Halloween decorations when you’re video-interviewing, I snapped at a coworker, and more

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

1. Halloween decorations when I’m video-interviewing

a wall with Halloween decorations on it

I am going to be starting a job search relatively soon and am wondering whether to leave my office decorations in place. I am a remote worker and would be looking for a new remote position, so presumably would have on-camera video interviews. I decorate my office wall (visible in webcams) for Halloween and Christmas and am wondering whether I should leave them up or take them down.

On one hand, I like that it shows my personality, I get a fair number of compliments on my decorations, and it could be a flag to my current employer to see the decorations removed. On the other hand, I don’t want to come across to a new potential employer as not taking the role or interview process seriously and have put a good bit of effort into styling the wall to look presentable.

I’ve attached a photo of what it looks like currently. Nothing too spooky or over-the-top, but noticeably decorated.

Agh, I’m torn. It’s not that showing any personality is bad, but I do think there’s a chance that some interviewers — not all of them, not even the majority, but some — will think it’s a questionable choice of backgrounds … not because there’s anything wrong with the decorations themselves, but just because it’s potentially distracting. And as a general rule for interviews, it’s in your interests to use a background that isn’t distracting, to the extent that you have that option — because you want your interviewer focused on you and what you’re saying and not trying to make out exactly what’s on the wall behind you. So if it’s relatively easy to give yourself plainer background, I’d go that route.

2. Was I wrong in how I handled noise outside my office?

This happened a long time ago, and every time the memory comes back, I get a bit tense at the awfulness of the day. I once worked for major international professional services firm. Once a year, all the partners would go on retreat and on that Friday, all the office staff left would have quite a relaxed time of it — those who weren’t in my role, that is, as I’d often get urgent last-minute research tasks. I reported directly to the head of the office, and worked ad hoc for partners. Other staff were secretarial/operational and there was only one of me.

One year, one of the secretaries brought their kids in, and they were in party mode all day just outside the glass partition door to my office space. Noisy, and I had a lot to get done. This was not a place where headphones at work were a thing. When I closed the door, I was asked, “Are my kids disturbing you?” and I said, pretty grumpily, “Yes — some of us have work to do today.” The retaliation was FIERCE! I was called mean-spirited, the entire floor was gossiping about me, and I ended up going home in tears. Looking back, I could have been more polite in my response, but I also wonder whether the questioner was just expecting a cheery “oh no everything’s fine.” Maybe they were retaliating in case I reported them to their boss. I don’t know, as I also don’t know whether the kids had permission to be on site. I just wonder why this still rankles! I’m in a completely different industry now, and I think my response would be different. I’d be interested in your take on this!

Yeah, your response was pretty hostile! I don’t doubt that the noise was annoying — and it wasn’t okay for your coworker to let her kids disrupt the office all day — but you would have been better off saying something like, “It’s pretty loud and it’s making it tough to focus.” Hell, you could have stuck your head out even before she asked you about it and asked her to quiet down or move the group somewhere else so you could concentrate. That would have been fine!

But “some of us have work we need to do today” is snarky, and the subtext is “you don’t have a work ethic and I do” — which might have been true, who knows, but it’s pretty much always going to be taken as hostile. That doesn’t mean the way your coworkers responded was justified, but it’s not surprising that they reacted poorly.

3. Should I acknowledge to the people I manage that their recently departed coworker was A Problem?

I started a new role this year managing a team of three people. A few months in, it became clear that one of my employees was no longer happy in the role and was not performing well. After some unsuccessful attempts to work with this person to adjust the job conditions and improve their performance, we settled on a six-month exit plan that would allow them to finish the projects they were working on.

Throughout the six-month period, this employee became even more unmanageable and unprofessional — frequently being very late or absent, cursing when clients were in the office, making excessive non-work calls during the work day, and resisting any oversight of their increasingly sloppy work product. I have not discussed any of this behavior with the other team members (I have discussed it with my own boss) but I’m sure they have noticed it. My other employees have had their own issues but are always very receptive to feedback and I’ve seen real improvement in their work and behavior when feedback is given.

Now that the six-month period is over and the problem employee is gone, would it be appropriate to say something to my other employees acknowledging the bad behavior, apologizing for any impact it had on the rest of the team, and letting them know I recognize their hard work? In general I think it’s not appropriate for a manager to discuss one employee’s personnel issues with other employees, but I don’t want them to think I was oblivious to or okay with the behavior.

The thing is, you kind of were okay with the behavior — at least in the eyes of your team, because you allowed it to continue and didn’t use your authority as the team’s manager to stop it. There’s not a lot of value in saying now “I saw issues XYZ and I wasn’t okay with them, and I apologize for the impact on you”; if anything, it’s likely to frustrate them more because it will feel like empty words (since if you weren’t okay with it, why didn’t you take action?).

The time to act was earlier, when the employee was causing problems. It sounds like once you made the six-month agreement, you basically stopped managing this person (maybe because you figured it wasn’t worth it since they had a departure date set?). But agreements like that only work if it’s clear that the person will still be accountable for their work and conduct while they’re there, and that you will end the agreement if they don’t keep up their side of it. You’ve got to be willing to say, “This isn’t working and I need to see XYZ changes right away or we can’t keep you on for the rest of the time we talked about” and then follow through on that.

It’s too late for that now, of course! All you can really do is resolve to be more hands-on in addressing and stopping problems in the future. If your team sees you doing that, that’s going to carry more weight than an apology now will.

4. Did my referral really refer me?

I recently found a job I’m uniquely qualified for. I have a former coworker at the company, and messaged him to ask if he would refer me for the role. He said yes and asked me to send him my resume and cover letter, then said he’d speak to the hiring manager. Normally when I am referred for a job in this way, I receive an email notifying about the referral and asking me to input information on the company website. In this case, I didn’t receive such an email, or hear anything at all.

I emailed my contact to check in about a week later and ask if there was anything else I needed to do. This time he mentioned he’d speak with someone else in the company about my candidacy. I still haven’t heard anything official letting me know I’ve actually been referred within their system. The company recently re-posted the original job description, leading me to believe it’s still open. Should I apply through LinkedIn, just to be sure that my resume is getting into the correct hands? I don’t want to insult my contact by applying through a different channel, but I really want to ensure the recruiter is seeing my information.

Definitely go ahead and apply directly because maybe he’s on top of this but maybe he’s not. If he did refer you, applying directly won’t hurt your chances. If he didn’t, it’ll get you into their system. If you want, you can send him a message saying, “Just letting you know I also submitted my materials through the online application portal just to cover all my bases and make sure I’m formally in the system!”

5. I list myself as “open to work” on LinkedIn but then ignore recruiters

I am not overly active on LinkedIn, but I add almost everyone who sends me an invitation to my network and keep my work history up-to-date. I frequently get messages from recruiters sending me job postings and wanting to set up time to discuss them. I have never responded to these messages though. I don’t enjoy networking and even though my profile says “open to work,” I’m not actually in a place where I want to interview other places right now. I tell myself that I’d always be open to the right opportunity, though, which is why I always have my profile set to “open to work.”

Is it unprofessional to list myself as “open to work” but not respond to recruiters? Also, what are a recruiter’s expectations? Will they look negatively at me if I don’t respond now, but down the road reach out once I am more actively looking for a job?

I hear from a lot of my coworkers that they regularly take calls with these recruiters to keep their options open, see what other companies are paying for similar roles, and grow their network, but I really don’t want to have to take these calls with random recruiters.

It’s not unprofessional to list yourself as “open to work” when you’re not actively looking to interview. It sounds like you’d be willing to interview for the right opportunity, so you’re not being misleading. (If you really want to be thorough, you could think about whether that’s really true — do you know enough about the jobs you’re being approached about to be in a position to spot the ones that might really interest you without hearing more from those recruiters? And if not, do you care? It’s fine if you don’t.)

But it’s not a big deal to ignore recruiters, even if you then want to contact them later. Recruiters are very used to being ignored by people they contact — these are cold contacts, after all — and they’re not going to hold it against you later (if they even remember).

All that said, it’s not a bad idea to occasionally talk to one of them, for exactly the reasons your coworkers do.

{ 437 comments… read them below }

  1. Caitlin*

    LW 1 – have you considered using the blurred background option? That’s my go to for my messy office/spare room, as you can only tell the broad shapes/colours of things, no details.

    1. Calamity Janine*

      this is a perfect time for a virtual background like that! if interviewers ask, you can then explain about the decorations – and then drop said background if the response is an enthusiastic “ooh, can we see?”. otherwise it’ll be a complete non-issue i would imagine.

      1. High Score!*

        This seems like it would complicate the interview and get interviewers thinking about decor rather than how good of a candidate you are.
        Just find an empty wall in your place and interview against the empty wall. No explaining or tear down required

        1. KateM*

          Actually I very much doubt that an interviewer would ask “why do you have a virtual background?”.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I think High Score was suggesting interviewers would think about the boards on OP’s wall art, not the blurred or virtual background.

      2. ecnaseener*

        No one is going to ask, unless they have a super weird culture where virtual/blurred backgrounds are Just Not Done.

        1. ferrina*

          Yep, this is super normal. I barely notice at this point.

          This is also super common for people that might be working in small living spaces, or shared living spaces.

        2. Sally*

          Right, and OP could also hang a plain bedsheet over everything for interviews, unless it looks too lumpy.

      3. Antilles*

        Unless you use a quirky background, nobody is going to even ask. It’s extremely standard in businesses.

        *In mid-2020 when Tiger King was all the rage, we had a guy call into one of our Monday Zoom conference calls with a background of the Tiger King in a very suggestive pose. Took about 30 seconds before he audibly went “oh blank”, cut his camera, left the meeting, then signed back in with an awkward explanation – apparently the last time he used Zoom was to attend a virtual party and used that background as a joke for everyone.

      4. Knope Knope Knope.*

        I wonder why people keep sending in video background questions when this is such an obvious answer.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Two reasons that I can think of:

          1 – people know virtual/blurred backgrounds are an option, so the question is “is my background OK for [work-related activity] or should I use a virtual/blurred background?” and the “or should I…” is silently implied.

          2 – people have computers that don’t support virtual/blurred backgrounds and/or find them too distracting and unusable (because headphones, hair-dos, pets, housemates pop in and out of the background) and they are hoping that their set-up is OK as-is.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      This is exactly what I do since my workspace is in my bedroom. It solves the problem of having to find a virtual background. The blur option on both Zoom and Teams is easy.

      1. Anonym*

        Yep, another vote for the blurred background here! It’s great. No one will be able to tell what’s on your wall, just that there probably is one and it probably has something on it, which is entirely unremarkable.

        Only issue I ever have with it is if I have a high bun, sometimes the app can’t decide whether or not it’s part of my head, and it blips in and out occasionally. Not really an issue, though.

    3. KateM*

      I’m not sure what you mean by details – if you mean that I can’t tell exactly what is in your laundry heap behind you, then yes, but I can pretty well tell that there IS a laundry heap, and would be able to tell that there are decorations on wall at about the same detail that can be seen on thumbnail here.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I think you’d be able to see that there was artwork. I don’t think you’d be able to tell it was spoooooooky.

        1. KateM*

          I’d be able to tell that there are things boarded up, I think. I would probably think that these are windows and spend the interview wondering why does OP#1 have such weird windows and why have they boarded them up. :P

          1. Liz*

            Yes I think this might be one of those cases where the blurred background is more of a distraction. At first glance I thought LW had censored their paintings with strips of duct tape, like perhaps the paintings themselves were graphic and this was an attempt to hide them. Sometimes a blurred background just makes you more inclined to squint at it trying to figure out what’s happening and I would absolutely do that with this one.

          2. Anonym*

            Whatever level of blur Zoom provides for my work calls, you would not be able to see the boards, or tell that a shape behind me was a laundry pile… I don’t think yours is universally representative? Unless maybe the room is super bright/contrast-y?

            I wonder if blur level is adjustable. That would be useful.

      2. KateM*

        What I’m trying to say is that while blur does make your background less sharp, it doesn’t hide anything the way a virtual background does – I can still tell pretty well what someone with blur has in their room.

        1. TechWorker*

          I think there’s a variety of video programmes out there, ‘blur’ will not be identical for each of them.

          1. Venus*

            Yet for every one that I have used, I found that they will unblur little spots at random inconvenient times. My coworker has a red laundry hamper near his head that regularly pops into focus, and it doesn’t matter for our work but it might be a distraction for an interview.

            1. IEanon*

              I have a poster with diagrams and latin names of various citrus behind my head. I’ve recently realized that if I use a blurred or virtual background, it occasionally reveals the navel orange, which looks a lot like a boob in isolation.

              The poster itself is more neutral/professional with that context, so I’ve moved away from any virtual backgrounds!

            2. mlem*

              My colleague used to have a Captain America shield mounted to the wall behind him, and Google’s blur *loved* showing it clearly. Something about the regularity of the shape and its position, I guess; it seemed to think the shield was his head or something.

              1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

                I had to move a picture of llamas from their spot on the wall because they would pop up as helpful coworkers on Teams calls.

          2. Adrian*

            At home, I take a framed picture off my wall because my ceiling light fixture reflects in the glass. The blur on my office’s video program makes the reflection look like a blob.

    4. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I agree, and I would advise a blurred background in this case.

      I like Halloween decorations! But I would 100% get distracted by the display on the wall, so I think Alison’s point is a decent one. It’s not that you need to be super professional or that it looks like you didn’t “put it in an effort”, it’s more that my brain is likely to store you as “one with the halloween decor” which isn’t optimizing for what sort of attention you need during an interview.

      They’re super fun though!

    5. Professor Plum*

      Or do you have an alternate location with a plain wall background where you can do any video interviews? Then you don’t have dismantle or wonder if the blurring is enough.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        This is what I did. Sat at my dining room table to interview with a completely neutral, brown painted wall behind me. No artwork, nothing distracting.

        1. KatEnigma*

          Not everyone has the space for a plain wall behind them. I lived in many apartments where this was true.

          1. Cpt Morgan*

            Then sit in front of a door. Unless these apartments also require that every square inch of vertical space be covered with holiday decor?

          2. Nancy*

            But some people do, or at least have some wall not completely covered. Those that don’t can use one of the many backgrounds available, blur the background, or use a study room at their library if one is available, for example.

            Not every suggestion is going to work for every person.

    6. Jessica Fletcher (RIP)*

      I agree. Using a blurred or virtual background, or even turning your chair 90 degrees for 1 hour a week to interview is going to be much easier. OP has a reputation for her seasonal decor, so abruptly removing it is much riskier than managing it for brief interview periods.

      (Although I 100% disagree with the commenter who thinks you’ll still be able to see the outline of all the decorations in a blurred background. This has not been my experience. Luckily, OP can simply preview her look and know exactly how it appears before doing a call.)

      1. Smithy*

        I agree with this. Completely forgoing the decorations might be a flag at work that won’t be helpful.

        Also, unless you are interviewing for really niche external facing jobs where you might professionally have a need for a “rate my room” consideration – I do think the blur would mostly be enough. My boss uses a blur background in what I think is her dining room? But I’m not entirely sure and while I know that stuff is back there I really can’t make out what it is.

        Another option that might be worthwhile would be to buy an inexpensive physical screen you can put behind you when you’re interviewing. I find that when interviewing, you usually have zero choice over which platform you’re using and while Teams/Zoom are the most common – it’s not uncommon to encounter Google and others on your journey. Not only are not all of those platforms are as generous with background/blur options, but depending on which one they use – you may not necessarily be able to log-in early and test out background options.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          The physical screen is a great idea! I’ve found with virtual or blurred backgrounds they are hit and miss. They may seem fine in a test run, but if someone is moving around a bit or talks with their hands, it can throw them off, causing items to appear and disappear – definitely a distraction. A physical screen removes that risk.

          Also, OP seemed to wonder if it was ok to just leave the wall as their background. While for a regular meeting it might be fine, for me, I’d find this *particular* background distracting … instead of giving my full attention to the candidate, part of my brain would be trying to figure out what I was looking at … are those pictures? what is across the pictures? boards? why are they boarding up their artwork? can I make out what is behind the boards? Oh, wait, is that a skeleton? Why is it green? Maybe it glows in the dark … etc etc etc.

          Unless Awesome Theme Decorating Skills are a desired thing for the job you’re applying for (or unless you’re applying to the company a prior LW described as being ALL.IN. on Halloween stuff) it’s better to not have a busy, holiday themed background IMO.

        2. Karen, but not that kind of Karen*

          I purchased a foldable screen that I use as my default, since I don’t have a private room that I can use for my workspace. Virtual backgrounds and blur do strange things to my head (my wavy hair often makes it look as though I have dents in my head) but the screen prevents anyone from seeing the DVD shelf behind me or anyone walking past. When it’s not in use, I can fold it into a column with a 15x15ish inch foot print in the corner of the room.

    7. AnonInCanada*

      This. Or some other background Zoom lets you add, even if it’s a plain beige wall. As that old adage goes: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And while by and large the decorations are innocuous enough, who know what background your interviewer is?

      1. Empress Matilda*

        This is where I land as well. It’s not that the backgrounds themselves are a problem, and they’re probably fine in the context of an established working relationship. But in an interview, the interviewer has only a limited number of data points to go on – I don’t know if you want to present yourself as “the person who decorates for the holidays” in this context.

        Also remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and it’s a touchy subject in a lot of workplaces. Again, it’s likely okay if you’re already in the job and people know you. But if I’m interviewing someone with a heavily Christmas-themed video background, I’m going to be wondering how “Christmas-y” they’ll be at work, and if this is likely to be a Problem in December.

        TL;DR, don’t give interviewers any reason to think about anything other than your skills and professionalism! There will be lots of time to decorate and show this aspect of your personality after you get the job. For now, a neutral background is going to be your best bet.

    8. Colette*

      I will say that although I use a virtual background at work, I’ve had issues with it working with other technology, so I wouldn’t count on it working for an interview since you have no way to test it out in advance.

    9. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I feel like OP isn’t so much asking how to hide the background, but if to hide the background. Like Alison, I’m torn. I think it’s probably better to go plain and I can make all the arguments about how you should be memorable for your skills not your quirkiness…but it is fun.

    10. Rain's Small Hands*

      My husband had been taking client calls for years pre-pandemic from his home office. Most of the time, his background is pretty tidy on purpose (its a bookcase and staged), but when he first started he hadn’t gotten there yet. We bought a screen that he can use as a background when he needs to….which now is seldom, but it still comes out if the bookcase has gotten untidy.

      This was the old fashioned way before virtual meeting backgrounds were any good.

      And I doubt an interviewer will say anything at all about a virtual background if something neutral or blurred is chosen. I wouldn’t pick a beach……

    11. I am Emily's failing memory*

      I’d be cautious about using a blurred or other virtual background unless the LW knows from previous trials that their computer can handle it without skipping for people on the other end. Virtual backgrounds are CPU-hungry, and a lot of people incorrectly interpret the lag as an Internet bandwidth issue. If you’re applying for a remote role it’s possible an interviewer could notice a lag or frame skipping issue, mistakenly attribute it to an unreliable Internet connection, and worry that your internet speed isn’t good enough for a remote job that’s going to likely involve a lot of video calls.

      Plenty of people will understand it’s actually a CPU issue, not a bandwidth one, and plenty of others who think it’s your internet won’t count slow Internet against you (especially if the company pays WiFi and they assume you’d be able to upgrade your service if hired by them). But going with the interviewing principle of erring on the side of avoiding any possible preventable source of bias against you, I’d make sure to have a 5-10 minute video call with a trusted friend with a blurred background ahead of time to verify that your video quality doesn’t suffer when it’s turned on.

      (Don’t assume your coworkers will have mentioned it if it were happening – I routinely see coworkers having laggy video or dropped sound at work and nobody ever says anything to them about it unless it’s so severe that entire sentences are being lost. Losing the first 3 words of every sentence goes unremarked upon as long as people can infer what was most likely dropped from the context of the rest of the sentence.)

    12. Selina Luna*

      I was about to suggest this. My mother-in-law reads people’s astrologies for a living, and she often has client information behind her, but she uses a blurred background to keep everything private. Unlike a fake office background or whatever, it doesn’t get all weird whenever she moves.

    13. The Original K.*

      Depending on the platform (we use a couple), I either use a virtual background that looks like a room, or a blurred background. (I just learned recently that a coworker uses a plain white wall virtual background- I thought it was an actual wall.) With the blurred one, you can see that there’s stuff on my walls but you can’t tell what it is.

    14. Yellow+Flotsam*

      I’d recommend not having a virtual or blurred background while interviewing for remote (office based) work. To me it makes more sense to demonstrate clearly that you have an appropriate place to do the job from.

      This is especially true if you are going to interact with clients from your home office. You need to be able to still look “professional” (to whatever standard is expected in your role) when your virtual background flickers off, or you need to turn it off for some random reason

  2. Formerly Ella Vader*

    OP#2 – I think part of the problem is that you were claiming to speak for some other people in “Yes — some of us have work to do today.” If you had instead said “I still have client calls today and I have to meet X deadline this afternoon”, then you are just being factual about yourself and not trying to claim that there are others in your situation. Maybe there are! But in a case like this, it goes over better to be honest and personal. Use “I” statements. Even better, add that you have trouble working in a noisy environment / when you can hear other people having fun / whatever. In a case like this, diplomacy and treating your need for quiet as a personal quirk or limitation can go further than saying something that might come out sounding like “This noise is never appropriate in any shared office”.

    1. Casper Lives*

      Even that might not be diplomatic enough. I think best practice is to start softer, like “I’m afraid the noise carries onto my office.” You can always escalate.

      I’m not perfect. I’ve said things grumpier than I should to coworkers. It’s something I’ve worked on. LW’s response was hostile, though! Apart from implying the coworkers have a bad work ethic, she could be read as complaining about their kids. Some people take that personally.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I’m kind of astonished about the responses here (including Alison’s). To me, the coworkers were so far out of line with their noise that I don’t think diplomacy was required. Yes, it was snarky, but the coworker started it with the snark (“are we disturbing you?” was obviously snark). And yes, de-escalation would maybe have been more effective*, but always being the responsible, nice, self-effacing one who has to beg to get to do their job undisturbed at their worksite (!) gets tiring. I don’t think one has to feel particularly bad about not being unfailingly polite when the small rudeness was eclipsed tenfold by the other person.

        Retrospectively, another way of handling it would probably have been better, but LW couldn’t have known her coworkers were that unreasonable and doesn’t have to feel guilty about it in my opinion. Any decent person would have apologized for the noise upon realising how justifiably exasperated LW was, LW would have apologized for the snark, and it would have resolved.

        *quite possibly not, seeing how utterly unreasonable these people were.

        1. TechWorker*

          Maybe I’m weird but I also don’t read ‘some of us have work to do today’ as being a slight on work ethic so much as ‘your role allows you to take today off and mine doesn’t’ – that’s a statement of fact, especially if it’s very accepted that most people don’t have to do any work on this day!

          Are there better ways to phrase that – of course! (‘Unfortunately I do still have work to do! Is there any way you guys could move to a different area?’) But the reaction from the noisy coworkers seems like the most unreasonable bit of the situation to me.

          1. Reality.Bites*

            I think the “some” takes the perception out of “simple statement of fact” to an implication that the others also have work that they’re supposed to be doing – which is true.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            Seconding this: I didn’t read it as a slam on the other person’s general work ethic so much as a, hey, this isn’t party time for the rest of us.

            1. tangerineRose*

              Yeah, I also didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I’m fairly sure in a previous workplace this was occasionally said and wasn’t considered a big deal. Then again, I don’t remember anyone there having absolutely nothing to do during the work day there.

          3. Butterfly Counter*

            I think while the most generous of readings would say that it isn’t a slight on the other’s work ethic, it is passive-aggressive. Also, I have no doubt that OP said it with the frustration and annoyance written all over their face and in their voice, which would make the jab (and it is a jab, even if it’s a factual one) more personal to the individual she was talking to.

            Even if OP had gone aggressive-aggressive, “I have a lot of work to do that these children are distracting me from. Can you all please take this somewhere else?” would actually have come across better. It names the situation, who is at fault, and who is being affected and a solution vs. the amorphous accusation veiled in a hundred layers of snark and hostility.

          4. MsClaw*

            There is no way to say ‘some of us have work to do’ that isn’t going to sound pissy.

            I’m sure the noise was indeed irritating. OP needn’t pretend otherwise. But there are wide range of options between ignoring the noise and being snitty. OP could indeed have handled this better.

          5. Hills to Die on*

            Me either! They are kids playing loudly in the office. Why do you even have to ask if they are disturbing other people? Of course they are. But then the coworker not only does it but then makes a passive – aggressive question, as though everyone should just be fine with it.
            Look, my kids have ADD / ADHD and autism. I get it. I didn’t bring them to an office where people were working though for heaven’s sake.
            To respond with pointing out that it’s an office and people are working is totally okay!

            1. tessa*

              Oh, this. I continue to wonder why those who aren’t causing the problem initially (in this case, LW) have to do all the heavy lifting to make things right. I don’t understand letting kids run around disturbing the peace while also seeking confirmation that it’s okay for them to do that. Co-worker is solely in the wrong, and, frankly, it’s refreshing to hear that someone took a stand, no matter how grouchily. For the sake of your co-workers, control your kids if you insist that they be in your workplace!

              1. tangerineRose*

                Agreed. I remember occasionally seeing a co-worker’s kid in the office, but she was quiet and well-behaved. Sometimes someone would bring in their kid or baby, but that was briefly with adult supervision.

          6. snarkfox*

            I think it was a little snarky, but not even approaching the level of rudeness of the other person for letting her kids disturb OP.

            I didn’t take it as a slight on the other person’s work ethic, either, but rather commentary that just because you have the day off, not everyone does, so be respectful of the people working. I think the main problem is that OP let it build up and build up all day, on top of being stressed out that he/she had so many stressful, last-minute tasks to accomplish while everyone else in the office was not only enjoying a day off, but one of them was also allowing their children to be so disruptive. This is one of those situations where you have to step in before you get so upset you say something snarky. If OP is anything like me, she was trying to convince herself all day it was fine and she could handle it without upsetting someone, until she just couldn’t handle it!

            1. Taken Aback and Affront*

              100% agreed with those saying #2s response did not even begin to approach the rudeness of the parents, and I’m a bit horrified by Alison’s response to this one. I also agree that less snarky replies might have achieved a better response, but I frankly would have been biting back a reply 10 times worse than that, probably fighting the urge to chase all the kids into the street if I’m honest. I’m one who regularly schedules PTO for “bring your kid to work day” because I just can’t cope with them, and having them right outside my office would be rage-inducing.

            2. Courageous cat*

              Yeah, I don’t get why we’re putting the onus on OP to have been nicer when her coworker having her kids not only there, but being noisy terrors, was a thousand percent more out of line IMO.

              1. tangerineRose*

                Maybe the reason is because the OP is the person who wrote in and will read the response. I personally didn’t think the response was a big deal, and think the co-workers seriously overreacted. On the other hand, it could be handy to have a phrase ready that would be likely to look better.

        2. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          To me, the coworkers were so far out of line with their noise

          Honestly, I’m not sure I get that impression from the letter. It’s *possible* of course, but based on the description of a 1x a year retreat while the office staff has a relaxing day, I think it’s very possible the other staff were acting within the norms of the office culture.

          OP speculates that her colleagues were retailating to keep her from tattling to the bosses, but honestly that strikes me as less likely than that they were annoyed because they did have permission and were effectively enjoying a “reward day”.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Sure, I’m not against noisy party day – that sounds fun! But you have to keep that away from the poor sucker who has to work because they got an urgent assignment. That’s just baseline decency!

            And to anyone who thinks they didn’t realize: if that was the case, they would have realized when the door was shut and apologized or at least moved away then, not tripled down.

            1. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

              Eh, I broadly agree with you…but if this is a recognized perk, then OP may have to deal with some additional noise. In many offices, occasionally working through a noisy or distracting day is going to be considered part of the job.

              And definitely responding politely to colleagues (even if they are being thoughtless!) is usually considered part of the job.

              1. Snow Globe*

                The thing is, it wasn’t just additional noise of co-workers goofing off that day, it was children running around the office, which is a whole other level of noise. And it sounds like this was the first year children had been brought in, so I don’t think this was just standard noise for this particular day.

                1. Lydia*

                  I just read a Twitter thread from someone who wondered about expressing how she doesn’t hate children or families or people with children, but not all spaces are specifically for children and other people’s right to use a space without it being taken over is important, too. This reminds me of that.

                2. goddessoftransitory*

                  Agreed–it’s bad enough when you have to deal with a lot of deadlines while listening to your coworkers having fun (like Bart on the Snow Day episode of the Simpsons) but throw in the kids rampaging around?

                  This is still an office, and OP had to work.

              2. Mockingjay*

                Sure, but it’s also the responsibility of the ‘partiers’ not to unduly disturb other employees who have to be on task. Go to a conference room or keep the kids on the other side of the area. Courtesy goes both ways.

                I haven’t snapped quite at the level of OP2 in this instance but I have definitely been disturbed by coworkers who were intent on having a good time while I was swamped with COB deadlines and I’ve reacted with a sharp comment. (The day the engineers flew a toy drone copter throughout the cube farm was one memorable example.)

              3. snarkfox*

                It’s actually never okay to let your children run around the office being loud, unless it’s a day where kids are specifically invited and encouraged to run around being loud.

                Even if I were one of the coworkers enjoying a day off, I’d be really annoyed that someone was letting their children act like that.

            2. Artemesia*

              And then she needed to say ‘I don’t want to put a damper on the fun but I have a deadline on the TPS reports today and this noise is making it hard to concentrate — could you move the party to (area where it is impacting less on you).’

            3. Koalafied*

              If that was the case, they would have realized when the door was shut and apologized or at least moved away then, not tripled down.

              Looking back at LW’s comment, they did indeed seem to realize it when the door was shut, and an apology may have been on the way if they hadn’t immediately been met with a hostile response:

              When I closed the door, I was asked, “Are my kids disturbing you?” and I said, pretty grumpily, “Yes — some of us have work to do today.”

              For a lot of people, saying, “Oh, are my kids disturbing you?” indicates that this possibility has just occurred to them, and would be a prelude to apologizing once the other person said, “Actually, they are.” Sure, some people might have started with the apology, but starting by asking if there’s an issue before apologizing is not something I consider egregiously rude, rather it’s something connected to ask/tell communication styles. Some people are comfortable just delivering a message as a one-way communication and letting it be optional whether the recipient engages back, while others are more comfortable asking a question to strike up a two-way communication before delivering a message. But in this case, the questioner didn’t have any chance to apologize before being snapped at.

          2. Irish Teacher*

            I read it as when the bosses were away, people habitually took advantage and treated it as “when the cat’s away, the mice will play” and the bosses had no idea this was going on. And that the LW’s work was such that she didn’t have the option of doing this, as it would be obvious if her work wasn’t done but other people could get away with it.

            It is a bit different if it were meant as a “hey, there’s not much work this week, so chill.”

            1. GladIdontworkthereanymore*

              LW here – yes, that was the impression I got – there weren’t kids brought in on other floors of the office. On other days when there were recognised party moments we all got to join in (like major sporting moments with games shown in conference rooms with snacks).

        3. bamcheeks*

          (“are we disturbing you?” was obviously snark)

          I don’t read that as sarky at all! I think it’s completely possible they thought everyone was in relax-day mode and totally forgot or didn’t know that LW wasn’t, and it was a genuine, “oh, we’re probably being really loud, is it ok?”

          1. Emmy Noether*

            That would be a reasonable interpretation if they had made any effort of being quiet afterwards. Things having gone down as they did, I’m fairly certain it was snark. I’m not buying good-faith “is it ok?” and then reacting to a snark response with all-out escalation. If it had been in good faith, the reaction to the snark would have been “oh, shit, sorry”.

            1. ecnaseener*

              You don’t buy that someone would be angry to be snarked at if they didn’t start it? In my experience people tend to get angry in that situation, even if they had been passively rude by not keeping quiet before they see active rudeness as uncalled for.

              1. Emmy Noether*

                Being loud in a shared space is active rudeness, not passive rudeness.

                Even if it was inadvertent – say I bump into someone accidentally and hurt them and they respond with “f***ing watch where you’re going”, that’s quite rude of them, but I’m still not going to respond by punching them in the face (i.e. doubling down on what caused the rude reaction in the first place).

                If I’m at fault, I’m at fault. The other person’s rudeness doesn’t negate that.

                1. ecnaseener*

                  Passive as in “failing to be considerate of someone’s needs” rather than deliberate rudeness.

                  No one punched anyone in the face here lol. It wouldn’t be at all surprising in your example for the accidental bumper to go “wow ok screw you too, jerk!”

                  Obviously LW’s coworker escalated way too far, I just don’t think you’re being realistic with this idea that “if someone reacts poorly to rudeness it means they were being intentionally rude first.”

            2. Spencer Hastings*

              Plus, this was after the LW had closed her door! This sounds like a context where a closed door means “do not disturb” — not “come in and talk about it more,” even if they did mean it in good faith. But the fact that they didn’t reapect the closed door makes it more likely, in my mind, that they were needling her.

              1. Koalafied*

                The letter says the question came “when I closed the door” – not “after I closed the door.” It read to me like the question was being asked as she was shutting the door, not someone coming into her office after the door had been fully shut, as in coworker reacts to the sight of LW standing in the doorway and starting to pull it closed by realizing the noise might be an issue, and “Are we being too loud?” was asked in the sense of, “Are you closing your door because we’re being too loud?”

          2. Dust Bunny*

            I wouldn’t see this as snark if there had been any apparent effort to rein in the kids beforehand, but there wasn’t. I think this was an obligatory “I should CYA and ask if we’re too loud” and they expected the LW to excuse it, but they were, in fact, too loud and they were caught short when the LW didn’t give them a pass.

            1. Catosaur*

              THIS. The door being closed was enough evidence that they were too loud. There was no need to ask anything.

              1. Wisteria*

                There’s no need to say “Hello,” “Goodbye,” or any of the phatic communication that humans engage in. Responding with snark is still bound to result in a poor response, even if it’s understandable. Two wrongs just make two wrongs.

        4. Artemesia*

          It is not about what is ‘justified’ but what is effective. Getting a reputation and being shunned in the office, even though you are ‘right’ is not worth not being tactful. The question for office behavior is always about what will help you succeed. Snarling at people (people who certainly deserved a good snarling) will not do that.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            The LW says themselves that they would handle it differently now, and this was long ago in a different workplace. The question was about letting it go, not about what would have been the most effective course of action. I do think that knowing it was justified/understandable and that the coworkers were unreasonable can help let it go.

            1. Smithy*

              This may largely be a semantics or interpretation piece – but I would counter that knowing it was an understandable response but a poor one can also help in letting it go. Because it’s indicative that you’ve learned from it. How to move on from negative experiences that haunt us will vary from person to person, but this situation strikes me as a classic case where one person starts an interaction in the right and then immediately places themselves on the backfoot.

              I think that lots of offices have “light work” days with a range of official recognition of what that means in practice – thinking of the days leading up to Christmas or between Christmas and New Years in a number of offices. Sure, if you ask they may tell you it’s a great day to get caught up on filing or data entry. But they also don’t really mind if you watch the Grinch while talking about cookies but are around to answer any urgent emails/calls if they come in. And there are inevitably some people still left with deadlines/serious work, but expressing that divide in experience with snarkiness or curtness is just never going to be helpful in cultivating a collegial work environment with your coworkers.

              If being in the right means harming working relationships with your peers….can the response be consider justified?? Understandable and a certainly not unforgivable – but not the same as justified.

              1. Taken Aback and Affront*

                On the other hand, I kind of read that as “thou shalt not rock the boat of privilege.” Heaven forfend that you upset the people who have it easier than you. Some of these folks would benefit from the realization that they aren’t the center of the world.

          2. Malarkey01*

            Once again a rare voice of reason in this thread. There’s what’s “right” and then there’s understanding your office culture and your actions within it. The reality is the LWs behavior was way outside the culture and she faced backlash. Saying well everyone else was wrong is fine but doesn’t erase that you get a reputation as being snarky or hard to work with. Right or wrong those reputations can change your ability to work with people.

        5. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          ah yes I agree with you. Children at the office shouldn’t be disruptive. We’re paid to work, and that’s what we should be doing. I took my kids to the office sometimes when I had no other solution, and I shamelessly bribed them into good behaviour, they had to be quiet and let everyone work. Even if OP was the only one on a deadline, she had the right to expect a quiet working environment. Suppose she couldn’t finish her job in time? Does she say “I’m afraid I can’t concentrate when the office gets turned into a kindergarten?”. Of course she should have gone to the parents and told them firmly to either take the kids away or get them to do a quiet activity, before getting to the point where she wants to explode, but I can hardly blame her for being rude. The rudeness started with the parents not parenting properly and letting OP get their work done.

          1. Kacihall*

            We’ve been having a lot of overtime lately and a couple of the people with preschoolers have come back after picking up their kiddos because they needed to work but daycare closed at 6. My kiddo will sometimes come back in work me if I need to grab something. All of the kids know they get to watch something on a phone and sometimes color (I left a pack of crayons I had in my purse one day.) None of the kids have caused an issue like was described in this letter.

        6. Jessica Fletcher (RIP)*

          Yeah, the coworkers *drove OP from the office in tears*! That was a disproportionate response to being told that your children, who you obviously know are being loud and disruptive, are in fact being loud and disruptive. Everyone is so righteously overprotective of parents that they turn into ogres when a parent is rightly told that they’re disrupting the office.

          Bullying someone to tears is never an ok and acceptable response, even if someone is rude to you.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Echoing this – also your username might send me home in tears if we’re being honest :'(

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              You know Jessica would have started writing a chapter about a murdered day care worker right then and there.

        7. Lacey*

          Yeah. I think the OP was giving a harsh response to them – but my goodness they were being awful to start with!

          And, yeah, the OP should have headed things off by mentioning the noise was too much before, but I also know first hand how ineffective this usually is and then the moms get increasingly touchy about it. Because kids generally have to be told over and over again and they don’t want to do that themselves and they also don’t want you to do it!

        8. Rain's Small Hands*

          I tend to agree. Bringing your kids into the office and having them run mad because the partners are at an offsite STARTS at being out of bounds. Coworker would have to be clueless not to realize that the LW worked even when the bosses were out of the office, and should have been groveling an apology when told their kids were keeping work from getting done at, you know, work.

          And yes, it could have been said softer….but frankly, the moment the door closed and “mom” didn’t start hushing her kids, or pulling them into a conference room with paper and crayons, she proved to be entitled and selfish.

          If I had been ‘mom’ I would have been terrified that my kids’ behavior would have gotten back to my bosses and I’d be out on the streets.

        9. Office Lobster DJ*

          “Any decent person would have apologized for the noise upon realising how justifiably exasperated LW was, LW would have apologized for the snark, and it would have resolved.”

          Agreed. LW’s snappy response wasn’t great (which they clearly know), but the reaction from the person and rest of the department was over the top. An entire floor escalating the interaction to the point LW left in tears? What on earth? LW’s speculation that the retaliation was so strong because there was a fear that they would complain to management or otherwise report that the kids were there is about the only sense I can make of it.

          1. tangerineRose*

            “LW’s speculation that the retaliation was so strong because there was a fear that they would complain to management or otherwise report that the kids were there is about the only sense I can make of it.”

            That makes sense to me.

        10. Br16*

          I agree with you. The OP could have been a bit more polite but their frustration was absolutely justified! I’m a little surprised at some of the unsympathetic comments on here. It’s incredibly frustrating to try to do time sensitive work with noisy children running around, and the OP should not have to tolerate that in the workplace.

        11. Ladybug*

          I completely agree with Emmy Noether. LW2 didn’t start the snark, and the advice given contradicts many other instances here where writers have been given free rein to drop the politeness once reasonableness has passed. Those co-workers *knew* why LW2 closed the door and decided to be snotty about it, as evinced by their later behavior towards LW2.

        12. Well...*

          Perhaps you haven’t encountered people who like to go around policing offices, checking who gets to work at what time (when work hours are inherently flexible, so who cares), get a huge moral ego boost for “following the rules” more than other people, etc. etc. I find these types extraordinarily grating and I run into them SO much in my field.* I also feel my underrepresented status kind of attracts them to me like a magnet (all the women must compete for ultimate gold star of rule-following-ness while the men are ~geniuses who get away with rule-breaking).

          I don’t think LW is this type at all, but this sentiment of “some people have work to do” really lines up with that, and it’s going to piss some people off. The advice to be direct when a situation warrants it doesn’t really cover that wording… in fact that wording is roundabout and not direct. A more direct response is, “I actually have a lot of work to do, and the noise is bothering me. Could you keep it down?”

          *Also, based on your username, we might even be in the same field.

          1. Lydia*

            Not wanting children in a workspace and being irritated about the noise they’re making is not the same as policing coworkers. If your children are in an office where work is expected to be done and they’re running around and being loud, and someone says something even if it’s not the politest reminder, you still aren’t in a position to take exception at how it was handled. You’re still in the wrong.

        13. MCMonkeyBean*

          I agree. What LW said is obviously not great but I would not even rank it very high on the level of potentially regrettable office snarkiness. I can’t imagine any reasonable human responding with more vitriol than like “okay, jeez louise, party pooper” and then moving on.

        14. lyonite*

          Same here! The coworkers were letting their kids run around disturbing the office all day–they knew it was being disruptive and they didn’t care, just wanted OP to sign off on it. Add the post-event snit throwing on top, and I don’t think OP should feel bad about their actions for a minute.

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        I don’t know… I find this sort of situation very frustrating. No doubt the OP was hostile. No doubt a way to say this without the snark would have put the OP in the position of moral superiority…

        BUT. The co-workers were just as undoubtedly hostile first! They made the OP miserable. The OP then made them miserable. Why is the second worse than the first? If anything everyone should be gossiped about and feel miserable.

        (There are exceptions to this. If the word from above was “the leadership people are on retreat, so feel free to bring in children, and we’ll order in pizza” then the OP can’t have beef with the co-workers. I presumed basically a situation of “when the cat is out of the house…”, in which bringing in loud kids is a pretty bad action!)

    2. Well...*

      It sounds like LW didn’t say anything for a while, let resentment build up, then overreacted the first time they got an opportunity handed to them.

      The two most annoying things I encounter at work at 1) busy bodies without a life who monitor how much work you’re doing (

      1. Well...*

        … and 2) people who make a ton of noise. So I empathize with both sides here. (sorry, accidentally posted the comment unfinished)

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I don’t think it counts as being a busybody if people are right outside one’s door being noisy with their children(!). Being a busybody implies going out of one’s way to get information. It doesn’t sound like LW would have cared if people were not-working quietly, or even loudly somewhere else.

        1. Well...*

          Agreed, LW just came off that way in her overreaction. I could totally imagine myself doing that, but I could also imagine being annoyed if someone said they were the only one doing any work.

      3. GladIdontworkthereanymore*

        LW here! Yes – that definitely rings true. I didn’t feel like I had any authority to say anything earlier in the day. It felt like it was understood that the day was Party in the Office day and I was the weird one for wanting to work – I was 18months or so into the role and this was the first time it had happened since I joined. So I simmered resentfully for several hours.

        1. MiaRose*

          I wrote something below about this, pointing out that there were no higher-ups in the office. Perhaps you didn’t feel comfortable saying anything at first. I mean, you closed the door, then the coworker entered to essentially bug you. That’s my take on it.

        2. Artemesia*

          It is understandable. It happened long ago. Give yourself a pass and move on — we all have these moments we replay that we wish we had handled differently. Just use it as a learning experience and laugh about it. Stop beating yourself up. Stuff happens.

        3. Marmot*

          Things to take forward with you:

          Simmering in resentment is going to lead you to act in a way that moves a situation from NTA to ESH. If you have been simmering in resentment over something, take a moment to settle yourself and plan out how you want to show up when you decide to do or say something.

          Responses intended to result in a person feeling bad about themself typically backfire and elicit a defensive reaction instead. Always aim for diplomacy. If you have ever seen Roadhouse, channel the scene where Patrick Swayze tells his new bouncers to be nice.

          1. Smithy*

            Man….so I used to have a job that was difficult, lots of yelling in the office, etc. Lots of things that would overwhelm me and leave me simmering.

            It was also an office in a part of town where basically no one ever left the office during the work day because there were very few places to go to – with one major exception. There was a small grocery store a two minute walk from the office. I eventually figured out that if I took a daily walk to the grocery store for a Diet Coke after lunch, I could step away from whatever from anything making me upset or just walk have a few deep breaths away from a place that I knew increased my overall anxiety.

            I know there are some people who will say that people can (and do) respond poorly and retaliate to nicely worded, reasonable requests. It’s 100% true. But I find when I’m in that moment, I at least never regret or am upset by what I did. My boss at the place above used to always be upset that I’d never yell back her – and it was because I realized that while she may have wanted that, I’d just be in a situation where I didn’t like being yelled at and didn’t like yelling. As opposed to having someone yell at me and walking away going, I respect what I did in that moment.

            1. Wisteria*

              I know there are some people who will say that people can (and do) respond poorly and retaliate to nicely worded, reasonable requests.

              At the end of the day, you can only control yourself–but you can make choices that maximize the likelihood that you will get a constructive response.

              I respect what I did in that moment.

              I used to work in an environment like that, too. It impacted me, and I’m still working on making choices in the moment that I can respect. Kudos to you.

        4. Wisteria*

          “It felt like it was understood that the day was Party in the Office day and I was the weird one for wanting to work”

          I feel like there was a lot more going on with you than a need for quiet. You read the room correctly–it was party day. If this was the culture there, then they weren’t really wrong for having a party on party day. Was your resentment not just about the noise but also about the way they could coast while you had your nose to the grind stone?

          When you are swimming against the culture, you have to understand that you are swimming against the culture. You will be more effective in getting what you need if you calibrate your response to the fact that you are swimming against the culture.

        1. Well...*

          Yes, I meant more why the comment would rub me the wrong way (“some people have work to get done” is in my experience often uttered by busy bodies checking on how much other people are working). I think LW was just annoyed and bottled it up, but that’s probably why the comment landed badly.

      4. tangerineRose*

        How was the LW a busybody? She’s trying to work; her co-workers and their kids are being noisy and distracting, and when one of the noisy people asks about it, she says that she has to get work done.

    3. Despachito*

      But “This noise is never appropriate in any shared office” is true.

      OP2 was factually spot on – the kids were making noise the entire day, OP2 had to work and the noise was annoying and making it hard to concentrate.

      OP’s response could have been a bit more diplomatic and I find the “some of us have to work” part a bit passive-aggressive, but the factual part of it was true and were I the coworker I would be mortified that I am causing this to someone I am working with.

      The coworker chose to retaliate instead as if OP’s less-than-ideal wording totally eclipsed their poor behaviour and lack of parenting. And the entire floor sided with her? I think the environment there was pretty toxic (were the other coworkers not bothered by the noise?)

      I totally understand why the OP was annoyed and still is, after the years.

      1. TechWorker*

        From the letter it sounds like the other coworkers were not bothered by the noise because the day was mostly a semi party and there were no consequences to them of slacking off and enjoying the day.
        I wonder if they understood that OP did still have urgent work to do (in which case – How rude! Party literally anywhere except right outside their office…) or if they were already looking down on OP as a party pooper for ‘not joining in’.

      2. Mairead*

        I think the “are we disturbing you” was the passive-aggressive part. Don’t ask a question if you don’t want to hear the answer. Sounds like LW2 is far better off out of that place.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Assuming the “relaxed party day” is a well-recognised agreement / reward day in the office — like a team-building day or a holiday party— then “are we disturbing you?” is a perfectly reasonable question that expects and answer that works for both sides. “A bit! Could you keep the kids away from my office for the next couple of hours?” “It is a bit noisy, could you at least turn the music down a bit? Thanks so much!” would have been perfectly reasonable answers.

          What LW needed to do was recognise both sides— that they are entitled to have a party day but that she also needs to get some work done, and sound like someone who was looking for a compromise that worked for both parties. by focussing only on her own needs she made it sound like anything less than “stop having a party day so I can get on with my work” was unacceptable.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            I really don’t see why staff should be allowed to party, unless it’s an acknowledged thing, in which case OP should have been told she could slack off too. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything official about the party, it’s just the mice dancing while the cat’s away. So it’s not fair on OP and her colleagues were beyond rude and thoroughly deserved her snark.

            1. orange line avenger*

              Why do you call yourself if a rebel if you’re ideologically opposed to people goofing around when their bosses aren’t in?

              1. orange line avenger*

                I understand it’s a movie reference (and I love the film!) I’m just confused by the disconnect.

                1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                  Are you talking about my username? It’s not a film reference. Are you thinking about Rebel without a Cause? because while I love the film, I’ll say that the “rebellious” character played by James Dean is a total narcissist jerk probably suffering from an onslaught of teenage hormones, and that’s not my kind of rebel at all.
                  The kind of rebel I’m with is those who rebel against oppression. I’m currently an ardent supporter of Extinction Rebellion for example.
                  And of course, I tore my dress.

                1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                  I’ll be clear that I’ve done plenty of goofing off at work, especially in the days when I was twice as productive as my colleague despite working fewer hours than her. But that’s not rebellion. Rebellion at work is when I organise walk-outs and strikes to force the boss’s hand as a union representative.
                  And when goofing off, I never ever prevented my colleagues from working.

              2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                My rebellion is against injustice. A kind and fair boss will earn my steadfast loyalty, I will rebel only if they are unfair.

            2. BethDH*

              That’s not going to be true in a lot of jobs though. Not all perks fall evenly all the time, especially in roles that are coverage based (which OP’s effectively was). I had a job where I was in OP’s position.
              The noise is a problem, but it’s also easy to feel resentful because everyone else gets a perk you don’t and to start your interactions extra hot because of that.
              I know this is a long time ago, but perhaps OP can think about whether they would also have been a little annoyed even if the coworkers had been partying outside the building entirely, and whether there was a pattern of unevenly distributed perks. When I find myself snapping disproportionately it’s usually because some other issue is getting wrapped into the surface one.

            3. Wintermute*

              sometimes you can be right, or you can be effective.

              Did they “deserve” her snark? Maybe

              But is being “right” and giving them what they “deserve” worth blowing up your relationships, sabotaging your political capital and making people dislike you?

              1. Despachito*

                You sound as if you thought it was her fault, but this was rather them bullying her.

                Even if people dislike you, they should never be nasty to you.

            4. Wisteria*

              “I really don’t see why staff should be allowed to party, unless it’s an acknowledged thing, in which case OP should have been told she could slack off too.”

              OP and the rest of the staff had different roles. OP could not slack off bc her role had different expectations. It’s ok for people in different roles to have different workloads, and it’s ok for the people with lesser workloads to have a relaxed day. After all, was it fair that the partners went on a retreat and the support staff did not? Yes, yes it was. Different roles, different responsibilities.

              I’m would not even to say that OP’s coworkers were rude in being noisy. If they are used to retreat days being hang out days, then they may have been behaving in accordance with expectations, which seems to be the case since nobody else asked the kids to quiet down.

              OP had a right to ask everyone to be quieter, but she really should have exercised better self regulation and chosen a less hostile way to respond.

          2. H2*

            Nah, there’s a huge difference between adults slacking off for a day and relaxing and having noisy kids running around. It’s basically never appropriate (outside of a specific family oriented party) for kids to be noisy and disruptive in an office.

          3. snarkfox*

            OP actually clarified in a comment that it wasn’t a “relaxed party day,” but that her coworkers chose to party because the higher-ups weren’t in the office. So they really weren’t entitled to have a party, but especially not one that disturbed the person who actually had to work.

            To be clear, I don’t care that people slack off when the bosses are out, but considering it isn’t a sanctioned party day, and not everyone can slack off that day without it interfering with their job, it’s frankly not very smart to be so disruptive because it could get back to higher-ups.

        2. Allonge*

          Yes, I would be so tempted to answer to the tone of ‘make a wild guess!’.

          Which would be inappropriate, but, uh, really, what do you want me to say? ‘No, I do my best work with screaming children around?’

          1. orange line avenger*

            They’re probably hoping for an honest yes or no so they can adjust their own behavior in accordance and then mysteriously felt less motivated to help out when LW snarked at them.

            1. Courageous cat*

              How could they possibly have been hoping for an honest yes or no? Surely they could have figured out the answer is “yes” for themselves.

        3. Hannah Lee*

          The “are we disturbing you” reminds me of the time I ran into a neighbor while out walking and he asked “Does Princess (his dog) poop in your yard?” The answer was, yes, frequently and a) it’s gross and b) creates a slipping, fall hazard for my elderly mother who lives with me…we don’t have a dog, so she’s not expecting it when she goes out to pick a tomato. He responded as though *I* was inconveniencing *him* by saying yes, and stating the facts about it. And of course afterwards, he and his wife never bothered to keep his dog in his yard or leashed, so Princess continued to poop her way around the neighborhood. Even though there’s a leash law in our town.
          Like, if you weren’t going to do anything with the answer, why’d you bother asking, dude?

    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Uuuugh. I’m so sorry LW2. Loud noises drive me so, so mad. I would probably bottle up anger and blow up just like you did. A good alternative would’ve been to book a conference room so that parents and kids could stay there without bothering the rest. (Or organize dedicated Bring your Kids to Work day, but that depends on the company)

    5. PleaseNo*

      #2 — don’t worry about it. I have done Alison’s suggestion of asking loud coworkers (who gathered next to my desk who I could clearly hear over my headphones –classical music playing) to please take their conversation outside/away from me as it was hard for me to concentrate. I too got retaliation — not invited to any gatherings (but they talked about their awesome events by my desk!), whispered about behind my back, telling everyone I’m the “not-fun” person, eye-rolling, etc.
      It’s a no-win situation IMO. It speaks more about them than about you. I’m sorry you had sucky coworkers also.

    6. Abimymy*

      This letter is getting such divided feed-back as it mentions children. People will defend and disagree, but it’s pretty clear that there is a significant number of the commenters here that really hate kids. It’s pretty dis-heartening, and hopefully this is just where people vent and this doesn’t come through when engaging with colleagues in real life.

      1. Despachito*

        I did not notice any children-hating, where do you read it?

        That you do not want to be disturbed by noisy kids in your own office while trying to concentrate is not hatred, it is a perfectly normal thing.

      2. Eyes Kiwami*

        It has nothing to do with the children, who should never be making a ton of noise in an office while people are trying to work–this is a pretty common and reasonable expectation!

  3. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – you should definitely apply for the role yourself – don’t wait to hear from someone. It’s great that your contact is going to reach out to people, but that doesn’t mean that the message is getting through to the recruiter or hiring manager. If your contact is an employee of the company, mention that they referred you in your cover letter. If you’re well qualified, the recruiter will want to speak with you, and waiting to see what happens could mean you miss the window when they are looking at resumes.

    OP#5 – In LinkedIn, the “open to work” status is something that recruiters can search by. So, if a recruiter is searching for a Sr. Widget Designer, they can specify not only the industry, geography, title, keywords, etc. etc., but they can also look for people whose “open to work” status is set as “yes”. If you have 1500 potential profiles for your Sr. Widget Designer, it’s often more efficient to look at people who have flagged that they’re open to hearing about opportunities, before going through the entire list.

    That doesn’t mean you’re obliged to consider a specific opportunity, though. It just means that you’re open to being informed about what is out there. Obviously, the recruiter hopes that you will want to hear from them, and you likely will get more messages about opportunities.

    If you’re really NOT interested in hearing about opportunities – and some people aren’t – you’ll get fewer messages if you set “open to work” as “no”. Whether you decide to do that is totally up to you.

  4. Keyboard Cowboy*

    FWIW, LW5, I don’t have my LinkedIn set as “open to work” and never have, and still get a ton of cold emails from recruiters (tech). You might not be covering your ears as much as you think by unsetting it.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Yeah, isn’t the whole point of LInkedIn that you’re on there for networking opportunities, and don’t people network primarily for the sake of finding the best next job possible?
      I don’t have my profile set to “open” but plenty of people contact me, it’s my primary source of work as a freelancer.

      1. BethDH*

        I use it to find out where people in my network are moving, mostly, rather than for my own moves. If I hear about an interesting program that has overlap with something I work on, I like to know if I know someone where it’s happening so I can ask about it.
        So think “opportunities that are about my current job” rather than my next one.

      2. 1-800-BrownCow*

        I don’t know, I use LinkedIn for more than just networking. I follow companies that do things that have interests I like. My son is huge into astronomy and everything related to space and wants to be an Aerospace Engineer, so I follow NASA and a few other groups regarding space so I can have conversations with him about his interest. My other son wants to be a Lego set designer, so again, I follow Lego. It’s great for networking, for sure. And I’m connected to a bunch of former college classmates to keep abreast to what they’re up to as well.

        As for recruiters, I constantly get barraged by requests from recruiters. Even lots of requests to apply for jobs that I’m way over-qualified for (ex. Llama Trainer Level I for 0-5 yrs experience, whereas I’m in Llama Trainer Management w/20 yrs Llama Training overall experience, 4 yrs management experience). I really don’t think many recruiters pay much attention, they just see the word “Llama Trainer” in your profile and automatically send out emails. My experience, it doesn’t matter whether I have my profile set “open to work” or not, I still get lots of emails.

        1. Mockingjay*

          I think it’s auto search terms. Recruiters aren’t reading your profile, they set up searches to get hits on key words. A good recruiter will then filter more and look at your profile before contacting you. Other recruiters are filling mass positions and send an email to anyone who hit some/most of the terms.

          I’m not actively looking, but occasionally I’ll go into LinkedIn’s weekly summary of my profile hits to see if there’s anything interesting. Most of the time, no.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          OK yes it’s true I also read up about my kids’ lines of business there so I know what they’re talking about, but that’s just a subsidiary kind of thing. And for my own interests, I find out more on FB than LI.

    2. Quinalla*

      Yes, recruiters will still reach out weather you set it open to work or not. And honestly, it isn’t bad to leave it always open because changing it can sometimes be a flag to your current company that you are looking when you actually start looking. Feel free to ignore recruiters or not, there is a rare duck that will be offended, but the rest are used to being ignored most of the time.

  5. Norabird*

    I honestly don’t think OP#2’s snapping was that bad! They could have apologized for tone later, but that does sound annoying and inappropriate, and that ends up putting people in a bad mood and then they’re more short. I think overreacting to it by the office wasn’t necessary.

    1. googly eyes*

      Yes, I have to agree that it doesn’t sound like the snapping was so bad or hostile. (Of course the OP could’ve been softer or more constructive, but it was a moment of frustration, and a pretty understandable one, given the noise.) On the other hand, it sounds like the office response to OP was way over the top, and they seem to have escalated it into a more personal territory, calling her mean-spirited. So, I’m not surprised she felt a bit bruised by that.

      1. Jade Rabbit*

        I also agree, however, the OP committed the most heinous of crimes – complaining about the behaviour of children, and thus criticised the parent’s parenting. (I wish this was sarcasm.)

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          The snapping wasn’t great, but this is a prime example of “don’t ask a question to which you don’t want an honest answer.” Much of the time, people who ask “am I bothering you?” know full well that they ARE bothering you, they just want you to say that they’re not so that they have a green light to carry on bothering you.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Much of the time, people who ask “am I bothering you?” know full well that they ARE bothering you, they just want you to say that they’re not so that they have a green light to carry on bothering you

            I don’t think this is true at all! What a very negative view to take.

            1. The Prettiest Curse*

              You say negative, I say realistic. I see am I bothering you?” as fairly passive-aggressive, because you’re putting social pressure on the person that you’re asking to say “no, of course you’re not bothering me!” Unfortunately, most people who ask this question seem to only be okay with one potential response. A better approach would be to say “please let me know if we are too loud/distracting and we’ll move/tone it down/whatever.”

              1. bamcheeks*

                I wonder whether this is a cultural thing because I see the two possible responses as, “no, you’re fine!” and “a bit, yeah– would you be able to…? That would be great, thank you!” Apologising for being bothered, asking for a solution that takes your botheration into account would be a totally reasonable and conventional response to me, and thanking them for their consideration would be a completely non-hostile and conventional response to me.

                1. bamcheeks*

                  Hm, I edited this in the wrong place, let me try that again:

                  I wonder whether this is a cultural thing because I see the two possible responses as, “no, you’re fine!” and “a bit, yeah– would you be able to…? That would be great, thank you!” Apologising for being bothered, asking for a solution that takes your botheration into account, and thanking them for their consideration would be a completely non-hostile and conventional response to me.

                2. Erie*

                  Yes, I think this may be an Ask/Guess culture thing! The Prettiest Curse’s take strikes me as fairly Guess culture – the idea that someone saying “am I bothering you?” isn’t asking a real question, just looking for reassurance. As an Ask culture person, I’d be more likely to err on the side of assuming that person really did want to know if they were bothering me, and used the most direct method to find that out.

                3. bamcheeks*

                  Erie, yeah, it definitely feels like one of those YAWNING CULTURAL DIVIDES. There are so many assumptions being made about the office-party people that don’t seem to have any basis to me.

              2. Wisteria*

                you’re putting social pressure on the person that you’re asking to say “no, of course you’re not bothering me!”

                There are more than two possible responses. There is a vast gulf between “no, of course you’re not bothering me!” and a snarky “some of us have work to do,” and within that gulf sits a cheerful “Yes, I need to concentrate and the noise is distracting.”

              3. MCMonkeyBean*

                I agree with you. I think there are times when someone genuinely asks (usually pre-emptively) if something would bother you because they really want to know. I think if you get up to close your office door because people are being loud and they ask “oh am I bothering you” they clearly already know the answer is “yes.”

                1. bamcheeks*

                  But even then, “yes, could you be quieter?””it’ll be fine once the door is shut and “in general no, but I’ve just got a call to make so im shutting the door for the next half hour” are all perfectly possible responses.

            2. Ellis Bell*

              It’s not always true certainly, but someone making a genuine enquiry would have been mortified and apologetic, rather than vengeful at OP’s shortness. I would expect someone to tsk and tut a bit about OP’s snapping and impoliteness, but at the end of the day someone has just told you that your kids disturbed their workday.

            3. Lex*

              Still, if you ask someone “Am I bothering you?” and they snap back with an annoyed “Yes,” it’s not fair to THEN pile on the person who was annoyed and act like it wasn’t fair for them to be irritated. You were bothering them! That’s what you just asked about!!

              LW #2, your old coworkers sound really irritating and malicious, unless there’s more to the story. Glad you got out of there!

            4. tamarack and fireweed*

              People are bringing noisy kids into the office and basically having a party day – of course they know they are bothering the OP. This was a catty remark, designed to isolate and humilate the OP.

              Basically, the OP was left hanging by their management in a bad situation. Went home in tears! My sympathy is with them – sure, they snapped a little bit, but you put people in impossible situation they’ll get grumpy. And it wasn’t as if the OP went on a screaming rant – they made a *mildly* catty remark as a reaction to being put in an extremely uncomfortable situation without their fault.

          2. Melonhead*

            I agree with this take. Why ask, if you know there is no chance that kids running around an office yelling and playing is disruptive?

          3. Cringing 24/7*

            100% agree with this. I almost exclusively ever hear “Am I bothering you?” from someone doing something bothersome.

        2. ferrina*

          Not true! I commented on the behavior of kids who were behaving badly to their parent, and the situation was fine. I politely said what I needed the kids to do, the parent took care of it and apologized, end of story.

          Sure, some parents will take any comment as an affront, but there’s always someone that will be offended by any reasonable request. Plenty of parents are reasonable.

        3. Critical Rolls*

          This comment is unhelpful to the OP and paints all parents with the same cruddy brush. (And I say that as someone who definitely thinks the coworkers’ response was way out of line.) Please don’t.

      2. JM60*

        For things like this, it’s hard to tell when it’s being relayed in writing, since a lot of tone is lost between audible words and written words. The same words can come across differently depending on how they are spoken.

        That being said, I think what the OP said was bad, but nowhere near as bad as the reaction.

        1. GladIdontworkthereanymore*

          LW here – I thought I was being neutral in tone when I replied. Those few years at that firm definitely taught me that my controlled neutral doesn’t sound like it when it lands on a receiver’s ears! A valuable lesson – in my current role, being able to disagree well is fundamentally important.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            You probably weren’t neutral if you were simmering for ages beforehand – that kind of stuff always escapes out into your tone. That sad, it is jaw dropping to me that a parent-colleague has seen how much they have frustrated and upset you, and then decided that they should do it a bit more! Were they a bit terrible in general?

            1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

              Yeah, whenever I think I’m stuffing up my annoyance and being perfectly civil, I’m really really not. It is quite noticeable.

          2. I should really pick a name*

            I’d say that “some of us have work to do today” is what would have made it feel more hostile than neutral.

            That being said, it sounds like your coworkers’ reactions were ridiculous.

            1. ferrina*

              Yeah, the words themselves were hostile.

              I wonder how LW’s relationship with co-workers normally is. If this was an actual anomaly, I’d mention it to my coworkers to see if LW was okay! But if LW comes across as stand-offish, this could have just added fuel to an already simmering fire. Not saying the coworkers were right, but LW might want to reflect on their relationships with their coworkers overall. In my experience, this kind of snapping usually isn’t a one-off behavior.

          3. Erie*

            Hmm, I agree with “I should really pick a name” – “some of us have work to do” is not neutral, and in fact it’s a pretty common snarky/sarcastic response. I’m not sure you are being entirely open with yourself when you say you remember your tone as neutral. It sounds like you were frustrated and you said something overtly sarcastic.

            If you own up to that in your head, it may actually make it feel better. After all, this isn’t a big deal! We all get frustrated at work sometimes and your coworkers overreacted. But it’s also not true that this reaction could be described as neutral.

            1. GladIdontworkthereanymore*

              Thank you for your comment, Eric – just to say that I *thought* the tone was neutral – I can see completely it wasn’t, but that’s what I thought I was managing at the time I said it. As others have pointed out though, it’s hard when one’s boiling mad underneath!

              1. ferrina*

                I’m a little confused- in the letter you wrote that you said it “pretty grumpily”. That’s not neutral.

                1. Ellis Bell*

                  I think the OP considers it grumpy in retrospect, but while saying it thought they were being neutral

                2. tamarack and fireweed*

                  When you’re boiling mad (and rightfully so!) then managing to say something in a level tone that is factually correct may feel neutral even if it is indeed passive-aggressive.

          4. Office Lobster DJ*

            Thinking you were being neutral (at the time) must have made your co-workers’ overreaction feel all the more confusing and over the top, LW. No wonder you needed to step away afterward!

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      I agree. It may not have been the most polite but it really didn’t warrant the reaction she got, in my opinion. I could imagine the coworker being awkward around her afterwards from embarrassment, as I think that would be my reaction.

    3. I work for the G*

      100% agree. If that’s a terrible reaction, I must be the Queen B of my office because I’d have said that and would never have considered apologizing for it.

    4. to varying degrees*

      If it had come after already speaking to them about the noise, maybe not, but it doesn’t sound like the coworkers even knew that they and their children were being disruptive. Sure it may seem obvious to us (“how could they not know?!?!”) but people have an amazing ability to block out/tune out noise, especially noise of children.

      1. ferrina*

        Good point. It would be one thing if you had started by asking her to keep the noise down and explaining that you had a busy day- especially since it sounds like your case is unusual that way! I could see the secretary assuming that you had a quiet day like the rest of the office. Combine that with not realizing how noisy the kids were (habituated to their noise), and this could easily have been simple misunderstanding.

    5. lilsheba*

      I agree. And people who are being clueless with their annoying kids need to know that they are being annoying. They’ll get over it.

    6. sarah*

      Agreed. Assuming this response was truly out of character and this kind of thing didn’t happen frequently, I feel like the reaction should have been “looks like Jane’s in a bad mood today” and moving on, not “Jane is a horrible person and let’s gossip about her for the rest of the day.”

      That said, it sounds like Jane may have been higher up than everyone else in the office that day in which case I feel like there’s the added layer of “my job is more important than yours” to the comment. Still. If LW was normally reasonable I wouldn’t have thought much of it beyond a grumpy day.

    7. LittleMarshmallow*

      I fairly recently snapped at some coworkers for repeatedly disturbing me while I was leading a conference call. I should’ve stayed calmer but they wouldn’t stop and I hit a sensory overload and snapped “this isn’t an emergency and needs to wait until I’m done on this call”. The words themselves weren’t harsh… but the tone and volume I said it in definitely were. Now… I’m known for a level head at work (aside from some sensory issues around noise – which are pretty well known among my coworkers) so no one found my outburst unjustified and they mostly were concerned whether I was ok or not.

      So I don’t have much to offer other than commiseration as someone that snapped at coworkers. I think my advice portion would be to reflect on how common it is for you to use snark with your coworkers. I’d say responses to snark in my experience are heavily weighted by how common they are. If you’re always a little sarcastic or passive aggressive or whatever then a slip up is likely to be taken more harshly, but if your normal demeanor is usually pretty calm and positive, a slip up is more likely to be met with concern and not anger. Now… that said, all bets are off when someone kids are involved. I would believe that if it had just been a loud normal office convo you’d snapped at, it might’ve been fine, but people are so ridiculously sensitive about people not just loving the presence of their precious little loin nuggets instantly and in all circumstances. I’m not sure than any response other than “no it’s fine” would’ve been ok in this situation.

      If you’re typically known to be positive and calm I wouldn’t worry about it. Humans are human. It’s done and as much as it sucked you can’t undo it. If you’re not known to be calm and positive then maybe keep that in mind with your interactions and see what you can do to shift the balance so that if you do slip up it’s more likely to be taken as concerning and not angering.

  6. Educator*

    LW1–I just spent about three minutes looking at your photo to check out all the decorations and try to guess what the pictures were underneath the boards. Very fun! I promise that if I were interviewing you, I would have tried to pay attention instead, but it would have been harder than if you had a plain background.

    I rearrange furniture to have a completely blank wall behind me when I interview—I pull out or rotate my desk. Everyone else, including high level stakeholders, gets to see my wall art, but I want to keep interviewers focused on my face. It’s the same reason I don’t wear a wild print or my funkiest earrings. Being more neutral keeps the focus on my words.

    1. MK*

      Yes, I find the decor very distracting, in a way, say, a Christmas tree would not have been. Especially the boards, I wasn’t sure what was going on with them at first.

      1. Jaydee*

        I found the boards the most distracting. I think removing those and the green skeleton and having just ordinary framed prints on the wall and a few Halloween items on top of the cabinet would be appropriate and non-distracting.

    2. to varying degrees*

      I don’t think it’s super over the top but I can see some people getting distracted but the boards on the paintings (and I’d probably ask how they were attached to the artwork without the boards falling), but the table decorations are very cute. (Truth be told the acid green skeleton on the tealish wall color distracts me, but that’s definitely a me thing).

      Unless it was super easy, I’d probably leave it. As long as the LW is fine wiht any questions that people might have (and questions don’t necessarily me negative), I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

    3. lilsheba*

      I like the decor, and I am one that doesn’t believe in hiding my tastes and when it comes to Halloween decor, I love it and have it everywhere. And I would just leave it up. If you want to blur it whatever, but I would leave the decor be.

  7. Calamity Janine*

    op2 is in the category i think many people want to see on AITA and suchlike. was it bad behavior? yes. but was it understandable and not something that was as big and hairy a deal as others made it out to be? absolutely. that offense pales in comparison to the inciting incident.

    the fact that it still worries you is proof you’re now going to be even more conscientious and i doubt that will repeat. so, ego absolvo te, my child, go and sin no more, and also know you were at a strangely cliquey and mean workplace for getting such harsh blowback for your comment. you needn’t let this one trouble you further i think.

    1. GladIdontworkthereanymore*

      Thank you! I wish I’d had AAM around at the time as there are lots of examples of ways of phrasing questions and responses that would have helped in that office. I’ve been working my whole life on responding rather than reacting…

      1. Allonge*

        Which I think brings up another point: if this is a one-off, it should not be an issue – we all get tone wrong once in a while, especially when frustrated. If it would be part of a pattern, it’s a different thing altogether.

        Still, the reaction to your reaction was out of line as well, which most likely makes it more difficult to forget.

        And, personally I have found that things stick with me more when I behaved less-than-ideally, and looking back I still fail to feel genuine regret. Luckily it does not happen often (like, once a decade maybe) but I have snapped at people in exterme circumstances and while I apologised, I still felt… not justified to have snapped, but very ok with having been annoyed at the time. And then it bugs me because I know I should not have said what I did but the cognitive dissonance is STRONG with this one.

        1. ferrina*

          Agree. The letter made me wonder how LW’s relationships with co-workers were overall. If this were an uncharacteristic snap, I might ask coworkers if LW was okay. If this was one in a long line of LW being stand-offish or snapping, it would have been a lot more tempting to talk to my office mates about it.

          Especially since it sounds like this was a de facto holiday in the office where most people had little to no work, but LW was the exception that had a lot of work. There was almost certainly a disconnect there (likely folks forgot/didn’t know LW’s role would be busy). This is an example of why you should generally default to a collaborative approach (“Hey, I’ve got a really busy day and need to focus. Is there a way the kids can move? I’ll close my door, but that usually isn’t enough unless the other people are whispering.”)

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I used to ruminate a lot, and I can still remember some crappy things I did literally decades later. I don’t ruminate as much any more; I don’t know if that’s getting the depression under control, doing fewer crappy things, doing a better job of apologizing in the moment, or I’m just entering my DGAF life stage.

    2. Cacofonix*

      I agree with this. I completely get why the OP responded the way she did. The co-worker with the kids was not only breathtakingly out of line, but to double down so fiercely when called out on it? Wow. Just wow. I would have been firm and knowing me, curt, but would have chosen different words.

      I really think you would have been rudely treated or ignored no matter what you did. If I were that secretary’s & your manager, I’d want to know and would absolutely have a conversation with her. A job limiting one for her to be honest, and backed you up except for a little coaching on response options as Alison mentioned to avoid escalating in future.

  8. nnn*

    A data point for #1:

    The type of cobwebs and rubber spiders you have in your wall are triggering to my arachnophobia when I encounter them in real life. (The relatively small size of the rubber spiders means that my immediate visceral reaction is that they’re real and alive.) Whether they’d be triggering over a video call depends on how clearly they show up on the video.

    So, if I, or someone who shares this common phobia, were your interviewer, there’s a decent chance that your first impression would be a jump scare, which is likely not the impression you’re going for. And this could be easily avoided by either moving the decorations or using a background.

    (I get that this is veering into “sandwiches” territory, but since the question is “What impression would these decorations give?” OP might want to know that this is a possible outcome.)

    1. Well...*

      I think this is a stretch, but since the decorations are not “normal” I suppose she’s a little more at risk of getting blowback if she encountered the rare person who could make out the spiders over Zoom and then be triggered. It’s an extremely risk-averse attitude though.

      1. misspiggy*

        It’s quite conmon for people to be unpleasantly triggered by spiders though. I know one severe arachnophobe who, while having had therapy, would not be able to conduct an interview with that setup. I know at least three others who would find the spiders unsettling, and would be distracted during the interview. Probably worth changing the background.

        1. Well...*

          I’m the most arachnophobic person I personally have ever met, and I just don’t think the Zoom resolution is good enough to pick them out from the picture above. If they were moving, that would be one thing, but static dots? Doubtful.

      2. lilsheba*

        definitely a stretch. That’s like saying you can’t have dogs outside ever because SOMEONE might have an allergy. It’s insane.

        1. BuildMeUp*

          Can we not call other commenters’ opinions insane, please?

          I also don’t think your comparison works at all. It would be more like having your dog next to you during the interview. Like the background, there would also be the potential for distraction and potentially being viewed as unprofessional, as Alison mentioned as reasons not to use the decorations. And in addition, you may run into an interviewer with a fear of dogs.

          1. lilsheba*

            Nah I don’t agree. You can’t pander to the one person who may be affected, MAYBE. People are going to run into things they don’t like because there is no way to know that kind of thing about anyone. It’s not other’s responsibility.

            1. BuildMeUp*

              It’s not other’s responsibility

              Can we not bring this Reddit nonsense here, please? This situation isn’t in a vacuum. We’re talking about an interview where you want to make a good first impression. It’s not pandering, it’s covering your bases.

              And you’re ignoring the rest of my comment – the other factors that Alison mentioned in her response. It’s not just about “the one person” who may have a phobia – it’s also about the other people who may view the decorations as generally distracting or unprofessional.

              1. lilsheba*

                And I don’t care if it seems “unprofessional” …it’s someone’s home and it should be decorated to their taste, and if others don’t like it, then that’s on them. I refuse to hide anything in my house.

                1. BuildMeUp*

                  I feel like you’re taking this a little personally. You can make whatever choices you want, but the OP has written into Ask A Manager for advice and they get to decide whether and how to consider how other people might view their decorations. Your house has nothing to do with it.

                2. Eyes Kiwami*

                  Then don’t take interviews in your house. When your house doubles as your office, you have to make the part that shows behind your head more professional.

                  Really weird to have to explain this two years into the pandemic…

      3. BuildMeUp*

        I think nnn is saying that this is something to consider in addition to the reasons Alison already gave for potentially not using the background. A “yes, and” if you will. An interviewer’s potential fear of spiders may not be a reason to not use the background, full stop, but just another thing that the OP should consider in addition to what Alison said.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        It comes from one of the commenting rules:

        Don’t aggressively shoot down suggestions just because they might not work in one particular circumstance. For example, don’t do this:

        Person 1: “I’m having a problem that could be solved by easy things to bring for lunch.”
        Person 2: “Sandwiches are easy and delicious.”
        Person 3: “Not everyone can eat sandwiches! Some people are allergic to them. Thus, your suggestion sucks and you should be more considerate.”

  9. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    LE#4, I’m trying to figure out “uniquely qualified” – does it mean you’re the only person in the country with the right background for this specific job, so there won’t be other candidates?

    1. Jaydee*

      Whenever I’ve used that phrase, it’s been to indicate not that I think I’m the only person possibly qualified for the job but that I have a unique combination of experience and skills that other applicants are unlikely to have and that I think would be beneficial to the role. The employer is free to decide that I’m not the right fit for the role or that they want someone with a different combination of experience and skills.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      The dictionary definition of unique and the common usage of the word are split. In most usage, it’s a synonym to “particularly” or “especially”.

  10. Elizabeth*

    Allison, I would remove LW1’s background image from the post in case their current employer reads AAM!

    1. Marion Ravenwood*

      I’d agree with this. Maybe put a link through to the photo instead, so readers can look at it if they want?

        1. Erie*

          The idea is that it would make it less overt and less widely visible. However, if LW1 sent it along and is OK with having it up, that’s their call to make IMO.

  11. John Smith*

    #3 If you were to apologise, you’d also have to apologise for your own (in)actions. I’m not sure how well that would go down if you did. My last manager caused absolute chaos in my team and we’ve given up hope of getting even an acknowledgement from senior management that he was a problem. We’d still have no respect for them, but at least feel some validation that the problem wasn’t us, as they’ve tried to claim (and had disproven).

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I agree (and was disagreeing with Alison’s answer as I read it). As the direct report I would want some kind of acknowledgement from the manager that they knew they’d handled it badly, and/or for the time I’d had to tolerate this co-worker which is unreasonably long for the situation.

      The danger with “act differently in future and show you mean business” is that doesn’t erase the past and people remember. If a similar situation comes up again (it seems quite specific but, for example, egregious underperformance that goes unaddressed) people will just be wondering why you addressed it this time but not last time. The idea that you’ve “changed” won’t come into it.

      1. RB Purchase*

        I totally agree. If I had to work *half a year* with someone like OP3 describes, it would really bother me if my manager never addressed what went wrong after they left.

        In fact, something like this is happening in my work group right now – we recently lost a really good coworker in part because of our managers’ failure to take action with a crappy coworker before it got out of hand. Now they’re stuck trying to replace a Good Worker as well as still doing nothing W/R/T Bad Worker and at the end of the day it’s causing the rest of our staff to be overworked. It feels really disheartening not getting at least some sort of acknowledgement of the extra work I’m having to do because they won’t manage Bad Worker effectively.

      2. Heffalump*

        “Act differently in future and show you mean business” would take time, and there would have to be another bad employee to give you a chance to act differently. If I were reporting to #3, I’d have little or no confidence that things would be different unless they apologized and admitted that they’d messed up.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I think you just have to accept that the fact that the manager is no longer there is proof that you were right.
      But it’s toxic as hell. Reminds me of my mother who I overheard telling Dad that “I’ve been blaming the kids but in fact the grill really isn’t working” and thinking we might get an apology from her and being really upset that we didn’t.

    3. oranges*

      Six months is a really long time to let a terribly employee stick around! (If your other employees were at this job for two years, that’s 25% of their time there.)

      Not sure if it was the company’s policy or LW’s call to make, but deciding to fire someone and keeping them around for half a year to act the same or worse is A LOT to ask of others around them.

      I’d acknowledge to your employees that your hands were tied for the six months or you personally should have taken action earlier to terminate. You were new to the role and lessons were learned.

    4. Ginger with a Soul*

      This is tricky due to its involving an HR issue that hasn’t (apparently) been directly brought up to OP 3 by one of their direct reports, but I think OP 3 *should* say something to their team (which is now a team of two, apparently). OP is still a “new” manager (less than 11 months into the job, per the details in the letter). Because of that, I’m guessing (hoping) that this situation – which lasted six of those months – is the biggest issue their team has been experiencing on OP’s watch and OP did not handle it optimally. If a similar situation arose of which OP was *not* aware, they wouldn’t want their team thinking, “Oh, I’m not going to say anything because OP didn’t do anything about Fergus, so they won’t do anything about this.”

      Rather than just say, “I’m sorry this situation occurred,” though, I would (if possible) find a way to acknowledge that I – as a new manager of this team (possibly new at this company) – tried a course of action that seemed reasonable in theory but did not work out in practice, and acknowledging that I should have intervened more forcefully sooner. OP also says they discussed the situation with their boss, so it’s hard to tell whether their hands were tied as far as additional intervention or they were receiving guidance or even explicit instructions not to escalate things with the problem employee.

      Obviously, lots of variables might impact how I approached this, and depending on my relationship with the remaining team members, it might be best not to address the issue head-on. But one could say individually to each team member something like, “I want to acknowledge the difficulties you may have encountered when interacting with Fergus regarding X Project over the last few months.” And if in response the team member acknowledges some of the difficulties, say, “Yes, I realize now I should have stepped in sooner before it started impacting the Team. That’s on me, and I’m going to try to be more proactive moving forward if a similar situation arises. I really appreciate the professional way in which you handled things, and I want you to know that if similar problems arise in the future, you should feel free to bring them to my attention.” Or some such.

      I agree with Allison that the time to acknowledge this was months ago, but especially as a new face in the office, I would opt not to potentially compound my error by failing to acknowledge it post facto.

    5. Annoyed Coworker*

      Agreed. I had a problem coworker who was disruptive to everyone, tried to manage everyone at her level (or higher!), lied, was constantly rude, and was also just generally bad at her job. A lot of people complained to management but were blown off. It turns out that her contract was up in 3 months and management knew it wasn’t going to be renewed so they were just waiting it out, but that didn’t help the morale for the rest of us who had to deal with her every day while management seemed content to do nothing. It also showed that management agreed she was a problem, even though those of us who complained were stonewalled. It was a cowardly choice to let the problem resolve itself rather than do their own jobs of managing her in the meantime, and I lost a lot of respect for my managers because of it.

  12. Prefer my pets*

    I’d remove the background for a host of reasons…it’s busy, it will be distracting, some people get really freaked out by spiders, some interviewers will question if this is your degree of informality in an interview setting does it mean you’ll be really over the top once hired?

    I bought a neutral folding screen early in the pandemic on amazon for situations where I need a totally neutral backdrop but don’t want to rearrange my whole space. Mostly I don’t have it up because my coworkers are low key but I always put it up for meetings with outside entities or higher ups.

    1. Marion Ravenwood*

      I’d agree with the folding screen. Or even something really basic like a white sheet/duvet cover that you could hang over the decorations so they wouldn’t show through, but that can easily be taken down when OP #1 isn’t doing interviews to show co-workers the decorations.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      yes, I’d be worried that OP might go over the top with every single holiday and spend more time decorating her office than working.

      1. metadata minion*

        Really? Plenty of people decorate their house in ways they would never decorate their office.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        if the OP works from home, why would you assume they’d do their home decorations on work time?

      3. lilsheba*

        wow really? And people never decorate their home, where the OP is working from, during their non work hours? That is not something to be worrying about.

    3. No formal dress needed*

      This is a brilliant solution! I’m also on team “cover it up” although I love Hallowe’en.

  13. Dark Macadamia*

    LW1, honestly to me the biggest problem with your background is that it reads more… messy? than festive. Like the skeletons and table decor are fine but especially if the connection/image isn’t great I feel like all the boards could read more like you’re trying to censor/cover your wall art. You don’t want an interviewer wondering what you’re trying to hide and why you didn’t hide it more effectively!

    1. KateM*

      Yes, that’s what I was thinking, too, until I looked at the enlargened picture and understood that the boards WERE the decoration!

      1. Despachito*

        Seconded. My first impression when seeing the boards was “something is broken and was mended with a dark duct tape”. Then of course I found out what it really was but if you do not want distraction I’d rather take them down.

    2. Allonge*

      Yes, also for me the distraction comes not from ‘cool decoration’ but trying to figure out what is happening at all. If OP can put a screen or sheet or something in front of this when interviewing, it would serve them well I think.

    3. Madame Arcati*

      I thought similar – if you normally have a few ornamental items on that surface it’s one thing to swap them for small skull/pumpkin/bat shaped ornaments etc but the paper skeleton, cobwebs and boards over the pictures look a bit messy. And honestly just a wee bit “a small child did this” – but feel free to ignore this on cultural grounds as I gather US and U.K. attitudes to seasonal decoration are very different!

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        US here, but the boards over the pictures is weird to me, also. The other decorations are fine.

        1. KateM*

          If these pictures are normally at OP’s background and only boards have been added, then for OP’s coworkers it is “I see that you have decorated your pictures for Halloween”. For interviewer who has never seen it before it could be “I wonder what does OP have on their background that they couldn’t take down but had to censor for this call like this”.

          1. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

            Yes to this being a possibility — definitely can read as a messy attempt to cover uo NSFW images.

      2. KateM*

        I think what also plays a role is that ornaments on cupboard are low on the screen where people won’t look much, the boards would probably be right behind your head. So put whatever ornaments you want (well, except for NSFW crocheted art, perhaps), but take care what is behind your head.

        I myself have awesome windows with stained-glass-like-art behind me and I can’t show them because if I open the curtains, I will be just a shadow on the brightly colored background.

      3. Agreed*

        I love decorating and I love Halloween and I had the same impression of this decor. The wall items struck me as cluttered and chaotic. The ornaments are cute though, and I suspect what people are complimenting.

    4. MHA*

      Before I enlarged the image I could only make sense of the boards as being duct tape, so while it still read “Halloween decoration,” it read, like… genuinely disturbing “I duct-taped over all the reminders of my happy family life from before I murdered my family” serial killer Halloween decoration, not “haunted house” silly fun Halloween decoration. So even in an instance where the connection is shoddy but the interviewer can still tell that it’s a Halloween decoration, it might get interpreted as something other than what you wanted!

      I think most of the time in a full-screen Zoom call it would be fine, but just throwing my two cents in that yeah, the visual clutter and effect of “what am I looking at?” when everything first pops up may not be the best first impression for interviewers.

  14. Irish Teacher.*

    LW3, I wouldn’t criticise your employee to their coworkers. Generally, people are more likely to take the side of a coworker rather than the boss and unless it was done very professionally (which to be fair, you sound like you might manage that), I think I might think less of a manager who criticised an employee after they left. Especially if they let the employee go. Clearly the person’s work was unacceptable if they were let go (I’m not sure from your post whether they were openly let go or if the public impression was that they resigned, but even if it’s the latter, then hinting they were let go or fired could also come across badly) and I don’t think any more needs to be said. Even if your employees realise it needed to be done, well, unless the person was a bully or something, they are likely to be sympathetic to him and would be awkward hearing him criticised.

    I mean, this may not apply if the guy was a jerk, but if he was just struggling with the work, then while people may understand it was the right decision, it is also likely at least some of them were friends of his and would think pointing out his poor work after he was let go is either sort of…almost gloating. It’s clear from your post that it ISN’T but to a friend of his, it could look that way.

    1. Educator*

      I agree. Working places where you can only fire someone for something truly egregious without a thorough process, I have had employees ask me about colleagues who are exhibiting bad behavior. My answer is always something like, “I can’t discuss Jane’s behavior with you–that is between me and her. I can tell you in general how I manage discipline issues so that you are aware of my approach. I always follow our organization’s policies, which means…” It gives them a reminder that there are likely things happening behind the scenes that they might not be aware of, without any confidential details. I think disclosing any personal details is a really bad move because you need employees to trust your confidentiality if you are ever discussing their behavior down the road!

      1. Alternative Person*

        Same. I can easily see how the OP could have been between a rock and a hard place trying to salvage something out of the employee’s projects when the employee was already checked out. The answer you give is a very good way to handle the situation.

    2. Artemesia*

      Spot on. Learn from how badly you handled this and don’t do this again, but don’t trash an employee — others will think that is how you might refer to them. This guy should have been fired when his performance declined dramatically, but it is done now. So move ahead.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I had an ex-manager who jokingly (sorta?) referred to someone who changed departments as a “traitor”. It did not come across well made me wonder what he would be saying about me in the future.

    3. FashionablyEvil*

      I do think there is room to share what you appreciate about what folks have done to help during the transition (e.g., “Thanks so much for taking on the teapot painting reports. I really appreciate how you’ve updated the filing system to include style, color, and date.”) Obviously, you can’t go back and manage the old employee more intensively, but you can be attuned to the impact it had on others and acknowledge their contributions/reward where they stepped in to fill a gap.

      1. AsPerElaine*

        This is a good point. While I would be grumpy about having had to pull more than my weight because I had a problem coworker, what I would care about more is knowing that my manager saw the work I had been taking on, rather than needing to know details of how the other person was managed (even if I privately thought the manager was handling the situation badly).

    4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Yes. At my previous job, people who left were systematically bad-mouthed by the boss, even when they had done great work. After a while you just don’t believe a word they say. I actually caught my manager out once in a baldfaced lie about why a colleague left, he forgot that I had helped him translate a letter for the guy to start the firing process (he worked at the Dutch subsidiary).
      There’s a little “club” of former employees, we congratulate everyone who leaves. One friend was given a medal for his tenure.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        The company I joined after leaving ToxicJob had poached enough employees from ToxicJob that we formed our own support group.

    5. Cat Tree*

      I agree. I’ll give an example of how this communication was done right. I had a coworker who was definitely a slacker and he eventually got fired. He was good at covering his tracks so most of us didn’t realize just how bad it had gotten, but we also weren’t completely surprised by the firing. Our manager met with the group to let us know he was gone, then didn’t give any details but said it was performance related so the rest of knew that our jobs weren’t at risk.

      Of course the rest of us all gossipped about our experiences with him later. But our manager handled it with the right level of detail and tact.

    6. No Tribble At All*

      Yeah, I’m curious how a manager would let the team know they were aware of someone’s performance issues & bad behavior without, well, badmouthing the employee to the coworkers? I thought it was always “praise in public, punish in private.” Unless it’s obvious public bad behavior — correcting the cussing, for example, when you could give them a stern look.

  15. nott the brave*

    Letter #3: I can’t be the only one who read that header and thought “they died and you still want to speak poorly of them?!” before reading the letter itself, right? ‘Recently departed’ definitely had me expecting something else!

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I’ve never conducted a performance review via seance, but have no fear; I’m sure this will become a big fad in the future.

    2. Llama Llama*

      Ha. That was my thoughts too. I was thinking ‘Don’t talk bad about the dead coworker. That won’t go down well!’.

  16. MiaRose*

    OP#2, I’m not excusing your response to the noise and interruption, but I certainly can understand it. It absolutely could have been handled much more diplomatically. However, it looks like you did try to remedy the problem by shutting the door. If that were the case, the coworker who brought the kids would have had to open the door to bother you with a question with an obvious answer, then proceeded to retaliate in a fashion that caused you to be brought to tears, and, unable to work, go home. At that point, there were no higher-ups in the office to run interference, and I suspect this may have contributed to the situation. I think the coworker’s bullying actions in response to your rude answer to be far worse, given they were the cause of the conflict in the first place. I’m assuming they were speaking loudly enough, constantly throughout the day, that you were able to hear what they said through the newly closed door. I would have hoped the higher-ups dealt with the situation later, but maybe not, if this is still bothering you to this day.

    So, yes, more diplomacy for handling such a situation in the future, but, also, please don’t beat yourself too badly over how you reacted that one time in a situation that you did not create. I do think people get very touchy and hostile when their children are criticized in any way (I’m saying this as a parent who has had to deal with such people, especially when their children were trying to harm mine, but, of course, their children were angels and could never have done anything wrong ).

    1. EPLawyer*

      Closing the door WAS being diplomatic. Everyone getting bent out of shape because the door was closed was not handling this well.

      HOWEVER, we cannot be responsible for how other people behave. We can only control our own behavior. Which means being professional at work. Even when others aren’t.

      Closing the door was fine. Snapping at the coworker with snark was not. The answer to the question was “Yes.”

    2. ecnaseener*

      I read it as the coworker asking *while* LW was shutting the door, not barging in after it was shut!

  17. Former Employee*

    I am another defender of OP2. Did that employee even have permission to bring in their kids? Regardless, I’m sure they didn’t have approval to disrupt the work of others. Also, it appears as if the OP was literally correct in that some people (at least the OP) did have work to do that day while it’s pretty obvious that the co-worker who created their own version of bring the kids to work day was in a position where they had little to do that day.

    I’m guessing that the OP is female and even other women can be very sexist when it comes to expectations of women and their reaction to children, hence the over the top backlash from the rest of the staff.

    1. R*

      I mean, come on. The LW said she wasn’t sure if they were even allowed to have kids there (which indicates there was no “feel free to bring the family!”) So, unless it’s a place with kids all the time, like a daycare etc., the person asking had to already know that yes, the extra tiny people running around are a distraction. Asking was to try to be told “no they are fine!”

      I had a cw/ other dept Manager that would bring kids in when her babysitting fell through. If they were well behaved, great. When they ran around screaming? I responded pretty similar. When she tried to hand me her baby before going into a meeting? Not happening.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I had a job where nannying my boss’s kid became an actual part of my day-to-day. It wasn’t actually a big deal at the time, I liked the kid and it was a nice distraction, but in retrospect I hate that I agreed to it and reinforced the expectation.

  18. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

    Apparently I’m taking the unpopular view of being less sympathetic to OP #2 snapping.

    For me, the big question is: did the other employees have an expectation that they could bring in their kids and enjoy a relaxing bonding day? OP doesn’t know. Many admin/office jobs are relatively thankless and people have to have their “customer service self” activated all day. So a period of time where the bosses are away can feel like a deserved perk.

    I’m sure this varies hugely by workplace, but in many places I’ve been, the occasional “kid day” happens about 1x a year. It also sounds like there was a culture for the office workers to relax on this annual retreat day. If the other employees were been given permission to bring in their kids, with an understanding that they were effectively relaxing that day and perhaps only dealing with a few minor details….then they were well within their rights to make noise. They’re functionally enjoying a rare perk, and it makes sense that they would want to do that.

    In that case, the primary failing is 100% with management, who clearly didn’t set expectations for the day and didn’t communicate effectively. But it sounds like no one left in the office was senior level staff and while I think OP’s colleagues should have been more attentive, I also think that that OP could have spoken up before her resentment builded.

    I would feel differently if the kids had been “snuck in” but we just really don’t know if that was the case.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, this is what it sounds like to me too. Assuming it is either a formally recognised perk or a widely-known and tolerated one, then the admin staff quite reasonably feel they have a right to it, and “are we disturbing you?” is a recognition of potentially clashing needs and an invitation to find a compromise that works for both. “Some of us have work to do!” totally shuts that down, and effectively suggests that the admin team are doing something wrong by enjoying a company-recognised perk. It’s also exactly the kind of thing that will play to any sensitivities in the admin team— that they’re not seen as real professionals, that they’re not hard enough workers, anything like that— which could also be a factor. I can see why that would put a dampener on the whole party day and lead to lots of muttering and discontent.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I have the opposite read on both of those statements. “Are we disturbing you?” reads 100% snarky and hostile to me, because the answer is obviously yes. It’s hard to know for sure without the tone of both statements.

        Also, even if we take the initial question as being genuine, reacting to a snarky response with all-out war is unbelievably childish. If you realize you’ve unwittingly really annoyed someone to the point of inner rage, doubling down is a really shitty response.

        1. bamcheeks*

          You’ve got a huge amount of good will for LW here and none at all for her co-workers! Her annoyance and grump is obviously justified, theirs is unreasonable and childish!

          1. Emmy Noether*

            mh, I guess I do. I think because their starting positions are not the same: she had to work, they were having fun. Being annoyed at being kept from doing something you have to do to earn your livelihood is very different than having to move a few doors down to have your party. She was cornered: stuck between her work obligations and conflict with coworkers. They were free. She was alone, they were a group. The expectations are different. Lashing out when cornered is more understandable, retaliating against someone already in a shitty position much less so.

            Also, this is a workplace. Urgent work has priority, no matter the day. If she went to a pub and wanted everyone to shush, that would be different.

            1. Bubbles*

              I don’t know. I think lashing out at coworkers is never appropriate even if they are in the wrong.

        2. Colette*

          I think that could have been a legitimate question. Maybe not, but maybe it was an honest attempt to figure out if there was a problem and fix it.

          And I’m not sure they “doubled down” – the OP says she was called mean-spirited (after snapping at and insulting a colleague) and the office was “gossiping” about her – that could cover ground from “keep it down, the OP was pretty upset about the noise” to personal attacks. The OP was upset about it to the point where she stopped working to go home, but she was already upset about the interaction, so I don’t see that as a sign they were being deliberately nasty. (Maybe they were! But there’s not enough info to know.)

    2. Emmy Noether*

      Mh, but we do know that management set an expectation the OP would work (by giving an urgent assignment). Now, if management expected some people to party and some people to complete urgent work, that’s obviously a major management failing. But in that case, the coworkers should really have pitied OP and been mad at management, and not taken it out on OP.

      If I imagine I’m having a legit office party and then someone tells me I’m disturbing them because they have to work (in whatever words), my reaction would have been to commiserate and try to find a way that the party and work can co-exist (either moves into a conference room, maybe?). Not double down on making it harder for the person who already has a raw deal. A little thought and compassion, come on!

      1. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        You clearly feel strongly about this! I see that you’re very active in this thread! But I’m afraid I still disagree with you (again, with the caveat that I don’t know more about the situation).

        For one thing, OP didn’t tell her peers that she was disturbed. She let her resentment brew until they approached her and she snapped. That may be understandable but it’s not acceptable. Part of being a grown-up is advocating for yourself before you’re ready to blow.

        And as unpleasant as it may be, in many offices working through some noise (especially if it only happens once a year) is considered part and parcel with the work. Sure, ideally we would all have private offices with no sounds or distractions, but it’s not realistic for people to get visably frustrated just because they can’t always access that.

        I agree that OP’s colleagues could have been more thoughtful and compassionate. But surely the same applies to her; we know nothing about what their work is like or what sort of break they needed. Bar more information, I don’t think OP’s response was warrented.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Nah, I’m mostly just procrastinating on an annoying work task and projecting myself into the LW’s situation is more fun. I should probably go get to that thing I have to do *sigh*.

        2. EPLawyer*

          She closed her door. Which was a perfectly acceptable response to block out noise. Then her coworker asked if they were disturbing her, because apparently a closed door wasn’t sign enough.

          And quite frankly, even if its a perk to bring your kids to the office, it’s still an OFFICE. It should be presumed that some work needs to get done and the kids should be given a QUIET activity.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Strongly agree. There are two conversations going on here – was the coworker in the wrong, and did OP react unprofessionally? And we’re all reading a variety of tones on both sides that are all speculation.

            But the bottom line is – this is an office, people were working, if you bring your kids to an office they need to behave with respect to the space. So did OP snap? Maybe. But to then be gossiped about and driven out of the office in tears is a WILD overreaction on the part of the parents, who were the ones violating the social code of the space.

      2. bamcheeks*

        my reaction would have been to commiserate and try to find a way that the party and work can co-exist

        That’s what “Are my kids disturbing you?” is to me– if that was your initial approach and the person snaps back, “Some of us have to work!”, how do you turn that into a productive conversation which recognises both the right to work and the right to parrrrrrrtay?

        (I mean, I think it can be done, but then you’re into higher-level de-escalation and diplomacy skills, and it’s not obvious to me why the party-havers would be invested in doing that when they’ve tried to be nice and been scolded.)

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yup. The way the message is conveyed makes an awful lot of difference to how it is received. It’s the main reason the scales have recently tipped for me in my job — new management is focusing on weird and wonderful new corporate programmes but we front desk people haven’t got the tools to do our job, and they keep being shorn off. And this is a large public body in charge of maintaining and managing the buildings involved in public healthcare delivery, not a small business.

          The way the message is broadcast is almost more important than the content. Being gracious and respectful of other people should be the basic minimum. We’re adults and need to act as such, and whatever the provocation, the emphasis at work should be on finding a solution that suits everyone, not raining on a parade.

          The thing to remember is the ‘do unto others’ golden rule. We may need to swallow our pride or hold in a lot of frustration. But we very rarely get to work completely solo, and to that end, acknowledging other people’s needs goes a long, long way towards much better relationships than being grumpy with them.

          Holding up under extreme provocation should earn you medals, though. We’ve all been there. Just don’t let it come out.

        2. Allonge*

          Eh, I don’t think ‘are my kids disturbing’ is meant to be snarky, but, 99 times out of 100 when a parent needs to ask this, the answer is yes.

          It’s still an office: there is no right to party (unless you are in a very separate location) that overwrites ‘people need to work here’. If OP was obviously working, the parents should have moved the kids to somewhere else, without even asking.

          1. bamcheeks*

            99 times out of 100 when a parent needs to ask this, the answer is yes

            I don’t think that’s true at all! When I ask it, I usually mean, “are you someone who finds it pretty easy to block out the sound of children playing and talking, or do you / does the kind of work you’re doing need us to be more directive?”

            People’s tolerance for children-noises varies widely, and varies depending on who they are and how familiar they are with child-noise, the specific kind of child noise (playing quietly, playing noisily but happily, overexcited or upset/tired/angry are all very different types of disturbance!) and the type of work/concentration needed for what they are doing.

            If you’re the kind of person who finds ALL child-noise disturbing, then you might assume that’s universal and all parents know that really, but it’s really not!

            1. Allonge*

              OK, in general, sure, there is a wide variance for tolerating kid-related noises.

              But we are talking about a workplace that does not sound like kids are around regularly, and then parents need to be more attentive to this, and go with the assumption that kids are disturbing when making sustained noise.

              1. bamcheeks*

                I probably wouldn’t mind as a one-off for any level of child-noise up to “incredibly overexcited and screaming” or “overtired/hungry/angry”, though. I’m the eldest of three children, and if I’m concentrating on something I literally will not hear noise behind a closed door unless it’s someone obviously upset or calling my name.

                I don’t think LW is wrong for being disturbed by it, but if there’s a general acceptance that this is a non-work day and that it’s OK for children to be there, then it’s OK to see this as a situation of conflicting needs and not assume anyone is operating in bad faith!

                1. Allonge*

                  if there’s a general acceptance that this is a non-work day

                  This is then the disconnect: OP had to work. So there is definitely not a general acceptance that it’s a non-work day; people just took advantage of the bosses being away.

                  Which is ok if you want to slack off in peace or chat! But it’s not a sign to bring the kids in and go wild. And if you are immune to the noises of (your) kids, it requires even more care.

                  And that does not mean OP should not have been more diplomatic – but annoyance was not out of line at all.

                2. bamcheeks*

                  By a non-work day I mean for that particular group of employees — the secretarial/operational staff whom LW exempts themselves from because they have a different management structure. It’s not weird to me that you’d have a non-working day/special event for one team, but not for everyone, and I don’t think the still-working-person’s needs automatically trump the special-event people’s needs.

                3. Allonge*


                  Not all work needs automatically trump the non-working people’s needs, for sure (e.g. if someone has an official non-working day they should not be pulled into a work assignment), but I still think there is no ‘right to party’at the office while you know there are people working. Go outside or keep to normal work-day levels of noise.

                4. Allonge*

                  I don’t think the still-working-person’s needs automatically trump the special-event people’s needs.

                  It’s not automatic (if you are not working, you should not be pulled into a work task unless there is an absolute emergency) but it’s a workplace! Even an official party will not have priority in the sense of ‘can we make as much noise as we want’ in a lot of spaces, and this is not an official party.

                5. bamcheeks*

                  I don’t think we know that they were “making as much noise as they wanted”, though. They could have been working pretty hard to keep the noise down and keep the kids away from LW’s office but just not have done it *enough* to let LW work undisturbed.

                  Basically, I don’t think the existence of disturbance proves the disturbers were in the wrong, that they were inconsiderate or that they acted with no concern for anyone else, or any of the other things that other people are saying are *obviously* the case. I don’t think they were doing anything malicious or terrible or obviously unacceptable.

          2. Pescadero*

            “It’s still an office: there is no right to party (unless you are in a very separate location) that overwrites ‘people need to work here’.”

            That is 100% up to the whims of management/ownership.

        3. Emmy Noether*

          I think if my coworker snapped that at me and I genuinely hadn’t known, I’d react with “wait, you have to work today? I didn’t know!” Not exactly high diplomacy, but it should work to de-escalate.

          I’m having a lot more trouble coming up with a diplomatic response to “are we disturbing you?”.

          1. bamcheeks*

            “Yeah, a bit– sorry, I’ve just got a couple of things today that require deep concentration. Could you ask them to stay over that side of the office?”

            “To be honest, they are a bit! Sorry. Is there anywhere else they could play?”

            “The kids are all right when they’re just playing, but I struggled to hear the other person on the phone when they were singing along to Lady Gaga! Could you ask them not to sing, please? I’d really appreciate it, thank you!”

            1. Mianaai*

              I don’t love these scripts specifically because they’re all minimizing the disruption. While in hindsight the OP shouldn’t have snapped, I also don’t think they were under any obligation to minimize the disruption to prevent any chance of hurt feelings. “Yes, please [move the kids away, ask them to be quieter, whatever]” is a reasonable response.

              1. bamcheeks*

                I also think that works fine! I just don’t agree with Emmy Noether that it’s that hard to come up with a response that says, “yes, there is in fact a problem, please can you X”

                1. Emmy Noether*

                  Two of those answers are completely downplaying the issue, the first one could maybe work. Betcha it would have gotten the same reaction from these specific coworkers though.

                  The hard part is that, seeing their further reaction, I don’t believe for a second that they would have taken an unqualified yes to the question any better. I just don’t think it’s on the LW to find juuuuust the right magic words that will make them be quiet and not mad. I don’t think those words exist.

                2. Mianaai*

                  While I agree that there are polite ways to indicate that yes, indeed, there is a problem, I don’t think that requires OP to minimize the issue or apologize themself (!!). Your first two scripts downplay the distraction to “a bit” and have OP apologize for finding the noise distracting.

                  OP was not in the wrong for finding the noise distracting, for closing their door, or for asking for the noise to stop. They shouldn’t have snapped! But they shouldn’t have to apologize for needing quiet in order to work.

                  I have a lot of empathy for OP; I’ve also had obnoxiously loud officemates (not even their children…) who took even a polite request to be quieter as a personal attack and retaliated correspondingly. There’s a lot of different ways “Is the noise bothering you?” can come across, from “[oh crud, I didn’t realize that was so loud,] is the noise [still] bothering you?” to “is the noise bothering you [you killjoy sensitive snowflake]?”

          2. Bubbles*

            I don’t agree that responding to a snarking comment with another snarky comment is would work to de-escalate. If fact, I think it would do the exact opposite. A diplomatic response to “are we disturbing you?” is “Yes, actually would you mind keeping it down or moving to another room?”

            I wonder if your reaction to this letter is a cultural difference? In all of the US offices that I’ve worked in, sometimes there are visitors in the office that cause disruption. It’s just a thing that happens sometimes. If it’s distracting you, you can temporarily move or politely ask them to keep it down. From your comments, I get the impression that visitors wouldn’t be acceptable in a German office? Or maybe in Germany, its move acceptable to respond to rudeness with rudeness? In the US, OP’s response would be considered unprofessional and immature.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              Obviously matching snark with snark doesn’t de-escalate. I just wouldn’t have been able to come up with a way that was de-escalating and communicated my needs, so I would have had to make a choice.

              I don’t think it’s country-cultural, probably more personal. I’ve seen/had visitors, including children, in the office, it’s usually no trouble.

              Although, Germans can be…. more direct, as a culture, in a way that may read as rude to Americans. It’s not actually rude though, it’s just a different communication style. There’s no universal rude. And while we’re on the topic of clichés, Americans can often read as quite rude to us, because some of them are LOUD in public (just the other day, I was seated on a train next to Americans, quietly seething, when a woman across the aisle finally told them to please, please keep it down. They did not. I kept my snark in, but it was hard.). Being loud in places where it disturbs others is considered immature and unprofessional here.

              1. Lacky*

                You’re being really defensive about this. Maybe you should take a break. You’ve made your point very clear.

              2. Bubbles*

                A train isn’t a professional environment so I don’t see how it could be unprofessional to be loud on a train. Rude, sure. But not unprofessional. There’s a world of difference between returning rudeness to a stranger you’ll never see again and returning rudeness to a coworker who you work with everyday. I can’t imagine saying anything intentionally rude to one of my coworkers who was being unintentionally rude. As OP learned, your response to those sort of situations can impact how people work with you in the future.

        4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          A wide-eyed “Are my kids disturbing you?” is not commiserating, it’s being obnoxious. It’s obvious that OP is trying to work and they’re just hoping OP will just put up with the noise. There’s no apology, just a question worded so that anything but “oh don’t worry about it” is going to land wrong. That’s manipulative. I feel very sorry for OP here and I’m livid about the employees not understanding that she had work to do.
          I mean, I sometimes had to take the kids to work and made sure they didn’t ever disturb anyone.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I just find this attitude weird! I absolutely don’t find, “Are my kids disturbing you?” to be a hostile question that demands only a positive reassurance. What do you suggest people say if they want to check whether someone is OK tolerating child-noise or you need to keep them a bit quieter?

            1. Emmy Noether*

              It comes off as hostile in this instance because they were already told nonverbally through the closing of the door that yes, they are being disturbing. That’s why it’s disingenious. And the lack of apology.

              Non-hostile would have been: “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were disturbing you. Should we move away, or is it ok now with the door closed?”.

            2. IEanon*

              Noisy children and whether they’re being distracting (in a workplace, no less!) definitely falls under “if you have to ask, you already know the answer.”

              I agree that this is one of those letters that we sometimes see on reddit in AITA, where the answer is everyone sucks here, but boy do wish it were acceptable to do what OP did.

            3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              It was very plainly obvious that the kids were disturbing OP, no need to ask the question at all! If it had been my kids, I’d have told them off and moved them further along where they wouldn’t be disturbing OP, and then I’d have gone to apologise and ask whether the noise level was OK now.

            4. Spencer Hastings*

              Honestly, in a situation like this I’d try to keep the noise level down preemptively, with no need to ask people if they’re OK tolerating it.

              1. bamcheeks*

                The thing is, we don’t know they weren’t! They could have been doing a 90% effective job at keeping the noise down whilst also enjoying themselves, but it wasn’t enough for LW. (I mean, my first assumption if someone has had their door open for 3-4 hours and is only just getting around to shutting it would be that we actually WEREN’T bothering them. That seems like a pretty obvious first line of defence!)

                I don’t get this attitude of “the problem should never have arisen, it was completely unacceptable for anyone to have ever made too much noise, and asking “are we bothering you?” was clearly a passive-aggressive dig. Sometimes people at work have different needs, and it makes far more sense to me to have sensible and cooperative ways to work out difference than just to assume that the people having a non-working day were automatically in the wrong and whatever OP did from there was justified.

                1. Allonge*

                  But bringing your kids in for a day when you can get away with it and letting them run wild is not a ‘need’. It’s something you may get away with.

                  So adjust your supervision of their behavior for this.

                2. bamcheeks*

                  We know they were disturbing LW: we don’t know they were “running wild”. Their parent may in fact have been keeping an eye on them, shushing them every so often, reminding them to keep away from LW’s door and been genuinely asking LW whether they were doing ~enough~ or whether they needed to do more.

                3. Allonge*

                  I don’t think the parent in this case was some kind of horrible person, nor do I think that what OP was said was the best way to handle this, or even appropriate.

                  I do think that parents are accustomed (by definition!) to their kids’ noises in a way that others are not, and ‘kids playing quietly’ has a wiiiiiiide range of noise levels. When someone needs to be shushed regularly, they are making a significant amount of noise, which in turn can be disturbing to people trying to work. This is something to factor in when deciding to bring the kids in.

          2. ecnaseener*

            You’re reading so much into this! Imagining fake-wide-eyed-ness that wasn’t mentioned in the letter, assuming that a polite “yes actually the noise is distracting” wouldn’t be met with “sorry, I didn’t realize you were working, come on kids let’s go to the other end of the office.”
            Sometimes people are accidentally rude and will fix it once they realize! Not everyone who makes a small mistake is being manipulative when they ask if it’s a problem!

            1. Wants Green Things*

              Considering the coworker responded by gossiping around the office and spreading enough hostility that the LW left in tears, I think we can safely assume that the coworker would *not* have have been polite no matter how the LW had worded it.

              1. Emmy Noether*

                Yes! Thinking these bullies would have reacted nicely if LW had found just the right words to say is wild to me.

                1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                  Right. And is extremely frustrating to me, as someone who works hard to keep my tone and words within the correct social expectations. We all screw that up – this is the penalty for that?

                2. Generic+Name*

                  This right here. I’d bet cash money that the coworkers aren’t worrying about their behavior years later. Unreasonable people don’t suddenly become reasonable when one uses just the right combination of words. If OP had simply said, “why yes, actually” I’d bet they still would have reacted negatively.

                3. ecnaseener*

                  Equally wild to me that so many people think mean people are Always Mean All The Time No Matter What You Do. I was responding to the statement that the coworker was definitely being obnoxious right from the start, which we have no reason to think (LW would certainly have said so!) Yes, I think people are in general more likely to respond to rudeness with rudeness and politeness with politeness.

                  Eldritch — no, of course the “penalty” was wildly inappropriate here. I haven’t seen anyone in these comments say LW deserved this treatment, I certainly said nothing of the sort.

            2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              They’d already seen that they were disturbing OP, because OP had to shut the door. So the asking of the question was ingenuous. By that time, the only remark possible was “I’m so sorry, we didn’t realise you were working, we’ll take the kids elsewhere so you can concentrate.”

      3. GythaOgden*

        It’s not the issue of being disturbed that’s the issue. It’s the way she responded that naturally upset her colleagues. There were lots of better ways she could have addressed it, and this was one of the worst ones.

      4. I should really pick a name*

        We know that the OP was working. We don’t know if the other employees knew that the OP was working.

    3. GladIdontworkthereanymore*

      LW2 here – It was only one other office worker who brought their kids in, none on the other floors of the office – and I don’t recall seeing any communications about the day saying “go ahead, bring the children,” when that was made explicit for other days. So I was pretty sure they’d been snuck in, as you say.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yeah. I think sometimes you have to rein in frustration for the sake of getting along. I completely understand the situation — British offices are pretty much open-plan as standard and we have an awkward mezzanine directly over reception with not even a wall between us and a large, noisy team of pharmacists. (They make up for it with cake.) I’ve often had to ask people to stop talking so loudly in Reception because I’m often on the phone dealing with members of the public whose voices vary widely in our diverse community. I’m not deaf, but I’m autistic and filtering out background noise can be exhausting. It can be very tempting and I regularly have to rebuke people way above me in the pecking order. But the key is to keep it civil and respectful and know that they’re not doing it on purpose to directly spite you.

        As for kid-smuggling, the manager who sits in the rooms behind reception has two wee toy dogs (think pekes, chihuahuas, etc) that she smuggles in and out. At this point it’s pretty much an open secret despite being a healthcare admin office. As is the smoking that goes on behind the loading bay: we’re a non-smoking site, but the loading bay is an anomaly akin to one of China Mieville’s wildest fantasies — not actually opening onto our property but onto the car park for a block of housing association flats. So even the facilities administrator tasked with enforcing the ban goes out there. The one mandate that was enforced was masks during the pandemic, but that just dropped off in about April/May when the other legal restrictions were revoked.

        Sometimes, people do weird stuff. I can only sympathise with the distracting stuff and people disturbing you. But the way forward is not to be an arse about it, at least the first time someone asks, and in a working environment, maybe never (because it leads to your authority being undermined rather than anything else).

        I understand it might feel like victim-blaming, but everyone in the world is juggling hundreds of different needs and situations. It helps to remember that this might have been a struggle for your colleague, and that’s what made your response worse for her and for your reputation.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          “I think sometimes you have to rein in frustration for the sake of getting along.”

          From both an HR and fellow neuro divergent brain – yes, and your comfort still matters. You don’t need to grit your teeth and bear it if you can’t work because of someone’s kids. If you don’t think you can engage nicely, you shut the door. OP did that perfectly. Then was pushed farther. Was the response great? No. But OP tried to take mitigating steps and if I was brought in to comment I’d have a lot more to say about how the coworker with children handled the situation.

          1. GythaOgden*

            I think extending people the grace you would want to be extended in return is key to the situation.

            You can then address the actual problem — the noisy kids — without getting sidetracked on an inappropriate response from someone else.

      2. Qwerty*

        I suspect the reason for the hostility was your coworkers were afraid of getting caught. If you had said to one of the partners that you couldn’t complete X because the children were disrupting your concentration, then the partners would know there were kids running around. Suddenly, that free day was put at risk for everyone and rather than own up to their behavior, it was easier to paint you as the villian.

        We can quibble about the level of snark in “some of us have work to do”, but its what is on people’s minds when unexpected children are being loud in the office. Parents tend to react very differently to that phrase *at work* when the kids have been sanctioned vs snuck in.

      3. Wisteria*

        Eh, I don’t know that a communication that says “go ahead, bring the children” is the deciding point for whether any given employee brings their kids on day which is culturally understood to be a “cat’s away” type of day. I’ve seen people bring their kids into work on days when the cat/manager was definitely in (rarely, but not never). I don’t know the behind the scenes permission getting that happened–when I saw kids in the office, we worked in an access controlled facility, so I can assume that they didn’t just bring the kid in without telling anyone. There was definitely no memo allowing/inviting those kids in the office.

    4. to varying degrees*

      Not unpopular with me. I don’t understand why just asking, politely, to be quieter is so hard. “Hey Kathy, the noise is really reverberating into my office could the kids/people/whoever be a little quieter? Thanks so much!”. What is the deal with the inability for adults, on all sides, just have a normal conversation?

  19. GythaOgden*

    OP1 — yeah. I guess I’m not accustomed to Halloween as a major Thing, because I’m not American, but those decorations read strange to me, as if the decor was damaged in some way and you’d repaired it oddly. The skeleton looks like it’s supposed to be glow in the dark, but in daylight it just looks a bit tacky.

    I think it’s best to interview in front of a neutral background. Even just a normal bookshelf like in my computer room or like my therapist has on Zoom.

    OP2 — I get it, I really do. I do the post in our office, and do patient letters and packages. The number of people who forget that anything that doesn’t go through the rollers has to be franked by hand and that means printing labels, some of which are quite thick and long and end up with me readdressing the envelope in extreme cases irritates the crap out of me. But I swallow it and just bring it up politely the next time I see them. I show them directly what we have to add to the package and why they need to make sure we don’t paper over half of the address. I don’t storm up to them demanding that they readdress the envelope and sit there until they get out the ruler and set square.

    There was one person who sent a USB stick in a tiny packet with literally only room for the address and not even an ordinary stamp, let alone a franking label. I did have to go to him and ask him to put it in a proper envelope. Turns out he was being passive aggressive towards his own manager, who had queried his use of packaging. So I showed the boss what we needed in order to be able to send stuff out for them, and that was the end of the matter. (It helped that the workspace is more egalitarian than some, but also that I knew the manager personally and could ask how his geckos were at the same time.)

    So really…I know, it gets so frustrating and that temptation is so hard to resist. But not only does it mean a more collegiate workplace if you swallow that frustration, it can also sort it out much quicker and much easier for everyone involved. If you extend grace to people even when they are tap dancing on your last nerve, they will be nicer to you afterwards.

    Go home, knit yourself a gecko (I did!) and wring its neck if you need to. I keep puppy photos on my phone, because I actually get a physically calming feeling out of looking at cute doggies that I don’t have to clean up after. But in the interests of workplace harmony, don’t make a scene. All that’s gonna happen is you get a reputation as the office grouch, and that’s not pleasant to work with at all.

  20. GladIdontworkthereanymore*

    LW2 here. Really intrigued by the ways the question has been responded to and some of the assumptions that have been made. It’s quite the division isn’t it? I wish I’d been reading AAM at the time – lots of helpful ways to frame difficult questions. So obviously it’d be great for my soul if I’d not been in the wrong in any way, denting my image as the Helpful Researcher!

    One of the life lessons for me about this incident was that I needed to get better at responding rather than reacting to questions. Engage brain before opening mouth – a lifetime’s work…I would definitely handle it differently if this happened now – having more confidence from the outset to ask for a compromise. I did apologise pretty much straight away for being short with them! I would also have told the noisy folk which partner it was I was working for that day, as they’d have maybe been a bit more sympathetic – they were a known source of irrational deadlines. It was a strange job – I enjoyed bits of it, but I had a toxic office mate, and I struggled with the culture of constant availability (leaving on time= leaving early even though I was contactable). I wasn’t sorry to leave for something related but different. Now I’m something completely different where all these lessons helped – believe it or note, I have a reputation for being tactful and being able to say the right thing.

    1. bones*

      This was a great question! I was once snapped at in a meeting for noisy eating (crunchy vegetables, I tried to keep them quiet but it’s near impossible). I was mortified at the time (as I would be were I the parent in your situation). Their reaction to your comment could have been borne of embarrassment. At the time, I was aghast at the person who snapped because it came seemingly out of nowhere – they waited until I was almost done with the bag before they said something to me. They apologized months later for snapping, and at that point, I had to sympathize with them! Objectively, I was being loud, and for a very long time. So, while the snapping felt out of place, after the sting of being reprimanded by a colleague wore off, I had to agree that they technically weren’t wrong.

    2. WellRed*

      I love your notion of responding vs reacting. As I’ve grown and matured, I’ve gotten much better at responding than reacting.

    3. djc*

      I sympathize, OP. I could see myself reacting the same way in that situation. We’re human beings, not robots. Sometimes, we’re going to snap and be irritable. No one is perfect. This doesn’t seem to be a pattern of behavior. You apologized and learned how to counter this in the future. That’s the best possible outcome in this situation.

    4. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

      Thanks so much for the instant update, OP2! Yeah, I definitely relate to your reaction and also have done responding vs. reacting work. Kudos to you for engaging here and for building a rep as someone with tact!

  21. Catwhisperer*

    Agree, and if you have concerns about the blur still showing too much you can use a plain virtual background. Given the varied WFH environments we’ve all had to adapt to, that will be normal enough that no one should comment. If they do, you can use Calamity Jane’s script.

  22. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

    LW 4- apply for the job! I have never heard of referrals working the way you shared, and I have been working in corporate America for 20 years. In my experience you always have to apply, even when someone is reaching out to the hiring manager with a referral.

    You are going to miss out on the opportunity to be considered!

    (I know different industries may handle things differently but why take the chance! I am hiring right now for my leadership team in a large bank, I have let the recruiter know what names have been passed on to me, and when they apply she flags them and they are scheduled for interviews. If they don’t apply, no interviews)

    1. Doctors Whom*

      Agreed. Our referral process is pretty clear. The referrer has to open a ticket (referral) which basically connects them to the candidate. The candidate MUST apply and have an application in the system *and* note the employee referring them. From a business process perspective, the employee referral basically is telling someone to BOLO for the application to catch it on the other end.

    2. kiki*

      I’ve heard of referrals both ways, but LW4 should definitely just apply at this point! Either the application isn’t dependent on being referred first or LW4’s former coworker isn’t properly referring LW4 for whatever reason. Unless LW thinks the absence of a referral would create a blocker to getting hired or really put their former coworker out, waiting more than the week LW’s already waited doesn’t make sense.

    3. CRM*

      At my organization it’s the same way – there needs to be an application in the system so that it can be flagged as a referral. Even if your friend knows the hiring manager directly, they probably won’t be able to proceed without an application. Your friend may not know about this process, so just apply!

  23. Dinwar*

    I disagree with Alison’s advice in #1. If you’re interviewing in your home, the company interviewing you has to expect to see, well, a home. This includes pets, domestic items like pantries and cupboards, bookshelves, and decorations. (Bookshelves in particular can be interesting–imagine someone seeing a copy of “Atlas Shrugged” or “The Art of the Deal” or “The Communist Manifesto”!) Decorating for major holidays is normal and expecting someone who doesn’t even work for you to forego behaviors normal in the culture is asinine.

    I severely dislike this notion that we need to be as bland as possible in order to get and keep a job. For one thing, it’s discriminatory–I doubt anyone would say that someone should take down a crucifix or multiple framed biblical quotes (remember, Samhain is a major holy day for a family of religions so some Halloween decorations can be the equivalent to those things). For another it serves as a way to keep subcultures down. What’s defined as bland is the dominant culture, after all. Look, for example, at how “normal hair styles” has been used, or the refusal to accept culturally significant tattoos or other body modifications in the past. There’s something deeper here that I haven’t fully worked out, though. The idea that someone else gets to decide how we live when that thing has little to no impact on the job just really bothers me.

    For my part I’d consider leaving the decorations up as a test. If someone’s going to try to control your home when you don’t even work for them, they’re probably not someone you want to work for.

    That said, if you do opt to follow the advice and hide who you are: Tack a solid-color sheet up in front of your decorations. Dark colors work better because they hide wrinkles from the decorations. It’s a common enough thing that no one is going to question it.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      It sounds like you may be conflating how you would like things to be vs how they are.

      This is a case of what will maximize your chances at a job. The decorations might not put off many interviewers, but they could put off some of them.

      Disliking the notion that bland might help you get a job, doesn’t make it any less true. Also, toning things down for the interview doesn’t mean you need to keep it that way when you get the job.

      You can of course use this as a filtering system if you want (“I don’t want to work for a company that would judge me for my decorating”), but if you’re only calculation is “What gives me the greatest chance of getting hired”, bland is probably the best option.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I went for an interview at New Hall college in Cambridge (England). The professor conducting it had his screensaver on in the background — an animated program set to the 1990s staple game Snake. I could not take my eyes off it, and it probably wrecked my interview. (I got into the LSE instead which was where I was in my element, but Cambridge was, well, Cambridge. If you get the chance to apply, you go for it.)

        I do reckon it might have been a test — could someone focus on what the interviewer was discussing with them or were they easily distracted. The problem is that I didn’t know at the time that I was autistic, and maybe those sorts of gimmicks or tests are problematic from the other perspective, that of the person confronting something distracting in the background. Dinwar has some great points, but it’s like knitting in a meeting or seeing someone play with their phone when you’re trying to talk to them — it inconveniences, frustrates or even triggers the other person.

        It takes two to tango. Don’t let yourself down by trying to distract the other person or having something potentially distracting on the wall behind you while interviewing. It may feel discriminatory to you, but in my anecdote, it was discriminatory towards me to have to cope with that bloody snake on his computer screen. It spoke volumes, to be honest, as to how the establishment would have handled my neurodivergence when I got into Cambridge. Turnabout is not fair play and you need to be mindful of other people’s perspectives and needs as well.

      2. Dinwar*

        “This is a case of what will maximize your chances at a job.”

        If you’re looking for anything to pay the bills, sure.

        If you have a choice, I’d much rather go with a boss who understands that the home of someone who hasn’t been hired yet may have things not typically seen in an office, than one who doesn’t understand that. It speaks to how well the boss will respect boundaries.

        Besides, what’s going to happen when you get the job and someone sees that you have the audacity to decorate your own home? Are you going to be expected to continue to hide this fact?

        1. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

          Agree with this 100%. If you have a choice, this can help screen out the folks who don’t want to hire workers who like to mix it up decorations-wise.

    2. ecnaseener*

      There’s the issue of it being distracting in an interview though. It’s not about ~hiding who you are~ or being bland, it’s about keeping the focus on the things you’re saying in the interview (aka the parts of ~who you are~ that are relevant to the job).

      Idk if you’re right about your counterexample…I would be distracted by a wall full of crosses and bible quotes if they were as varied as LW’s decorations. There’d even be the added distracting thought of “can we let them meet with clients with that background? probably not, right? can’t represent our company with religious imagery. they could use a virtual background…”

      1. Dinwar*

        “There’s the issue of it being distracting in an interview though.”

        If the interviewer gets too distracted by decorations to continue the interview, that tells me everything I need to know about that company.

        Remember, we’re not talking about having Halloween decorations up during August or Christmas decorations during June here. We’re talking a normal sort of decoration for the culture, specific to major holidays at a time when large numbers of people display such decorations (Halloween is pretty significant–look at candy sales if you don’t believe me). An appropriate response from the interviewer is “Interesting decorations” or the like, maybe a brief chat about where to find some, and then move on. Such an interaction can help, as it serves to humanize everyone and to put people at ease, allowing for folks to better understand each other. If they lack the professionalism to do so, it tells me they’ll lack professionalism in other aspects of the job.

        As for meeting with clients, that’s easily resolved by a company Teams/Zoom background. If you’re that worried about it make use of such backgrounds policy. I use them constantly whenever someone demands my camera be on (a pointless demand in every meeting I’ve been in, but some people disagree).

        1. Sylvan*


          I even have a pretty-but-minimal background that I get compliments on, because it looks nice but it’s not distracting. Download something simple from Unsplash.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      I’d have more concerns about hiring someone displaying a very visible crucfix or framed biblical quotes than someone with a bunch of Halloween decorations.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Which is another argument to just have a blurred background – you’re introducing bias into the hiring process regardless of what your home decorations are.

        Now you may want that. You may say – I only want to work some place that matches my values. But even so you’re taking focus away from yourself and your candidacy and I think that’s not ideal, in the big picture.

      2. Yellow+Flotsam*

        This sort of discrimination/bias is why I would always recommend that you do hide who you are from interviewers as much as practical. There’s often people in your panel who you never have to work with. It just isn’t worth risking their discrimination.

        If you can get a look at the immediate and broader team who you do have to work with – seeing open diversity will give you a much better idea whether it is a safe place for you to work while being open about who you are, without risking the biases of the external /hr rep/ other person on the panel you don’t have to care about once you get the job.

        The post I’m responding to thinks less of someone if they see evidence of Christianity. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that there are no shortage of people who would think less of people who celebrate Hallowe’en.

    4. Allonge*

      Obviously up to LW and everyone else to decide on their own but putting up a clean/bland background so people are not distracted by what is behind you is not ‘hiding who you are’ any more than dressing a level closer to business wear for an interview than what you would normally wear.

      But then I find the trope of ‘I cannot possibly present differently in different situations because this is Who I Am TM’ pretty annoying.

      1. Adrian*

        Like the person from a post last week who continued wearing perfume in the office, in violation of the employer’s no-fragrance policy.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Took a quick look and couldn’t find that one. Do you have a link by any chance?

      2. Eyes Kiwami*

        Agree with this. It’s kind of insulting to take language from people who genuinely struggle to fit themselves in mainstream business culture and use it to defend Halloween decorations (which are incredibly mainstream! So many companies have Halloween decor up!)

    5. Knope Knope Knope.*

      I think you’re kind of conflating several things here. Celebrating Halloween is in line with the dominant culture in the US. It’s not like needing to wear a hairstyle that hides your race/culture to appear like another just to fit in with a “professional norm.” This is more about creating a distraction-free environment so the interviewer can focus on the content of OP’s words.

    6. Esmeralda*

      Well, there’s the home part of at home, and the work part of at home. In my home office, the “background” is hooks on the back of the door with clothes hanging on it (because my home is small, and that is the only place to hang them where they will not get wrinkled or fluffed up with cat hair). This is why I blur the background. Clothes on a door = distracting and not really office appropriate.

  24. L-squared*

    #2. I definitely agree with Alison. The whole “some of us have work to do” was always going to come off badly. I jokingly say that to my colleagues sometimes (and they are very aware its a joke), but I’d never say it in a serious way. And to yell at the mother in front of her kids is never going to endear you to people.

    #4. This really depends on the company. I’ve referred people at companies before, and they just let the hiring manager reach out directly if they are interested. So its possible your contact sent the info on to the hiring person, and they just didn’t feel you were the right fit. Or maybe they aren’t actively interviewing yet. You never really know. But I’d assume it is a company/hiring manager issue and not that the person you know is directly lying to you.

  25. Yoga Pants*

    #1 Don’t do the interview in front of the decorations Interviewing is a long process on both sides and you run the risk of being “ready for Halloween” instead of your name when they are going back over candidates. Instead of talking about what you would bring they will discuss if they have candy to give out, what their kids are going to be, or that they hate the decor and you don’t want that you want them to talk about what you bring to the table.

    We were interviewing last month and we had a very nice person with multicolor hair, and after the interview while still on a co-worker asked where she had it done and how long ago because the color was so vibrant, hers had washed out quickly. Discussing the candidate the next day no one remembered her name or what she had done just that she had great hair.

    1. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

      Interesting — for me, it does depend on the company you’re interviewing with. I have both a colorful background and obvious multicolor hair, and after multiple Zoom rounds, I’ve made it to the final round of interviews with a financial firm (it’s down to me and one other person).

      After some thought beforehand, I made the decision not to mute or hide myself, even knowing that it could potentially count against me with the hiring manager and company leadership. Heck, it still might. But it’s a risk I’d rather take because then I know I don’t have to mute or hide myself in these ways should I be lucky enough to land the job.

      1. Yoga Pants*

        We liked her and loved the hair maybe a little too much since that is all we remembered about her the next day. 2 of us have used her hairdresser since the call.

  26. Workerbee*

    #2 I feel for you and probably would have said the same thing, then or earlier! If your coworker(s) can allow themselves to forget that people other than themselves do indeed have to work, they can take what’s served out to them in return. This is not kindergarten.

    1. Knope Knope Knope.*

      There’s really never a reason to be disrespectful or rude at work (and often in life in general) and it usually doesn’t get you too far either. It just feels good in the moment.

      As for the coworkers, it sounds like this was planned and then probably encouraged as part of the culture. Lot of workplaces encourage events that occasionally interfere with productivity for the sake of the culture, so if this was the case the people who brought in their kids really didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of anyone’s vitriol, but they didn’t need to add to the problem by making OP cry either.

  27. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    #2: If you are only just then taking steps to mitigate the annoyance (ie. closing the door), it’s way WAY too soon to feel justified in snapping. Closing the door would really have been much easier than stewing about the noise all day.

    Also, might be good to consider how much of your annoyance was because of the noise and how much of it was because you had to work and everybody else got a play day.

    1. TootsNYC*

      too many people wait too long to raise an issue, and by the time they bring it up, it’s been going on long enough that they’re really annoyed, and it leaks out.

      Speak up quickly, in an informative way, under the assumption that other people just didn’t realize and would be happy to cooperate once they’re alerted.

  28. Luna*

    LW1 – I would maybe take the fake cobwebs away, it otherwise might look very dusty and unclean, and a dirty environment is not something to show on interviews. Though I have only had one, so far, and I rarely decorate, so all that was seen was the boring, bland, white wall behind me.

    LW2 – Your response was icy, but I cannot blame you. Especially since I already have low tolerance for (loud) kids at work. Or just kids, in general. The parent really should have made sure that the kids remain quiet or, if they really are so hyped about the upcoming trip, have them play outside or see if she can leave early, so the kids won’t bother everyone too long.

    But I think the way those people reacted towards your response, I think this is just… a societal thing. Like, you are expected to never rock the boat, to not say when something is a problem, you always answer “Fine” when asked “How are you?”, even if you are feeling like a turd warmed over, and no, don’t ever say that anything is wrong. Yes, the kids’ screeching is so loud it’s giving you a headache, but don’t you *dare say* anything about it!
    Which… got a little heated there. But I do think that society, in general, needs to become more tolerant to people ‘being negative’ about some things. And that includes saying “Yes, your children are being very loud. Please keep them quiet; I will close my door on my side.” or even “No, I’m really not feeling well today.”
    A bit more bluntness, you know.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yes, your children are being very loud. Please keep them quiet; I will close my door on my side.” or even “No, I’m really not feeling well today.”

      I think both of these things are absolutely fine to say, and OP should have just said them!

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        I honestly can’t picture telling a parent their kids are being very loud and they should keep them quiet going over any better than what LW did.

        1. GythaOgden*

          But at least at that point it’s on the errant parent, not on LW2. Most people here aren’t really bothered that the LW asked the kid to pipe down. It was the way she went about doing it that’s the problem.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            I don’t disagree that LW snapping was not great, but I think a blunt “Your kids are being very loud. Please keep them quiet” hits at a few extra nerves and makes the whole thing even more personal: don’t criticize my kid / tell my kid what to do / tell me how I should parent or how I’m not parenting correctly, etc.

            1. Wisteria*

              Isn’t that a bit of an overreaction on your part, though? If your kids are too loud, people should be able to tell your kids that they are too loud, or tell you that your kids are too loud.

              1. Office Lobster DJ*

                Oh, to be clear, I don’t have kids! I was just considering the implications of that approach and, on the whole, I just don’t think it’d go over any better than what LW actually said. The script you suggested below is much better for that.

              2. Luna*

                But it’s perceived as a personal slight against you, the parent, because, clearly, you are failing as a parent, otherwise your kids wouldn’t be loud. Which is why people, like the employees here in OP’s office, became so defensive about how/what OP said.

                Personally, I think that saying “Yes, (your kids are being too loud/are bothering me and) some of us have work to do” is a bit harsh, but I am of the idea that being overall a bit more blunt would serve human interaction and communications well. But that might be because I have often misunderstood things because people tried to be ultra subtle… and I don’t pick up on that well.

                But also that parents that do get *this* defensive over being told there’s an issue with their kids, do need to be told the line of “Well, someone has to!” when told ‘Don’t tell me how to parent/tell my kids what to do/etc”.

          2. Wisteria*

            “your children are being very loud. Please keep them quiet” isn’t a great way to go about it, either. What’s wrong with a pre-emptive,

            “Could you keep it down a little, please? I’ve got a bunch of requests on my plate and it’s hard for me to concentrate. Thanks!”

  29. Imaginary Number*

    While OP #2’s response was a little snarky, I don’t think it was all that serious. The real problems are still the inconsiderate coworkers who bring their kids in to party in the office all day. If they were loud enough for someone to ask if they were being a disturbance, the parents knew full well they were being too loud.

    In my experience, a lot of people get extremely defensive when you call them out on their disruptive kids for being disruptive, no matter how kindly you try to couch it.

  30. asterisk*

    LW1–do you have a photo of your background as it is usually, without the decorations? It sounds strange, but I’ve used a nearly-identical photo of my normal setting as a virtual background, and then you don’t get quite as much of the weird ghosting and clipping that a virtual background gives because it’s nearly the same.

    For example, in my current setup, there’s a bookshelf behind me and I took a photo of it with my webcam (without me in the picture) on a day when it was nice and neat and can use it as my virtual background if it’s messy and cluttered in real life. Since most of the things are in the same place, and it’s the same room, the lighting and the depth look “right,” and it’s not as noticeably a “fake” background.

    1. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

      What terrific, actionable advice! Gonna keep this in mind for me and friends/fam. Thanks for sharing this hack!

  31. Miss Suzie*

    #4 A friend of my husband’s, upon finding out I was applying for a job at a company they were associated with, offered to be a reference for me. Note I did not ask them, they offered. Applied for the job, used husband’s friend as one of the references, then….nothing. When I checked back with the job I was told that since all my references did not reply, they had hired someone else. Husband’s friend, upon asking, admitted they had never replied to the reference request.

    I would assume your acquaintance never answered the reference request and go from there.

  32. OyHiOh*

    Goodness, 2 and 3 could almost be about my workplace, with a few details changed.

    2 – our leadership has quarterly off site meetings. The junior staff tend to be more . . . relaxed on these days. Louder in the office. Longer lunches. Later arrival time. To my knowledge, no one has smuggled a kid or a pet in, though. We have tall cubes with sliding doors and while the sense of privacy is nice, it doesn’t block the sound at all. Fortunately, I do have the option of headphones because, like the OP, I frequently have urgent work to complete even when the bosses are away.

    3 – This just happened at my work. Someone who was obviously struggling, and then kind of melted down in the middle of a project and was gone literally in the first 15 minutes of the first workday following the project completion. I have no idea if it was a planned runway to departure or otherwise. Our management has been mum about the whole thing, which is kind of frustrating. Although we could all see the meltdown developing, the precise reasons for their departure are mysterious. I for one would appreciate some clarity – these kinds of project related/people related issues are grounds for immediate or planned dismissal. I think it could be done without gossiping about our recently departed colleague and would help the rest of us know we’re not going to suddenly disappear without a trace.

  33. L.H. Puttgrass*

    LW4, I’d caution against thinking of yourself as “uniquely qualified” for the job.

    Unless the job posting says something like, “Must have played shortstop and third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles from 1981 to 2001,”and you are Cal Ripken, you probably aren’t the only one who is qualified for the job. And even if I’m thinking too literally and what you really mean is “best qualified,” that may not be true either. There are a lot of really qualified people out there! When you think of yourself as “uniquely qualified” or “best qualified,” you can set yourself up for unreasonable expectations—i.e., that the job is yours and should be yours and it’s just a matter of when the employer realizes it. There’s no shortage of letters on this site where someone asks, essentially, “I was uniquely qualified this job and didn’t get it; what gives?” and Alison’s answer was some form of, “It’s not about you; other candidates were also qualified.”

    And even if you do think of yourself as uniquely qualified, don’t say that in your cover letter. Search this site for “these are bad ways to start your cover letter” and “stop telling me you’re the best candidate for the job,” for example.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I don’t know, though. I’ve had a couple of jobs where they asked for knowledge/training/experience that you usually don’t see in just one person, but thanks to my diverse background, I actually had it. And I was actually told in an interview that I was the only person they had interviewed, so I was actually uniquely qualified for the job.

      It does happen. And I don’t think it hurts to point out in your cover letter that you tick all the boxes.

    2. KateM*

      Maybe they thought it the other way around – not that they are the best match for the job, but the job is the best match for them. The unique part being not that OP would be the only person who could do that job, but that it would be unique job for OP. Ah, I’m explaining it badly, but I hope someone understood.

  34. Miller_Admin*

    4. Did my referral really refer me?

    Some employers will not look at applicate’s resume if they bypass the on-line application. The filling out of their application is part of the screening process. The applications put the data in a particular format for the viewing of the employer; it’s easier to compare. Sometimes the application as 1 – 2 questions they ask; they’ll interview the ones that respond a certain way or have a particular skill set listed on the application.

    My employer ignores anything that comes to us directly from a prospective employee. If they are unwilling to take the time to do the on-line application we assume they are not serious, uncomfortable with doing things on-line; or are looking to bypass the system.

    In some instances it’s viewed as entitlement; others that you are too lazy to do it.

    1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      Yeah, I’m not really understanding why LW#4 seems to be waiting for an invitation to put their information into the application portal. In the end, they know it will be asked of them, so why not just do it?

      My last job I was a pull-through from the losing contractor to the winning contractor. There is no one else readily available for my job, they cannot fill similar roles on other contracts. Therefore, I can claim to be ‘uniquely qualified’ yet I still went through their hiring processes because that’s how their hiring works. You shouldn’t expect to circumvent anything even if you are truly the only one with that skill set.

      With the whole ‘I’m uniquely qualified’ and ‘I’m waiting for them to tell me to do the basic steps’ the LW does come off somewhat entitled. Whether they mean to or not, it gives me ‘I’m expecting that I will get a heads up before I apply that I am the number one candidate or that I don’t have to do all of the formalities because I am the best candidate.’

    2. Esmeralda*

      I can only review applications that come through the online HR application system. Not in the system? You haven’t applied. The Chancellor (large state university) could say, Wakeen is a fabulous Llama-Herder, be sure to give him extra-special consideration! But if Wakeen has not applied, he’s not getting any consideration at all — for the purposes of the search, Wakeen does not exist.

  35. Knope Knope Knope.*

    LW 4 at my company if you haven’t applied to the listing the referral doesn’t substitute the online application and I don’t think it even goes through untied that is done.

  36. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I recently saw a tiktok where a recruiter said blurred backgrounds were unprofessional and not to have them in an interview and I…did not respond nicely in the comments.

    Candidates really can’t win. Do what feels right for you. I’d recommend a blurred background if you’re at all unsure, I think there are a lot of comments here giving you the pros and cons.

    Either way this is a really crappy game we all play and I’m increasingly tired by it.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I completely agree with you.

      But I also tend not to pay attention to anything a recruiter says. (My experience with them is that they’re all kind of slimy.) And people on TikTok say whatever it takes to get them views. I don’t even trust the recipes on there.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Given the amount of accounts dedicated to just reacting to terrible recipes, that’s smart!

    2. kiki*

      I think that there will always be people who narrow in on things they specifically don’t like and then call it unprofessional– that’s one of the perils of working with humans who all have biases. But I also think there’s an incentive on social media to just say random nonsense you know will get reactions. Especially in the recruiting/business/professional social media space, a lot content is being created because it is relatable, a relatively small change people can make, and will get a lot of clicks across wide swaths of the population. People are more likely to engage with content that tells them they should just switch their background instead of advice about actually improve skills and competencies.

      All that to say, a lot of “professionalism” tik tok is nonsense and don’t let it get you down.

  37. lost academic*

    I read the “open to work” label as someone who is at some level actively searching for new opportunities. I think it is a clear step beyond “it’s OK to contact me, I will not be offended and might be receptive” because I consider that to be the standard for anyone who HAS a LinkedIn profile. If I reached out to someone advertising that open to work status, and then found out directly or indirectly that they really weren’t looking, I would briefly be mildly irritated at what to me is false advertising. There’s surely a range, but since OP says “I’m not actually in a place where I want to interview other places right now” then I would say to remove the status. That’s unrelated to not responding to recruiters, etc – I think that’s always going to be a “respond if you’re interested” situation, no one expects a response to every message.

    1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      Yes, that is how I view it as well, because 1, most of my connections that have that up have been let go from their positions and are definitely searching for new roles and 2, I just can’t imagine putting that up on my profile where people I work with or people who know my management can see without really intending to leave. I’m just one of those people who wouldn’t put up the ‘I’m interviewing with other companies’ flag unless I was sure I was going to get another role, because rightly or wrongly, I can see that impacting what opportunities they get at their current position.

      1. Alianora*

        You can make that status only visible to recruiters, though. I don’t know if that’s what the LW chose, but it is an option.

        I do agree that it’s odd to have that status and then become irritated when someone contacts you.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      IMNSHO, having “Open to Work” up on LinkedIn when you are not actively looking for a new gig is a bit unprofessional. It tells anyone at my firm that I’m job hunting, and if I’m not actively looking just increases the recruiter spam I get, and wastes a lot of folks’ time.

  38. TootsNYC*

    LW4: If I got your resume from a colleague, I would actually wait to see you apply on your own initiative before I contacted you.

    Even if the colleague said, “She’s interested in the job,” I’d probably want to hear that from you. Getting the resume from my colleague is a form of recommendation, and it will make me notice you more closely, but it’s not a substitute for you reaching out.

  39. Risha*

    LW2, yes your response was rude. The kids should not have been loud, and the mom should have reigned their noise in, but using your (polite) words would go a long way. IMO, just getting up and closing the door without a word is rude and passive aggressive. A simple “could you please move your kids away from my office, I have a deadline and need to focus” or something similar, would probably have been received better. Or depending on how friendly you are with the parent, maybe even address the kids directly. “Hey guys, I have a very important assignment to do and need to focus, could you please play over there or not be so loud? Thanks!” I’ve done that with children and it works wonders since most kids want to please adults. And I’ve never had a parent get angry at me for doing that.

    Not saying this is the case with LW2, but there are a lot of people that think that ANYTHING a child does is too loud and disruptive. Like, if a child breathes too loud, some people are ready to go off on the child and parent. It’s very possible the kids were in party mode and really loud, but it’s also possible the kids were just making an acceptable amount of noise and it grated on LW2’s nerves. If the kids were very loud, shame on the parent for allowing that. I can’t stand it when parents refuse to actually parent their kids and let them run wild. I have 6 kids and never let them act poorly, I would be so embarrassed if they disturbed people because they were loud. They would be in trouble when we got home if they acted up at my job. But I also would side eye anyone who acted like they were the only ones in the entire office that had a work ethic and needed to get work done.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I’ve never worked at a place where it was acceptable to bring children to work, outside of the one designated day for them to shadow their parents. They certainly would not be young children and would not be allowed to run around alone. Is this kind of thing normal in other workplaces? I don’t have children and you said you do which is why I thought you might know.

      I genuinely understand OP2’s frustration. I feel the same way about pretty much any noise, regardless of the age of the person making it.

  40. RagingADHD*

    LW1: With your head in the middle and in focus, It’s probably not even going to read as Halloween decor, it just looks kind of cluttery.

    LW2: Not only was that hostile, it was condescending. There’s a real hard edge of superiority coming across in your whole description of the situation, and if that’s chronic and visible in your attitude to your coworkers, of course they are going to bristle at a remark like that. I don’t think it had anything to do with preempting your complaints, I expect it was a sincere response.

    If you snap at people, you should expect them to snap back. And if you routinely talk to coworkers that way, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before.

    1. GladIdontworkthereanymore*

      RagingAdHd, Can you explain a bit more about where you see the ‘hard edge of superiority?’ please?

  41. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

    OP1: there’s so much great advice in the comments above — I particularly agree with those who’ve pointed out that the boards tend to read as messy or DIY fix-it — but I’ve been interviewing recently and just wanted to add in my experience in case it helps.

    My very zany, very colorful art serves as my background for video meetings. For a series of interviews with a financial company, I was torn about whether to follow the advice to have a neutral background.

    After some thought, I made the decision to keep my art up as a way not to mute or hide myself, even knowing that it could read as amateurish or young and could potentially count against me with the hiring manager and company leadership. Another thing that swayed me is that I’ve used my art as background for public webinars and interviews with high-profile people and institutions that I’ve done this year (as it suits my on-screen presence), and I got nothing but very positive feedback for those.

    Fast-forward through multiple video interviews with the hiring company, and it’s now down to me and one other person for the final round of talks. Whether I get the job or not, I’m glad I took the risk of leaving my decor up because now I know I don’t have to mute or hide myself in this way.

    Of course, YMMV and it super depends on the company you’re interviewing with, as well as whether you can afford to roll the dice in this way. In any case, much good luck and let us
    know what you end up doing!

  42. Nelalvai*

    Oooo, I really sympathize with #2. Overstimulation makes me irritable and I’ve been rude more than once about noise. It took a lot of practice to break that impulse; #2, I hope it’s an easier habit for you.

  43. Michelle Smith*

    OP#1 – get a green screen. It is relatively inexpensive (I have two, a $50 one that goes on the back of my chair and a $100 stand up one). You set the green screen up and put a background (or not! – I used it just as a plain green background for YEARS), do your interview, fold it up and put it away when you’re done. Super easy to do until that offer clears. Another thing I’ve seen people do which is brilliant is to take a picture of the wall how it looks normally and then use that as a Zoom background. No one can tell you’re not in that space unless they’re paying super close attention and if you have a green screen it can be impossible to tell.

    OP#4 – you didn’t apply to the job? I definitely would do that, rather than waiting for affirmative outreach. I can’t imagine why that would hurt you, nor can I understand why this company would reach out to you if you didn’t apply and demonstrate that basic (to me!) level of interest. I hope you get the job!

  44. frustrated trainee*

    OP #2 I’ll agree with the response but want to add, I’ve many times had someone do something egregious in a workplace and come to me saying “this doesn’t bother you….does it?” and then get very upset when I calmly and politely say that it does actually. It’s like they only asked me so they could get the same treatment they’d get if they’d taken the issue seriously, but they never wanted to have to take it seriously, and I’m the bad guy for not playing along with a cheerful “nope! no problems here!”

    Truly, they should have managed the issue themselves, clearly seeing it was a problem, and not come to you for a stamp of approval that they didn’t have to resolve the issue if they didn’t want to.

  45. Been there*

    I side with LW2. As someone forced to work in an open plan, and endure yearly trick or treating during work hours while trying to meet deadlines, I don’t think they were wrong or passive aggressive. It’s an office, not a playground.

  46. EverythingIsInteresting*

    LW5 – I’m also “open to work” on LinkedIn though it would take a lot for me to leave my current job – but you never know. I also rarely respond to emails from recruiters because 99.99% of them are spam. Occasionally when I’m feeling a bit snarky, I dream of replying: “When I’m interested in taking a temporary part-time position without benefits in a job that’s two levels below mine, I’ll let you know.”

  47. Halloweiner*

    LW1, I love the decorations, this is such a fun idea! I’m getting haunted house vibes from it, and I think it’s very cool. I agree with some of the other commenters that it doesn’t immediately scream Halloween unless you look closer, so it might be distracting during an interview. I do not agree with the people who think it looks messy, it’s just different from decor you’d go buy at the dollar store or something.

  48. Yellow+Flotsam*

    LW1 I’d say take the decorations down unless being able to decorate your office is a deal breaker for you.

    One risk is the impression that this is you curating an I’m job hunting look. If an office you’re interviewing with wouldn’t be ok with you decorating (and consider that normal) they’ll find it off, and could see it as poor judgement even while you’re putting forward a persona. Others might wonder what you toned it down from to be interview appropriate.

    It is highly unlikely anyone would look down on you for not having decorations even if that is their norm, simply because they know you are in job hunting mode.

    I can’t see an upside but I can see many potential downsides.

  49. e271828*

    The boards look very odd on a small screen. As though the images are something offensive that have had tape put across them hastily. If you urgently need Halloween decor behind you on your webcam, put up a cheerful jack-o-lantern cutout and a few paper leaves; they’re going to read well.

  50. That One Person*

    Blank or severely blurred is probably better for #1, but I do want to say that I greatly enjoy the dog peeking between the boards because that is absolute dog behavior! <3

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