my boss changes her mind after I’ve already started a project, how common is swearing at work, and more

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

1. My boss changes her instructions after I’ve already starting working on a project

After having a few different managers in my current role, I now have a manager I love. I’ve been reporting to her for just over a year and it’s been great — she’s really into my professional development and I’ve learned so much and feel more empowered now than ever. However, my biggest issue is that she will give me instructions on a project or presentation during our 1:1, I will then spend hours creating a presentation or project plan, only to have her completely change her mind once she’s seen my work product! This happened again yesterday where I used my notes from our previous 1:1 to create a presentation based exclusively on our discussion, to have her review it and tell me to redo the presentation entirely with another set of information. It took up the rest of my afternoon (over two hours) and I got no other work done.

When I’ve asked a coworker (who also reports to my manager) if this happens to her, she confirmed and is as frustrated by it. My coworker thinks our manager is very disorganized and “just forgets” what guidance she provided previously. How can I appropriately address this if/when it happens again?

I suspect it’s less that your boss forgets what guidance she provided and more that she’s bad at explaining what she wants (or maybe even knowing what she wants) … but then once she sees something concrete (your work product), she’s more able to respond to that and better explain what she does and doesn’t want. Some people are really bad at translating what’s in their head, but when they have a concrete example in front of them, they’re better at explaining how what they have in their head is different.

To be clear, this isn’t okay — as a manager, she needs to learn to delegate effectively. But as her employee, your power to make her do that is pretty limited, so often with a manager like this the best thing to do is to check in soon after you begin work on a project, before you’ve put a ton of time into it. Show her a draft before you get too far, or write up a sketch, or otherwise give her an early look at your plans and progress — that way you’re likely to elicit her feedback at a much earlier stage and can course-correct before you’ve finished the whole thing. (In fact, right after she assigns you a project, even just writing up your understanding of the work and sending it to her might be enough to jog that “wait, no, that’s not what I want after all” response that right now is happening at a much later stage.)

If that doesn’t work, then you can try naming the issue and asking if there’s something else the two of you can do to solve it (here’s advice on how). But otherwise, it might help to figure that some of this back and forth is just part of the job and it’s not wasted work if it helps both of you refine what the finished product needs to be. (Within reason, of course. You don’t want to spend weeks on something only to find out it’s wrong. But it doesn’t sound like that’s been the case — and if it were, checking in with her early should help.)

2. How common is swearing at work?

One of my bosses, Lesley, is from the same religion as me. Based on things he’s said and done, I’m pretty sure that he recently left the faith. That’s fine — he should do what’s best for him.

But maybe because he feels free to swear for the first time in his life, he’s started swearing all. The. Time. I totally get doing that in his personal life, but it’s weird how he seems to go out of the way to slip curse words into conversations about deadlines and strategic initiatives.

To be clear, this isn’t an environment where swearing is the norm. Most of our coworkers are not members of my faith, but they rarely swear. In fact, I’ve mostly worked with people who are from different religions or not religious at all, and they don’t swear constantly like Lesley does. Maybe because of this, I’ve always viewed swearing as unprofessional in most working environments. But am I just colored by my own upbringing and preferences?

It depends heavily on the specific office and on the specific swear words. There are offices where swearing is common and others where it isn’t. Even in offices where it’s common, though, there are usually some limits — a very common one being that people will swear about an object but not at another person. In other words, “this F&$#!ing project” might be okay but “F you, Dennis!” definitely would not be.

If someone comes into an office where swearing isn’t common and starts dropping profanity all over the place, it’s going to be jarring and that person will seem unpolished and out of step with the culture. In Lesley’s case, he’s not new and he already knows the culture, so it’s a particularly interesting dynamic.

If it bothers you, you could say so! If you feel awkward about it because he’s your boss, sometimes a mild “whoa” or even just a surprised look can get the point across.

3. How to tell a former employee he can’t visit us weekly

I’m a senior director for a group of highly skilled experienced employees. Everyone is at a high level in the large organization and they are primarily self directed while I set organizational strategy and ensure everyone has resources. We had a very kind and beloved employee, “Frank,” retire in 2021. He was very isolated during Covid and had a hard time with the transition to retirement. He feels comfortable resuming activities now, and one of those activities is stopping by our office once a week to chat. We are a very relaxed hybrid so most days there’s only a small handful of people there, but Frank will sit down and chat with whoever is there for 30-40 minutes and then move on to the next person.

We aren’t a public-facing office so it’s unusual to have someone visit to hang out, but while everyone is busy, it’s not completely unheard of that someone would have a 30-minute chat catching up with an old colleague or client, and everyone can manage their time and a break for a midday chat is welcome on occasion. However, this has been going on for MONTHS, and I’m hearing people make offhand comments about Frank’s visits.

I told everyone to feel fine saying “It’s a busy day, no time to talk” but everyone genuinely does care about Frank and it seems like these visits are a lifeline to him. I tried inviting him to an after hours happy hour to set the tone that he’s welcome to socialize with us but at a less disruptive time, but the visits haven’t stopped.

I was going to directly talk to him about the need to stop or drastically cut down on visiting but when I mentioned it to two other directors they thought that was really harsh and I’m having trouble coming up with the right words to use with Frank since the usual things a manager would say don’t work with a team this self directed. Should I just ignore this perceived problem and leave it up to everyone if they want a chat? Any potential scripts for how to also tell a very kind person that we cannot be his social club?

It’s really up to you, but it’s reasonable to decide to put a stop to weekly social visits that take up hours of your team’s time (especially if your sense is that people feel it’s too much but are uncomfortable setting boundaries themselves).

I’m assuming Frank’s visits don’t violate any kind of security protocol you have in place? If there’s any rule you can point to about outside visitors, that’s one way to go. But otherwise, how about, “It’s been lovely to see you when you drop by, but with the team’s workload these days, we cannot continue having you visit during the workday. However, while we can’t accommodate you here at the office, you’re always welcome at happy hours after hours. We’re doing one at the end of the month — would you like to join us there?”

4. Presumptuous recruiter

I just had an exchange with a recruiter on LinkedIn that has me puzzled. It’s a small thing, but I’d love your take on it. For reference, I am in a very hot field, and I am not listed as “open for work” on LinkedIn.

A recruiter reached out Tuesday after work hours that their company has new roles in my field in my area and could we talk this week? They said they were happy to work around my schedule. I replied Wednesday afternoon with two separate two-hour blocks on Friday and asked if either would work. Here’s the verbatim reply I got an hour and a half later: “Wonderful, thank you for responding with interest, please send me your resume and we can lock down a time for Friday.”

What I don’t understand is, why not actually set the time right then? They already have my basic resume from LinkedIn, and without a position description it’s not like I can custom tailor it. The way it’s worded it’s almost like they are holding the meeting over me until I send my resume, which strikes me as weird. If they wanted to confirm my certifications (required in this industry) or some particular interest or experience, they could simply have asked for those.

Frankly, I find this off-putting, particularly when they were the ones that requested something in the next three days in a cold contact. Is this some weird sort of power trip? Perhaps part of a psychological “act fast” type sales ploy? What possible benefit is there for them in holding off setting a time until they have my resume?

I was wondering if maybe this was a recruiter just collecting resumes, but the email they gave was the company’s domain so they don’t appear to be an outside agency.

This is pretty typical recruiter behavior. Really good recruiters are more in the mode of true recruiting — meaning they’re wooing you a bit and understand they can’t make you jump through hoops when you don’t even know if you’re interested yet and when they’re the ones reaching out to you, rather than the other way around. But tons of other recruiters, once you’ve agreed to talk to them, operate no differently than they would if you had initiated the contact — going right into standard “send a resume, answer my questions” mode.

It’s perfectly reasonable to reply, “I don’t have an up-to-date resume since I’m not currently looking, but you can see the basics on my LinkedIn and I’d be glad to put an updated resume together after we talk if there’s mutual interest.”

5. Company wants employee surveys to stop being anonymous

My company is considering modifying their engagement surveys to no longer be anonymous (or at least to have the explicit option to share your name, which is effectively the same thing if other people on a small team choose to share their names). They say that the anonymity runs counter to the “speak up culture” where people are supposed to be able to say things without fear of retaliation and makes it harder to effectively address the problems people might bring up. Is this reasoning as BS as I think it is? I have nothing against named surveys per se, but I’m concerned that it will make the answers more bland and filtered, thus having opposite the intended effect of making the data more useful.

Yes, this reasoning is BS and your concerns are well taken. Of course people are more likely to be candid when their names aren’t attached to their comments. (Obligatory caveat that “anonymous” surveys at work aren’t always as anonymous as they’re made out to be.)

You might suggest they anonymously survey people about the idea.

{ 305 comments… read them below }

    1. Khatul Madame*

      I suspect that this is a deliberate move to change the overall tenor of survey responses. This way management gets to report improved employee satisfaction compared to prior surveys.

    2. Quinalla*

      Likely, but even if it is coming from a place of good faith, it still makes no sense. Trust doesn’t work like that, it takes significant time and effort to build trust where people really feel safe to call out like that (if ever), especially someone that has firing power. And as long as it takes to build trust, it only takes one or at most two small things to smash that trust to bits. So taking away anonymity in surveys like this never makes sense, if people are comfortable speaking up without a survey, they probably will unprompted. Then you can just get rid of surveys all together :) except that you are always going to have some turnover, so even in an ideal company you’d still need them for new folks.

    3. No Tribble At All*

      “and wants to know who the troublemakers are so they can squelch them” +1, have been the troublemaker, have seen it in action

    4. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      There was once an owner that wanted to fire someone over my too honest and direct survey response. He was going to fire a newer employee until someone shared that he was targeting the wrong person. Once he found out it was me, he disliked me the rest of the time I was there. Apparently pointing out no one has any real power except for the owners, among other things, annoys those owners?

    5. Poppyseeds*

      I have to say though sometimes when an anonymous survey is presented people may make accusations or share very valid concerns and it is hard to follow through. However, management needs to better define the information they are seeking and to create a more appropriate place for people who have significant issues that need to be addressed. The primary problem when management makes a request like this is the instrument being used and the questions asked.

      1. JustaTech*

        When I took Survey Design for Public Health in grad school the very first thing we covered was that if you want honest answers you need anonymity. The counterpoint being if you want really complete answers you’re best off having someone administer the survey in person (yes, these two things are in conflict and figuring that out is one of the hard parts of survey design).

        For an in-work survey, where the people administering and getting the results of the survey have the power of employment or not over the people taking the survey, it’s pretty much impossible to not see the “no anonymity” as “we want to be able to punish people for their honest answers”.

  1. MishenNikara*

    3: Maybe also just hard limit his time he’s visiting. 30 minutes tops or whatever seems reasonable. Either way, he needs a hobby bad.

    1. Artemesia*

      no one can monitor and manage time limits — he needs to be told that socializing during the work day can’t continue and it would be kind to have a happy hour that week he is specifically invited to.

      1. Heffalump*

        Better to tell him kindly that he can’t keep visiting than to let it slide until someone loses patience and snaps at him.

        1. MK*

          The reality is that, no matter how kindly it is worded, he will know that his visits are unwanted, and will probably realize he has been a bit of a nuisance. The only gracious way to put a stop to this would be for his former coworkers to start cutting the chat off after 10 or 15 minutes; he will get the message that they are too busy for longer visits and stop.

          1. LW 3*

            Thanks to everyone for your comments and perspectives.
            I like this idea because it seems no one wants to pull the bandaid off suddenly but people don’t want this to become the new normal.
            I appreciate the gracious approach too because no one wants to upset him.

    2. NewGrad*

      I have a lot of sympathy for frank and for the people around him!
      We have a man in his 70s on our team at work, and he’s clearly extremely lonely. His only hobby is golf and he’s mentioned that if the weather is bad, our one day in the office is his only human interaction that week.
      However, you dread him walking over as you know that’s at least half an hour gone to a chat where he repeats the same point once the chat dries up in order to keep talking.
      I don’t have a great suggestion because this situation will never make anyone happy.

    3. Ginger with a Soul*

      Re: needing a hobby, we had a similar situation in which a retired employee would “just stop by because he was in the area” (surprisingly frequently) but it was clear he missed having something to do.
      We had had a problem for a while of some files stacking up in the office and because we were a nonprofit, one day my savvy boss asked him if he’d be interested in volunteering one day a week to “take care of the filing.”
      It was a fantastic solution! It gave him something to do, and he got that much-needed human connection but because the file room was down the hall, most of his time in the building was spent away from other employees so even though he was around just as much of the time, he wasn’t preventing others from working and was actually contributing positively to the org.
      Not sure if this would work in a non-nonprofit setting, but it’s how we handled our “Frank.”

      1. dawbs*

        It’s very doable in nonprofits.
        It’s a bad idea in business because you can NOT legally volunteer at a for-profit business. I know, it’s done a lot. I kow it’s done under guise of kindness, but it’s been pretty well established that it’s not legal.(on AAM I’m thinking of the letters that mentioned yoga studios and comic shops where it’s common but still not OK. There’s a letter I”m not finding.)

        There are also organizations specifically for seniors to volunteer through! As the volunteer coordinator for a nonprofit, I’m frequently in contact with our local org that works with Americorp Seniors (https://americorps.gov/serve/fit-finder/americorps-seniors-rsvp) to invite people to help for the day. That might be a good suggestion for the LW to offer to this visitor.
        (And we absolutely work with them on things like making sure we have disabled parking and whatever additional disability needs senior volunteers can have. But it’s also AMAZING for me to have actual adults as volunteers [the high school kids are great. but they’re high school kids. I pair them w/ a senior citizen whenever possible; generally good for both]_

        1. Splendid Colors*

          If Frank has the right work experience, there’s also the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) that recruits businesspeople to mentor entrepreneurs, give seminars on business topics, etc. I don’t know if you have to have been an “executive” because I’ve only seen them from the client side.

    4. My Useless 2 Cents*

      The few times people here have retired, visits just naturally decreased over the course of a few months. Just give it some time and visits will become fewer and more brief. Out of curiosity, if everyone works independently and the work is getting done, why is this bothering you so much?

      1. LW 3*

        It’s not exactly bothering me so much, but through little comments and jokes it’s clear people are getting tired of this and I’ve encouraged them to speak up, but no one wants to be the one that hurts Frank (because no matter how gentle this will really hurt his feelings).

        The other part is that at some point having someone hanging around our office 3-4 hours a week looks not great to other divisions.

      1. Anon for this*

        Hilariously, you changed the name to be the same as the one member of my team that I have never heard sweating. :)

          1. DataSci*

            Really depends on the culture of the job, as Alison says. I’ve worked places (think tech startups) where swearing (never AT people) was perfectly normal. And I in fact dropped the F-bomb once in my current job (it was when we learned our office location was closing – I’d taken the job in part because of the short commute – and we were being moved to one 30 miles away, on the other side of the metro area so a MINIMUM 45 minutes with zero traffic). I’m still here, so obviously (a) we worked out a solution to the commute issue and (b) the occasional F-bomb is not so awful if it’s justified.

            1. Melanie Cavill*

              The point Rija was trying to make was that Anon For This wrote sweating when they meant swearing. I doubt they are actually concerned about curse words from someone else’s team.

              1. Anon for this*

                Yes, stupid typos. I should probably stop trying to comment at 1am when I should be going to bed. :)

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      This comment really confused me because I thought it was something of an over-reaction to a lonely retiree – but now it all makes sense!

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Same! I thought it was a bit harsh. I feel bad for poor Frank but yeah, he can’t keep disrupting the office like that. Maybe he should get a part time job at the company or something.

      2. Mr. Shark*

        haha! It’s hilarious, although I didn’t see the original F U Frank by Alison! It’s even more funny now that she had to change it.

    1. Cmdrshpard*

      But I think OP has to send that suggestion via an anonymous email…. Otherwise the company will know OP is not a fan of feedback with their name on it.

  2. Sleeve McQueen*

    LW1: outlines are your friend. It’s amazing how often you send over a skeleton and the person who briefs you will sudden;y give you a flurry of information that would have been nice at the outset

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      LW1 should start by repeating back to Boss at the end of the meeting what she heard in the meeting, and tell Boss what the next few steps will be. “I’ll talk to Mark about XYZ, and then I’ll put together an outline of ABC that we can use to build the plan. Then I’ll fill it out with input on DEF from Mary and Joanna, and from there we can drop it into the proposal request and send it out for solicitation.” LW also said should send Boss an email with this information.

      Then, after the first couple of steps, LW should show Boss what she has. In the example above, LW can talk to Mark to take notes and get started, but then Boss should see the very first skeleton of an outline before any filling in happens (like, at step 3 instead of step 8). “I talked to Mark, and based on his input, here’s the beginnings of my outline. Is this the right direction?” Boss probably will make a bunch of changes here, and LW then might need to talk to Joanna and Linda for input once Boss has a better articulation of what she wants. But at least LW is only one meeting and ten bullet points in, not three weeks and 40 (wo)man-hours.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Came to say this. OP1 already has notes. Send a recap email: “Boss, per our discussion, I will draft the Peterson presentation, discussing the sales goal of $1M per quarter. I’ll send the outline to you tomorrow for approval, draft to you for review one week before it’s due, then I’ll address your comments and finalize. Please let me know if I need hard copies for handouts or if we’re only presenting on screen.”

        Your recap emails capture the task, due date, and the schedule to produce the item. It’s a great way to manage up – many bosses crave a simple process and organization but don’t quite know how to get there. The emails also provide a quick sanity check if boss gives you contradicting instructions: “hey, I thought the sales goal was $1M per my discussion notes. Did that change?” Boss can acknowledge a mistake or let you know that the goal did in fact change.

        After awhile, if she’s still changing direction on most stuff, then you know it’s her and she’s not going to change. You’ll need to decide whether you can work that way.

        1. Allonge*

          The thing is, if it’s about boss needing something concrete to work with for a presentation, she will ‘approve’ the notes but still change her mind about it later when she sees the PPT.

          This to me just seems more work at the stage where it’s not helpful.

          Sending notes can be useful if boss would be complaining that OP is not doing their job well or not understanding / following instructions, but that does not seem to be happening – boss just makes up her mind based on a draft and not in advance. Sending the original notes will not change this.

          1. Anonym*

            I’d say it’s definitely worth a try. It may not entirely prevent last minute changes from the boss, but it has a good chance of stemming some of them.

            I say this as someone with a manager who does similar things – forgets conversations and swings in with last minute changes. Keeping my manager in the loop (way more often than I’d like t0, frankly, as a senior contributor) prevents most of the nonsense. Maybe 80%?

            1. Allonge*

              If OP is creating written notes already, sure, worth a try.

              I did have colleagues and a boss like this and the overall method was just what it was – take it or leave it.

          2. Angela Zeigler*

            One advantage would be having the boss’s approval and ideas in writing, so at least there isn’t any kind of blame on OP for doing things wrong, or the boss forgetting what she said in the meeting. If the boss really is forgetful and is just making up new things later on, having a written outline might mitigate that.

          3. Kevin Sours*

            It depends. Seeing it in writing can jog the thought process in the same way that seeing a draft can. Maybe it won’t help, but assuming that without trying seems a bit fatalistic.

    2. Miette*

      This is a good option and one I employ for longer projects. I’m in marketing (as a freelancer now) and it’s almost standard for my clients to be spread so thin that they don’t (or won’t) focus on a thing until it’s in front of them. I’ve come to expect that over the years and tolerate it well enough–thick skin!

      OP, this is one of those “managing up” things you’ll have to deal with and you’ll find the right method for dealing with your manager, whether it’s an outline, a draft as Alison says, or simply saying, “Well, I did this based on your parameters, now X work won’t get done if I start over–which should I prioritize?”

      1. I.T. Phone Home*

        I think it’s really important to define the problem before taking it on oneself to “manage up.” Is OP routinely staying late or working weekends to redo this work? Or getting marked down in performance reviews for being too slow or late or not producing enough? Is the boss critical in a way that feels mean or unfair when reviewing the first version? If any of those are true, then OP needs to have a conversation. “Boss, I’m working 60 hours per week.” “The expectation is 10 widgets per week but our process of submitting finished work and then redoing it means I can only get about 6 done. Can we talk about revising either the process or the expectation?” “Boss, you seemed really unhappy with my first version, but based on my notes I followed your instructions. Can we talk about what went wrong?”

        However, if the schedule and workload are reasonable and the boss is happy with OP’s output at the end of the week/quarter/year, and the problem is really just OP’s frustration, then unfortunately the answer might be that the boss gets to decide on a process she’s comfortable with to get the results that she wants. If she likes doing lots of iterations, then that’s her call. Again, so long as the schedule and the workload are reasonable and can accommodate this kind of process, she gets pretty wide discretion over how OP spends their work hours, including doing and then redoing work.

        1. ChubbyBunny*

          I agree. LW1 said it took her “over two hours” to redo the work. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me! I think she’d be happier if she just accepted that the first draft is likely to need a lot of work, that’s just part of the process, she should expect Round 1, R2 and possibly R3 to get to the final product and build in time for all that. And of course, to learn over time what the boss is looking for and hopefully get the first drafts closer to that.

          I once had a boss say, “I reserve the right to be smarter today than I was yesterday.” Sometimes people change their minds after they really sit down and think something through, or when they see things down on paper. It is what it is and your best bet is probably just to roll with it if things are otherwise good, your boss doesn’t seem irritated that you’re not getting it perfect in R1, and your workload is reasonable.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            I’m 100% in agreement with that second paragraph. Often when I’m delegating things (usually slides right now) I have a vague idea of what I want or I want to highlight something important. If I were doing it on my own the try-erase-try-erase-try-erase routine would be invisible, but it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be there. So when I delegate things I can try to give detailed instructions, but the reality might not match what I actually need in a way that I’d notice 2 steps in but I’m not shown until 10 steps are done. Or I can give a vague idea, but again – it may not do what we need it to do. (Of course, I show concrete examples when I have them, but they don’t always exist.)

            The only thing I can do is try to explain my thought process to the people I’m delegating to so that once we hit on the right combo of words + final product, we both know what they mean and can move forward. Until then, though, I just try to create internal deadlines with plenty of room before anything has to go in front of a client so we’re not rushing at the very end.

          2. Allonge*

            Oh, I love ‘I reserve the right to be smarter today than I was yesterday’! Especially as I tend to go in the other direction: keeping to an original plan/agreement long after it’s not practical just to avoid inconveniencing people with the changes.

        2. Allonge*

          Yes, this is also my thing: OP’s output (and blood pressure) may be negatively affected by this process, but this may just be how boss works. If there are no other consequences, boss gets to make this call.

          1. JustaTech*

            I think a lot of it depends on the Boss’ tone about the revisions. It sounds like the OP’s boss isn’t mad or upset about what the OP has done, just that the boss has realized they want something else.
            That’s a lot easier to live with than a former coworker of mine who would get a report from her subordinate and mark it up eight ways to Wednesday with red pen with a tone of “you did this wrong”, then her subordinate would make all the exact changes the boss asked for, and the boss would mark the whole thing up again with the same “you did this wrong” tone, only for all of the changes to basically be changing everything back to how the report was the first time.

            It only takes a couple of rounds of that to see the pattern, and it’s very demoralizing to the person being edited. (Not to mention frustrating and a genuine waste of time, since the first version actually was fine.)

            If the boss is still learning to articulate what they want, then that’s a situation that you can work with (send drafts earlier, get used to the idea that it will be an iterative process and know that just because the boss changes it doesn’t mean that they’re unhappy with the quality of your work). If the boss just marks up the work because they think that’s what bosses are supposed to do to be a boss, that’s a lot harder to work with/around.

        3. Sleeve+McQueen*

          Yeah, I work in an agency and sometimes the team get frustrated, which I get, but I have to explain that you can take steps to mitigate it and explain why it’s better if things happen a certain way, but at a certain point, it’s their money to waste. As long as we’re not overservicing or getting the flak for the opportunity cost, they can burn through the budget in this way.
          Suppose someone wants us to do nothing but press the & button on a keyboard while saying “meep” every hour on the hour. In that case, I can explain to them that this is not cost-effective or going to provide any valuable outcomes, and if they still want to invest in that, it’s their prerogative and I am just going to crank up some good podcasts and get on with it.

      2. ferrina*

        I also work in an industry where it’s common that clients won’t always have the focus/clarity to know what they’re asking for. I assume that part of my job is giving them something to react to. It’s much easier to give notes on a tangible thing than to imagine something from scratch.

        Definitely doing a mock-up can save time. Or if it’s similar to something you’ve previously done, pull up that as an example so your manager can see what it might look like.

        1. Allonge*

          This reminds me of a dear graphic designer work-friend who, close to retirement and pretty fed up with working to other people’s specifications, got to the stage where she
          – preferred not to share her work with anyone giving input until fully final, saying that it’s not fair to judge intermediate work;
          – but then also got angry that people were commenting on a final job, as then she had to ‘redo everything’.

          She is now happily retired, and I totally emphasize, but yes – in some jobs a first draft / mockup is just part of the process.

        2. Splendid Colors*

          I have learned to do a quick mockup of any designs to make sure I’ve understood the client’s instructions before putting too much work into a project. It’s particularly helpful when a client is instructing me to do something I don’t think will work–they will often realize this once they can visualize it. (As long as I can communicate effectively that this is a sketch, not the style of the final product.)

    3. High Score!*

      Yes! I’ve had this exact issue. So before I started the projects, I’d write the “specifications”, which were an outline of my vision for the project. Then I’d ask for feedback. Sometimes it took 2 or 3 rounds to get it right but still a time saver. My efficiency sky rocketed.

    4. Dasein9*

      Yep, outlines and also the Comment feature in the document. I use that to remind the people reviewing my work what directions I’m following at that particular stage. That way, reading it over they have an anchor to the reason each section exists.

  3. DD*

    LW#1 – I had a similar boss in terms of presentation creation, in the beginning he just needed something laid out on paper for him to start tinkering with it, he wasn’t looking for anything polished yet. Once I understood this I knew not to spend much time and energy on those first drafts, get him something quickly so we could start the feedback loop and not to take it personally when he changed a lot of what I put together in early versions.

    1. Banana*

      I came to say this, I also have a boss like this and I’ve learned to handle it similarly. Totally agree on starting with a super rough draft and expecting to revise heavily from there.

      Is there someone she’s worked with in the past who you have access to, who will know any consistent preferences she has? My boss struggles to articulate what he wants without a tangible example to start from, but he does have some consistent preferences that I can point out to new people…he likes vertical bar charts, he wants the colors red and green to represent missing and meeting goals and doesn’t want to see them otherwise, expressing ideas by the numbers always works best, customer impact and quality information should always be featured first and more prominently, etc.

      The first project I did for him, I spent 20+ hours on it before showing it to him. He was very unhappy with it, asked for so many changes I essentially needed to start over. I cried in the meeting, which was SO awkward.

      Nowadays I do a very rough draft and meet with him as soon as possible to review it and I expect a lot of changes in direction, but it’s fine because I’ve spent 20 minutes on it, not 20 hours.

    2. Miette*

      This is also a good practice for managers (or clients) who never have the time to start/finish something. I have a client (also a former manager) who will commit to writing certain things but she gets so busy she never gets to it until we are under the gun for the deadline–or even when it has passed. I have started offering to draft things myself so she can react/edit based on her own vision, and it really helps to keep things focused and on track. I don’t really mind if it comes back completely different–it’s part of the process.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I am the boss that needs something laid out to start tinkering with, but I know this about myself, and I will tell people who are working with me that (1) these are my initial thoughts, (2) they should spend only X amount of time putting together something rough/outline-y for my/our review, and (3) if it turns out to need major changes, this is typically because *I* didn’t have a clear conception of/instructions for what the end product should look like and it’s not that they did everything wrong if I red pen it.

      Some things, I can sketch out exactly what I want and provide clear instructions and we’re done, but, a lot of what I do fluctuates or goes through feedback round with other leadership, so having a starting point to review gives me a much clearer vision of what I do and don’t want. But, again, know this about myself and am very candid about it.

      1. SorryNotSorry*

        I am also that boss and like NotAnotherManager!, I need to see something to really bring my ideas into focus and as Miette said, I am usually spread so thin that I can’t do that focusing until it’s right in front of me. I know it’s not an efficient use of time and must be enormously frustrating to the people I manage but there it is.

        1. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

          I think if you communicate that to the person then the frustration level will decrease. I’ve worked for my current boss for long enough to interpret some of his hand wavey directions and get pretty close to what he wants most of the time, but knowing that we are using my draft as a starting point helps a lot!

        2. one L lana*

          I’d actually argue that it IS an efficient use of time, or can be, if you’re tight on ends, loose on means. (Where OP’s boss seems to be going wrong is by giving detailed instructions and then deciding that actually isn’t what they want at all, which is frustrating.)

          I used to be an individual contributor, so given time, I can come up with the structure and formatting of an assignment… but because I used to be an individual contributor, I also know that by the time I’ve done that, I’ve done about 80% of the work. For a junior employee, it’s appropriate to do the paint-by-number, but at some point, the expectation is that they won’t need it, because turning a general assignment into something specific is actually an important part of the role.

          YMMV depending on the exact industry and position, but to me, being able to take something general and give me something specific, which I will then give feedback on, is actually a really big part of the individual contributor role.

      2. My Useless 2 Cents*

        I was identifying with the boss and was afraid to read the comments on #1 thinking the boss would get skewered. I’m so happy to see that isn’t so!

    4. Toodie*

      Agreed. My boss was terrified of the blank page (or the blank PowerPoint slide or the blank spreadsheet …) but if I could start a draft that we could throw darts at and revise, we were both much happier.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      My boss is like this, and my company is very big on iteration so I never even think twice if she’s like “I thought this is what I wanted but this won’t work show it to me with a new set of data”. This was definitely one of those letters that made me look twice and wonder if I was living with problems I didn’t realize – but I don’t think so. I think you just need to know that the first run at it doesn’t need to be super polished and time consuming, and plan accordingly.

      1. KRM*

        I think this is the crux. OP and boss discuss, and OP goes and works up a Final Product that is ready to go. What OP should be doing is working up an outline, and checking it with the boss, and outlining the next steps of how it will proceed so they have an idea of how it will look. As others have said, the ‘blank page’ discussion can be challenging for a lot of people, but once they see something their ideas start to percolate. Working in drafts gives everyone leeway to make changes BEFORE it hits Final Product, and then OP won’t feel so much that the boss is changing their mind as much as see how boss thinks about things and how they prefer to see things presented. Honestly if they spend a ton of time at first but then it was only 2 hours to make the changes, I’d say OP did pretty well!

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I agree! “And then it took the rest of the afternoon to fix” sounds to me like it was in pretty good shape to begin with. An afternoon on a final deliverable is pretty reasonable.

    6. FalsePositive*

      Yes — I was definitely thinking about changing to a “very rough draft/something to talk to” mindset and product. “Hey Boss, I put together a rough draft version of what we talked about last week. Is this headed in the direction you were thinking?”

      I try to have some sort of outline/draft names/etc when I’m starting a project. Sometimes people start to feel bad (Oh, I’m not sure about the name of the field) so I reassure them that this is the first draft/brainstorming and it’s easier to have something to like/dislike than come up with something from a blank screen.

    7. Esmeralda*

      Yes. OP, is the boss changing the ideas/goals/plan? Or is the boss re-formatting or copy-editing the heck out of your work?

      If it’s the former, give the boss an outline or draft. Don’t kill yourself polishing it.

      If it’s the latter, my sympathies, btdt and you will just have to learn to chill about it (soooo hard!) and say, “OK, boss, I’m on it.”

  4. Snarkitect*

    LW#4: I had a very similar recruiter experience! I responded exactly the way Allison suggested (glad for the validation that I handled it well) and the recruiter ghosted me after I declined to jump through hoops before she even told me what the job was. I later heard the company is kind of a nightmare to work for, so I’ll consider it a bullet dodged.

  5. Mialana*

    I wouldn’t tell #3 that he can never visit during work hours. I would tell him to cut it down to once every two months.

    1. Raven*

      Yeah, I was thinking naybe inviting him to a team lunch or something during the workday (if they have them), could be useful in terms of setting a time limit.
      Or perhaps, if OP wants to stay in contact, they can offer to meet up for coffee or something. That way Frank feels like he’s being acknowledged and gets the social interaction he wants from a team he obviously cares about, but it’s being kept out of the office.
      Either way they need to say they can’t manage random drop ins anymore.

      1. Johanna*

        They’ve invited him to happy hours, which achieves the social goal and sets the limit. That’s enough.

        1. Raven*

          It would be if it had worked, however it didn’t so a different strategy is needed.

          To be honest, it most likely didn’t work because he was wanting social interaction during the day, while happy hours are in the evening hence he probably sees it as an added extra instead of replacing his office visits.
          OP should be clear and tell him they can only meet after work, but if they want a softer approach or are actually okay with the occasional short scheduled chat in the day, then the above suggestions might help them out.

          1. Johanna*

            The different strategy is to tell him clearly to stop visiting. They are not obliged to keep offering alternatives until he’s happy! The happy hour idea didn’t work because they didn’t also tell him to stop coming during work time. This isn’t a negotiation, they need to be clear and set boundaries. The “soft” approaches are being steamrolled by this guy and it is not appropriate to keep letting him set the agenda like this.

          2. Harper the Other One*

            It’s also possible Frank has restrictions that prevent him from easily coming to after-work events (anything from other activities to difficulty with driving/night vision.) So offering (what seems to be) the possibility of an evening get-together isn’t appealing to him, and he hasn’t been told there’s an issue with the daytime visits. A team lunch could be a great option for sanctioned, planned visiting.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        If they have designated lunch hours perhaps he could come in then.

        I had to tell a person to not visit me every week at work. It did not go well. And I still feel bad about it to this day. I never saw her again. :(

        This is a pretty common problem, people do not make a plan for retirement. Unfortunately he had the pandemic in the mix so that makes his setting worse. My suggestion is to tell him to come every other week for an hour because you’d like to hear about what he is doing now. Here the over-arching goal is to start to steer him toward filling up his time.

        You could also suggest a part time job somewhere, if you have ideas on something that might be fitting for him. Clearly he has the energy and ability to do something, because he shows up every week at your workplace.

        It might be helpful here to think about what if EVERYONE who retired came back once a week for a visit. This could be your inroad. “Frank, you know we love you and love talking with you. But I am concerned that as people retire they all decide to come back for weekly visits. And as you know, Frank, we just can’t accommodate that. We have to get some work done at some point. So if we can’t do it for all, then we can’t do it for just one person.” Then go into the alternatives- come during lunch, come once a month[or whatever], come to happy hour. You can also talk about retirement being a strange beast in that our days and weeks no longer have a structure. There’s no major reason to jump out of bed at 6 am anymore. It’s uncharted territory for a person. You can talk about volunteering, part time work etc. If true, offer to be a good reference for him. If he’d like help picking some ideas you can offer to spend an hour looking at that with him- IF- big IF- you choose.

        But for me I would lean on the fact that if everyone did this, it would be too much. I have used the “if everyone did this” statement to help guide people to other choices in all different types of problems. What I like about it is that the response is usually affirmative: “You’re right. I can see that if everyone did this it would not work out.”

        1. WellRed*

          Eh, I dunno. I’ve worked 30 years across different jobs and can count on one hand, the number of people who retired (and none came visiting). Frank needs new activities for sure.

          1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            I can’t count on one hand the number of people I know who have retired in the last 18 months!

          2. Thinking of a name*

            They will NEVER see me after I retire. The only time I recall folks coming in after retirement was to handle official business, so they stopped by to say hi. I won’t even do that.

            I’m going to push back on the notion that Frank is truly harming productivity. He’s probably just consuming time that would be use to read AAM or social media or to shop. One day, Frank won’t come in because he is dead. Have a heart.

            1. Bibliothecarial*

              This seems a little harsh? You can have a heart and set boundaries at the same time.

              I had a Frank at work. Wonderful human and I was really sad when he passed away. The thing was, his 30+ minute chats kept me from serving my clients, who were also lonely, elderly folks. I had to have a heart for them too, and for my colleagues who would have to field the calls if I didn’t get my work done. So I’d chat with Frank for 10-15 minutes and then tell him I had to get back to work. In a pinch I could Batsignal a colleague in a different team to call me and then Frank would leave. In many ways enforcing this boundary kept me from resenting Frank over piles of undone work.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              That’s ridiculous. Of course Frank is harming productivity. If I choose to spend ten minutes here, it’ll be as a break between two different jobs, or because something annoyed the hell out of me and I need to drop it and come back once the annoyance has fizzled out, or because I’m waiting for someone to call me back and it doesn’t make sense to start on something else in the meantime. Frank, on the other hand, is just doodling around and drops in on my office when he feels like it. I know any of my bosses would have shut it down pretty quickly.
              It would basically turn into a situation as with ToxicBoss2 who would randomly drop into the office: when we saw him coming, our hearts would sink as we knew he’d be wanting to chat with us and prevent us from getting our work done. I would actually drop a message to the PMs “sorry boss here, won’t be able to deliver at 4pm after all”.

        2. LW 3*

          Thank you for this really thoughtful post (I appreciate everyone’s comments and perspectives).

          You really hit the nail on the head, no one wants to be the person that blocks Frank, hurts his feelings badly, and we really do care about him. We also want to acknowledge that for older single people the pandemic was extremely isolating and retiring into the middle of it wasn’t the full freeing celebration for him.

          I like the idea of suggesting a job or volunteering somewhere as others suggested. Maybe help transition to lunches/socials.

      3. SoozMagooz*

        My dad does this. He’s retired and bored and my mom won’t really bother herself with keeping him entertained. So he shows up at my house and work uninvited for random stuff at least once a week. I HATE IT. I have tried telling him to just ask me for a coffee or something scheduled but this bewilders him and he refuses. Sometimes the only course of action is telling them to fuck off (in a nicer way)

        1. Person from the Resume*

          It’s your Dad’s job to figure out how to keep himself entertained, not your Mom’s. And well, Dad figured out that he wants to be entertained by visiting you at home and work.

          To bring it back to the letter, I feel for Frank, but he needs to figure out how to keep himself entertained and how to get human interaction that not visiting his old job. If Frank were really friends with his old colleauges he could be visiting them after work or on weekends outside the office. In his heart Frank even knows these folks aren’t friends except in the context of work-friends so that’s why he’s visiting them at work.

  6. Some dude on the Internet*

    With regards to LW #2: I think it really depends on the company culture.

    I was warned by my manager at one of my earliest jobs for saying “s***” after accidentally stubbing my toe. However, this has never been an issue at my later jobs. Hell, even my current boss swears all the time!

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I don’t use any word stronger than “hell” or “damn” at work, unless something major goes wrong (same goes for my colleagues), but I think OP’s colleague in #2 might just need to have a year or so of swearing his head off to get all those years of non-swearing out of his system. I think Alison’s suggested solution is fine, but this is something which might take care of itself eventually anyway.

      1. Antony-mouse*

        Yeah my thought reading it was what kind of swearing is he doing. If OP is religious, are they going to consider swearing as things like ‘bloody hell’ or ‘for gods sake’ (both things that I don’t consider swearing but have been told off for saying by religious people). I don’t think either of those are inappropriate in a work environment the way I s**t or f**k would be

        1. Raven*

          Yeah, it depends on the actual swearwords being used.
          If it’s stuff like damn and bloody hell, well most likely it is a case of enjoying being able to express himself without self-censoring and OP doesn’t need to do anything because it’ll die down in time.
          If it’s more severe, then it might be a case of the former mixed with ‘inexperience’ and someone should raise it, though OP doesn’t sound well placed to do that unless it’s something truly offensive or targetted at a person.
          I say inexperience because if he was previously considerate, he might just be categorising all swears as the same (which some people do) or relaxed his usage in his personal life and erroneously translating that to being okay professionally.

          I guess if they have a good relationship they can ask about it non-judgementally. That might be enough to nudge him to tone it down a bit.

          If he wasn’t previously considerate or respectful, then he’s just matching his language to the jerk he always was.

        2. Asenath*

          Whatever type of swearing he’s using, it’s apparently not the norm for that specific workplace as well as something that OP is uncomfortable with. If a surprised or uncomfortable look isn’t working, and OP is on familiar terms with him, she might just say straight out “What’s with the swearing?”.

        3. Storm in a teacup*

          I wondered if this is what OP considered to be swearing as there was such a focus on religion on the letter, which I found strange but I’m from a country which tends to run very secular in day to day life.

        4. Observer*

          Well, the OP says that “he seems to go out of the way to slip curse words into conversations about deadlines and strategic initiatives.” and “this isn’t an environment where swearing is the norm. Most of our coworkers are not members of my faith, but they rarely swear

          So they seem to be describing a situation where this person’s behavior is out of the norm, regardless of the specifics.

      2. Cj*

        it’s interesting that you say don’t use any words stronger than hell or damn. depending on how you use those words, like if you say go to hell or damn you, those are the strongest swear words in my Protestant religion. f*** you would be more religiously acceptable, although not technically acceptable at all.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          No, usually I would just say “what the hell?” or “dammit” and even that would be rare, probably under my breath and directed at a printer or computer. I would never actually swear at a person in the way you mentioned, because that’s rude as well as potentially offensive.

          1. dawbs*

            That’s actually part of the “rules for swearing” we have for my kid. (they’re not actually rules. But the rules are:
            -If you get in trouble for using a swear someplace, its on you and you deal w/ consequences (You know better and the punishment is on you. Esp school & church).
            -People who dislike swearing are allowed to request you don’t–and it’d be rude to continue to swear. (And if the person you’re talking to considers it a swear, even if you don’t, you respect that. So grandma won’t like “oh my God”. Try to respect that)
            -There’s a difference between swearing and swearing at someone. “Eff off” is different than “oh eff”. Swearing at someone is generally bad
            -Slurs are not swears and you will always get in trouble for using them. (small carve-out for groups you’re a part of when you’re at least a teen. Nuanced discussion followed)
            -No teaching swears to younger kids
            -If you’re not sure if it’s a swear, ask your adults while someplace private.
            -No using other languages in hopes someone doesn’t notice. Assume someone will speak Spanish or whatever your friend taught you

            1. Alexander Graham Yell*

              My friend’s uncle was big on “You don’t get to use a word if you can’t use it properly and explain why it was correct in that situation.” I love these rules to back that up – it’s not the swear word itself that’s “bad”, but the context can still be incorrect and that’s as important as the word choice.

            2. Observer*

              Great set of rules.

              No using other languages in hopes someone doesn’t notice. Assume someone will speak Spanish or whatever your friend taught you

              This one especially!

              1. Hlao-roo*

                One of my high school classmates swore at me in a language I didn’t speak … and I knew tell they were swearing at me because of their tone of voice! Just another reason this is a good rule to have.

        2. Kaye*

          I know a few clergy who would absolutely never use any of God’s names as swearwords, but will quite happily eff away!

        3. Irish Teacher.*

          I don’t think those are the most common uses of those words. “Damn, I can’t remember where I put the llama reports” or “bloody hell, the spout of that chocolate teapot is completely wrong” would be more what I’d usually say/hear.

        4. No thank you*

          Years ago, I had a consultant from a Bible Belt state loudly exclaim, “Gosh f***ing darn” in the office. When her name was said in a “watch your words” tone, she replied, “What? I said gosh!” Yeah, that wasn’t the word they cared about in this non-Bible Belt state! That was about 20 years ago. Where I work now, f-bombs are relatively common in the office.

          1. Andrea*

            I have a former friend who would say “gosh damn it” all the time, and I always thought it was weird that he was using a euphemism for “God” but not for “damn”. Different ideas about swearing, I guess!

      3. bamcheeks*

        I work in universities in the UK, and nearly all my colleagues are gen X/millenials, and it’s pretty unusual for middle-class people our age not to swear fairly regularly in our working lives. However, we all tend to avoid “fuck” as a regular word, but it’s extremely common to use it very quietly in small meetings with people you trust and pretend it’s a TERRIBLE word that you would never NORMALLY say but this SITUATION WARRANTS IT. So it’s kind of, “I can’t go back to her again so this is the answer we’ve got to work with, but can I just say, it’s really fucking appalling that they won’t make an exception.” I do this myself, but I find it so funny.

        1. Storm in a teacup*

          This is pretty much my work too.
          Bloody used all the blinking time.
          I wonder if it is just more common in the UK than the US. When we have people over from the US office we are all a lot more circumspect with our language.

          1. Wheels on Fire*

            I’m not sure that swearing is more common in the UK. I think you guys just have more words that you consider swears. An American wouldn’t even consider “bloody” a swear word. It’s actually kind of the opposite of a swear word– it’s a cutesy way to avoid swearing, even used in children’s tv shows. Same with “blinking” and a lot of other word that Brit use as swears. If you’re being circumspect about using those kind of words in front of Americans, they probably think you’re being overly prim/proper/posh.

      4. jojo*

        At my job a lot of swearing will get a complaint filed on you. You will be written up. If it continues you may be fired.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          At my apartment building, you can get lease violations and be evicted–even if you’re not swearing AT someone, just about something. Not “G*d d**n you!” but “My G*d***ed hot water is off again!”

    2. londonedit*

      It definitely depends on culture. I live in Britain which I think generally has a more sweary culture than parts of the US, and we’re also generally far less religious than parts of the US, so swearing at work is fairly common here (unless, you know, you’re a teacher and you’re in a class, or you’re a doctor or a nurse and you’re talking to patients, or you’re in customer service and you’re speaking to members of the public, or whatever). Some industries are more sweary than others – in mine it’s absolutely fine to swear in general conversation and/or to express frustration with a situation but, as Alison says, it’s definitely not OK to swear *at* people, and generally people wouldn’t swear in meetings (unless it was just an informal team catch-up). Unless you’re my mother, words like ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’ and ‘damn’ don’t really count as swear words here (you might not use ‘bugger’ in extremely polite company, but the others are fine as long as you’re an adult) and most people are OK with the f-word as long as it’s used as punctuation in general conversation and not aggressively (though again, you probably wouldn’t say it in a meeting or a formal situation). I’ve never encountered a work situation where the c-word would be appropriate, but I’m sure in other industries or environments (or areas of the country) it wouldn’t be the end of the world if someone said it.

      1. Raven*

        C-word is used colloquially in parts of Scotland and Northern England, so I can see it being used in a relaxed workplace between friends or somewhere where interpersonal relationships are generally strong (usually more practical professions or customer service).
        You wouldn’t use it with someone or around people you didn’t know well though.

          1. Less Bread More Taxes*

            Interestingly, even though people do swear a lot, I’ve recently discovered that my new job (in Ireland) is very swear-averse. My team and I were deciding between two options of a very low-stakes decision, someone suggested we go with option A just for the sake of choosing something, and I said something like “yeah, we can always do option B if it doesn’t work out, so f*** it.” People straight-up gasped and someone started laughing awkwardly. I’ve never worked somewhere in the US or Ireland that has been so strict with swearing like this! And I’m going to have to really watch myself because I do swear casually A LOT.

        1. one L lana*

          One of the biggest differences between US and UK swearing. I work in a fairly swear-y workplace in an industry that has long been more swear-happy than most (print journalism). Use of the F word as an amplifier (that’s really f-ing great, or I can’t f-ing believe it) is pretty normal.

          Using the c-word would, I think, be an immediate trip to HR? Like immediate? There are very few taboos left that aren’t actual slurs but that one really still is.

      2. London Calling*

        *most people are OK with the f-word as long as it’s used as punctuation in general conversation and not aggressively*

        While I’ve used the f-word liberally over the last 2 years, I can say from personal experience that working with someone who uses it a lot (in his case every other word in every sentence), it does come over as aggressive; because when a lot of people use it they are under stress or angry about something. When someone uses it all the time they are giving the impression that they are angry all the time, whether it’s with colleagues, work, clients, the weather or whatever (and the colleague is question certainly came over like that). What made it worse was that we were the only two people in the office so I was constantly checking his mood to make sure I wasn’t the one the swearing was directed at. Not coincidentally, that was the only job where I’ve said ‘I have had enough, I quit,’ and walked out.

        1. London Calling*

          Just to clarify, this was years ago when I hardly swore. So much has changed….I’d still feel the same, though.

          1. She of Many Hats*

            I lean the same way. Swearing & Cussing are for moments of intense stress (irate verbal argument, hammered thumb, etc) and not as an adjective in daily conversation. 1) There’s an implied tone of aggression or anger in most swear words. 2) They often cloud the meaning of the statement especially if it is written. 3) Language has all these amazing words that paint a clearer and much more descriptive picture than the most common cuss words allow. 4) Can leave the impression the speaker may not know much vocabulary so what else don’t they know. 5) And if you want to insult someone, you can be far more effective taking a page from Shakespeare (ie – you incompetent koolaid-haired spawn of a baboon who can’t see a car unless it hit you), leave the victim bewildered and amuse the bystanders at the same time.

      3. Lentil*

        I’m British and I disagree that swearing at work is fairly common here. I think, as Allison and the comment you replied to said, it depends on company culture, but not country culture. Just like the US, it’s generally a bad idea to swear at work unless you know its ok in your company culture.

        I wouldn’t want young, British professionals who may be reading this to get the impression that it’s ok to swear at work just because we’re more “sweary” than the US, which I’m not sure is even true. I think both countries can be very “sweary” in certain context.

      4. Storm in a teacup*

        Totally this.
        A friend of mine migrated to Australia a few years ago and said the c-word is used very liberally there and she found it so weird at first and then caught herself using it

    3. Antilles*

      It depends on the culture, but IMO, I think it also depends on the position you’re in.
      Personally, I’ve mostly stopped swearing since I moved into management because I feel like swearing would undermine my leadership. If the boss (me) stays calm and collected, everybody follows suit; if the boss gets visibly frustrated and cursing, then everybody else gets on edge.

    4. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

      It’s also region-specific. When I worked up north (US), we all swore all the time. Now I’m in the south, where people are so religious that the idea of Halloween offends some of my coworkers. It’s been quite the adjustment.

      1. Dinwar*

        Interesting. I’ve found the opposite. Up North folks wouldn’t swear because it was Low Class–elites didn’t use such filthy language (which got REALLY funny when I learned about the Norman Conquest’s influence on English). In the South they know they’re viewed as low class, so they don’t care as much. You get some really devout Christians that refuse to swear, but they’re not overly common. Watching a guy cuss up a storm while leaning on his F150 with fish decal and a Bible-verse bumper sticker is pretty common.

        May be that we work in different industries. Construction workers and drillers aren’t known for clean language anywhere, and you can’t work with them for as long as we do without some of that culture rubbing off on you.

        1. Sylvan*

          +1 from a Southerner. We don’t really have a lot of pretenses about language.

          The only company I’ve worked for that actually banned swearing is my current company, headquartered in the Northeast.

        2. aebhel*

          It’s more a class thing than a region thing, IMO. I’ve lived in rural NY my entire life, and I guarantee you zero percent of the rednecks in my hometown have concerns about whether or not they’re coming off as ‘elite’. And, generally speaking, New Yorkers are infamously foul-mouthed and blunt.

          I haven’t ever spent a lot of time down South, so I can’t really compare there. But I’m gonna go out on a limb, I’d say that excessive concern about coming off as low class by using profanity is a concern of the upper class (and those who aspire to the upper class) regardless of region.

          1. Dinwar*

            “It’s more a class thing than a region thing, IMO.”

            You hit the nail on the head there.

            When you dig into it, there’s an astonishing amount of classism built into the English language. For example, we eat beef but raise cows because “beef” stems from “boeuf”, which was the French word for the critter. Upper-class people in England spoke French and ate the things; lower-class people in England spoke Anglo-ish and raised the things.

            Some things don’t change. Class signaling through language is very much alive and well in English.

      2. DataSci*

        The fact that the LW thinks nothing of knowing everyone’s faith makes me suspect they’re in the US South. I’ve never worked anywhere where I knew everyone’s faith – the only times I do are where it’s relevant for scheduling meetings with people (this guy isn’t available late Friday afternoons in winter because he needs to get home before sundown for Sabbath, that guy can’t be scheduled for lunch meetings because he has noon prayer, that sort of thing). Casual inquiries about religion would be frowned upon more than swearing most places I’ve worked.

        1. MicroBioLife*

          I was thinking Utah, actually.

          That is the primary place in the US where almost everyone at a workplace is likely to be part of the exact same religion.

          I live in the Southish currently, and while talking about religion at work is a lot more normalized than other places, most people are slightly different flavors of Protestant.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yup. This is a know your culture and your audience – my boss and I have many profanity-laden conversation as do my immediate group of reports (all managers) and I. My former boss was not a swearer, so I never used profanity with him, and I’d never use it in a meeting with the non-managerial staff. And we never swear AT or ABOUT people, ever – it’s more of a, “This project has become a total clusterf**k.” or, “I’m in deliverable hell.” sort of thing.

    6. Chickaletta*

      Ditto, depends on the office culture. In my office, swearing seems to be ok between equals in private conversation/email (still rare though), but definitely not between boss-employee or in meetings.

      I think it’s always better to err on the side of not swearing if you’re ever unsure. Even then… you can’t go wrong keeping it PG at work even when others don’t… at home, it’s a different story LOL.

  7. Fikly*

    LMAO, if they actually want to have a culture where people aren’t afraid of retaliation for speaking up, they wouldn’t be actively trying to remove things that prevent retaliation.

    1. Antilles*

      Let’s also note that if they actually HAD the culture where people felt fully empowered to speak up, you wouldn’t need to have a survey anyways – you’d already be getting all the honest information you need naturally from people speaking up in meetings, coming into your office to chat, etc.

      1. ferrina*

        Right?! The folks that feel like they are safe to openly speak up are already doing that. The anonymous surveys help give a voice to people that feel like they can’t speak up (which you def want to know about if you are actually invested in creating a Speak Up culture)

    2. DataSci*

      At least they’re being honest about it! Most people know the “anonymous” surveys really aren’t – anytime they come with a one-time link that can be traced back to you, and you only have the promise of HR or the third-party survey company they contracted with that they’ll choose not to do so.

      That’s even without the demographic information (team, gender, tenure with the company) that can often be used to trivially narrow down potential respondents to one or two people.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      There is a subset of letters that fall into what I think of as management doing things backward. Where management tries to impose things that need to be created through culture, which largely relies on management’s behavior. We want people to be able to speak up, so instead of actually creating that culture, we’ll take away any other options! Or, I want the staff to have a sense of unity, so I am forcing them all to take care of turtles or participate in workouts three times a week.

    4. OP5*

      To be fair, I generally feel good about my company, and my manager and team are pretty good about disagreeing civilly, but I was surprised that I was the only one on my team pushing back on this suggestion since it seemed to run counter to the stated goal. I think they may go the optionally anonymous route, but based on how on board my team was with the change that’ll be effectively the same for me.

      1. Anoning*

        That’s how I felt about my company, right up until I found myself abruptly no longer employed, and seeking legal advice. And then I only had options because they were incredibly bad at covering their tracks.

  8. Lirael*

    It’s a thing in my team that no one who gives us with EVER knows what they want until we give them what they asked for and they get us to change every single thing about it. Drives me nuts.

    1. Tau*

      This is such a problem in software development that standard development practices these days include working closely with the client, developing a minimal working solution to ship as fast as possible and then slowly iterating on it based on feedback, in place of the “plan and scope out everything up front” model. (Well, such is the theory.)

      1. dawbs*

        Yes it does.
        I do love that I mock up something and then hand it to the person that does the design stuff and it is AMAZING how they can move 3 lines and adjust a font and wave their wand and it looks 3 MILLION times better. I adore these people and love their skills.
        But I also know that I’ve said “I need, you know, a poster. It needs to convey this info and have this general feel” and then been show what they made and then I pulled that face…(They’re probably still better than what I wanted, but sometimes when you’re expecting teddybear picnic and get five nights at freddys, you have to pull that face)

    2. ThatGirl*

      As a copywriter who works closely with graphic designers, I feel this. It doesn’t happen every time, but I have gotten a fair amount of “do whatever you want! Be creative!” okay here’s a draft…

      no not THAT!!!

  9. Maddie Hatter*

    LW 1, here’s a story: I once started making a new cake recipe for my husband. I let him taste the batter, and the poor dude said it was disgusting. I was able to add some different flavorings at that point, and he was very happy with the outcome. If I had waited till it was out of the oven, we’d have had an inedible cake and a waste of time and ingredients, and I would have had to start all over.

    So you need to make fewer finished cakes, and offer more batter samples during the process, so you don’t waste resources (of which your time is a very valuable one!).

    It’ll end up being a more collaborative process than your boss probably wants, but that’s her own fault. I’ve definitely met a lot of people who don’t know what they want (no matter what they think they want in the moment), they seem to only know what they don’t want.

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      I hope this is just an analogy. Cake batter doesn’t taste anything like a finished cake. For one, things like baking powder taste really terrible before they get cooked out.

  10. Not All Hares Are Quick*

    I think I’m missing something in #3. LW insists that all the workers are self-directed, i.e. responsible for doing their assignments on time as suits them, and they’ve also told them to feel free to tell the ex-colleague they’ve got no time for a chat – and they genuinely don’t want to do that.
    At this point, unless chatting to one ex-coworker is distracting others from doing their work*, and until work isn’t being completed as required, I don’t really see what the problem is.

    *I can imagine that over time there would be staff members who don’t remember the ex-colleague and find it a bit odd that some unidentified old buffer is haunting the office, but it doesn’t seem to have got to that point yet.

    1. londonedit*

      It sounds to me like Frank’s visits are in fact a bit disruptive and people would rather he wasn’t there every week, but they don’t want to say so in front of him. It’s one thing for the OP to tell people it’s fine to say they don’t have time to chat, but in reality if Frank’s turning up at the office and people feel sorry for him, which it sounds like they do (they see his visits as ‘a lifeline’ for him), they might not be able to bring themselves to tell him they don’t want to chat. Or if two people have already said ‘Sorry Frank, really busy today’ then the third person might feel like they have to spare half an hour just to give Frank the chance to talk to someone, rather than everyone turning poor old Frank down.

      1. MK*

        No offense, but then they shouldn’t be complaining about his visits. You either set boundaries with people or accept their behaviour as something you can tolerate. It’s not actually kind to pretend to like his visits and resent him behind his back. This has already backfired, because now the manager feels they need to have a talk with him, which I guarantee you is going to be much more hurtful to him than 3 people saying they were too busy to talk; if they had, he would probably realize his visits are the best way to socialize.

    2. Yellow Flotsam*

      I agree. I wonder if this is a matter of trying to fix what isn’t broken. These are all relatively senior people – sounds like they know how to say no to a chat if they wanted to.

      They might find it annoying, but feel it is worth their time to keep in contact with someone they genuinely like and respect.

      If you are going to ban him from the office you can (ideally you also ban all other outsiders) but don’t be surprised if it comes back on you negatively. The moment someone asks Frank why he never stops by anymore and his answer is LW banned him from visiting the office, or LW told me you all wanted me to stop coming by etc it could go bad.

      Unless you honestly believe your staff are wanting your help to get rid of him, leave well enough alone. If your staff aren’t performing deal with that – if they blame Frank tell THEM they need to stop chatting if it stops then getting their work done.

    3. Snow Globe*

      I agree. At the very least, I’d recommend that the LW spend some time talking with various workers (separately) to find out if they *want* the LW to speak to Frank. If they are getting their work done and they don’t want the LW to speak with Frank, then LW should leave it alone.

    4. WellRed*

      I can assure you, if they don’t find his visits annoying yet, they soon will. It’s human nature not too want to speak up when it’s uncomfortable —as any regular reader of this column knows. OP does need to address this.

    5. turquoisecow*

      Yeah I agree. I’m hearing that the LW thinks it’s disruptive and the LW would like to impose time limits or redirect to lunches or happy hours, but it’s not clear if the employees share this perspective or if their work is actually being affected. If the employees are fine with it and they’re still completing their work efficiently, is this more of a case of Frank’s presence nothing LW?

      As the boss, I assume LW has the ability to make Frank leave or set limits on his visits, and maybe the employees would welcome this…or maybe they wouldn’t. If LW doesn’t actually know if the employees are bothered or aren’t, then maybe that’s something to find out in individual one on one conversations with each of them. But if they insist at that point that they’re fine, LW can’t do anything but believe them.

    6. LW 3*

      I really appreciate everyone’s comments and perspectives, this one really is a hard nut.
      It’s clear through little side comments that people don’t love Frank’s frequent visits at this point- things like “wonder if I’ll get caught by Frank when I go in tomorrow” or “Has Frank come by yet this week, we’re running out of chambers in roulette”. These are met with wiry smiles from others or someone says “oh be nice” playfully and the person will respond “oh we all love Frank”. Everyone loves Frank as a person and feels bad for him and doesn’t seem to want to be the person who blocks Frank, but I don’t want this to become a running joke either.

      At a certain point I also think having someone hanging around the office for 3-4 hours a week starts to look not great to other groups.

    7. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      > I can imagine that over time there would be staff members who don’t remember the ex-colleague

      This. I was in a household of 6 in college, and there was this one guy who kept dropping by. Nobody really liked him, but we all assumed he was someone else’s friend. We finally figured out that he HAD been someone’s friend, but that person had moved out the previous year and Annoying Guy kept coming around. (I don’t remember how we stopped it, but it stopped. Someone must have actually Used Their Words.)

  11. UKgreen*

    British person here. We have a very sweary workplace, although we don’t swear at people. We usually swear at things.

    By which I mean printers. All the f*cking printers all the f*cking time.

    1. Mockingjay*

      (This is why my company has gone nearly paperless. The printers were vying for leadership and winning. Printing subversive texts instead of reports: “We demand new ink cartridges, not cheap refilled!” Scary stuff. Stephen King should write a novel about them.

      Back to advice for OP2: Alison gave you good scripts. To date, if your boss has been reasonable to work for, just bring up the swearing matter-of-factly. “Lesley, you are swearing a lot these days. Is something wrong? Anything I can help with?” An offer to help a (likely nonexistent) problem gives someone pause about how they are being perceived by others, without getting into particulars.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      Our school has ONE printer. You can imagine how THAT ends. When it’s not broken, it’s out of toner or something.

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        To cut down on waste our office has got rid of almost all the rubbish bins and now just have one set of bins per floor.
        It’s so annoying and it means people leave rubbish to pile up on their desk until they’re walking past the bin.

  12. Cheesesticks*

    Ugh surveys… During a Town Hall meeting where my friend works, the CEO was speaking about an upcoming “anonymous” survey the organization was having. He went on to say as part of the survey, you are required to enter what department you work in. The justification for this is they want this information so they can address any “issues”.

    1. London Calling*

      My ex-company did this – then complained that people didn’t complete them. Of course what happened was the people who weren’t happy didn’t submit comments and the company got comments from people who were 100% happy and delighted to be working there and would probably work for free if that were asked. So any issues didn’t get addressed.

    2. WellRed*

      We once were asked to enter our area codes ( smallish company, spread out but the bulk in one state. Yeah, as one of a handful of employees with my rare zip, that wasn’t happening.

      1. Heidi*

        I had to complete an anonymous survey that asked for your rank, department, and the number of years you’d worked here. I’m the only person at my rank in my department. Fail.

        1. Buffy will save us*

          Same! Before my promotion, it had my exact job on there, and there were only 3-4 of us in the department, and only 2 with the same level of experience, so it was super easy to figure out who was who. Now I am the only one at my level/title in the whole dept. Guess what? Everything is fine per my survey.

    3. seps*

      I was part of a large federally funded grant project that used an evaluation service for partner engagement reporting. The surveys required you to say which partner you were with. Well, there were only three of us that worked in my org. We did not fill out the surveys.

    4. Sylvan*

      Oh, my company does this and I never thought anything of it. Big company, lots of departments with different leaders and potentially different issues. My survey response from marketing would be very different from a response from the quality assurance department.

    5. FalsePositive*

      Ours are tracking enough so your department doesn’t get department level results unless enough people have filled them out (big company).

      I learned the hard way they they don’t filter/adjust/summarize written comments. They just pass them straight through to everyone. And depending on your manager, right on the screen when you are discussing results. Guess who was writing in their own quirky voice? Yeah, I don’t type in comments much any more.

    6. Alan*

      Yep. Our company surveys ask for department, role, and years of employment. Those are all interesting demographic data, arguably useful, but it kills the pretense of “anonymity”, at least for a lot of us. I don’t think anyone would consciously penalize me, but I think that subconsciously people would think of me differently.

    7. ferrina*

      I’m the person that designs/runs these types of surveys. A good survey design will allow people to answer completely honestly without being identified. Sometimes that means that we combine small departments in weird ways to protect anonymity. I also always include Prefer Not To Answer on demographics- definitely give a layer of protection. I also recommend not giving out individual links, but instead having a communal link and tracking the total count. There’s a theoretic risk of someone flooding the link with multiple responses, but I’ve never seen any kind of results that indicate that’s going on en mass (i.e., skewing the data). What I have seen is that a lot of folks are much more comfortable answering, and you get more detailed open-ended responses when folks know that they are truly anonymous.

      The survey is only a starting point. It tells you what to prioritize, and it can be crucial in DEIJ initiatives (Female POCs are reporting significantly higher stress levels? Not a coincidence). The biggest problem occurs when the leadership doesn’t want to prioritize what the staff wants to prioritize- for example, a temperamental CEO, or a much loathed VP, or just a burned out staff that need a lower workload.

      1. JustaTech*

        This year our company added demographics to the annual survey for the first time and given our small location they could be *extremely* identifying. At least they offered “prefer not to answer”, but I can tell that they’re having trouble getting people to fill out the survey because they’ve extended the deadline twice.
        (My department got our heads bit off (metaphorically) one year because senior folks took our answers the worst possible way, so we tend to be *very* circumspect filling out the survey and almost never use the free-form boxes because there just aren’t enough people for true anonymity.)

  13. Snarky McSnarkerson*

    Looking at the anonymous surveys from the other side. Our department surveys all.the.time, sometimes about things that should not be surveyed (different story). We take great pains to assure staff that they are anonymous, and take steps to MAKE them anonymous such as disabling geotracking and having only one person from the data team access the results. We also take action on those items that are actionable.

    The problem is when people are not specific enough in their answers. For instance, there’s a problem with a team that has all junior staff, but they’re doing senior level work and starting to burn out. We, as a department, do not know WHERE the problem is, so we cannot fix it – or even address it. And that’s just one mild example. It gets very concerning for the leadership when someone answers with something like “well-being of staff” and we do not know who needs assistance or what we could do to help.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      And we, the employees, don’t trust management enough not to retaliate.

      Think about it this way, if management was good, then the workers should be comfortable enough to talk to their bosses about the problem.

      I tend to avoid in house surveys just because my group is small enough to be identifiable, if the questions are that specific.

      1. London Calling*

        *Think about it this way, if management was good, then the workers should be comfortable enough to talk to their bosses about the problem*

        And having had my manager demonstrate that rather than deal with a problem I had she’d rather turn it back on me and imply it was all my fault (classic DARVO tactics), no way after that was I filling in in-house surveys that could identify me – or at least my small department. No trust in management. Which, ironically, is what a properly anonymous survey would uncover.

        1. Snarky McSnarkerson*

          I truly understand where you’re coming from and in all my past jobs I would have agreed with you. This place is really different and people need time to adjust to the fact that there is no retaliation.

          1. London Calling*

            If you’re not getting the feedback you need, why do you think that is? it suggests to me that people don’t believe a) the surveys are anonymous and b) there’s no retaliation. I don’t know how you go about persuading them that a) they are and ) there won’t be.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Surveys are helpful tools to alert you of a problem, and then management needs to do some non-survey investigating and correcting (not retaliating!).

      To use your “senior level work leads to burnout” example: after the survey, you know this is happening somewhere in your department but not where. So time to talk to managers about what workload they are assigning to their teams, what training and support they are offering, if the teams are meeting their deliverables without working over time, etc. And if you find some problems, hire extra staff for the overworked teams. Offer them more training so they can work at a hire level. Reorganize the workflow so some of those higher-level assignments are going to teams with senior staff, not to the junior staff. If all the managers swear up and down that their teams are not the ones burning out, talk to the team members to identify who is struggling with burn-out and then offer them meaningful support.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Following up by examples from some previous workplaces (both of these happened before I started at each office, so I don’t know all of the details):

        1 – A survey had lots of complaints about a manager. The company had all of the employees attend a series of “improvement” sessions that the employees did not perceive as helpful. They felt the company was trying to convince them to not complain anymore, instead of coaching or firing the manager. The manager was still a manager when I worked there (I did not work directly for them so I have no insight on whether they were a bad manager), and the employees were jaded about the survey and never gave useful information on it.

        2 – A survey had lots of complaints about management in one department. The company took the complaints seriously and took a critical look at how the department operated internally and how it interfaced with other departments. The company saw how problematic the management was, and ultimately fired 3 managers in the department. To fill the spots, they promoted an internal person and hired two people from outside the company. They then followed up, both inside and outside that department, to see if the new managers were correcting the problems left by the old managers. As a result, people felt that surveys were a useful tool to alert upper management of problems, and people continued to offer comments/complaints through the surveys. (And, importantly, the upper management of the company used surveys as a starting point and knew that most of the investigative and problem-solving work comes after the survey.)

        1. turquoisecow*

          Re: #1, that’s a horrible way to address the problem! The employees complain about the manager, so you train the employees? It seems like company leadership took the wrong lessons from the survey and wanted to protect the manager for some reason. I don’t blame the employees for feeling frustrated.

    3. DataSci*

      How do you persuade the employees that their responses are anonymous, when:

      * Most of the time they have an individual, one-time link (so that people can’t forward the survey, or take it multiple times) which obviously means responses could be traced back to email addresses and we have only your word for it that you don’t do that.

      * There’s generally enough information requested (job title, department, gender, tenure with the company) to be able to pinpoint who responded, or at least narrow it down to a few people.

      At a company with a bad climate – where these surveys would be most useful – people are least likely to believe “trust us, it’s anonymous, pinky swear”.

    4. ferrina*

      Snarky, the survey is the beginning of the process. You now know what the issue is- jr staff being given work that they aren’t trained for/compensated for. Next step is to think about what strategy you want to take- do you want to provide training/compensation so you can level up workflow quickly? Or do you want to restaff/redistribute workload?

      There’s always someone who knows what’s going on. Best way to find out is to leverage information networks (and be trustworthy/discrete). Managers know something. Secretaries know something. Make it known that you want to do some randomized “stay interviews” that ask about [Topics] (always telegraph what you’re doing both to promote transparency and to protect people- you want to avoid the appearance of pulling in people because they were already talking to you). Pull in a variety of staff and chat. Always approach it as a team- you value their experience, and while you can’t guarantee a certain change, the more you know the better your approach will be to actually solving it.

      I recently conducted a few rounds of focus groups/interviews on folks’ experiences with Process X. I knew Process X was a problem, but everyone liked the team running the process. I had to be very gentle with those conversations, but when they were done, we were able to completely redesign the process (everyone was really relieved). My company actually has a couple people that are designated as go-tos. They aren’t high enough to be involved in politics, but high enough to get a lot of information and suggest changes. They are busy enough to be talking to (and forming networks with) people across the company, but never too busy for a quick chat. Nothing is ever too minor for them, and they know exactly who to escalate any kind of problem to.

  14. Grey Coder*

    LW#1: This is very common in many many areas. People have a problem and they have what they think is a solution in their heads, but they either don’t articulate that solution very well or, when they actually see it, find it doesn’t really solve their problem. Or, the situation changes and, by the time they see the original solution, they have new information which changes things.

    Although some people are better at understanding and describing what they want, I would recast the problem from “my boss does this thing” to “humans do this thing” and adjust your own expectations and work patterns accordingly. As Alison and others have mentioned, short feedback loops are the way forward. This may well be a significant mindset change for both you and your boss if you are used to detailed work reviews. What you are looking for is just enough feedback so that you know you are on the right track, and often enough that you minimize the amount of wasted work if something changes, either in the general context or just in your boss’s mind.

    1. academic fibro warrior*

      Absolutely! In my field we often describe it as, I don’t know what I’m thinking until I’ve had a chance to write it out. I try very hard to encourage my students to iterate until they have a clear idea of the project and that substantive changes are normal and expected. I build in a lot of checkpoints and ask for small pieces early for feedback. It’s a hard shift to make for a lot of folks especially if they haven’t done much project based learning. A lot of schoolwork at all levels doesn’t lend itself well to this.

  15. User 1234*

    #2 – Swearing is a weird thing. I have a friend who was brought up very religiously and carried on strongly in a Christian faith until mid-thirties. She will happily yell ‘motherF*’ if she misses a shot at badminton, but you can see her flinch every time someone says ‘Oh God!’ or “Jesus, where the hell did I put that can opener”.
    I didn’t even realize those were considered offensive or particularly sweary until I moved to the USA from the UK.
    Is that the kind of swearing your colleague does? Once I realized how offensive it was for my friend I have really tried to dial it down because I don’t want to make her uncomfortable.

    1. Tempanon*

      Similarly, my devout Muslim colleague refers to our institutional leadership as “those motherf*ckers.” Hearing this come out of the mouth of an elegant, headscarf-wearing woman definitely gives it some extra impact (and makes me smile). But I think she’d draw the same distinction your friend does between swearing and blasphemy.

    2. aebhel*

      I’ve lived in the US my entire life and it would take a lot of work for me to parse those as sweary at all, but I’ve also never lived somewhere particularly religious.

  16. Coffee Anonymous*

    LW2: My favorite “how to tell someone they’re swearing too much” story is still one my husband was on the receiving end of years ago. He’d just gone back to college after a summer on a construction crew, where his immediate supervisor’s language was pretty salty even by construction yard standards. He didn’t realize how much of his supervisor’s vocabulary he’d picked up until he was pacing around his dorm room looking for his keys and complaining about it. Finally, his roommate, who was known for not cussing, had had enough, and said, “John, I don’t f—-ing know where the f—- your f—-ing keys f—-ing are, so please shut the f—- up about it.” John got the message.

    1. Jay*

      When I was a med student, I was on call one night and we were (oddly) hanging out in the lounge watching TV with the surgical team. The surgery chief resident was a condescending ass who did not think much of this newfangled idea about letting women be doctors. I wasn’t rotating on surgery – the women who were had LOTS of stories about this dude. He generally expected women to be decorative and quiet. I am a woman who did not fit his idea of decorative and I’ve never been quiet.

      So we’re watching Miami Vice (I’m old) and the plot hinges on one of the main characters starting to date a woman who turns out to be a prostitute. At the denoument of this betrayal, the surgeon drawls “Guess you have to be pretty f*ing careful.” I responded “Or pretty careful f*ing.” The look on his face was priceless.

    2. JustaTech*

      My freshman year of college almost everyone started swearing like sailors the moment their parents dropped them off (woo, we’re adults, let’s cuss!). We hadn’t realized how bad it had gotten until I was in the parking garage at Disneyland with some friends and we were suddenly surrounded by children and we realized just how often we were cussing (and that we could not do that around these little kids at Disneyland). The group of us literally took to putting our hands over each other’s mouths to remind ourselves not to swear.

      We started cutting back then, and it was reinforced by one professor who had a rule called “family lab”, which was his way of saying “don’t swear in my lab”. There weren’t consequences for swearing (beyond a dirty look, and maybe saying “Name, really?” but it was good reminder to not be obnoxious.

      If LW2’s boss has just relieved himself of some previous limitations on his language he might be both reveling in doing something previously forbidden, and not all that aware of how much it’s become part of his working vocabulary.

  17. WillowSunstar*

    With number 5, by making surveys not anonymous, the company will guarantee very few honest responses. People aren’t going to risk their paychecks over giving feedback, especially with inflation these days.

  18. OP4*

    OP4 here with an update –

    First, an extra bit of background – in my field, it’s very common to be completely unable to communicate for hours at a time or even whole workdays – let’s say I’m a SCUBA diver. So things have to be set in advance and even being available is to do so is very difficult because most of the time, I’m not accessible during the day. This is something the recruiter would know, since they were hiring licensed SCUBA divers. To me, that made it extra ridiculous to even ask for something in such a short time-frame, and it played out as follows…

    I replied 30 minutes after their message on Wednesday evening: I prefer to discuss positions or read position descriptions and tailor my resume to the position. Can we lock down a time now and then I could send you something after we discuss the potential position(s)? Also, I’ll be on a dive all day tomorrow, so I won’t have a quick response time.

    I didn’t hear anything by Friday morning, so I messaged that I was assuming we weren’t talking today and was releasing the holds on my calendar. They replied with an apology mentioning a “unexpected family matter” and a job description.

    It looked interesting enough, so I updated and sent my resume and we spoke the next week. However, based on the conversation, they were really looking to get me into the (large) company’s database, not recruiting for one or even a few specific positions. The recruiter acted more like an external one than an internal one, but my prior experience with recruiters has been for smaller companies, so maybe I’m biased? I walked away from the phone call without any clear job information. That’s fine, I wasn’t particularly looking, but I’m more wary of the company now so they haven’t done themselves any favors if it turns out a hiring manager is interested at some point.

    If I were to do it again, I would ignore the “this week” part and add something in my first message saying I can only hold the times until X because of my diving schedule to try and limit the back-and-forth… or at least the expectation that I hold the times. Not that this would necessarily change their behavior, but it would make it less frustrating for me.

    1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

      I’m sorry it went that way for you. I had to block a couple really demanding recruiters that were emailing and texting me. They were throwing text tantrums that I wasn’t replying to their unsolicited emails about positions I had zero interest in. I could even tell what some of the companies were from the brief descriptions and locations and knew they were dumpster fires. I probably wouldn’t bother working with a recruiter in my field right now because the demand for people in my position is insane and I actually want to step away from the toxic aspects of the most commonly advertised positions out there.

      1. KatEnigma*

        I had 2 recruiters who I had to block because they were trying to recruit my husband… one cold called me, the other sent an email. I don’t know what database they bought, but it was one guaranteed where they will never hire him. All of HIS information is on LinkedIn, not mine

        1. OP4*

          Apparently my birth name also belongs to a veterinarian. I get cold TEXTs to my cell for vet positions. Mind, I don’t go by that first name and I’ve been married (different last name) for decades. I also live in a completely different state.

          I also share a first initial with my same-last-name spouse and get emails for them all the time. I just delete them.

      2. OP4*

        oof! sorry to hear that.
        I’m not too worried about the recruiter. I’m not actively looking. If something comes of it, that’s fine, but it’s good info on their hiring practices.

    2. I Wore Pants Today*

      I could have written this… Ugh! I’m in a hot field too. I respond and get ghosted all the time. I try to find out if the person actually works for XYZ company or if they are an external recruiter beforw I let them know my availability.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Sounds like a waste of your time, but perhaps the recruiter had a mandate to do a “talent survey” or to develop a pipeline for expected roles that will come up in future. They should have been up front about that, though.

      The initial exchange was presumptuous and demanding.

  19. Tech writer by day*

    #5 management often thinks they can simply declare that the company culture is to be open and transparent, just like some parents think they can simply declare that their family is loving and kind. But it’s actions, not words, that make it so.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Transparency is supposed to go upwards, not downwards. People in power showing you their hand is transparent, not the people underneath them. That’s just ….. surveillance.

  20. ecnaseener*

    Yeah, #5 makes no sense. If they want an option for non-anonymous written feedback, they can open up a separate comment portal without compromising the survey.

  21. Ari*

    OP1, I worked for a manager like that for years. He was very good for my development, but had the same issue of asking me to do a project one way and then changing his mind. Or so I thought. What was actually happening is that the presentation or data was for his boss or higher, and frequently they would come back with a million questions because it turns out they didn’t know exactly what they wanted. On the other hand, sometimes it would be my boss who changed his mind because he thought the data would look good presented X way, but when he saw the finished project he realized that Y way would be more clear. I finally got used to having to redo everything at least once.

  22. NewJobNewGal*

    #5 If management needs a survey, then they have not created the “speak up” culture that they want. If people felt safe speaking up, then staff would be doing that and there wouldn’t be a need to document suggestions and problems through a survey.
    Leaders need to foster a culture that allows openness and honestly, and that takes years, and it requires every manager to be on board. If Leaders can’t point to the activities and policies that they have created to make a “speak up” culture, then there is zero reason to believe one exists.
    I give managers a simple test to see if they actually have an open culture. Announce “Talk with Leadership” time and schedule out 4 hours for staff to make appointments to talk about problems and opportunities with the CEO and top Decision Makers. If the 4 hours get booked by individuals the Leaders don’t have regular contact with, then they have an open an honest culture. If they hear crickets, then they have a staff afraid to speak up.

    1. OP5*

      I’ve actually found a pretty supportive culture for speaking up in my experience, and overall it seems to be a decent (if not amazing) place to work in terms of management and culture. That said, I do think that de-anonymizing the survey does threaten the ability to be confident in speaking up somewhat. It’s a committee-created survey (not just managers), so I imagine it’s less maliciousness and more not thinking through the second-order effects.

  23. EvilQueenRegina*

    My dad used to have a Frank. In his case, he worked at a primary school which had been under threat of closure but then had been saved, and “Frank” was the interim headmaster until someone else was appointed. Right after they appointed someone, the decision was taken to close that school after all, and while Frank hoped that the replacement wouldn’t start after all and he could carry on until the end, she did end up taking over the role for the final term.

    During that term, Frank kept going back to the school on various pretexts such as “I just realised I still had X with me, and thought I’d better bring it back!” This guy wasn’t as well liked as the person in the letter, and people did find his visits a bit of a nuisance and wondered why he kept on doing this, but I think the fact that everyone knew the school was closing and Frank’s visits would have an end date meant that people just tolerated it. They eventually came to a stop after the day he parked his car on the school field, not realising quite how muddy it was, and had to be towed off (although that was quite close to the end of term from what I remember, it’s going back a few years now, so probably would have ended then anyway).

  24. Workerbee*

    #3, If the advice doesn’t work, then redirect Frank to visit the two directors who said it would be harsh to have him stop taking up your team’s time. Frank can have new buddies then!

    1. Esprit de l'escalier*

      Very clever and a nice dig at them, but if Frank doesn’t have any former work pals in those departments, or if they’re more into maintaining boundaries, he’ll be right back in LW’s dept visiting away.

  25. Jake*

    #2, every workplace has its limits. I’ve worked in an industry and in work places where not swearing would be noticeably weird. Even there, some limits include, you don’t swear at people (but about people is probably ok) and you don’t use slurs, including curse words that aren’t normally viewed as slurs like b***h. If it is gendered, racial or exclusively sexual, you just don’t use it unless you want some serious side-eye and, eventually, a talking to.

    Those limits go out the window the moment you leave the office and hit the field though.

    So, in terms of talking straight to the OP, there are lots of workplaces where it would be weirder to not curse than to curse, but your workplace certainly isn’t one of them.

    1. seps*

      This is an important point about b*tch, I think. I used to run a conference and one of the presenters was talking about pediatric cancer and got emotional about it, and offhandedly remarked “pediatric cancer is a b*tch.” I honestly thought nothing of it, having heard (and used) that word a million times in my life, but I was contacted afterward by some attendees who were very jarred to hear a gendered slur in a presentation. We changed the code of conduct for the conference after that and I look at that word a lot different now when it’s obviously used in a derogatory way (versus “that concert was bitchin’!” which I don’t feel like I’d hear in my line of work??).

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I’ve worked in very sweary environments, and environments where swearing at all, even at your own work, got you a talking to, especially if you presented as female.

      The last one was a university where swearing was supposedly a no-no. I got talked to about it a lot, because I’ve worked so often in sweary jobs and I have had a head injury (in an area of the brain that can cause bucket mouth), and I am AFAB. But then I found out that a certain male manager swore so much in meetings that if they had a swear jar they could have bought the team lunch every week. He also had been promoted straight from IC to manager, without having to do a stint as a PM first, which I had been told was the “process” for moving into management. So lots of sexist double standards, even though the university didn’t see itself as sexist. It made me very angry, to say the least.

      One job earlier in my career, I had come in as a temp. My grandboss swore like a sailor, and apparently intimidated some of the women there because of it. I, AFAB and using she/her at the time, also swore like a sailor, like my mother before me. So we were going over some report, and he started cussing about it. I responding in kind, like “Yeah, that’s f*cked up, and a sh*tty way of writing that. How do you want it fixed?” He was absolutely silent for about a five count. Then he picked back up with an answer like normal, and after that day we got along extremely well – because I didn’t freak out, and “spoke his language”. I went permanent shortly after that and worked there for seven years. The rule was unwritten, but you could swear in the office, swear in the field, but don’t swear in front of the client unless they swore first in the field.

    3. Hannah L*

      Agreed. I work in construction, where even office staff swear like sailors, and there are still limits like you said. Never at people, not in front of clients etc.

      I’ve also been in the complete opposite environment. Right after graduating university I did the Disney College program and as you can guess there is no swearing or anything resembling it.

  26. Miss Suzie*

    #5 Whenever we have a survey at work I always reply that everything is rainbows and unicorns. There are no anonymous surveys. That email has a meta tag in it.

  27. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    For #2, I’d be worried that if I objected, my boss would think it was a religious objection. I feel like sideeye from an ex-coreligionist would be likely to make him feel that that religion was still trying to control his life and he’d object vehemently.

    I’d probably just keep my mouth shut and hope somebody else spoke up.

    Especially because people who take enthusiastically to their ex religion’s minor vices probably didn’t have a quiet exit.

  28. I won a prize 5 years ago and now my life is over*

    ‘… but with the team’s workload these days, we cannot continue having you visit during the workday. However, ..’
    I mean this is good advice to put a stop to the visits but if I was told this, with this wording, I would die. I would just immediately die. WE CANNOT CONTINUE HAVING YOU VISIT. Can you imagine being told this? my life is over just imagining this conversation. How can we (I mean, in life) bear having conversations which are brutal and horrible but necessary? And which most likely cut to the very core of another person’s existence???? But! While my own core of existence is harmed by not having this horrific conversation that will help us all in the long run!! Anyway, look, I will grapple with this eternally. Thanks.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      You are leaving out the part that comes after the “however”. He is invited to other things that do not occur at the workplace and do occur outside of working hours. Because, let’s face it (and honestly, someone who’s worked long enough to retire should know) that the workplace and work hours are for, well, work.

      It’s not that they don’t want to see Frank. A brief, occasional visit would be fine. But he’s making a day of it.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        A brief, occasional visit would be fine.

        That’s not what Alison’s suggestion says, though. Her wording is essentially “see us at the bar, or don’t see us, ever.” She puts it in language that sounds soft, but it’s very definitely telling Frank that he’s unwanted at the workplace ever again. I gotta agree that Alison’s suggestion is just not a very nice way to try to solve the problem with this older person who had been very well loved when he worked there.

    2. Hen in a Windstorm*

      Wow, that’s melodramatic. You’re putting a lot of emotional baggage on a *business* communication. It is not brutal, or horrible, or horrific. Frankly, you must have a pretty easy life to use those words that lightly, and yet you make it sound like your life is hanging by a thread. Just… dial it way back.

    3. Koli*

      Mmmm but honestly given that this is the way you’d react, you are probably someone who has enough self-awareness and ability to read the room that you would never be on the receiving end of such a comment.

      Frank should know from the fact that no other retirees are hanging around for hours a day (MULTIPLE 30-40 minute conversations!!) and that, in the decades of his career he (presumably) never saw anyone else doing this, that it’s inappropriate. The fact that he doesn’t means he lacks the sensitivity that would make such a comment so devastating to you.

    4. Glomarization, Esq.*

      I whole-heartedly agree that Alison’s suggested wording is not very sensitive at all. I don’t think it’s nice to tell an older person that the only time they’re welcome to visit is at a bar or some other public place where he’ll have to spend money, and which may not be a comfortable venue for someone of his age.

      If I got this suggested talking-to by a previous manager, as an older person, I think would feel embarrassed and unvalued. There has to be a more friendly way to get the point across to Frank that his visits have gotten to be too disruptive and that there will need to be a change going forward. Geez, maybe even ask him for a suggestion?

      1. Koli*

        Often setting boundaries is not “nice” to the person who is overstepping the boundaries, and they are not going to like it. However, nice is not the paramount value in every case.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          Of course the manager here can’t control Frank’s perception of whether it’s nice or not to terminate his daytime visits. But a person can set boundaries with kindness. I don’t think that the suggested wording expresses kindness to Frank, though that’s just my opinion.

            1. Glomarization, Esq.*

              I dunno, I’m not a professional advice columnist, I’m just an anonymous internet lawyer (or am I?), but I think I’d open with something along the lines of “it’s great to see you around, we do miss you, I bet your days are pretty open now that you don’t have to come to work, huh,” to see if I can get him to open up. I think he’s probably lonely so I’d put my active listening hat on and reflect back what he says. Keeping his responses in mind, I’d see if we can’t find a balance between the team trying to get their work accomplished, and Frank coming in to socialize.

              As a lawyer and as a parent, I’ve found that the path to getting everybody’s needs met is paved with making sure they feel like their needs are first addressed. Alison’s wording here doesn’t tell Frank that his needs are heard and understood. The wording talks only about the team’s feelings and needs. That’s why I think it’s not nice to Frank. If the bottom line is that the workplace needs him gone forever, then that’s the bottom line, but he can be informed of that with kindness. As it is, “you’re always welcome at happy hours after hours” isn’t just “we can’t accommodate you here at the office”; it’s also, you’re never welcome at the office.”

              1. Gnome*

                I have no idea how much time the OP has to devote to this, but… that’s a lot of emotional hand holding for somebody that isn’t on the team. I get being kind, it’s a core value… but there’s also the flip side – whatever energy is spent on this conversation with Frank is not available to the OP for themselves or their team. The OPs job may not realistically involve those sorts of skills… and while it is SUPER important to take care of team members, Frank isn’t one any more. That’s not to say he should be cut off, but there’s probably some boundary that is a little less emotional heavy-lifting but still sets a boundary.

                I’ll caveat my comment with having a special-needs family member, so I might be sensitive to the idea of doing much emotional lifting for people who aren’t on the “must cover” list.

        2. BatManDan*

          unclear is unkind.
          All y’all talking how it’s not “nice” to Frank are missing that it’s not nice to MULTIPLE people who STILL work for you. “nice to Frank” cannot be the highest priority here. If you can work some in, great. If not, other, bigger purposes are being served here.

      2. Artemesia*

        How many retired old foggies hang around your workplace. This is NOT DONE. The fact that Frank is turning this into his retirement hangout is exceptional. It is not cruel to want your workplace to not be a eldercare center. I saw that as a thoroughly elderly retiree who has had lunch on invitation a few times with old colleagues before moving to a new city. Someone just hanging around is not typical and normal and someone like that is impervious to hints.

      3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        The challenge is I am not sure if there is ANY kind way through. The message they ultimately want to send is: please stop visiting us at the office. There is literally no way to express that in a way that wouldn’t crush me. But I appreciate your suggestions below about doing it as an active listening session — ensuring that it’s delivered in a caring, human way.

    5. The Engineer*

      Really, how is this conversation different than the one you would have with an employee taking too long of a break or fliting around chatting with other staff such that it interfered?

      We got to get the work done Frank! You are welcome to hang out with us at . . . (lunch, happy hour, sports ball event, etc). Love you man! Have a great day!

  29. Troublemaker*

    Take a page from applied engineering to fix #1’s issue, and insist that all tasks come with a “definition of done”. The definition has to be supplied before work starts. This way, the managers are forced to argue against themselves and their past opinions, rather than blaming the worker; the worker can always point to the definition and explain that they did exactly what was requested.

    #2: I don’t have any polite words, but you are in the wrong. Best of luck.

    1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

      Though engineering also has design reviews where I have had to make major changes – just because it meets definition of done doesn’t mean you can ignore a hazard nobody considered before

      1. Troublemaker*

        Indeed! Sometimes a task needs to be rejected outright, or sent back to the drawing board. This also should happen before work starts, but sometimes we have to do some work before we realize that the task is infeasible or hazardous.

    2. Observer*

      and insist that all tasks come with a “definition of done”

      The OP is not in any position to “insist” on anything.

      1. Troublemaker*

        It sounds like OP is a productive laborer, which means that they always are in the position of withholding/withdrawing labor. It is trivial to not do tasks that are not fully defined, just like it’s trivial to not do any labor at all.

        Also, apply some incentive engineering. OP is always free to *prefer* tasks which are fully defined. This isn’t favoritism; anybody is free to commit to their tasks before handing them to OP. But it does incentivize folks to either make themselves clear and unambiguous, or spend lots of time waiting.

  30. cucumber*

    Re: #2 – I work in Boston and everyone swears in the office constantly. It’s a pretty conservative environment, but I think cussing is just super normal up here. It was a little jarring for my coworker who moved up here from Louisiana for the job. It really depends on the office culture.

  31. kat*

    #5 We are all badgered to get 100% response to our employee engagement surveys. I always select N/A to all the questions. I found that just spending time thinking about the current issues frustrated me while filling out the survey. Now I’m done in seconds and don’t give it thought.

  32. Helen B*

    The letter about surveys reminded me of the first survey I took at my company. It was anonymous, but you did fill in your supervisor. And when your supervisor only has 4 direct reports, they have a good idea of who is making complaints. And we all complained about low pay and overwork.

    The company had review sessions with each group to go over the survey results and discuss what steps the company might do. The VP who led our session came in and told us basically that we were ingrates who should be happy just to have jobs. Good times.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Yes, this. They ask for your supervisor and your “rank” (paraprofessional, professional, admin, etc.) which narrows it down to two of us. Any written comments will be easily identified.

  33. Lacey*

    OP 1: This is a super common problem. Not just with managers, though I find they’re extra bad about it, but with other teams that might make a request but not fully think it through.

    Send an email confirming the plan. Half the time just seeing it in writing wakes them up and makes them say, “That’s really close, but actually instead of rainbows and unicorns I need a haunted mansion”

    Then you have various check in moments – what those are will be different depending on the work you do and the longer you do it the more you’ll know which ones make sense and which don’t.

    I also find that the longer I work the more I’m really aware of specific areas where people will mess up and cause extra work for me, so I always double check those things. That’s just going to come to you by experience. But if you find yourself thinking, “She’s probably going to change this” that’s something you want to ask about before you do the work.

    1. McS*

      With other teams, you should make them do some legwork formulating the request. This is why annoying request paperwork exists! Unlike your manager, other teams do not value your time properly or know what else you’re working on. They’ll ask off-hand questions without assessing the effort necessary to answer them. You need to get them to do some of the initial work partially just to make sure they want the answer enough to be worth the time.

  34. BellyButton*

    LW1 – As Alison described you need to work with a more Agile approach, with frequent check-ins so course correcting can be done as you go. Set up a regular time to meet, it doesn’t have to be long 15-20 minutes, show the progress, and discuss the next thing that is going to be done. This allows her to give her input or give you information if things have changed, it also will help her not forget as often as you think she is.

  35. Fernie*

    LW #1, I once had a manager like this, who would give me an assignment with very vague scope that he expected me to figure out on my own. However, when I followed Alison’s strategy of creating a rough first draft to present him for feedback, the first think he did was attack all the nit-picky details – like circle all the items that were not in the approved corporate font, and put a big red circle around the page number which was to the side rather than centered.

    I lasted in that job for one week. Let’s just say his “management” style was not a good fit for me!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yeah, I’ve had this experience, too, but not nearly as bad. I’ll be clear that the big thing is the overall structure and general idea of the content. Inevitably, I’ll get comments about wording choices and notes to make sure to add details on X and Y (which I was gonna do later; the whole point of an outline is you don’t get into the details yet).

      But overall, it’s worked for me. Seems like I have much more reasonable management than Fernie did!

  36. Allisen*

    LW #5
    I’m in agreement with others, you have poor management. My former job was like that. C suite clearly favored one group in particular, the rest of us were just cogs in a machine. They had us fill out surveys anonymously. The first time, they had a comment section you could see and you could go back to check your answers. Next one? The comment section had “convinently” been concealed behind a button next to the question that most people overlooked AND we couldn’t go back a page to check our answers/add onto them. It didn’t stop the bad reviews.

    Following that one though, the favored group got raises. The rest of us got “Appreciation Days” that were hospital wide. None of our complaints got solved oreven addressed. As far as I’m aware, it’s still like that. Thankfully they haven’t requested names on the surveys but I’m sure that’s coming, very soon. Overall it sounds like they don’t care about the opinions of certain workers, and they want to find out who they are to attempt to appease them or boost their rating on a job site.

  37. Acey*

    LW 3, before kicking Frank out entirely, it may be worth checking if these meetings are purely social, or if he’s continuing to provide work or help your employees with their work while they’re meeting, or if he’s mentoring them
    in some way. If so, then rather than relegating him to a social event, it might be useful to specifically structure his visits, such as a monthly networking lunch.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      This still shouldn’t matter. He’s retired. Getting whatever organizational knowledge out of him that was needed should have happened a lot sooner. If you rely this much on someone who no longer works there, you are not managing effectively.

    2. LW 3*

      That’s for the suggestion. It’s definitely not mentoring or helping with work although he may ask how things are going with old projects. The way the work falls everyone is pretty specialized so he would only be able to network or help the one person who took his job (which funny enough is fully remote).

  38. NeedRain47*

    LW#2 essentially has a toddler in their midst who wants to repeat the “naughty” words they just learned. Hopefully he will lose interest over time.

    The swearing issue has a lot to do with class and gender as well as religion and I really hate it.

  39. Irish Teacher.*

    LW2, as Alison says, I think this is very culture dependent. In my school, people swear a fair bit in the staffroom, not at each other or anything, more like “wait ’till you hear what happened with my 3rd years today. It was f’ing hilarious.” I even have a couple of colleagues who swear while teaching. One guy does provoke some mild disapproval for the latter, but even that is more the fact that a) it’s kind of excessive and b) comes across as a real attempt to be “the cool teacher” and “down with the kids,” rather than just slipping out occasionally.

    I know there are other schools where the latter would be far more shocking/cause more disapproval.

    If you are in the US, I also think the US has a lower tolerance for swearing than Ireland has.

    LW3, would it be possible to arrange meet ups with Frank outside working hours? It seems like he misses ye and the routine, so maybe a regular Friday night where whoever wants to/is available meets up for a drink, along with Frank and maybe some other retired staff. Or could you say something like “Frank, we’re honestly really busy today. You know what it’s like (on Mondays/in the run-up to Christmas/ the end of the tax year). And we haven’t really time to talk. But if you call in an hour before closing on Friday, we could have a chat and then maybe go for a drink or something afterwards.”

    LW5, at the end of the last academic year, we as a staff voted on the possibility of going co-ed, on the possibility of changing to hour long classes and on a possible change to our finishing times. While I supported the first, I was opposed to the two others, but once I saw the vote was not anonymous, I decided I didn’t want to be seen as “the person who objects to every change,” so I voted in favour of the change to our finishing times. As a learning support teacher, I was very concerned that some of my students, many of whom struggle with attention, would find hour long classes very difficult, so I decided to pick my battles and support the other, which I didn’t have a strong preference for; I just preferred the system we had but didn’t think the change actually bad.

    My point is that you don’t always get people’s true opinions if they have to sign their names to it. Heck, there was a corrupt Irish taoiseach (prime minister) who used this to his advantage. He made his party vote by shows of hands rather than secret ballot and given that the guy was given to retaliation and was frankly dangerous, people tended to vote as he wanted them to.

  40. bopper*

    Letter 1:
    1) Apply “The Wally Period” From Dilbert
    “The first week after getting an assignment is called “The Wally Period”.
    Never do work during the Wally Period because most tasks become unnecessary within seven days.”
    https://dilbert.com/search_results?terms=Wally+Period

    2) Quickly write up your notes and then send them to your boss. “These are my notes from our meeting. Did I capture everything?” And it may be that at that point she sees the disconnect on what she thought she said vs. what she communicated to you…she can give feedback there and after she approves that THEN you make the nice presentation.

  41. Lydia*

    My favorite thing is how we spend more than a third of our day, every day for years, engaged with people and then act like it’s insane they want to continue a relationship that has taken up a significant part of their lives. As if making that change is something we should all be able to do seamlessly and for those that can’t, they are so out of touch and burdensome. Capitalism is crazy, y’all.

    1. Koli*

      I mean, 99% of people seem to have no problem with it. And Frank has been invited to the team happy hours, so he has the opportunity to continue the relationship. He could also invite his colleagues to lunch, or to coffee, or other activities outside the office to catch up. What he can’t do is pretend he still works there and inflict his presence on people for multiple hours per visit.

      If he wasn’t ready to retire and was forced to, I agree that’s a shame and an indictment of capitalism. If he just made a bad decision, that’s on him, and maybe he can explore formally coming back part time or in a volunteer role if the org is of that nature. But the fact that he worked with people for a third of his day isn’t an excuse to keep coming back, any more than it would be for a colleague who moved on to another job or left the workforce before retirement age.

  42. OyHiOh*

    #2 – There are a small handful of folks in my organization who are retired military (multiple branches). I mention this because there’s a bit of a stereotype about military folks and swearing. Of them, only one brings their foul language habit into the office, and even then is pretty clearly aimed at circumstances, not people. The week we had two prospective buyers decide to make tea grove visits and 3 requests for teapot specs all land on that person’s desk in the space of 48 hours, there were definitely swears floating out of their cube. It’s not a regular habit, and the rest of us know it’s a high stress moment for them. The other military retirees in the org have shockingly good language habits.

  43. Don't Call Me Shirley*

    Regarding being asked to change work based on a review… That sounds normal to me. You make the work product, and you get feedback, and incorporate it. It can be developmental (you need to try and get feedback to learn to make something to standards) or just a matter of your boss not wanting to spend the time to fully work it out before seeing something concrete.

    I spend half my working life doing reviews of work for others, and the other half responding to comments on my own work.

    If it’s frustrating, you can try asking questions or clarifying details during the work process, or sending drafts for review, but in lots of fields, making major changes or even changing your mind after considering a first pass is normal

    1. Koli*

      Agreed, I found this letter very strange. I work in a client service industry. The client will ask for X. I’ll produce X. Then the underlying project has changed and X needs to be modified to Y. I make Y. Then I don’t get a response from someone for 4 weeks, until they come back and say actually we need Y minus 2. These iterations and responsiveness are part of my job, not just doing X and being done with the project forever.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I think how reasonable OP’s reaction is depends on a few things.
        If the manager in question is framing it as “this is exactly what I want”, OP delivers exactly that, and then the manager says “upon review, actually please make these changes” yeah that’s a completely normal part of work.
        If the manager in question is framing it as “this is wrong, and this is wrong and why did you do THAT?” When it’s exactly what they asked for, that’s frustrating as hell, and unfairly reflects poorly on OP.
        If the manager in question is framing it as “you know, I’ve changed my mind, instead of ABC we talked about yesterday, I think we should gowith DEF instead”, this is also a pretty normal part of work. However, if yesterday manager made it seem like it was a mad rush to do ABC, so OP scrambled to do it right away and as soon as they were done got told to scrap it, been there. It’s frustrating. It also punishes people for responding to urgent requests with urgency. If this last one is what’s happening, and in such a way that it’s not the review part that changed the manager’s mind, just the passage of time (ie, if you’d waited til today to start you could’ve done it once instead of twice), I totally understand why that’d drive OP bonkers.

  44. CWCASFBA*

    #2 – Reminds me of a coworker at my previous job that I worked with. He would swear all the time, and at one point my boss during one of our one-on-one meetings said to me, quote to unquote: “He is also such a potty mouth, too.”

    To keep it clean, I will not quote that specific coworker here on some of the things he said, but he was notorious around the office for swearing excessively. Luckily, the company culture was relaxed enough to tolerate it. Ironically, he sat right in front of the HR department, and of course HR never said or did anything. But nobody, including me, even minded that much if he said any curse words.

  45. Leave a Message at the Beep*

    I spend half my day swearing under my breath at my f’ing computer and the f’ing software that won’t work correctly. Only occasionally, when it’s being very awful, do I say it out loud. And chances are good, someone else in the office is also swearing about the software at the same time. PC load letter, what does that even mean?!?!

  46. Moonlight*

    #2 – I wonder how much this person being from the same religion as you is affecting your view? I know a lot of people who belong to religions with very high standards for behaviour (I saw this in a very neutral way: it’s no different from having high standards for the behaviour in your family, for doctors, for anyone else) and it can be really jarring when you see someone who’s supposed to be striving toward being virtuous, moral, etc. behaving in a way that goes against what your religion peaches. Maybe this boss really does swear a lot, and it’s totally ok to find any swearing uncomfortable or inappropriate, but I just wanted to put out there the question that maybe this is because this particular person is acting in a way that you think that “people like you” should act, because even if he’s left the religion, one would think that he’d still hold those values. However, if the religion was promoting stuff that he doesn’t like, maybe that’s the problem; for example, maybe the religion is against divorce, but he’s in an unhappy marriage and wanted a divorce, or maybe the religion promotes anti-LGBT sentiments, which he supports, who the heck knows, and I know people who’ve left religions and kind of rebelled (e.g., by partying, drinking, swearing, eating cheese burgers if they were Jewish or Hindu, etc.), granted, most of those people were young (like 18-25) and rebelliousness in that age group isn’t shocking at the best of times, but I could picture an older person also “rebelling” a bit as they reorient themselves in a new values and belief system.

    #5 oh noooo! That’s so bad. I hope that Alison’s advice helps stop this. I also want to add that just because a company, as a whole, promotes a work culture of no retaliation, flexibility, diversity, etc. doesn’t mean individual managers won’t be able to sneak in with problematic behaviours. For example, I once worked at a place that was all about flexibility for parents (I work in a country with 12+ months of maternity/paternity leave too!), such as allowing pregnant people to take time to go to appointments (e.g. using “flex time”, making the time up by working for an hour or 2 from home, etc.) and doing the same if a parent needs to leave to pick up a sick kid from school or something (e.g. again, working from home or something), yet my manager would pretty openly grumble about a colleague taking advantage of this because, well, she was pregnant and had an existing child and was the one in her marriage with the job flexibility to be able to do things such as work from home for a few weeks, and you’ll get managers who don’t want to hire women who are pregnant/have kids/might get pregnant, and even if companies are screening for that sort of thing, it’s not like people are going to be dumb enough to admit to those biases. In this same way, I could totally imagine a manager swearing up and down that they believe in accepting feedback, even if it is critical, and then losing their shit and retaliating or being petty/mean/bullying if they know that Sue and Jane both said that he/she/they aren’t good at communicating about deadlines and are often abrupt or some such thing. So I think a company having a policy about no retaliation is great; any good company SHOULD have this policy and procedures about how to handle it, but you NEED those policies because someone might friggin’ retaliate if provoked and you shouldn’t needlessly put employees in the line of fire becuase you’re ever so sure that your work place is a place that you want to believe is some how the only work place on the planet where there is no risk of retaliation. Blah.

  47. cmg*

    Regarding the boss who changes instructions after you have invested time in the project. This IS OK and is typical in many work environments.

    I work as a Technical Program Manager and it is very common to have drastic changes in the scope of a project. So my first step is to clarify the project goals, objectives & tangible deliverables – before investing a lot of time and energy.

    At the start of the project- pull together a high level outline of your understanding of your boss’ directions and review it with your boss. Repeat until your boss does not make further changes.
    Then when you build a plan to do the work, be sure to plan incrementally and include reviews at each point in the process so that you can course correct if needed.

    It also helps to get an understanding of the overall objective in tangible terms. I’ve often had clients ask me to implement a new program / process when their real goal was to “increase sales by X%” or “Reduce operating costs by X%” – the new program / process may lead to the result they want and it may not. By including the higher level goal in my planning, it was easier to identify the need for a course correction and I developed a reputation for delivering results.

  48. Esprit de l'escalier*

    The best advice I’ve seen here about good ol’ Frank was for OP to talk to their staff and find out directly from them how they feel about these visits and if they want OP to do anything about it. Maybe 2 of them are fine with it, it’s just like any other work break, and another 2 find it excessive or entirely unwelcome and would like OP to talk to Frank for them.

    Then OP could tell Frank “I have to ask you to skip Nope #1 and Nope #2 when you visit us, as they don’t want to lose their concentration on what they’re working on. Some people can be interrupted and go with the flow, and other people find it very disruptive, as I’m sure you know.”

  49. HelloFromNY*

    LW3: I agree with Alison’s suggestion to be a little more firm about setting boundaries for during business hours. If you can redirect Frank, I think that might also help. If your organization is a non-profit, are there any volunteer opportunities outside your direct office? Or does your organization or industry actively support any non profits? “Hey Frank I remember when you worked here you were really supportive of our commitment to supporting XYZ charity. I know XYZ is always looking for volunteers. It would be right up your ally! I’ll give you the phone number of our contact over there.”

  50. Girasol*

    We had a mean boss who gave the team lots of things to say in the annual anonymous survey. But to assure that we all responded to the survey, he put us all in a room and then watched as we did it, looking over everyone’s shoulders. Most folks said everything was just hunky dory even though a remarkable number were quitting. Then he ran it online, but there was so much demographic info required that responses could be narrowed down to two people at most. People were somewhat more forthcoming, but no one ever mentioned that our organization, 80% male and 20% female as is often the case in IT, was suddenly reversed with most respondents being women, and the numbers of people in IT sub-departments all out of whack as well. You can’t give anonymous surveys that aren’t anonymous and expect to hear the truth. If you can’t handle the raw truth, it’s best to just skip the survey. (In the end, HR noticed survey anomalies and the department’s startlingly bad quit rate, which started an investigation resulting in the sacking of Mean Boss.)

  51. fhqwhgads*

    In my mental hierarchy of swearing appropriateness, I categorize it from most severe to least:
    Swearing at someone: bad. Always inappropriate at work. “Fuck off” “Fuck you, Dennis” Don’t do it.
    Swearing at an object: may be frowned upon by many. Read the room. Personally I don’t mind. “That fucking printer.”
    Swearing as a general exclamation in response to bad news: many offices would find acceptable depending on how bad the news was; many would not; others would not, but also not hold it against you depending on the thing. Turns out Dennis was embezzling. He’s been walked out and turned over to relevant authorities but as of right now, the money’s gone. “Fuuuuck.”
    Swearing due to surprise and/or pain: may be frowned upon, generally forgiveable. Slammed your hand in a drawer? “Fuck!”

    The least severe will be not a big deal most places because they’re the sorts of things that might get blurted unexpectedly, rather than a more conscious word-choice. But some places would still absolutely not fly. On the other hand, some places, all but the first nobody would blink. A smaller subset would be fine with even the first, although I’d argue those places suck.

  52. Loafs*

    #3, I feel bad for Frank but this is why people need to invest in and nurture friendships and hobbies outside of work. Colleagues are not your friends, no matter how pleasant it was to work with them.

  53. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1

    If your boss is known for changing her mind once the work is done, just check in more often and much earlier in the process. I learned to do this with a former boss and it saved me tons of wasted time, effort and frustration.

  54. Computer-Man*

    #2 – I’m pretty certain I experienced more swearing from staff while working at a Catholic school than I have working in a very rough agrictultural company.

    Both are still a lot, but completely normal.

  55. Library grrl*

    People are certainly more candid when the survey is anonymous. They are also mean and unhelpful. We tried to use the surveys to fix problems, but I find them useless and want to stop doing them.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I agree with this. The surveys at my company are anonymous, too. When my department is on the receiving end, it’s typically not very useful at all. We’ll get a bad score (1-5) and then someone either leaves a very vague comment or no comment at all. How do we know what the issue is and how to fix it if an anonymous participant won’t expand their comment or even leave one at all? They don’t need to leave identifying details, but something other than, “Procedures aren’t clear” would be good. Like, which procedure? What wasn’t clear?

      I find, too, people take it as an opportunity to make incredibly mean and hurtful comments since there’s no fear of it coming back to them. This happened earlier this year and as the manager, it was brutal to read. I admit I cried and so did my own manager, as well as the assistant manager of the department. But not one person who made those hurtful comments offered any examples (even vague ones) of why they felt that way. So how do I know how to fix whatever it is? Especially when throughout the year I’m told, “no, I don’t have any issues to discuss”? Thankfully it was only a handful of comments and a vast majority were positive comments. But those few comments pretty much cancelled out any good feelings I got from the positive comments.

  56. Librarygrrl*

    People are certainly more candid when the survey is anonymous. They are also mean and unhelpful. Venting about things you dislike about your job instead of giving honest feedback about problems is frustrating for management who sincerely want to improve a workplace. And it feels like a slap in the face. Even though it’s only a few unhappy people, it really makes all our efforts to provide a great work environment feel unappreciated. I find them useless and want to stop doing them.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I replied to your comment above, and I agree with this one, too. “Slap in the face” is exactly how I felt when it happened to my department earier this year. And since there wasn’t constructive feedback, how can I possibly address their problems?

  57. Isabel Archer*

    #3 breaks my heart a little. But that could be because my dad’s name is Frank and he also retired last year (at 77!). He doesn’t understand why his work friends didn’t make an effort to keep in touch. I’ve been thinking of sending him Alison’s response to a writer who was sad that their work friends vanished after they (the writer) were laid off.

  58. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW1, I have that problem all the time in my large organization and have had some success with what Alison has suggested. Often, it ends up being better to give people something to react to, rather than talking more conceptually. Whenever possible, I’ll start with a template or outline and ask for feedback on it. And yeah, sometimes that conversation ends up with me needing to make major changes. The one small irritating thing is that no matter how often I say that it’s a rough outline and the key is to look at structure, I am going to get nitpicky comments about wording choice. It is what it is.

    Outlining is not how things have typically been done in this organization, so senior people don’t always love it. I suspect they see it as having to review something twice when they’d rather do it once. But I typically pitch it as a way to make sure I am on the right track early on and that this should mean that the first attempt at the deliverable will be better than otherwise. And I’ve gotten some traction.

    Frankly, the other thing that has kept me from getting super frustrated has been changing my perspective a bit. In some ways, my work time is theirs to waste. Yes, I’ll do what I reasonably can to be as efficient and effective in my role as possible. But at some point, it’s up to management/the organization to have effective processes. If they don’t and refuse to change things, that’s not on you. (Obviously, it’s a different scenario if their way of working makes you inefficient and they’re mad at you because you’re not getting as much done as they want, but you didn’t say anything to that effect in your letter).

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