employee wants more praise but he’s not doing a good job, nosy coworker, and more

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

1. My employee wants more praise but he’s not doing a good job

I have a fairly new (six months) direct report who is not performing up to expectations but is still making progress and I am hopeful will ultimately be able to be successful in the role. One problem we are having, though, is feedback. He does get a lot of feedback on things he needs to improve on, which he listens to in the moment, but then he complains about to his coworkers that I was too harsh and he will avoid me the rest of the day sometimes. (I will admit that I have gotten pretty direct with him because he was not hearing what I was saying when I softened things.) Now he has complained to my boss that I have not been giving him enough positive feedback or praise. He said he has only gotten a “good job” twice in his short tenure. I honestly don’t know if that’s true but I would believe it is because his work simply does not warrant praise. He is barely meeting the basic job requirements most of the time and doesn’t always get there even. I do say thank you when he turns things in and I tell him when his work is correct but I don’t really praise him for doing the most basic parts of his job in the most basic manner and barely within the time frame required. Should I be praising him for that?

If you’ve only said something positive to him twice in six months of employment, while having lots of things to criticize, then either he really isn’t right for the job and you need to let him go or, yeah, you’re not giving him enough positive feedback.

I have trouble believing that you can’t find anything to praise in someone who is making progress and who you think will ultimately be successful in the job! Those are good things, and you should be able to find positive things to say about them. You don’t need to praise him for doing the basics like turning things in on time, but there’s something that’s making you think he’ll eventually do well in the job, right? Look for those things and tell him what they are. When you see progress, give positive feedback about that. If there’s really nothing in that category, then this isn’t someone you should be keeping in the job … but it sounds more likely that you’re not seeing the things you could be offering genuine praise for.

The thing to remember is that when all someone hears from you is criticism, that’s extremely demoralizing. People need to hear that you see the good things too, that they’re not complete failures in your eyes, and that their efforts are appreciated. If there’s only negative feedback, the relationship will become adversarial and he’ll lose trust in you and interest in the job. It sounds like you either need to recalibrate your feedback or reexamine whether he really can do the job.

2. My nosy coworker is too interested in my house sale

I have always considered myself a very private person when at work. I did not make a big deal when I got engaged or when we bought a new vehicle (when others can’t wait to share). I rarely share much of my personal life at work, with the exception of a few coworkers.

My husband and I recently bought a new house and listed our house with a realtor — super exciting and stressful for us! We kept the news of our new house limited to our immediate family and close friends and did not make a big deal about listing our house — no Facebook shares, talking about it, etc. This past Monday, a coworker who I do not have regular interactions or meaningful conversation with came to me saying, “I recognized your address and see your house is for sale!” This is not the first time she has referred to my house in conversation. I have never disclosed my address to her, only the general area of our neighborhood. She went on to comment about our house, asked how many showings we’ve had, and said her son would love to buy it, but it’s out of his price range. Two days later, she stopped by my office and said, “I see your house is pending! That didn’t take long! Did you have a lot of showings and offers?” I know – a lot of this could be perceived as making polite conversation, but she has a history of asking a little too personal questions, commenting on things she has no business commenting on, and generally being very nosy.

I went to my supervisor about how uncomfortable this made me and how inappropriate I thought some of her statements were. While she acknowledged and validated my feelings, her response was underwhelming. I agreed with her suggestion of letting this person know how I feel and acknowledged listing our house online makes it public knowledge. However, she went on to say that this person is, “a little odd and doesn’t always pick up on social cues” and other people have expressed similar concerns or complaints after interactions with her but it’s “just her personality.” I stood firm, stating there are still professional boundaries about discussing personal lives that need to be respected and I do not feel they are being respected.

I feel like excuses continue to be made for people’s poor boundaries and behaviors as “just their personality” because supervisors in this agency don’t want to deal with conflict or have uncomfortable conversations with employees. Any advice for talking to this person about how her comments make me uncomfortable and setting clearer boundaries in the workplace?

The most invasive part is that your coworker somehow “recognized” your address when you’ve never given it to her. The rest of it (asking about how your showings went, etc.) is more like normal office conversation — but recognizing your address and taking it upon herself to check back on your listing is weird and overstepping.

That said, this is more of a minor interpersonal issue that your manager isn’t wrong to expect you to handle on your own. Caveat: if this coworker has a pattern of doing invasive stuff like looking up people’s personal information, that’s definitely something her manager should tell her to stop. But just asking about your house sale and chatting about a topic that you’d prefer not to talk about at work … that really is in the category of stuff a manager would generally expect you to manage on your own. And if this coworker doesn’t always pick up on social cues, that’s all the more reason to say straightforwardly to her, “I’m pretty private about things like this and would rather not discuss it at work. Thanks for understanding.” You should also free free to ask outright, “How did you happen to even have my address? I’ve never given it to you.”

3. My job paid me in “banked time off” rather than money

I work for a nonprofit membership association, and I’ve been here for a little over a year. When I was hired, I was promised I would start as part-time, then move to full-time, like the guy I was hired to replace. This never happened. Instead my hours have been cut shorter and shorter, while my workload has only ballooned ever larger. Today something really odd happened with my paycheck, and I’m pretty upset.

I just received a paycheck that is literally half of what it should be. HR logged that I only worked 15 hours over two weeks, when I worked 30. Moreover, my “paid sick leave” hours magically went from 1 to 16 between last pay period and today. The sick leave bank is new to me, as HR did not tell anyone about this paid sick leave for part-timers until last week, and it was not on my previous pay stubs (but retroactively has been added to all stubs).

Is it legal to just take my hours worked and dump them into a sick leave bank without paying me? I don’t know if this is an accident, or some kind of intentional action on the company’s part.

For some context, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is some attempt to “remedy” my annual hours. For most of my first year, my boss told me, “I don’t care if you work overtime, just get it all done.” Then suddenly: “I need to you to take two weeks off no pay starting today because you worked too many hours this year.” During those two weeks: “I know I said you need to be off because you worked too much, but I got special permission for you to come back because I need X today.” (That last one was on a Sunday!)

I’m going to talk to HR and my boss, but I’m angry and confused. Is this legal on their end?

No, this is 100% illegal. You are required by federal law to be paid in money. Not time off, not comp time, not store product, not gifts, not banked leave for the future. Money. If this was intentional on their part (and it really sounds like it was), they need to fix it immediately via a check for the missing hours.

Suggested script: “We’re required by law to pay people for all hours worked, within X weeks of the work being performed. It can’t be paid as banked leave for the future. I need to get that missing money ASAP — can you issue me a check for it today?” (To fill in X, google the name of your state and “paycheck laws.”)

4. Am I being too prickly about wanting details from a prospective client before we set up a phone call?

I do freelance work and recently posted on LinkedIn that I’m taking on new clients. I got a message from someone who’d been referred to my post by a previous client of mine. He simply mentioned “a need for some freelance work.” (To be clear, he is a legitimate prospect working for a real company, not some rando.)

I wrote back that it was nice to meet him and thanked him for reaching out, and then said, “Can you give me an overview of what you’re looking for? If it sounds like I’d be a good fit, we can set up a call and discuss the details.”

Of course he wrote back that it was “probably best we schedule a call to discuss.”

So we’ve scheduled the call, and it’s fine — but it’s entirely possible I won’t be qualified for this particular gig, won’t be able to devote the necessary time to it, or won’t be interested (to say nothing of whether it will pay what I’m looking for). I can be prickly, so I just want a head check: Is it silly for him to insist on a call without even giving me a rough idea of what the work entails? I know it’s not uncommon. It’s just annoying, and it feels like it’s potentially wasting his time as much as it is mine.

Eh. I agree that a quick email with the basics (even just a sentence or two) would be more efficient before you both set aside time for a call, and I would want it too … but a lot of people feel more efficient on the phone (because they’re less comfortable with writing, because they value real-time back-and-forth, etc.), and if you want new clients it’s helpful to just be open to it. Yes, an email would be a faster to do an initial screening, but getting on the phone for five or 10 minutes could be helpful in other ways — for example, even if it turns out his project isn’t the right fit for you, having a warm conversation with him is a lot more likely to lead him to refer other people to you than a brief email exchange will.

However, if you have a packed schedule and get a lot of requests like this, set up a short intake form online and explain you ask prospective clients to fill it out before you talk! (Keep it simple — just ask the questions that will let you determine if setting up a call even makes sense.)

5. My interviewer cut off our meeting early

I went through six interviews and was at the final “lucky” seventh. This is a very large company and the interview was with a member of executive management. The interview was scheduled for 45 minutes. At the beginning, the interviewer said she asks all interviewees the same pre-formatted questions to eliminate confirmation bias. At minute 35, she said, “I am conscious of the time and have asked you all my questions. My notes will be passed to HR. Something very pressing has come up and I must drop off a little early. I am happy to answer any of your questions, but please email them to me.”

This approach really turned me off and I don’t know if I am still interested. Am I being too sensitive?

Probably, yes. People have emergencies that come up and that require them to cut things off early. She sounds like she was particularly formal/stilted about the whole thing, which made it feel chillier than if she’d been less formal. I think you would have felt differently about it if she’d said the same thing but in a warmer way — like if she’d said, “I’m so sorry, I have an emergency that’s just come up that I need to deal with. I’ve asked all my questions and normally would want to leave room for yours, but in this case I need to drop off. I’d be very happy to answer any questions you email me though, or we can set up another time to get your questions answered.” Same message, different vibe. But I think you should translate it to that in your head since the gist is the same.

It also matters that this was the seventh (!) interview, so you’ve presumably had a lot of time to ask questions in the earlier stages. (Seven is way too many, by the way, but that’s a separate issue).

{ 567 comments… read them below }

  1. Zombeyonce*

    #2: I know most people hate confrontation, but if someone is willing to talk to their supervisor about minor issue with a coworker like this, is it really that hard to bring it up to the coworker in the first place? So many problems would be solved before they turn into major annoyances if people just talked to each other.

    1. High Score!*

      If a coworker looked up my address that I didn’t tell them and then spoke about it with me, that’s something the manager should tell them to stop doing. It also sounds like this coworker needs manager feedback as others have complained about their inappropriateness as well.

      1. Corgis rock*

        At a previous employer I could access everyone’s address, we all could. Most of us didn’t have the need but we did have the ability.

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          How horrifying. I survived rape by a coworker…there is NO WAY I wouldn’t be in HRs office saying “scrub that NOW” and explaining why.

          I’ve also had good luck explaining to HR using that reason why my badge isn’t worn with my first name visible (“Rain, Rain…..I need to ask you something” in a dark parking lot is all it takes for someone to get the jump on you – which isn’t what happened to me, but did happen to someone in the recovery group I was in).

          It would also make me REALLY nervous that a coworker new my address, and was following me closely enough to know that my house went up for sale and was sold. The saving grace here is that its a clueless woman and not a threatening man, but since I don’t believe in treating people differently by race or gender where possible, this is still SERIOUS line crossing.

          1. Former Employee*

            I’m so sorry this happened to you.

            People seem to default to “What’s the big deal?” about such things as coworkers knowing where you live, the kind of information that appears innocuous and normally is innocuous…until it isn’t.

        2. Meep*

          This sounds like a massive safety concern, tbh. Then again, I also had an actually creepy coworker who used her managerial power to find my new address. I didn’t want her to know because she is an absolute loon and tried to get me fired for having the gall to buy a house after she lost hers. (Neither her nor her ex-husband paid the mortgage in 15 years despite both having jobs (his being military – hence why he didn’t have to pay until after he left the military), but it was all his fault.)

          1. Former HR Professional*

            The spouse of a former manager of mine worked as a parole officer, often having sex offenders as his “clients”. They had a couple of little girls that they needed to protect . The family used a P.O. box for mail and her address was not in the company’s system. I believe that a special procedure was set up for things like her W-4 that required a home address.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I have access to the library card database and can look up anyone at any time. But our employee handbook makes it extremely clear that we are only to use this software for work related purposes and if we are found to be looking up information on coworkers without their permission we will face disciplinary actions. Even if people have access as part of their job duties, managers can still address inappropriate use of that information.

          1. Former HR Professional*

            If an employee uses/has acess to information protected by HIPAA in the coure of work, any disclosure of that information tha does not fall under HIPAA privacy rules is a violation that can have serious consequences to both employee and employer. The fines are big and disciplinary action often means termination.

        4. Stephanie*

          I very much hated reading this sentence as a former coworker sent me flowers at my house in an attempted romantic overture. No idea how he got it as I sure didn’t know how to access my coworkers’ addresses!

        5. Le Sigh*

          Yeah, I was wondering if OP’s coworker either has a role that allows her to access addresses (and/or the company does something unwise like make them easily accessible to everyone)? I can say for sure that if I used my access that way, my boss would be talking to me about it.

          But as others have noted, it’s not that hard to find someone’s address through basic online search info, intentionally or accidentally. But I would be weirded out if they brought it up to me!

        6. NotAnotherManager!*

          A prior employer of mine did the same thing, and I made a fairly large deal about being taken off of it, which was ultimately escalated to the head of HR (who felt like I was being overly dramatic about it, though did ultimately agree to remove my address).

          The whole thing was taken down a few years later when someone downloaded the list and used it to market their side business and someone else sold it to a marketing company.

        7. GreenDoor*

          But it doesn’t need to be that coworker looked up the OP through a work-based system. There are so many public databases now that make it easy to look up people’s business. In my city, you can easily look up property ownership (with address, home value, tax payments, code violations). You can also look people up in our local jail and court systems and find out all kinds of gossip. From there, you can easily hop on a site like Zillow and even see pictures of the inside of someone’s house. It’s super easy to spy on people even if they don’t proactively put their business on social media. That said, it’s pretty gross to do it – – and then openly bring up what you’ve discovered.

      2. Jayne*

        One of my former co-workers would look up everyone’s address and then drive past their house to see what it looked like. He also kept track of real estate transactions, so noticed that I bought the lot next door to my house. He was also well known as a trouble starter.

        Nothing was every done, but academia is always an odd duck professionally.

      3. Malarkey01*

        I mean I think it’s a big overreach and wouldn’t mention to someone that I know where they live- but with phone books and white pages online you can easily see where most people live and I have on occasion looked up an acquaintance whether it’s to send a condolence card, see if they lived near me for a carpool, or just wondered what direction they were coming from (people can be coming from very different suburbs and that can affect transportation in our area and scheduling). Again awkward to say I know where you live, but in the US it’s usually very easy to know this.

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          You’d have a hard time finding me, I’ve gone out of my way to remain unlisted, and even my social media profile is a case of two truths and a lie to make it hard to really find me unless you actually know me. For those of us that stay private, no, even with the internet it isn’t easy to find us. Property is listed under my husbands name or is owned by my corporation – the corporation has a PO box. If you have to dig to find someone, assume they are paranoid about being found….and just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you.

          1. Malarkey01*

            Okay but this LW was found so assuming she’s not off the grid in the same way.

            Every comment doesn’t have to take the conversation to some extreme.

            1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

              Every comment doesn’t have to take the conversation to some extreme.

              Having been sexually assaulted, as Rain’s Small Hands courageously mentioned upthread, does make one mindful of the potential extremes, how many people will actually go there, and how many people will blame one for whatever misfortune is inflicted on one by people who go to extremes.

          2. Not Really*

            You would be surprised how much information is out there. People search sites are in abundance, and unless you request to be removed, you’re in the database. Privacy is dead, or on life support at the very least.

          1. LadyVet*

            Yes, it is.

            Unless you’ve given your coworker reason to have your address, it is creepy for them to look it up.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              And it’s creepy to whine about how you priced your house too high for their family member to buy.

        2. Starbuck*

          Also depending on where you live it can be very easy to look up thinks on the county assessor’s website – where I live, you can see the name of the owner of every parcel pretty easily on the map, along with transaction history and taxes owed/paid. But I don’t use it to snoop on my coworkers or friends, and I understand that most people aren’t aware how easy the information is to see, and will rightfully get weirded out when you mention it.

          It did however come in handy when I was looking for a rental and could see one of the places I’d applied, the owner/landlord hadn’t paid the property taxes in three years and so it was almost at the point where the county would have done a tax sale. I asked him about it (in as casual as possible, hey I noticed this, what’s going on there? kind of way) and he got suuuuuuper defensive. I ended up not going with the place and happened to learn later from a former tenant that the place was horribly maintained and had rats. So! Being snoopy can be advantageous sometimes.

      4. Susan*

        Is it possible they know the LW’s house because they saw her outside once? I’m not sure it needs to be so nefarious as someone looking up a confidential address. I know where many of my coworkers live because I see them out gardening or riding their bikes or whatever.

        So if I know Jane lived at 812 Sunrise Street because I see her around, and I see that 812 Sunrise Street as a for sale sign outside or see that address on the MLS, I would probably ask her about it, because it feels like normal conversation to me.

        1. Gato Blanco*

          I agree. A lot of my coworkers live in town. I have seen a couple of them in the neighborhood arriving home or posting stuff for free in the local No Buy/Free Stuff group. I would make conversation about selling a house if I saw one of my coworkers was moving…seems like something that comes up at work in everyday conversation with people you see every day. Now if this was a huge corporation and Jeremy from Payroll who you spoke to maybe twice in 5 years brought this up…that would be off-putting.

        2. Turanga Leela*

          This was my thought too. If the coworker looked up the address for no reason, that seems intrusive—but people pick up all kinds of weird information for normal reasons. Maybe the coworker drove by and saw OP (or her car), or she once had to look up OP’s address to mail something from work, and either the coworker has a good memory for these things or it’s a distinctive address.

          I’m not saying it’s NOT creepy. I’m just saying there’s a reasonable chance that if OP asked, “How did you know my address?” the answer would be something like, “My commute takes me past your house, and I’ve seen you in the yard a couple of times.”

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            This – I live in a smaller area house with a notable front porch feature, it is a different color from most, and we have a yard overrun (deliberately and tastefully) with flowers and plants. A lot of people see us out maintaining the yard or with our son on the porch during the summer (especially during lockdown because we put a small pool on our porch for our son) and plenty of people know we live there even if I have no idea where they live.

        3. merida*

          Agree! It totally depends on the area/context. I live in a city, not near work, and not on a major road – someone from work would have to really go out of their way to know where I live. I was totally flabbergasted when I went to visit a friend (who lives in a different state in a rural area) and we ran into her boss at the grocery store. He then commented that her car looks shiny (he had seen her wash her car in her driveway recently). How creepy! I thought. But turns out she lives right on the corner of a main intersection in the small town, and he had to pass her house in order to go anywhere. She also has a very unique, recognizable car.

      5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        The whole looking up the address thing is odd, but it might not be as stalkerish as it sounds. The coworker’s son is house hunting and they might have come across the listing on zillow or something. Then, it really usually is not too hard to find out who owns the house (usually the owner names show up on the county or city real estate assessments online). She might have looked up the house owners knowing OP lived in the neighborhood and hoping to ask if OP knew anything about the owners and the sale, and it turned out to be OP’s house.

        Or she could have access to personnel information as part of her job and be misusing it. But nothing else about the conversation is all that weird or a clear transgression of boundaries. I think Alison’s language is good, including tacking the question on the end to find out how she got the address. And OP may not like it if the scenario I suggested above is true, but she can talk to her realtor or a real estate attorney then about ways to make the new home ownership information less public.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      The rest is fairly normal if annoying parts of being in the office, but why does she have the address that was never shared with her? That I feel is worth a discussion with the manager.

      1. LimeRoos*

        If she was looking at a listing for her son, just looking up the property taxes will show the names of current owners, so she wouldn’t have known it was LW2’s address until then. I did that a lot during our search and it’s not super secret hidden info. Most counties have a website where you can look up any property for the taxes & records. It was definitely weird how she brought it up, but it’s easy info to find during a house search.

        1. Corgis rock*

          And looking for her son would explain why she went back to the listing to check on it. She mentioned he was interested but it was out of his price range so she may have been going back to see if the price dropped.

        2. I'm just here for the cats!*

          That was my thought. Especially if the son has a tight budget they may have looked into the property taxes and saw OP’s name. I don’t think the coworker was purposefully over stepping or anything.

        3. Clisby*

          That is a possibility. We fairly often get people mailing or calling us up out of the blue to ask whether we want to sell our house (it is not on the market). The same thing happens to neighbors – we live in a neighborhood in Charleston, SC, where house prices have skyrocketed over the past 10 years. People decide they want to live in a certain area, and if there aren’t enough listings they’ll start looking at unlisted properties. Plus, if I were interested in a house that *was* listed for sale, of course I would look up the tax records.

        4. Zephy*

          Sure, but “I recognized your address” is about the creepiest way you could express that you saw someone’s house for sale, if that person never knowingly gave you that information.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Yeah, I’ve absolutely (and accidentally) found coworker’s houses when we were looking at property tax records when looking for houses to buy, and I pretended I didn’t see it. “I recognized your address” just makes it sound *so* creeptastic. I’m not really sure tbh if I would have ever gone up to a coworker and said even that we’re trying to buy a house and noticed yours was for sale.

            Someone who just says “I recognized your address” makes it feel like they purposefully looked it up and remembered the address – that I’ve never given them – and that they have no reason to know. It’s a really, really odd thing to say, and I would be weirded out.

            1. lost academic*

              It is an awkward phrase but sometimes these things just slip out. My mother couldn’t help but say in the grocery store to people “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on!”

              (We were swimmers.)

              I think this is a combination of the OP being a very private person and the other coworker being a little too awkward and missing those signals because most everything else is pretty standard. People will eventually figure it out, but I don’t see anything that management or HR needs to get involved with.

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                Oh, absolutely! I think it’s probably very private OP + clueless coworker + weird phrasing + coworker keeps talking about it = hella uncomfortable feelings.

                (And, in fairness, I have a handful of people who I really, really do not want knowing where I live – so this is coloring my reaction a bit.)

              2. SpaceySteph*

                My dad is an OB/Gyn and had a patient say this (“you don’t recognize me with my clothes on?”) when he took a moment to remember her name when she spotted him at a restaurant. In front of his 3 kids. Good times.

        5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Yeah, I commented the same way. It’s usually on the assessment info on the county or city website, and purchasers frequently look at the assessment to get an idea of whether the sales price seems right.

      2. Russian In Texas*

        I can tell you that in my county you can look up any address online for free in 3 clicks on the county appraisal website. You don’t need to have access to any kind of internal info, all you need is the last and first name.
        Should have she brought it up? No.
        But I won’t lie and pretend I have never looked up people’s addresses and the purchase price (well, appraisal price).

        1. Cassandra Mortmain*

          Yeah, I think people are having very varied reactions to this based on their personal history, but the idea of an address being super-private info, or it being beyond-the-pale creepy to look at what house someone bought, is … certainly not universal.

          Real estate transactions used to be printed in the newspaper!

    3. Meep*

      As someone who had an abusive coworker who looked up and gave out my address without my permission, no. This is not a minor issue. It is a safety concern. Coworkers should not know your address if you don’t provide it.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Again though, there is no evidence she got that info through work. Home ownership info and names are available on the real estate assessment info for counties and cities. If coworker was looking for her son, and her son liked the house but could not afford it, it would make sense to check the assessment to see if the house if maybe priced high and there is a chance of the price dropping. I also assume that is why she brought it up to OP.

        It is much easier to find that info online than to get it through confidential personnel files.

    4. Heffalump*

      Maybe she thinks (rightly or wrongly) that her coworker will blow her off but will have to listen to a supervisor.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        Some people have a big shyness about addressing anything vaguely uncomfortable between people. In this case I agree that the manager should *know* about it, but would think that *addressing* it is the job of grownups themselves, in the first instance.

        I’d use a variation of what Alison suggested. No need to answer any questions! Just wait them out with a vague smile. When the co-worker is done asking/talking, say something like “Huh, I didn’t expect you even know my address. I’m pretty private about these things really … ” [vague look into space, trail off] ” Oh, well, back to work I guess!” (I wouldn’t ask “How do you even have my address” – this could launch another problematic privacy-violating run-down of how it came about.) Grey rocking or something like it.

      2. Willow Pillow*

        That’s not universal! Where I live (Canada), you can only find a property owner’s name if you visit an obscure government website and pay $10. It’s not listed along property listings or tax records.

  2. Zombeyonce*

    #1: Sounds like this employee needs to be put on a PIP. If you can’t think of anything nice to say other than “they’ve barely completed their simplest job duties before they were due” and are regularly giving negative feedback, it’s hard to see a way forward unless the employee can make a 180 in their performance.

    1. Observer*

      Either that, or as Alison said, you need to start providing more explicit positive feedback. Not “Thank you for turning your work in” But “This is the kind of format I need in Report X.” or “I’m glad you focused on question Y when doing the research for this project.”

      1. AceyAceyAcey*

        #1 if you think your employee is improving, that’s worth praising, even if it’s not to the level that you want at the end. This positive reinforcement will help motivate them to get the praise again next time, which they will do by improving upon this time. With more iterations, that improvement really can turn into acceptable work.

        But if you’re not seeing any improvement, or it’s not going as fast as needed, then yeah, don’t praise, and also don’t keep them as an employee.

        1. My dear Wormwood*

          Yes, when I was flailing in my first job, having my supervisor mention that my aspetic technique was realling improving meant everything to anxious 21-year-old me.

          On the other hand I don’t know that it would even have occurred to me to complain that I wasn’t getting praised.

          1. Ssssssssssssssssssss*

            I was at a new job and I had to c.c. the senior administrative officer on all my outgoing emails to clients so she could supervise the newbie’s work.

            She’d pounce on the smallest of mistakes mere seconds after I had emailed out. I was career administrative professional and a few weeks of this did a number to my confidence in my own skills. Had she done it once a week, or in person, or softened it… nope. An email, on the spot, blunt, cold, listing my minor mistakes. (It also made me wonder if she had nothing else to do but wait for my emails to go out she was so fast.)

            I complained at home. Complain to our joint supervisor? Not a chance in hell.

            However, that company did “360 performance reviews” where you were given two coworkers’ names to assess their performance that was added to their performance review by their supervisor. I ended up with this person’s name. I tried to give a fair assessment of her onboarding techniques instead (it was very hard!).

        2. AcademiaNut*

          At the very least, the employee needs to be told when they are improving on something. If you withhold positive comments until they have reached a distant target, they won’t know how they’re doing.

          If they have a weekly one on one, that would be a good time to go through the week’s work, and be specific about what parts have improved, which were done adequately, and which still need improvement.

          The LW mentions that she’s had to be pretty blunt to get through to the employee about problems, which may be part of the issue. I might be worried that the occasional ‘good job!’ would convince him that he was doing fine, and he’d ignore the much larger list of things that still aren’t up to snuff. Dealing with someone who is performing poorly, but not really grasping the fact, is difficult.

          1. Artemesia*

            There are many positive things that can be said that do not equal ‘you are doing well.’ If he is getting better at X then say ‘you are on the right track here, keep working on doing Y with X’. You praise improvement without saying he has arrived.

            1. ferrina*

              Exactly. “I really liked the format that you used on the single slide you did. I’d like to see more of that, and in a faster turn-around time. By the end of onboarding*, you’ll be expected to do 10 slides like that in 1.5 hours.”

              *It’s helpful if you can tell them how long you think onboarding will take so they can check in with themselves to see if they are on track. Clarity in expectations is always good.

          2. Snow Globe*

            That was my thought as well–the OP is concerned that the employee isn’t really hearing the constructive feedback and is therefore resistant to saying anything positive, lest he focus on that and continue to ignore the problems.

            1. AnonMom*

              I have this coworker and for the rest of us around her, it is so demoralizing. She actively fishes for effusive praise when she does the bare minimum (as in, she won’t just accept “thanks” but will stop a meeting to ask “aren’t you going to tell me I did a good job?”). She refuses to hear feedback or constructive criticism unless it is from her direct boss, which means even the most simple of conversations become bureaucratic messes.

              Me: thanks for doing Step A. Can you also do Step B (i.e., where Step B is the rest of the task)?

              Her: you forgot something.

              Me: huh?

              Her: you forgot to tell me I did a good job.

              Me: No, I actually did not “forget”. I thanked you for doing Step A and asked you to do Step B.

              Her: you need to tell me I did a good job.

              Me: I thanked you for doing Step A and reminded you of the need to do Step B in conjunction with it. I guess it is true that you did a good job with the portion you actually completed. Can you please finish the rest of the task now?

              She then preens and walks away, leaving the rest of the task unfinished.

              I go to her boss and ask that she be instructed to do the rest of the task because I am not her assistant to complete this sort of thing for her all the time. She acts confused, tells her boss I praised the great work she did and doesn’t understand why I am complaining to her boss about her work when I told her she did a great job. Her boss is exasperated because this has happened so many times that her boss now wants to be copied on all communication with her so they can get to the bottom of the weird behavior. When she realizes her boss is watching, she is profusely cooperative. As soon as they are not paying attention, the compliment-fishing obtuseness starts up again.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Same.

                  I could not work with someone who needed that level of positive affirmation. I think feedback is very important, and I like to be specific with my praise and suggestions. If something got done, it’s fine, we just need to keep moving, a simple thank you should suffice.

              1. ferrina*

                How awful! Have you asked your boss how they would like you to handle this behavior when it crops up?

                You should walk away almost immediately in this conversation.So:

                You: Thanks for doing Step A. Can you also do Step B?
                Her: you forgot something.
                You: Please and thank you. [Immediately turn and walk away before she says anything else]

                Expect her to escalate, which is why you need to get the boss’s blessing (as a CYA). You can also switch to having all the conversations in email/IM (if you do it in IM, screenshots are your friend. She will delete things)

              2. BohoBoohoo*

                Do not engage her! The minute she starts fishing forward the thread to her boss! Do not play her game.

          3. English Rose*

            Yes exactly, it’s that tricky balance of not being demoralising while being clear there’s a way to go.
            I’m still a big fan of Ken Blanchard’s 1980s book One Minute Manager, when you catch someone doing something well and recognise and praise it in the moment.
            Perhaps a combination of that approach with the regular weekly one on one you mention specifying what progress was made and what is still needed.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              I had a teacher in elementary school who did this. It was great–we got attention when we were behaving instead of just when we were acting out, and you didn’t have to be a kiss-up to get positive recognition.

            2. KatEnigma*

              I laugh because there’s a puppy training book that suggests this method- you start the praise as soon as the puppy even starts to do what you want, even if they lose it and it ends badly.

            3. Linda*

              This is what I was thinking – I don’t know if I give big pieces of praise, but I do definitely compliment or make positive remarks about things as they happen. “Nicely written email”, “good planning on that new project”, etc

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                I supervised an employee a few years back who struggled with communication and had only been told by previous supervisors what was wrong with his messaging, never what was right. After I had been coaching him for a while, he sent a pretty good email to one of the committees we both served on, and I replied back immediately (just to him, not reply all) and told him it was a good email and what specific things he did with it that made it good. His communication kept improving after that, and he told me that none of his previous supervisors had ever explained to him why well written emails are well written, so he had been missing a really important piece of information all this time.

                This experience has definitely made me Team Praise. When staff know they did something right and they know why and how it was right, it’s easier for them to replicate it in future projects.

                1. Gato Blanco*

                  As a rank-and-file employee, I think this works really well. I have very much appreciated managers who a couple times a week take a moment to praise small things I have done well and pointed out something specific they were happy to see. It is helpful and it also feels good to be recognized in an otherwise rather thankless job (government work).

          4. Littorally*

            Exactly.

            Even if you’re a hardass about people’s morale, positive reinforcement is important for giving your employee direction as he works to improve. If he doesn’t hear when he’s done something right, he’s left guessing about whether he actually did do it right or not. The absence of criticism isn’t enough.

            1. yala*

              “If he doesn’t hear when he’s done something right, he’s left guessing about whether he actually did do it right or not.”

              That sums up a LOT of the anxiety I had at my job for years before we put some new methods in place (for both me and my super). I was making a lot of mistakes, yup (untreated ADHD will do that), but I was also having difficulty remembering what the precise right way was for things because if I did something right, I didn’t usually hear back that it was correct, which left me to sort of…assume it was probably right, but also maybe possibly it just slipped through the cracks and next time I did it that way it would be wrong.

              But there’s a fine line. Like, I can’t imagine actually *asking* someone to tell me I did a good job like in the example upthread. All I needed was the occasional “this was correct,” maybe with something more specific if it had been a particularly unusual case so I could note that my interpretation had been the correct one.

          5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Without being told what is going well / moving in the right direction, the employee may stop making progress in those areas because they don’t know what’s working.

          6. fhqwhgads*

            Yeah, I wonder if the issue is something like before his work was 1/10* and now he’s at maybe 5/10, but really he needs to be 8/10 on a daily basis to keep the job. So OP feels like “complimenting” the 5/10 is disingenuous or would give the dude the wrong idea, and thus hesitant to do it (or can’t think of a way to do it that will land at “but it’s still only 5 and you need to be 8” without him taking the “good” and interpreting it as “everything’s great now”.). Or maybe OP has given this kind of feedback, that 5 is better than 1, but still he needs to be at an 8 so keep going in that direction, and the employee is interpreting that as “not positive feedback”. I can’t really tell from the letter.

            *I’m not suggesting OP actually rate him with numbers and communicate that. Just using numeric values to illustrate the progress/lack thereof.

            1. OP 1*

              This pretty accurate. Thanks for presenting it clearly for me. It helps me think through things, too.

              1. GythaOgden*

                I’ve got a supervisor in this vein, and in a funny way it’s like looking in the mirror — we’re both a little quick to judgement rather than forgiveness and letting things stew. We work as a team and have done so for eight years, because she trusts me to get on with the job and I trust her to do hers. But lately the dynamic has shifted — I’m more open to emotional feels, she’s chafing at a new management style from above, and the relationship is deteriorating because our interests and approaches are diverging. I can’t trust her to trust my judgement, and she maybe thinks I’ve got a bit more emotion in me and am pushing back on some things for reasons she doesn’t understand. She’s not going anywhere, so I’m looking for a more supportive environment.

                I think the solution is to make sure that you’re giving more here and supporting this guy. Melting some of the ice here would be a good way to go and help this guy sort out where he is and where he needs to go.

                Best of luck with it.

          7. Melicious*

            Yes, if you think the employee is improving and will eventually grow into the role, that is a great thing to praise! I see you’ve been working hard at X. Your Y is better than it was last time. If you keep up the hard work and improvement like this, I believe you will good at Z.

        3. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Yeah. Alison points out that “no praise” is demoralizing, but it can also be confusing. OP says he’s improving — but how is he to know that if she’s not offering any positive feedback on the improvements?

          1. Aggretsuko*

            I got the impression reading this that OP may be being “nice” about claiming he’s not totally awful. If there’s literally nothing to praise really….

            That said, my most recent manager, the best she could say about me was “You’re not terrible.” If you think everything they do is bad and tell them so, it is incredibly demoralizing and depressing. But also it sounds like this guy isn’t good at the job and probably needs to go.

        4. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I wonder if the OP thinks ‘praise’ means effusive compliments, instead of showing simple appreciation and reinforcing positive results and progress.

          It seems like the employee does some things well – for a time anyway – and that’s the kind of thing I would comment on. Something like, ‘This is good work, Chris, using the format we discussed seems to help. Keep it up!’ could make a difference.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            On a related note, one thing that helps with my team is connecting people’s work to an end result. “Thanks for pulling that data for me yesterday, it was really helpful to be able to cite those results in the meeting with BigBoss this morning.” It’s not even praise, but it’s positive and motivating about some of the less exciting part of my team’s jobs.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              Good point, I do that too. I think people want to do good work and feel like they’re making even a little bit of a difference. I’ve had managers give me a quick, ‘Thanks for staying on top of such-and-such,’ or ‘I was less stressed going into my meeting thanks to your report…’ and you can bet I did more of the same for them.

            2. Smithy*

              I also think that part of the purpose for all kinds of praise – as well as honestly the request for praise – is when you’re uncertain about how your job connects to your larger team and what the right/less right/wrong ways to do job tasks are.

              So I think it can be easy to dismiss this employee’s request for praise as part of desiring a gold star for everything – but it may genuinely be coming from a place of not being certain when he’s doing things right.

              Someone who does a task correctly but takes double the time you want – if the only focus is the slowness, then it diminishes that the task was done correctly or perhaps doesn’t even acknowledge the task being done correctly. In that case – where it’s done correct (not perfect but fine), but too slow – for someone struggling and insecure – not indicating the part they got right means that the next time they may look to be both faster and do the task differently to be closer to perfect. Which can easily result in a worse overall result when trying to improve two things at once. When in actuality, the better approach would be to keep doing the task at the same “fine” level and just get faster.

              If this new hire truly isn’t in PIP/Let Go levels of struggle – then the OP isn’t really using their full box of coaching tools by not using praise to identify what is working as a way of better identifying what isn’t.

          2. OP 1*

            I think you are right that I feel like he wants effusive praise. (He did say he wants it to be public.) I do tell him when he’s done things correctly. Like, “This is how we talked about the TP reports should be completed. Thank you for getting them done in time to be submitted to our client.” But, I could certainly be more positive. As others have pointed out, I am hesitant to be too effusive because, while he is very bright and has a lot of strengths, I am just not confident that he’s a good fit for this role/organization. I think I am just struggling to admit that to myself. In the meantime though, I don’t want him to be demoralized so I can hopefully find some ways to give more positive feedback without giving the wrong impression and figure out whether or not I need to take some more direct steps toward improvement (e.g., a PIP).

            1. Happy*

              In public!!

              That sounds like he’s more interesting in appearing good at his job than actually being good at his job.

        5. SpaceySteph*

          Yes, I used to be an instructor for a rather difficult internal certification and we were expected to always give positive feedback on things we saw improving even if more improvement was needed to reach certification level. (In fact, instructor level was its own certification and you had to demonstrate doing this to achieve that certification)

          You have to reinforce the good so it continues to improve, not just dwell on the bad.

        6. tamarack and fireweed*

          It’s not just about *worth* praising. It’s also about what is effective. My experience in pedagogy isn’t very often relevant for AMA-type situations but I think here it is: It’s pretty clear that, especially for practical skills, positive feedback is much more likely to produce the desired progress than negative feedback. And that doesn’t mean empty praise – it does mean pointing out the good bits about the status quo, and making positive suggestions (“do this”) rather than negative ones (“don’t do that”) where applicable.

          If the employee doesn’t want to do a good job (eg. just wants to coast), well, then that’s not going to change with any kind of feedback.

      2. Marna Nightingale*

        Exactly this!

        I think there may be some conflation of praise as in “saying things that make the employee feel good” and praise as in “actual actionable information about when they’re getting it right and what that looks like” going on.

        There are few things more demoralizing for a struggling employee than flailing around trying to work out which of the things you didn’t comment on was the one you were looking for.

        1. Marna Nightingale*

          I went back and reread the letter because something was nagging at me and this jumped out:

          “I don’t really praise him for doing the most basic parts of his job in the most basic manner”

          Ok, but everyone’s “basic” looks a little different. Sometimes a lot different.

          Maybe the parts of the job that you find really basic are the hard parts for him, AND maybe help getting a handle on those is what he needs to be really great at the parts you think of as much more advanced.

          Alternatively, maybe he currently has the impression that those are the thing YOU care about the most.

          “and barely within the time frame required”

          So … is the time frame wrong? Do you need to tighten it?

          Because barely within the time frame required is within the time frame required.

          Going back to the praise thing: how clear are your asks?

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Good points, Marna Nightengale, especially about the time frame. I had a boss that was fine if I turned in work 1 minute before the official deadline, she built in time to review it on her own. Yet another manager expected our work a week before the official deadline…but she never told us that. Sigh.

            Also, what’s basic for the OP is not yet basic for a newer employee.

            1. tamarack and fireweed*

              Yes, these are indeed good points. “Thanks for getting the Excel sheet to me in time” and “I see the [simple version of workflow] has become routine – that’s good!” are perfectly appropriate.

            1. Yorick*

              I interpreted the time frame comment as “the work is subpar so what do I compliment there? And it’s turned in right at the deadline so I can’t even compliment him about the timing.” Yes, LW should start mentioning parts of the work that are good (it may help to consider that feedback rather than praise) so he can see how to continue improving. But we shouldn’t assume that LW is being unreasonable about expectations or deadlines.

              1. Marna Nightingale*

                OP1 answered below, but FWIW I wasn’t so much assuming that they were being unreasonable as assuming that there was some missing information somewhere, because on its face it read as “he’s doing what I asked for, which isn’t actually what I want”.

                Which often turns out to be a case of two or more people being perfectly reasonable to great mutual frustration, because they’re operating on different assumptions.

              2. linger*

                Possibly submitting right at the deadline is contributing to the problem, by not allowing sufficient time for balanced and constructive feedback. This may well mean the deadline is too tight — maybe not in general, but at least for employees like this one whose feedback needs that extra time.
                There are in effect two deadlines to consider: the deadline for appropriate evaluation, and the deadline for handing on the deliverable. This employee needs a longer gap between those deadlines, and so a longer overall lead time before the hand-off deadline, because the evaluation task is harder.
                (But then again, the employee needing more lead time for a task is contributing to OP1’s impression that they aren’t a good fit to the job. If the lead time to the hand-off deadline can’t be adjusted, the employee’s needs can’t be accommodated.)

          2. fhqwhgads*

            I think if the boss considers these things the “basic” parts of the job and the employee thinks they’re the hardest, that’s an indication this employee is not in the right role.

          3. OP 1*

            That’s a good point. I think I may be overly generous on that or, as you say, unclear. When I said barely within the time frame, we have external hard deadlines set by clients but we’ll set internal deadlines that are a little softer. He meets the external deadlines but overshoots the internal ones. This isn’t unforgiveable or even unheard of but I probably need to reinforce they are important and why.

      3. Zelda*

        Observer: “start providing more explicit positive feedback”

        Yes! The specificity is something I’ve found tremendously helpful when supervisors have provided it. A general “thanks” or “it’s fine” may technically be positive, but without knowing what it’s really *for*, I’m still at sea. Concrete and really clear details (doesn’t have to be at length, just specific) as to what was good helps me a) trust that the feedback is real, and not just polite noises, and b) know where I can rest on my laurels and where I can still step it up.

        1. OP 1*

          I think it’s my specificity that pushed me into too much critical feedback. My supervisor (my skip level boss but someone he meets with regularly) gave him some really vague negative feedback (e.g., you need to be more professional, you need to be less annoying to your coworkers (really)) with no examples so I started pointing out concrete examples of behavior that had led to that feedback but without balancing it out with some more positive feedback, I am sure I have overdone it.

          1. Marna Nightingale*

            So some of the solution might be bringing that specificity to the positive feedback.

            And, again, this isn’t because I think you’re being unreasonable.
            I just have some very vivid memories of having carefully and impeccably reproduced the parts of a task that I THOUGHT were the parts I was getting positive feedback on while carefully NOT wasting time doing the parts that my boss hadn’t seemed to think were very good and …

            *everything on fire.gif*

            Because it turned out that I had not understood the assignment, AND she had not understood my questions about it.

          2. tamarack and fireweed*

            Thanks for the clarifications! It seems to me that there’s indeed too much focus on the negative rather than concrete examples *how* he should do it. “If you do X it’ll annoy coworkers from team A” is a lot harder to take than “hey, let me show you how you can go about X *and* make team A happy with you” or “Here’s a good example of how to tell a customer something unpleasant in a professional manner”.

    2. Viette*

      Yeah. The OP sounds like they think the employee is barely approaching competence, and they certainly don’t sound like they remotely enjoy working with him or have the desire to say anything encouraging or pleasant to him.

      He’s now complaining to OP’s boss that OP is too harsh with him and by OP’s account OP *is* in fact harsh — either it’s well deserved and he’s never going to work out because he’s a terrible fit for this, or the OP is being needlessly unpleasant and needs to examine why they think that’s normal.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Those who know me would agree that I do not have a peppy cheerleader personality, but the fact that OP thinks it’s plausible that she’s only told this employee “good job” twice in six months really does seem to fall into “needlessly unpleasant” territory.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          Agreed – this would either fit “employee is a raging, incompetent jerk”, in which case they are not a good fit, or the manager does not understand what is worthy of positive feedback.

    3. John Smith*

      The only time my manager speaks to us is when something has gone wrong (usually caused by him but its always someone elses fault) and never to give praise or thanks for when things go right (or rather, when we avoid one of his clusterfucks – hes happy to take credit). I can’t tell you how demoralising it would be if any of us actually gave a toss about our manager or what he thinks. Another manager has a habit of sending a thank you email to staff who perform department wide work. Its really nice getting that email.

      I’ve always been told to use the sandwich method… praise, then the bad bits, then praise again. If the OP is only giving criticism – and by their own account the report is improving so there is something to praise – then no wonder the report is moaning.

      1. Varthema*

        The sandwich technique has gotten a lot of challenge lately because often it forces the manager to try to come up with the appropriate amount of feedback in either category, which can mask how serious the critical part is on the one hand if it’s serious, lead to “stretch” praise that’s not very sincere, OR (on the other hand) find something to nitpick just because they think there has to be something. If there’s a serious issue, it shouldn’t come in a sandwich.

        BUT, there should also be room for unmitigated praise, too. Even things as small as, “Nice catch on that error on x; those can be tough to spot” or “That last teapot faucet was on point!” or “Draft looks great, no suggestions!”

        1. bamcheeks*

          I think the thing about the sandwich model is that people KNOW what’s important. People know when you’ve come into that meeting thinking, “I’ve got to give them some negative feedback, quick, what’s a positive thing I can say to make the sandwich work”, and they disregard the former. To work properly, you’ve got to believe that the positive stuff you want to say is as important as the negative.

          It’s also super individual– I always remember a MBTI session I did with my wider team in a previous job, and there’s a discussion there about feedback. My manager said, “You know, I always know that if I’m talking to Monica, and I try to give her positive feedback, she’s thinking, “Yeah yeah yeah, whatever, cut to the point, what do you want me to do differently?” Whereas if I’m talking to Phoebe, I know I need to say, “You’re absolutely brilliant, I’m blown away by how good that event was, you’re really smashing it, there’s just one TEENY, TINY thing I’d like you to do differently…” Both Phoebe and Monica cracked up at this description and said it was bang on.

          He was a terrible manager in lots of ways, but I still find that a very useful thought!

        2. ecnaseener*

          It also just feels like a way to ‘hide’ the criticism. The first and last items in a list stand out in your memory more than the middle items, and (maybe because of that?) people expect to hear the key points first and last in a message. If the employee is still doing poorly enough that he might not be able to keep this job, I think it’d be a disservice to him to sandwich his criticism. Even if you believe a 2:1 praise:criticism ratio is ideal, then frontload both pieces of praise before the criticism.

        3. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

          I personally hate receiving feedback in a sandwich. It’s always so obvious and feels manipulative, although I acknowledge that the person providing the feedback is trying to do the right thing. I remind myself that they are just following methods they have been told work. But I love it when I have a boss who respects me enough to tell me the truth (good and bad) without trying to manage my feelings.

          1. CaVanaMana*

            Right? Me too! The sandwich method is so blatantly obvious and such a manipulation. It is used by managers who don’t care or know how to talk to people and want to pretend feelings matter while at the same time using manipulation to avoid them from coming out.

            1. tamarack and fireweed*

              Well, yes – positive feedback isn’t about being manipulative. No one likes being manipulated. But if your manager only ever says what you don’t do right that isn’t a healthy relationship, and can really bring down one’s mood. Having a real conversation centered around “how would a successful [task X] look like, and also, which aspects of it are we doing well and which ones need work” is however how adults should be going about this sort of thing.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            Same! Approaches that I recognize as a technique get under my skin like nothing else. No one likes feeling like they’re being handled.

            1. Elsajeni*

              I always think of a classmate in my teacher prep program, who came into Classroom Management one evening looking kind of deflated — our professor had been pushing a very formulaic “I statement” format, and he’d tried it out with one of his high-school students… who snorted and said, “Yeah, my stepdad uses ‘I statements.’ They don’t work for him either.”

          3. ursula*

            The ubiquitousness of the compliment sandwich when I was in school and starting my career has simply trained me to hear all positive feedback as insincere – “you’re only saying that to manage my feelings/morale” – and to take all negative feedback as what people really think of me and my work. It’s taken a lot of time and effort to undo that programming.

        4. Capybarely*

          Sandwich technique has been shown to have the recipient ignoring the praise while they wait for the “but” – as the other replies show! Instead, praise following a correction is more likely to lead to both parts being remembered.

          My favorite all-purpose book on feedback is Don’t Shoot The Dog by Karen Pryor (she’s best known for clicker training). It’s all about behavior shaping in people, and how we can go much further, faster, with positive information (praise) than with criticism.
          That doesn’t mean effusive compliments, but specifics on what TO do. The whole reason clicker training developed was that there wasn’t always another way to say “yes, good, more of that” when shaping animal behaviors.
          This subject area is my jam, and I love when folks can get support learning how to do this! We have very few models for it in our school systems, and so many people really are starting from scratch!

          1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

            It cuts both ways — one type of person will focus on the criticism and disregard the praise, and another will focus on the praise and disregard the criticism. And often you want the opposite in each of those cases.

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        My dad has always said that a sincere “thank you; I appreciate the work you’re doing” can do so much more for morale than so many dumb “employee appreciation” ideas, and it’s free. However, so many managers, even otherwise good ones, just don’t do this enough.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          My grandboss does this way more often than necessary and it used to bug me but now I just remind myself that she’s being nice and a good manager and I should appreciate that she’s a great boss and I have a great job – the fact that it bugged me was really a “me problem.” So I think try not to overdo it on this but yeah, it can go a long way towards making an employee feel appreciated, which it now does when my grandboss does it.

      3. BatManDan*

        “sandwich method” is problematic for a number of reasons. The two that jump out are, like Pavlov’s conditioning, people start to think that there is a “slam” coming behind every compliment. The other is, you, as the manager, run a serious risk of the employee missing the significance of what you need them to correct / improve. They come away thinking they are crushing it, right, since they got so much praise? I could elaborate, but that’s the gist of it, and there is plenty or research on what does and doesn’t work for employee feedback.

      4. yala*

        Something I think folks don’t realize is that if you only interact with people to reprimand them for something done wrong…they’re gonna start getting tense any time you’re around. And nerves make for more stupid mistakes.

      5. Sargasso*

        For the record, for anyone with the smallest amount of anxiety, the sandwich method is terrible. All it does is teach people that when you deliver a compliment, you’re about to follow it with something bad. It’s the “I love you, but…” of managerial strategies and it fosters distrust.

      6. Grace*

        Yep. Let me tell you, nothing is as demoralizing as spending hours on a tedious, dull, grating task, and then getting a flurry of emails entirely about details you got wrong. (It was a volunteer gig, that particular task had gotten dumped on my plate because no one else had done it in months, and I honestly very nearly quit entirely over it.) Even something like “you put a lot of work into this, and I appreciate that” is enough a lot of the time.

      7. Scout*

        That has been known in all of my workplaces as a shit sandwich.

        It’s more infuriating than anything – everyone recognizes praise part 1, the criticism that is really the point of this discussion, praise part 2.

        Point out the good bits when it is applicable. Point out the bad bits when it is applicable.

        Few grown, competent people are so hungry for praise and so afraid of criticism that they want to eat a shit sandwich.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I have to wonder about the training and job aids the newer employee has? Is this a new position that you are setting everything up as you and employee love forward? or is in an existing position where there’s plenty of structured training and job aids available for new employee to use? Because with the not getting things done correctly and consistently, I really have questions about how the employee was trained.

      Failing to train is training to fail for employees in most professional settings.

      1. OP 1*

        I know this is not popular and I am looking at ways to improve it where possible but there is virtually no training for this job. It is the nature of the work. You have be able to learn on the job, look to past processes and analyze how they will fit into a new, ever-changing context, and follow directions from clients which may change drastically at times. All of that is clearly communicated to applicants and I know it is not a good fit for many (maybe most) people. One of the main challenges is the amount of handholding this employee needs. We really need someone who can figure things out independently and I am not sure that is him. (I’m sorry if that sounds harsh but I promise we have tried and there is little to do to change it and there are many people who have succeeded in the role. The best we can do is try to be as clear as possible in the job description and hiring process. I wasn’t part of hiring him so maybe that fell short.)

        1. Varthema*

          I hear this, but I think that if there is really no situation in which praise is appropriate (even praise for mastering something that wasn’t up to snuff before), he needs to be cut loose. Right now the relationship is serving neither party.

        2. AcademiaNut*

          With your updates, I’m leaning more towards this person not working out in the role. Something like independent work and problem solving can be improved with coaching (with cooperation from the coached) but in a job that has a very high level need for this, turning someone who needs constant handholding to do the basic job into a competent employee is not within the scope of normal job coaching. I’ve run into this in my job – people who do good, high level work when given detailed instructions and have someone to answer questions when there is any ambiguity, but flounder when they need to figure out what to do and do it on their own (and this is with people who have PhDs, so they’re very bright people).

          It’d say it’s definitely time for a formal PIP, phrasing it as being a formal process to make it easier to track improvement (if he wonders why he wasn’t on one before).

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          It sounds like nobody is really bad here. I’m in a very formal and rules based job – so there is a process and training guides for probably 3/4ths of the job (the other fourth is writing emails – and while there is some guidance you are expected and required to figure out the emails on your own). It sounds like your employee would be far more comfortable in the type of work environment I’m in – which just makes it a bad fit, not a bad employee.

          Wishing you the best as you sort this out.

    5. Artemesia*

      years ago I watched a film of a child being prepared for pageants. She was goofing around and her Mom was harping on her continuously and finally hired a coach. He in about 15 minutes had her doing the ridiculous strut strut flounce routine for the pageant that her mother had not been able to accomplish. The difference is that he only used positive feedback. He would praise one tiny bit of the process, then have her repeat and she quickly was doing it correctly.

      Now this dude is not a kid, but most people do a lot better when you are very clear about what is needed and then you give positive feedback as they approximate this until they are mastering it.

      Maybe this guy needs to be let go and is untrainable in this job, but maybe being showered with criticism has made it really hard for him to do what he needs to do. He doesn’t have to be doing well to receive ‘attaboys’. You instruct him and when he gets slightly better it is ‘this is the right idea, you are making progress, now focus on X’.

      1. Blackcat*

        Heck, even most animals do far better with positive reinforcement! I’ve trained horses and dogs and positive reinforcement is the way to go.

        I think it’s just how our mammal brains are wired, at least for social mammals. We want to please those around us.

        1. Chirpy*

          Also works for cats, positive reinforcement is so much better to get the behavior you want. Negative just confuses.

        2. Dog and cat fosterer*

          Both positive and negative are needed. I train both by rewarding with treats, toys, and praise when they do the right thing, and also by a strict “No!” when they put paws on the kitchen counter, turn my back on them when they jump up on me, and not giving them treats when they aren’t doing things properly. I don’t know of anyone who trains with purely positive. With employees it’s good to similarly tell them which parts of their work are incorrect and need improvement, and also pointing out which parts have improved and are done correctly. “Your report is looking good, in particular section 1.3 is well done. Next could you make changes to sections 4.2 and 6.1 based on my feedback in the attached.”

          OP doesn’t need to compliment their employee constantly, but it would be useful to confirm to the employee when they are doing work the right way, rather than only pointing out the errors.

          1. Chirpy*

            I’ve trained a traumatized cat to do several things with nothing more negative than pulling back, and immediate rewards when he did what I was asking. He figured out what to do to get his treat just fine, anything harsher would have caused a setback.

            1. yala*

              No amount of treats (upon request no less) has made my brother’s cat stop hissing/spitting/clawing at me when I pass by. She does reign it in a bit when she sees the squirt bottle now, but I’d much rather get her to calm down with positive reinforcement.

              1. Marna Nightingale*

                So, that’s a situation where you’re not looking at *reinforcement*, because you can’t train an animal to like you or not be afraid of you. You’re looking for positive *conditioning*.

                I regret to say that the spray bottle is going to make it worse.
                If I was uncomfortable with you and then every time I saw you someone sprayed me with water I might dissemble my discomfort better but it would also get worse.

                Assuming your brother’s cat is basically friendly, there is something going on you can’t see that you need to change before you can work on becoming friends with her.

                I’m going to stop there before I write a novel, but it’s worth talking to your brother to see if you can find the trigger — do you have pets that you smell like, maybe? — and meanwhile maybe provide her some perches and other options for retreat so she knows she can get away from you if she wants to?

                1. yala*

                  lol, yeah, I think the problem is that she hates *my* cat. She’s got plenty of places to hide, and I don’t approach her. She just likes to wait in the doorway in the hall and hiss at/chase me and my cat every time we walk from the front door to our room.

                  So there’s really no getting around that. At this point the squirt bottle is mostly to try and keep my feet unbloodied.

                2. Marna Nightingale*

                  Oooh, have you tried Feliway Multicat? I used to think it was total woo but every vet I work with swears by the stuff so I get it for all my fosters now. Might just soften them towards each other a bit…

                3. 1LFTW*

                  Nesting won’t let me reply directly to Morna Nightengale, but chiming in to recommend Feliway. I discovered their products back when I was a shelter worker. It’s great stuff!

      2. Lady_Lessa*

        A mentor of mine used to say, “It takes 10 attaboys/attagirls for 1 Opps” It sounds like LW1 has the ratio backwards, and then wonders why the employee isn’t improving at the desired speed.

        1. Shirley Keeldar*

          My mom taught preschool, and she always said that for every correction you give a kid, you need to have six positive interactions, or they’ll just stop listening to you. (I mean, who wants to pay attention to someone who’s only saying no, stop, quit it, don’t?) I find it works nicely with adults too.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            I wonder if the idea of positive interaction could be helpful for the LW. Maybe the employee doesn’t deserve 6-10 instances of outright praise for every correction, but if the LW could focus on the idea of having more general positive interactions (of which praise is one type), it might help.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              There’s also the issue of praise vs positive feedback.

              It sounds like OP is imagining the employee wants praise, as in a show of appreciation or affirmation for something exceeding the standard expectations.

              But the employee may actually want positive feedback… good-natured confirmation that they did something correctly, they’re on the right track, or you are satisfied with an aspect of their work. It shouldn’t be limited to only things that are praiseworthy. Positive feedback is a part of constructive criticism.

      3. Asenath*

        I’ve seen the same process in place in amateur choirs – even I, no trained musician, know that the last bit didn’t sound right at all, and the director says something like “Great attempt! You’re hitting those eighth notes right! Now, this time, let’s focus on hitting that high C. Take a deep breath and just go for it!” (and without mentioning just who is missing the C, but we know). On the other hand, I always find the “praise sandwich” annoying; I discount any praise, assuming it’s just fluff to make me feel better about the criticism, so why bother with it.

        1. MerelyMe*

          My chorus director used to be a bit of a trial; if you (as a section) did something right, you didn’t hear about it. You only heard about what you did wrong. He seems to have loosened up a bit after two and a half years of no chorus due to the pandemic, and now you hear about what you did well.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            My choir director interrupted us mid-song last week to say “that was lovely! Let’s start again so I can hear that one more time.” It definitely makes it easier to listen to him when he’s pointing out mistakes.

      4. NYanon*

        For sure! My son just started taking cello lessons & his teacher is SO good at this. I have to say, I think it takes a special kind of person to be able to teach this well, though. I don’t think I’m great at it myself. But agree that this manager needs to try if she thinks the employee has potential to improve.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          When I was a violin teacher I definitely tried to use positive reinforcement as much as possible. Now that I’m hoping to become a parent through adoption, I’m thinking a lot about that again. Obviously there are some situations more serious that call for other types of reactions, but for the little things that you want to encourage and discourage, redirection and positive reinforcement are the way to go. I feel like there are very few situations in music lessons and in office settings where you would ever need to not use positive reinforcement, but constructive criticism would probably work in those cases. (Exceptions would be if safety or legal issues are involved.)

          I hope your son enjoys his cello lessons!

        2. Overit*

          I quit flute after many years because the high school band leader only had negative comments to make to me and most of the other flautists. After enough of it, I felt like I must really be terrible and who wants to keep doing something at which they suck? I never picked up the instrument again because he had conditioned me to associate it with failure and humiliation.

          1. Heffalump*

            Any chance you could say, “It was his problem,” draw a line under it, and take up the flute again for your own enjoyment?

          2. Lenora Rose*

            I ended up quitting pkaying flute because after the warm ups, the music teacher spent all his class time drilling the trumpets and saxophones and such, and ignoring the sections that actually practiced at home. We’d get to play one or two more times in a class, he’d have very little to say, and go back to the sections that didn’t practice. I got more story writing and homework done than flute playing. and stopped being proud of my progress. Neglect is by no means as bad as humiliation and failure, and I don’t even a bit envy the trumpeters the sort of negative attention they got, which probably matched your experience… but it definitely doesn’t produce enthusiasts either.

      5. BethDH*

        It reminds me of learning to drive — you start out looking at all the places you don’t want to go and focus on avoiding them and then you realize that your eyes should mostly look where you do want to drive.
        In other words, positive reinforcement isn’t (always) about praise. It’s about helping the person recognize, repeat, and expand the parts they get right.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Totally! And in music, to call back to some of the previous comments, it’s way more useful for me to know how the conductor wants us to play something than how they want us not to play something. So for instance, don’t tell me what notes you *don’t* want me to accent, tell me which notes you *do* want me to accent. It’s even more helpful if the conductor tells us how we’re playing something in a way that he doesn’t want and then how he wants it. So not “Do NOT play those notes so short” but more “Hey, you’re playing those notes really short and it’d be better if they were more connected to each other.” The good conductors I’ve worked with know this and I love them for it but the bad conductors who just rain on the negative feedback…well, I refuse to work with them in the future.

      6. Jackalope*

        If OP is reading this I highly recommend that she read the book Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. It discusses how to do this well and gets into the reasons that it helps. Basically, humans tend to want to use punishment to teach, but it’s super ineffective. Regularly giving affirmation when someone does things right is so much more effective both in the short- and long-term.

        1. Capybarely*

          Hello, fellow Pryor recommender! I just mentioned the book in my comment above. It’s seriously one of the most influential books I’ve read, full-stop. It also sets up a foundation for self compassion, which can be tough for people to believe is real and necessary. I’ve noticed that if you go in with self compassion ideas before someone is ready, it’s just like trying to do too big of a change in shaping behavior!

      7. Warrior Princess Xena*

        I don’t think that people actually change their needs and desires that much growing up! If it works on kids, there’s a really good chance it will work on adults. Not in the literal exact same words and actions of course, but in terms of what broad things motivate you.

    6. User 1234*

      My colleague is a very sporadic praiser. And very quick to pick apart faults.
      I’ve watched one junior member of the team (who is doing…ok-ish but not stellar) utterly wilt under the lack of positive reinforcement. I’ve tried to praise him for the good things he does but it’s not enough – he needs praise from my colleague and I just know it would do his work ethic and morale the world of good. It kind of breaks my heart and when I’ve gently prompted my colleague on the good parts this junior does, they just dismiss it and points out all the flaws.
      The other junior member of the team is doing quite well and doesn’t seem to need the same level of positive feedback.
      I guess I agree with Zombeyonce. Perhaps you need to decided if this person should be put on a PIP or fired versus trying out a new tactic of radical honesty peppered with attaboys.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        The guy is complaining (to others!) that he’s not getting enough positive feedback rather than having a direct conversation with his manager about how he’s doing and what kind of feedback and management would help him work better. I guess OP could be the one to initiate such a conversation and see where that takes them, but OP probably should tell him that complaining to others about your manager isn’t the way to improve how your manager sees you. If he can turn this around then I’d say he has a chance but if he keeps it up then yeah, I’d say let him go. After only six months I don’t know that a PIP would be worth the effort. His complaining, though, has the essence of little kids whining “it’s not faaaairrrrr.”

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          I mean, I don’t think this is fair. He’s not complaining to random coworkers, he’s complaining to his grand boss. If I had a boss who constantly criticized me and almost never said anything positive, I don’t think I would feel comfortable talking to them about this issue.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I currently have a boss who constantly criticizes me and rarely says anything positive. In over a year with her, I don’t think she’s ever once uttered the phrase “you’re right.” I can confirm that I am not planning to bring this up with her, I’m just planning for her to not be my boss for much longer.

    7. Kel*

      OP says that the employee is making progress; not sure if a PIP would be the right type of reinforcement here if the employee is already feeling defensive.

    8. Coldfeet*

      There’s been a lot of good comments, but I’ll add that part of the letter writer’s complaint is that the work is done “barely within the time frame required”. To me, if it’s handed in on/before the due date, then it’s on time. Full stop.

      If the letter writer is asking for work to be completed by Friday, but secretly judging the employee for not completing it by Wednesday, that’s very unfair. I am a high performer and will frequently take people at their word when they say they need something by X date even nif it would be easy to finish it before then, in order to balance my own workload and to not create an expectation of quick turnaround times (which aren’t always possible due to workload, other priorities).

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Hard agree. If it’s in by the due date given, then it’s completed on time. If you want it earlier so you have review and edit time – build that into your timelines.

        Also, try and structure tasks so that he has solid achievable benchmarks along the way. Then praise the things he’s getting right and tie that into his other tasks that are similar.

        1. JustAnotherKate*

          Yes! If you, as his manager, feel like his timing is pushing you to work last-minute to meet your deadlines, that’s stressful and frustrating — but you can back the timing out to what you need it to be. My job got 100000% less stressful when I started telling people sending me info for proposals — mostly people well above me on the org-chart and outside stakeholders — that I needed their info a week out if not more. None of them pushed back — even the ones who had read the RFP!

      2. fhqwhgads*

        I mostly agree, but I do wonder if maybe it’s something more like “we give you a week to do this thing, but we expect it to only take an hour” and then it’s up to the employee to make sure they spend an hour before the end of the week. If the employee picks the last hour of the week, finishes in 59 minutes and turns it in, you’re right. They’re in the window. It’s fine. But if what’s happening is it genuinely takes this person a week to do that thing, that’s bad. Still “barely in the timeframe” but a way bigger deal. Or if it’s something like “you can take at most an hour to do an X” and in general, most X should take 30-40 minutes, but every X this employee does takes 59 minutes, that’s another variation on “barely in the timeframe” where you’re not really moving the goalpost by frowning on it. If there’s a range of acceptable time and it’s meant to be a mix so the long ones get washed out by the short, but this person is always on the long end, that’s not great either.
        It should be made clear to the employee that’s the case, whatever it is. But I’m not convinced the whole “barely in the timeframe” thing means the boss is unfairly judging.

    9. Jayne*

      I am torn on this one.

      I have absolutely seen the worker that demands praise for the slightest thing and any praise will overlay any other guidance. So the OP #1’s aversion to giving praise that might be misunderstood is understandable. Too many people don’t understand that they are in trouble even if they are on a PIP.

      However, in my own life, I can attest to the erosion of motivation from the lack of praise and I am late career. I recently changed supervisor from one who didn’t give much praise, but at least left me alone. Now I have one that gives zero praise for my work and micromanages managerial things. At the same time that he says that I have been doing the job for 32 years so he doesn’t need to give me any guidance, he questions why I am getting a vaccine on Thursday rather than on a Friday. My morale is so far down that the real reason that I am going on Thursday is that I want to take sick leave rather than be sick on the weekend. Quiet quitting has been in the news lately and I feel its call.

    10. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I dunno, the author is not super impressed by the guy apparently, but they think he has merit and the ability to become good. And they said he is making progress. If progress is being made, there is something to praise. Progress should be praised so the employee knows what they are doing right as well as what they are doing wrong, and because people aren’t as motivated by the fear of criticism as they are by the warm glow of praise.

    11. OP 1*

      I just want to thank Alison and all the readers so much for all their input. I haven’t had a chance to read them all but I will.

      I hope I am not unkind as a person or as a manager but I am definitely taking all your feedback to heart (thanks for making sure it wasn’t all negative :-)) and will do some serious thinking on whether this is the right fit, what next steps need to be, and how I can make sure the outcome is hopefully as positive as possible for our organization and my employee (and making sure he is not miserable in the meantime).

      I have read this blog for years and cannot say how much I appreciate the content and the community.

  3. Observer*

    #2 – Nosy coworker

    What exactly are you expecting your manager to do? You say that you “stood firm”, but what were you being “firm” about? It’s not like your manager told you that you actually have to engage in this conversation.

    Nothing that your coworker did was outrageous or something for your manager to intervene in, although I agree that it’s a bit much that she found your address. But for the rest, yes, your listing is public knowledge so it’s hardly a massive overstep for her to chat with you about what is out there and public knowledge.

    Not that you need to have this conversation with her. And I agree with Alison that you could ask this coworker how and why she got your address. But other than that, your manager was completely correct in how she handled the situation. She gave you an important piece of information – ie that this person has poor social skills and is not good at reading people’s cues, so you need to be very explicit with her, while starting with the assumption that she’s not trying to be obnoxious or even overly intrusive. And she also made it clear that as far as she is concerned, you don’t have to engage. And not only that, it’s fine for your to clearly push back.

    Your manager IS respecting your boundaries. All she is asking from you is to be the person who enforces them.

    1. Worldwalker*

      Maybe it’s because I come from a time when they used to print up big books with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of everyone in town, and give them to everyone for free (it was called a “phone book”), but I don’t share the modern belief that that information is secret. The whole point of listing your house with a Realtor is to get as much publicity as possible, at least among people who might buy houses. It’s pretty much the opposite of secret.

      The OP had a house for sale; the co-worker’s son was looking to buy a house. It wouldn’t be surprising if his mother was browsing house listings on his behalf because mother, looked up one she found interesting, and noticed the OP’s name. If people of that name are kind of thin on the ground in the general area the co-worker knows the OP lives in, like there’s only one Stacy Pfluger on the south side of town, it’s pretty obvious. The comment about it being out of the son’s price range sounds like a feeler for negotiation.

      This just feels to me like a non-issue. You don’t want to talk with her about something, tell *her.”

      1. Delphine*

        Homeowners aren’t typically identified on home listings. And part of the purpose of going through a realtor is to have an intermediary between yourself and the buyer (or yourself and the seller).

        1. Worldwalker*

          They’re not, but anyone doing even cursory diligence will Google the address, and the name will pop up.

          1. Kay*

            No – the name of the owner doesn’t typically come up if you simply Google an address. You have to do further research for that.

            It is possible the co-worker was doing research on available properties and did discover the owner’s name that way – but I think that conversation would have looked more like “Hey co-worker, so crazy thing, my son is looking for a house and we noticed you are selling one he really liked! Such a small world! Its a bit out of his range so we won’t be submitting an offer, but good luck with everything.”

              1. GammaGirl1908*

                Yeah, I don’t think it’s any big mystery to find out an address, especially if you have a name that is at all unique. Addresses are a not a secret. There are online phone books. Or perhaps the colleague passed by LW’s resume or hiring paperwork, which likely would have LW’s address. I also have been in conversations where a colleague mentioned something about their neighborhood or house that made me wonder where they lived. Or maybe Colleague thought she spotted LW in a store or something and wondered whether they lived near one another.

                If LW is completely weirded out by somebody knowing where she lives, then she may need to do a better job of scrubbing her information from the Internet.

                We don’t know why Colleague felt the need to look up the address, but that she was able to locate it without too much effort is not shocking to me. Colleague does not need to broadcast how well she remembers people’s personal information, and needs to take a hint when someone doesn’t want to talk about their personal life a lot at work, but just passing by / remembering an address is a non-issue to me.

              2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                I am genuinely astonished.

                If I search my full address, my name doesn’t come up. If I search my full address plus my name, Google tells me it can’t find any hits including the name.

                (I’m in the UK)

                What it does tell you is the last time a change of ownership was registered, and at what price. Just not the names of the vendor or buyer.

                1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

                  In the US, our governmental agencies actively sell our information to websites to generate extra revenue. Other countries probably do not do this. I have a very distinct name and all of my previous addresses for the past 35 years are included in every search for me. There is a great podcast episode of There Are No Girls on the Internet about it, if you’re interested.

                2. Alice*

                  The council tax register is open to anyone unless you specifically opt out on the form (select you want to appear in the edited electoral roll only when you get the form). Anyone can find your details with a simple search. I had a stalker for a while so had to review everywhere my details appeared online and in public records and it’s pretty scary when you see how much info people can get quite easily, or by paying a nominal fee.

                3. bamcheeks*

                  Open, but not available online. You’d have to do some pretty in-depth online-digging to find someone’s address from their name or vice versa, or contact the council. I think the circumstances where you’d be able to find someone’s address from their name or name from their address just by a simple one-step google would be pretty unusual.

                4. Jennifer*

                  In my state, if I’m considering a home, I’m specifically going to search the state’s (publicly available) real property database for tax history which does list the current owner and a few previous owners.

                5. londonedit*

                  Even with taxes, the way it works here is that whoever lives in the property pays council tax, and that’s done using bands based on property value. So all you need to know is that it’s band D or band F or whatever and you can look it up on the council’s website to find out how much the council tax will be. All the property listings online will give the council tax band, so you don’t need to know the exact address.

                6. lost academic*

                  Ahh – see, in the US, every house is individually valued and often not revalued except when it’s sold or goes under some major renovation. The county or locality sets a property tax rate but you pay based on an assessed value (which isn’t necessarily the sale value but is typically related). And most areas have property records for land that list the owners names going back a certain amount of time, plus real estate listing sites will have the sale and price and tax history aggreggated so you can get an idea – when I’m house shopping (or window shopping in places I’d like to move) I am interested in how long the owners have been there, is this a flip, etc.

              3. Lirael*

                Jesus Christ, really?! I’m in the UK and pretty sure that would only happen here if you were terribly cavalier with your personal data.

                1. Big Bank*

                  Europe has much stronger laws around the handling of Personally Identifiable Data. The US, not so much. This time of year I get angered anew over the fact that Voter Roles are open to basically anyone, including my cell phone number. You cannot request that this data not be shared.

              4. mbs001*

                Our county has a database where you can search property records by address or by name. It’s a nice service that you can use when searching to buy a property or just to learn the names of people in your neighborhood as well as seeing sale dates, property tax assessments and local sales in the area.

                1. ASW*

                  Same. In my state, as long as you know what county you’re in, you can easily find the record for any address and see who owns it (plus ownership history going back several years, appraised value, tax rates, square footage, etc.). In my county, you can even tell if the house is likely owner-occupied or rented because if the mailing address is different than the property address, the owner most likely is renting it out (and you now know where the owner actually lives).

              5. KatEnigma*

                We haven’t lived here a year yet, so my name doesn’t come up. But the previous owner’s name (and phone number!) comes up as the 5th result.

                People really don’t realize how much of this is public record. Literally.

              6. snarkfox*

                I just tried this. My name didn’t come up… but the person who I bought my house from did! I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before mine ends up on there.

            1. emmelemm*

              Property tax records are public information. So if you are the named owner on the deed, Google will turn up your name with the address eventually.

              1. Mongrel*

                I think the issue is, even in the UK, not that someone was able to find publicly available information but they went looking in the first place.
                It’s out there but still takes a bit more work than Googling “$Co-Worker”

                1. KateM*

                  If they are on house hunt, they probably didn’t google OP but the house, and them she said “huh I think I work with the owner of this house!”.

                2. KatEnigma*

                  Before I buy any house, I’m sure as heck going to look up the public tax records, so I know what the property taxes are.

              2. Nerdgal*

                At least in my state, you don’t have to Google. Just go to the county tax appraiser’s website. People do it all the time, to look up the current taxes for a property that they are interested in, or to compare their appraised value with that of neighbors in order to prepare an appeal.

              3. ABCYaBYE*

                Exactly. If the co-worker’s son was indeed looking at homes, they might have done that and run across the OP’s name unintentionally.

                Is it a little weird how it was brought up? Sure thing. But if there’s some context wherein the co-worker’s behavior is normally a little peculiar, it isn’t THAT odd.

                1. Properlike*

                  It’s listed in the tax stats and purchase history of Zillow/Redfin and all the house search websites. It’s something anyone would look at who’s buying a home to know if it’s been listed before, if the previous owners moved in a year ago and seem to be trying to make a quick profit, etc.

                  Therefore, I’d buy that her son was looking (and she’s helping), saw the name, and made the connection.

            2. Lady_Lessa*

              I was googling an address because I wanted to send a thank you note to the owners of a certain house. Every year they put up nice Halloween decorations. I found their names without even trying hard. Being discreet, I just sent the card to “The Decorators” at Address.

              They even put up a thank you with my name briefly on their decorations. This year, and I hope they repeat having a pumpkin tree, with skeletons doing the arrangine.

              1. KatEnigma*

                I went to the online tax records to send a “proper” thank you note to our next door neighbors for a baby gift- we didn’t know their last name.

            3. doreen*

              The name of the owner might not pop up from simply googling an address- but the name of a resident often will and they are often the same. I just looked up an address I know- and the third result gave me not only a list of possible owners/residents but the last sale price and date ,property taxes and lot size. Plus, listed neighboring houses with that info, so when I looked up 143 Oak St, I got info for 20 Oak St to 261 Oak St.

              1. KatEnigma*

                I googled my address. Results 1-4 are residual realtor listings from a year ago (closed exactly a year ago today)

                5 was the last owner- well her now deceased husband and his name, number and business he owned from 1998 on.

                6–9 was his name and number and/or the names and numbers of their adult children.

                Result 10 was the CURRENT address of his wife, who sold the house to us… And she did not even use mail forwarding!

                All from simply googling my address.

            4. Scout*

              Whitepages.com is a thing, though.

              Just put in the name and city of two coworkers and got both addresses.

              Put in the address of a third and got the name.

              No research required.

              Entered two more names directly in Google. One immediately popped up with an address. The second came up with LinkedIn and other work references, no address.

              Entering my own name gets some accurate hits on the first page, no address. Entering my address doesn’t get my name on the initial page, but I got to it with one click of a hit ‘see who lives at 123.’

          2. Sunflower*

            Yep, I just googled my own address (just the address, nothing else) and the fifth listing down included my and my husband’s full names in the preview text. (I’m in the US.)

            And when I googled my full name + address + the code for the state I live in, the very first listing had my accurate address in the preview text (plus my age!)

            Super easy to find someone’s address in the United States, especially if they own their home (rather than renting.)

            1. Joanna*

              Yeah, I just googled my name and the word “address” and it listed all of my addresses going back 30 years, and my age.

              Also, when one of my coworkers had his house up for sale, an other one of my coworkers and I Googled his address so we could find his listing, it took about 30 seconds to find his address and then a few minutes to find his listing. We checked the listing and saw that he had a carpeted kitchen, giggled a little bit, and then never said a word to him about it, because it would be weird.

              I also had to pretend to be shocked when the coworker started telling me about how his agent wanted him to remove the carpet from his kitchen. snooping has it’s drawbacks.

              But I can confirm that what the coworker did was super easy to do in my part of the country. But, you don’t tell the person you were snooping on that you have been snooping on them.

              1. LimeRoos*

                Omg, we almost looked at a house with a carpeted kitchen! So odd that that is still a thing. It would be so annoying and hard to clean. Also, good job being surprised! Because I would’ve been like “of course they want you to take out the carpet in the kitchen? this is not surprising, highly recommend following realtor recommendations” lol.

                1. Sargasso*

                  That would be horrifying. Imagine that sticky skim that winds up on top of your refrigerator, except sunk into carpet! (I mean, also imagine your house burning down, but gunk in the carpet, ew.)

        2. Chilipepper Attitude*

          In the US, most property appraisers offices have records of ownership publicly available online. Just search the name or the address and you get the other one.

          Some states in the US even have voter records available publicly, you just have to ask. Most have addresses, precincts, and political affiliation. A few even had social security numbers available!

          1. Clisby*

            Voter records are (mostly) public in SC. Social Security numbers and, I think, driver’s license numbers, are blocked – but you can find out address, age, gender, race, often a phone number, how recently a person has voted, etc. I helped one neighbor who was running for city council by creating a mailing list from the voter records – he just went down to the elections office and bought it on CD.

        3. M2*

          In my state if you type someone’s name into Google and they own a home one of the first things that comes up is their name, home address, and map. You have to contact the website (it’s public knowledge so if someone wants to find it they can) and ask them to take it down. This particular website just takes down the owners names, but I also did it on white pages and other sites too. I would suggest doing this as sometimes even if you Google a name it comes up pretty quickly. At least that is the case in my state.

        4. Observer*

          Homeowners aren’t typically identified on home listings. And part of the purpose of going through a realtor is to have an intermediary between yourself and the buyer

          The OP knows that their house listing is public knowledge. Which means that, outside of a situation where the OP actually was keeping their address secret, it’s public knowledge that *they* (the OP) had listed their house. And while I have no idea whether realtors actually list the owners’ names or not, it’s stupid simple to Google an address and find the owner. I just did it for my house, and another one that I once lived at.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            It is normal to look up real estate assessments when you are looking at a house. It’s to get an idea of whether the price seems too low or high. And the assessments list the owners by name.

        5. Russian In Texas*

          They are not listed on the real estate sites, but they are listed in the county appraisal sites.
          I can find someone’s address with two clicks if I have a last and first name. The post will also have the size of the house, size of the lot, the appraisals by year, year built, change of ownership, etc.
          Completely opened to public, free and clear.

        6. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          It is normal to look up real estate assessments when you are looking at a house. It’s to get an idea of whether the price seems too low or high. And the assessments list the owners by name.

      2. Nina*

        Maybe it’s because I come from a time when they used to print up big books with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of everyone in town, and give them to everyone for free (it was called a “phone book”)

        I also come from that time, so I happen to know that if you have creepy stalkers or weird family, are a public person, write controversial things, or just plain don’t like having your name and address out there for anyone to see, you could request to be excluded from the phone book and you would be. It sounds like OP is a pretty private kind of person who would have been likely to take this approach if this letter was written in 2002 rather than 2022.

        Also – I don’t know where in the world you are, but where I am, the name of the homeowner is never included in ‘house for sale’ listings, so I’m not buying that.

        1. Worldwalker*

          South Carolina. And the name of the owner isn’t included in the listings, but if I was looking at houses for sale, I’d do a quick Google lookup on the address, and I as I just posted, when I tried this with my own address, the sixth hit gave my name. Possibly some of the earlier ones, too, but that was obvious so that’s the one I looked at.

          And very few people asked to be excluded from the phone book. I don’t remember if it cost extra like an unlisted number did.

            1. Ssssssssssssssssssss*

              Yes, it did. I clearly remember that being an option to have an unlisted number but it wasn’t free. We never bothered – the number was under my husband’s name and there were six others with the same name, making us harder to find should anyone have wanted to stalk us.

            2. Random Bystander*

              The unlisted number was not only not in any printed directory, but also, if someone called into directory assistance to ask for the number of “Jane Q Public”, the response would be that “we have no listing for that individual”. I’m not sure if in the UK you’d have something like directory assistance where if you knew the name and town, you could dial a number to get the phone # unless it was restricted in that manner.

              My basis of knowledge: I had been going through a horrific divorce (now-ex stalking [legally, still married, but only because the divorce process was incomplete as he fought it every step of the way, because my reason for divorce would have not looked good for his other legal trouble], eventually he went to jail for violating my order of protection which sped the completion of the divorce dramatically). One of the things that I did was get an unlisted number. It cost something like $5/mo, which was well worth it. (Prior to getting this, now-ex would call repeatedly non-stop so that the only other solution was to leave the phone off the hook and hope that I could put it on and dial out before he tried again if I needed to make an outgoing call.)

              1. londonedit*

                Yes; in the days of everyone using landlines it was known here as being ‘ex-directory’. So you wouldn’t appear in the phone book, and your number wouldn’t be given out if someone called directory enquiries. But it was free to be ex-directory, there was no cost associated. You can also request that your electoral roll details aren’t made available to the companies who will buy up names and addresses and sell them on for junk mail.

            3. Southern Gentleman*

              The trick was to list your number in a name other than your own. Let’s say your name is Mary St. Nicholas, you could fill out a form and have your number listed as Nick St. Mary (or anything, really…John Smith). You were the “unlisted” for free!

              1. doreen*

                It wasn’t uncommon for the listing to be in a name that would allow only people who know you to look it up – for example, I know someone who used her husband’s name except for the phone listing which was in her maiden name and someone else who did the reverse and had the listing with her first name and husband’s last name which she never used otherwise. You’d have to know someone well enough to know both the name they used and the one they didn’t use.

            4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

              An unlisted number cost extra (because Ma Bell realized that was a thing people valued, and would pay for). Listing your phone under a name other than the one on the phone bill was free — Jane Smith could have her number listed as John Smith, or as J. Maidenname, or as George Washington or Mickey Mouse.

              She might or might not tell her friends to look under her maiden name, or her grandfather’s name, but random other people wouldn’t know to look there, and if someone called and asked for “George Washington,” she would know it was a stranger, and not someone she’d given her phone number to.

            5. lost academic*

              Might also be related along with all the other points people have made to the fact that there are 5 times as many people in the US as there are in Great Britain.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            That has to have been regional. I remember our phone book only being useful for businesses as a kid because most people (including my fam) didn’t list anything. I remember thinking it was weird when I could find someone in the phonebook. This was 80s-early 90s

            1. Yorick*

              It could be micro-regional, in that a lot of people in a more wealthy area might pay to be unlisted. No one I knew was unlisted as far as I could tell – even if they could technically afford it, they wouldn’t have been willing to.

          2. Someguy*

            Where I am you have to pay to get an unlisted number (used to, at least) .

            I had a colleague who gave an incorrect name as the name to be listed with his home number- he wanted to be unlisted, but no way was he going to pay for it.

            1. Generic Name*

              I know someone who submitted the name of her favorite 18th century poet as the name to list.

          3. Clisby*

            I’m in SC, too, and can’t imagine not looking up the property/tax records of a property listing that interested me.

        2. Sleepless KJ*

          And in this day and age when you practically have to make a decision on the spot whether to make an offer within 15 minutes of viewing it you bet I’m doing plenty of online research on properties I know I might be seriously interested in. All you have to do is check out the tax rolls and the owners name is right there. Just brought a house. Unless the owner is a trust, the name is public record.

          1. Delta Delta*

            No kidding. MLIS listings have not only the address but the legal property description so it’s super easy to plug that in to the town’s tax rolls. I suspect the coworker was trying to learn about the property and inadvertently learned it was OP’s house, not that coworker was trying to learn about OP.

          2. LimeRoos*

            This! I have a comment further down, but this is exactly it. You need to be prepared to move on a house insanely fast with a perfect offer to even be considered. It’s bonkers. I researched everything I could find on the few houses we wanted to look at, and we still were only able to see one because the other two were already pending before our scheduled viewing so they cancelled.

            1. Me ... Just Me*

              We just bought a house in August. You bet we cyber stalked the previous owners a little. We wanted to know how long they lived there, whether they actually lived there, and what kind of people they were (we didn’t want something coming back from their past to haunt us), taxes, etc. You’ve got 15 minutes to make an offer and a huge chunk of money tied up in buying a house. I think it would have been really unwise not to do research. An inspection doesn’t turn up everything and people actively try to hide things that have not been well taken care of.

              BTW — they came by the house last night to trick or treat with their kids. Cute family.

              1. LimeRoos*

                Aww! That’s so fun they came by for trick or treating! I think ours moved away, they had lived here for 33 years so pretty sure they retired, but the whole family signed the house with lovely messages which was so sweet.

        3. Observer*

          Also – I don’t know where in the world you are, but where I am, the name of the homeowner is never included in ‘house for sale’ listings, so I’m not buying that.

          Well, *I* am not buying your claim. Owner names are all over the place, especially on realtor listings here in NY.

          If the OP doesn’t want their names showing up in normal places, then they need to take the trouble to make sure they are not listed.

          And, by the way, the phone companies used to CHARGE MONEY to not list you in the phone book. At least that’s no longer the case. But, like I said, if the OP really wants to no be findable, they need to do the work.

      3. Kay*

        For me the difference between “this information is technically public” and “this feels very creepy” is the amount of effort involved to get from one to the other and the fact that her co-worker is apparently clueless that disclosing said effort generally doesn’t go over well.

        While the owners of properties are technically public in most places I’m aware of – the amount of searching needed to find said information is at minimum a Google search of the person’s name and can easily amount to knowing which government websites one needs to go to/where to plug in your target’s name.

        I get that spending far too much time doing a deep dive into the personal lives of your co-workers is a thing, but at least most people understand that if you are going to waste time snooping on your cube mate you certainly don’t get caught or admit to it!

        If a co-worker who had zero business searching property records for my address not only exposed themself for doing so but wouldn’t shut up about it, I would not be pleased.

        Take Allison’s advice, brace yourself for a very awkward conversation and ask her how and why she has your address. Best case scenario she tells you she was researching properties listed for sale and turns out she owns one her son liked – but a self aware person would realize this is going to come off as awkward and invasive – and would have started by acknowledging the weirdness and explaining the situation.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          This is someone who is quite open about her interest in the OP’s house and neighborhood though. The fact that the house was on sale was never something she was going to be discreet about or disinterested in. Worldwalker has a point that the culture around our address and home has changed. If you’re more familiar with the former culture (it could even be described as sociably polite to know something about people’s home lives, particularly if you’re part of the same community) then it wouldn’t occur to the person to be ashamed of it, or call it “snooping”. OP will have to say directly that this isn’t appreciated and not hitting the mark in terms of connection.

        2. M2*

          When I was looking for homes I would type the address into Google to see if anything came up- past listings, whatever. And in my state one of the first things that would come up is the owners name unless you ask the website to make the owners name invisible.

        3. Pugetkayak*

          TBH, I’ve looked up co-workers addresses to see their houses on Zillow. Like the CEO and things to see what their house looked like. But I would never disclose that? Because people do online searches for all kinds of public info, but its like…dont talk about it.

          1. Generic Name*

            Exactly. I’ll admit to a bunch of internet strangers that yes, I am nosy, but would I ever mention any of it to the target of my nosiness? Absolutely not.

        4. Elsajeni*

          Yeah, even in the phone book days, I’m pretty sure it would have registered as weird and nosy to look up a co-worker you don’t know that well, for no reason other than curiosity, and then bring up in conversation that you know where they live! But of course, that’s the “socially clueless” aspect here, presumably — there’s a Polite Fiction involved here, roughly along the lines of “you’re supposed to pretend not to know things about other people that they haven’t told you themselves,” and that’s exactly the kind of unwritten social rule that some people struggle to pick up on or understand.

          1. KatEnigma*

            But as has been widely discussed, in most cases you don’t have to look up the co-worker. Googling the address is ALL that is necessary, if you aren’t in a State that just lists the owners outright.

            And then mentioning that her son is looking for a house in her neighborhood isn’t weird to mention. At all. Or asking after it went pending a couple questions, that would likely help her son in his quest to actually buy a house instead of keep looking forever.

            But regardless, as LW’s manager and Alison both said, this is on LW to solve if she doesn’t want co-worker talking to her about things. It’s not a business problem and LW’s manager wasn’t wrong to not step in as it wasn’t an overstep of normal or reasonable office chatter.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              The creepy factor is 100% due to the “I recognized your address”. Can the coworkers easily look up the address? Sure. If the coworker had said “my son was house shopping and we happened to realize it’s yours after googling the house” (or whatever the shortest version of that statement is) would be waaaaaaay less creepy. It implies “I stumbled upon this info doing a thing I was doing anyway”.
              “I recognized your address” when you’ve never given the person the address = creepy. It implies they knew your address in the first place, or were somehow familiar with the interior/exterior of the house enough to realize that was yours from photos in the listing. If you’ve never given them your address, they’ve likely never been to/in your house. So unless there’s some super identifying picture of it on your desk that the person could recognize in the listing, they should have no existing method of “recognizing” the house.
              It is possible the coworker actually did the non-creepy thing but unfortunately chose to phrase it in a way that implies they did a creepy thing. Because of that it’s still reasonable that the OP find this off-putting.

            2. Elsajeni*

              I realize this is a fine point, but “I recognized your address” really doesn’t get across “I looked up an unfamiliar address and realized you were the owner” — what it sounds like is “I already knew your address, so when I saw this house listing, I realized it was your house.” That’s where the assumption that she looked the OP up comes from — if she didn’t already know the address, she couldn’t have “recognized” it, and if they didn’t give it to her, the only way she could already know it is to have looked it up for some reason. I suppose it’s possible she just phrased it very weirdly and that’s not what she meant to say, but it is what she said.

            3. snarkfox*

              Yeah, I thought maybe she googled the address and OP’s name came up, but if so, “I recognized your address” is a weird way to say that. Then again, it’s fully possible that she said it wrong, or that OP remembers it wrong, or something.

              I think OP assumes the coworker went out of her way to look up OP’s home address, which… maybe she did? And yeah, that would be weird. but there are so many other things that could’ve happened. And it’s really on her to solve, unless there’s a pattern of creepy behavior from the coworker (and it doesn’t sound like there is, just some social awkwardness).

      4. short'n'stout*

        My city’s local government has a publicly available database of every property that it collects rates for. All you need to do is type in the address (say, from a real estate listing), and it gives you a range of information, including the property value and property owner’s full name. We used to use it all the time when we were looking for a house to buy.

        1. MM*

          I just googled my address. The 4th and 5th hit both listed my address and my full name in the heading. The 6th hit listed my address and the previous owners name.

          1. M2*

            You can contact the websites and ask for them to be removed if you want. They each usually have different processes. If someone wants to find the info it’s public record and it’s bound to be somewhere online but I went to about 8-9 different websites that had our info on it and went through their process to have it taken down. It was annoying but my partner works in an industry where we were worried we might have someone look them up and show up at our home or write directly to them.

        2. Delta Delta*

          Exactly this. I’m looking to buy a place and I spent a ton of time switching back and forth between the real estate website and the town’s tax rolls. Am I being creepy? No, I’m trying to figure out if I can afford property taxes.

          1. nona*

            Did you strike up a conversation with the current owner about all that information and the fact that you were looking? That’s where the creepy creeps in.

            Just because the information is public doesn’t mean you have right relationship to initiate a conversation about that information.

            1. KatEnigma*

              If I KNEW the owner, I might. It wasn’t actually personal or private information to talk about. Which both the LW’s manager and Alison herself stated.

      5. Seashell*

        I come from the age of phone books and had never heard of the internet during my early jobs. Even then, if a co-worker had no reason to know my address and suddenly announced that they knew my exact address, I would have felt oddly about it and wonder why on earth they were looking me up. It gives stalkerish vibes. Same here.

      6. Everything Bagel*

        I think what’s freaking OP out is that the coworker seemed to already know that’s where OP lives when she saw the house listed.

        1. KRM*

          But…that’s everyone’s point! The coworker’s son is looking to buy a house. Maybe coworker has been doing some research on his behalf, and since the property is listed, coworker found the OP’s name while looking for tax records, sales records, etc. Now it’s perfectly fine for OP to say “Sorry but I really don’t want to discuss my house sale with anyone”, but it’s also not super weird or unusual for coworker to have found this information. It may *seem* like the coworker knew before because she came in to the conversation knowing, but a little research would be all it took. She probably also knows the owners of 6 other houses for sale in that neighborhood, but that’s not part of the conversation!

        2. Someone Online*

          It could be as simple as seeing coworker’s car parked in the driveway when looking at house pictures. I’m always looking up homes for sale on Zillow even when I have no intention of buying or selling. I just like looking at houses.

      7. to varying degrees*

        Yeah, this doesn’t even register with me at all. If I look up my address my name is listed (without opening the link) on the 5th hit. I also am wondering if the coworker happens to live in the same neighborhood as the LW and saw the house being for sale. If they have the same travel patterns and work hours it’s pretty easy to start recognizing the same cars every day and where they are going.

      8. Phryne*

        I don’t completely disagree, but the age of Big Data did change the consequences of public data a bit.
        If all you have is a paper book with listings, there is a limit on what you can do with that. When you have a file with names and addresses you can cross refence against all sorts of other data in seconds, there is a lot of damage possible.
        We had news at my workplace just the other week that our private addresses were leaked due to a hack of a third party who provided a service. (why this third party needed our addresses for that is a mystery to me, to make it worse) Our information is now available to whoever pays on the dark web (this is verified, not speculation). We have been warned to be extra vigilant about an increase in spam mail both digital and paper, a possible increase in phishing attempts and to be aware that ID theft can be a consequence of this leak. It is not a fun thing to be made aware of.

      9. Not A Manager*

        “I recognized your address and see your house is for sale!” This doesn’t suggest that first she found the house (for her son), and then she discovered who owns it. This suggests that she already knew the LW’s address, and when browsing listings recognized it.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, this is definitely what’s weird about it. If this was a very small town or a village where people generally had an idea of where everyone lived, then I could sort of see it – the OP is browsing houses in the area and thinks oh, I think that’s the name of the road Jane lives on…actually I think she’s mentioned having a blue front door and window boxes too, looks like that’s Jane’s house! But otherwise I can’t see a situation where a colleague would know your exact address, and therefore I can’t see a situation where they’d be able to connect your address with a listing on a property website (most of which only give the name of the road the house is on, if that). In my case, my immediate boss and colleague know the area of London I live in (which has a couple of hundred thousand inhabitants) but they don’t know the name of my road or the precise location. Less close colleagues might know the rough location (north/south/east/west London) that I live in. People I interact with less often than that probably wouldn’t have a clue, and if anyone (HR, payroll, etc) gave out my address or used my address to look up where I lived, that would be a serious breach of data protection.

        2. morethantired*

          My first thought is that this coworker perhaps sees these addresses as part of her role, like processing expense reports or other mailings where everyone gets something sent to their home address. And maybe this LW lives on a street where the name is particularly memorable to this coworker for some reason, or they’re the sort of person where things like street names stick with them. We can’t assume she had to snoop to get the address.

      10. cmcinnyc*

        I come from a small town. Our phone book not only listed my parents’s names but also the kids’ names in parentheses (along with, yes, our address).

      11. Willow Pillow*

        People weren’t doxxed by strangers in that time. Identity theft wasn’t as big of an issue either. We have more robust privacy legislation for a reason – you’re certainly entitled to your perspective on your personal information, but that doesn’t invalidate LW’s cautious perspective. If this is an issue to the LW, it’s an issue, period.

        1. Observer*

          What “more cautious perspective”? The OP is not expressing caution, but a demand that her boss enforce HER preferred level of privacy as an across-the-board-default. And that’s just not reasonable.

          The OP doesn’t want people to know that she and her spouse are selling their home? Do the work to get your name off of these public listings. Don’t try to get your workplace to issue a diktat that no one may look up publicly accessible information about their coworkers – even in a situation where that information may actually be relevant to the person looking up the information. The OP doesn’t want to discuss this with CW, nor to answer her (nosy) questions? So just DON’T discuss and don’t answer any questions. Don’t insist that your manager has to implement rules forbidding people to ask non-work related questions of others.

          What people are basically saying is that the CW’s behavior may be a bit snoopy and intrusive, and that regardless the OP has a right to not have these discussions at work. BUT that the behavior does not come close to being so intrusive and inappropriate that asking for management intervention is a reasonable first step.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            This really isn’t relevant to my comment, which was to point out that there are factors associated with “modern times” that validate a more cautious perspective. I see you’ve stated that the information in question here is publicly and easily accessible where you live, but that’s not universal. You are doubling down on unreasonable assumptions here.

      12. tamarack and fireweed*

        I come from the era of phone books too, but if a colleague at work had said something that showed they had gone and looked up my address, probably specifically to link my name with a real estate listing, it would still feel a little stalkerish. At least it would require explanation. If the conversation was just something like: “Hey, my son is looking to buy a house and came across your listing – I happen to know it’s your address because Leslie from accounting mentioned she dropped you off there after giving you a ride home. Unfortunately it’s outside his price range – but nice place! Good luck with the sale” AND THAT’s THE END – I have no problem with it. Anything more feels intrusive.

    2. MsClaw*

      Also, it was two conversations with a coworker who appears to be helping her son house hunt. This doesn’t seem like she’s super interested in your house — this sounds like she’s super interested in her son finding a house and she was curious about whether your house would be a good match.

      I absolutely agree that it’s not that hard to find out who owns a house, and this is really very basic office chit-chat. I get that you say she’s got a habit of being nosy, but the best way to deal with that is often to just …. be boring. You don’t have to be rude, or lie, just don’t engage.

      ‘Did you have a lot of showings?’ I don’t know, the realtor really handled that. ‘That didn’t take long!’ Glad to be done with it, good luck to your son on his house hunt. ‘Did you guys do x,y,z?’ I’ve really got to get back to this TPS Report but nice chatting with you.

        1. MsClaw*

          It’s really not uncommon for parents to help their kids house hunt.

          I mean, I personally never wanted a parental unit within 100 yards of me looking for housing, but it is super not unusual for parents to get involved with the kid’s house search. Especially if it’s their first house and/or the parent is eager to get the kid out from under *their* roof, and/or if they are helping pay the down payment, etc. I’ve worked with a lot of people 15-20 years younger than me who expect and want a much greater degree of parental involvement in their lives than I would have tolerated at a similar age.

        2. Overit*

          Many parents are often involved when their kids buy a house, esp a first house. Indeed in my daughter’s generation most of them are only able to buy bec the parents gifted the down payment.

        3. Observer*

          The irony of getting into someone’s relationship with their son, while simultaneously criticizing that person for being too much into someone else’s far less personal business.

    3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Honestly, if the coworker’s son is house searching and found a house he liked but was priced too high, it is normal enough to go to the county website and look up the real estate assessment to get an idea if the price is too high. Owner names will come up when you pull up the assessment. So even knowing the address may not be too weird, since she had a valid reason to look up the assessment. Also, she probably is asking these questions to see if there is a possibility that the price will drop (unlikely in this market!). That’s a bit nosy, but not over the top.

  4. GingerCookie*

    #2… you literally can get out of so many… conversations. by just saying No, Thank you. That’s it. Thats all you need to say… no thank you. And then the problem will solve itself. That’s how I tell off my nosey co workers asking about my divorce. No… Thank yu!

    1. Rumpling*

      Or even say that you have to think about the house sale a lot at home, so don’t want to have to think about it at work. Laugh lightheartedly and change the subject to something neutral.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        This would be my approach. “Oh please! Can we talk about anything else? This house sale has eaten my life and I am dreaming in real estate, work is my escape”

      2. Ellis Bell*

        OP really needs to say something in this vein because people overhearing the original coworker be all “This is so exciting! What an excellent topic of conversation!” may infer that OP is cool talking about her neighbourhood, and may even be trying to publicise the sale. Houses and mortgages are often seen as pretty standard office conversation if there’s nothing particular to say about the weather, so I can see this being a free for all. In OP’s shoes I would probably be all stage-whispery and just say “I actually hate people knowing private details about me, like where I live. I haven’t discussed the house sale at work, because I don’t want people to overhear.” That should take care of a) airing it as conversation b) informing colleague that OP is private about her address and c) hopefully makes her more discreet when talking about OP with others. It’s also totally fair game to ask where she got the address from originally: “because I want to improve my privacy online.”

    2. ferrina*

      Yep. And steadfastly talk about anything else (bonus points if it’s something innocuous that they are totally interested in)

    3. Hannah Lee*

      I’ll use “No thank you” in the future. That’s a great way to acknowledge their interest and at the same time refuse to engage in the conversation.

      What I’ve tended to use in the past with nosy parkers is variations of “why do you ask?” Because with people who have a ‘valid’ reason or a benevolent one, it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly “oh, I saw the bumper sticker on your car about kids with square heads and my cousin has a kid with a square head and is setting up a play group for other kids like hers. I was wondering if you’d like an invite or her contact info.”

      But the simply nosy or agenda based motivations come clear pretty quickly too, and sometimes causing them to say the quiet part out loud can be satisfying or validating when it confirms you were right to freeze them out from info. eg, the neighbor who kept peppering me with questions about how much a family member sold their used car “Why do you ask?” after I’d given them 3 different “i have no idea” answers. His reason for being so pushy and nosy about something that was none of his business? Their BIL had been looking for a car and had meant to call about that one, and if it went for a low price, he was going to rub his BIL’s nose in it. He was actively digging for deets so he could drag, needle a family member. Yeah … NO!

      But “No thank you” saves a lot of time and conversation.

  5. Zombeyonce*

    #5: I expect the LW might not have been so annoyed by the interview being cut off early if this were the second or third interview instead of the seventh. I’d have lost patience by then, too. It’s a lot harder to extend grace to someone when you’re fed up with a process that’s gone on way too long.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      The fact that it is the 7th interview (while that’s a LOT of interviews) makes me think that the interviewer was being sincere when they said they had a business emergency to deal with.

      If I were the candidate, I would reach out to see if the interview could be rescheduled, and see what happens. If the company is interested in the candidate, odds are they’ll get back to the person to reschedule or will move forward to an offer or whatever comes next in their process.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        The way I read it, it was just the last 10 minutes of the interview that got cut off. That’s not something that would typically get rescheduled.

        1. ferrina*

          Yeah, 10 minutes in a 45 minutes interview (especially the 7th one!!) shouldn’t have a big impact. Rescheduling it would be really weird- what are you hoping for in those 10 minutes that can’t be done in an email? It also shows a pretty cavalier attitude toward the interviewer’s time.

      2. Pugetkayak*

        Yes and the interviewer did say they asked all their questions already. The interviewer also said she did very standard list of questions, so I don’t know that you’d get a lot out of it. I thought the letter would be about 5 minutes and cut off. It just ended a bit early, so I’m not sure what the big deal is.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      I was very surprised that the issue was a 45 minute interview was cut short by 10 minutes. I expected it to be cut much shorter, in half. The interviewer said she asked all of her (required) questions so she got what she needed and didn’t waste the LW’s time. I don’t think there’s much for the LW to be upset about in that.

      OTOH 7 interviews! That’s where I’d be directing my annoyance.

      1. KRM*

        Especially since LW had a bunch of other interviews where they had the opportunity to ask their questions! This just seems like a higher up who had the time to meet with the candidate, but then had someone else need their time at the end. Not a big deal.
        FWIW I don’t think speaking to 7 people over the course of a day is that big of a deal? I consider that 1 interview–you know ahead of time you’ll be speaking with X number of people and the timings, so you can arrange your schedule as needed. It’s a lot of people for sure, but it’s not inherently bad, IMO. For CurrentJob, I think I had 6 separate people/groups? I had a schedule with Teams links and they built breaks in between people, which was very nice (plenty of time for biobreak or making a cup of tea or letting the dog out quickly). But I only had to adjust my work schedule for one day.

      2. Anne of Green Gables*

        But the interviewee didn’t get to ask *their* questions. I think that’s the issue. I would be really upset about that.

        1. Pugetkayak*

          I don’t think the OP should have had too many more questions. Presumably they were mostly asked during the earlier stages and so they may have had one or two specific to this exec. Also the interviewer told them to email them, so was open to receiving the questions.

    3. BethDH*

      I hadn’t thought of that but it makes sense to me. They’re being cavalier with OP’s time and then as soon as it’s inconvenient for them suddenly they don’t need as long.
      Now, 7 interviews would be normal in my field (though usually over 2-3 visits, not 7 separate ones), and something almost always does come up somewhere in the interview process that screws up a schedule. I can absolutely imagine something coming up and trying to be respectful of an interviewee’s time by NOT rescheduling if I could just cut it by ten minutes. And if it were something emotionally intense I’d probably control myself by being extra formal. So if the interview process otherwise felt positive, I’d give the interviewer some grace.

    4. Antilles*

      I legitimately do not understand why #5 is so upset.

      There was a 45-minute interview scheduled. It only took 35 minutes. The interviewer even said they went through all of their questions and didn’t need anything further. So the interview ended rather than just sort of awkwardly dragging on with no purpose; seems perfectly in line with normal business protocol to not waste your time.

      1. Antilles*

        Now if you want to be upset about the 7 interviews, that’s a fair thing to be annoyed about, but that would be the case even if the interviewer had basically gone “well, we have 10 more minutes but I’m out of questions, so uh…how about that weather? crazy right?”

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Well part of an interview should be an opportunity for the interviewee to ask questions. Now, here, OP had six other interviews to do so and that’s a whole other issue, but in a normal situation, I’d be taken aback if I didn’t have time to ask anything (if the interview just ended because their questions were done, not if there was an emergency.)

      3. The New Wanderer*

        I agree. Would it have been better if the executive stuck it out another 5 or so minutes to have OP ask questions then? Yes, absolutely. But it doesn’t sound like it was a cavalier decision or that it was the executive’s normal practice to cut things short. And she did acknowledge the impact to OP (not able to ask questions in the moment) and offered to accommodate it another way.

        I’m sure it was a little awkward at the time but it’s no reflection on OP, who clearly impressed six previous interviewers, or on the executive who had an unfortunate but (considering her role) not unreasonable higher priority issue come up.

  6. Observer*

    #1 – Employee not doing well.

    I want to point out that if you REALLY cannot find anything positive to say, then you should have already fired this person. On the other hand, if you actually DO think that this is someone who can get to the point where they are giving you what you need, it’s not possible that there is nothing for you to provide positive feedback on.

    Keep in mind, that positive feedback is important not just for morale, but because it provides important information. When you give someone negative feedback, they hopefully know that they should not repeat that thing. But when you give them positive feedback properly you actually teach them what you DO actively want them to do more of, not just what is “not terrible enough to be criticized.”

    I’m not talking about “thank you” – that’s not really positive feedback. Nor am I talking about gushing anything over the top. But specific and actionable feedback that can be used to frame next tasks. Whether it’s something like getting the layout of a report right, making the right call when ordering supplies even though the original item requested was not in stock, or whatever is relevant.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      This is a really good point – people don’t know what you want them TO DO, unless you tell and then tell them what they’re doing correctly.

      I found this with small children – you can’t just discipline bad behaviour, because they don’t know what good behaviour looks like. You have to show them what good is before they can get to it.

      It works the same for employees – show them what good is, praise their efforts to get to good, and things will go better than just correcting mistakes.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Both of these are really important – model and praise what they’re doing right and show them how that transfers to other tasks.

        But if you can’t find anything that fits those criteria- it’s time to question whether the employee is the right fit for the job.

        Additional thought: is this job one that has other people on different teams that do the same thing? Could you possibly link your employee up with one of them as a same position but more experience mentor? Maybe employee has questions and finds asking the managers intimidating- a same level more experience person may help with some of that. It can also give you some independent checks on skills and training as well.

      2. ferrina*

        you can’t just discipline bad behaviour, because they don’t know what good behaviour looks like

        SO TRUE. This is actually taught in child behavior courses- people respond better in being told what to do rather than what not to do. You can’t expect folks to figure out expectations through process of elimination! (I’m ADHD, and this is a constant issue for me- my brain just works different! I can’t magically figure out what you’re thinking, and you can’t assume that I think the same way you do!)

        Tell folks what they should do, praise what they are doing right and you will build loyalty while building skills.

    2. Well...*

      Yup, also, try teaching/advising students with pure negative reinforcement and watch them completely wilt.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I’m really puzzled how OP has managed being able to say anything about the employees’ progress in these feedback meetings. Either the employee isn’t making any – and should be fired – or they are implementing some of the measures discussed. OP must from time to time at least say: “Last time we met, we discussed x and y. I’m pleased to see x is going really well, that’s a big improvement. Now we need to focus on doing y more consistently, such as the time when you did y really well (specifics). I’m sure OP can’t just be meeting him and saying “New problems. Make a list.”

    4. Lilo*

      I’ve trained a number of people. When someone was clearly problematic (potentially not going to be retained), I usually had it identified within a couple weeks and had looped in my supervisor. I really would go hands on and see what I could do (not everyone needs me to be hands on). We do also rotate people around a bit, one so they get a full picture of the job but also to see if a new trainer might connect with a struggling trainee.

      I do try to give praise “good support of X, let’s add Y as well”.

    5. JustKnope*

      Your last point is a great one – “thank you” is jot positive feedback! Saying something like “let’s talk about that last assignment – you did a good job being more detailed in your report notes like we talked about! For the next one, try to bring in even more details like X and Y.”

    6. Hannah Lee*

      Yeah, this is entirely a “manager needs to catch them doing something good and comment on it” situation. Because there has got to be something that the employee is doing right or at least improving on over time. Otherwise, LW is being an ineffective manager for not just firing the person already.

    7. Gremlins*

      So I must not be giving positive feedback properly in a particular situation. Can anyone else relate to the following scenario?

      You’re in a situation with another person who is trying multiple different things. Suddenly they hit on one thing that is spectacular. So you say “Yes! That’s perfect. Keep doing that.” Then they almost immediately STOP doing that and try something else.

      This has happened with multiple different people, so I feel like it might be me that’s the problem. It happens even when I show them myself doing the thing I want.

      P.S. This isn’t a work situation I’m talking about.

    8. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, I get negative feedback constantly and I’m baffled as to if I don’t meet anyone’s requirements, why am I not fired. If he’s that bad, why aren’t you firing him?

  7. Spectra Vondergeist*

    This is probably gross, but my first thought for #5 is that the interviewer needed to go to the bathroom. My family has a history of bathroom issues, so a family inside joke every time a person leaves a situation abruptly, or seems to be in more of a hurry than would normally be warranted, is “oooh they have to poop”.
    It’s kind of a joke but is also just our way of saying “sometimes people have urgent private issues”. I’m famously impatient, but I never mind people being late or leaving early because you just can’t control when your body says it’s time to go. I learned from my also famously impatient grandfather that “you can’t help that!”

    1. Worldwalker*

      It’s quite possible, and that also might account for the interviewer’s stiffness during the interview.

      “I knew I shouldn’t have gotten lunch from Taco Bell; I just hope I can make it through this interview!” followed by “No I can’t! Gotta go! Bye!”

      1. Spectra Vondergeist*

        I had the same thought – sometimes an ordinarily very lovely, maybe even effusively apologetic person becomes indistinguishable from a rude, dismissive one when their intestines are twisting themselves into a pretzel. When half your brain is on “ahhhh that HURTS omg do I have to go now or can I hold it ahhh can this other person tell I’m squirming and staring to sweat” mode it’s hard!

      2. Luna*

        As someone with digestive issues, I have had times where I am recording a video or even streaming, but my intestines are deciding that my dinner was not okay with them. I sit there and think, “I can make it. Not that much longer, I can go to the bathroom later.” while odd, loud sounds erupt from my abdomen.
        And sometimes I can’t, so I just quick mute my headset or tell chat I am AFK for a bit, and then I can rush to the bathroom and take care of things.

        Usually doesn’t take long, but… you know, if you gotta go, you gotta go.

    2. Nina*

      In my industry it ‘something or someone is unexpectedly on literal fire and we need the SME right now‘ would be more likely than ‘oops, bathroom’, but I recognize we’re kind of unusual.

      1. Spectra Vondergeist*

        Sometimes you gotta poop, sometimes you’re on fire, either way you gotta deal with it NOW ;)

    3. Starbuck*

      Seriously. If I mis-time a tea break before (or during) the meeting, I’m probably going to have to run away to pee at some point. It’s annoying, but that’s being human.

  8. Derivative Poster*

    Slightly off-topic, but I think poster #5 may have been interviewing at a tech company. As I understand it, several of the FAANG companies will schedule a full day of interviews for candidates who pass the initial screening. If the candidate does well, the last interview or two will be with a manager. It’s still a lot of interviews, but different than 7 separately scheduled rounds.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I would definitely regard that as quite different. A full day of interviews is a lot for most jobs, but is more likely for more senior roles (faculty interviews in academia are typically are a couple of days and involves flying people out, but there you can be hiring someone for life). But you only have to schedule once and book one instance of PTO. Seven separately scheduled interviews is ludicrous.

      1. BethDH*

        I see this mostly in academic, including some alt-ac, and also in some roles in non-profits lately where they’re trying to give constituencies they serve more of a voice but basically do that by tacking on interviews.

    2. Grace*

      Yeah, that would make sense. I have family involved in the hiring process for the G, and yes, they will give you basically a full day of interviews at some point in there. (They used to fly candidates out for this, at the company’s expense; I believe these days they do it over video chat.) You’d have the HR phone screen, maybe another phone technical screen, and then the interviewathon – morning interview, lunch (with another employee, but not an interview, they did not give feedback to the hiring committee), afternoon interview 1, afternoon interview 2. That’s six right there, if you count lunch. I can easily see someone hitting 7 based on how the interviewathon is scheduled.

  9. Sue*

    Seems like 4 out of 5 of these OPs are a little cranky. #3 has every right to be outraged about not getting paid but the other 4 need to reflect on their empathy, impatience or just relax a tad to improve their situations.

    1. Roseberries*

      A few letters recently do seem to be, “Someone tried to talk to me at work! Alison, I shouldn’t have to put up with this, should I?!” Guys…it’s ok

      1. L-squared*

        I feel that is half the comments on here lol.

        Why do I have to be social? I come to work to work and thats it.

      2. urguncle*

        It feels like there is a competition in comments for who can be more aloof at work. It’s fine and a personal choice to not have friends at work, but not only are there consequences to that, you do still have to be friendly.

      3. Sylvan*

        Yep. Getting along with your coworkers is a basic requirement of any job where you don’t work alone. You don’t have to be best friends, but you have to interact in a reasonably pleasant way.

        1. urguncle*

          And, as LW #4 is testament to, even if you work for yourself, you still can’t afford (sometimes literally) to be difficult to get ahold of.

      4. Parallelogram*

        Yes, along with, “some working adults have joy in their lives! Surely this can’t be acceptable!”
        Other people are allowed to care about things outside work, enjoy their birthdays, tell jokes, celebrate holidays, take vacations, do crafty projects, or share about important events.

        It’s not a personal attack, a sign of terrible judgement, a character defect, or toxic positivity in most cases. Let people be harmlessly happy, even if their happiness looks different from what you would choose.

        (or maybe it’s just a handful of comments, but the sentiment seems to pop up frequently)

        1. londonedit*

          I mean, I do think it’s a bit weird that this person seems to have gone out of their way to look up where the OP lives, but I agree in general that it strikes me as odd whenever I see people here doing the whole ‘I do not want to talk to anyone at work about any aspect of my personal life ever’ thing. I don’t get into hugely personal conversations with the people I work with, but chatting generally about things that are going on in your life/the world is a really, really normal thing to do and I find that I work much better with people if I have a bit of a small-talk rapport with them rather than only ever speaking to them about work. I’m not a robot and I don’t go to work to be a robot – I want a bit of human interaction!

      5. Starbuck*

        Hah, word. I think that’s how a lot of us are feeling these days and I can empathize. But like… maybe think about what you could do, yourself, to solve this, and try a thing or two?

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      I have a colleague who would say, “Just because you’re given a cactus doesn’t mean you have to sit on it.” I feel like the four letters you cited are all choosing to sit on the proverbial cactus when they could just…not.

    3. Well...*

      Fitting for a post-holiday & first of the month set of LWs to be cranky. I’m feeling cranky too. What happened to October?

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I’m feeling cranky too…

        Me too! but in my case it is primarily because when I was packing work lunch this morning I made the ‘stick to my meal plan’ decision to put a green salad and a few squares of super dark (90%) chocolate in my bag.
        And decided to save the Snickers Bar purloined from my friends Trick or Treat bucket for some other time. And now I really really really wish I’d gone with the Snickers Bar. (80%-85% chocolate – my usual, is still chocolate. But I’m now of the opinion that 90% needs to be melted into butter and confectioners sugar and plopped on top of a cupcake to be palatable.)

      2. Starbuck*

        I feel that crankiness. It’s getting really dark and rainy here lately and I miss the daylight!

  10. ButtonUp*

    #2 I’m not particularly private at all, but someone keeping tabs on me outside of work like that would make me so uncomfortable! I can see how there’s a possible innocent explanation, but it’s still creepy to me since LW has never given her the address. In the internet age, you can find out SO much about a person that they wouldn’t necessarily want you to know but is technically “public information”.

    It seems totally reasonable to me for the boss to talk to the coworker instead of LW, especially in the context of potentially coaching her on known social/boundaries issues in the workplace.

    1. Personal Best in Consecutive Days Lived*

      Me too! The address thing was weird as hell. Maybe the LW should just tell her nosy coworker how this came off. Or do so in the moment, like say mildly, “What an odd thing to say/know about.”

      1. mlem*

        In my city (and many cities and towns in my state), assessor maps/records are public and available on the internet. If I’m starting from a HOUSE, I can find the legal owner of record. But this coworker doesn’t seem to have started there, if they already knew the address; it sounds like they started by looking up the *coworker’s* private data in, like, the payroll system or something. Or spending days looking up every single coworker and then cross-checking to narrow down accuracy. Both are creepy.

        1. AMH*

          In my state, you can look up by name in the assessors database and pull the property cards – we don’t need to start with an address. That does not minimize that the coworker doing so is creepy, I’m of course.

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            They changed this in our county because it was felt to be creepy, especially if it only takes browsing to the county’s GIS system (rather than walking into an office and pulling up paper maps).

      2. EPLawyer*

        Just because its easy doesn’t make it creepy.

        The OP is private. They have clearly not discussed their private life at work. This person WHO DOES NOT EVEN WORK with OP decided to find out more info. Even if they started from helping their son look for a place to work, they CHOSE to then google the address to find the homeowner’s name. Which is NOT NECESSARY when buying a house. You find it out eventually when you sign all the paperwork. If you don’t get that far YOU DO NOT NEED THIS INFORMATION.

        OP is within her rights to tell co-irker to back off. She is within her rights to determine how much she shares at work and coworkers do not have the right to trample those boundaries just because.

        1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

          But I’m guessing they weren’t intending to snoop for OP. They were looking at listings and it is a very quick Google to find the owner. OP’s name came up and it was like “Oh that’s OP’s house” I don’t think the coworker or her son were looking specifically for OP.

          The owner’s name doesn’t matter but the taxes do and real estate sites aren’t a great estimate on what the taxes will be. With interest rates as high as they are it’s very normal to also look up the property records to get the tax information.

          Also, looking at real estate listings, even if you have zero interest in actually buying, is a hobby for some people to the point SNL did a whole skit about it.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            A lot of people who found the information that way would say something like “I was googling the houses for sale in neighborhood X and I realized the cute one with the blue shutters is yours! My son is looking around there.” Something that acknowledges the weirdness of happening to know that OP is connected with that Zillow listing. Otherwise it seems like the colleague is paying attention to people’s addresses in a pretty weird way.

          2. Hannah Lee*

            But it’s a bit like working in an office where you can hear other people’s conversations.

            While you might not *intend* to overhear every detail of other people’s workdays, sometimes you can’t help but hear things. But the norm in most civilized workplaces is that you uphold the *illusion* of privacy; even if you see or hear something, you *pretend* like you didn’t. That’s what allows people to work in those settings without losing their minds. Or at least losing their minds over the lack of privacy.

            LW’s co-worker not only came across details of LW’s life (whether they were looking for it or stumbled upon it) but they keep calling attention to that fact and asking for more details about stuff that is none of their business.

            If it were just LW running into this with the co-worker, I’d say it’s an interpersonal thing LW should deal with. But it sounds like the lack of respect for boundaries RE co-workers is a pattern with that person and manager might do well to address it before it creates an actual workplace issue.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              This is so true that the illusion of privacy should be upheld. I think this is a situation though where one person considers “my address is obviously private” and another considers it “Oh I bet X is your house, my son is shopping for one like it around there” small talk. The co-worker who’s bad at cues is then unable to course correct when OP is frosty about it, because … they can’t read cues.

        2. L-squared*

          I think the line of easy and creepy isn’t as black and white as people make it out to be.

          It definitely depends on the amount of work done. But also so many other things, like who is doing it, what kind of information it is, etc. Fair on not, sites like Zillow make financial transactions super easy to know. I also wonder if there are other possible explanations for coworkers. Did OP mention their intersection? Is there maybe a picture of OP and their spouse in front of the house that was recognizeable? There are many possible explanations that aren’t “coworker looked into OPs HR records” or something nefarioius.

          Hell, just by someone’s linkedin profile you can figure out a lot of stuff too.

        3. WantonSeedStitch*

          Honestly, one of the first places I’m going to look when I’m interested in a house is at the most recent assessment, which is generally easily available online, in order to find out what the house is assessed at and whether the property as described in the assessment is different than what I saw (e.g. “oh, looks like the actual property is smaller–they must have gone beyond the property line to plant that garden”). Most assessor databases (not all) do list the homeowner’s name. Even if you aren’t LOOKING for the homeowner’s name, it’s very easy to see it when looking at stuff that is entirely normal to look at when you’re planning an offer.

        4. Observer*

          OP is within her rights to tell co-irker to back off. She is within her rights to determine how much she shares at work and coworkers do not have the right to trample those boundaries just because.

          Sure, the OP is withing her rights to not discuss, and to tell the CW that she’s not going to discuss it.

          But simply looking up public and extremely easy to find information is NOT by itself “trampling boundaries.” And it’s certainly not something that any reasonable manager is going to get involved in.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      I was coming to say this too. It’s very creepy that this coworker knows LW‘s address when it was never given to her. It would make me wonder if I’m being stalked.
      If coworker came across LW‘s address innocently, she shouldn’t have mentioned it and she should respect boundaries.
      I would probably tell her so, but this may not be a good idea. :D

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Actually, I would probably start by asking how she got my address and go from there. And I wouldn’t be afraid to tell her she’s being inappropriate and back off.

      2. Goldie*

        They might have seen it on a resume or something and known the neighborhood. Or known a neighbor.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          In which case, you mention the neighbor. (But not the resume – just because you know the information doesn’t mean it’s yours to discuss.)

          If there’s no social connection, you don’t mention it.

          Also, it sounds to me like coworker might have been hoping that the OP would be willing to come down in price for her son. (I used to work in retail & get twitchy when people with a tenuous connection seem to be asking for a discount.)

    3. Squidhead*

      In the past it was even easier to look up someone’s address, because they were in the white pages of the phone book (unless they de-listed the address). But a thing the nosy co-worker is missing is that…you don’t just go around telling people you know where they live. It’s weird. Just like bathroom noises, you maintain the polite fiction that you know nothing.

      I have a unique name and it’s easy to find my home address on Google. Hilariously, though, the phone number often listed for me is a landline that I had 18 years ago.

    4. Observer*

      It seems totally reasonable to me for the boss to talk to the coworker instead of LW, especially in the context of potentially coaching her on known social/boundaries issues in the workplace.

      Unless you are talking about school children or some really unusual situation, it would be wildly inappropriate for the manager to get involved right now.

      Sorry, the OP is an adult who has some quite public information out there. They are perfectly within their rights to not want to discuss it, and to refuse to discuss it. But the CW did not do anything that warrants their manager getting involved.

    5. Purple Cat*

      Yeah, this is where I land.
      Yes, it’s generally public information to find someone’s address – but you do need to be specifically looking for it.
      In my state, data related to house sales are public information – and very easily searchable in an online database. So everybody knows (if they care to look) how much you paid for your house AND what your mortgage was. If anybody actually struck up a conversation around “So you paid $800k with your house, but only a $200K mortage, how’d you swing that?” without personally being told those details – that’d be creepy as heck.
      OP didn’t TELL her coworker where she lived, or that her house was for sale. So if coworker creeped on that info, she needed to keep that knowledge to herself.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        It sounds like coworker’s son liked the house but couldn’t afford the list price. It is pretty normal to look up the real estate assessment to see if the list price is relatively consistent with the assessed value, and the owner info is right there. So she did not necessarily need to be specifically looking for OP2’s address, since she had another perfectly reasonable reason to be looking at that address anyways.

    6. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      It is normal to look up real estate assessments when you are looking at a house. It’s to get an idea of whether the price seems too low or high. And the assessments list the owners by name. If her son was looking and liked the house but not the price, she may have looked it up for that reason and just saw it, rather than searching for OP’s address. I can see how OP felt awkward, and I think it is reasonable for OP to ask how she found the address, but I don’t think we need to assume coworker was keeping tabs on her.

  11. WoodswomanWrites*

    #3 – Your workplace is horrible and will not get better. They have lied to you about your part-time work becoming full-time, now they have deliberately and illegally tried to not pay you for work you have already done.

    Please look for a new job immediately. If you haven’t worked elsewhere, this might seem like the norm, but it isn’t. There are lots of places that treat their employees reasonably–offering the hours they commit to and paying for work that’s done. You deserve better than this!

    1. Worldwalker*

      Yeah, PAYING THE EMPLOYEES is a bare minimum expected of a workplace. Any workplace. And this is not some new thing — the Bible addresses a related issue. (Leviticus 9:13)

      As Alison said, they have to pay you, and they have to pay you in money. They can’t say they’re not going to pay you for your work. They can’t say they’re going to pay you in banked PTO. And they can’t change your pay rate retroactively.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        They can’t say they’re going to pay you in banked PTO.

        Especially because in some places, banked PTO doesn’t need to be paid out in case of termination, so the employer could just fire LW and not have paid them anything*. (In many places it does, like in my state, accrued vacation, PTO are considered earned wages and need to be fully paid out immediately upon termination (or on the next scheduled pay date if it’s within x # of days from the last day of work)

        *though the whole thing goes back to not paying people in money being a violation of minimum wage laws and likely a whole other raft of wage and hour laws … eg the employer is dodging timely remittance of required payroll taxes, earnings reporting, possibly business expenses depending on whether they are recording accrued PTO liabilities correctly, etc. etc. etc. LW could actually have a pretty good case against the employer and may be eligible for treble damages if things get found in LW’s favor.

        Even if LW doesn’t want to go that route, if it were me I’d be VERY tempted to drop a dime on this employer to the Attorney General or Wage and Hour/Labor Laws Enforcement office whereever they are. Because I guarantee if they are doing this to LW, they have done it before and likely have a pattern of unfair and illegal employment practices and need to be held accountable.

    2. Scot Librarian*

      Also, you say that the work has ballooned while the hours are reducing. You need (once the pay has been sorted) to speak with your manager and explain that there is more work than you can fit into 15 hrs a week and should you work more (and if so, how many hours) or what work should you prioritise in those 15 hrs. You can’t do more and more work in the same hours

    3. Artemesia*

      So this. First go get that money. Be very clear. Alison’s script is perfect. BUt use your extra time to find another job and get out of this nest of bees.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Yes. And only do the work that can be done in the hours given. Tell your boss, I am only paid for X hours, I can do A and B, but not C. How do you want to handle it? Make it a them problem. Right now, Boss has made it a YOU problem. Then illegally not paid you to boot. Its working for them right now so they aren’t going to change. But its not your fault their budget sucks.

        Which if they cut your hours and tried not to pay you sounds like this non profit has some problems. Which is yet another reason to get out before you have no job left to leave.

    4. Delta Delta*

      My first thought was that this nonprofit is out of money and the doors are going to be shut relatively soon. OP ought to get out now.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Ding! Everything about this sequence of events suggests they are running out of money and soon won’t be paying anyone.

      2. Antilles*

        Agreed.
        The immediate question may be “how to get paid for the work you’ve already done”, but in context, there’s a much bigger question.
        I’d even go so far as to bet that if OP sticks around, they’ll find this is not a one-off occurrence.

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yup – when the creative financing begins it’s past time to have been looking for a new job and the exit. Start now by not doing any more extra work, getting paid the amount they owe you already, and use those reclaimed non working hours to interview for new jobs that believe in the bare minimums of paying their staff.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          And when LW does get paid the amount they are already owed, if it’s not paid through a direct deposit, they should *immediately* and *physically* take the check to the bank it is drawn on and get cash. By *immediately* I mean at that moment, even if it means leaving the workplace for 30 minutes in the middle of the workday.

          From experience at a failing company, I know that a paper check in your hand is … a paper check with absolutely zero guarantee there will be money in the account to fund it. And LW needs to be paid, not be # 2187 on a list of unpaid creditors if the company goes dark.

      4. The OTHER Other*

        Came here to say this, LW #3 you need to get paid and get out, this ship is sinking, and soon.

    5. CharlieBrown*

      So many times commenters on here jump to finding a new job over really trivial stuff. “Oh my god, someone parked in your parking space? You should start looking immediately for a new job!”

      But this is one of those situations that is not trivial. They may not be lying (just disorganized and bad at their jobs, but yeah, probably just lying and being manipulative), but they definitely are whack. Start looking yesterday.

      1. Observer*

        This is NOT just a matter of being disorganized. Someone reduced the OP’s time in their payroll system. That doesn’t “just happen”.

  12. K*

    #3 sounds like this organization may be in some serious financial trouble. Get out anyways because they’re mistreating you, but also because this job may not exist shortly.

    1. Shieldmaiden793*

      That was my first thought! They probably don’t have the funds to pay her for 30 hours.

      1. Nicosloanica*

        Probably, but they’re a huge mess not to have told her that *before* she worked the hours! It’s not like it’s difficult to forecast. I’ve absolutely seen places that have to cut hours and I agree that’s probably what’s happening, but you simply can’t do it retroactively, because that’s stealing.

    2. Nicosloanica*

      #3 is the only other person I’ve met who works salaried, part time, as I do. Nonprofits like this set-up – they get a cheap staff person without increasing their overhead – but I find it very ripe for exploitation. There will always be so much work to do that it’s challenging not to at least be available full time, even if you’re not working. When I started, someone told me “the only thing part-time about nonprofits is the salary.” OP’s situation sounds even worse, but it’s already a bad set up.

    3. Warrior Princess Xena*

      That was my same thought. This organization is paying in banked time because they do not have enough cash to pay in money. This job is not going to exist much longer. Run.

      1. Dizzy*

        What’s even worse is the banked time was input as ‘sick time’, not vacation. Many states do not require that sick leave be paid out upon termination of employment, so it really sounds like this company is trying very hard to not pay letter writer for the hours.

        1. Sally*

          Did they think they were going to fool the letter writer into thinking this is just as good as getting paid actual money? LW can’t pay their bills with PTO!

  13. Emmy Noether*

    #1 is kind of funny to me, because I’m from a culture (a region within Germany) that has a saying that translates to “not scolding is enough praise”.

    Literally last week I had a conversation with my boss about a former report of mine who requires a lot of praise. My boss said “well if he wants praise, he has to deliver” (read: deliver excellent work). Note that this is not a struggling employee like in the letter, just average. My boss gives very little praise in general. If he says thanks and has no remarks, then the work was good. If he says it is “useful”, it was great, lol. I’m fine with it, because the “grading scale”, so to say, is clear.

    Let me be clear that neither culture is superior, they’re just different. Both have drawbacks. The hard part is dealing with a way of doing things one isn’t used to.

    1. Juniper*

      Yeah, I’m in Scandinavia and effusive praise is not the done thing here. People are matter-of-fact and to the point. If you do a good job, you might get a good job, or you’ll just get a thank you for, well, doing your job. I have to be careful with my “Americanness” in this regard, since it can actually put people off. Probably why I didn’t pick up on any weird vibes from the way the manager in Q5 cut the interview short.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        I just started reading this book “Between us : how cultures create emotions” by Batja Mesquita, and she is saying the same thing.

        Even though I am just in the first chapter, I feel comfortable recommending it. The author researches emotions, and coming from a Dutch Holocaust surviving family to the US, her personal experiences also provide insight. I also appreciate her looking back and recognizing some of the things she missed early in her studies, etc.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Serious question: Can you motivate people to excel in that kind of environment ? Like, how do you get more of the good stuff if you’re so stinting with praise?

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Not the Emmy, but I’m guessing the few bits of praise really count and, since no one is getting praise, you don’t feel left out. If everyone is from a “praise lite” culture, then there is something other than praise (e.g. money, more prestigious work, more independence) that motivates. I’d swap all the praise in my career for more $$ in a heartbeat

        1. Carbon Dale*

          German salaries for professional jobs are ridiculously low compared to the US and don’t have nearly as many opportunities for prestigious work though. I’ll take all the overly effusive praise my boss wants to give me if it comes with a salary 2-5 times higher the same job in Germany.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            See, my field, being social services, is actually better paid in Germany because they have more of a safety net. I worked with a German and Dutch team when I was in Bosnia and nearly fainted when I learned how much more they were paid for easier-ish work (e.g. health care, housing, transport vouchers for clients is WAY easier to set up)

            1. Clara*

              I just did some quick searching and it looks like salaries for top level leadership positions in social services in Germany are around $85K/year. That’s actually low compared to the US.

              1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                Not to be rude, but I’m pretty sure I know the salaries in my field and my location better than your quick google search. After all, I’m going on 25 years and my German and Dutch friends make about $15K more than me

                1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                  And this isn’t a bash on you. I know my particular background, field, location, org type, benefits cost, etc. and have apples:apples comparison with folks I am friends with from Germany and the Netherlands who do roughly the same job.

              2. bamcheeks*

                I mean, both can be true– even if top-level leadership positions top out a lot lower than the US, the rank-and-file client-facing pay could be waaaay higher.

              3. Nicosloanica*

                But is that with fully paid insurance for the whole family, with lots of leave included? I always heard Europeans like, take the whole summer off, get a year for each child, and pay nothing for any surgery or medical care. I guess there’s taxes to think of though. (If someone’s going to say “taxes” let’s not forget the US system of sales and local taxes as well as ‘just’ what we pay the IRS).

          2. Allonge*

            I am sure this is true about salaries in some fields (although, have you considered that Germans don’t have to pay for e.g. healthcare and college tuition the same way as in the US?) but I find it unlikely that it’s univerally true. And ‘prestigious work’ has as many definitions as there are professions, so…

            Obviously your personal preference only depends on you, but still.

            1. Gil*

              Even accounting for the costs of healthcare etc., white collar employees in the US get paid a lot more. I moved from Germany to the US about 10 years ago and my salary immediately doubled and has increased much faster than it would in Germany. Plus I have a lower cost of living and pay lower taxes. The job I do now doesn’t even exist in Germany because my field is so small there compared to the US.

              Germany, and Europe in general, do a much better job of taking care of low wage workers, but when it comes to professional jobs, the US does a better job of compensating employees.

              1. allathian*

                Financially, yes, but it’s also a matter of what you value. I value job security, and I love the fact that in much of Europe at will employment is illegal. Employers can fire people either for cause or lay them off for financial reasons. Sure, employers will find a way to get rid of “undesirable” employees even here, but at least Europeans aren’t left without health insurance if their employer fires them on a whim. Employment contracts are standard and for most jobs it’s illegal to employ people without a standard written contract. In the private sector there’s more room for negotiation, but non-financial benefits such as vacation time and sick time are often determined by collective agreements that apply to everyone, regardless of whether the employees are unionized or not.

                Sure, our tax rates are higher, but at least in Finland, our lifestyle’s considerably less stressful. People who need daycare can find it at a reasonable price, and universal healthcare is a benefit that I wouldn’t want to live without, no matter how much you paid me. We also work a lot fewer hours than the average person in the US does, thanks to both longer vacations and shorter workweeks. So there’s room for more than just work in our lives. And I’ve yet to meet the person who’s working past the age of 65 because they can’t afford to retire. If people work at that age, it’s because they want to, not because they have to.

                It’s also a huge plus that the general population tends to trust the public sector to do a good job and to use their budget in a productive way that benefits society in general. So even public sector employees get holiday parties, free coffee, and sometimes even swag and the few who yell that it’s a misuse of tax money get laughed at.

                1. Gil*

                  I agree with you that Europe is better for the majority of employees, but for people who are career-driven and value advancement and prestige, the US provides more opportunities to do that, though it does comes with some risks. In my current position, I also get the job security, almost free healthcare, vacation time and other benefits that everyone is Germany gets, so taking the risks has paid off for me. And I’m not even in a very senior position, I’m middle management.

                  I’m not arguing against the European way of doing things. I’m just pointing out that there is a flipside to it that often gets overlooked.

                2. Emmy Noether*

                  (ran out of nesting)
                  You know those studies that find that beyond a point, more money has very, very diminishing returns for personal happiness? Yeah, I’m beyond the earning point where soft-hearted idealist socialist me gains more happiness through the welfare of those around me than through more money. And risk-avoidant enough that I like knowing that if my life goes to hell in a handbasket tomorrow, there’s a security net down there somewhere.

                  The American system was built by and for people like you, that much is true.

            2. Myrin*

              As a German, I can comfortably say that it’s maybe not universally true – there are exceptions to everything – but nearly so, at least from what I’ve gathered from reading this blog for the last eight years. The salaries you guys talk about for an “average office job” are generally pretty astronomical to me.

              I’m starting a new a job tomorrow where I’ll be earning about 3200€ a month (pre-tax!) which is not only the absolute most I’ve ever earned by far but also more than anyone in my family has ever earned, period (and yes, I’m accounting for inflation and all that fun business). But in “American speak”, that’s 38.400€ a year, or roughly 37.900$, which if I’m not completely mistaken is considered a low starting salary in the US.

      2. aubrey*

        Like Emmy Noether said, I think what matters most is that the “grading scale” is clear. If you only get praise when they really mean it, it’s really motivating when you do get it.

        Also, if someone is always effusive and “this is great!” sometimes means it’s great, and sometimes means it’s adequate, it’s hard to judge what is actually good and it can be not very motivating. Like getting a participation ribbon.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          Yes! I can’t seem to get honest critical feedback on most anything I do for work, like giving presentations or writing papers. It’s all generic praise that everyone receives for everything. On the one hand, I think it’s sincere in a “we’re happy you showed up” kind of way, but I can’t learn from a blanket “great job!” I have a lot of confidence in my presenting and writing skills, but I wonder, if I totally botched it would anyone actually tell me?

          On the other hand, I often fall into the trap of going into critical-reviewer mode and forgetting to highlight the stuff I think is well done. It’s not that I don’t see the good stuff, it’s that for me, my initial focus is on “what can be better.” The intention may be different than for the LW who isn’t sure what or how to praise if someone isn’t doing that good a job, but the end effect is still an interaction that is critical without anything positive. So I’ll do a first pass where it’s all corrections and suggestions for improvements, and have to do a second pass where I consciously point out the excellent parts.

      3. Allonge*

        Frankly, yes. Indeed the fact that it applies to everyone helps, but for me it’s at least 50% due to expecting and seeing inner motivation and not just relying on feedback for this.

        Also the system recognises that not everyone will excel (meaning not everyone gets A+ or 110% or similar), and that’s ok.

      4. Juniper*

        I can try to answer that — feedback is more practical and concrete. Hearing specifically why something worked well in a project, oftentimes alongside what didn’t work so well, is pretty motivating. But it’s not wrapped up as praise so much as general feedback. It’s
        not the “clap on the shoulder, great job!” mentality I think Americans are used to.

        1. Allonge*

          Oh, that’s a great point. E.g. my boss tells us that grandboss/client was happy with X or Y and thanks us, and then we go on to what we can do better next time. But there is none of the ‘cheerleading’ kind of praise.

      5. Myrin*

        If I had to guess, I’d say people are mostly motivated by their inner wish to do a good job. That’s certainly the case for me – as long as I’m not being actively criticised, I do my job as best as I can; compliments and praise are nice and definitely make me feel good but I don’t feel bad if I don’t get them and I know that a lot of people at least in my immediate circle feel the same way.

    3. Helvetica*

      Yeah, my country is similar, in Northern Europe. I think it doesn’t feel demoralising because that is the overall work culture in most workplaces, so you’re used to it. In fact, I now have a boss who is very effusive in her praise and it feels like too much. Yes, I did my job – no need to write every time that I am “amazing!” because it starts to feel fake. Tangentially, it is similar to how non-Americans feel weird about the level of friendliness displayed in customer service in the US because either it is not “real” or it is just too much.
      But in general, I do appreciate the managers who offer praise for things that are really done well, outside the normal parameters of the job.

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Huh, always heard my family was from Kvemo Kartli just outside of Rustavi, but it seems like someone from your region left their praise philosophy while on their travels. This is totally how my family operates and all the praise in elementary school weirded me out.

    5. Luna*

      I can understand that mindset and I prefer to get ‘genuine’ feedback, especially positive, than just some polite thing. Like, thanking me for keeping an eye on the paperroll for receipts. That’s not something worth praising me for, that’s just part of my job. You could say, “Oh, good that you keep an eye on that” because I can see that being something that is so small, that some people don’t pay much attention to it, until the roll is almost empty.

      I do sometimes talk with my manager when we are working at our separate stores, and we talk about how much money each store has made that day. If I say, “We made over a thousand Euros”, she’s happy about that and I overall am, too, because a good business day means the store remains longer. But nothing too amazing.

      But if my shift has been lucrative, I can say, “I’ve made a thousand Euros during my shift”, I do get direct praise for that and I do think I ‘deserve’ it in the sense that this is during my shift, where I am the only person in the store, and so my working and interacting with customers must have been at least partially responsible for making money. (Even though working in retail for clothing is always a bit of a lottery game for me. You never know how much you’ll make that day.)

    6. anxiousGrad*

      I’m from the US but I’m doing my first full-time research position in Scandinavia and I agree that the culture here is definitely more along the lines of no negative feedback is good feedback. I think the most positive comment I’ve gotten here so far was just some people remarking on how much data I had collected already. I haven’t really questioned whether I’m doing a good job based on the lack of positive feedback, although if other students were getting a lot of positive feedback and I wasn’t, that would probably make me worry. That being said, I can’t imagine ever going over my boss’s head to complain about not getting enough positive feedback. It sounds like something I would only do in a stress dream.

    7. just another queer reader*

      This is an interesting point. It reminds me of the difference between the work culture at my partner’s job and at mine. We work in the same city but at very different organizations: big corporate vs small nonprofit.

      At Big Corporate, “nice work” is high praise. At Small Nonprofit, “Oh my goodness this is INCREDIBLE thank you” is par for the course.

      We’ve both calibrated our expectations accordingly.

    8. allathian*

      I’m in Finland and we have a similar culture in that sense. It’s a part of the Lutheran tradition. That said, people are generally becoming more accepting of praise, and the younger generations who have been raised in a more positive spirit also expect more praise.

      Effusive praise is generally looked at a bit askance here, like the praiser was surprised the praisee was able to do their job well. Or at least employees in the gen X and boomer generations tend to think so. But the occasional thank yous are great, and motivate people more than constant thank yous and good jobs ever would.

    9. bamcheeks*

      I worked in Saxony for six months and got SO much praise. But I think that was partly because it was 1998 and I knew how to use the internet and find a lost window in Windows 3.1, which they all thought was basically witchcraft.

    10. lost academic*

      I know what you mean, Emmy! First person I worked for in research was that kind of German. I literally got into grad school (after being rejected) because he went to someone and praised my work. Unheard of. I was already used to that but a lot of people aren’t. They need to focus on positive nuggets. When I managed people like that now I give them out because I want to get results from them and making new hires and doing training is much harder then bending a little bit on personal style.

      1. linger*

        I think a negative focus might be the default setting for postgrad thesis evaluation?
        I can’t remember ever being expected to give praise; by and large students wanted me to identify, in detail, what needed to be fixed. I was a designated subject matter expert, native speaker, and author of the internal style guide, for my department. Unfortunately this meant students often expected me to comment on and fix content, language, and style issues all in one step … and unrealistically close to their submission deadline. Which certainly didn’t leave time to identify things done well, except by the default that by the time I’d finished, they weren’t covered in red ink.

    11. Francie Foxglove*

      “My boss gives very little praise in general. If he says thanks and has no remarks, then the work was good. If he says it is “useful”, it was great, lol. I’m fine with it, because the “grading scale”, so to say, is clear.”

      Sounds like Walt Disney. His highest praise was “That’ll work.” Meaning, he had nothing to add or subtract, so it was perfect.

  14. Keymaster of Gozer*

    1: This is always tricky, for me anyway. Someone who isn’t doing the job right yet and isn’t progressing as fast as I need, and makes mistakes over again is really hard to find a positive thing about (hi, I’m in IT – we’re geared to spot errors, not so much things actually working)

    I hate calling it this and generally deplore the practice but there’s a ‘compliment sandwich’ approach that has actually generated results in one case. ‘Dave’ (not real name) was actually good at say the difficult callers who’d not give their computer ID without a rant, but he was not good at actually noting down the errors or steps or attempting a fix without a long talk. So, yep, great he could actually calm down some of the nastiest callers but not so great that he’d not do his actual job.

    Because I was initially focused on everything he did wrong he got very angry at me in particular and I’m gonna straight up say I was wrong to not consider that constant negative feedback would do a number on someone. Long talk with myself and later I talked to him and we went through the bits he does well, the bits I thought he’d be excellent at with a bit more attention (write your call notes! Actually try fixes), the bits that were seriously underperforming and then that I believed that this could be resolved IF he wanted to change and learn.

  15. Juniper*

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing (Scandinavia here) but I don’t think there was anything wrong with the way the manager in Q5 ended the interview. I get why the poster could be put off with 7(!) founds of interviews, but there really wasn’t any need to embellish this polite, to-the-point statement.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      By the time you hit a 7th interview, I don’t think anything short of a generous job offer is going to feel like a reasonable close to the call. Whether they don’t let you ask questions become something came up (but not such a dire thing that it derailed any of the interviewer’s questions) or are charmed and enthused and just can’t wait to schedule an 8th interview.

    2. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

      Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but my reading (USian here) is that the problem wasn’t that it wasn’t polite, but that it was stiff to the point of being offputting. It wouldn’t need to be embellished so much as rephrased to sound more like two normal people talking to each other and less like a courtroom brief. “I am conscious of the time” makes me think, “Who talks like that?” and “who talks like that” does come across as chilly to me.

      “I’m aware I’m cutting this off early” or “I’m aware we had ten more minutes scheduled” or something along those lines would have been sufficiently formal and polite for an interview, and not embellished, but more like I’m used to people talking to each other.

      But if English isn’t the person’s first language, or if they’re from a culture where people do talk like that, then I might be taken aback in the moment, but would try to make mental adjustments.

      1. DisgruntledPelican*

        Also from the US, in a very casual work environment, and I hear some variation of “I’m conscious of the time”/”I want to be conscious of everyone’s time” at basically every meeting I attend. That’s a pretty normal thing people say.

  16. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW1 – I took a new job and happened to be working with/for someone I had previously worked with at a different organisation. Org1 was very corporate, profit-driven, etc, whereas Org2 was more people-focused.

    I noticed that Coworker/Boss was much more generous with praise at Org2 than he had ever been at Org1, and it turned out that they deliberately coached it in. So whereas we were used to “praise exceptional work only” at Org1, Org2 was big into creating a mutually supportive atmosphere where it was actively encouraged to recognise all work.

    At first it felt weird to hear “hey General thanks for the report you left on my desk” when it was literally my job to deliver reports, but actually it did make a difference to job satisfaction, and (at the risk of getting a bit life coach-y) it made me look out for and appreciate all the work that happened in the building. Facilities mended the coffee machine! IT streamlined login! Top brass cleared their mugs from the conference room!

    All of which is to say, LW1 may come from an Org1 kind of environment, whereas NewEmployee may be more of an Org2 kind of guy. Pushing the dial a little so more work comes within the praise threshold might be all that’s needed, and might also improve the quality and timeliness of his work product.

    1. bamcheeks*

      There’s a thing in England about whether or not you thank bus drivers, which is generally assumed to be a northern England / southeast England divide, and I have heard Londoners say, “Why do they thank the bus driver? They’re just doing their job! You don’t thank everyone every time you go into a shop, do you?” To which the answer is, YES OF COURSE YOU DO, where the heck were you brought up.

      (I have heard Londoners claim that OF COURSE people in London thank the bus driver, but I have also seen London bus drivers look frankly startled at being thanked and once listened to two London students on a bus in Manchester talk for ages about how weird it was that Northerners thanked the bus driver, so even if it’s not a universal difference, it’s certainly a trend.)

      1. Madame Arcati*

        Grew up in the north live in the south – I always assumed the bus thing was about the type of bus to be honest. In London and some other cities buses have two doors and so you get on by the driver but get off using the door halfway back (or all the way back on a Routemaster -stereotypical London bus with a little platform at the back, for the uninitiated) whereas many provincial buses just have the one door. So the difference between thank the bus driver or not is, whether you are anywhere near him so he would hear you, or not.
        Fwiw in Paris and Russia the buses etc I’ve been on often don’t require you to go near the driver at any point so they don’t get a merci/spasibo!

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, can confirm it’s weird to yell ‘thank you’ if you’re getting off the back doors of a bus (though people occasionally do!) but if you’re getting off a bus that only has a front door, it’s less weird. I do think people try to use this as yet another ‘Londoners are so rude and awful’ argument and it doesn’t 100% stack up (see also: ‘Londoners are so rude, no one talks to anyone on the Tube’, as if everyone else would be happy for a stranger to get into their car and chat to them on their morning commute). London is really a huge collection of villages and of course people in central London aren’t going to be super friendly to everyone – that’s not where we live. We’re there to get to work and get home again, we’re not on holiday. Come out to where we actually live our lives and people are chatting in the butcher’s shop and saying hello to their neighbours just as much as they are in any other area of the country.

          1. Nicosloanica*

            Living in a big American city, there’s a convention that it’s “rude” to waste time / hold up the line, and it’s polite to move through quickly and efficiently to minimize everybody’s wait time. I am always saddened to hear that smaller town visitors find us very rude.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Maybe, but where I live people will wave to the train driver and guard when they get off, and they’re wildly out of earshot at the time.

      2. Asenath*

        Maybe that’s where the custom came from! I’m in Canada, and until some years ago, I never heard anyone thank a bus driver. They were friendly, you spoke with them if you had a question about whether you were on the right bus or if he was going to make a particular transfer point on time, but that was about it. Then passengers started thanking bus drivers, and the practice grew and grew. It’s now commonplace. Even when people are getting off the rear door instead of the front one (a rule that began to be enforced during COVID), most of them call out “Thank you” as they get off. I’ve never understood where the custom came from – I’d been taking buses for many decades in this city, and sporadically in other Canadian cities, and never encountered it.

        1. Marna Nightingale*

          It’s been a thing in Vancouver for years; I remember doing it as a teenager. I suspect it may have spread out from there.

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        It’s so baked in to certain cultures that they added it as an optional thing to do when “leaving the battle bus” (jumping out of a dirigible) in Fortnite. It does make me wonder whether all the young people stuck online during the You Know What will carry the habit on to actual physical buses in future…

      4. Beany*

        In Ireland (or Dublin, at least), it’s also pretty standard to thank the bus driver when you get off. Though if it’s very crowded/busy, and you’re leaving by the middle doors, you might not bother as they won’t hear you.

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      I agree with you–I feel like praise really can be motivating, as long as it’s given specifically and thoughtfully as with negative feedback. “You’re a rockstar!” is fine, but “hey, the format you used for this info makes it super clear and easy to parse” is much more USEFUL praise that can help a person do their job well. It also makes the person feel good, knowing that their work is valued and appreciated.

  17. Nela*

    #4 Fellow freelancer here, and I’m totally with you. I hate getting on calls with prospects when I have no clue what they need.

    My family & friends had a habit of giving my phone number to people who asked them about literally anything design-related. I had to tell them very explicitly to never give my phone number to anyone without asking me first, and to send any potential clients to my website instead, where they can learn exactly what I specialize in, and the minimum budget I’d expect to consider their project.

    I have an intake form on my website and require all new clients to fill it out. It’s not long, but it gives me enough information to filter out projects that are not the right fit.

    I’m aware that this approach is not as “warm”, but that’s a firm boundary for me and it sets the precedent for the remainder of the project. People who are eager to “jump on the phone” tend to call me up whenever they feel like it (and interrupt my focused creative work), and I prefer scheduling and preparing for calls. It’s easier to minimize the amount of calls by putting up some hurdles on them right from the start. (Nobody uses voicemail in my country unfortunately, but I’d gladly send all unscheduled calls to voicemail if I could.)

    Yes you might lose some clients that way. But you are not wrong to want to do things in a way that are more convenient for you. Working with clients is a balancing act, but you get to have non-negotiables.

    1. JSPA*

      An intake form can be warm, notably if it’s phrased somewhat collaboratively, to give people the prompts to make decisions and clarify their needs.

      I’m sure there have been dozens of times where someone looks at the form, and realizes, “hold on, all I know is a price range and that I want a colorful ad that’s ‘on the internet,’ so maybe I need to think things through further before making contact.” That’s actually (passive) free help from you (free is good for them!) and a way of saving time for both of you (a win-win).

      Expecting even a potential serious client who’s potentially a good fit to be able to state their needs without prompting is a pretty high hurdle, so some up-front prompts, in the form of a collaboratively-phrased intake questionnaire, is a good way to get them headed in the right direction, before you engage individually.

      1. Nela*

        Some forms can be like that, for sure.
        I’ve made mine as simple as possible: contact info, several multiple choice questions (including the services I offer and budget range), and a few open ended questions (brief project description, deadline, and what projects in my portfolio do they like the most).

        I used to have a longer, more probing form but I realized even good clients sometimes struggled with it. Now I ask them these questions in our intro meeting/call and it helps me get a better idea of what the project will require to create a very detailed proposal. But if someone is getting more inquiries than they can handle, this type of form is a good way to filter the most invested clients.

    2. aubrey*

      Yeah, I also do this. Phone calls require a lot of energy for me, even if they’re scheduled calls with an agenda. Unscheduled random calls that could be about anything are the worst and mess up my focus for sometimes hours. I don’t want to do that and then find out their budget is literally a third of my rate or they haven’t read my profile and think I do something I don’t. I do try and make my email response warm and the form short and friendly, but it’s a non-negotiable for me. I’m grateful to be in the position where I can just not work with clients who are big phone people.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      The quick email exchange “I’m looking for someone who can write about guinea pigs” “I’m afraid I just do llamas” is enough of a norm, that I think freelancers are wary of an initial phone call being about vague hopes for what you could do for them (disrupting guinea pig journalism?).

    4. londonedit*

      I’m a book editor and my heart always sinks when an author emails and asks for a ‘quick phone call just to go through a few things on the proof corrections’. Because inevitably what that means is that they want to go through the entire set of proofs and ask me whether I think X should change to Y on page 37 and so on. And/or they want me to mark up their corrections for them as they dictate them to me. Neither of which I have the time or energy for. I can imagine this being similar – the OP knows that ‘I just want to jump on a quick call’ inevitably means ‘I just want to spend half an hour telling you about my project even though it’s clear within the first two minutes that it’s not something you’ll want to work on’, or ‘I just want to use this phone call to get a load of free advice on my project even though you probably won’t want to work on it’.

    5. Antilles*

      I have an intake form on my website and require all new clients to fill it out. It’s not long, but it gives me enough information to filter out projects that are not the right fit.
      I’ll bet it also helps narrow down what the client wants because they’re forced to think about the project a little bit to fill out the form – rather than just going “let’s talk about it” and coming in with a completely vague idea of what they even want.

    6. Hannah Lee*

      I think there is also a natural range from “prefers to have first contact be live” vs “prefers to have first contact be written/asynchronous” and LW is on one end of that while some clients are on the other. While building a business, seeking new clients LW might be well served to have some flexibility on that front, and do things* in order to accommodate the ‘let’s chat first’ potential clients.

      Because IME some “let’s chat first” people may never get past a ‘put it in writing’ first step, no matter how simple LW makes that. LW needs clients, has a prospect to client funnel of x# of prospects reaching out, LW may not be able to afford to have a % of those fall out over a communication preference issue. If LW’s work/client pipeline was full, LW would have more flexibility to screen people out on that first step.

      * have a conversation ‘agenda’ with a few critical screening questions right up front, so on that call, you can ask for the info before you get into details.
      * purposely limit the duration of the first conversation 10-15 minutes max, even if that means not fleshing out all the details. And make clear that it’s just an intro meeting and you’ll need to review afterwards before any decisions/agreements are made. Then quickly summarize in writing, add your 2 cents and send it to the prospect to confirm and add details. Even if they call you with those details, you’ve already established a framework to fit it in
      * the short duration calls limits your time investment in an unqualified prospect
      * as much as possible in 30 minutes or less, from the info you get before that live conversation, gather information about the prospect, industry, etc. Even if it’s nowhere near what you’d normally like, having something can help you feel less caught off guard in a live conversation
      * Very quickly after that first conversation, conduct the “qualifying” steps you usually would choose to do up front. It should be easier to get those details after you’ve allowed the prospect the first contact in their preferred method vs making it a gate upfront.
      * for prospects that you will go forward with next steps on, communicate YOUR work process, including making clear when a step/decision WILL require written communication. If the client prefers live meetings, kicking around ideas, that’s all well and good to the extent you can tolerate, your schedule allows, but no big decisions, actions will go forward until it’s agreed in writing. That’s good business practice anyway, no matter what anyone’s communication style is.
      *once you’ve got a portfolio of clients, projects, you maybe can go back to requiring completion of an initial form before agreeing to talk. But first, focus on building your business vs doing things ‘your way’ in the initial contact.

      I say this as someone who much prefers my first contact or at least first substantive contact to be in writing. I hate going into business conversations cold, particularly as a first contact. I’m happy to talk live once I’ve been a quick overview or intro. (though email/text is almost always my preference) But I want everything in writing before agreeing to anything or doing much work.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Ooh, one other thought:

        If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t get your basic qualifying, clarifying info from the prospect in either the first live conversation, or in the follow up email, conversation, you’re probably best backing off from that lead.

        IME that resistance, inability to discuss basic info in a useful way, or to even acknowledge knowns and unknowns of their budget, scope, problem statement, current status of whatever, objectives, even basic info like contact info, address, affiliation, company usually means you’ve got some combination of bad actor, pie in the sky time waster, organization with unclear objectives and/or unrealistic budget for the work or person who is going to be my way or the highway throughout the project.
        Those are all clients you do. not. want. They will suck up your time, effort and distract you from finding better, more mutually beneficial clients and projects.

    7. Cats and dogs*

      I’m not a freelancer but work with a woman who is above me in rank and kind of mean and bossy. She insists on phone calls even when we need actual written responses. I think it is a control thing. It sounds like #4’s potential client just thinks it’s easier or he is lazy.

  18. Well...*

    The rational behind the employer for LW3 is hilariously immoral (on top of being illegal). Think about the implications for exchanging work now for time-off later if used more broadly. Is it okay to ask someone to work for a year for free with a promise of a year off at some point? I guess one can’t leave their job for two years if they ever want to get paid. Can you ask someone to work for, say, 50 years?

    This job is awful, but also, like, what’s wrong with society if a whole group of people think this is okay? Thankfully it’s illegal which gives me some hope.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      Actually… you just reminded me of a program I’ve seen here (not US) where an employee works full time but gets paid for 50% part time for 3 months, and then has 3 months completely off with also 50% part time pay. It has benefits for the employee (health insurance, unemployment insurance, possibly less tax overall), and it’s a two-sided agreement, so it’s actually pretty cool.

  19. FashionablyEvil*

    #1–This letter is a good example of how feedback can be factually correct but ineffective at actually achieving the result you want. The employee’s avoidance makes me think the damage has already been done, but it’s worth thinking about what the mistake is, how big a deal it is, and what approach to it will help the employee learn/do it the way you want the next time.

    For example, “You didn’t adequately address the client’s needs in the proposal” could also be delivered as, “You mentioned their need for our product which is the right first step. In the future, you want to make sure you go further and add more about the features and benefits and connect them to their overall mission. Valentina can show you a great example from the proposal she did last month.” They’re both getting at the same problem, but the latter identifies where they got it right, what they need to do to improve, and offers them a template for fixing it. (Also worth reflecting on whether giving them the example from Valentina/other resources before they started would have been a good idea too. When an employee is consistently missing the mark, it’s always good to ask, “What’s my role in this and how could I better support them?”)

    Shifting from a “this is wrong” approach to feedback to a “this is where we want to go and here are the tools and resources to get there” mindset can make a big difference in getting the results you want.

    1. anonanona*

      This was a really helpful framing of how to effectively deliver constructive feedback, thanks for sharing!

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I’m a huge believer in “go-bys” for employees. I try to give everyone a good example of whatever they need to do so they can mimic and not waste time reinventing the wheel. It also helps identify the truly lost because they tend to do a find/replace rather than reading and getting the whole of the report.

    3. I am Emily's failing memory*

      Agreed on all of this!

      I provide feedback to a small team of writers, and I basically have 3 tiers of reaction to their documents:

      – Parts that are confusing to read, factually inaccurate, or very off-brand tone: Edit text directly with comment explaining why I made the edits I did. (We’ve hired well, so this may be 2-3 things in a document in the first few weeks on the job, but typically falls to 0-1 things per document after 2-3 months.)

      – Generally makes sense and reasonably within brand, but not as strong as it could be: Choose the weakest couple of these areas to highlight and leave a comment asking the writer if they can tweak this section to put more emphasis on Point A, convey more Emotion B, or find an alternative to repeating Adjective C so many times.

      – Exactly what I’m looking for, or even better: As long as anything in the document meets this bar, highlight at least one instance and leave a comment saying so. Doesn’t have to be flowery, sometimes, “Wow, such a clear and pithy way to get that complicated message across – great job,” is warranted, but a simple, “Love this part,” or “Really good analogy here,” works too.

      In my experience, it’s the middle tier where most of the writer’s growth is going to come from. Sure, I could easily rewrite these sections with explanation the way I do for the previous tier, but that much “red ink” on the document would be too harsh for stuff that was passable but improvable, and people don’t learn as much from corrections as they do from the chance to try again with feedback to steer them. Plus, it ensures the final document continues to feel like something they wrote, sob when it does well or gets praise from others on staff, they can be proud of their work.

      And yet, although it’s not as much of a growth opportunity, the third tier is still important for more than just morale. If I can see when I look at the document that one part is “excellent” material and one part is “good enough” material, but I’ve only left feedback on the sections that needed edits, then how will my writer know the difference between excellent and good enough work? If I want to support them in creating mostly excellent work – and I do – I need to call out when they produce it, even if it’s just one really elegant sentence. They benefit from concrete examples of what excellence looks like, and because even writers approximating the same brand voice still tend to have their own subtle distinct style, they benefit from around what excellent looks like in their own style.

  20. Timothy (TRiG)*

    Re: #2

    I was once walking up the street and ran into a man I know slightly because he works for a client of the company I work for. I don’t actually remember his name. He greeted me warmly and then said “I see you’re having an extension!” After some confusion (I was initially thinking in a work context, because that’s how I know him), I realised he’d seen my parents’ application for planning permission to add a granny flat.

    This is just about living in a mid-size Irish town. This is how people are. Nothing unusual about it. I don’t understand your concern.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I’m thinking the oddness of this is probably location-dependent. As other people have noted above, in the UK the homeowner’s name isn’t attached in any way to property listings, so you’d have to go out of your way to find it and that would be very weird. Also in a big city you’re going to have far less of an idea where your colleagues actually live, beyond ‘I know Steve lives in north London’ or ‘I know Jane commutes in from Woking’ or whatever. But in a small town or a village it wouldn’t be uncommon at all for someone to say ‘I see you’ve got a For Sale sign up!’ or ‘Noticed your house is on the market again, did the sale fall through?’ (either because they’ve spotted it online – plenty of people keep an eye on what’s for sale on Rightmove or whatever – or because the sign outside had said ‘Sold’ and then switched back to ‘For Sale’). My parents absolutely notice that kind of thing when it comes to the houses in their village.

    2. Esmeralda*

      The co-worker had to dig around to find the OP’s address. Icky.

      I’m a lot blunter than this OP, so I would have said, wait, how do YOU know where I live? (gets answer) Well, that’s kind of creepy and stalker-y, Betty. (end of conversation)

      But I don’t have any f’s to give…

      1. Observer*

        The co-worker had to dig around to find the OP’s address.

        That’s not necessarily true. And even if they did, the amount of digging in the US is so minimal that turning this into A THING is over the top.

        Sure, the OP doesn’t need to get into that discussion, and is perfectly within bounds to say “I don’t want to discuss it.” So they should just do that and calm down.

        1. Gracely*

          I mean, if you don’t have a landline, it actually can require a lot of digging to find out someone’s address. And most people I know no longer have landlines. The only people I work with that could look up my address legitimately are HR and maybe my boss/boss’s boss. Certainly none of my coworkers. I would be bothered/a bit creeped out if one of my coworkers hunted down my address and commented on my house without my ever saying something about it.

          I mean, I agree that OP should just tell their coworker that they don’t want to talk about it. But they’re allowed to be creeped out a bit, too.

          1. Observer*

            I mean, if you don’t have a landline, it actually can require a lot of digging to find out someone’s address.

            Not if you own a house because your name is linked to your property. And not only has the OP just purchased a house – they have actually listed their house for sale!

          2. Parakeet*

            In many cases it is extremely easy to find someone’s address in the US if they’re in roughly their mid 20s or above, by searching their name and town. Whitepages, Spokeo, FastPeopleSearch, or similar sites will pop right up in the search results for most people, since very few people bother to opt out of such sites or even realize that they’re there to opt out of. And at least one of those results will usually have a home address freely available. Doesn’t matter whether they own or rent, either. Information privacy is part of my job, so I have a lot of experience with this.

            However. In the OP’s place, I would want to know why the coworker was googling my name and town and clicking on a data broker in the search results! The fact that it’s very easy doesn’t mean it’s not a weird thing to do with your coworker!

      2. Timothy (TRiG)*

        I think it’s partly a cultural thing as well as a regulatory thing. In rural Ireland, everyone knows everyone. What that actually means in practice is that when two strangers meet, they chat until they find a connection, someone they know in common. Ireland probably isn’t any more interconnected than anywhere else, but we’re likely more aware of those connections than most places in the Anglosphere. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that he’d connected who my parents were. (Everyone tells me I look like my dad, and I also have a distinctive English accent, despite living my entire life in Ireland, which I blame on my English parents and on BBC Radio 4.) Keeping up with goings on isn’t creepy when it’s culturally expected.

        I don’t bother myself. I can barely keep up with what my friends are up to, never mind bare acquaintances. But if it bothered me, I’d move to Dublin. No point complaining about that kind of thing down here.

  21. Luna*

    LW1 – For the guy wanting positive feedback, you could tell him the line of knowing that you’ve been giving him criticism a lot, but you know that once he works past the issues you’ve seen in his work so far, he will make a great employee in this role. Perhaps just hearing that you don’t think of him as a lost cause might help.
    I can agree on not giving good feedback when doing just a basic part of your job.

    LW2 – If this person really does not get social cues, then please do her, and everyone and yourself, the favor and *tell* her. As someone on the spectrum, it bothers me so much when (usually neurotypical) people never say when we step over a line or what we consider polite conversation (Hey, saw your house was for sale. How’s it going? Wow, already pending? How many showings did it take?) comes across as boundary-ignoring or making others uncomfortable.

    Especially if you went to your manager first instead of telling your coworker. Please, tell her that you don’t really wanna discuss the whole house topic thing at work. You could even say, “Yeah, pending right now. But that’s mainly the ball in the realtor’s court right now, so I’m not thinking about it too much.” Acknowledge, but show that you yourself have little interest in talking about the house thing.

  22. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I worked for a Never Praiser for a while. A colleague and I were talking one day and she said she had a meeting with him. She said something like, “I’m off to be told how everything I’ve done is wrong” when she walked toward his office for their meeting. This isn’t effective or nice or good for morale for anyone.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I once worked for someone who would never just tell you were doing something wrong until they had watched you do it wrong three or four times, and then they would say “I though you would have figured this out by now.”

      Well, if you watched me do it and didn’t say anything about it, I’m going to assume that I’m doing it right. Part of your job as a manager is make course corrections along the way.

  23. I should really pick a name*

    He is barely meeting the basic job requirements most of the time and doesn’t always get there even

    Is this actually a problem?
    Barely meeting the basic job requirements still means that he is meeting the basic job requirements. Depending on the job, it’s not unreasonable for someone to be fully up an running after 6 months.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have an employee who exceeds the requirements, but if someone is meeting the requirements, shouldn’t that be enough?

    If your expectations are higher than the job requirements, then perhaps the job requirements have not been defined correctly.

    1. Allonge*

      OP mentions ‘basic’ job requirements, and that the employee does not manage to achieve them with any level of consistency. He never gets better than a D and fairly often fails.

      Yes, this is a problem.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Yep, in my role there are the basic minimums that have to get done, but that’s not my entire job. There’s other stuff in expected to be working on and getting done, but that stuff is more fluid and context dependent – it’s stuff that can be shelved or postponed for a while if other demands take priority, or stuff I might choose to pursue because I think it will improve my team’s performance, and my job performance is not strictly tied to any of them in particular because none in particular are hard requirements. But if I were never doing any of that stuff at all, it would be a problem.

        This might be a semantic misunderstanding, because all the other stuff is still in my job description. But “basic requirements” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “in the job description.” The way many people use it, including most likely the LW based on the rest of the context, is the subset of job duties that are critical and non- negotiable. When I’m on vacation it’s fine if some of my projects don’t move forward until I’m back, but others will need coverage because they absolutely must get done. Those are the basic requirements of my job, and barely getting done “the work that gets coverage when I’m on vacation” would earn me a pretty crummy annual review.

  24. L-squared*

    #1. I’m actually siding with the employee here. Even the fact that you somehow know he is complaining to his coworkers (which I’m not sure how you know this), and are mad at it, says a lot about you. Here is the thing, coworkers complain to each other about management. This happens in just about every job. I really like my manager, and sometimes I complain about her to my peers. But the fact that you are like “he doesn’t deserve praise” makes me understand why he went to your boss. You criticize him all the time and have only said good job twice? That is pretty bad. I’m not one who typically needs the “oreo statement” of positive, negative, positive. But maybe this is something you should consider. Being frank is one thing, being overly critical with nothing positive is something else.

    #2 Just trying to give the benefit of the doubt, is there any way she would’ve recognized your address without looking it up? Have you said “I live on the corner of Maple and Main street” or something like that? I only ask because I have friends who I’ve been to their home many times, and outside of a general intersection, I couldn’t tell you their address. So I’m just trying to figure out how she would’ve known it. But yeah, I feel like that part is odd. But with Zillow and other things (which I’ve learned some people do just browse in their free time) that gives this kind of info, you also can’t be that upset that she knows. Now, whether she should bring it up is a bit different. If something is publicly available on an app on your phone, and someone else brings it up, I’d argue it is fair game, but I also can understand how it can feel invasive for them to tell you they are monitoring your affairs. But, I also agree with Alison that this is something that management probably shouldnt’ need to get involved in.

  25. LimeRoos*

    So I had a response to one of the threads on #2, but it got eaten so I’m just making a new one.

    Anywho, we just bought/sold this spring and the coworker does not surprise me at all, especially if she’s helping her son look. I researched every house the same way to find out as much info as possible – taxes, additions/constructions, permits, utilities, etc. Most were on government websites (local on up), with some on realtor sites. But I did see peoples names and all sorts of stuff, which is of course mostly forgotten now. Because of how bonkers the market was (is?), we wanted to find out as much as we could before an offer since we wouldn’t be able to have a home inspection :-/ (which is a whole other thing, but suffice it to say, very happy our realtor got us a home warranty to help with any random issues for the first year).

    And I also had a coworker like that, asking a bit more than I was comfortable with, but I understood it was because her niece was not having any luck and we were kind of an anomaly. For your coworkers questions – we had 26 showings booked, on Fri & Sat had 11 each, with an offer accepted by end of day 2, so we cancelled the 4 remaining showings. The house we saw – went up a day early, so our realtor got us in for a 7 pm showing (!!!!our bedtime is 9), and we put in an offer that night because of how fast things were moving. We were accepted the next day so I’m sure they also cancelled a ton too. We were super lucky with only looking at one house. We had a few more scheduled earlier, but they cancelled day 2 for an offer. It really is a completely different arena than it was even a few years ago.

    1. to varying degrees*

      This is smart, especially with looking up the taxes, and would easily show who the owner is.

    2. JSPA*

      Yes– the most likely scenario is “research on internet for houses, including looking above the price range (for near-comparables, sense of the market, price points for features, and some wishfulness).” Googling an address can easily take you to an assessment page with owner names listed, depending where you are. And even if your name is fairly common, the combination of your name and spouse’s name (if they’re both on the deed) would be enough for a coworker to say, “hey, that’s Joan and Terry!”

      At which point, it’s naturally interesting to her that you might be moving away– which is a common reason that people are extra private about selling– and if you’re not moving away, that you’re also hunting locally, and thus might be a source of good leads (or “don’t bother, the foundation is bad and there’s a terrible odor.”)

      If OP is far more private than average about something (or generally dislikes people knowing anything about them that wasn’t intentionally shared–which is entirely their right, but not that common), they need to say so. Problem solved.

      Getting bent out of shape because someone isn’t reading their mind (or facial expression, tone and body language) is volunteering for ongoing distress.

      “We’re very private people, and we like to keep our personal life out of the office. You couldn’t have known, but thanks for respecting it, now that you know. Anyway, now that we’re talking, that reminds me, I had a quick question about the Yamata account, if you have a minute.”

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        I think this is the point. Maybe the coworker was a bit overstepping but OP is also more private than a lot of people. Which is their prerogative, however this doesn’t rise at all to a level that a manager needs to step in. There’s a lot of non-creepy ways the coworker knew it was OP’s house; land records, or as others have mentioned maybe there is a photo of their house at her desk, or just enough context that it was easy to know it was OP’s house. Now if the coworker had been aggressive in trying to get OP to sell to her son, that’s a different story. But it sounds like basic office chit chat. OP doesn’t need to engage in that if they don’t want to, but the manager also isn’t going to do anything about it either.

  26. Student*

    #1: I would bet this is a case of a co-worker who sincerely considered buying your house, rather than a co-worker who is trying to annoy you. She wanted to talk with you about something you both have in common outside work, current real estate searches, and was hoping you’d share some info that would help her navigate the (crazy!) housing.market better.

    If your house is for sale, then it quickly becomes public information as to who is selling the house. Her son’s real estate agent is probably the person who gave them access to the info via house-search tools. If her son is house-shopping and truly considered making an offer on your house, then it’d be very normal for him to get ahold of your name.

    From there, I don’t know whether your co-worker found out because she’s deeply involved in her son’s house search, or found out because her son recognized your name from his mother’s work stories and told her. I would bet the former, since her comments on pricing and her checking back on the house’s status suggest she is deeply involved in her son’s house hunt – she may be helping him learn the process or providing some of their financing. If her son picked your house out as a good prospect on common real estate tools, then she and her son probably got automatic updates about your home’s price changes and status changes. That’s normal in the house-buying process so people can make an offer if a home drops to a price they can afford.

    Honestly, I have to say that in this case, you’re the one who sounds oddly stand-offish to me. You don’t owe your co-worker info or small talk, but you’re taking what sounds like a friendly and potentially mutually informative conversation attempt about real estate as if the co-worker was trying to insult or harm you, when that really doesn’t sound like the case in any of your description. I think you don’t like this co-worker, and you’re letting that color your opinion of a normal conversation attempt in a weird way.

    I had a similar situation, where I was buying a home at the same time a co-worker was selling. We had some good water-cooler small talk about it! I found some of the info he shared insightful.

    1. Name (Required)*

      Yea, they probably found out your name and info from the real estate agent. Or, they found the house online (like through Zillow) and looked up the county records to see tax amounts, liens, year built, and saw your name listed as owner.

      Their son is looking to buy a home. The housing market has been crazy for a while. Things I took for granted in the past (like taking your time and doing your due diligence BEFORE you make an offer) don’t seem to apply. They probably wanted to pick your brain for info on what it’s like to sell a house in the current environment.

      I don’t think you are being stalked. Her questions seem friendly and reasonable.

    2. Moira Rose's Closet*

      I totally agree. It’s easy to find someone’s address, even accidentally, especially if you are involved in a house-hunting process. I don’t think that’s the issue that some people are making it out to be. If I was LW’s boss, I’d be more frustrated that LW is trying to make a thing out of this and force me to mediate a situation where LW’s coworker is doing something completely normal.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree–“I recognized your address” is certainly an odd thing to say (though I’m not sure if that is meant to be a direct quote or not) but everything else about these interactions sounds extremely normal for office small talk, especially if they are really actively looking at houses for sale for their son.

      It’s totally fine if OP doesn’t want to talk about it and they can just say so! But I think they are definitely the outlier. Updates on home buying/selling/renovating are one of the most frequent social tangents in all of my work meetings the last few years. I honestly can’t even tell you the names of any of my coworkers kids, but I know that my boss just finished renovations on her kitchen and that another coworker just finished having a screened-in porch built. I know that one guy has been looking at buying a new house for over a year but just isn’t finding what he wants, and another was struggling to sell a condo a couple years ago. I shared that we were contracting to buy a newly constructed house, but ended up bailing and are now trying to build an addition onto our current house instead. This kind of talk is definitely not unusually intrusive or overly personal for the work place, and if you want to opt out you’re going to need to specify that because in general I don’t think people will assume that is particularly private information.

  27. ABCYaBYE*

    OP4 – While I’ll agree that sometimes there is a case to be made for actual conversation, I don’t think asking for a couple of bullet points about the project is unfriendly or at all incorrect. Your time is valuable – you freelance so all of your hours are technically money making opportunities. I don’t think a request for an overview, or directing someone to an intake form on your site is out of line.

    You could also establish a pretty strict timeframe for a conversation if someone is more comfortable with that. Let them know you start new projects off with a 10 minute intake/assessment call and will schedule more time in follow-up based on the project and whether it fits for you to take it on.

    But setting up some boundaries helps you, and you have a right to your time. Slightly different, but when I’ve received inquires at work about setting up a call regarding something that is a bit out of the ordinary (new product, new company pitching old product, etc.) I’ll generally ask for a brief overview in advance so I can determine if it is even something that I would tackle, or if it needs to be addressed by a teammate.

  28. Nerdgal*

    At least in my state, you don’t have to Google. Just go to the county tax appraiser’s website. People do it all the time, to look up the current taxes for a property that they are interested in, or to compare their appraised value with that of neighbors in order to prepare an appeal.

  29. MicroManagered*

    LW2 I would be 100% creeped out by this. Do you have any idea how your coworker got your address to “recognize” your house for sale? Like did she improperly use her access to your address (say if she’s in HR or similar) to look up your house on Zillow for her own entertainment? If so, that could be a reason for your supervisor to intervene. (This is my theory btw)

    Other than that, ideally in the moment you could’ve said to your coworker “What do you mean you recognized my address? I don’t think I’ve ever shared that with you?” but I can see how you may have been too shocked at the time to say anything.

    1. Moira Rose's Closet*

      The coworker is helping her son with house-hunting in LW’s neighborhood. LW’s house is for sale. If you Google the address to get more info about the house — as you would if you’re in the market, if you’re like 99% of people who are house-hunting — then LW’s name will probably come up on the first page of searches. Her name is most likely available in the county’s property records because almost every county in the US has open property records (except the L.A. area, for obvious reasons), which many people research when they are looking for houses.

      There probably isn’t any more to it than that. LW’s reaction is over the top.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I would say most people do not google every address of every house they look at, to find the owner’s name. MAYBE if it was a house they were really serious about making an offer on, you might? Even then it’s pretty unusual, but that would be part of the story if that’s what happened here. “My son was really seriously considering an offer on a house so we googled the owner and it turned out to be your house!” <– not what the coworker said. She said "I recognized your address and saw your house is for sale" which is weird.

    2. to varying degrees*

      If the LW is creeped out by people knowing her address she probably shouldn’t sell her house. The co-worker’s son is in the market to buy. Her house is for sale. It probably came up that way. Getting a manager involved (to do what exactly? Tell the coworker she’s not allowed to use Google?) is weird.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Perhaps my point is not clear: I was saying ***IF*** OP2 suspected that this coworker improperly used access to her personal info to snoop and look up her home, that would be grounds to involve the supervisor. If it came about some other way, then it’s just a weird personal issue between them.

        I’ve bought and sold plenty of houses without googling the owner of each one. Even if that’s what happened, it’s very strange.

        1. Russian In Texas*

          I didn’t google for the owners, but I absolutely looked up every single house we looked at via the county appraisal website.
          Which gives you the owner’s name, year build, appraisal value over the years, any additions/improvements, change of ownership, etc.

          1. LimeRoos*

            Yep, same! Did not care about the owners, but needed all the other info to make an informed decision on the purchase. It’s looking up the address, not the owners.

            Totally weird how the coworker said it, but since the manager said she’s kinda awkward anyway, that makes sense. Probably shorthand for “son is looking in this area and we saw a few houses we liked but were over his budget and omg, one was yours and isn’t that so exciting you’re moving! and how is it going? did you have a lot of showings? Son hasn’t had any offers accepted yet, we’re pretty bummed, but he’s hopeful. How many offers did you get? yours was just out of his range. Congrats on the new house!”

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            And square footage! We have found that information is pretty frequently missing on Zillow and we have to look up the county records for it.

        2. to varying degrees*

          But it sounds like he was interested in the property. If I was interested in a property I would absolutely look up the tax records and to see if there were any liens, etc. on the property. That’s going to give me the owner info regardless if I want it or not.

    3. Observer*

      Like did she improperly use her access to your address (say if she’s in HR or similar) to look up your house on Zillow for her own entertainment?

      That is such an unlikely scenario that if the OP brings that to her manager, she’s going to look like the problem.

      Even if she went digging, it would MUCH easier for the coworker to find the OP’s address with a simple Google search.

      And even that is not the most likely thing, since she’s helping her son with his house hunt.

    4. RagingADHD*

      For all we know, the coworker is in charge of addressing the company holiday cards and has a good memory. There is absolutely no reason to presume there was some kind of improper access going on. Your workplace has your address. Lots of people in the company may have occasion to see your address.

    5. Parakeet*

      It is incredibly easy to find home addresses for most people in or above their mid 20s or so, in the US, with simple googling of name and town (regardless of whether they rent or own). No privileged access necessary.

      But I (even if I were not someone who has taken steps to remove my info from data brokers) would also be creeped out, because I would wonder why the coworker was googling me and clicking on data broker search results! It’s very easy but it still requires the coworker to take active steps, and that’s the part that’s creepy IMO.

  30. FG*

    #1, I once told a a friend that everything my boss said to me was corrective. It wasn’t that everything I did was wrong – far from it – but she didn’t have anything to say to me except when she had a criticism. That can be soul crushing. If this guy is meeting requirements & you think he has a future, you need to figure out a little balance – probably for everyone who reports to you. I hate being Oreo’d & can spot it a mile away, but it’s Management 101 for a reason

    And #2 … Honey … Let this go. Is it weird this person knows your address? Maybe. It’s a legit question. But … Why do you care if anyone knows you are selling your house? You don’t mention stalkers or estranged family, etc., so it feels a little precious to want to keep common life experiences under the Cloak of Invisibility. I’m an introvert & sort of private by default, but I can’t imagine being bothered that someone spotted my house in a real estate listing & asked me about it.

    1. Esmeralda*

      #2. She doesn’t want to talk about it. So she needs to let the co-worker know, I don’t want to talk about my house sale at work. That is a completely reasonable request, and anyone who pushes and keeps asking is being a problem.

      1. FG*

        Pushy is one thing. Preemptively declaring a perfectly normal aspect of life as off limits, to the point of going to a manager about “violations” is over the top. You don’t wanna talk about your house? Tell the person you don’t wanna talk about your house. Either way, lightening up and letting go would probably be more beneficial in the long run.

      2. Daisy*

        It is her prerogative to not talk about the house sale at work, but she needs to say so. Many, many folks would be telling everyone they know in the hopes of getting a faster sale/bidding competition on the house.
        As many others have said, this is not stalker behavior if the coworker is looking for a house/helping her son find one. Many folks would take this in stride. Shut down the conversation if you like, that is totally acceptable, but you don’t need to make it out to be a horrible thing.

      3. Observer*

        She doesn’t want to talk about it? Fine, don’t talk about it.

        But going to the manager about it? “Holding firm” to insist that it is SUCH a “violation” that the manager should be the one to address it? That’s waaay over the top.

  31. Constance*

    LW1: I recently had a direct report tell someone in another office that he was receiving a lot of feedback and he was upset that it wasn’t delivered in a sandwich format. He’s never mentioned this to me directly (even when I ask what I can do differently or better, what he needs from me, etc). The thing is: he IS bad at his job and this isn’t the right fit for him. He either has a PIP coming or an end to the working relationship all together. I’d say it should be a warning sign for both parties if there’s not praise. For this individual, I really don’t have enough praise to give a sandwich—it would always be the same few praise points, and it’s clear he’s not picking up on the feedback because he keeps repeating the same issues over and over. I have to be direct. The difference here is that I know this person won’t work out, and you seem to think yours will eventually get it.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I am so tired of the “praise sandwich” format because I’ve seen so many people get it wrong.

      “You were on time all week. You lost us three customers this week and will probably go on a PIP. I love those shoes–are they new?”

      1. Constance*

        I believe it was Brene Brown who called it a sh*t sandwich, and that’s what I tend to believe. The compliments are just there to make the middle easier to digest–and often they’re not related at all to the issue at hand. If I know the praise isn’t real and is just used to disguise hard feedback, to me it doesn’t count as real praise.

        1. Sargasso*

          I am 100% on Team Brene Brown here. It’s one of those management strategies that people come up with when they don’t think of employees as human beings who can tell when they’re being handled or learn to devalue praise when it’s always accompanied by criticism.

    2. Sargasso*

      I had the same situation with a direct report. It also led to a PIP and then termination.

      LW, if you really can’t find anything good about this person’s work – and you can find good things about other people’s work – it’s probably not a beneficial relationship for either of you. Trust me, it’s much easier to supervise people whose work you can be proud of.

  32. Sotired*

    In my state, if you google a name, you get their address and party registered. In other states, you can google and get address, not always hard. I would consider this a minor annoyance and let it go

  33. Fabulous*

    #4, my initial thought was to have potential clients fill out some sort of form answering basic questions, so I’m glad that Alison suggested it at the end! My job relies on and works directly off of intake forms. If you’re not already using one, I’d high recommend because they can be super invaluable at helping you filter work!

  34. Allonge*

    LW1, I would suggest that (in addition to following Alison’s advice) you also set a deadline for how long you continue this. Do give a good-faith effort for providing positive feedback (if you think you can)! But don’t extend this pretty lousy situation more than you have to if that does not work.

    I have the same advice as Alison, just from the other direction: don’t let yourself believe that the guy has potential and can improve if you see no hard evidence for this. He will be happier somewhere where he gets the kind of feedback he needs, and you can spend time training someone who will perform better at your place. That’s ok too.

  35. Knope Knope Knope.*

    As a manager, question #2 exhausted me. If the OP has a general concern about the coworker finding her address somehow I could see that. But for real, what is a manager supposed to do about this? Ok, your coworker made polite conversation, you didn’t say you didn’t like it, they didn’t read your mind and now somehow the manager is neglecting her duties? If the manager has her own work to do (presumably she does) I would be frustrated by OP.

    1. Just no*

      This was my take, too. The coworker was making completely bland, safe work conversation, and the LW…didn’t like it. It’s absolutely on LW to just say something like, “Oh, gosh, I am so sick of thinking about real estate — I come to work to escape! I hope your son finds a house he loves! Now, about those TPS reports…” This reaction seems out of proportion to what happened.

  36. SW*

    OP 1:It’s unclear from the way you wrote it, but it seems that it was your boss giving the feedback that you aren’t giving enough praise. If it’s your boss, odds are that they’re saying something because they’re noticing a problem that goes beyond this one direct report.

  37. Cringing 24/7*

    OP2, I’m very much like you in that I very rarely discuss anything about my personal life at work, and it does legitimately sound like your coworker crossed a line (even if only in the fact that she inadvertently revealed that she snooped a little over to the county appraisers website to find your address).

    This may be something you already know, but the tone of your letter seemed to find ALL of Coworker’s conversation too invasive, in which case, a lesson I had to learn was – our coworkers aren’t weird for wanting to have personal conversations with us – *we’re* the weird ones for wanting to avoid them at all costs. Now, that’s not to say that we don’t have every right to a private life, but the onus is certainly more on *us* to shut these conversations down gently and consistently, or maybe to have several iterations of boring responses to personal questions that don’t leave much else open for inquiry. Best of luck with Coworker!

    1. I should really pick a name*

      No one has to be the “weird one”.
      Different people want to talk about different things for different amounts of time. If you don’t want to talk about a subject (or talk at all), you can say so. There’s really no need to get into this us vs them framing.

      1. Cringing 24/7*

        The way I see it may be different from the way you see it then, because as a non-conversationalist in an office FULL of small-talkers, it definitely feels to me like it’s a *liiiittle* bit “us vs. them”, since two people want opposing things – one wants to make a lot of small talk and the other wants to talk about almost nothing at all.

  38. Moira Rose's Closet*

    LW2, I think your reaction to this is over the top, and if I were your manager, I would have responded in the exact same way. (In fact, I would have shut you down more forcefully than that.) Your coworker’s son is house-hunting in your neighborhood, and you are selling your house. It is not at all surprising that she found the address, as it is publicly-available information. She was simply making polite conversation with you about the house-buying process, which is a completely normal and safe work topic. You need to let this go.

    1. Cringing 24/7*

      I generally agree. The only thing I feel like the manager is at fault for is that this is a common complaint for Coworker, so… is it enough that the manager just keeps saying “That’s just who they are?” or is there a point where the manager *does* need to step in and say something like, “The way that you’re asking questions to people sounds invasive. It’s totally normal to have personal conversations at work, but I need you to be sure that when people are giving signals that they don’t want to talk any further, that you’re backing off.”

      Ugh, no… once I’ve typed that out, it still feels like the manager would be getting way too far into the personal lives and interactions of the coworkers… but it does legitimately feel to me like Something because this isn’t the first complaint of its kind against Coworker.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. Managers are supposed to help if their employee comes to them and says that a coworker is asking questions that they feel are intrusive and won’t stop talking about it, not blow them off like the LWs manager apparently did. “It’s just his personality” is no excuse if a coworker is making you uncomfortable.

        Maybe it’s time for the LW to go cold and formal with the intrusive coworker. Maybe even say “never talk to me about anything except work ever again.” That may be a bit excessive, but for some people who won’t take a hint, it at least has the advantage of being a clear boundary. That said, perhaps a “I don’t want to talk about my house being on the market at work. If you’re interested in buying it, please talk to my estate agent/realtor” might work.

      2. CharlieBrown*

        I think the line is that if two coworkers can figure this out on their own, you should let them. But if the aggrieved coworker has run out of strategies to try, or the aggressively curious coworker just isn’t picking up on it, then the manager needs to step in.

        1. MurpMaureep*

          That’s a good standard for this kind of personality based conflict (that’s not anything truly hostile, bigoted, etc.). It doesn’t sound like LW said anything directly to her coworker and only went to the manager to get the manager to shut down the line of questioning. I can see involving the manager if previous conversations had lead to conflict, or she found out this person is indeed digging into her personal information. But it’s odd to say to your manager “you need to keep so and so from asking me about the details of selling my house”. If one of my employees came to me with that I’d be irked.

  39. Chirpy*

    #1: exactly what Allison said- if your employee never hears anything positive from you or that you think he can eventually do well in this job, he’s going to feel demoralized and probably won’t do his best work because of it.

    I’m currently procrastinating getting ready for work because although I know my manager likes what I do (and previous managers and department heads have said the same), my current department head passive aggressively tells me all day long that whatever I’m doing is wrong even if it’s something she specifically told me to do, and she’s the one I have to actually speak to all day. It’s the main coworker interaction I have, and it’s very, very demoralizing after several years of this. All it would take is a simple acknowledgement that she thinks I’m useful and competent for my day to go so much better.

  40. Risha*

    Oh LW2, I feel for you. Overstepping, boundary pushing coworkers piss me off so much. Then if you say something to them, they get their feelings hurt and you’re the bad person for setting a boundary. If this coworker keeps mentioning it to you, just tell her that you’re a private person and do not wish to discuss such personal matters at work. If you want to soften it a bit, you can add that you fear someone overhearing your conversation. Really tho, the manager should be handling that, even if it could be something you handle yourself. I believe managers need to shut down intrusive, boundary pushing coworkers, especially since not everyone feels comfortable pushing back against such people.

    My husband and I bought a house (our first home) when I was at my last toxic job. I had to update my address with the admin assistant, so she asked me if we bought a house or is it another apartment. When I confirmed it’s a house, she, my manager, and the director looked my address up on zillow to see how much it cost and how big the home is. I came into work and saw my home up on my manager’s computer with all of them standing around, commenting. They asked me how much we put down, did we have a bidding war, what does my husband do for a living since the house was very expensive (to them, not to anyone else). I was completely speechless and didn’t know what to say. I think I lied and said my husband handled the whole thing and I have no idea on the down payment. I wish I would’ve been more quick with responses because I really wanted to shut that nonsense down asap.

    1. Glazed Donut*

      I’m glad to hear that was your “last” job which means you hopefully aren’t there anymore. That’s a huge boundary overstep–and then to invite you into the conversation, wow!
      In my area, there are some “old school” people who read the newspaper cover to cover daily–including the property transfers section (lists buyer and cost) and obituaries. Nothing like someone knowing your distant relative died or your possible-relative bought a huge house! /s

  41. Esmeralda*

    OP 2:
    “I’m pretty private about things like this and would rather not discuss it at work. Thanks for understanding.” — Try this script exactly ONCE

    The next time: Betty, I don’t want to talk about my personal life. I will not talk with you about my house, so I need you to stop asking.” And too bad if Betty gets all butt-hurt about it, or says “I just…” You do not need to take care of Betty’s feelings, since she is a person who is ignoring YOUR feelings.

    Every time after that: “I’m not talking about my house at work.” Turn away. Grey rock…

  42. June bug*

    LW1: It sounds like “barely meeting the required time frame” isn’t what you need. If you need him to complete the assignment earlier so there’s time to review and rework if necessary, then that’s the real deadline. Ditto for “in the most basic form”. If you’re not happy with the finished product, define the standard in terms of what you actually want to see. Otherwise it comes off like 37 pieces of flair. Sounds like he doesn’t have what it takes to do the job, but definitely be clear on what is and isn’t good enough.

    And definitely note when something is, even i though it’s an expected part of the job. If he eventually becomes more capable, you can raise the bar later, but recognizing when people are doing what you want them to do is powerful. And not everyone is a rock star! He may never be great at the job, but if you’re getting what you need from him when you need it, then the job is in fact getting done.

    1. L-squared*

      This is so true.

      If the deadline for something is 5pm Friday, and he gets it to you at 4:59, he is still meeting the deadline. Its not fair to say ‘he barely made it’. That doesn’t matter. It sounds like OP may expect X, but telling him the requirement is Y.

      1. Allonge*

        Possibly.

        Or the timeframe is not a singular deadline but a bracket for x, y, z tasks that then need to go to another person to create the final product, and generally speaking x should take on average 5 days but they start newbies at 7 and LW’s employee would have been expected to get closer to 6 by now than he is, and y is something that needs to be done by four people at the same time and when employee is struggling with z, needs to be rescheduled but it’s a pain to, and it happened three times already. Etc.

        Not every job has easily measurable, distinct deliverables, is my point.

        I am not saying OP could not be handling this better! But there is a bit more complexity to management than ‘one minute before is ok still’.

        1. Anonymouse*

          Or it could be something like “Employee A’s deadline on project X is COB Tuesday, so the next person who handles it, Employee B, has all of Wednesday to review before handing it to the client on Thursday morning, but Employee A keeps handing it to Employee B on Wednesday afternoon.” Employee B may still be able to make THEIR deadline, so the actual final product deadline is getting met, but they’re having to scramble or rearrange their workload/processes to accommodate the person who’s late on their own internal deadline. (This is especially annoying if it’s happening because Employee A knows about and is abusing Employee B’s built-in review time – “it’s not due to the client until Thursday, so I don’t *actually* have to finish by Tuesday, right?”)

          I may, admittedly, be a projecting a little based on some recent trends in my department…

      2. Heffalump*

        If my report got something to me at 4:59, I’d be thinking, “What if something had come up 30 minutes ago that distracted him for 5 minutes?”