my interviewer called all the other applicants “pricks,” boss is hanging terrible artwork, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My interviewer called all the other applicants “pricks”

I’m currently finishing my PhD and looking to move outside of academia. Recently, I saw an ad for a paid internship for a small nonprofit, and I applied on the last day they were accepting applications. I thought it would be good to have some recent, relevant experience on my resume before I started searching for a full-time job in a few months. The head of the charity got back to me and said that they had already finished interviewing all their applicants, but that he liked my resume and asked if I could come in the next day for an interview. I agreed.

During the interview, he told me all of their other applicants for the position were “pricks” (we are in the UK), he called everyone involved with our town’s university “pricks,” and at one point drew a diagram of the employee structure in the charity, wrote in the name of their previous intern, and labeled her as “prick,” which he circled twice. I was speechless, and just tried to answer questions calmly and politely until I could get out of there.

At the end of the interview, I asked one question to be polite. He asked me why I could only come up with one question, and I stated that I was sure I could always find more questions if I had a minute. He then told me I had 60 seconds, looked at his watch, and refused to speak or make eye contact with me until the minute was up. I asked another question and then ended the interview.

When I got home, he emailed me with a written assessment that he wanted me to do. I already knew I didn’t want to work with him, so I replied that I was sorry, but I had reconsidered and thought it was best I focus on my doctorate and not start an internship right now.

Professional circles are small in our town. I’m worried that this may affect my chances for future full-time positions, if he tells people that I wasted his time and let him delay their hiring process, only to then change my mind. Obviously, that’s not what happened, but how do I explain that without badmouthing him and seeming unprofessional myself? I’m also worried if he spreads this that I will miss out on chances for interviews. Is there anything I could have done to handle this situation differently?

You gave a perfectly reasonable explanation for withdrawing. Normally I’d say it’s unlikely that he would go out of his way to badmouth you over it, but then again, this is someone who inexplicably called a bunch of near-strangers “pricks” to another near-stranger and refused to make eye contact with you while he timed your response to a question … so we can’t really apply reasonable standards of behavior to him.

But I promise you that in a small professional circle, someone who behaves this oddly has already been outed as ridiculous. He’s calling everyone he comes into contact with a prick! People know about him.


2. My employee quit on the spot after her request for a therapy referral was shared

One of the employees in the division I manage recently quit on the spot without providing notice. She quit because another manager disclosed her request for a referral to a counselor under our employee assistance program. She didn’t have a mental illness, but there were some upsetting things happening in her personal life (the upsetting things part was known by everyone; we just didn’t know all the details or the extent). This manager sent an email to several people across many divisions saying “Jane got an EAP referral to a shrink, I wonder what for since she has no illness?”

As soon as my employee heard about the email, she walked out and never came back. She rebuffed any attempt to talk to her as she walked out or in the weeks afterward, and she changed her phone number and wouldn’t answer the door at home when someone went to check on her. We were upset at what happened and wanted to see if there was anything we could do for her but we stopped attempting contact after being rebuffed. Now we’ve found out in another email from the same manager that she stopped seeing the counselor. Another former employee who had heard about what happened ran into her after she quit, and he said she denied ever seeing a counselor (even though she truly was seeing one).

I’m appalled at this manager’s actions but I haven’t complained because he is the owner’s nephew. The nephew is married to the company HR manager, who is the daughter of the owner’s best friend. She disclosed the EAP request to him. Neither have education beyond high school or previous work experience. They both report directly to the owner. I want to tell to the owner about what happened. The EAP request was supposed to be confidential. I’m hesitant, though, since the owner doesn’t take well to them being criticized, but I can’t stop thinking about how wrong it was. I also want to say something because the owner and some executives are questioning my division’s drop in performance, which happened both because morale is down after what happened and because she was excellent at her job and made everyone else shine. I also don’t want my other employees to think this was okay. What should I do?

Holy crap, what? He sent an email to people across many divisions speculating on your employee’s private request for a therapy referral? That manager is a jerk and an ass. And he’s also incredibly ignorant, since he apparently thinks therapy is only for “mental illness”? And also apparently thinks that he would know if someone were struggling with mental illness or not? And then somehow this continued being gossiped about to the point that a former employee knew about it? And now people are talking about how she’s stopped seeing a therapist, which is nobody’s F’ing business, least of all her former coworkers’?

Based on your knowledge of the owner, is he likely to understand how outrageous this is? If yes or maybe, then speak up right away. If no … well, I’d think long and hard about the people you’re working with.


3. Our boss is hanging terrible artwork in our new office space

I am the office manager of a small, tight-knit consulting firm of 15 employees. We recently relocated our offices to a larger, more modern location. The new space is very nice and I, along with two other admin staff (all ladies), have been tasked with hanging artwork in the new space. Boss (the owner and president) has brought in some paintings his sister painted. Some of these pieces are large and disproportionate, and none of them relate to the very specific work we do. To be blunt, they are really terrible! This morning, Boss hung the largest (and arguably the ugliest) piece on the wall that faces our main entrance. It is way too large for this wall and looks awful!

How can we talk to him about this without hurting his feelings? Or do we just suck it up since his name is on the door and he can put up anything he wants? He is a very reasonable person and a great boss, but we don’t know how to gently tell him this artwork is truly heinous. Help!

Especially because they’re painted by his sister, I think you probably have to just suck it up unless (a) it’s terrible in a way that will offend or repel clients, (b) it legitimately makes you or your coworkers uncomfortable (for example, it’s highly sexualized), or (c) you have the kind of relationship with him where you can tell him difficult things and he’ll be grateful you spoke up. But if neither (a) nor (b) is the case, I’d probably lean toward just telling yourself that taste in art is really personal, and that’s one of the things that makes it so interesting, and that artwork that everyone agrees on can be boring. (Of course, I haven’t seen these paintings, so that may be cold comfort.)


4. Dealing with work after a fight with your spouse

Yesterday I had a fight with my husband (not even a huge one, but about some ongoing issues in our relationship) and today I’m finding it a little tough to be at work. I feel tired and a little on edge, like I might cry, and I’m having a hard time focusing. While this is about my relationship, I know this issue comes up for people in many different ways. Do you have any tips for being at work the day after something bad happens that makes you distracted/unfocused, but isn’t bad enough to justify staying home entirely?

It’s okay to cut yourself a break. You don’t always have to be 100% on your game at work every single day. You’re human and you’re going to have occasional days where not working at maximum capacity. As long as that’s not happening all the time, that’s fine.

I’d treat it the same way you would if you weren’t feeling very well but weren’t bad enough to stay home — work on things that are less challenging and don’t require maximum brain power, to the extent that that’s an option. Alternately, if you respond well to distractions, sometimes it can help to immerse yourself in something that will consume you for a few hours. But it’s fine to treat this like being under the weather (to the point that it’s even okay to say, “I’m a little under the weather today” if you need to explain seeming off to colleagues).


5. Recruiter wants to prep my references

The recruiter I’m working with for a position requested that they speak to all of my references to “prep” them before handing over my list of references to the employer for them to call. Is this normal?

As some background, the recruiter has scheduled a “prep” meeting with me before every step of the interview process. So, I had a 1-hour prep meeting before my 1-hour phone interview with the hiring manager, then another 30-minute prep meeting before a 40-minute phone interview with the VP. Even though I think the prep meetings are overkill and I feel like I’m being treated little bit like a child by the recruiter, I’m willing to put up with it since I think the role is a great fit for me, is a nice pay bump, and has a distinct advancement path.

But I think it’s asking a lot of my references to have them be coached/prepped by a recruiter first. If this is not a normal thing, how do I politely tell the recruiter this without ruining my chances at the position?

No, it’s not normal. I’d say this: “My references are busy and I’m not comfortable asking them to take the additional time for a prep call. These are people who I need to be able to call on in the future too, and I don’t want to use up too much of their time now. I know they’re happy to be references for me, but I don’t think they’d be thrilled to be asked to spend time prepping for it. And really, I feel like the employer and I are best served by them being candid with reference checkers.”

Frankly, there’s such a thing as too much prep for you too — you want to get a job where you’re a natural fit, after all, so that the chances of you excelling in it and being happy there are high. That recruiter isn’t going to be prepping you once you’re on the job, so both you and the employer are far better off knowing how you do without all that prep.


{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. Gingerblue*

    Maybe I’m just super tired, but what a bouquet of weirdness this batch of letters is, other than LW4. Though the boss hanging his sister’s terrible, terrible art up is rather sweet.

    1. Lime green Pacer*

      My former doctor had his daughter’s art on the walls. She had an art degree and worked as his receptionist. It was all abstract stuff done in gooey thick oils.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I can’t find it anymore, but there was a woman who worked at a gaming company where they hung large posters of the sexualized and skimpily-clad female game characters. There was one hung inside the CEO’s office.

          She commissioned a poster of one of the male game characters in a sexualized pose wearing only a speedo and hung it in the CEO’s office. Fortunately, the CEO thought it was hilarious and understood the message.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            She commissioned a poster of one of the male game characters in a sexualized pose wearing only a speedo and hung it in the CEO’s office.

            This is awesome, and might get the point across to his visitors. Premium class maneuver!

    2. lyonite*

      We have paintings by the CEO’s wife. I’m pretty sure they’re not good, but I’m not an expert and they don’t really bother me. On the other hand, they’re not in the public part of the building–I can see being embarrassed to have clients come in and you’re sitting under a giant out of proportion pet portrait or something.

  2. Posilutely*

    I am picturing something like Phoebe Buffay’s 3D sculpture-paintings of Gladys and Glynis. I really, really hope I’m right!

    1. Poopsie*

      One of our partners did the same and his wife’s huge canvas got put up. It looked like it was painted by a 5 year old as it was just basic outlines and I was never sure what it was meant to be/represent but it looked like a really fat penis with a plaster on the tip….. I haven’t seen it for a while thankfully so it must have been relegated to the storage room.

    2. Gotobread*

      I’ll be honest, what happened to that employee in LW2 has been a concern of mine in the back of my mind and I’ve never fully trusted taking the plunge to use a workplace EAP. Especially if I had used the EAP at my current toxic workplace that I’m trying to leave

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Ha, misthreading is a basically a rite of passage on AAM :p

          But yes, I agree! That one was concerning, though it’s so out there, I hope it’s rare.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I’m grateful that our EAP is entirely separate from our management structure. We call a helpline that serves multiple companies, and although our organisation gets quarterly statistics for how many people have accessed the EAP, they don’t get a breakdown of who or what.

        1. UKDancer*

          Same, my company uses an EAP provider that serves multiple companies.

          I don’t know if any of my staff use the EAP or for what although I remind them at intervals that the company has one. I think HR get stats on the overall usage but it’s aggregated and anonymous, so you don’t know who had what.

      2. SarahKay*

        Obviously it varies depending on workplace, but I know that at my current company the only information the company gets from the EAP provider is the number of employees that they have served. No names, no specific dates, just “x employees in the month of December”.
        Granted, I’m in the UK and data protection is much stronger here than in the US, as in it’s probably illegal for the EAP provider to share any more than that. Even so, I hope that LW2 was just really unlucky and that most EAPs do a better job of protecting people who access them.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Honestly I feel like this LW’s situation was also illegal, if the employer size was large enough to be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. My understanding of the ADA is limited to my personal experience with it as a disabled person, since that’s not the area of law I practice in, but it doesn’t just cover people with disabilities. If you are perceived to have a disability, you’re also covered. So I think discriminating against this woman and creating this untenable work environment on the basis of her having a perceived mental illness should be illegal, as ADA information is protected and must be kept confidential. Additionally I feel like there could be a HIPAA violation for disclosing private medical information, but I’m not as familiar with that law. There was obviously no legitimate business reason for this disclosure to be made and I wish the advice to the letter writer had included the potential legal pitfalls that could be raised with the owner who might take complaints about the exposure to potential lawsuits more seriously than complaints about mean-spirited gossip from his favorite people. And I hope the disappearing employee either sued the ever loving you know what out of that place or at least got another job quickly where she wasn’t the target of bigots (ableists) and playground bullies.

          1. Sorrischian*

            My understanding of HIPAA is that it only covers entities that provide healthcare, not anyone who might know about a health situation – so if someone at the EAP revealed identifying information to the manager that might in some cases be a HIPAA violation, but if this manager knew because of an overheard conversation or something like that, it’s not a HIPAA violation although it is still a huge invasion of privacy and absolutely unconscionable behavior.

            1. Wintermute*

              you are correct, HIPAA does not cover employers unless they are self-funding healthcare and thus acting as your insurer under most circumstances.

              That said there are SOME privacy protections and it’s not hard to see how a case could be made for disability harassment in a case like this

            2. Need More Sunshine*

              Yes, an employer must be a “covered entity” to be expected to comply with HIPAA – that could be a healthcare company, an insurance broker, or a company who is self-insured (because they are privy to more specific personal health information through the course of administering the insurance). So many companies have no obligation to comply with HIPAA, but even so, an HR professional should know to keep anything medical-related as confidential as possible!

              1. EPLawyer*

                Well yes an HR Professional should. However, the HR in this case is the daughter of the owner’s best friend. She has no HR training.

                This company is a hot mess of nepotism and cronyism. The only way to win this game is not to play. I hope OP got the hell out.

          2. WillowSunstar*

            Companies like that are why I’m leery of using the company-provided services. I have read too many horror stories online, I guess.

      3. Temperance*

        Depending on how large your org is, it’s probably contracted through an outside vendor. The chances of this happening at a normal, not small/family run company are incredibly slim.

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

          Honestly I’m almost more surprised that a small company was running their own EAP or had enough influence on their EAP provider to get this information. I know some large employers self-insure, but for small employers that seems like a lot of overhead.

          1. Ssssssssssssssssss*

            My company has about 900 staff and two dedicated staffers operate our EAP program. They are a very busy twosome. And they don’t blab and don’t gossip about who has asked for what support ever.

            A smaller company would be better off outsourcing the work.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m having fun imagining the sister painted along with Bob Ross shows and the brother likes the happy little trees.

      1. Phryne*

        I like happy little trees. I’d have no problem with a Bob Ross inspired artwork at my workplace. I think in general, the worst one generally thinks of realistic art is that it is twee.
        Modern art is much better at inspiring strong emotions like Hate and Disgust.

        1. Sorrischian*

          And sometimes modern art eliciting those negative reactions means the art is successfully achieving what the artist wants … but I think we can generally agree those pieces are not the ones anyone wants to see every day in the office.

        2. Jackalope*

          Hah! I’m reading this far too early in the morning, and I was having such a hard time making my brain understand the difference between tree and twee.

        3. Bee*

          My impression from this letter is that it’s merely done without skill, which is more obvious with realistic art than it is with abstract art! But the OP probably just has to suck it up – they won’t notice it after a couple of months anyway.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I’m thinking, if brother brought in THREE, his home must have a couple already. Or, three is the total and she can’t understand why he won’t hang up ONE. So he created peace in the universe, well his universe, by hanging them in the office.
        (insert “hanging is too good for them” joke here)

  3. octopodes*

    LW3 has just made me remember the Portlandia sketch “Bad Art Good Walls.” It’s on youtube if anyone needs a good chuckle.

  4. Phryne*

    Art really is the ultimate personal experience though. I’ve been to the Biennale in Venice several times and though I’ve seen stuff that has made me happy, thoughtful, sad and which left a deep and lasting impression, I’ve also seen so, so much stuff that did not do anything for me at all, literally not even interesting enough to be bored or weirded out or repelled by it.
    And yet this art was apparently selected by someone or a whole committee as being representative of their country, or as worthy of a place in one of the most prestigious exhibitions in the world. And as millions of people will see that art, there are probably at least thousands of people who were deeply touched by the art I walked past without a second glance.

    (I think that is the beauty of art. Not everyone has to get the same out of it, and you can decide what you will or will not get out of a piece without ever needing to defend yourself on it. It is also the beauty of the Venetian Biennale imo. There is so much there, in so many different places and ways, it is a total experience for anyone no matter if you like modern art a lot or not. If you ever have the chance in your life to go, do it.)

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I enjoy art so much more since I learned to allow myself to just pass by works that don’t speak to me. I no longer feel obligated to read every description and look at every piece as if this was school and there was going to be a test. Now I mostly stroll through the exhibition and spend time with pieces that grab me. It’s great, highly recommend!

      It’s a bit different though if the art is in a space I spend a lot of time – more difficult to just pass by. In defense of “bad”, or let’s say “controversial” art though, it can be a real conversation starter. At my work, we have some abstract paintings by the coffee machine that seem to be to no-one’s taste in the team (the origins of these paintings being there have been lost to history). We’ve had some fun conversations about what people see in them.

      1. Phryne*

        ‘allow myself to just pass by works that don’t speak to me’
        Exactly! Letting go of needing to see/understand it all makes room to really let in the pieces that do speak to you.

        And I agree, having to look at something all day is different, but unless it is clearly inappropriate, I’d imagine it will becomes more easy to ignore over time. Just part of the decor.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Yeah, I’ve worked in offices that had art that really wasn’t to my taste (also had to live with art that I wouldn’t have chosen myself for most of 2020; it’s a long story) and eventually you just stop noticing it. Unless it’s potentially offensive or inappropriate, I wouldn’t bring it up – it’ll become part of the furniture soon enough.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes this so much. Unless something is deeply offensive or really inappropriate for work I think the OP may have to live with it. If it’s just not to your taste or ugly then you probably have to let it lie. Taste is very individual after all and you can’t really tell the boss in most cases that you hate his sister’s art.

            1. TechWorker*

              Even if it wasn’t his sisters I’m not sure you’d gain anything by complaining about it (again, with the caveat that this is assuming it’s just ‘bad’ rather than ‘outright offensive’ or overtly political/religious etc). Just doesn’t seem worth spending capital on.

              1. Jackalope*

                The one way that I could see the OP being able to speak up is maybe to say something around moving the too-big piece from its location to another spot because of size, for example. Criticizing the boss’s sister’s painting is probably a no-go, but OP could recommend it be on another wall where it fits better.

          2. Shan*

            Years ago, I worked as a receptionist at a surgery clinic where the owner/main surgeon had commissioned an absolutely massive painting of him performing surgery, with his hands being guided by Jesus. At first I was like WTF, but eventually even that blended into the background.

            And I later discovered it was by an artist who specifically does those exact commissions, so there are apparently loads of them around the world…

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Wow, that’s… a lot. I’ve heard of surgeons with a God-complex, but most don’t hang it on their walls.

      2. BethDH*

        Yes! Art is literally my job and I still pass by a lot of it, even the “good” stuff. But I never get tired of understanding people better by hearing what speaks to them about it. That’s actually what I love about art history, basically understanding people who feel really alien by understanding how art had emotional meaning to them.
        This isn’t useful to OP now years later, but a lot of us deal with aesthetic differences in the office, and as long as it’s just “not my taste” rather than offensive it seems like a good chance to understand the people around you in a different way.

      3. Dust Bunny*


        And I can appreciate that art can be good and/or important and simply not to my taste, so it’s not that I think it’s bad, it’s just that . . . pastel Impressionism is never going to do it for me. But I do understand why it was an important idea and something that needed to happen in the grand scheme of art history, so I’ll leave it to those who do like it and not complain.

    2. ArtK*

      There is art, and then there is “Art.” The latter was best defined in a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon:

      Calvin: “People always make the mistake that art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.”
      Hobbes: “You misspelled ‘Weltanschauung'”
      Calvin: “A good artist’s statement says more than his work ever does.”

  5. Phryne*

    As to no. 4. When I had regular depressive spells, I’d go with neutral language on it. ‘I’m having an off day’, ‘Not feeling great atm, taking it easy today’, ‘Bit under the weather’, all adequately convey the truth about how you are doing without having to go into detail on your mental health.

    1. Can I keep sleeping some more*

      Totally agree – I find it easier to be vague because sometimes if you provide details, well-meaning colleagues might try to provide support, advice, ask how you’re doing, etc. That in and of itself causes me additional anxiety.

  6. E*

    Came here to say that going to work and not being able to focus and wanting to cry after arguments isn’t normal – it’s a sign someone is being emotionally abused. How do I know this? I’ve been OP. Thought my relationship was normal. Now I’m with a man and I cannot ever picture an argument making me cry. Therapy girl. Therapy.

    1. Winter Wonderer*

      I’m so sorry you went through that. But people do not have to be experiencing abuse to have an emotional response to an argument. “I was abused and I felt x” =/= “everyone who feels x is being abused”. It’s quite normal for many people to feel a bit emotionally fragile and reactive after an argument, and doesn’t indicate there is anything more to it necessarily. That may not be true for you, but it is for lots of other people.

      (Also worth considering that your own history of abuse may have altered your emotional responsiveness so that you do not feel like crying after an argument precisely because you previously abused, not because that response isn’t normal. Your normal has been recalibrated by your history.)

      1. E*

        Nah, I actually met the man I’m with after a lot of therapy. I was a doormat. A lot better now. I still stand by this – people in your life should not be causing issues for you before work. Anyone who is frequently “off” at work because of arguments with a partner should take a big step back and ask themselves if it’s worth it. My ex was notorious for starting fights before I left for work and I related to this letter when it first came out and now – yikes. If it’s a one time thing sure that’s understandable but OP writing in gives me a sense this isn’t the first and probably wasn’t the last time.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I don’t disagree that deliberately picking fights before work can be a form of abuse (it’s economic sabotage, if the intention is to put your job at risk by unsettling you) but we don’t have enough detail to know whether that’s the case or not in this situation. It specifically says that the argument was the night before, not that same morning. If difficult conversations had to be kept until there wasn’t a work day the next day, it would ruin weekends (and depending on shift patterns potentially mean you could never discuss anything that you disagreed about) and hang over the entire week like a black cloud.

          1. Low Sparrow*

            The letter doesn’t even say that the argument was started by the partner, just that it was about issues in their relationship.

            A fight where nobody is totally in the wrong but a couple is simply incompatible about something important can be plenty upsetting.

            1. Observer*

              Yes, and to be honest, my first thought when I read this letter is that it sounds like maybe the OP needs to reconsider the relationship.

              Maybe. But I do think it’s true that if it happens more that very rarely that arguments with a spouse / so leave you so off kilter the next day, it’s worth trying to figure out what’s happening. Because that does tend to be a sign of SOMETHING.

        2. Felixity*

          It’s really sad to see how much your ability to recognise and accept things which are normal in other people’s lives has been shaped by your history of abuse. I hope you are getting therapy that can help you to overcome this too! You deserve not to see abusive traits in everything around you, but it’s normal that your brain in in hyperalert mode after what you went through.

          Good luck!

        3. Antilles*

          My ex was notorious for starting fights before I left for work
          That’s a manipulative move and terrible…but that’s also not what OP is talking about. OP explicitly says “yesterday I had a fight, today I am thrown off”. Not the same thing as your ex starting stuff while you’re getting ready in the morning or on your way out the door.

        4. Observer*

          I see what you are saying. And I do think that therapy could be a really good idea. But I’ve seen other situations where fights like this lead to the kind of reaction that the OP describes, and it was not not abuse.

          In some cases, it was a symptom of a really bad – not abusive, but just bad – relationship. In another case, the fundamental problem was the person’s own emotional state.

          Therapy can be useful to unpack all of those things. But jumping to “This must be abuse” is both inaccurate and unhelpful.

        5. Meep*

          As someone with c-PSTD and whose own aunt hated her for having the nerve to be born 4 months before her precious baby boy, I can say this is so far of a stretch I am impressed you can reach that far.

          People fight because people disagree. Not everything is manipulation. And not to be rude, but you might want to get a new therapist if yours didn’t help you work through that.

      2. BethDH*

        I’m also emotionally sensitive even after non-argument serious discussions with my spouse because they are usually about topics that really matter. And some of them relate to things like career and make me sensitive at work because being at work makes them seem extra fresh, even if the “argument” part was healthy.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I’m sorry you went through that and glad you are in a better place now.
      However, I don’t think that that means that anyone who is upset following an argument is in that same position
      Being upset following an argument is pretty normal – and of course if someone is tired or stressed for other reasons as well then it may have more of an impact, equally, if your normal approach is that disagreements are dealt with through discussion / negotation then having an actual arguemnt may be much more upsetting just because it’s unusuul for you . I think it’s totally reasonally for someone it the LWs position to cosider whether this is indcative of deeper problems, but I don’t think it’s automatically the case.

    3. Panda (she/her)*

      There are lots of reasons someone might be upset after an argument. I am a recovering people pleaser and find any kind of disagreement or conflict emotionally challenging – to the point that having an argument with my spouse might throw me off the next day. I am in therapy and have a very healthy relationship, definitely not being emotionally abused. Maybe it was past emotional abuse that made me feel this way after arguments, but I’m not being abused now.

    4. FashionablyEvil*

      I mean, that may be true, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the case. If, for example, the small things she’s talking about represent an overall pattern of issues related to lack of trust or respect or if the fight has given her a sense that maybe the marriage isn’t going work out, I can see being that upset. Ditto if she’s otherwise tired/not sleeping well/not getting enough exercise/missing connection with friends/dealing with health or other family issues/any of the other things that can really deplete a person.

    5. vegan velociraptor*

      I just want to add to people saying that this is absolutely not a universal sign of emotional abuse. I am generally emotionally responsive, and if I have an argument with my husband I will feel distracted and upset until we are able to resolve it. Arguing with the person I love is upsetting, and it can make me cry! That’s not the same as my husband making me cry.

    6. Purple Cat*

      Let’s not pile on E. They say is a “sign” not a definitely statement of emotional abuse. Women are conditioned to accept a lot of things, it’s helpful to point out the things that really aren’t okay.

      1. vegan velociraptor*

        Eh, I think it’s very important too to push back against very normal emotional reactions being framed as “not normal”. For a lot of people it is normal to feel upset after an argument!

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          This. I cry during/after arguments because I’m a crier. I’m distraught for a while after them because I’m an overthinker. My partner and I rarely argue, but when we do, I am the emotional one, because I’m the emotional one. He’s not actually done anything wrong, and is incredibly compassionate, and works to make things better/change his behavior. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

      2. KayDeeAye*

        I don’t want to pile on – E makes a reasonable point. But the problem with E’s post is that it’s simply too definite. They don’t say being upset from an argument the night before “might” be a sign that someone is being emotionally abused – they *definitively* say that it “is” a sign someone is being emotionally abused. And it just isn’t, at least not for everyone. It’s certainly something to think about, but that’s all it is.

      3. Rumph*

        I don’t mean to pile on but also really don’t want things that aren’t abuse being labeled as abuse – definitely something needs work if this sort of thing happens frequently but we don’t know that it doesn’t even sound like the fight was at work/on the way to work. My spouse is not abusive but when we’re both super stressed out and spiraling on each subpar reaction we can both be be pretty emotionally sore the next day – we’re able to talk it out tho and getting much better at getting off that train.
        If the lw reads this certainly worth examining the root of the fights if this is a regular occurrence and your spouse ought to be willing to work on not letting them get so heated.

      4. Meep*

        I think it is the doubling down that deserves to be called out. She is projecting her own experience onto LW’s and that is frankly disgusting behavior.

    7. JimmyJab*

      I’m sorry that happened to you. I cry and struggle to recover whenever my partner and I fight, no matter how trivial the fight. I am working on my reaction to conflict with him in therapy. He isn’t abusing me, I promise.

    8. RagingADHD*

      With respect, if you can’t imagine ever being so upset about conflict with someone you love that you might cry, please keep going to therapy. You have not yet recovered the free and full expression of your emotional range.

      It is entirely normal to be sad and internally conflicted about the fact that you and your loved one are at odds over something, when you are used to being in harmony with them. That’s not abuse. It doesn’t have to have any kind of power dynamic.

      Sometimes people aren’t upset about what the other person said or did, but about the fact that the conflict exists, or about *their own behavior* during an argument. That’s just having complicated emotions, which is a normal experience for healthy adults.

    9. I should really pick a name*

      I think many people are making the same point in response to this post and there’s no real need to keep doing it.

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

      I understand where you are coming from but I believe you are putting too much from your personal experience into the letter. OP says there was an argument the night before. She probably didn’t sleep well, which can cause her to feel tired. Arguments are normal and do not mean that there is abuse.
      Also, some people cry more easily than others, especially if they are upset or anxious. Sometimes people cry when they are processing emotions. So maybe you don’t feel like you would cry after an argument with your husband but that doesn’t mean that the OP is the same.

    11. heretoday*

      I defy anyone in a years-long relationship to tell me truthfully that there have not been rough spots, especially if there are children. Marriage isn’t all flowers and cupcakes. The sporadic upsetting argument is in no way abuse, if that’s what this was.

    12. Well...*

      I used to do therapy in the morning before work and it made me emotionally raw sometimes during the work day as well. We’re emotional beings and having feelings can mean a lot of different things.

  7. Bryce*

    Wait… For #2 how did he know the employee stopped seeing the counselor? Sounds like there’s more boundary-shattering going on.

    1. Cat Tree*

      My guess is that the sessions got billed to the company in some way, so when the billing stopped he deduced that the therapy stopped. Although now that I think about it, they would have stopped paying as soon as she left the company, so my explanation would only make sense if she naturally stopped the therapy right before she left the job.

      1. Snow Globe*

        Entirely possible that the manager leaped to the assumption that not getting billed meant that the employee stopped therapy. He doesn’t sound like the brightest bulb.

  8. Kristell*

    For #3, I| wouldn’t tell him the artworks sucks, but I might try to get the piece on that wall moved. You probably can’t get rid of the art entirely, but you might be able to make it so you don’t have it right in your face all day everyday!

    Maybe try saying: “Oh, it’s such a ~powerful piece, it’s a little overwhelming having it right there and the wall isn’t really big enough to show it to its full potential. Could we consider moving it to the conference room/hallway/foyer/location of your choosing that has a bigger wall space and isn’t in your line of sight all the time? That way clients/visitors/everyone else/whoever you want to impress can see it and it’ll have more space to set it off properly!” Say it like you just really want the artwork to have the best possible location and not like you hate it, and maybe you can negotiate a move that will at least reduce the time you have to spend looking at the terrible art.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      I’m a big fan of the “appealing to their self interest in a way that also satisfies your own” as a path to compromise.

  9. spruce*

    I bet that anyone who has ever dealt with the interviewer for LW1 knows who the real prick is. These people show their colours very quickly.

    1. KateM*

      And I bet that OP was to be described as a prick themselves to other people no matter what they would have done.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Honestly, if I had an interviewer who started calling random people pricks, I’d probably just dissolve into hysterical laughter. Maybe it’s a tactic he uses to try to throw people off. But whatever the reason, this OP had a lucky escape.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      That letter always reminds me of this retail job I had as a college student where the supervisor was super-critical of everybody. When I started, I obviously didn’t know she was that critical of everybody and used be really worried after a day she was in charge that she was going to go back to the manager and deputy manager and tell them I’d made a mess of things and should be fired or something. She probably did complain to them about me; she was always complaining to us about other people, including new people not knowing everything immediately, but…they knew full well what she was like and were usually trying not to openly roll their eyes at her complaints.

      So yeah, I wouldn’t worry about what that guy says about the LW. If the field is as small as is indicated, then everybody knows he hates everybody.

    4. Antilles*

      If you ran into a prick in the morning, you ran into a prick. If you run into pricks all day, you ARE the prick.

    5. Well...*

      Is anyone else picking up some odd class dynamics at play with this guy? I work in the Northeast and I’ve heard things like, “everyone at X university are pricks.” There’s this adversarial “gown and the ground” relationship where the town is poor but the students are wealthy. Some students earn the name… There was a WhatsApp group called, “a roll in the mud” where they competed to sleep with the poorest woman they could.

      Anyway I’m an outsider so I can’t say for sure, but I’ve noticed a lot of class junk floating around in interactions in the UK that I don’t always get and can’t navigate very well.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      Yes – I would bet money the guy is WELL known in the field, and that the LW would get quite a lot of commiseration about her experience. It definitely doesn’t hurt you to be turned down or bad-mouthed by a known asshole.

    7. Kevin Sours*

      I think all you really have to say in that situation if it comes up is “After the interview I realized the position wasn’t a good fit for what I wanted” possibly adding “given that I was in the process of finishing my PhD thesis”.

      The interview process is there for both sides to determine if they want to move forward. Reasonable people understand that. And you can let subtext do the talking particularly if the guy has a rep.

  10. Dogs Playing Poker*

    The three “ladies” (ugh, what a term to use for professional women) in Letter #3 were all apparently art experts? As someone who supports the arts and artists, the judgment from “the ladies” made my skin crawl; I literally shivered when I read it.

    1. metadata minion*

      Or they’re paintings by an amateur who should be supported in her hobby by the boss putting her stuff up in his own house, rather than his place of work. I also want to support art and artists, but that doesn’t mean every piece of art is appropriate for every situation. There’s a reason office art is usually kind of bland.

      1. Purple Cat*

        Exactly. And art *can* be objectively bad – as in poor skills by the artist. Rather than “not my taste”

        1. Lydia*

          Even if it were objectively bad, the boss can still support his sister’s bad art and hang it in the lobby of his office and the OP should still let it go.

      2. Colette*

        Unless it’s something blatently inappropriate (i.e. gory or sexual), the boss can decide what he wants to decorate the office with. I’ve never had input into the artwork/wall colour/etc. of anywhere I’ve worked – this is not normally something an employee gets input on.

        I used to spend time at physio trying to figure out how many suns were in the sky when one of their paintings was painted – the shadows went may different ways. Paintings don’t have to be “good” to be displayed.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yeah I mean I’d object if something were offensive but there’s a lot of art that isn’t my taste but which gets displayed anyway in offices ranging from dull to forgettable to tacky. Most office wall art in places I’ve worked has been fairly bland to be honest. Usually not very inspired prints of English countryside or bland abstracts in my experience.

          Unless something was really offensive I’d not bother wasting time objecting just because it was ugly or badly done.

        2. sundae funday*

          Yeah, but he asked them to do it, and then was like “nah, my sister’s art goes here.”

          I want to say they’re overreacting, but as someone who can be (unfortunately) sensitive to the aesthetics of a place, I get it. And aesthetics matters for customers, even if they don’t matter to you specifically.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          My chiro had an ugly, awful painting in his lobby for the longest time. Think reds and blacks, semi-abstract, with dead birds and smokestacks. It was horrible. I think someone complained, because now it’s a soothing abstract of waves in greens and blues.

      3. Lydia*

        He’s the boss and he can support his sister’s art however he sees fit, which includes hanging it in the office. It’s not even about what’s appropriate in this situation. The art is not to the OP’s taste, but it’s not really a hill worth planting a flag.

        1. tessa*

          Yep. I once had a professor who wore the same ugliest tie every day. We students found out his then 6yo daughter had given him the tie the previous Father’s Day. He wore it faithfully like a charm.

          Think a bit more deeply, people, and leave it be. It’s not a contest.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Yes, the reaction seems a bit over the top, but one doesn’t have to be an art expert to have an opinion about a piece of art.

    3. Low Sparrow*

      FFS, “ladies” is not a disgusting word. Many, many people, both men and women, use it to indicate politeness or respect for a woman older than them.

      If the combination of the word “ladies” and disliking art makes you literally shiver, can I make you pass out completely by saying “the females in the office wanted to replace the weirdo art with Thomas Kinkaid prints?”

      1. Colette*

        “Ladies” is not a great word to use in the workplace – particularly if you’re using it to draw attention to someone’s age. (Neither is “females”, BTW.) The word to use is women, if gender is somehow relevant.

        1. Well...*

          I think Low Sparrow was saying it’s a pretty mild microaggression and the reaction was disproportionate. They intentionally brought up the less mild example to make a point.

          1. Agatha*

            I mean, is it even a microaggression? Lots of people use the term. It’s an identifier. The visceral dislike of “ladies” isn’t nearly as widespread in the real world as this comment section would have you believe. (Unless we’re referring to the ‘Hey Ladies’ bachelorette party email satire?)

            1. metadata minion*

              I think it also definitely matters that the OP *includes herself* in the term. “Ladies” used to describe women generally makes me sigh and roll my eyes, and I hate it when people use it for me (hello, not even a woman…), but I have zero problem with people deciding that they themselves are ladies.

    4. Well...*

      I mean, it’s a workplace. Basic art and basic opinions are probably safe decorations. Also the vitriol towards the women coupled with (I guess?) a feminist point about word choices feels super odd. Women can cause harm towards other women by saying things that diminish our professional standing, yes, but also like we have to live in and at the expense of this patriarchal world every day and can’t constantly be on top of using the least problematic word choices at all times. Your outrage feels misdirected.

      1. Be Gneiss*

        Also, re: “as someone who supports the arts and artists….” You can support the arts AND also not like having to look at your boss’s sister’s gigantic painting in a too-small space. They’re not mutually-exclusive positions. I support performing arts, and I still don’t want an office-ukulele-serenade every afternoon.

    5. RussianInTexas*

      You “literally shivered”? Holy over-reaction Batman.
      I can judge any art I want, and I don’t have to be an art expert for it. I am allowed to have an opinion.

      1. Lydia*

        In this specific case, though, the OP with the opinion would be wise to keep it to herself. The art is not to her taste, but it isn’t harmful, offensive, unkind, etc. It is a minor annoyance at best.

    6. Claire*

      I mean, you can support art and artists without feeling like you have to pretend that every single piece of art is high-quality. You can certainly do it without pretending that art isn’t literally an aesthetic endeavor and that people don’t get to have aesthetic preferences unless they have an MFA. Pretending that no one who’s not an “art expert” gets to have an opinion on art does not serve either art or artists.

    7. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I support artists and the arts and have both seen (and produced) some amazingly bad pieces. I can think of half a dozen things I’ve seen that I wouldn’t want up on the wall of my office, not for them being inappropriate, but because my eyelid would twitch every time I saw them.

    8. Observer*

      As someone who supports the arts and artists, the judgment from “the ladies” made my skin crawl; I literally shivered when I read it.

      Wow. This is both an incredible over-reaction, and also incredibly snobby. People are entitled to like or dislike any given piece of artwork, whether or not they have expertise that you deem sufficient. And IN THIS CONTEXT these lowly amateurs have a valuable point of view to offer a boss who is willing to hear them. Because it’s highly possible that the clientele of the practice are just as declassé as you seem to think the staff are.

      Ignoring what your customers like is never a good idea. Even if what they like is so low brow that you have to scrape it off the floor. The only exceptions are if what you customer likes / dislikes veers into illegal, unethical or bigoted / discriminatory territory.

    9. Nope.*

      Art is subjective. Why does someone else having an opinion about it send “shivers” through you? Sounds like you should have your doctor check on that.

  11. Fired Social Worker and Proud*

    For number 2, why would you need a manager to refer you to EAP. Isn’t that just a number you call/app you download?

    And holy crap! How did I miss this letter in 2016? That workplace sounds absolutely vile!

    1. Hound Dog (Nothing But)*

      She may not have known the number and asked her manager for it. I’m guessing it probably wasn’t widely public (as it should be), manager didn’t know it either so asked HR, and then Ms Blabbermouth found out.

    2. londonedit*

      Yeah, the whole point of an EAP (or the way ours works, at least) is that it’s completely confidential. HR send us reminders about the EAP service periodically, to remind people that it’s there and it can help with XYZ issues, but the actual EAP company is completely separate and it’s just a number that we can call to access help and advice. When you call the EAP you don’t even have to give your name – they do ask which company you work for, so that they can keep track of how many people from each of their clients use the service, but you don’t have to give your name or any details about yourself. The EAP then refers you on to whichever help you need.

    3. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

      It sounds to me as if the whole place is Amateur Hour, workplace edition. It’s very likely that no one there has had any in-depth training re: professional standards for HR staff or even basic knowledge of medical information ethics. Worse – they don’t even realize that they NEED to learn those basics in order to function professionally in highly sensitive roles!

      And now that ignorance has cost them their star employee. Well, duh!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Plot twist: …. and it’s a small family owned business, with the problematic managers being close relatives of the owner!

    4. doreen*

      I wonder if it an actual EAP – the mention of “many divisions” makes it sound like a pretty big company but the “manager is the owner’s nephew who is married to the owner’s best friend’s daughter who is also the HR manager” makes it sound like a small company that I wouldn’t expect to have an EAP.

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

        Almost every place I have worked, large or small, has had an EAP that was seemingly thrown in as a bonus by the health insurance provider. We actually had two last year (one from the health insurance and one from the group life insurance or something).

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

      I was thinking that the manager or HR person told the employee about the EAP, she called them herself, and then they got the bill for the therapy session.

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (gossip about EAP referral) – I think OP should say something to the owner / execs and the context of drop in department performance gives the way in. It’s a disservice to the employee to let the owner go on believing (as he has doubtless been led to believe) that she “just disappeared”, “ghosted us despite numerous attempts at contacting her”, “abandoned her job with no notice” etc etc. It also makes me wonder whether the HR manager and anyone else involved will perpetuate that story if she is ever unfortunate enough to have to use them as a reference.

    I wonder what they would have said if she’d answered their attempts at contact? Probably to harangue her for being unprofessional and quitting with no notice!

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed. The issue really does need to be brought to the Owner’s attention for the reason above, but also so that people at the company QUIT trying to contact the former employee.

      I would not be one bit surprised if any further attempts to contact her result in a “cease and desist” letter, if not an accusation of harassment, at this point. I mean – repeated phone calls, visits to her home, accosting her on the street!??! She CLEARLY doesn’t want to be contacted and yet people from the company keep doing so.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        If I were the victim in this case I might pay for an hour of a lawyers time to draft a “cease and desist” and lay out the gross privacy violations that caused me to quit. These people are maliciously clueless.

  13. Empress+Ki*

    #2 makes me angry on behalf of the employee.
    Is it even legal to share this information? I bet this isn’t. I wished this employee had made a lawsuit against the company and left reviews on glassdoor
    And showing up at her home after that ? If you are genuinely worried, you send the police to check.

    1. Colette*

      What law would it break? They are her employer, not a health care professional, so laws about health information don’t apply.

      It’s most likely legal, even though it’s absolutely inappropriate.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        The ADA has regulations about keeping employee medical information private. The HR Rep telling the manager seems extremely sketchy.

    2. NotAManager*

      Yeah, after all that the employee went through I’m not surprised she didn’t open the door. In that situation, I’d not assume it was a wellness check (not that her company should have been involved in those), I’d assume it was another gossip opportunity to comment on the state of her appearance and/or household.

  14. xl*

    #2 unfortunately makes me think of my job. I work in an ultra-safety critical position so we are required to disclose any medications we take or are prescribed. Management then documents it and passes it up the channels to get a determination on whether we are authorized to work. Some in management are…….better at confidentiality than others.

    Awhile back I was prescribed penicillin for strep throat. I made the required call to work and within an hour my phone was blowing up with texts from coworkers chiding me about “having the clap.” On another occasion, I was on break near my supervisor’s office right after he took a call from one of my coworkers. He came out of his office and said to me, “Hope you’re ready to work a lot of overtime next year, because (female coworker who is on your same schedule) just started taking fertility drugs.”


    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      That doesn’t sound like a very well thought out process (I appreciate that the need is legit in itself though). So each person just passes on medication info to their manager who parrots it to other people until it reaches a decision maker… there ought to be a more direct (and confidential) path for reporting that, and the person’s manager should just be told “xl disclosed medication to us and we’ve determined that she is OK to work” etc.

      1. Ferret*

        Yeah my old job had a similar requirement to get medications approved (rules for working on or near the railways) but there was a designated person to report to with a duty of confidentiality

    2. Generic+Name*

      That’s a terrible system. Do you have a 3rd party medical contractor or an on-site clinic you can give the info to directly? There’s no reason anybody in your management chain needs to know this info beyond, “Lucinda is cleared to work in all areas”.

    3. Lydia*

      I feeeeeeel like this may be actually covered by HIPAA just because it’s a requirement to share medically sensitive information because it relates to the work you do. I could be wrong, but this feels like a privacy violation that’s more than just keeping things to yourself.

      1. Observer*

        Almost certainly not covered by HIPAA, despite it being required information.

        That does not mean that there are not other laws that might be implicated here – I have no idea.

        And it doesn’t mean that it’s not a gross privacy violation. It most definitely IS a major overstep even if it’s 100% legal. There are many ways to be a terrible person that are completely legal.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          HIPAA is for medical professionals and their agents. However the ADA has some things to say about the handling of confidential employee information.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      OMG – I would be having WORDS with HR about this. That is just nuts – A) the lack of confidentiality and discretion in how private information is handled at the company, and B) coworkers contacting people about their assumption that antibiotics = STDs. That last has got to tread close to sexual harassment.

  15. grumpy old lady*

    LW#2 – wish there had been a update, not sure the business would continue to function with a bunch of clowns running the show. I hope the LW was able to find a more professional job.

    1. Observer*

      Yeah, I was thinking about that.

      I hope the OP found a better place to work. They sounded like they were trying to do right by staff.

  16. Pippa K*

    LW1, please tell me that your second, forced interview question at the end was “so, why are you being such a prick?”

  17. SMH*

    LW#2 is WTF bananas. Of course the employee left after another manager SHARED PERSONAL MEDICAL INFORMATION and speculated on her mental state with the whole company. The company is lucky they weren’t sued.

  18. A+Good+Egg*

    The most memorable part of my interview for my current job was when director Plato mentioned to me that VP Socrates had called him (Plato) a prick. (And he did use that exact word.) Now Socrates was on his way out, but should you really discuss internal dynamics that way with a potential new employee?

    1. OrigCassandra*

      During my first post-degree job interview, employees made clear to me (quietly and politely) that the new Big Boss wasn’t working out super-great.

      Okay, bad Big Bosses happen, I was still willing to consider the job… until the said Big Boss explained to me that the position I was interviewing for was his first hire, and he “would expect [me] to be in his corner.”

      Oh HECK no. They offered me the job. I turned it down.

  19. Spicy Tuna*

    For # 4- years ago, my loooong term partner very abruptly left me on a Sunday afternoon. It was totally out of the blue, we were having a normal Sunday and then he said “I’m breaking up with you and moving across the country” and then departed in our only vehicle. Needless to say, it was shocking and devastating and in addition to the “feelings” part of the breakup, I also was left without a car or any certainty about our joint assets or the side business we owned.

    I had a great relationship with my boss, so on Monday morning, I had a private meeting with him and told him what had happened as we were going into our busiest time of the year. For me, work was a blessed distraction and I did indeed kick absolute rear end and took on extra projects, but I needed my boss to know that I would periodically need to close my door and have private conversations to sort out the disaster that was my personal life. He was totally understanding and supportive.

    Long story short, my partner and I worked things out and just celebrated 18 years together last month, but in general, I think if you have a good relationship with your manager or co-workers, it’s perfectly fine to let them know you are going through something tough outside of work so they are understanding if you are not performing at full strenghth

      1. Hannah L*

        That’s unnecessary. The only thing we know about their partner is the breaking up out of the blue, but other than that have no insight or information into their relationship. The only person who does know is Spicy Tuna and they state they were able to work it out and celebrated 18 years and clearly are happy with the decision.

      2. Lydia*

        Gosh, it’s almost as if people are complicated, relationships are weird and complicated, and sometimes weird things happen and people work through it.

        Spicy Tuna knows better than you how they’re doing in their relationship.

      3. Zap R.*

        Okey dokey, can we please call for a moratorium on telling internet strangers that they’re being abused for having less-than-perfect relationships?

  20. SleeplessKJ*

    #3: your boss knows they’re terrible. Your boss is an awesome sibling. Suck it up. They’ll grow on you.

    1. Season of Joy (TM)*

      I think this is totally plausible. My office is 100% the graveyard for knick-knacky gifts/art that I don’t actually want in my home.

    2. Lydia*

      I can totally see this. “Why, sister, I love it! I’m going to hang it at the office so everyone can see it!”

  21. ResuMAYDAY*

    Career Coach here. I was working with a high-level candidate for executive director positions. My client, a woman, was getting interviews, but not getting offers. Her interview skills were sharp and natural, needing no improvement. So I suggested that I contact her references, acting like a potential employer. She gave me three names.
    Reference #1 started great – was happy to discuss my client with me (a potential employer). Instead of answering my questions about her work talents, he talked about how well she handled her acrimonious divorce, how her ex had tried to cause professional problems for her, and how she didn’t let that happen. He was really impressed with that.
    Reference #2 was also happy to take my call. After I asked him an open-ended question, he talked about how well-adjusted this candidate’s kids were, despite a huge custody battle that lasted three or four years.
    I didn’t even try to call #3.
    The two men I spoke to thought they were being kind. To them, they were praising this woman and helping her get a great new job. They were both her peers, at the executive level. They truly had no idea they were screwing her over.
    She was able to go back to these idjits and give them specific scripts of what to say, and what topics to avoid. Within a few months she had a new job, but not the job that she originally wanted.
    Even if you don’t have a recruiter coach your references, it’s a good idea to speak to them beforehand about what to say and what not to say. (And for the record, I don’t think they ever would have brought up divorce or custody if their colleague had been male.)

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

      Fascinating story, but you didn’t waste the reference’s time proactively, you were responding to an identified problem. Especially with the background, it’s pretty clear the recruiter in the question was going to waste a lot of the references’ time.

      Honestly, my first thought if a headhunter wanted to talk to my references would be, he actually wants to find more candidates he can throw at other jobs. Many times over the years I’ve turned down a recruiter cold call and had them respond by asking if I had any friends or coworkers who might be looking.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      OMG – some people need to be hit over the head (repeatedly) with a clue-by-four.

      Also, shame on the people doing the references for the actual jobs for not redirecting the referees to the person’s ACTUAL job performance. ALSO, shame on the potential employers for holding the person’s idiot references and personal family situation against her. That’s inexcusable.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      Oh. My. God.

      I have acted as reference for peers. Including peers that got treated very badly at my workplace (literal racism). I would never discuss their personal life, only their work.

  22. L*

    #3 — am I a terrible person for wondering if boss hung the art up at work so he wouldn’t have to hang it up in his house?

    1. Season of Joy (TM)*

      Commented above – this is what I do! before I even read this letter this morning, I glanced upon my shelves of shame – gifts I’ve received over the year that I really don’t care to have in my home.

      1. L*

        Same here. I like having a decorated space, but I only bring in stuff I’d be okay with losing. And there is absolutely a section of my office that is, “gifts I’ve received and don’t exactly want to get rid of, for whatever reason, but that I don’t exactly love”

  23. GythaOgden*

    No mercy on #1. I had the same experience a while back (with a comment that was immediately classist and could have been seen as racist in many situations) with a company that was basically one step up from an MLM. It wasn’t directed at me, but at the other people in the waiting room, and I had to sit there and wait it out. After I left, I rang the recruitment agency and told them what had happened.

    The UK job centre doesn’t have many good jobs available through it — it seems to be mostly ads for MLMs or similar stuff that is bottom-feeder companies preying on the unemployed. I mean, you can find better positions just by looking elsewhere, but I didn’t realise this until I’d applied for few.

    Changing the subject, I’ve been reading the archives recently (in the middle of reassessing what I’m doing — had an amazing conversation with a regional manager and have a training action plan for the Christmas period while it’s otherwise quiet) and I saw this letter, and was DYING to respond to it. Thanks for reprinting, Alison! (And I’ve been reading the site for almost a year and it’s opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities, resources and insights into workplace situations and issues that I’ve struggled with as autistic. Thanks very much in general!)

  24. Trek*

    OP2 This is the moment you wish you had the clout and the ridiculous immaturity like Brian Finch on Limitless TV show to reply all and state ‘Private medical conditions including EAP referrals probably shouldn’t be shared with everyone. I’m sure anyone being treated for fill in embarrassing condition (micro penis, hemorrhoids) wouldn’t want everyone to know, right boss?’

  25. NotAManager*

    Yeah, #2 is why I would literally never use EAP. I simply don’t trust that anything would remain confidential. I view it in exactly the same way I view HR, their ultimate goal is to protect the company/organization and they will jump at the first opportunity to throw a “squeaky wheel” employee under the bus.

    1. GythaOgden*

      The EAP counsellor I was referred to during the immediate aftermath of lockdown was…not good — she was of the ‘Keep calm and carry on’ school of thought while I was in blind panic over how I was going to get to work with a long commute on public transport (I was signed off sick for the six weeks of very strict lockdown but went back to work once that was over and I realised that the world hadn’t, in fact, ended). I got better therapy from spending an hour on the phone with a friend.

      We do work for a health trust that runs local mental health treatment, so there are a lot of very compassionate people around the office. We’ve recently had people come round with free fidget toys which saves my hair from my fidgety autistic fingers and been given loneliness awareness training. I have just had a very useful discussion with my regional manager over why a graduate of the LSE is working reception and I explained that I’d had difficulty with mental health issues in my 20s and had just come out of a really bad few years where I wanted to leave but personal stuff kept getting in the way. But the UK health service is a good employer (all the social justice things, particularly surrounding disability, I’ve seen from them have been pitch-perfect) and I’ve been with my team for 9 years now — I don’t think I would be comfortable with disclosure if I didn’t know the people I worked for.

      But yeah, definitely — I’ve got much better therapy paying out of pocket than from corporate EAPs.

  26. Ama*

    As someone who has worked in nonprofits for almost a decade now — word gets around about people who are difficult to work with, especially if they are organization leadership.

    There’s an organization in the sector I currently work in that pays very well and are always hiring — but I’ve heard far too many stories about the organization founder (including that he smokes in the office which is a violation of the law in the city where he is based) and it is clear from how often they hire that they can’t keep staff even at the better than average pay level.

  27. mlem*

    Re the art letter: My company once had a sculpture that looked like nothing so much as a gigantic sperm, in a little alcove next to the 3rd floor kitchen. Stayed there for decades. (I don’t know where it moved to after the most recent renovations.)

    They also hung an image that had a person aiming a gun at the viewer, right over someone’s desk, and flatly refused to move the art or the employee when the employee complained.

    They also adorn walls in one building with clusters of trypophobia-inducing, barnacle-looking … things. (They have an apparently untouchable art coordinator, who is Very Serious About Art And If You Have Any Reaction That Just Means The Art Is Working!)

    I’d take an amateurish painting hung from personal affection any day.

    1. London Calling*

      You don’t by any chance work for a very big American bank, do you? the London branch that I worked for had very expensive abstract art hung on the walls and I fell foul of the chairman of the art committee (who I didn’t know was the chairman of the art committee) when he asked my opinion of one piece and I said we could rotate it by 90 degrees every month, get four times our money’s worth and no-one would know because no-one knew what the hell it was meant to represent anyway. After that I think I went on the Irredeemable Philististine On Whom Art Is Wasted list.

      Then there was the sculpture by the lifts that threw a shadow like male genitals and on which a slightly drunk colleague left a big very red lipstick kiss one Christmas.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Ugh. That’s like the ‘what the heck were they thinking’ corporate logo that used to hang on the wall upstairs on our mezzanine floor. They got it put up *just before* the branding changed. I’m not normally one to moan about taxpayers’ money being wasted, particularly when it results in nice gestures like the cost-£20-retail water bottles with NHS branding they handed out during the pandemic or the thermal mugs we got this year (I keep my bottle beside my bed because I take meds every night and every morning and it means I don’t have to keep bringing drinks upstairs), or even the mini George Cross badges they gave out after the Queen awarded it to us. Cash is definitely nice (the recent pay deal was a flat raise but represented almost 10% for me), but useful corporate swag can be good when the items are pretty expensive to buy in the shops. However, wall art is just awful to begin with…and they made it worse still.

        We do have one very nice piece at the end of a corridor. It’s not fine art, just a kind of prop in the shape of a house with fancy mirrored mosaic patterns on it, and it’s nice to look at and matches the carpet. It’s like something you’d get in The Range, but not as tacky as it could be; it just needs a few other similar pieces to complement it.

        I like modern figurative art (I cross-stitch Russian propaganda art and am working on a Ukrainian poster rn), and nice, tasteful stuff does brighten a place up. The hospital near me gets local artists to exhibit in their hallways. However, the genitalia shadows would be rather creepy. At this time of year, working in an atrium with daylight fading from about 3pm onwards, I don’t want someone’s member lengthening any shadows over me thankyouverymuch!

  28. Dame James*

    As someone who just went through the whole recruiter process while job hunting, can I say that the amount of prep for each interview in Letter #5 is way, way too much? One hour of prep for a one hour interview?! I thought a recruiter wanting a 3-minute call before and after every single step of the interview was too much. Unless I was completely green about how to do an interview, I can’t even imagine what you would cover in that length of time.

    1. Roland*

      Seriously! I had a recruiter do 30 minutes of “prep” for the whole day of interviewing once and even that was a waste of time since it boiled down to “we hire senior software engineers the same way that everyone else does”. And this one wants one entire hour for prep???

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I have had recruiters try to tell me what to wear for a zoom call! I’m over 50, and yet I get recruiters giving me interview instructions like I was on my first interview for my first internship ever. I just roll my eyes, and try not to do lengthy phone calls about it.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        I actually appreciate it. Because dress codes in my industry are all over the map and you’ll get judged for both over and under dressing. Knowing the specific expectations of the interviewer is a big help.

  29. Here we go again*

    Consider yourself lucky if bad paintings on the walls are you biggest work problem. He isn’t hanging the Courbet’s the Origin of the World on the wall?

    1. London Calling*

      NSFW for anyone who doesn’t know that one. I fought my way through a crowd gathered round a painting in the Musee d’Orsay to see what all the excitement was about, it was the Courbet and all I can say is My Goodness.

      1. Lydia*

        I thought it was a beautiful painting. It’s definitely…realistic? Surprising? Definitely NSFW, but a beautiful portrayal and I love the title.

        1. Here we go again*

          It’s great art, but I’m assuming since the artists brother is hanging the painting it’s either generic landscapes or animals or non representational.

  30. Coverage Associate*

    The good, the bad, and the ugly of me and workplace art:

    My current workplace has a variety of art in terms of styles and mediums, but it all has a local connection, which I like.

    I volunteer as my church’s librarian. I got permission to get 2 specific prints to hang. Got an expert friend to consult about 1, even. There’s no problem with the images themselves. But I am a bit specially challenged. I measured the spaces where the prints are going before I ordered them, and they’ll fit, but only barely. Whoever sits to the pastor’s left will spend Sunday school being stared at by a life size mosaic of St. John.

    My last workplace was like OP. They paid someone’s sister for original abstract pieces that we couldn’t even tell which way was up when they came. Also, the conference room had a big red abstract piece that made everyone look sick on video calls. I used to plan my outfits so I didn’t clash with it.

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