager whether it’s possible to move the 1:1 farther away from the lunch. If not, then that’s on the employee. Don’t be late to 1:1s. (and, if you cannot make the 1:1 time due to scheduling conflicts, tell your manager so and ask to move it.)

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      I was thinking this, too. Is OP scheduling 1:1s when this employee is on lunch, or just coming back? Most of us are attributing his behavior to being new, so it’s possible he doesn’t feel he can push back.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I was also wondering this. Someone being late to a meeting that starts immediately as a strictly scheduled half-hour lunch break ends is a much different situation than someone being late to a meeting that starts half an hour after a more flexibly scheduled hour long lunch break ends. (Also, I hate having meetings that start immediately after my lunch break ends. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I’d much rather have a 15-30 minute gap to organize my thoughts, check my messages, and make sure I’m prepared for the meeting.)

    3. Unaccountably*

      That’s a good question. I once had a boss who would set up meetings for 1:00 PM and send out invitations at 12:30. Every time I went out to lunch with a colleague, even if we left at 12:15, I’d come back to find that I was late to a meeting that wasn’t even on my schedule when I left.

      OP, you might want to consider not scheduling meetings within half an hour to either side of the times most people take their lunch. It doesn’t cost you anything to do that, but it can be a real hassle to employees if you don’t, especially if it gives the impression that you’ve scheduled a meeting at that time as a passive-aggressive way to “catch out” employees who are going to lunch at times you’ve decided are non-standard.

    4. Glen*

      Not only that, OP specifically says he’s late because he was picking up lunch, not eating it – are they scheduled when the poor kid should be on break?! It’s a minor point in the wording so hopefully and almost certainly just some minor lack of clarity but it did stand out to me!

  29. kiki*

    I think the steam emoji thing ~could~ be interpreted as generational– the same emoji or phrase could have different meanings across different generations– but it could be an individual quirk as well. I think Allison’s suggestion for LW to ask what their employee intended is a good one. They could also use this as an opportunity to teach their employee to think twice before using emojis or phrases with potentially ambiguous meanings. I think that’s a good way to avoid getting into a discussion about exactly which emojis are considered professional or dwelling on the difference between Gen Z and Millennial lingo.

  30. Falling Diphthong*

    Failing to use emojis in things is the molehill on which I will–well, dig in my heels and put up a fuss and pout a great deal.

    (Fortunately either no one expects them from me, or if they do they have not felt the need to share that feeling.)

  31. Ashley Tisdale Fan Account*

    I might be underestimating things, but I don’t see the big deal (granted I’ve only been full-time professionally for a little over a year now and I’m one of the ones that’s on the cusp between Millennial and Gen Z)? I can see how they’re irritating and put together don’t paint a good picture overall. But I laughed at the emoji instance because I’ve also used that exact emoji to convey (fake) annoyance, which many Millennials and Gen Z’ers use it for. I also don’t see the bigger reaction to the being late to meetings. If it was 20-30 minutes, yes, totally. But I’m a few minutes late to meetings all the time (and others are late to mine) and it’s never been a big deal.

    1. Everything Bagel*

      It would be an issue here to be late to meetings and apparently it is an issue to OP. Being late to a meeting, especially if it happens more than a couple of times and without a really valid reason, is inconsiderate of others’ schedules.

    2. Gracely*

      It’s a 1-1 meeting. That means you and one other person are showing up to this meeting, and if you’re late, that can be a huge inconvenience to that one person, who is meeting ostensibly for your benefit. It’s just generally a bad idea to be late to a meeting where the focus is *you*.

      It can be less of a big deal with larger meetings, if that’s the office culture and the higher ups are doing it.

  32. yokozbornak*

    The only thing that seems egregious is being consistently late meetings. You have let him do it for a while so he probably assumes it’s okay. Tell him it’s not!

    I don’t really think the other two are a big deal. If, however, you think it is unprofessional or out-of-step with your company culture, then tell him!

  33. bluephone*

    You 2 are 5 years apart, it’s not a generational difference so like, stop looking at it through that lens.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Maybe it’s just me, but I have seen so many examples were it is okay to degrade or look down at those in their 20s. And this does not stop. Each decade does it to the next decade of people. What is up with that.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I think it’s a combination of a few things:

        People in their 20s (especially their early 20s) look like adults but don’t always have a firm grasp on professional (and sometimes adult social) norms. So they look like they should know what they’re doing and it’s surprising when they don’t.

        Relatedly, there’s a failure of empathy/memory at play. People forget how and when they learned professional norms. They forget the kind managers who corrected their behavior, the gaffes they made before they intuited the “rules” from observing the people around them. It all feels so obvious to the 30/40/50/etc-year-olds that they don’t know how the 20-year-olds are missing it.

        And I think there’s a little bit of fear, too, that usually manifests as “this new technology (that I don’t really understand) is ruining the youth!” Memes aren’t ruining Gen Z any more than texting ruined millennials any more than novels ruined young people in the 1800s. But it sure is easy to blame both the technology and the young people.

  34. Gen Z Corporate Worker*

    I wanted to put myself out there as a woman in her early 20’s— sometimes the emoji is used to say things other than being angry, like working hard/grinding or self-deprecation.

    Everything else is more just him being super young and not knowing the norms. I’ve been in offices where my supervisor liked to be called boss and did refer to everyone above her as “big boss” and she is approaching her 40’s. If you let him know that you and your supervisors like to be addressed differently then he might stop.

    As for the lunches/being late, that would also be a talk with you about your expectations for how he spends his lunch and making sure to respect other people’s time by arriving on time.

  35. spartanfan*

    Maybe I am off here, but asking someone to fill out their timesheet before they finish their day seems like a bad idea as well from the manager. Who is to say that “big boss” doesn’t come through at 4:00 asking for a last minute urgent request that takes employee to 7 to complete? There should be other ways to approve a time sheet than approving it before the work day is truly complete.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I don’t think it’s always unreasonable – I’m an exempt employee, and under our old timekeeping system we had to input how many hours we worked each day (and how many hours of vacation, of sick time, of holiday…). But, being salaried exempt, none of that affected how much we got paid, so we all just made sure our hours for each day totaled to 8. Our new system is much less annoying, but if we have vacation/sick/holiday time during the week, we do need to enter that for our manager to approve. In that situation, it’s reasonable for the manager to request everything to be filled in early.

      Likewise, if the employee is in an hourly role where overtime never happens (I’ve had jobs like that – it involves having a very predictable workflow for the role), then filling out the timesheet early is not unreasonable. Same thing goes if the manager is actually asking the employee to fill out any sick/vacation time they took, but is fine with logging any hours worked on the regular (presumably daily) schedule.

    2. Observer*

      That’s true. But that’s a very different conversation.

      And if the employee wanted to push back on it, I would understand. But an emoji is not the way to do that. Nor even “bad idea”. You either talk in person or send a message explaining that you are uncomfortable signing off a time sheet before the end of the day.

    3. kiki*

      I read it as a timesheet for a prior day/time period. For example, say timesheets for the prior week (M-F) are typically due the following Tuesday afternoon, but LW was going on vacation that Tuesday. So LW asked their employee for their timesheet from the week prior on by Monday afternoon rather than waiting until Tuesday and having to jump in from vacation to approve.

    4. Student*

      Welcome to the Time Sheet Games! In some industries, time sheets are not used to track the time you spend on things. They are used in a mysterious power struggle between departments, played on a corporate plane that only the high and mighty ever actually see.

      Every job I’ve held in the last 10 years engages in Time Sheet Games. I had a blue-collar job before that, which used time sheets to track how much to pay me and when/how much I had worked, so I’m at least familiar with both realms. The Time Sheet Games are like some parallel universe, evil-twin version of the ones you are familiar with.

      In the Time Sheet Games, you almost never get paid for working over 40 hours a week, but are almost always expected to work over 40 hours a week, while recording that you worked 40 hours per week on the mystic time sheet. Other than that one rule, the Time Sheet Games vary by business wildly.

      I’ve seen some where you have to fill all the hours with elusive project codes that you have to beg, fight, or bribe your co-workers for. I’ve seen others where you always just record 40 hours worked, and do not even record your sick leave, holiday, or PTO on the time sheets; this one I choose to interpret as some sort of poetic-artistic statement on time sheets, instead of an actual time sheet.

      To say it in plainer terms, a lot of white-collar jobs are hiding a tremendous amount of bad management, skulduggery, and wage theft in their time sheet practices. It’s best not to look too closely unless you have something to gain from rocking the boat, because it is such a ridiculous morass.

    5. Ferret*

      Eh? I have to fill out my timesheet for the month a week in advance and it has been the way in my last few jobs – you just put 40 hours to whatever projects you are expecting to bill / any upcoming leave. If anything changes after submission that’s possible but filling out timesheets in advance is very normal at a lot of companies

      1. Observer*

        It may be normal, but it’s extremely bad practice. *Especially* if the company is using it to bill time or to pay hourly workers. Especially since it’s almost certain that changes are rarely if ever made – “that’s possible” is the kind of thing you hear when what’s really meant is “You CAN do it, theoretically. But you have better have a REALLY good reason for your terrible management and / or inconveniencing someone.”

  36. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I wish the whole “generation” swindle would just go away. It’s a marketing strategy, not social psychology.

    In this case, just set New Employee straight in a friendly, low key manor, but be very, very clear. You might first spend a little time yourself thinking about what are your required professional norms. Personally, I’d go for requiring him to be on time for meetings, call people by their correct names, have all work proofread and delivered by deadline, and no emojis in communication to outside clients. Give yourself an hour and you’ll probably think of others.

    I agree with commenters upstream that the last two years have been strange and that New Employee has probably not had a chance to acquire some experiences that would make the transition to full-time work easier for him. You’ll be doing him a favor by teaching him some professional norms that will help him succeed in the future.

  37. Falling Diphthong*

    Poll query:
    What does the face-with-steam emoji mean to you?

    My baseline interpretation is “I am so furious about this that steam is coming out of me as my blood boils.” It might be used in a tweet about the latest outrage from Other Political Party.

    1. Two Dog Night*

      I’ve never seen it before, probably because I’m old, but it definitely looks angry to me. I’d never think it meant “triumph” or “winning” or whatever.

    2. Ginger Pet Lady*

      Anger or irritation.
      Never triumph. And honestly there’s not really a way that triumph makes sense here, either.
      OP: Please turn in your time sheet for approval before 3 pm.
      Employee: Triumph
      It doesn’t make sense.
      Irritation at being asked is the interpretation that makes sense.

      1. Glen*

        People also use it to indicate they are working hard to get something done, apparently, which is totally appropriate in context. LW definitely needs to find out what was actually meant.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, I agree. I’d probably read that emoji as frustration rather than anger, though. Fury is a red face with steam coming out of the ears rather than the nose.

    3. Jackalope*

      The first time I ever saw it was from a friend who’d just had surgery who, because of the nature of their surgery, had to practice breathing exercises for the first couple of days, and it referred to that. So I’ve always thought it was related to taking a moment to take a deep breath. Apparently not?

    4. GraceC*

      I’ve seen some people use it to convey annoyance/irritation, but never serious anger. If I saw an enraged political tweet with nose-steam face I’d probably see it as more satirical/jokingly over-the-top rather than genuinely angry about an issue?

      My baseline for that emoji in my social circles (don’t think I’ve ever used it at work – we have dozens of in-joke custom Slack emojis instead) is along the lines of:
      – gotta get it done
      – nose to the grindstone, buckling down
      – determination/triumph/getting shit done

      Recent example usages from texts/FB messenger/Discord:
      – gonna finish editing that chapter today if it kills me [nose-steam emoji]
      – actually cooked tonight [nose-steam emoji] guess who’ll have leftovers for lunch tomorrow

      (Context: 24, female, British, have been in the workplace since summer 2019)

    5. itsame*

      I’ve always seen it used as either “jokingly angry” or “working hard”. I tend to use the former more frequently, but I’ve definitely seen/used it as the latter before.

    6. Calamity Janine*

      like so many other emoji (and facial expressions/tone of voice really!), it’s incredibly context-dependent!

      i see it about half and half as –

      1. joking anger (usually over-the-top annoyance at something petty, like SMH MCDONALD’S ICE CREAM MACHINE BROKE AGAIN)
      2. getting hyped up for something, putting on your best game face, ready to buckle down and get shit done

      human communication is an absolute quagmire of confusion and different standards. it’s certainly not the only emoji this has happened to, either. we all know the abuses to the poor eggplant emoji, but there’s things like the plain smileyface being surprisingly ambiguous as well. i have seen :) meant as a sincere friendly smile… and i have absolutely seen it as a passive-aggressive smiling-through-bared-teeth grimace of untold menace, as someone intentionally puts on a polite face out of regulation while glaring daggers. …and i’ve also seen it being used as something that is both of the above at once! usually the devious little smile of someone out to inflict something absolutely horrid on a friend, by way of lovingly trolling them. “hey :) hey look what i found :) hey i found this great meme for you :)” which proceeds something like an absolutely cursed photoshop of horse mouth birds, or a link that they swear is a normal video and absolutely not a rickroll.

      human beings: we are too complicated! yet again!

    7. Heather*

      To me, it means “Grrr!” Which I know is also open to intterpretation. So, like… “I’m annoyed in a jokey way.” If my husband texts me that he is actually going to be late getting home for supper, I’ll send that steam emoji. Or if my co-worker stole my pen. It’s an exaggeration– “I’m slightly inconvenienced but I’m going to make a silly melodramatic fuss.”

    8. londonedit*

      I’ve very rarely actually seen it used, but my immediate interpretation would be frustration or anger.

  38. HelpWitch*

    This one is interesting to me as I’m Gen X and work in a medium formal office and except for being late none of this reads as unprofessional to me. We refer to our grandboss and great-grandboss all the time, for example!

    1. bamcheeks*

      Same, and even the being late is very situational. My team are front line, I’m not— during a busy period I would absolutely want my team to prioritise getting lunch over being on time to a meeting with me.

  39. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

    This isn’t a generational thing at all. It’s definitely a “learning workplace norms” thing that was made worse by the fact that many people have been working remotely for the last 2 years, and new grads haven’t gotten to obtain the experience that many of us got before our first professional jobs.

    The emoji is annoying, but Allison’s advice to ask for clarification and then gently correct the behavior was spot-on.

    The “boss” thing could be mildly problematic if she doesn’t like it, but I think it’s in the delivery. I have one employee that calls me “boss”. The person means it as a sign of respect, so I don’t mind and I won’t correct it.

    The being late for the 1 on 1 meetings is a problem, and she needs to say something.

  40. All Het Up About It*

    I feel like these three items increase in severity/level of annoyance. The first two maybe have some situational applications and areas for confusion. Maybe boss/big boss is supposed to be more jokey. And count me in as one who was surprised that many people use that emoji to express triumph/”getting things done!” But it’s not okay to continuously be late for meetings with your boss! Sometimes it might happen, but it should never be a pattern.

    So I really appreciate Allison’s advice on trying to look at things individually to decide not only if they should be addressed, but how. Somethings maybe should be completely ignored while others deserve a quick correction/mention, and others could lead to a serious talk.

  41. MI Dawn*

    Coming here to agree with several of the posters. I’m a (much) older employee and I’ve known my manager for many, many years before she became my manager. I call her Boss sometimes, gently teasing her, in IM or informal skype call or informal email. But in formal meetings/communications it is always her full first name.

    Being late for ANYTHING makes me twitch, so I would mention that continuous lateness for scheduled meetings appears unprofessional and needs to stop.

    Emojis….I only use the 3 most common, :), :D, :( and then only in specific communications. If I email an outsider person, I would almost never use one unless it’s someone I’ve got a long established relationship with (i.e., Hi, XXX! Happy Friday! :) then the rest of the email).

  42. Pink Marbles*

    I am 26 and I would definitely not do any of those things, so I think this is really specific to that employee. I do think, though, that if you’re in a casual-leaning office (as you mentioned), some “norms” may be blurry. Obviously, lateness is not, but otherwise, it can be hard to tell. A friend of mine worked in an office where cursing was normal language and Friday afternoons always had alcohol, so an emoji there probably would have been more acceptable. I think it’s important to be honest if your employee’s behavior is a bit out of the norm. When I first started working, I really appreciated my boss giving me little tips and hints; I felt like she had enough respect for me to know I would take it well and understand it.

  43. Delta Delta*

    Emojis – I’m a lawyer and I also teach evidence, and I am more interested in emojis than is normal, especially because of how they work (or don’t) in a legal setting. One thing I’ve learned is that emojis are not all created equally, and unless both parties know what the emoji in question is meant for, chances are the sender means one thing, and the recipient reads something different. And depending on the platform, and if there are cross-platform emoji messages, what someone sends on Facebook may look different on iOS or android, and vice versa. So – the meaning might be getting lost on a number of levels. It seems like OP could just, you know, ask him why he’s doing this and explain that it’s not coming across very well.

    And with the “boss” piece or the lunch piece, just… talk to him. He may not realize he’s doing anything wrong or a little off-putting. If the 1:1 meetings are scheduled such that he can’t get lunch, that isn’t fair, and it may make more sense to move those to a different time so there’s no overlap.

  44. Not So NewReader*

    There’s been a lot of comments about generations.

    I did not see much about professionalism-as in how to define professionalism. Every company has it’s differences. OP appears to think that her company wrote the book on professionalism and New Person should have read it. OP, if you change companies you might be in for a shock.

    There is no one-size-fits-all definition of professionalism. No company has the corner on the professionalism market.

    Instead of assuming New Person is oh-so-very-wrong why not just explain, “At this company we use people’s names and do not call them by their job. So “Boss” is actually “Tim”, the letter carrier is not Mail Person, he’s Bob and so on.

    I am kind of baffled why you did not say something the first time you heard it. Now he will wonder why you let him go on and on and embarrass himself. I suggest you preface your conversation with, “This one is my fault, I should have said something sooner so you could change course sooner. Going forward, I am going to be prompt about telling you what the norms are here.” Then you can list off the top 3 worst/most annoying things that you think will draw negative attention to him quickly. Add more later on.

  45. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    Lateness – separate issue. I don’t think there is any work culture where being late repeatedly is part of the acceptable culture.

    The rest, I could see that happening at any age/experience. The inability to read the room suggests inexperience, but I have had some people with tons of experience be equally clueless.

    None of this would be out of line where I (52, so pretty solidly genX) currently work, at least not within the immediate group. emoji’s by their very nature tend to be a bit exaggerated and we would take things tongue in cheek. We communicate in the group with emojis and gifs frequently. It helps manage stress and builds camaraderie. We also refer to the grand boss by a nickname internally, because there are simply too many people in our group with the same first name. Nobody would take that farther and use it externally.

    Bottom line, instead of waiting for the employee to suss a cultural difference, it is on the OP to manage the employee. But take some time to really pause on if your interpretation of “professional norms” is not as much of a norm as you might think.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I don’t think there is any work culture where being late repeatedly is part of the acceptable culture.

      There are definitely work cultures where the order of priorities is “look after clients/patrons/patients/service users – look after yourself” and those things take precedence over being on time for a regular meeting with your boss. My team’s mornings are often filled with front line duties and because of the nature of those duties, they don’t always finish on time for their lunch breaks. I would always want them to make sure they get a lunch break and get something to eat and it’s MORE than OK if that means they’re late for a meeting with me. My work is easier to move around, so I’d always want them to prioritise their frontline duties and then getting a proper lunchbreak.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        This is an important distinction and I do recall that one of my past employees asked to move our regular scheduled one or one to better accommodate lunch, which I was happy to do.

        Something the OP wasn’t clear about and I wonder, because it does change the severity of the lateness issue is how is the employee communicating that they are running late? Are they communicating it? If my direct report sends me a text that lunch ran over and they’ll be 10 minutes late a few times in a row, that’s not as egregious as them just strolling in ten minutes late three times in a row.

      2. Observer*

        There are definitely work cultures where the order of priorities is “look after clients/patrons/patients/service users – look after yourself”

        Being late because you ran late to pick up lunch – repeatedly, does not qualify unless there is something significant about the lunch set up that the OP didn’t mention.

        1. londonedit*

          I agree – if I have a meeting with my boss and one of us sends a message saying ‘Sorry – need to jump on a call, can we reschedule to 12:15?’ or whatever, then it’s no problem at all, because it doesn’t happen all the time and something’s genuinely come up to get in the way of the meeting. If I was just turning up late on a regular basis because I hadn’t got myself organised enough to allow time to go and get my lunch, that’s really unprofessional and my boss would be right to be annoyed about it and tell me I need to get my act together. There’s actually an informal team meeting that I attend once a week that we’ve recently rescheduled, because it was originally right after everyone’s usual lunch break (we don’t have a set lunch hour but most people are doing lunch things between 1 and 2) and a couple of people said they were struggling to get themselves sorted and prepared to start straight after lunch. I think either the OP needs to agree to move the meeting to a better time (and the employee needs to commit to being on time) or if that can’t happen for some reason then the employee just needs to suck it up and make sure they finish their lunch break in time to make it to the meeting.

          1. allathian*

            A bit OT, but that’s an interesting cultural difference; working hours at my employer are very flexible, but I’m from an 8-4 office culture. I tend to get my lunch between 11 and 12, if I’m forced to wait much past that I get hangry. There’s a cultural institution here in Finland known as the 2 pm coffee break.

            I do think that the LW needs to tell the report that he has to be on time for their 1:1s and offer to reschedule if it’s inconvenient for the report. Under no circumstances should he have to skip lunch.

            1. londonedit*

              Yes, it was an adjustment for my Finnish family member when they started working here and found that most people take their lunch break between 1 and 2! And also that there were no lunch vouchers :)

              11am in the UK is traditionally ‘elevenses’ or the time when you might make a cup of tea and maybe have a biscuit or two to go with it, to see you through to lunchtime. But Brits drink tea all day long and don’t really have set times at which to take a tea break (traditionally it probably would have been 11am and 3 or 4pm, but that sort of ‘everyone takes a tea break at the same time’ culture has gone by the wayside these days).

  46. Rhianna*

    One note on the steam emoji: all my Gen Z friends and colleagues use that as a “hard working emoji” not as an irritated reaction!

    1. Unaccountably*

      I need more information! Why would you snort steam out your nostrils if you were working hard? To me it reads as a variant on “steam coming out of your ears,” a sign of anger, but on reading your comment I can see it being a sort of Warner Brothers-ish “steam coming out of your nostrils” like a bull about to charge in a cartoon.

      1. Calamity Janine*

        it’s kind of an getting-your-game-face-on gesture. imagine it being done in the spirit of something like a warm-up haka, or a bunch of marine grunts responding to a command en masse with SIR YES SIR! OOH-RAH!. the sentiment is roughly equivalent to that expressed in the viral video of the japanese fisherman yelling ‘don’t give up!!’ at you motivationally, lol!

      2. Vinessa*

        Why would you snort steam out your nostrils if you were working hard?
        It makes me think of when I go for a run outside during winter. You can definitely see visible air (ok, not “steam” technically) pouring from my nostrils then because of my heavy breathing from the physical exertion.

        I totally get the association between “steam out of nostrils” and working hard.

    2. Three Cheers for Root Beers*

      +1, I use this one to mean “let’s do it” or “I’m on it!”, particularly when coupled with the flexing arm. (I am 32.)

  47. Fluffy Fish*

    Forget about generations. And honestly forget about whether its’ new to working behavior or not. It really doesn’t matter.

    Is your new employee (whether he’s 18 or 82) out of step with the culture of your workplace? Yes? Then say something.

    Honestly the only thing that wouldn’t fly ever in my workplace would be being repeatedly late to the 1:1.

    Everything else, would fit in, in our jokey casual environment, contingent on who it’s being directed at and what the circumstances are. So it’s still nuanced even in a place where most of those things are ok dependent on context.

    It is not a big deal to address – this isn’t our work culture, you need to do x not y. And maybe since he is new tack on a general – every workplace has it’s culture of normal/accepted and that it’s always better to err on the absolute professional side of behavior/communication until you have a chance to get a feel for what the culture is.

    1. Heather*

      Yes I came here to say this. I mean, really what I want to say is that this workplace has a stick up its ass. But it’s just their office culture, and fair enough. But I’m 40 and if I got the steam emoji, my internal reaction would be “Lol, I’m glad he acknowledged my email, he better send that time sheet ASAP.”

      Actually my boss asked me to work recently via text and I sent her back the turning-green emoji. And she responded with praying hands and the hearts to convince me.

      Different fields, different grasshoppers.

      1. Calamity Janine*

        honestly given the workplace is described as quite casual… i’m going to bet that some of this is just new manager jitters. the lateness issue is still an issue, but if the new guy is seeing the rest of the company be relaxed about coming back from lunch on the dot, well, we know where he got the idea and it wasn’t really wrong of him to get it.

        i have sympathy for the LW because i feel like going into tryhard mode is very tempting when you’re a young woman doing, well, anything. you come ready to rumble and with more strict standards because you want to be taken seriously, not dismissed because of misogyny, so you get into the “do everything backwards and in heels, spend twice the effort to be considered half as good” mindset. and that comes with second-guessing and obsessing about decisions, as well as thinking that maybe if you’re just more of an iron lady, you can get people to read your mind.

        …of course, misogyny doesn’t pass over your door as it is a deliberate unwinnable catch-22, it just sucks. it’s still easy to listen to the people telling you that’s the only way to get by so you must do it.

        relaxing a bit and taking a breath means you get to stop feeling as if you are constantly proving yourself. i think the LW will get there pretty soon – she just needs to catch herself out of the spiral, and Alison’s advice is going to be fantastic for that.

  48. Calamity Janine*

    this has probably been mentioned but i am having an immediate Oh No, I Think I Might Know What He Meant moment here with the emoji.

    yea the face is often used for expressing frustration/anger/a big huffy sigh. but it’s also used as a sign of exertion and excitement – when you put your game face on, a lot of people use that emoji. it can just be him buckling down to give it his best effort!

    …i am having a second Oh No, I Think I Might Know What He Means with the boss appellations and i am sorry to tell you this but i have diagnosed your new employee not with a case of being a young’in. no, it’s worse.

    i am so sorry but he likely has a terminal case of being a Metal Gear Solid fan

    the official test for this diagnosis is to take him out to karaoke and see if he ends the night by belting out I’M STIIIILLL IN A DRREEEEEEAM, SNAAAAKE EEEAAATTEERRRR!!. but an informal quick test one can use in the workplace is to change your phone’s alert setting to the guard-alert-noise from a MGS game, and see if he immediately snaps to attention when it goes off. if he does this so hard a big red ! appears over his head, i regret to inform you that his case is quite advanced and in its final stages.

    1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

      I am heart-eyes emoji-ing at this comment.

      (Except that one time I did that in reaction to a tweet and was chastised for being inappropriately flirty. So I apparently don’t know what emojis mean either. I always just think of the heart-eyes as being platonic, but I’m learning so much from this whole thread and am eager to hear what other folks think!)

  49. Cube Farmer*

    This sounds like a rude, entitled employee who needs more experience in the workplace.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I got an, “All right, our kid!” from one of the people I manage the other week. “Eh up, boss!” would be a promotion.

  50. Rage*

    Ah-hah-hah I’m laughing because when my former employer “let me go” (rather, they told me they were eliminating my position and then hired somebody in for less – hell I was only making $35K after 15 freaking years so…whatever…)

    Anyway, the CEO (AKA Jerk) told me that a new client “didn’t think I could handle the role” (the role that Jerk wanted me in, that I had done before) so they were “going to go in a different direction.” Apparently that direction involved hiring some dude who only had construction experience. For a job liaising with affiliate organizations. Again: whatever.

    So I heard through the grapevine that he called a prospective affiliate org and spoke with the female director about their organization contracting with us. He reportedly told her to “give me your digits”.

    I am still waiting on the appropriate time to use this line in my current role.

  51. Nancy*

    The first two are not generational differences. They are preferences due to industry norms or personal preferences. And I’d say there isn’t a generational difference between a 30 year old and 25 year old anyway, no matter what the generational cutoff is defined as.

    1. If you don’t want to be referred to directly as boss, state your preferences.
    2. If you don’t want emojis used in tweets or emails to you, say so. I usually just ignore them since I don’t care enough to learn the meaning, but that’s me.

    Being late for meetings is not good and is not acceptable at any age. This should be discussed. I’d advice avoiding scheduling meetings during lunchtime, though, if that’s when it is scheduled currently.

  52. PizzaSquared*

    As someone in their mid-40s who has been working in offices (ostensibly “professional” environments) since my teens, I’m frankly stunned that any of this besides the 1:1 tardiness would be considered seriously problematic. Which I guess goes to show how much the individual office’s culture matters in questions like this. If it’s important in your office, explain it to them, but do so kindly and not coming in with the assumption that they are clueless.

    1. Heather*

      Same, same!! I’m 40. I work in healthcare though, not in business, so maybe it’s different? Yes, you have to be on time. But my manager and bosses and co-workers all sent each other heart-emojis and vomiting-emojis and stuff.

    2. Flash Packet*

      Same! I’m 56 and have been a white-collar Corporate America professional since my early 20’s.

      I’ve told my boss that if I could communicate solely in emojis and GIFs, I would. Which means that a ton of our IM conversations are one of us typing a question / FYI note and the other responding with emojis and GIFs, followed by 3 or 4 more exchanges of non-word messages.

      But late to a meeting and it was wholly under my control to be on time? Oh, hell no. Maybe once, if I fell on my sword, was sincerely embarrassed and apologetic, and never did it again. But twice? For the same reason? Egads.

    3. Glen*

      Even the 1 on 1s aren’t necessarily super egregious given that nothing has been said. If you schedule a meeting for directly after someone’s lunch, and that person leaves the office for lunch, you are inherently accepting the risk they’ll be delayed. If the kid can’t set when he goes to lunch, that’s just always going to be a risk, especially if he only gets 30 minutes (and I would argue even scheduling the meetings directly after lunch is an unkindness if that’s the case and he doesn’t choose when to go to lunch). OP needs to discuss the expectations around this. I don’t think I ever had a scheduled 1 on 1 start on time and though I as the employee always made sure I was available, I would look pretty askance at the manager who literally never managed to be on time but gave me a bollocking for being late (to be clear I didn’t actually have a problem with them being late it wasn’t disruptive to my work). It all depends on how OP and the worker are handling it and so far it sounds like OP literally hasn’t handled it. If he’s been only one or two minutes late, for example, then OP would be way out of line to discipline him without a conversation first.

  53. Unaccountably*

    Oh, LW.

    Oooh, LW. My sister in boggling at the way some people new to the workforce behave and how lacking they are in what the rest of us think of as common sense.

    I’ve dealt with this very issue and it’s only my tiny shriveled sense of professionalism that kept me from shrieking “WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT WAS OKAY???” at the top of my lungs. I say “some”, though, because – fortunately for me and my blood pressure – I work with a number of other baby Millennials/Gen Z’ers and they are awesome. Sharp, dedicated, pinpoint sense of work-life balance, communication styles that actually work for me. They are my joys, even the ones who have endless questions, because they’re *good* questions. Even the ones who want to communicate in words of one syllable, because I too get a tired throat when I have to say too many sentences in a row, and you can say a surprising amount in words of one syllable plus intonation and body language. I love our young adults. They give me hope for the future.

    Quite a few of them are around your age. They don’t make me want to shake my cane and tell them to get off my lawn. They want me to yell at them to come over to my lawn because we have cocktails, alcohol-cooler conversations, and dancing to Rihanna while debating the relative advantages of AI and machine learning.

    Your employee is not one of the ones allowed on my lawn. That’s probably cane-shaky of me, but you know? For most positions, there are wonderful young people you can hire who will cheerfully send you their timesheets instead of angry emojis. There are wonderful not-young people who will send you their timesheets instead of angry emojis. You do not have to commit to socializing an entire human being just because you hire someone younger than you are!

    Try to socialize this one, within the limits of your role and abilities, remembering that you are neither their mother nor their college professor. If it doesn’t work? Well, there are probably more where this one came from, waiting for a chance to prove themselves, and most of them will be people you don’t have to socialize.

    This employee does not spark joy. If they cannot be made to spark joy, or even to spark satisfaction, thank them, send them on their way, and hire one who does.

    1. bamcheeks*

      neither their mother nor their college professor

      Honestly if you think it’s either someone’s college professor or their mother’s job to teach them workplace norms… *wonky face emoji*

      1. Unaccountably*

        Not specifically, but by god, someone better have taught them to learn by observing the people around them before they get to me. Similarly, someone had better have taught them how to find out information, vet sources, and just plain think.

        If they don’t know that, I can’t help them. I don’t have time. I don’t have the skills. I can fire them and replace them with someone who was, at some point, by someone, taught to use their brain instead of having everything spoon-fed to them. I don’t care whose job it was to do that in the past. I just care that it’s not mine, nor my other reports’, now. Sorry if that offends you.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Not offended, just think you’re probably missing out on a lot if you only recognise other people’s “professionalism” if it coincidentally lines up with your own very narrow definition and that you’ probably find life much easier if you were willing to communicate what your expectations are!

    2. Tracy Flick*

      “socialize this one?”

      This comment is extremely patronizing and inappropriate, so much so that it honestly makes me wonder what you’re like to work with.

      Socialize is not a word you use about your professional relationship with another adult. It’s a word you use for children and animals – “socializing an entire human being.” Managers do not “socialize” their people who report to them.

      If anyone at my company spoke about a coworker this way – or if I overheard this kind of advice about another employee – I’d complain to my manager about it and consider going to HR. A company that encourages an attitude like this towards younger employees is a toxic environment for younger employees. It is not a company where they will learn about professional norms, because this attitude is not aligned with professional norms.

      And ftr, if I heard this level of frankly disparaging condescension towards any adult who also happened to be a member of a protected class, it’d be straight to HR, do not pass go, do not collect $200. I don’t care if you’re an equal opportunity patronizer, this degree of condescension + marginalized group = lawsuit waiting to happen.

      1. Unaccountably*

        …Okay? And your complaint to HR would be what, exactly? That I don’t have time to teach people how to exist in workplace environments without conflict? That I don’t have time to explain things that every other employee has managed to learn by watching the people around them? That I can’t have someone on my team who endangers the relationships I’ve built by being unable or unwilling to learn workplace norms?

        Would it be my telling people to help co-workers adjust to office norms, and learn other workplace norms, as best they can, which is literally what you are objecting to in my post? And the alternative is that, I guess, no one should help people figure things out, we should just all have to deal with disruptive reports who can’t learn to do their jobs?

        Good luck with those complaints. “Person unable to figure out how to work in an office” is not a protected class, and being a member of another protected class does not make them immune from any and all consequences of poor fit or inability to do their jobs.

        1. Calamity Janine*

          “And your complaint to HR would be what, exactly? That I don’t have time to teach people how to exist in workplace environments without conflict?”

          yes, actually. that’s a pretty decent complaint, especially since you seem to sort other people into good and bad fairly easily and have a massive chip on your shoulder about it. if it’s part of your job to teach these things, you should be able to teach them without belittling scorn.

          “That I don’t have time to explain things that every other employee has managed to learn by watching the people around them?”

          yes. if you want people to know things, you have to tell them. not just waste your own time by hoping they read the vibrations of the universe correctly. if you are training someone, you have to actually train them, not merely seethe internally and get mad at them when they don’t read your mind. it’s a crucial part of your job that you are neglecting.

          “That I can’t have someone on my team who endangers the relationships I’ve built by being unable or unwilling to learn workplace norms?”

          yeah, this is also a proper HR complaint, because as you already stated, you’re not telling people things – just resenting them for not reading your mind. if you’re going to doubly punish someone for not correctly picking up on ~ * the vibe you send out unto the cosmos * ~ , and for needing explicit instruction… as i said elsewhere, you are setting yourself up to discriminate against people whose brains don’t work in *exactly* the same way that yours does, with *exactly* the same knowledge you already have. this usually just means you’re discriminating against anyone neuroatypical. or who dares to have a neurodiversity that ain’t exactly the same as your own. and yes, when you get into relying on bigotry taking aim at a protected class (such as having, y’know, a medical condition that means their brain doesn’t work exactly like yours), you are setting yourself up to fail. and fail hard. and fail very expensively for the company.

          and it seems like that’s mostly what you’re doing. failing. feeling burned out and frustrated.

          …because you would rather spend all your energy being angry at people for not knowing things you don’t tell them, and sneering at them as subhuman animals and lesser-than the entire way.

          heck, even if you’re trying to train them… even dogs don’t train as easily when you view them, and treat them, with rank contempt before punishing them for things that you didn’t tell them not to do. the dog will not learn to not pee on the carpet because you kicked it extra hard. negative reinforcement simply, empirically, does not work as effectively and as quickly. the dog will learn to not pee on the carpet when you learn to get it into the habit of peeing outside and praise it when it does so. you can be on your hands and knees scrubbing the carpet all day long and cursing your dog for not knowing to not pee on the carpet… or you can spend a lot less time, money, and frustration by realizing your dog needs to go out at more than 12 hour intervals, then praising the dog for going potty in the grass outside.

          you can rail against the evil and awful dogs all you like, but you’re still going to be wasting your own time if you intentionally choose methods that don’t work. (as you are doing now.)

          so… does the martyrdom act spark joy? ’cause it sure sounds like it ain’t doing that for ya.

          1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

            +one billion to this, thank you for saying what I was thinking but couldn’t put into words so clearly

        2. Tracy Flick*

          No, it would be that you are talking about the people you manage like they are children. That is extremely disrespectful and inappropriate. It is your job to treat the people you work with – including people junior to you – with basic respect. That includes treating them like they are adults, and not describing them like they’re stupid or socially incompetent.

          Your comments are dripping with contempt for your coworkers – and for everyone you’re interacting with on this thread. I understand that you can’t see that, and that you honestly think you seem ’empathetic and world weary’ rather than ‘mean-spirited and condescending’ but it’s a problem. To the extent that you are influencing younger/newer employees, you’re teaching them toxicity: poor boundaries, disrespect, and a level of hostility that should never inform your professional relationships.

          And while “people you happen to see as incompetent and inferior” is not a protected class, this attitude looks extra unprofessional – as in, bigoted and illegal – if the person you’re displaying it towards happens to be a member of a marginalized group. HR would want to know that you’re talking to an employee on the autism spectrum like they’re a child. They would want to know that you are using a term as loaded as ‘socialize’ in reference to a woman of color. (They would want to know that your relationship with younger employees is this bound up in negative stereotypes overall – hostility is generally frowned upon!) This attitude is the kind of thing that could damage the company’s reputation and – like I said – get the company sued. Again, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing this to everyone you work with. It looks terrible. That matters.

          And the fact that you can’t make that connection is yet more evidence that you are the one who has a problem understanding professional norms.

      2. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

        I think it’s reasonable to assume that Unaccountably is not writing in these comments exactly as they’d speak in the workplace.

        1. Tracy Flick*

          I think they’re demonstrating a lack of self-awareness overall, and also…it’s not the vocabulary that’s the problem, it’s the attitude. They’re describing deep-seated contempt. They’re acting like it is right and proper to see their coworkers as inferior, basically incompetent and socially maladroit, in need of special ‘help’ to function as people – to hold normal conversations, even!

          That will seep through, even if this level of clear exasperation and entitlement doesn’t ever lead to explicit comments. Which is a big if.

          And even setting that aside…the way they talk about the “fun” workplace culture they’ve created is actually unprofessional and boundary-crossing as all get out. It’s based on a bunch of stereotypes about younger. Combined with their assumption that younger employees need their nurturing assistance to become real professionals, it’s a bad scene. I don’t believe that their relationships with the people they supervise are remotely healthy, and I don’t think they’ve created any space for feedback FROM those people.

          I also think that this is a harmful approach from an HR standpoint. If your supervisor is defining you as professionally incompetent, or so out of touch with professional norms that you need special handholding to function, are you likely to trust your perceptions or advocate for your needs? If you were exposed to this attitude on a daily basis, would you feel comfortable interacting with managers up the chain, or even with your coworkers? This isn’t supportive. It’s undermining and isolating.

          If my supervisor were behaving this way, I’d find it really alienating. I wouldn’t trust them, and would be seeking to distance myself.

    3. Esmae*

      Yikes. He doesn’t need to be socialized, he just needs to be reminded that emojis are open to interpretation and not a good choice for work communications.

    4. Calamity Janine*

      with all due gentleness, this reply you wrote has way more to do with you expressing your own burnout and cynical bugbears than it has anything to do with a generational gap (or even this letter, really). maybe it’s time for a little check-in with yourself on the matter?

    5. Unaccountably*

      Apparently a lot of people responding to this comment do not actually know what the word “socialize” means. Please feel free to substitute “fit or train for a social environment, especially in regard to the social norms in your particular workplace,” and perhaps that will make you a little less defensive.

      1. Tracy Flick*

        No, and I think you might not be very good at understanding what is and is not condescending.

        The rest of the comment includes lines like this: “My sister in boggling at the way some people new to the workforce behave and how lacking they are in what the rest of us think of as common sense. I’ve dealt with this very issue and it’s only my tiny shriveled sense of professionalism that kept me from shrieking “WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT WAS OKAY???” at the top of my lungs. I say “some”, though, because – fortunately for me and my blood pressure…They are my joys, even the ones who have endless questions, because they’re *good* questions. Even the ones who want to communicate in words of one syllable…and you can say a surprising amount in words of one syllable plus intonation and body language…They want me to yell at them to come over to my lawn because we have cocktails, alcohol-cooler conversations, and dancing to Rihanna while debating the relative advantages of AI and machine learning…Well, there are probably more where this one came from, waiting for a chance to prove themselves, and most of them will be people you don’t have to socialize…This employee does not spark joy.”

        “communicate in words of one syllable.”

        I know how ‘socialize’ is used, thanks. In the context of the entire rest of this comment, it is not being used in the sense this is appropriate to apply to a fellow adult. It’s not a coincidence that they used a term that is also used to refer to children and feral cats, rather than one of the less-loaded synonyms they had available. This person is talking about people they see as similar to children: intellectual and developmental inferiors, people who require a great deal of forbearance and assistance, well beyond a normal manager-trainee relationship. That’s not appropriate or helpful.

      2. Calamity Janine*

        i’ll be honest, this is not helping you look like you’re doing anything other than venting about the chip on your shoulder. even compared to your other comments, this one is dripping condescension and bitterness. …and is not actually anything that has much to do with the topic at hand.

        if you wanted to have a rant about semi-related pet peeves, honestly, that’s fine. but it’s also not terribly relevant. at least, your comments are far more relevant elsewhere. …in which, well, you’re getting more information telling you how you’re wrong on some of the details here.

        how are we to take this rant about unprofessional behavior seriously, wherein you put yourself forward as the one true arbiter of professionalism, when you’re being disproven by additional details? it’s not a failure of someone else’s professionalism if you, say, don’t know what an emoji means – but it IS a failure of YOUR professionalism if you decide to cop a nasty attitude about it. elsewhere you’ve been able to say “i need more information! …thank you! that has changed how i see this issue!”. why not this one? you are being given more information here about how your snarky attitude and glee at demeaning some folks as subhuman for not living up to your expectations ends up hitting. it does not spark joy. or good business sense, really. so why the change?

        and why the change only to accuse everyone *else* of being defensive here?

        physician, heal thyself. or maybe it’s less physician and more IMAX movie projector, who knows.

  54. Gracely*

    Emojis are pictures, and pictures are worth a thousand words. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t agree on what those words are. That’s the biggest issue with using emojis in work conversations. They don’t add clarity unless you know exactly what the other person interprets them as, and it’s rare that you know that interpretation for anyone outside of a friend/family relationship.

    1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

      Yep! Emojis should be used very carefully in the workplace, not because they’re “inappropriate” but because they often send the wrong message.

      IMO, other than a thumbs up or checkmark, etc, they should mostly be used to convey the tone of words you’ve typed out, not to REPLACE typing out those words.

      1. I prefer emoticons*

        Exactly where I stand on it, too. Emojis are super common use at my company, but we’re a tech company so that’s not shocking – as Xillenial Old I had to learn how to use them properly on Slack. Because there’s so much room for interpretation, it’s best to pair anything that isn’t immediately obvious with at least a word or two to fully set the tone.

        “Okay ” is not always read the same as “I’m on it! ” – even though I just brought one up as “face_with_steam” and one as “triumph” because that’s the intended meaning.

        Personally I think it’s a real reach to read this as angry – steam coming out of ears, sure, that’s angry, but that speaks to the issue perfectly. Emoji is a language and many of us aren’t fluent in it the way younger folks in the workplace are. It’s important for them to learn use them as an enhancement rather than a substitute, and it’s important for those of us not experienced to learn the language anyway. There are plenty of people who genuinely don’t understand that has connotations beyond “vegetable”, and my company had a sexual harassment seminar where they were cautioning about emoji use.

        Eggplant didn’t come up in that, but ❤️ did, something my squishy feelings oriented customer service team uses constantly and entirely platonically!

    2. Words Preferred*

      Thank you, Gracely and Cool Tina. Yours was my response too, and I’m happy to know I’m not completely alone.
      It’s kinda annoying to receive messages where I have to spend ten minutes trying to parse out what the blasted emoji is saying: it might be “I’m on it,” or maybe “You’re a flaming jerk for even asking me this question,” or maybe something entirely different. Please, I beg you, give me words—*those* I understand!

      Prof. Harold Hill and his colleagues were right: you gotta know the territory. And based on the responses I’ve read here alone, it appears that an emoji can have any of several different meanings, depending on the situation, the sender, and the receiver.

    3. Calamity Janine*

      tone is similarly ambiguous, and yet it still is part of regular communication, though. it’s not as if using only words exactly saves you from this problem, either! just ask people to decide conclusively if “bless your heart” is a positive sincere sentiment, or negative snarky one…

      i admit you’re not the only one doing it here, but i find myself a little baffled how some people view emojis as uniquely treacherous forms of communication. i hate to break it to y’all: every single form of communication to date has inherent ambiguity. and yet… the ambiguity often adds to information being given, not detracts! it is a known flaw in human communication. this may be solved when we can perfectly beam thoughts into other people’s heads… but even then, personal experience is the major cause of many of these ambiguities. (the personal experience of reading the emoji in the letter as “i’m furious, absolutely huffing and puffing with anger at you” versus “time to get my gameface on and do my best!!”, for example… it entirely depends on the definitions learned through seeing other people use it, and forming an internal definition.)

      if anyone doubts that this is so, just go ask your local supply of english majors. get somebody talking about poetry, and after they finish frothing at the mouth, they will eventually agree. then go take a trip to the local linguist’s guild, past the glassy-eyed and haunted stares of all the translators… maybe at some point you’ll swing past the classics department, and someone will spontaneously burst into tears about how they just don’t know enough cultural context to get a joke that Plautus would have had romans in stitches with…

      emoji aren’t inherently evil. they’re just another form of human communication, filled with the same foibles we’ve been up against since… let me look at my notes… maybe holler at the anthropology department… yeah, somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 years ago.

      (it’s so dang ambiguous that’s the best numbers they got.)

      1. Calamity Janine*

        or other words,

        [ pipe emoji ]
        Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

        oh treachery of communication, you strike again, you wee rascal!

      2. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

        There’s nothing that will exactly save you from 100% of all miscommunications. I stand by my opinion that it’s wise to do what one can to be understood; intentionally sacrificing verbal content when one doesn’t have to will greatly increase the chance of being misunderstood.

        “tone is similarly ambiguous, and yet it still is part of regular communication, though.”

        Yes, part. I can’t think of a time in the workplace that someone tried to communicate to me with tone but no words at all. I don’t know what that would even mean.

        “Uniquely treacherous” and “inherently evil” push your comment into strawman territory. The Plautus part is baffling–I wouldn’t advise anyone working in a standard, modern, American office to communicate mostly with Plautus references, either.

        1. Calamity Janine*

          right, a part, but not actually one that is any more dangerous than other aspects of communication – so it’s better to focus on better communication strategies, not to simply single out emojis as the problem. the notion that emojis are ambiguous above and beyond words or tone is what i was being baffled by. they are yet another aspect of communication.

          (though i will say, you’ve probably gotten communication with tone but no words – for example, a coworker holding up a hand and making a noise around a mouthful of their drink to indicate that they heard you and will respond, they just need a second to chew. like i said, just another facet.)

          …the Plautus thing is me making a joke about how all communication is imperfect, because even though Plautus wrote some plays that have survived, there’s layers of meaning we don’t get from the text. things like cultural references or a stock character we are unfamiliar with, but an ancient Roman would. so it’s sad that the knowledge has been lost, and with that aspect of communication, information has been lost as well. it is not a relevant topic for business offices, this is true. that is why I wrote about this happening in a classics department. where they are studying classics. that’s an integral feature of the joke, given how many other college departments are there too. the lack of knowledge about ancient Roman playwrights is not being mourned at an Adobe software company board meeting, it’s being mourned by the academics who are sitting around discussing Roman playwrights. because that is their job. being the classics department. where classics happens. that’s why it was mentioned in the joke.)

  55. toolittletoolate*

    when there are this many different interpretations of an emoji, I would say it’s time to use words.

  56. Calamity Janine*

    i have to admit, although it’s a problem, even the late to one-on-ones is something that i could see as being perfectly explainable and not something to hold over someone’s head overmuch. it seems more plausibly a symptom of being new to the job than it is a symptom of generation gap.

    others have talked about how deadlines for being back from lunch are mushier in some offices than in others. but there’s also perhaps just the fact that… if he’s new to working around here, he might not have that built-up knowledge of what places will actually be able to get in and out as quickly as you want! and what side roads are slammed for the lunch rush, or what shortcuts you should use, or… you get the idea.

    if you’ve been working in the area for awhile, all of this is probably second nature. “of course you don’t do mexican for lunch, they promise the speedy gonzalez special out in 15 minutes but it NEVER is.” “oh that’s the horribly understaffed mcdonald’s. it always takes ages.” “that’s the intersection you want to turn at when you come back from lunch, otherwise you’ll get stuck in gridlock as the preschool mid-day pickups are happening around the block. the tailback’ll getcha.” you get the idea. this is knowledge you probably have, but haven’t entirely realized you have.

    and that’s if all the lunch options are working as normal! i’ve certainly noticed that in, y’know, the current economy, there are plenty of places out there complaining “nobody wants to work” when the problem is they are paying minimum wage for a job that is hard, stressful, physically strenuous, with an irregular schedule, etc… in the middle of the ongoing pandemic. not to mention the supply chain issues that can trickle down to cause expected times to go higgledy-piggledy. so if he’s stuck waiting somewhere, and late because of that… well, it may not all be on him.

    this isn’t to say that the lateness isn’t a problem. just that i would recommend allowing him some grace on the matter by giving him a chance to explain. Alison’s advice about looking at the time this is scheduled is especially astute. it may be that immediately after lunch is simply an appointment time that’s too easy to have slip due to outside forces.

    the only real consequence of generational matters i can really see? a larger proportion of his Formative Years Of Learning Business Norms have happened in the time of plague than yours. it may be that he’s simply a bit rusty or unpracticed with doing things like estimating when he needs to pack his lunch up and start out for the office again. it’s a skill like any other skill, it improves through practice, and he just hasn’t spent as large of a percentage of his career doing this than you have. but that’s not really so much about generation as it is when you enter the workforce – the two things aren’t always connected. this means it’s another skill which you can coach him on as his boss to help him develop those professionalism muscles.

    (or, if you’re in the type of workplace where deadlines for being back on the clock aren’t quite as rigid – after all, you mentioned the workplace is pretty casual – you can always joke that when he’s running late, the toll is he has to bring you back a cookie or something as boss’s time tax lol.) (probably just make this a joke though. don’t actually do it.)

  57. toodaloo*

    I think remote work does complicate these types of things. How would you handle the emoji conversation if both parties were remote? It seems like the set up of being remote limits the ability to have these casual conversations and I’m trying to find the right wording/balance. If you have to jump on a zoom or schedule a call, or even call on the phone, it feels like a much bigger deal.

  58. Just Me*

    Yeah, as Alison said, I would reframe this as “what is appropriate in our workplace” as opposed to “what is ‘normal’ for Gen Z’s.” Being late and using annoying nicknames (“hey boss!”) is something that people of all ages do (and, honestly, I’ve had some Boomer managers throw emojis into work chats in ways that were…odd, to say the least). I’d say you just need to explain to the employee that while their work is good and the office is casual, they must be a little more serious at work by referring to people by their names and being on-time for appointments.

  59. PB Bunny Watson*

    Huh. So that’s what that emoji is. I always thought it was this fingers pointing to his face… I won’t say WHICH fingers I thought it involved. Glad to know what it really is now–though it seems I at least had the gist of what it meant.

  60. Basketball Jones*

    In addition to this person being ͏new to the work world, I might offer that your conception of professional norms seems to lean pretty conservative. The boss/big boss stuff seems pretty normal, if a bit tongue in cheek — people use those terms on this site all the time. The emoji thing is something that I would definitely interpret as playful sarcasm before outright disrespect — it wouldn’t be out of place in communications among the younger employees at my office, honestly. And in my office, one-on-one meetings and check-ins are pretty much the ONLY meetings where it’s ok to start a little late — stuff happens, and yes, sometimes people are finishing lunch. Now, your office isn’t my office — and honestly, I suspect that some of his laid-backness comes from the fact that you’re basically peers in terms of age, and I get why you don’t want to be seen that way. But just suggesting that his behavior might not be out of place in all professional settings, at least not to the extent that you think.

  61. Making up names is hard*

    The whole boss/big boss thing is language I would use privately when speaking with friends and family who don’t know everyone’s name, but using it internally or to the person themselves is not cool. Not really cause it’s rude, but because it’s too casual and impersonal.

    I did refer to my boss as “my boss” when introducing her to my friend and immediately regretted it (we were not at work though; we ran into each other on the weekend). Later she joked about it when talking about how weird it is to be a “boss” now… But yeah never saying that again to her/in her hearing, but if I’m just talking to my friends or family outside of work, then “boss” it is. Just gotta remember to introduce her as “our managing director, NAME” next time.

    As for the emoji–i agree with a lot of what was said here re: multiple meanings with a bnktance being least common, and it being a professional norm thing. However, there are a lot of offices that use slack and therefore use emojis a lot!! My friend’s company even has their own slightly different meanings for some emojis based on how they resemble things related to their specific industry. So if your employee came from a slack-using company he might not realize that emojis aren’t normative in all offices!

  62. no one reads this far*

    It’s also possible he worked/interned at a place with a completely different office culture. Where I work, communications (unless reporting to the Big Boss or clients) are very lax.

    My boss uses a nickname for me & vice versa (& I don’t mean like Bob for Robert but ones like Mouse or Big Cheese) We commonly send gifs or emojis related to the situation to one another.

    So I would guide him on company culture and what is and isn’t appropriate for your office.

    1. Heather*

      Exactly. If my manager wants me to work an extra shift, she starts her text with: “*heart* *heart* *kiss face* Good morning my lovely!!!!” and she ends with praying hands emoji. We are not close friends or anything– this is just our office culture.

  63. cm*

    Sorry, I’m a big boss myself, and your employee is just funny. And he trusts you. You are doing fine.

  64. Good News #4*

    How much time are we talking about by being late for after lunch 1:1’s?

    Because, the first two weeks at NewJob, there was just enough discrepancy between the time on my computer and the time set by the office that I was constantly showing up to meetings a precise number of minutes late, and also expecting them to run minutes longer than actually scheduled. It was not enough of a time difference to be “a big deal” but was enough to throw me off my game. Fortunately, I discovered that my phone was running exactly in synch with the office clocks so I used that as my reference until the computer issue got taken care of.

    Because so many of our timekeeping devices are presumed to be auto-updated, we don’t think of them as being off but it wouldn’t hurt to check this employee’s devices and see if they’re synched to the office clocks.

  65. New Mom*

    I’m managing four interns this summer and one of them also has been late to meetings for things that are within his control, not setting his alarm, choosing to make lunch right before a 1:1, RSVPing to an optional meeting and then not attending when he was the only other attendee. I had to talk with him about it twice, I think the first time I was too gentle and it kept happening and I said that while the internship is pretty lenient about certain things, being repeatedly late to meetings in your first month is a fireable offense at some jobs. I also let him know that the first few months are about building a reputation and that in the future if he’s late here or there, people understand because they know him at that point, but at the beginning people don’t know him and being late (or unreliable) could become his reputation. That seemed to stick.

  66. It's Me*

    The emoji made me laugh. That emoji doesn’t typically mean irritation to Gen Z any more than the cowboy emoji means cowboy. But asking what it DOES mean may help clue him in that the implicit meaning may be lost on some folks. (And my org uses emojis in tweets all the time—and my team uses them everywhere! It just depends on your company’s social voice for the former, company norms for the latter.)

  67. pip pip cheerio*

    This one’s interesting because I *do* see this more as a generational thing! Or at the very least, maybe more the product of different office cultures. Neither of those first two examples feel inherently unprofessional to me, especially for a more casual office. I’m 24 and associate that emoji pretty exclusively with “feeling pumped up/working hard.” I wonder if it would’ve been an issue if he had included “You got it!” with the emoji, which is pretty much the message I got from its usage.

    Being late feels like the only big issue, and even with that one, I’m wondering whether the 1:1s are scheduled too close to lunch and it would fix the issue to just move them permanently back 15 minutes. Of course, OP should definitely start that convo about his lateness and if the boss/emoji usage is out of step with the office culture/just doesn’t vibe with OP’s personal preference, letting him know will only do him favors in the long run. But I also wouldn’t really assume this is about him misunderstanding professional norms.

  68. question*

    Could any of this be a racial thing? Young black professionals are more likely to call the boss ‘boss’ or ‘bossman’ because they figure the person worked hard to be the boss and deserves to have that flaunted a bit.

    1. Calamity Janine*

      i brought that up somewhere above, but i think “boss” definitely has a racial component to its use in this manner! intersecting with class, as well. it’s something that i have heard a lot more from non-white, blue-collar workers. partially because the (often white) boss-man wants to have that authority reasserted, partially because the workers want to honor the boss getting all the way up to the top and therefore wish to refer to them by that honorific, as one would use “sir” and “ma’am” strictly. it’s something that i’ve noticed more often from poc, both black and hispanic/latine workers. (and in certain types of blue collar work, having a generic ‘boss’ might be very useful as your first instinct – if you’re a day laborer, whoever is ‘boss’ is not somebody you will be cultivating a long-standing relationship with; even on the same construction site, the boss one day may be the person in charge of plumbing, or electrical, or roofing… more practical by far to get into the more generic habit.)

      it’s something that i also think has a big regional component. some people say they’ve never heard it. down here in the southern united states… it’s still enough of a thing for me to be well aware of (while so white i may as well be crafted from mayonnaise by a modern, greasy pygmalion, then breathed into life by aphrodite after she ate so much dodgy coleslaw that it seemed like a good idea).

  69. Bast*

    In the office I work at, none of these things would be out of the norm. We are all in our 30s and 40s at my office, so it really isn’t a generational thing.

    I will admit, as a punctual person, the constantly running late grinds my gears a bit, but there is definitely an acceptable late in our office — 15 minutes late is fine, an hour is not.

    Emojis are used in inter office messages. Nothing that clients or anyone else sees, but enough.

  70. Naan Bread*

    Emojis are so interesting, I use the face with steam emoji to signal “I’m pumped!” or like “I’m raring to go” or even to punctuate a statement like “so THERE” but I totally get how it can also look like irritation. The subjectivity of emojis make all but the most obvious ones (thumbs up, smile, etc) not suitable for professional communication imo.
    If you’re assuming the worst from an emoji, I’d take a step back and ask for clarification.

    1. Luna*

      Same! I know that in Japan the ‘smiling, steam from nose’ kinda face can be used to signify ‘Smugness’ and ‘Yep, I am achieved this!’. And not automatically mean ‘steaming from my nose, I am so mad’.

  71. clara sparks*

    If my boss didn’t want to be called “boss” to his face, he could always have chosen to be labor instead of management.

  72. Retired (but not really)*

    In regards to the “boss”/“big boss” usage, I know someone who routinely calls his boss either “boss” or “boss man/lady”. I actually thought this was a younger (to me) thing as this person is ~ 25 years younger than I am, so effectively 15-20 years older than the OP. I’m guessing this is totally not the norm in the OP’s work place so it needs to addressed as such, like the other “this isn’t how we do things here” issues. For all we know that might have been the norm where he did an internship or at a previous part time job while he was in school. Each workplace can have different norms even within the same field.

  73. Gothxbrooks*

    I also have coworkers who are much older than both OP and their employee who are so much worse than this, so really, not a generational thing. It’s very funny to me someone 30 vs 25 saying this.

  74. Ellis Bell*

    OP, you have done due diligence in checking your baseline reaction to this employee… so now you can just say the thing? Like, just say what you want to say, without a tone or making it a big deal. Clue him in. Be clearer than your employee’s emojis! So going forward: “Oh I don’t like to be called boss”, “I need you to be on time for meetings”, “What does this emoji mean to you?”, “Hmm that emoji won’t read well enough for a tweet”… Etc. You don’t have to be the all-knowing, you can say that you don’t understand the particular context of an emoji. You don’t have to be giving out standards that are Objectively Right Everywhere; you know what goes in your own company. Say the thing.

  75. Luna*

    I’m pretty sure the year-gap between ‘millenial’ and ‘Gen-Z’ is not five years…? Especially if this letter is somewhat recent, which means the LW was born in 1992 and the employee in 1997, which I believe is still part of the ‘millenial’ range. I don’t know the exact year you start counting as ‘Gen-Z’, but I believe it’s some time past the year 2000.

    One thing I do want to point out, LW, is that you sound a li’l exasperated that this younger person, who might be new-ish to the working world, just doesn’t automatically *know* all the professional norms. Especially those of your particular company. For all you know, their previous work was a place where calling supervisors ‘big boss’ was the norm and emojis or emoticons were frequently used in messaging!
    If the employee doesn’t know and what they are doing comes across as really unprofessional, rude, or even offensive, take them aside and let them know that X is not really something to do here because X-related reason. (No emojis in emails because… I dunno, HR has set up a rule that those are considered not professional between colleagues, so they should be restricted to internal IMs)

    After all, if nobody tells the person what they are doing is an issue, how is the person supposed to learn and change?
    And I admit I’m saying this with a degree of bias because I am on the spectrum, and have had people blowing up at me because how dare I not just *know* that Y gets done instead of Z, when nobody ever told me that my doing Y was an issue when it first occurred.

    1. quill*

      The exact year that splits a generation is not always decided until the first members of the second generation are old enough to vote. Or, you know, decided and set in stone: I’ve seen people quote the first born of gen Z as people born anywhere from 1996 to 2004. (If it’s 2004 then articles on “gen Z joins the workforce” for the last two years have been a little premature…)

  76. le travestie*

    Okay, first of all, LW doesn’t know what a generation is.

    Secondly:
    “…you wouldn’t have been out of line to drop by his office and say, “Did you just send me an irritated emoji when I asked for your timesheet?” ”

    Yes, you would have been. Anyone would be out of line with this level of passive aggression. Just tell the idiot kid that they shouldn’t reply like that and move on.

    1. Delphine*

      That’s not passive aggression. That’s called being direct while leaving room for an employee to save face.

      1. Observer*

        Or to explain that that’s not what that emoji means. Because apparently, a lot of people mean it to use other things.

  77. Sassenach*

    I disagree on being out of touch. Steam coming from one’s head has historically been known to mean anger. It’s news to me that it means something totally different and I was today year’s old when I found that out.

    1. Luna*

      Steam coming out of the ears is usually seen for anger, I agree. But from the nostrils? Hmm, I recall some cartoons doing that, but not nearly as often as the ears one.
      Though maybe the nostril one makes more sense if you think of ‘angry like a raging bull’, those are generally the nostril-flaring ones…
      Man, what a thing to think about: how often have you seen this facial expression to mean A or B in cartoons?

  78. Ana*

    In my office and in my friend’s group, we use that emopji to mean we’re working hard, I never read it as irritated

  79. Frequent Reader*

    That means you are indeed out of touch with how it is currently used vs how it was historically used.
    People are referencing Loony Tunes, cartoons which originally aired during the childhood of a 20 year olds GRANDPARENTS. Young people are more likely to have anime as their reference- cartoons that are both new and culturally Japanese.

  80. Dawn*

    I know plenty of people have already commented on this but I just wanted to reaffirm, don’t assume you know what an emoji means (particularly to someone in a younger age bracket) unless you are REALLY confident. Because both the LW and Alison got at least the on-paper meaning of this one wrong and found it inappropriate as a result of their interpretation.

    Now, yes, this is a good argument to minimize emoji use in the workplace. But you should really ask this person what meaning they intended because it probably wasn’t annoyance/irritation.

    1. Dawn*

      Also going to reaffirm that this definitely sounds like someone for whom anime (and anime-focused communities) were formative.

      It is VERY normal in anime (and, actually, in Japanese culture,) to call your manager “Boss,” “Chief,” “Big Boss,” (Seriously! Dai-bosu is a term that is used!,) and more. Emojis were INVENTED in Japan. And while one doesn’t usually show up late for meetings in the Japanese business world, I’d still have to say that what you’re seeing here is a cultural divide: here is someone who got their idea of the working world from anime.