spider phobia, asking that my coworkers get my raise, 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. I have a spider phobia — and my new boss has a giant spider model in her office

I recently started a new job where they were also searching for a new manager. So far I’ve been dealing with the assistant manager, Emily, and it’s been great.

The place I work requires a certain level of security, and one of the security checks at the end of the night is opening all the blinds. The other day, I noticed during the check that one of my senior coworkers, Carolina, had her blinds closed in her office. When I went in, I was terrified to discover that Carolina has a giant spider (probably model but can’t be sure) encased in glass on her desk, roughly the size of a cellphone.

I have severe arachnophobia, not to the point of needing medical accommodations, but even dealing with something I know is a fake spider terrifies me to the point I start to shake. So this spider is not something I want to deal with.

She and I have very separate jobs (she has her own office and I currently float before customer service wickets) so I thought I would just avoid her office and the problem will be solved. And then yesterday it was announced that Carolina will be taking over as manager. It sounds like I will mostly deal with Emily when it comes to my training and the more day to day stuff, but I’m not fooling myself into believing that I will never enter into the manager’s office. I’m new, so I don’t want to rock the boat and tell her to get rid of it, but what do I do?

You’re not going to tell her to get rid of it. You’re just going to explain that you have a severe spider phobia that will make it difficult for you to go in her office. She can decide from there if she wants to get rid of it or if she’d rather hold all her meetings with you somewhere else. (But if she’s a decent manager who doesn’t want to terrify you, she’ll move it.)

It sounds like you have stronger rapport and a greater comfort level with Emily right now, so you could raise this with her first. Say something like, “Could I ask your advice on something? I have a severe spider phobia, and I just saw the other day that Carolina has a model of a spider on her desk. My phobia affects me to the point that it would be difficult for me to meet with her in there and I likely wouldn’t be able to concentrate if I did. Is that something you think I could explain to her?”

Emily will likely tell you yes — but you’re starting with her because she might tell you something especially reassuring, like that Carolina is incredibly nice/would move it in an instant if she knew this/just had it out as a joke when you saw it but doesn’t normally keep it there/would absolutely want to know and not have you suffer in silence/etc. Hell, Emily might even offer to explain it to Carolina for you (I would if I were her). So start with her.


Read an update to this letter here.

2. Can I decline my raise and ask that it go to my coworkers instead?

I work in HR for a national health care provider. They are very profitable, but only at the top level. We were granted several million dollars from a new federal program, but nobody saw that money, nor was it reinvested in the company. It just went to the two top levels of management. Now my dilemma: I’m very blessed and just received my annual 2% raise. I didn’t even see the impact on my check.

What I would like to do is pass on my token/pacifier raise and give it to those workers who provide bedside services and carry medical equipment to our patients. They are paid in many cases bare minimum wages, yet they are delivering needed medical care to very ill patients.

I’m tried of hearing how the executives went on a week’s cruise to strategize or the next party that’s held while the troopers of this company provide the bedside services to patients at a minimum wages. They clean the solid waste, bathe them, insert the tubes, clean the boils and wounds. Can I give back my raise and have it go to them instead?

That’s very kind of you, but unfortunately you can’t tell your employer what to pay other people, even if it’s coming out of money that you’re declining. Their salary structure might be incredibly messed up, but they presumably believe they’ve set salaries correctly … and there are a ton of practical issues with how you’d implement something like this. For example, what if you leave in six months? Do they then revoke the extra money that was coming from “your” salary and going toward other people?

But you can certainly advocate for higher wages in your industry and in your company, and you might decide that’s something that you want to organize around with your coworkers.


3. Questions about family when you’re estranged from your parents

I was recently asked to apply for a new job, and I’m thinking ahead to if/when I get it and start. Specifically, I’m worried about the getting-to-know-you rituals of starting in a new workplace.

Over the last year, I’ve become estranged from my parents who live in the same state. The circumstances are really personal and mildly embarrassing, but I’m also conscious of the fact that being estranged from one’s family can be a bit of a red flag. (It’s not a situation of abuse or stigma–in fact, my husband doesn’t speak to his father, who is a physically abusive alcoholic, which is very easy to explain; my issue with my family is less black-and-white and more about my setting some long overdue boundaries.)

What do you suggest telling people who ask about my family? I don’t want to lie (and probably couldn’t do so convincingly anyway), but I’m having trouble coming up with some innocuous language to explain why, for example, I don’t see them at holidays, without it being a huge fraught conversation.

How about, “Oh, we’re not close,” followed by an immediate subject change (preferably to something about them, since people are often easy to distract when you ask them about themselves).

Other vague options: “We don’t see each other much” and/or “We usually spend holidays with my husband’s family.”

It’s unlikely that anyone will really push but if someone does, it’s fine to firmly repeat, “We’re just not close.”


4. My top Google hits are tombstones

I have a common last name and an uncommon first name that was far more popular a hundred years ago. As a result, the top results when someone googles my name are entries for 19th-century women on genealogy websites and photographs of gravestones. I know it’s common for hiring managers to google job applicants, and I’m worried this will seem odd. Should I be trying to cultivate more modern search hits? Or am I being silly to worry?

I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s very unlikely that they will think you are a ghost applying from beyond the grave.

Plenty of people don’t have much of an internet presence, and hiring managers are used to seeing that (as long as you’re not in a field that places a high premium on it, like media).


{ 103 comments… read them below }

  1. Lyngend (Canada)*

    People being extremely afraid of insects is common enough that, outside of bug related fields, they don’t belong in the office. Or at least not in the inner window where they can’t be avoided.

    1. Emma*

      Totally agreed. Unless the business in question is an entomology lab or something closely related to working with bugs, having a giant beetle on one’s desk is weird.

      1. CharlieBrown*

        Hard disagree. There’s nothing weird about being fascinated by spiders or beetles. And something that’s living and potentially dangerous (in which case having a fear reaction is appropriate) is very different from something that is dead, sealed in glass, and is essentially an ornament. People should be allowed to express their interests while they are at work.

        That said, if a coworker truly does have a phobia regarding the ornament, the proper thing to do is to put it out of sight.

        1. Anonomite*

          Exactly. My niece loves bugs and snakes and worms and at no point do I want anyone to tell her it’s weird or creepy that she likes those things. It’s not weird or creepy.

          1. Lyngend (Canada)*

            It’s not weird or creepy to like bugs. But anxiety and fear aren’t rational.
            And in this case it’s extremely common for a good portion of the population to be afraid of bugs. Thus bug related things should be absent or discrete.
            Consider it a social nicety/general respect not to trigger those fears.

            1. The Eye of Argon*

              I have phobias of snakes and stinging insects, such that even jewelry that looks like them upsets me.

              That said, instead of preemptively banning things on the off chance that they might trigger someone’s phobia, I’d rather that both parties act like adults where the phobic person explains their situation and the owner of the triggering item agrees to remove it or move it to somewhere the phobic person won’t keep seeing it. Most people are not jerks and don’t want their tchotchkes upsetting people.

              For those who are jerks, they can get ridiculed on AAM.

            2. CharlieBrown*

              And in this case it’s extremely common for a good portion of the population to be afraid of bugs.

              I take issue with this. I don’t find this to be extremely common at all.

              If this is your experience, well… n=1.

          2. Rainy*

            I went through a big beetle painting phase about 15 years ago (the phase was big and so were some of the resulting paintings) and I still have a ton of them, many of which are hung in the house. :)

        2. Emma*

          For what it’s worth, I would find it equally strange if someone had a model of a dog under glass on their desk.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Scattered around my desk you could find a panda, a varanid (sitting on the computer display: it’s a monitor lizard), a turtle, an axolotl, and a red panda. Also a live scorpion; WFH has its advantages. People decorate their desks with all sorts of things. I knew someone who had her whole space full of pigs. (Cute pink ones, not realistic ones) A model of a dog would be far from the weirdest I’ve seen, let alone heard about. (One word: taxidermy)

        3. Giant Kitty*

          I’m arachnophobic for real (among other phobias) and I also hard disagree. My phobia is MY issue to deal with, not other people’s, and as such, I literally do not have the right to tell them they cannot have or show spider related items.

          My arachnophobia developed at some point in my early childhood for no reason I can discern, up to that point I was fascinated with spiders. I had a Dr. Doolittle like animal loving parent who taught me that spiders are beneficial/The Garden’s Helper, and as such I actually find it quite frustrating & upsetting to have such a deep & irrational fear of them, and have worked hard to overcome it.

          I would never consider it someone else’s job to manage my triggers or exposure to same and I find it pretty astonishing that anyone thinks that kind of attitude is OK. Get over yourselves, other phobics, your issues are not other people’s to manage or solve.

    2. KGray*

      I do work in a bug-related field and my office is decorated accordingly. I’d like to think that if I ever end up leaving said field I could bring along my favorite items to remind me of a significant part of my life…but wouldn’t want to terrify people on the regular either.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        The loudest shriek ever heard in our office came as a result of a coworker bringing a cicada shell in from outside and leaving it on another’s keyboard.

      2. Not Spam Honest*

        That reminds me of the time someone brought a tarantula (in a clear plastic box) into the library, and I did not shriek (the way I suspect I was supposed to).

    3. Giant Kitty*

      Even as an arachnophobe I hard disagree that an irrational fear of insects is extremely common. Outside of spiders, a couple of other spider like insects/arachnids, and giant grubs (which I just find revolting to the point it might as well be fear), insects don’t bother me at all.

      I have met far more fellow arachnophobes or people who intensely dislike/fear only one particular type of insect (centipedes/millipedes and bees/wasps/hornets are common offenders) but not others than I have “people being extremely afraid of insects in general”.

  2. The Nest*

    Now I really want to read a letter from a ghost asking for tips on applying to jobs from beyond the grave

    1. Goldie*

      The thing about ghosts is that they are always eating other people’s lunches and terrible at meeting deadlines.

    2. mortification*

      Nothing like being mansplained about the four humors by someone who died before they knew about germs.

    3. ecnaseener*

      “It took me a few decades to become corporeal enough to fill out applications, so I’ve got a sizeable gap on my resume. How do I explain this in interviews without inviting overly-personal questions about the circumstances of my death?”

  3. Not Australian*

    Letter #1 spun off (oops!) a delightful thread about ‘if boss was really a spider’ when it was originally published. A lovely way to start the working day!

    1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

      Thank you! It’s 3am here & I’ve been in the emergency dept with my partner for 1.5 hours and I really need something to read, this is perfect

  4. Rafflesia Reaper*

    Dear AAM,

    The first Google result for my name is some lady’s LinkedIn page, and I worry it’s leading some hiring managers to believe I’m alive. Should I explain my non-corporeal nature in my cover letter, or should I wait until the first interview?

    A Ghost

    1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

      I got one of those emails from LinkedIn suggesting I add so-and-so to my network, and underneath there’s always the “more people you may know” section, and one of the people was indeed someone I worked and went to school with who died suddenly, a couple years ago, tragically young. I had gone to their memorial and everything.

      Thanks, LinkedIn.

  5. All Hail Queen Sally*

    #4 – I have an old-fashioned first name and an unusual last name, and when googled, all that comes up are obituaries. I guess there are more of us dead than alive.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yes, my name is a a very basic Scottish one and Scottish genealogies are extremely online so I get loads and loads of dead mes.

      And then one woman who worked at a teddy bear museum in Virginia, and I always quite fancied being mistaken for her.

    2. WillowSunstar*

      I have a very common first and last name (for my real name), at least for the state where I live, so it’s usually not even me that comes up in the search results. I do have a Linked In and such, but the only thing I’m public about in social media is my photography, which I’m fairly serious about as a hobby and have quite a bit on stock photo sites. So unless they’re looking at my Linked In or art sites, there’s a good chance it’s not me who came up. Hopefully HR people know that there can be more than one for example, Mary Anderson on the Internet and even in the same state.

    3. Avery*

      It’s not exclusively obituaries for me, but Googling my name always returns a few results for genealogy websites for someone who died decades if not centuries back… the odd part is that my last name is very unusual, to the point where I’m pretty sure everybody with the surname in my state is a close relative, yet I have no idea who that guy is or whether we’re related in any way!

    4. Lynn*

      I don’t google my name, but I did set up google alerts for my name, and it’s always obituaries ><

      I guess it could be worse… it's not warrants

    5. Laika*

      I have an uncommon name too and the top result when you search it is a, uh, busty social media influencer with a small following (fortunately in a different country so I don’t think anyone would mistake us). I’ve wondered if Googling me has ever led to any extra follows for her

  6. Anon for this one*

    OP3 (estranged) I was estranged from a family member and just stated so to people. I don’t recall anyone ever asking for more details or thinking it was ‘odd’ or a red flag in any way (estrangement is also more common than you might think!) – generally people just take it at face value. I’m fairly level headed and “no-drama” so they probably assume there’s a good reason rather than a drama-filled one. If anyone did push for details I’d have just brushed it off with “oh I’d rather not go into that, let’s talk about ____ instead!”

    The family member passed away a couple of years ago (I never re-established contact with them) so that was an interesting situation to navigate. I didn’t feel it warranted bereavement leave since of course I wouldn’t be at the funeral or have other arrangements to make.

    1. Meep*

      TBF, it was written in 2016 when it was less commonplace to cut out toxic family members because it was “family”. With that said…

      As someone who is NC with my only biological aunt (minus holidays to keep the peace), another option is to just use the royal “we”. If they push just say “my family” and keep it vague. No one has to know your family is you, your cat, and your baby blanket.

      1. Anonomite*

        I don’t know if it was less common or less publicly spoken about. There have always been toxic family members; it’s just since 2016 we’ve added a new facet to what makes people toxic, and we might be a little more open about it.

      2. Rainy*

        I think that depends a lot on the circles you move in, as cutting out toxic family members has been a reality in my social groups for thirty years, and I knew people older than me even back then who’d been estranged from family for decades already. Of course, I’m queer and in those days was also active in pagan circles, so mileage does vary, but for a lot of us it’s always been a thing.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      I just say my parents were abusive and I don’t/didn’t have relationships with them. If people ask what I’m doing for the holidays, I say something like nothing really, taking it easy. If I have plans with friends I mention that.
      So far, no one has pushed for more on either of those topics.
      I was glad I didn’t have plans for Christmas so I could stay inside during that big cold spell!

    3. MsClaw*

      I think this is the kind of letter where this is such a big thing in OP’s mind that they can’t imagine it not being a big deal in other peoples. Like, how much do people really ask about family at work?? Other than general ‘make conversation’ chatter like ‘are you from around here’ or someone railing about their mom driving them nuts and being like ‘do you see your mom much?’ (to which you can just shrug and say ‘not really’). Or maybe around holiday plans along the lines of ‘do you and your family have big Thanksgiving day plans?’

      Now certainly there are particular people and some parts of the country where it might be more common to be asked for details about your parents (what does your daddy do? Are you related to the Jenkins family from Mandeville? etc) but those are also easily dodged. You may run into a very nosy Nancy who wants to know more but the vast majority of people won’t care and are just trying to fill the silence while you wait for the kettle to boil.

    4. Giant Kitty*

      I have a long estranged sibling and this brings up some interesting issues, because I sure AF won’t be at the funeral or making arrangements, but we don’t have any close family left to do so either and I have no idea if anyone who is currently in their life will be willing or able to. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

  7. CharlieBrown*

    I was in charge of recruitment at my last job. It was a very small company and next to impossible to fill positions. Honestly, if a ghost had applied from beyond the grave, I would definitely have given them an interview.

  8. Michelle Smith*

    When I set a Google alert for my name, I got a ton of results from people that aren’t me who have the same name. A lot of them are from arrest records (yikes!). I don’t have a Facebook or anything easy for people to search up either.

    One way to overcome a non-existent internet presence is just to create one. I’m surprised that wasn’t advised. I would have recommended LW4 create a LinkedIn profile and a website. I actually put my website link (which is basically my real name + domain extension) on my resume as well as my personal email signatures. The website provides a detailed bio, links to my LinkedIn profile, and gives multiple recent writing samples. It was free to make and costs me around $10 a year to keep the URL. Rather than waiting for the prospective employer to Google me, I just proactively let them know where my web presence is. I’ve never had a problem with them confusing me for the other “Michelle Smith’s” online.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I think the reason it wasn’t advised to create an internet presence is that it didn’t sound like LW was in a field/role where that’s needed. There’s no inherent problem with just not having one, it’s presumably useful for you to have that bio and writing samples available but not every role calls for those things.

    2. Observer*

      One way to overcome a non-existent internet presence is just to create one. I’m surprised that wasn’t advised.

      Given the context, it just wasn’t a useful suggestion. On the one hand, even today not having an internet presence doesn’t mean much in many fields, and this was true multiple times over in 2016 when this question was originally asked.

      And also, in 2016 it took a bit more work to create a presence that would bubble up to the top of a google search. What would have been the payoff?

  9. English Rose*

    Just commenting to say that while reading the spider letter (I’m mildly phobic) I knocked a card off my desk which landed next to… well it turned out not to be a huge spider but a big piece of black fluff, but for a moment there…
    My heart rate is nearly back to normal!

    1. Marion Ravenwood*

      I used to own two very lovely but fluffy black cats. When they were in a particularly sheddy phase, ‘fur or spider?’ was always a fun-not-fun game.

      (Current cat is white and whilst she sheds a lot, at least I tend not to mistake it for a bug of some kind!)

      1. Worldwalker*

        I used to have a non-fluffy tabby cat — just your typical barn cat type — who shed more than any two cats I’ve ever known. We didn’t have dust bunnies; we had dust lions. When he was doing his spring and fall sheds, you could comb enough fur off him to knit a kitten. We used to joke that his entire body was a factory for converting food to cat hair. I do not know how that cat was not bald! You didn’t have to worry about mistaking his loose fur for an insect. A mouse, possibly.

        I now have a Bengal, who doesn’t shed much, and a calico DSH, who sheds more from her white areas than her black and yellow patches. Yes, I’ve brushed them individually and compared. But the two of them together don’t come close to Newton and his amazing fur production system.

  10. Clorinda*

    Anyone googling my daughter will find an image of her great-great-grandmother’s gravestone, for now. It’s oddly appropriate, considering the daughter is developing into an artist with gothic leanings, but I look forward to seeing some of her own art on the internet someday when I look up old-fashioned first name plus unusual last name.
    Anyone looking me up will find a writer with a bizarrely inconsistent output, but that’s because there are only two people in the world with my name–that would be me and my stepmother–and we write in completely non-overlapping areas.

  11. Mockingjay*

    OP2: since this is a reprinted letter and time has gone by, I’m going to bend the rules a bit and speculate. Monies for federal programs are usually not meant for the top tier. I wonder if the situation involved misappropriation of funds.

    But alas, even when funds are applied correctly, the lowest tier of caregivers is woefully underpaid; hence the fleeing numbers of caregivers during the Great Resignation. I wish I had constructive advice to offer, but I see this in SO many industries: enormous profits go to a handful of shareholders while employees make a few dollars above minimum wage. We’ve all seen the estimates in which the uberwealthy Megacorp owner could raise every worker’s salary substantially and barely make a dent in the profit. The only thing that will change industry is government regulation (and wouldn’t that go over well?).

  12. The Eye of Argon*

    All that comes up when I google myself is my current job, my mother’s obituary, and a couple of articles I wrote for a gaming website 20 years ago. I’m not even interesting enough to be on a tombstone XD

  13. Catwhisperer*

    OP#3, I’m in a similar situation and I’ve found it most effective to redirect the question to family members I am close with. Something like, “oh I’m not close with my parents, but I am really close to X family member who lives in Y.” People don’t really care that much about your answer, they’re usually just trying to make conversation and that helps continue the flow without making things awkward. It’s also helpful to follow up with a question about their own family, since people love to talk about themselves.

  14. Xaraja*

    I wouldn’t assume that a person not being close with parents is a red flag. Many people aren’t close with their parents for all kinds of reasons. People pushing questions after you do what Allison suggested are red flags for their own behavior though. Hopefully if you think that your own situation is normal and not a problem it will make it easier. Nobody at work needs to know about your parents!

    1. Miss Muffet*

      I feel like in many (most?) workplaces, your parents aren’t really things people talk about unless someone volunteers something like, “oh my folks are coming in today for a week”. You’re an adult, you presumably live on your own once you’re in the workplace (not everyone obvs but most) and so people tend to think of your family as being your partner more than parents.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, in my experience people tend to ask about the family you mention. If you talk about your parents a fair bit – “going home to my parents for the weekend,” “my dad is really sick and I’m worried about him,” – people will ask about them, whereas if you talk more about your husband/wife and children, people will more likely ask about them.

        People might say stuff like “are you visiting family for the holidays?” but you can always just say, “no, my partner and I thought we’d stay home this year” or “no, we’re actually going to our holiday home/a hotel. Thought we’d make a vacation out of it.”

        Actually, one of my colleagues said something similar when asked and I assumed it was just a matter of not wanting to choose one family over the other or that their families lived too far away to be bothered travelling to them.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think a lot of the times when people have to cut off parents or other familial title, it’s after many years of having it drilled into them that “parents” or “relationship title” is such a sacrosanct status that you’re a bad person if you don’t unquestioningly obey, tolerate or suffer for the person with the sacred overlord title. It doesn’t work at keeping people in your sphere obviously, and after the person inevitably cuts off the family member(s) they find out they’re not widely considered social pariahs for doing so (and if anyone does think so, it’s a flag).

  15. LizB*

    Just want to say that I really enjoy when the refreshed letters in these posts are ones that already have updates – you get the whole story in one go! (Even the ones without updates are good, of course, but I am always delighted when there’s an update link.)

  16. LB33*

    I don’t have bug or insect phobias so apologies if this is a bad take but I don’t get the difference between a spider and beetle in this scenario. The same thing that was anxiety producing and frightening suddenly became ok? Just curious how that works but I suppose it’s not rational in that way.

    1. Venus*

      One can be venomous and the other not. A bit like the difference between a tiny snake and a worm – both are thin, long, and without legs but one is potentially deadly.

    2. Modesty Poncho*

      Yeah, it’s not rational. That’s why it’s a phobia. The LW had a fear of spiders, but not of beetles. Since she was only scared because she thought it was a spider, finding out otherwise made it okay for her. It wouldn’t work that way for everyone, but hey, turned out lucky.

    3. Chrysanthemum Tea*

      Think of a person with a dog phobia realizing that the animal they saw was actually a cat. The same thing didn’t suddenly become ok. Cats and dogs are different things. Spiders and beetles are different things. The frightening anxiety inducing thing was actually a different ok thing.

    4. Lady_Lessa*

      I can panic or near panic over certain flying bugs (somewhat rational because I was stung by wasps as a child) but like spiders and insects doing their thing and ignoring me. On me, I might (and have )near panic.

      I actually hope that my review view mirror (exterior) spider has eggs so next spring I’ll have another car spider.

    5. Sylvan*

      A phobia is by definition an unreasonable, disproportionate fear, so it usually doesn’t make any sense to someone who doesn’t have the phobia.

    6. The Eye of Argon*

      Phobias are not rational at all. A phobia triggers your limbic system, the primitive part of your brain that wants to keep you alive at all costs, and sends you straight into flight or fight mode without giving the rational part of your brain a chance to act. For LW1, a spider triggers that “ohmygawd spider run away run away run away!” response but a beetle, though somewhat similar in appearance, doesn’t.

      For example, I have a phobia of snakes which will make me scream and run for the city limits. Other legless squirmy things like worms and eels don’t bother me at all. If something I think is a snake turns out to be a stick or part of a garden hose, it really does turn out of be OK in a second.

      Some people in the comments on the original thread compared it to an allergy, which is pretty apt. For some reason, my body thinks tomatoes are the enemy and will launch an immune response if I eat even a tiny bit of tomato, yet I can eat peppers and potatoes and eggplant with no problems even though they are all nightshades.

    7. Observer*

      The same thing that was anxiety producing and frightening suddenly became ok?

      Phobias are generally not logical. But in this case, the response is actually logical. Because it is actually NOT the same thing.

      If someone is severely allergic to peanuts, and they see what they think is peanut butter on your desk, they are going to worry. When they find out that it’s actually sunflower seed butter, they are going to stop worrying. Because even though it’s a same colored paste in a jar, it still is not the same thing. Same here. Just because at a distance they look like the same thing, they really are not the same thing.

    8. Ellis Bell*

      Most people I know with a thing against spiders have a particular dislike of the legs, and the rapid, multidirectional movement it enables. I could totally see some arachnaphobes of my acquaintance being fine with a beetle. In fact they don’t care much about other insects at all. Though I know some people who hate bugs generally.

      1. Hexagon*

        Yes, six legs is fine, but eight is an aberration to some primal part of my brain. The eyes are even worse, and dead or realistic fake spiders still have eight eyes. There’s nothing rational or conscious in it, but those eyes trigger an internal response that screams, “get away! get away! get away!”

        Beetles have two eyes, and the real ones won’t bite you in your sleep and make your leg swell up and fall off or something. I totally understand both the initial revulsion and then the relief when it turned it to be a beetle. If I think it’s a spider, I won’t look closely enough to confirm if I don’t have to. When the mistaken object turns out to be something innocuous, well, as someone else said, it’s like mistaking a hose for a snake. It’s the same object in reality, but now with a very different classification in my head.

      2. smol might*

        Yeah, it was the movement and speed for me. I think one of the reasons spider phobias are so widespread is that they’re very common in homes and they’re FAST on those legs – they zoom out from under your couch suddenly enough to give you a real jump-scare, and when you’ve had that reaction once or twice your brain logs the cause as a genuine threat. I live in the UK where we don’t really encounter dangerous spider bites, but I still used to be terrified of them and know a lot of people in the same boat. Same reason mice are another common fear, I think.

        1. Giant Kitty*

          Your last line is so funny to me, because while I’m not afraid of mice or rodents at all (I’ve owned both mice & rats in the past, lovely little critters), the time I lived in a very old house & a mouse farted out from under the tub I fully did the cliche “scream and lift your skirt while doing a tiptoe jig” dance like in old cartoons because it was just so STARTLED. Once I realized it was just a mouse I felt abysmally stupid, LOL.

          1. curmudgeon*

            One time my dog chased a mouse around in my kitchen and I literally jumped onto a chair and screamed like a cartoon character. I’ve worked with mice (pet store, not research lab) had a friend with a very sweet pet mouse and generally love animals. But something about that mouse scurrying around set off some primal fear reaction.

    9. smol might*

      Well, yeah. I have a phobia of a specific insect and if I think I see one, I’ll be out of my mind with panic, trying not to throw up, unless/until I can establish that it’s not the particular bug I fear. Once I know it’s not, I’m fine. Trust me, if I could reason myself out of it, I would.

  17. Baron*

    I don’t understand #2.

    I work in a two-person non-profit – me and my underpaid assistant. I can, and do, use my position to advocate with the board for my assistant to be paid more, and if things were tight, I absolutely would say, “Give my holiday bonus to Betty.” But if you’re one person in a national organization and you get a 2% increase, how can that possibly be divided amongst all the frontline workers in the organization? If the organization is national in scope, that’s likely to come to, what, 0.02 cents per worker?

  18. PotteryYarn*

    I had a very similar situation to the first letter writer. My new boss and I shared a cubicle wall with a pane of frosted glass at the top. She is very interested in animals/nature and the macabre and had window clings of spiders and snakes on her side of the frosted glass. I’m not phobia-level afraid of creepy-crawly things, but I’m not a fan, and from my side of the glass it looked like that bathroom scene at the end of The Craft.

    I was not about to insist that my new boss take down her office decor, so I just got my own window clings and placed them in front of hers on my side of the glass so I couldn’t see them, which solved my problem just fine.

    Over a year later, I mentioned the whole thing to a coworker, who ended up relaying it to my boss (who at this point was no longer my boss—we reorganized the department and I started reporting directly to her boss). She was mortified that I experienced (what I would consider rather mild) discomfort at her hand, expressed that I should’ve said something to her, and offered to take the items down immediately. I declined, pointing out that I’d fixed the issue on my end and it really wasn’t that big of a deal, and we continued coexisting until the pandemic hit and we both started WFH full time.

      1. PotteryYarn*

        She’s very much an empath, so finding out that her decor bothered me probably upset her more than the decor actually bothered me in the first place, which made me feel terrible when she found out. But she is most definitely reasonable and a good colleague I enjoy working with!

      2. Giant Kitty*

        No, it sounds like PotteryYarn is a reasonable person who does not expect people to manage her discomforts over innocuous things for her.

  19. Bearded woman*

    #4 is quite a lucky situation! Imagine if you shared a very unique name with a serial miscreant. I’m lucky enough to have an extremely common nickname, so mostly people googling me will find an Australian soap opera star and a Victorian-era freak show star, among others. It’s quite nice to have the added layer of anonymity, and I mostly control the results for more specific searches (eg, name + town or school).

    1. Rainy*

      I had a client a few years back who was very worried about his internet presence and I made an offhand joke that turned out to be exactly why–he in fact shared a name with a moderately notorious regional serial killer. Whoops.

      I do not make that joke anymore!

  20. Marion Ravenwood*

    Re: #4, I really, really hope the writers of the sitcom Ghosts read Ask A Manager, because I would absolutely *love* to see those characters applying for jobs! I don’t know how they’d get to that point but it would be utterly hilarious.

    1. curmudgeon*

      Imagine if Thomas discovered self publishing and somehow got Julian to write up some of his poems.

  21. Kir*

    I worked in an org that was named an acronym that spelled out a the story of animal some people fear (like “BUG” or “BEE”). One day under some moral-type circumstance they handed out a bunch of plastic, realistic but rather large figures of these animals to us. People had them all over their desks for weeks, occasionally starling me and others. I had no part in making any of this happen, originally, but now I wonder if I should have pushed back on such creepy figures just on the general principle they do not belong in a welcoming office.

  22. Worldwalker*

    Aside from the fact that spiders aren’t insects, how far do we want to go with this? Fear of dogs is also common — no plush pups? No pictures of one’s own dogs on the desk? No dog calendar? How about clowns? Some people are freaked out by clowns. Some people want clown-themed everything around them. (I’ve been to an estate sale that was almost enough to give *me* a phobia of clowns) I know someone who’s incredibly afraid of frogs, to the point that she’s uncomfortable entering an office with a frog-themed calendar hanging on the wall. (despite this, she gives us cute frog-themed tchotchkes as gifts!)

    At what point do we say “no, your feelings about spiders/dogs/clowns/frogs can’t rule the world; you need to deal with those feelings yourself”?

    If we don’t, we’re going to end up in a world (or at least an office) where all that is not mandatory is forbidden, and nobody is happy — including the person who doesn’t like spiders, because the sterile office rule prohibits her from having a picture of her puppers on her desk, too.

    1. Observer*

      You’re setting up a false dichotomy here. Reasonable people and offices don’t ban all things that anyone might find upsetting. But they are also don’t tell people who have phobias “deal with it”. Because you can ban the one or two things that people in a given office have phobias about without banning anything that is not mandatory and without destroying all joy in the office.

    2. smol might*

      I’m not sure this sort of slippery-slope argument is helpful. Most offices don’t need a blanket policy about all potential phobia triggers. It’s going to be quite unusual for someone’s phobia to be seriously triggered by someone else’s desk item – a lot of people can deal with a picture of The Thing even if they would be frightened of a real dog or whatever. In the unusual event that it does happen, it should really be feasible for one person to say ‘so sorry, I know this item is innocuous but it’s really setting me off and I’m struggling, would you mind putting it away?’ and for the other person to say ‘of course, I’m not so attached to my desk clown that I can’t just enjoy it at home’.

    3. Bread Crimes*

      This is an odd take on things. Lots of potentially upsetting things can be handled on a case-by-case basis. It’s much like allergies: peanut butter sandwiches in the workplace are fine as a general rule, but if you work with someone allergic to peanuts, it’s probably best to take extra care.

    4. Irish Teacher*

      I think with virtually any of those things, if somebody expresses that the item is freaking them out, it makes sense to take it down. I don’t think there should be a rule saying nothing that anybody could possibly be afraid of should be displayed in the office, because…that is basically everything, but if somebody in the office is afraid of dogs or clowns and seeing them really bothers them, I don’t think it’s much of a hardship for the person who loves dogs or clowns to take their collection home and display it there.

      I don’t think we ever need to say “no, you need to deal with your feelings. I’m keeping my calendar/ornament on my desk,” but I also don’t think we need to pre-emptively need to ban things. I think things can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

    5. Giant Kitty*

      I am 150% arachnophobic and I completely agree with this. Spiders are a normal part of life, an everyday insect that not only is extremely beneficial (the world would be overrun with insects if spiders didn’t exist) but the VAST MAJORITY of them are totally harmless to humans – and the ones that ARE harmful are not nearly so common or even dangerous as most people imagine. I know other arachnophobia’s who will kill spiders when they see then and that enrages me, because even if I’m shaking & near vomiting from an arachnophobic panic attack, I’ll still scoop a harmless spider up in a glass and take it outside to live it’s life. An innocent spider doesn’t deserve to die because I have an irrational, overblown fear of it! (I do kill black widows but that’s because they ARE a deadly danger to my disabled/chronically ill self, my child sized elderly & disabled sister, and our extremely curious dogs & cats. But I feel shitty about it and say I’m sorry before I do so.)

      I would never even DREAM of telling someone to hide their spider related items or even ACTUAL LIVE SPIDERS simply because I have an irrational fear of them. My phobias are MINE to manage and that includes managing my responses to the extremely normal & common triggers that I cannot realistically expect to avoid. To expect someone else to cater to & coddle me because of my irrational fears would AFAIC be the epitome of selfishness, self centeredness, and entitlement and it shocks me to the core that anyone thinks this is acceptable.

      1. Giant Kitty*

        I know multiple people who have spider tattoos in places that are not easily covered up by clothing. The idea of telling them to cover up because the sight of their tattoos makes me sweaty & nervous is LAUGHABLE to me. That’s MY problem, not theirs.

  23. kitryan*

    I have a name-doppleganger (first middle and last) who not only works in a similar field to the one that I (used to) work in (teapot painting versus teapot construction for example) but also filled in my personal portfolio website url as her own on a networking website for her field (it’s http://www.firstnamelastname, so I imagine it’s the same phenomenon as when people think that firstnamelastname@gmail is their email address). I can’t contact the website to correct this without creating an account and I can’t contact her to ask her to correct it without an account because she lists my website as her public info.
    As my web presence overshadows hers, the whole thing’s more likely to be an issue for her than for me.

  24. An Australian in London (currently in London)*

    OP2… I’ve done something like this, but it was a much smaller team, and it was something I cooked up with my manager rather than telling them what to do. I think those differences are significant.

    One year the word from on top was that everyone would get a 3% raise. My manager told me privately that they knew I merited more than that, and so they proposed giving everyone else 2.5% to top me up to about 5%.

    I suggested instead that I would accept zero raise for that year, and instead of stealing from the rest of the small team, my amount could be distributed between them. This would lift everyone’s morale to be told they got 4% when everyone else was limited to 3%. I said I’d accept zero if they agreed to an out-of-cycle raise whenever the numbers looked good – I was making a gamble that things would turn around in six months.

    I was right. I got 10% six months later, in part because the rest of our small team were so delighted to get 4% at a time when everyone else got 3%. It was also part of my brag sheet a year later as evidence of team-building, staff development, and strategy, and I got a promotion in part because of it.

    It was a great deal for everyone including my manager.

  25. TwoTails*

    I am in the same boat as LW3. I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want to go into detail. My default response to people asking about my family is “they are not around any more”. If someone responds by asking if they died or some other question, I repeat “they just aren’t around anymore” and change the subject. People can interpret this however they want and if you later become close and want to share details, you don’t have retract anything you said previously.

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