my boss hates my “question authority” sticker, my temp’s eyes glaze over whenever I talk, and more

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

1. My boss hated my “question authority” bumper sticker

You recently posted an old letter from a guy who had a “fat girls can’t jump” bumper sticker on his truck and he was facing HR complaints about it. This made me think about something that happened to me early in my career. I had a bumper sticker on my private vehicle that said “question authority.” That’s it, that’s all it said; black text on a white background, no images. My manager hounded me for weeks about how I needed to remove that sticker because he found it offensive, how it demonstrated I had a terrible attitude, and how important it was that I never question his authority. To my knowledge, no one else ever complained about it, and HR was never involved. The car was my private car, and the job was a desk job, no driving, no customer interface. Was the manager right that I should remove that sticker? I think this is a thornier issue than “fat girls can’t jump” and am interested in where you draw the line.

Did your manager not realize how much he was revealing about himself there? He needs his own bumper sticker that says “insecure authoritarian.”

Anyone who deserves to hold authority should want to be questioned and should be suspicious of people who don’t examine things too deeply.

In any case, that’s an absurd thing to ask you to remove. Your sticker was inoffensive and far outside the bounds of anything an employer should care about, let alone raise to you. I suspect if you’d taken it to HR, they would have shut him down.

2. Is my babysitting client stealing from his employer to pay me?

I’m a recent college grad with a full-time office job. Since I was a teen, I babysit for extra cash on the side.

For the past 10 months, I’ve been caring for a very sweet infant boy. His father is a single dad who works at a nonprofit. I don’t like him for several reasons, but my question is about payment. In the beginning, he would pay me by Venmo or cash, which has been pretty standard in every babysitting job I’ve worked. About four months ago, he switched to writing checks. The checks were labeled with the nonprofit, and the memo line made no reference to childcare, but generic “logistic support.” Being naive, I cashed the checks and went about my business. Honestly, I thought he was just embarrassed to write nanny or babysitter. He has now sent me a W9 form through the nonprofit, and I’m expected to pay taxes on all payments received by check. I have never done any sort of work for the nonprofit. My work is exclusively changing diapers and making bottles for the baby.

I’ve never been asked to pay taxes on babysitting income, but it’s probably legal to ask me to pay taxes in general. But was it legal to pay me with company checks and send the W9 through the nonprofit? He’s neither a donor nor the owner. My mom (a childcare professional with over 30 years experience) says it’s embezzlement and fraud. I don’t plan on returning to that family for a number of reasons, but this would be a huge one.

Whoa, no, this guy is almost certainly stealing from the charity that employs him. And especially now that they’ve sent you a tax form, you really need to call the organization and report it. Call and ask why they’re sending you a tax form since the only work you’ve done is personal babysitting for one of their employees. (It’s very likely that he didn’t generate the W9 himself — the org is just automatically sending them to all their contractors and thinks you’re one of them because he fraudulently claimed they needed to pay you for logistics work. Holy crap.) They’re going to be able to unravel it from there.

I know that might not feel great — he’s a single dad, etc. — but ethically you really have to now that he’s made you part of it.

3. When I tell people my job, they always share heavy emotional stories with me

I have an extremely niche job, one that almost no one has heard of. I love talking about it, because it’s my passion and because people are very interested in it once they understand what I do. I’m a veterinary social worker — I guide pet families through hard decision-making and through the euthansia process and provide grief counseling and resources, and I also work with veterinary staff on burnout, compassion fatigue, processing of difficult cases, and suicide prevention and intervention.

The trouble I run into is that because my fields are so universally experienced, everyone I talk to (and I do mean EVERYONE, I’m not sure I’ve ever met an exception) has an “Oh wow, I wish you’d been there when…” story. These are often very heavy, emotional stories, relayed by strangers as I’m grocery shopping, getting my hair cut, waiting for my kids at the dance studio, getting coffee … and whether it’s a cause or effect of my job, I have the kind of face people want to tell these stories to. Often they’ve never had the opportunity to tell the story to someone who would understand and validate its significance in their lives. Is there a compassionate, kind way of establishing and holding a boundary for my own sake in those relatively brief interactions without invalidating their experience or just never talking about my amazing job?

I do think you probably need to be more circumspect about what you do in situations where you’re not up for getting into the details — and really, strangers in the grocery store don’t need to know exactly what you do! You could say social worker (true) or consulting (also kind of true) or anything else vague that isn’t likely to prompt the sort of outpouring you don’t want in that moment. (I often just mention the consulting part of my work in similar situations, because when I say I write a work advice column, I get everyone’s horrible boss stories — which aren’t as emotionally draining as the ones you get, but still aren’t what I want to hear when I’m trying to disconnect from work.)

But in cases where you do want to share more, you could try being transparent about what you want to avoid. For example, after explaining what you do, you could add, “I always hear everyone’s heart-breaking pet stories when I share this so I should be up-front that I need a break from that right now!” Some people will give you their stories anyway because some people are like that, but you’ll have laid the groundwork to interject and say, kindly, “I’m sorry — I know this topic can be such a tough one, but I need space from my work right now. Thank you for understanding.” There may also be times when there doesn’t feel like there’s any kind way to say that, so adapt as needed based on what you’re up for doing.

4. A former employee keeps sending critical emails to another former employee … and BCC’ing me

I work at a company that does design stuff. 40 years ago, a then-employee, Carlyle, led a major design charge that resulted in Big Project which drastically changed our downtown for the better. It was one of our firm’s biggest and to this day most recognizable projects. He also apparently was hard-headed and difficult to get along with.

I started at my company three years ago. Another employee, Hiram, had started there right out of college. Hiram is a big design thinker and had a lot of big ideas, a lot of graphic skills, and a lot of youthful naivete and hubris. In his free time, worked with a grassroots collective that was looking to inspire large-scale design changes to continue to shape the city. He had reached out to Carlyle during his schooling to learn about his experience on Big Project. However, as Hiram and the collective’s vision started to depart from what Carlyle thought it should be, Carlyle started to lash out through emails.

Hiram has moved on to another job in a different city but is still somewhat active in the collective. I have only met Carlyle a handful of times. The last time he came to the office, I gave him my business card and email address. He frequently copies me on mass emails he sends, which include other designers in the community, fervently pushing his ideas and pushing for other people to push them. Lately he has taken to BCC’ing me on emails he sends to Hiram with accusatory critiques of his ideas. I would like to get Carlyle to stop including me on these emails, and stand up for Hiram a bit. My petty response would be to reply to a BCC asking Carlyle to stop copying me, but I’d like to handle it tactfully. What’s the best way to respond? Should I respond?

It’s not petty to respond to the next email and ask him to stop. (It would be petty if you replied-all, but not if you just address it to him.) There’s nothing wrong with replying to the next one with, “I’d prefer not to be included on these messages and would appreciate you removing me in the future. Thank you.”

5. My temp’s eyes glaze over whenever I talk

I have a temp who I meet with once a week virtually. I am a full-time worker and we are both the same age. She reports to me. I have been working in our field longer so I often explain things to her when providing her direction so she has context. She’s expressed this isn’t her dream job or anywhere close, but a learning experience and a way to pay the bills. It’s been three months.

More often than not, when I explain our tools, how it compares to other tools, and general functions, she gives me a blank stare. I’ll ask, did that make sense or was any part confusing? She just nods. I sometimes say, I don’t want to scare you and I talk a lot, so you can interrupt me or say that you have enough info if you want me to stop. She hasn’t done that. But I feel that her eyes glaze over when she asks me a question and I respond (perhaps, it seems, too long-windedly). Her body language expresses boredom or subtle annoyance.

She is responsive to small talk and whenever we talk about shared hobbies. I was hoping to teach her more stuff since she is newer, since I had a boss who did the same for me and I really appreciated it, but maybe I am overstepping my bounds. Your thoughts?

I don’t think you’re overstepping your bounds — you’re her boss, you’re sharing work information — but it does sound like you could be ignoring cues that she’s just not that interested in information that doesn’t directly relate to her job. While you appreciated it when your boss taught you things, this is someone who’s already told you she’d not that invested in this job and so she might feel very differently than you did.

My big question is: How’s her work? When you give her info that’s relevant to how she should do her job, is it later reflected in her work? If so, then you might just need to back off from sharing the extras with her, or accept that she’s not going to be terribly engaged in these conversations. But if her work has problems, then that’s something you’d need to address, and as part of that you might raise the question of whether she’s not paying enough attention when work is discussed.

It sounds like you have good rapport with each other, so you could also just ask point-blank: “I might be misinterpreting, but when I talk to you about X or Y, you seem like you’re bored or wanting me to wrap up. Am I reading that correctly?” That said, I’d be less inclined to do this with a temp, whose professional development you’re not responsible for in the same way you would be with a longer-term employee.

{ 454 comments… read them below }

  1. My Dear Wormwood*

    #2: don’t worry that you’re going to get this guy fired. He’s getting himself fired. Give the organisation a heads up and let them take whatever action they deem appropriate with him.

    1. Aphrodite*

      And if you still have qualms about it, think about it like this: What he steals and gives to you–and perhaps others; maybe he pays a housekeeper that way too–he takes from the nonprofit’s clients. They are being helped less specifically because of his thefts.

      Report him immediately.

      1. TCO*

        Right! He’s likely misusing taxpayer and/or donor funds, harming his organization’s reputation, and stealing from the organization’s ability to meet its mission to the community. He is the one causing serious damage here, not the OP for reporting this.

        1. GythaOgden*

          It would be wrong if it were a for-profit business but this just makes it even wronger. In the public sector, we have lots of notices up about fraud prevention and reporting, and while the organisations I work for would have multiple layers of staff who would need to sign off on purchases of this kind, I’ve seen people on ebay forums who put their own business mail through the work franking machine or report receiving packages with NHS-branded franking that contained their unrelated eBay purchases.

          For the love of all that’s holy, OP, report away.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I am in the private sector (health insurance) and we have to take Fraud, Waste and Abuse training every year. It’s mandatory. What he’s doing would fall directly under Fraud; “any intentional deception or misrepresentation made by a person with the knowledge that the deception could result in some unauthorized benefit to himself, herself or some other person”. No one takes kindly to this.

        2. Observer*

          harming his organization’s reputation

          Not just its reputation, but its basic ability to function. To be sure, his enabler(s) also share blame. But the bottom line is that when this stuff hits the fan, a lot of people are not going to want to give them money. ESPECIALLY government agencies, foundations and big money donors, all of who have some pretty strong expectations that money should be properly accounted for. But also they will lose a lot of grass roots support.

        3. BubbleTea*

          I’m a single parent employed by a charity. Childcare costs were ⅔ of my salary until my hours changed recently. I never, NEVER, NEVER! even considered stealing from my employer to pay for childcare!

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Exactly – and as someone who has a couple of recurring donations set up, I’d be less than happy to find out that they were going, not to the causes I was told they would go, but into an employee’s pocket. People would stop donating to them if this got out and nothing was done about it. You have my blessing to report him, OP, and I very, very rarely report people.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          I’ve cut off charitable donations to a couple of organizations over the years, and this kind of thing would DEFINITELY fall into the “oh, no more money for you ever” file.

    2. Electric Sheep*

      Yeah, if he thought it was cool to use that method to pay a babysitter, why not write ‘babysitting’ on the cheque? He knew it was shady when he was doing it, but did it anyway.

      1. Venus*

        If he’s working during those times then it could legitimately be childcare. Some nonprofits have evening meetings or events.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Sure, but like electric sheep says, if he was approved to use org funds for childcare he’d write childcare on the check. And, yknow, he’d have told LW about the arrangement.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            Right. That’s the sketchiest bit of this for me. Even if this guy had permission from his bosses to set her up as a contractor for his company, you don’t just do that without having a conversation with the potential contractor about what this means and what their obligations are.

            This guy is definitely shady and his workplace needs to be looped in now.

            1. jasmine*

              Exactly! You can’t be a contractor without having agreed to being one. Usually this relationship involves some kind of official paperwork between the company and the contractor (contract, purchase orders, invoices, etc.).

              I’d also be concerned that if the employee did not report this to the company as an error, they might later be accused of being a knowing accessory to the fraud.

          2. Observer*

            Also, the W9 would have showed up BEFORE this. Either before the first check got written or immediately after.

            1. Clisby*

              That’s what I thought. It’s been a long time, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it was when my husband did some contracting for a former employer. It definitely wasn’t that they just wrote him checks and then sent a W9 at the end.

              1. Hannah Lee*

                I manage vendor payments for my company, and one of the very first things that happens … before money is paid to anyone, is that we ask for a W9 from whoever is getting paid.

                Not only to make sure we have the Vendor tax ID right for reporting purposes, but also to make sure we’re paying the right person/company by the right name, so we don’t wind up having to reissue payments or having to waste time reconciling our records with their records or figuring out that the two companies sending us invoices from Sam Smith LLC and Samuel Smith LLC are actually just one company with an owner/accounting with poor attention to detail.

                If I was a donor to this organization, I’d be appalled not only at the fraud, but also that the organization has such poor cash/process control that this could happen repeatedly.

          3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yeah – he signed OP up for responsibilities and liabilities that they may not have otherwise been willing to be a part of. And he did so while being shady about what he was doing.

            Not cool, and echoing everybody else: please report this ASAP.

        2. The Prettiest Curse*

          I worked at a nonprofit that provided childcare during our events. All of our childcare staff were part-time and (I think) on-call contractors with the exception of the childcare coordinator – but they were all listed on the staff list, the in/out board etc. This OP is not in the same situation, because she was not aware until now that she was essentially considered a contractor of the nonprofit and not a household employee of the single dad.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            (Clarification: all of the childcare staff were either students or had other jobs – they were on the staff list so that everyone knew who they were.)

        3. Antilles*

          Sure, it could be legitimate – and there are certainly scenarios where a company (or even a non-profit) would consider paying for an employee’s childcare a worthwhile business expense.
          But if this was all above-board, why is he acting strange about it? Why be so vague on the check? Why wouldn’t he have mentioned it to OP when he switched over? Why would OP be getting caught completely off-guard about the W-2?

          1. Rex Libris*

            Yeah, the best possible (however unlikely) case is that the org is reimbursing people for childcare, and telling them to write that in the memo because the fund line it comes out of is “logistics support”. Still, not the OP’s problem. The Dad didn’t explain anything, so just contact the company, assuming nothing. Tell them you’re uncertain why you received a W9… that you do babysit for an employee, but they never mentioned entering you into any formal arrangement with the company, so you wanted to clarify.

        4. Cj*

          It’s also possible that the parent has dependent care to a cafeteria plan, were you elect a certain amount to be without pre-tax from your pay. Some small businesses, and I would imagine small non-profits, administer these this type of things themselves rather than paying and outside company.

          Generally he would probably pay the babysitter, and then get reimbursed from the company, but there’s nothing that in rules for cafeteria plans that says they can’t pay the expense directly.

          1. Yorick*

            These pre-tax accounts are usually not held by the company, so you wouldn’t use a company check to spend the money.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              That’s correct. They are usually managed by a third party administrator, which is good for reporting, privacy/personal data protection, and the enormous hassle it can be to manage that for multiple employees all with different payees.

        5. Observer*

          If he’s working during those times then it could legitimately be childcare.

          There are a lot of good reasons to doubt that. However, if you are correct and this is legitimate, then the OP will have done no harm by contacting the Organization.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            And even if it is legitimate- he did this without alerting the OP he was making this change. It’s not cool to make changes to an employment contract/arrangement without making sure that both parties are in agreement (and babysitting is an employment agreement between the parent and caregiver).

            They indicated he was less than great in other ways – that makes me a bit less inclined to trust that the dad has clean hands here.

        6. Lellow*

          If that’s the case, then when OP contacts the nonprofit they can tell her that. It’s absolutely not a reason not to report.

        7. Splendid Colors*

          There’s a difference between “providing childcare at our community meeting so parents can attend” and “paying for my own childcare.” I haven’t heard of any nonprofit I’ve volunteered with paying for organizers (or other staff) to have childcare at their homes during evening events. Of course, for in-person events that have childcare for attendees, the organizers and other staff could also let their children use the childcare onsite, but that isn’t what OP says they were doing.

      2. OP #2*

        Yes that’s exactly what I thought too! I should have been more proactive about it when I first started getting them honestly!

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          You are 19, and not expected to pick up on every clue! Financial stuff can be subtle, and it’s difficult to believe that someone you have an ongoing work relationship with is blatantly stealing. You noted the check thing as a yellow flag, and probably thought, “He wouldn’t really be so bold as this if he were being shady, so I guess it’s okay.”

          Your mom was right (in this instance, at least), and so is Alison (in most instances).

    3. GiraffeGirl*

      Re: question 3. I have worked in the social work area for my whole career, but this is the first I’ve heard of a veterinary social worker. Does anyone know how common this type of role is? (The next time I deal with the heartbreak of losing a fur baby, it would be nice to have access to someone like this.)

      1. JSPA*

        #2: if he’s paid you over $600 in the calendar year, he (not the company) should be sending you the W9.

        And yes, you are supposed to pay taxes and Soc. Sec. (etc) for the independent contractor part of your income.

        So in reporting him, be aware that you (and mom?) may also not have been on the right side of tax laws (and penalties) and consider carefully what and how much you share, and with whom.

        I suppose it’s remotely possible that someone at the nonprofit instructed him to do this- – That is, something there is rotten but there’s a slim chance that it may not be him.

        Or for that matter they may indeed consider pandemic-era childcare as “logistics support.” But unless he discussed it with you, and you have a contact with the company, you should still have been HIS independent contractor, and the company should be reimbursing him. So while it’s only highly likely not a 100% clear that he has been stealing, It’s a 100% clear that this isn’t an acceptable way to do things.

        I suspect it’s possible that the company would demand (maybe even “claw”) their money back, leaving you to go after him for the payments. (They could realistically claim that you should have realized you were not logistical support for the company…at which point, pointing out the pandemic era child care can be treated as “logistical support” could be useful.

          1. CL*

            If she was babysitting enough to get a W9 (over $600) then probably. Google “Nannygate”. OP should consult their own accountant or tax attorney.

            1. Betty*

              The law is also confusing because in addition to the income threshold there’s also a difference between a babysitter who comes on an ad-hoc basis and decides each time whether or not to take the job (not a household employee) and a part-time nanny with a standing schedule (household employee, employer owes payroll taxes if you hit a threshold). So yeah, definitely reasonable to reach out to the company to “clarify” all of this.

          2. doreen*

            I don’t think so , not in terms of getting a 1099. I think “babysitters” are either your household employee, if it’s more of a nanny situation (work regularly only for you in your home) or “self-employed” if it’s more like a day-care situation ( work in their home for multiple people) or if they work occasionally for multiple people. Either way, an individual will not issue a babysitter a 1099 – either they will receive a W2 if they are your employee or nothing if they are self-employed, just like you don’t issue a 1099 to the self-employed plumber you hire. The only way babysitter would get a 1099 is if they were actually being employed by a business to care for the employees’ children, like during an event.

            1. Kara*

              This is not correct.
              A 1099 is not REQUIRED from any business. They can be issued to any contractor or individual or company that earned more than $600 in a tax year. But even if a company doesn’t issue a 1099, the individual/company who earned that money should be reporting it to the IRS on their own and paying taxes on it.
              You don’t issue a 1099 to a plumber because you’re not “employing” that plumber as a contractor. You’re paying that plumber for a fixed rate service per their business.

              1. doreen*

                I’m not saying the 1099 is required from a business , I’m saying it’s not required from an individual because the babysitter is either an employee who gets a W2 or self-employed. You aren’t employing that occasional babysitter who also works for other people – you are paying the self-employed babysitter a fixed rate for their services just like you do for many other services where the service provider also work for other people. The babysitter reporting the inome to the IRS and paying income and self-employment tax is a separate issue.

            2. Boof*

              For a household employee, if you withold taxes employer pays half and employee pays half of medicare, social security, and idk something else. If no witholding employer pays all. Employer does not pay the employee’s income tax tho

        1. rudster*

          The company is required to send her a 1099 if they pay her more than 600/year (though they can one anyway even if the figure is less).
          The w9 isn’t typically something the contractor “gets” from the client, it’s a form the contractor fills out with their name, addy, SSN/FEIN and sends to the client. However, the client often sends a blank one to the vendor with a request to complete it with their information.

      2. YourTherapist*

        I’ve been a social worker for 20+ years and I’ve never heard of veterinary social work. I love the idea though!

        1. Meep meep*

          I have a former friend who is a vet social worker. She’s been doing it for over 20 years

      3. Sparkle llama*

        The vet school at the university where I live has a veterinary social worker and several student interns. They facilitate a pet loss support group that is open to anyone in addition to the various other services they provide to clients of the clinic and the students and staff.

    4. NothingIsLittle*

      It’s very possible that this is an arrangement he’s worked out with the company. Not probable given that the check says “logistic support,” but possible. And who knows, maybe his boss okayed it but the company wouldn’t. I think there’s enough uncertainty in this situation for OP 2 to wipe her hands clean of the fall out and just cover her own butt in terms of taxes.

      1. Naomi*

        To be fair, Alison isn’t saying “call his employer and accuse him of embezzlement”; the advice was “call his employer and ask about the tax form.” If there’s some legitimate explanation, they’ll explain it to OP and that will be the end of it. If not, the nonprofit can investigate on their end, and if he’s embezzling they’ll probably come up with more evidence of it.

        1. Inigo Montoya*

          I agree here. Don’t mention embezzlement at all. The call should be limited to an innocent enquiry. “Call and ask why they’re sending you a tax form since the only work you’ve done is personal babysitting for one of their employees. “. Make this the question and leave everything else to the organization. The issue from your end is the tax form and possible employment classification issues. Simply by asking about this, the organization will investigate and should discover anything that isn’t kosher.

        2. NothingIsLittle*

          I was responding to My Dear Wormwood’s idea that it was a foregone conclusion her employer would be fired. I just wanted to point out that it could be above board and that because of the uncertainty it would be a good-faith inquiry to the company which OP shouldn’t feel badly about.

      2. Observer*

        I think there’s enough uncertainty in this situation for OP 2 to wipe her hands clean of the fall out and just cover her own butt in terms of taxes.

        There is enough probability here that there is a real responsibility. On the other hand, in the unlikely event that this actually legitimate, this won’t hurt him and there is nothing for the OP to worry about.

        The OP needs to pay the taxes regardless.

    5. AnonInCanada*

      It would be even more egregious if OP didn’t report this to the non-profit. This is theft, pure and simple. Don’t feel even one bit guilty about this, OP. For the sake of the people who’s losing out on the non-profit’s goal because this person whose kid you’re babysitting embezzled money from it, report this scumbag immediately, and let the chips fall where they may. I feel sorry for that poor kid having such an unscrupulous father!

      1. Saberise*

        I would actually say that would be a way to cover her own butt if he is doing something underhanded. If he gets busted down the line for this and she’s not said anything it can make it look like she was in on it. We’ve all heard of cases where on the books family members/friends are employees but in truth it was just a scam.

    6. She of Many Hats*

      Yes, bring it to the attention of the non-profit. You can play dumb: “Why did you send me this form? I assumed he had authority or permission to do this cuz why else would anyone do that?”

      Only other advice I have is to talk to a cpa or a lawyer who knows tax & employment law about how to protect yourself. You will probably need to pay taxes on the income but they may help you protect the money earned and from the non-profit coming after you for their losses.

    1. Lime green Pacer*

      One of my profs had that sticker on their office door. Only it had been edited with a caret and a heavy marker, so that it read “Question^able Authority”.

      1. Bookmark*

        Love it! A former coworker handed down a “This Machine Kills Fascists” sticker (after the one Woody Guthrie had on his guitar) that he had attached to his computer monitor. It’s definitely context dependent which workplaces I put it up in— it’s appreciated at the nonprofits I’ve worked at, but would be over the line at government agencies.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Readers of a certain age may remember the radio skits by “Dr. Science,” whose catchphrases were “I know more than you do!” and “I have a Master’s Degree: In Science!” You could buy a a certificate for that last one with your name on it. My brother got one and hung it on his office wall next to his chemistry Ph.D.

        1. 1LFTW*

          I’m old enough to remember Dr Science! But not old enough to have gotten a Masters Degree In Science certificate to go along with my MFA. That would have been awesome.

    2. Contextual Authority*

      I’m a librarian, and there’s something called the “Informational Literacy Framework” which is basically the concepts that we think people should understand in order to better understand information they take in.

      One of the frameworks is “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” which I have a bumper sticker of, because A) it’s true and an important part of infolit and B) I do like that it’s a little cheeky sounding to the general public.

      I’ve had people disappointed its not an anarchist slogan out in public, but no at work has ever commented it. And I’ve had it through more than one job.

      1. Contextual Authority*

        Er, typo if anyone goes to google it. It’s the “Information Literacy Framework” not “informational”

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Yep. Timothy Leary is credited with making this slogan popular. Probably he borrowed it from someone else, but it’s still a good message.

      I was just a kid then, but the reasons for questioning authority seemed pretty obvious to me in the late 60s. Just one example: My very fundamentalist church members were loudly questioning why the President kept sending young men to Vietnam, and why we were there in the first place.

    4. tamarack etc.*

      Yeah, ROTFL. I have a bumper sticker with a chubby woman with sunglasses on a chubby unicorn carrying a “raise hell” flag, surrounded by roses and brickwork. Any reaction has been positive including from my manager.

  2. Anon for today*

    OP #3
    First of all…thank you for all you do. It’s such a special job and our industry is lucky to have you! – a veterinarian

    Secondly, it’s 100% ok to lie about your job. Sometimes I just say I work in animal care or something. Because otherwise it’s the one time I’m in my work scrubs getting my oil changed before work and somehow the mechanic is trying to suck me into a QOL discussion (I get it, I’m sympathetic, but also, you aren’t a client and I’m off the clock). Or deciding it’s ok to tell the people in my workout class after 2 years what my job is and then instantly being asked whether or not I think their dog should have a dental cleaning.
    You could be vague and just saw “social work” or “counseling” in situations where you don’t want to get into it at all. Or if you do want to say what you do, I think it’s ok to say something about wanting to keep work at work, or being off the clock, or whatever. People who are kind will understand and people who don’t understand…can deal with it.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Agreed. You can give a vague reference to your industry rather than getting into detail.

      Then be ready with a question for the other person so there isn’t an odd gap in the conversation.

      I’m a psychologist and that also sometimes gets people talking about personal things or asking questions about my clients I won’t answer. So in casual settings I tend to say I work at a hospital (not untrue!) rather than giving my specific role, and then I’ll ask the other person what they do, what they enjoy about their work or what they’re hoping to do next, etc. Most people will just follow the pivot and the conversation will move along.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        My spouse does a variant of this where they give the broadest agency name for which governmental agency they work for as opposed to the niche department in that agency they are in. It helps greatly because their niche department is massively misunderstood, and leads to people wanting them to fix issues that actually belong to a completely different branch of the government.

        1. thievingwillow*

          I have a coworker who used to work for the Secret Service. He just says “oh, I used to have a federal government job” when he doesn’t want one million questions. Since he’s now in IT at a software company, people assume he was doing the same thing for some boring alphabet agency, and he lets them think that unless he’s in the mood to tell stories (or, more tiresome-ly, listen to conspiracy theories).

    2. The OG Sleepless*

      Everything Anon for Today said (another veterinarian here). I’ve only encountered a few veterinary social workers and they are just wonderful.

      Yes, it’s totally fine to lie/be vague about your job. I used to tell people I was a SAHM, actually, but my kids have aged out of that being a plausible story. Now I sometimes just say “I work in an animal hospital” and hope they think that means I’m the hospital manager or something.

      It does annoy me that so many people focus on the euthanasia aspect of our job, by the way. I think most people think our job is 75% puppies and kittens, and 25% euthanasia, with nothing in between.

      Me, finally fessing up because the person is somebody I actually want to get to know: I’m, uh, a vet.

      Them: Oh, wow! I bet that’s a fun job!

      Me: It is! It’s a really hard job, but it’s a lot of fun.

      Them [sad face]: Oh, I bet it is. I couldn’t handle all the sad stuff. (insert story about their last pet’s euthanasia)

      Me: No, I mean…well, yes, that’s hard, but I mean I do stuff like surgery AND psychiatry AND cardiology AND endocrinology AND critical care all in the same day and I don’t feel as smart as my colleagues so I read all the time and…where are you going?

      1. Dog and cat fosterer*

        A friend of mine is a human doctor and some days regrets not being a vet. On those days I remind him that it isn’t all puppies and kittens, and that a lot of animals try to hurt the vets and techs when they get vaccinations and treatment. It’s one reason I offer to help hold my fosters at their appointments, because I know them best and I often have hard cases. I had one dog earlier this year where I offered to help and they reassured me politely that it would be fine, then a few minutes later came out with wide eyes asking if I wouldn’t mind… ? Not that it was easier for me, but I didn’t want them bit.

        1. OP3*

          Oh yeah – we joke about employee pets always being the worst, and when I bring two of mine I always end up having to hold them for procedures. My coworkers were shocked last time one was here when she was actually super sweet – she was here long enough to settle in and feel comfortable with people and I think knew they were helping her feel better.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            My last dog had her own muzzle, and one of my cats is literally the second-worst cat I’ve ever encountered. That includes outright ferals (she is not feral).

            1. Freida*

              I was once bitten by a semi-feral foster while trying to give her a dose of antibiotics, and then *I* needed antibiotics, which I found hilariously symmetrical.

              She got adopted, though, and was a beauty!

        2. The OG Sleepless*

          Unfortunately, as our insurance carriers never tire of reminding us, an owner getting injured by their pet is an absolute doomsday scenario for us. If it happens, the owner’s insurance company will sue *me,* personally, not even my employer. Even if they say they would never sue us, their insurance company will, and human injury cases are far and away our most expensive lawsuits.

          1. Crop Tiger*

            I have a question. Do you prefer me to restrain my cat so she can get the medical care she needs, or do I stand back and everyone gets hurt but me? This is an honest question.

              1. Some words*

                We used to have a cat which required us to tell the vets to don their leather gauntlets or sedate him before they’d be able to handle him. He was large, powerful & terrified of strangers (which manifested as aggression). The vet staff was always very understanding. And yes, they wanted to be the ones who handled him during visits. Liability may be a factor as well as their expertise at handling difficult animals.

            1. The OG Sleepless*

              It isn’t an either-or. The staff can restrain your cat more safely and in a way that lets the doctor do it better, AND we would rather all of us get hurt than you. Seriously, I’d rather deal with one of us getting hurt than a client getting hurt. The consequences are that serious. Anyway, we’re getting way off topic here.

              1. Dog and cat fosterer*

                We are off-topic, but wanted to say that I understand the legalities and it was a different situation for me as my one cat was calm when I was in the room where he could see me or a complete beast if I left. In the case of that foster dog, I muzzled it when I was on my own, and in future would muzzle an unusually difficult foster before going into the vet practice. Typically they are only asking me to be in the room to pet the animal as a calming influence, like hold onto the leash and massage the ears, not as a tight hold.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          I used to be a veterinary assistant: The bitey animals are the *easy* part.

          Apart from the inadequate pay and benefits, what drove me out was the owners: Angry owners; owners who couldn’t/wouldn’t pay for care; owners who expected miracle cures without diagnostics for pennies on the dollar; owners who agreed to treatment and then stopped payment or disputed charges; owners who weren’t even our clients but as soon as they heard I worked for a vet went off on rants about how vets and staff charge way too much and are getting fat profits off of unnecessary treatments, tests, and medications. Everyone expects us to work for free because we love puppies. Believe me: We wish we could do that.

          Not a single person who ever said that to me offered to do whatever it was they did, for my bosses or coworkers, for free. Nobody was offering us free rent or groceries or healthcare. They just wanted us to treat their pets for 1950s prices because it’s somehow immoral to want to make a living. I’m sorry you didn’t plan financially for this but I need to eat, too.

          1. Dog and cat fosterer*

            I feel similarly about animal rescue. A completely different situation, and yet the same sentiment that the animals are the easy part (and I foster feral cats and behavioral dogs). When I’m having a bad day and a potential adopter asks time-consuming questions then I’ll sometimes not answer and say that we don’t have a good match for them and recommend the local shelter because “they have a lot more choice”, but really I’m pushing them onto someone else because I don’t have the energy to work with someone who will very likely be difficult and half the time they end up not adopting or return the animal. I’m thankful that I have that option.

          2. There You Are*

            When I tell vets and vet techs that I could never do their jobs, I always follow it up with, “Because of the pet owners.”

            I’m a long-term client at my vet’s office and used to spend so much time up there (I tend to adopt cats with chronic health conditions) that I was like volunteer staff. (“Go ahead and answer the phone, I’ll grab the bag of dog food from the back for your customer.”) And I’ve seen / heard things about pet owners that are a million times worse than peacefully putting an animal down, unsuccessful surgery / treatments, fractious pets, etc.

        4. Kara*

          There’s other drawbacks as well. Financial is a big one; vet offices have the same medical education, equipment, and expenses that a regular doctor does, but veterinary medicine pays less and has a higher percentage of people who can’t or won’t pay. (Plus the emotional blow should they have to put down someone’s pet because the owner couldn’t afford the treatment.) The suicide rate among veterinarians is far too high.

          1. Dust Bunny*


            They also take a lot of staff because even relatively healthy animals need a lot more monitoring and cleanup. And of course everyone wants intelligent, conscientious people watching their pets, but it takes decent pay and working conditions to hold onto people like that.

        5. Playing With Puppies And Kittens All Day*

          That sentiment is the source of my (grumpy and ironic) username, funnily enough

        6. I Need Coffee*

          Not only that, vet staff need to know so many different parts of medicine. And because pet insurance is still relatively new, they are asked to help owners beloved pets, followed immediately with a diatribe about how expensive the care is. It can be a VERY thankless profession.

          1. nona*

            Different parts of medicine (cardio, endocrine, etc) AND the potential for different types of organisms – Different types of mammels, different types of reptiles, birds, amphibians, etc.

        7. goddessoftransitory*

          I had to do this with my old cat, Danny, the vet visit berzerker. It took me and two aides wearing leather gloves to hold him for horrible procedures like temperature taking and being weighed. That they continued to agree to see him made me a loyal client for life.

      2. Temperance*

        One of my friends is a vet who used to work with large animals, including what I think is politely called “animal husbandry”. She got the weird questions, lol.

      3. Kit*

        Seriously! I appreciate what you do, and I think more people should. A doctor for humans has an area of practice they specialize in, networks of providers to refer to for questions outside of their specialization, and can talk to (most of) their patients. Vets have to be at least cursorily competent in all spheres of practice for a huge array of species, none of which will be able to articulate their health issues, and even if they have a network of specialists at their fingertips, their clients’ owners are often not willing or able to pay for that specialist expertise.

    3. Asenath*

      I haven’t worked in a position as difficult as that of OP 3, but I have worked for long periods in two jobs/employers that (I often thought) everyone had an opinion on, and everyone wanted to share that opinion with me. Many people are in similar situations to OP 3 and me, and as a result are vague about what they do. This is a very useful tactic. I eventually used, as a standby to any question about what I do, something like “Oh, office work. What about you? (or some other casual question to turn the subject a bit).” I most often was an office worker, but I knew that most people think office work is all terribly boring, and almost all of the questioners were just making conversation, and did not really want to know the details of what I did for a living. But if they knew, they might have some long question to ask or lecture on my employer to give, and this response reduced that possibility.

    4. Audrey*

      Yes!! This is a universal problem with interesting jobs.
      My husband worked for a cemetery/funeral home for a while. If he mentioned where he worked, people would get sad and talk about the last person who died or someone who was buried there.

      After a while, my husband would just say he worked in “administration” instead of what he actually did, which was handle all the ordering for the markers for the plots. That usually helped with those short term conversations, and he would go out of his way to ask people interesting questions about their interesting jobs.

      1. ferrina*

        Yep, and really bad with anything that has to do with emotional caretaking.
        My sister is a pastor, and any time she mentioned it, she got to hear everyone’s thoughts on philosophy and organized religion. It was the worst when dating- she desperately wanted to step away from work, and her dates would want an impromptu spiritual counseling session or theological debate.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          I remember reading a book a while ago where the author was volunteering at a rape crisis center. She learned to never, never, never say what she did at parties or at her job, because every single time the person she talked to started to tell her their own stories about being assaulted.

          It wasn’t that she wasn’t compassionate, but she wasn’t in the headspace and didn’t have the formal training to deal with having that kind of information unloaded on her. She’d stand there thinking what the hell am I supposed to do; offer to get her another drink?

          1. Spero*

            I’ve worked in rape crisis and can agree. I alternated between ‘I work with volunteers’ ‘I work in healthcare’ and ‘I teach health classes’ depending on the role I was in. However, my then-husband ALWAYS said my actual job, often before people he knew had met me, which means I knew every single one of his female coworkers/friends survivor stories. It honestly became the primary reason I wasn’t comfortable around his friends!

      2. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Yep. I work in nonprofit advocacy and if I ever meet someone who is interested in the work we do they always want to talk about it – not what I do, specifically, most of the time, but the issue area that we work in. The worst is a tie between working in medical marijuana and working in healthcare patient rights (two different jobs) and in either case getting everyone’s sad medical problems stories, and working in environmental protection and having the devil’s advocates come out of the woodwork to debate climate change with me.

        With most unwanted sharing I usually say, “No offense, but I already have to think about this stuff all day for work. When I’m off the clock I’d rather not.” With the climate change deniers, “I work in marketing, so I’m not going to debate climate science, but I trust the very smart scientists I work with who have spent their whole careers learning about it.”

        The irony is that if they wanted to talk about the actual work I do in marketing the causes, instead of the causes themselves, 7 out of 10 times I’d probably be game to chew their ear off, but nobody ever wants to talk about marketing, lol.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Considering marketing might be the only way to get people to take climate change seriously, I’m pretty interested!

      3. My Cabbages!*

        I like to think my job is pretty interesting, but whenever I tell people I am a biology professor people politely flee as though I am going to spontaneously quiz them on the phases of mitosis

      4. deejay*

        Oh my, this reminds me of a few experiences I had before I learned this lesson. One was a visit to the NP at my gyno’s office and she spent most of the visit telling me how she kinda sorta wished she had gone into my field instead of hers. Yikes, not what you want to hear from your medical professional.
        The second was a massage therapist who wanted to hear everything about my job while she gave me my massage, despite me all but saying “I don’t want to talk about work while getting a massage.” Which is what I should have done, I know! I don’t even like to talk while getting a massage.
        I’ve learned to just say “I work for the State.”

      5. Cookie Lady*

        Yes! This! I work for the Girl Scouts. So of course the first thing out of anyone’s mouth is “oooh, cookies!” And then I tell them that cookies actually is my job – i run the program in my part of my state. So then I have to hear about their favorite flavor, why have the names changed (they haven’t, there’s two different bakeries), how they were a Girl Scout as a child, how much cookies cost when they were a child, etc. Which at least are the fun topics – I’m also always afraid I’m going to get sucked into the GS/Boy Scout debate or have to explain for the 90 millionth time that no, Girl Scouts do not financially support Planned Parenthood. (We’re a non-profit who can barely support ourselves some years – why would we be giving money to any other non-profit?) Maybe I should just start saying i work in youth services.

    5. Jackalope*

      I would say that rather than lying (which could come back to bite you if you’re going to see this person again, and who knows if you will), vagueness is the way to go here. Vagueness and agressive boundaries to follow up. If it’s someone you don’t want to risk the aforementioned conversation with then say you’re a social worker, for example. And practice not engaging if someone wants to push you more, or have you do what is essentially free work on the spot, etc.

    6. Jay (no, the other one)*

      Seconded. I’m an MD, now (mostly) and I spent that last 15 years of my career in hospice and palliative medicine. I rarely volunteer that information unless it’s a relationship I want to pursue or an encounter I know I can swiftly put an end to, because otherwise I find myself in conversations about death, serious illness, and the ways people have been mistreated by my colleagues. Now I can just say I’m retired. Before that I used to name the agency I worked for. Folks would often assume I’m a nurse, I’d correct them that I was a doctor and change the subject.

      For the first few years of my career I avoided telling people I was a doc at all because it instantly made things weird. One man actually literally backed away from me at a party. I did tech for a community theater group and one of my friends was on the crew. I swore him to secrecy. That lasted until the first full-through when one of the musicians fell and cut herself pretty badly and I swung into action. Oh, well.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        I never thought of people regaling poor unsuspecting doctors with stories about being wronged by the medical profession – I always assumed that the biggest social occupational hazard would be people asking about aches and pains and rashes at inopportune times.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          My dad used to get earfuls about doctor’s bills all the time! He would point out that he wasn’t actually in charge of the insurance companies that were doing the billing.

        2. nightengale*

          I’m a disabled doctor and most of my social interactions are in the disability/chronic illness community. I hear SO much about how doctors don’t listen to patients and other negative medical stories. Not usually people griping at me specifically about this, but it is such a part of the community culture. And I mean, I also have many stories and frustrations about doctors not listening to me as the patient and other negative health care experiences.

    7. ThatGirl*

      My husband is a mental health counselor and gets a lot of people who see that as a license to share their problems with him. It’s not quite as bad as a veterinary social worker, I’m sure, because people are more likely to talk about their pets in public. But be aware that “counseling” could also open you up to getting dumped on.

    8. OP3*

      OP here! Thank you to all the commenters – one of the things I find tricky is that I do love letting people know that my job even exists! I think everyone I end up in these conversations with is looking for connection and sometimes all it takes is a friendly face, and if I could refer them to a VSW they could go to in a professional capacity I would, but other than a less-than-handful of others in our area, I’m it. But I love when people are happy to hear about us so they know to go find one of us when we’re needed. I do need to limit myself more though. The other tricky part is that “social worker” and “counselor” are also big conversation starters – either about preconceptions about social workers all being CPS case workers, or I end up with what I’d Rather Be Dumplings said about psychologists. Actually, same with “I work in a vet clinic” – they want to know all about that too! I think a lot of it is the connection thing – it’s something to grab onto in a conversation when you don’t know someone well.

      1. Dog and cat fosterer*

        One option might be to add a line about how often people want to talk about their sad stories and how much you appreciate that this person isn’t, but I’m not coming up with good wording. I don’t like this wording as it’s too direct, but something like “I’m a VSM. It’s such a rewarding job, although I often find that strangers want to tell me their personal stories and I need to keep that to office hours if I want to stay healthy. Thank you so much for respecting that! What do you do?”

        1. Bookmark*

          I’m not sure if this would work, but if you are up for talking about your work but not the difficult emotional stories of others, could you could say a version of the above and change the “thank you for respecting that” to “but cute/funny animal stories welcome”? I think you’re right that people often want to make a connection by sharing a story. Maybe if you direct that energy you’ll get more stories of the time someone’s dog ate a whole bag of candy corn and suffered zero ill effects…

      2. EPLawyer*

        This is kind of a time and place thing. Not everyone needs to know these services exist in all circumstances. If you are in the grocery store and someone asks what you do, its probably just a polite form of — I see you fellow human and acknowledge you. it is not an opening for you to hold forth on your passion. Just a quick — oh I work in a vet’s office is sufficient. Your hair dresser doesn’t want your life story. They are just chitchatting to pass the time while standing there cutting your hair. Oh how’s work? good, had a couple of rough days, you know how it goes is sufficient.

        1. ferrina*

          This. You also get to choose when you have the emotional energy for that conversation. You don’t need to be responsible for everyone’s awareness- honestly, by posting about it in AAM, I think you’ve single-handedly increased awareness exponentially. You have repaid your debt to society, and you don’t need to be on all the time.
          I have a few ways to describe my job: I have the long-form let-me-tell-you-all-about it, and I have the short snippet to move the conversation to other topics. Practice a couple versions, and give yourself permission to move the conversation along.

          1. time and place*

            This is really important. I used to live out of the US, and so a very common “hello, how are you” question would be where I was from.

            Not always, but often it would follow the pattern of wanting to know where in the US, and when hearing Ohio – asking me who I knew in Cleveland/about Cleveland/etc. And that’s fine as I get it was their main reference point, but I grew up in Cincinnati, had never even been to Cleveland and not only would those conversations end awkwardly it was also clearly starting to irritate me.

            The easy fix was to start telling people I was from Kentucky, which had the immediate “ah, like the chicken” response. We’d both chuckle and move on to talk about whatever else. At the end of the day, this was largely about predictable small talk and what was most likely to contribute to smoother conversations for all.

      3. jane's nemesis*

        Thank you for sharing that this profession exists! I’ve worked in a veterinary-adjacent job (fundraising at an animal shelter; some of my best friends at work were the clinic staff) and I had no idea. This is so needed and I hope to hear someday that your profession is growing!

      4. Roberta*

        Hi OP! I am a minister in a progressive church, and feel you on this one. The moment someone sees the clergy collar or knows I am a minister, a surprising number of folks feel the need to tell me when they were last in church, or why they stopped, or some good old trauma dumping. The church has definitely done a lot of harm, but if I could get my groceries in peace before 9am that would be awesome.

        Depending on what they are asking for, I have learned to either be really specific (I.e. saying the progressive denomination and that we are lgbtq affirming), or really vague (it’s a nonprofit, it is a social justice organization, etc.)

        Just with you in solidarity, and thanking you for your work. It is tough, and so important.

      5. Temperance*

        What about “I work in a medical office” and make it sound boring if you don’t feel like having a big convo? Not everyone needs to know that you and people like you exist, although it’s super cool and such a great service.

        I’ve learned how to talk about my job (lawyer) in a way that makes it sound incredibly dull and niche if I don’t want people to ask me to help them with “just one question”.

    9. The Eye of Argon*

      I lie about my job all the time. I’m a property tax collector. I don’t set the tax rates. I don’t issue the bills. I collect the money and disburse it to the taxing bodies. I’m paid a (not really great) salary by my municipality; I don’t just help myself out of the till.

      Telling people what I do usually opens the floodgates about how taxes are so high, fixed income, can’t pay, old people losing their homes, I’m getting rich off other people, how can I live with myself, can’t I do something about it.

      Or else they hear “tax” and leap to the conclusion that I’m a tax prep professional and start pestering me for free tax prep and/or how to scam more money out of the IRS and refuse to believe me when I tell them I don’t do that kind of taxes.

      I normally just tell people I’m a bookkeeper or an accountant, because those are boring and no one wants to hear about number crunching.

    10. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      After reading this subthread, I’m so happy to be a programmer! Either people’s eyes glaze over and they say “oh this is interesting” and change the subject, or (happened a lot when I dated a college prof and he brought me to his faculty parties) the person looks down on you, says “oh this is interesting”, and leaves the conversation to go find someone of a higher status to talk to.

    11. Playing With Puppies And Kittens All Day*

      Vet assistant here – Seconding the appreciation for you, OP #3! Our work can be all kinds of traumatic and the presence of someone who can help support our clients and staff is invaluable.

      Not the same thing, but when people find out what I do they usually do ask me pet care questions – thankfully in my case I can defer by telling them to ask their vet. Sometimes I do get vague about the specifics of my position/don’t mention I work in an ER to keep things lighter.

    12. PleaseNo*

      OP3, so glad you are a VSW! I used one last year after my kitty passed away and she has been absolutely wonderful. It sounds like a very hard occupation (to me) but my provider loves to help pets and their guardians. I’m so glad to hear there are others out there — I didn’t know this job even existed until the hospital my kitty was in forwarded me her information (as they had a contract to pay for 3 visits, and I’ve paid out of pocket for more).
      I’m so sorry to hear you’ve encountered a lot of people with poor social skills and boundaries; we need all VSWs and more, and I don’t want you getting burned out! Please put yourself first. I would just try to generalize what you do if you want to be honest and also don’t want to talk about it — “I work in animal welfare,” “I work at a hospital”, “I monitor patients,” “I advocate for those at their end-of-life,” “I am a social worker,” etc.
      Good luck and please take care of yourself — you can’t help others if you haven’t helped yourself.

    13. HeadShrinker*

      Agreed. I’m a psychologist. I stopped telling strangers “I’m a psychologist” years ago, because the responses were never what I was looking for in small talk. Instead I tell the truth but tell it slant — I say “I teach at X college” or “I research communication” or “I conduct surveys” or just “statistics, mostly”, all of which are also true. If there’s a similar way to rephase your own job, it might help to use it.

    14. goddessoftransitory*

      Agreed. You do a wonderful and important thing and deserve time to decompress, LW.

  3. Not A Manager*

    LW3, I notice that you say “I love talking about it, because it’s my passion and because people are very interested in it once they understand what I do.” If you’re being very detailed and enthusiastic about describing your work, people could be hearing that as an invitation to share their own stories. You might need to choose between “I love talking about it, it’s my passion, people are very interested,” and “I need to hold a boundary for my own sake.”

    1. Viette*

      Yes, LW3 is asking them to talk to her about her job. She’s asking them quite vigorously, with all the detail and passion she’s including. People are going to want to include themselves in the conversation and this is what they’ve got to offer!

      1. Antilles*

        When OP leads with a detailed description of their job with passion and excitement, it feels strange for the other person to give a half-hearted “oh cool” and leave it at that. So instead, they’re going to respond with something that connects – which, given the nature of OP’s job likely means a story of a family pet passing or something.
        If OP instead goes with a simpler and less passionate “oh, I work at a vet’s office”, then people will give you a vague pleasantry about sounds fun, then quickly change topics.

    2. Washi*

      Yeah I get the distinction the OP is making but it’s a really tough line to draw. I’m a hospice social worker and am also pretty passionate about it. I actually don’t even mind most of the time when people share their stories, but I haaaate when it gets into the territory of “the hospice killed my uncle with morphine” because it really involves putting on my social worker hat in a way that’s not quite appropriate for a social situation, not to mention stressful for me. But there’s no real way to declare ahead of time that you only want to discuss x and y aspects, not z.

      I recommend following Alison’s advice if you want to avoid the heavy stories altogether.

      1. RavCS*

        Hospice chaplain. Same thing. Along with (sad face) “That’s so hard. How do you do that every day?” Or “You’re a saint.” (Obviously they don’t know me.”) And, fortunately, most people share the good experiences that their families or friends had with hospice. More often the morphine talk is with patient’s families, reinforcing the nurse’s teachings.
        One our social workers left hospice to be an animal hospital SW. They were lucky to have her.

        1. OP3*

          Yes! I get all of those things. And actually came from a similar situation (intensive skilled nursing facility). I think y’all are right – I need to choose when I’m expressing passion and able to have those conversations and when I’m not.

    3. Allonge*

      Especially for the grocery store kind of conversations (less likely that the relationship will continue), there has to be a less exciting version of describing the job. Not everyone needs the ‘full enthusiasm’ level – if OP wants to give more than ‘social worker’, there is still the possibility to say ‘social worker focusing on families with animals’ and only upon asking would there be a need for even more detail.

      I totally agree that if I get a long, enthusiastic ‘I have the most awesome job ever and it’s cool because X, Y, Z’ version, it feels more rude to just say ‘oh, interesting, bye’ than for something less involved.

      And I am generally not super curious about people – the idea that someone gets to disclosing their job in a grocery store conversation is pretty alien to me :)

      1. AllY'all*

        Same here. It’s very weird to me that random people in the grocery store might even talk to each other, let alone have discussions about what they do. Don’t you have shopping to do?

        Either way, though, I think OP3 might want to sort of role-play out how those conversations feel from another person’s point of view. I can see it going something like:

        Me, asking generally: “What do you do?”
        OP3: “I’m a veterinary social worker and I’m really enthusiastic about it, let me tell you how awesome it is!”

        Not having wanted a detailed answer in the first place, I now have three choices: (1) Stare blankly at her while the silence stretches out and becomes awkward; (2) Stare blankly and go “Oh cool, sorry, my milk’s getting warm, got to go,” which feels rude; or (3) search helplessly for something that allows me to communicate that I hear her and respect her enthusiasm and the importance of her job…

        …which is going to lead me to telling exactly the kind of story that OP3 doesn’t want to hear, because that’s kind of all I’ve got.

        1. Jackalope*

          My experience is that it’s mostly when people are waiting in line for something; you have nothing else to do and if you’re the kind of person who likes chatting with new people it’s the perfect opportunity to make the wait less boring for everyone.

    4. PsychNurse*

      Yes– this is my reaction to the letter too. If she answers “What do you do for a living” with “Oh, I’m a veterinary social worker and it’s hard but I love it because XYZ and most people don’t know about it but XYZ,” I would feel the need to say SOMETHING in response. We had our cat put down a year ago, and it wasn’t even particularly emotional for me, but I would probably say “Oh wow, we lost our cat last year,” as a result of just wanting to have something relevant to say back to her about hearing about her passion.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I mean, there’s got to be a way to talk about it without traumatizing OP? I’d love to talk about it too (this is the first time I’m hearing about this job and I have so many questions – Alison, can we do a Q&A sometime on this, actually, similar to ones you’ve done before for other professions?), but I’d hang back and let them do most of the talking. Definitely not dump more trauma on them than they are already dealing with.

      When my younger son, my mom, and myself were in the vet’s office putting our family dog to sleep (oh no, I went there…) my son suddenly asked the vet as we were about to leave, “Is this the hardest part of your job?” and she looked happy/relieved that somebody asked and said yes. He was 19 and in the middle of an enormously traumatic event and he had enough empathy to ask her this. We, grown adults, can do it too!

      1. Allonge*

        Of course, but if you are in these random situations (so with OP in a hair salon), likely you don’t think that they are traumatised by this. They love the job! They just said so!

        OP is talking enthusiastically about [topic] – it’s quite natural to try to connect on [topic] instead of / before going ‘well, I love / hate my job’, or [other subject change]. And in most cases that’s going to be a story on a dead pet.

        I guess my question would be: what reaction does OP expect in an ideal world? More detailed questions on the job? On how to become one? Time to go on and on and on about how cool the job is? What is the desired outcome in these random convos?

      2. Gerry Keay*

        Oh come, this is so hyperbolic. Can we as a society not completely erase the meaning of the word “trauma” like we did with “gaslighting”??

        OP never claimed to be traumatized by hearing these stories, and the people talking to OP aren’t writing into this advice column. It’s not possible to control other people’s behavior, only your own, so whether or not there’s a way to relate to this topic without going into details of a sad past situation (which is what I assume you mean by “trauma dumping” — not everyone finds every painful situation traumatic) isn’t even relevant to the question at hand.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Ever had a pet? We buried our dog almost 8 years ago and we still miss him every day and my mom still cannot talk about his last days. Yes this is trauma. You as a society can do what yall want, but I’ll continue seeing loss of pets as trauma, thank you.

          1. Myrin*

            I do think it is unusual for someone to be genuinely traumatised by the loss of someone else’s pet they have no relationship with (both the person and the pet), though, which I think Gerry was referring to also.

          2. Gerry Keay*

            Yes, I have loved and buried multiple pets. I have grieved them but was not traumatized by their deaths, though I have experienced trauma elsewhere in my life. I am not saying a pet’s death is never traumatic, I’m saying it’s not always traumatic for everyone. Therefore, many people won’t see talking about their pet’s death as “trauma dumping,” and many people are not traumatized listening to other people talking about pets dying.

            I’m sorry you suffered a profound loss and are still feeling that trauma. I simply ask that you do not project your trauma onto everyone else who has experienced similar things.

      3. OP3*

        I’m not personally traumatized by it – I have a lot of compassion for every one of these stories – I just get them a LOT. My concern is actually more of compassion fatigue – that I hear them so often I get desensitized to that empathy.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        My vets have always been wonderful and compassionate–we’ve received cards from their office signed by the entire staff when we had to put our Harvey to sleep, and with earlier pets as well. That they can think of that during a workday that can be filled with awful decisions is amazing.

      5. Maddie*

        About “I mean, there’s got to be a way to talk about it without traumatizing OP?”, if I was having this chat with the OP I’d mention how I’m curious about the longer-lived pets.

        Like, how does veterinary social work help when a 60-year-old person (whose parents only made it to their 90s) wants to provide for a 6-year-old cockatoo (whose species can reach 80 in well-cared-for captivity)? I don’t know how myself how, but I’m sure it does help!

  4. Question Elephants*

    If someone in authority tells me that I shouldn’t question their authority I’m going to question it so much harder. It’s like telling someone “don’t think about elephants”. I may not have been thinking about Pachyderms at that very moment, but now I am.

      1. AnonInCanada*

        Or scream like Cartman: Respect my AUTHORI-TAY! That’s what this insecure boss reminded me of.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Hahaha that is what I came here to post – OP, tell your boss that I looked online and RESPECT MY AUTHORITAH stickers and decals are available for him to buy!

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I hate it when some (usually male) person tells me to “calm down”. If I wasn’t pissed off beforehand, I am now. It’s patronizing, at best.

        Yes, I have a “Question Authority” bumper sticker on my car.

    1. aebhel*

      If you need to TELL me that your authority is absolute and unquestionable, it probably isn’t and if it is you definitely don’t deserve it.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is it in a nutshell. No one who’s ever insisted I respect their authority had earned it.

        I do sometimes have to tell people that I’m ultimately responsible for a project or deliverable and we’re going to do it my way, but I’m also happy to debrief on the whys after we’ve hit the deadline and also try to fold the whys into training (because people who understand the thought process and decision-making tend to make better decisions on their own, develop good industry judgment, and come up with more useful suggestions for improvement).

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Oh it’s great that you are folding the whys into training! My first US job, I was trained by a lead dev who never allowed any whys ever. He was training me to do production support. I’d ask him “what am I doing now?” or “why are we doing it this way?” and his answer was always “just trust me”. Eeek! I made a massive mistake at that job once, because I did not know why I was doing things the way I was, and accidentally skipped a step. Brought a client’s production down briefly. Certainly did not do it that way when I was training new hires in my later jobs!

    2. Dragon*

      From the Baby Blues comic strip:

      Darryl McPherson, college student: Question authority!
      Darryl McPherson, parent, to his children: Do not question my authority!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Hahaha – but seriously, as a parent of young kids, I encouraged them to question my authority. My thinking was that, if I didn’t teach them to say no to me, they would grow up not knowing how to say no to anyone. (Ask me how I know!) And that, if I taught them that it’s okay to question authority, then they’d ask questions before they’d join the cult or develop a drug addiction, or get into criminal activity etc etc. Now they are adults and tell me that I was not strict enough and that I didn’t care. You can never win. (They did not join any cults and are pretty good at making decisions and navigating their lives, so I call it a win on my end anyway. I didn’t do it for accolades from them.)

        Got to add though, that having a dog, whom you are *supposed* to train to obey you no questions asked, was a relief. Never did I have to second-guess myself and stress about whether I was making my dog’s future more difficult for him when I taught him to follow my commands. So much easier than raising kids! Maybe what OP’s boss needs is a dog.

  5. Woah*

    OP3, I was in charge of shutting down schools for my county during COVID. During the worst of the pandemic everyone in my neighborhood thought I did admin work for the health department, after I found out that telling people I worked in pandemic response (not even specifics about being the shutting you down person, just pandemic response) prompted intense, angry, and emotionally exhausting stories from everyone- people who wanted stricter regulations and people who wanted looser regulations. After I moved on from that job I mentioned having worked for Communicable Disease and a neighbor said “you’re that (first name)?! I hated you!”

    1. Robin*

      Who says that???! Even in a joking tone, that is harsh. You had a really hard job, kudos to you for doing it.

        1. Emma*

          I dunno, I can see that being an expression of frustration rather than disapproval. Even if you know that closing the schools was the right decision, lots of people have bad memories of getting a letter home one day saying that they have a weekend to figure out childcare for their kid(s), which will be impossible because all the other working parents at the school are in the same boat.

          It’s a tactless way to say it, but they could mean something more like “every time I saw your name I knew I was in for a difficult time”

          1. Ah Yes*

            I feel like in this context, it’s pretty clear that they didn’t mean it as an “oh boy, you had a tough job with hard decisions that were sometimes hard for me to stomach”, and instead they aggressively meant “I hated you.” If it was a friendly interaction, Woah wouldn’t have presented it like they did.

          2. Allonge*

            Yes – I know plenty of people, myself included, who agreed with and followed all mandates but the ‘face’ of these communications still brings seriously negative associations.

            Not the best way to express it (no need to express it, thanking them is appropriate) for sure!!! But the feeling is there.

          3. Woah*

            Oh yeah, and just genuine surprise because I had been pretty good about making my work sound incredibly boring. We lived in the same cul de sac and they were just genuinely shocked.

            Extremists on both sides of politics were exhausting, and with the demographics in my area sometimes I’d get off the phone with MAGA person who wanted to tell me all about how the gun rules the county was considering were offensive (“Sir, im just trying to tell you that you have a deadly virus and can’t go to your teaching job for the next two weeks!”) and my next call would be to someone running an illegal hippie school in their backyard, where they used peppermint oil instead of hand sanitizer (“Hand sanitizer destroys natural bacteria and your religion is against it?…okay, but, like, 15 of your kids are sick and 5 are on vents in the hospital? so we need you to follow basic guidelines?”) Truly I never knew what I was in for!

        2. BethDH*

          Can also be “wow, I hated you when you were a faceless name on letters and now I realize you are a person subject to these regulations too!”

          1. Woah*

            The day I shut down my daughters preschool I cried for hours. I had no idea how I was going to work and keep her engaged and healthy. Sometimes I could tell people who were getting angry how upset I was at how bad our kids were being impacted and that would help a lot.

        3. SheLooksFamiliar*

          ‘I can’t guess that neighbor’s name, but I can guess their political party.’

          Please, let’s not do this. I know plenty of lefties, moderates, and right-leaners who agree on COVID policies and mandates, for either schools, work, retail, or municipalities. And they react with high emotion whenever the topic comes up.

          1. Stahp*


            Plenty of crunchy lefties (not me though I am one) in my area of the country were very much like this. Let’s not get into it again.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Covid brought out the worst in people.

        My state had an excellent Department of Health director during the pandemic, and she had to step down because people (armed, iirc) were PICKETING HER HOME and she worried for the safety of her family and neighbors. (And then her replacement turned the job down hours after accepting, after she learned of how her predecessor had been treated.) All for trying to keep their stupid arses from catching a deadly virus. No good deed goes unpunished.

        1. Quinalla*

          It did bring out some of the worst – I like to say if your relationship survived COVID, you are probably good for life, but it also brought out some of the best in people too. There was some amazing things people did to support others during that time as well.

          I feel like COVID truly amplified things to 11 whether good or bad, it was such an strange time and I’m fascinated by some of the art, writing, podcasts, etc. that is still coming out from that time and the shared but different experiences we have from it as a world. Folks like me who were working full-time and doing school/parenting full-time as well, folks trying to do college work fully remote, people who were alone in an apartment for months either bored silly or enjoying learning how to bake, people who were critical workers and maybe had a day off if that and it was business as usual + masks/fear/etc.

        2. 1LFTW*

          County health commissioners too. In some cases they and their families were getting actual explicit death threats.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      Just wanted to express my appreciation for you and all who worked in pandemic response. Those were difficult decisions with no perfect answers.

    3. OP3*

      Oh goodness, yes. People forget that it’s a real person on the other end of those decisions and communications.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Some people really don’t think before they speak. This isn’t quite the same, but I was once visiting relatives. Their neighbor asked where I live, and when I told him, he made a face and said, “ugh.” Okay, so you don’t care for my city, fine, but whatever happened to just politely nodding? You don’t see me crapping all over the boring, bland place that you live.

  6. Santiago*

    In my profession, the number one error that I see in training is that it lacks an internal architecture. I’m not saying you shouldn’t teach on your field – you should – that spur of the moment information is good! However (both in ‘formal’ education, and in job training), the way you design training is by looking at the observable, measurable actions you want someone to be able to accomplish, figuring out how you know that that they are accomplish…able(?) and then you structure the information within that.

    Again, a conversation is not a training module, or a lesson, but it’s meaningful to think about what tasks she needs to be able to do to do her job well and let that influence how your conversations develop. When we develop training focused at executing administrative tasks, we provide sufficent context for the person to use the tool correctly and understand if they are making errors. When we develop training focused at leadership, we focus on the key information relevant towards developing programs across the institution. She may not be the most eager listener – and that’s okay – but if you are interested in transmitting your passion for the field, documenting, and training, it may be helpful to start thinking about the architecture and structure of how you present information and what your business goals are.

    Cheers ~

    1. Adultier Adult*

      This was helpful.

      I kept thinking about myself– I am VERY invested in my job (and I have been since day one,) but if someone gave me long-winded responses with insane amounts of background information when I just needed a quick key piece of information, my desire for efficiency for eventually take over my professionalism. This would make me crazy.

      1. Allonge*

        Or the other option: the temp thinks that obviously OP considers this important information for them to know, and is too smart to interrupt. What’s it to her if this takes up the time she could be working on whatever?

        I am very much not a temp and will still think twice before telling my boss to stop talking at me unless something is really burning.

        1. Appletini*

          It can grow difficult to maintain one’s concentration after Minute X of a long-winded explanation of Everything Related To The Answer, and to pull out the useful nuggets of information from the flood of words. I’m not going to tell my boss they love the sound of their voice and to get to the point, but I will do better at learning what they want me to do if they just give me the instructions and a framework to relate those actions to, rather than some long reminiscent ramble.

      2. Bangali*

        I had a supervisor who talked, and talked, and TALKED. He would pepper the conversation with, “I’m relying on you to keep me on track!” and, “Oooh! Sorry I talk so much!” – it was meant to deflect from the fact that he DID talk too much. To me, it wasn’t cute. It was really hard to deal with over Zoom, because I didn’t want to be rude, but it was soooo draining to listen to this guy just ramble on. Luckily, he did seem to notice after a couple other team members became zombie-like, too.

        But I think it falls on the manager (OP) to notice her behavior and change it if the employee is suffering.

      3. yala*

        For real.

        It would be like the human equivalent of an online recipe. The flavor text is all well and good and all, but I asked because I need to know X right now.

  7. Sister George Michael*

    LW3, I sympathize with you! Something similar happened to me when I suffered a personal tragedy. People who knew about it (co-workers and neighbors) would share awful things that had happened to their family members. It didn’t feel like they were trying to sympathize, it just felt like emotional dumping. And it’s so hard in that moment to say ‘I don’t have capacity to listen to that right now.’

    1. Camelid coordinator*

      I saw this happen at work once. A colleague lost her home in a fire, so folks shared their scary fire stories. It must have been awful for her.

  8. Ochre*

    LW 5, I suspect your temp looks bored because you’re not giving her actionable information. Telling her about software your company doesn’t use would be interesting background for someone interested in the field, but you know she’s not. Some people are interested in learning just for the sake of learning, but she probably doesn’t see the point of this at a job/field she’s not interested in.

    Giving her context for things she actually needs to *do* is fine (“llama purchase orders need to be filed under ‘wildlife,’ not ‘pets’ because of xyz laws”), and you absolutely should correct her if she is not doing something the way you need it done. She’s a temp, her job is to do things the way you need them done and not make waves. It sounds like she’s tuning out until “story time” circles back to “what I need you to do.”

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes, and presumably the reason the company has a temp rather than make it a permanent role is at some point that job won’t exist and then she will be on to a different temp job in a different company … learning all the background has a level of importance when it’s a permanent job or is your desired field, much more so than when it’s just temporary. How long is the temp gig? It makes sense to invest in a job you’ll have for several years in a way that doesn’t make sense for a temp position that will last 6 months.

      I’m guilty of the same “history lesson” and “giving a lot of associated information that isn’t actionable” when people ask me things, and I’ve had to consciously button it down sometimes – so I do know how OP feels with people having information overload! Sometimes the correct level of detail in response to “is it A or B?” really is “A”.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Agree with both of these. OP, it might help to think about her learning style rather than the information you need to get across to her. She might not learn well from however you’re trying to tell her the information. Does she need you to show her? Does she learn better from reading and therefore would benefit from having you share user manuals or the like? And yes, like Captain says here, she’s a temp and definitely doesn’t need the level of background that someone who is planning on entering your field would need or want.

        Another thought is (and maybe you’re already doing this so forgive me if this is redundant info for you, OP), maybe you need to make these training sessions more interactive rather than you just telling her things. After the first or second training, if what you’re showing her isn’t terribly complicated, you could have her do it for you while you talk her through it, or even just give her a task with a goal to meet later and discuss what she did and needs to improve on.

      2. Annony*

        Yeah. I think the OP should determine if the temp actually needs to know the reasoning behind the answer or if just the answer is enough. If she asked “Should I use a hammer or a screwdriver” she probably doesn’t need to hear “We used to use a hammer because of A,B,C but now we use a screwdriver because of X,Y,Z.” But she may need to hear “You should use a hammer if conditions A,B,C are met but otherwise use a screwdriver.” Is the information actionable eventually (she needs to be able to determine whether to use a hammer or screwdriver in multiple situations and not just this one) or giving context that she really does’t need in order to do the job?

      3. MigraineMonth*

        Something they never taught me in programming school is that reading code requires many more history lessons than you would think. The answer to “why is this code so confusing” is usually:

        “That was written by a short-term contractor and no one has ever been able to figure out what it does, so we’re afraid to delete it.”

        “We were on a tight deadline, so we originally created module B by copying module A, and that was included. We think it might be necessary in the future, so we’re afraid to delete it.”

        “That was written to fill a requirement that may or may not exist anymore, so we’re afraid to delete it.”

        “All the function and variable names reference the old name of that process, but no one has time to go back and update them.”

        Or my personal favorite, “That’s something I slapped together in 10 days, and now every website in the world depends on it.”

        1. MurpMaureep*

          I’m currently trying to find resources to cover a very time sensitive, high priority project that was done by totally different (no longer around) staff, and was assured by the new project manager that it shouldn’t be hard because “we have all the code used last year, the new analysts can just run that”. My eyes almost exited the Earth’s orbit when they rolled.

        2. Warrior Princess Xena*

          I immediately thought of at least 5 XKCD comics but specifically #2347, Dependency.

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Yes, this. I cannot do a thing with context until I’ve started something and have a question, and even then, I don’t need to know that this has dated from the Magna Carta. (I had a grandboss that wanted to ruminate on the whole legal history of equity rather than address straightforward legal questions).

      It’s a good lesson for someone who manages people to learn, though, because I do have to remember to give my reports more context if that’s what they need. (or in the LW’s case, less).

      1. Delta Delta*

        It’s totally okay to say something like, “without getting into the history of everything, we have to do [whatever] this way. If you’re interested in the reasons I can tell you, but it’s kind of a bit of a thing.” And then move on. Maybe she asks, maybe she doesn’t.

    3. ferrina*

      Yep. She’s been refreshingly honest that she’s just there for the pay check. I’m guessing her work quality is fine, since usually LWs mention it if it’s an issue.

      Just give her the info she needs to do the job, and make the rest of the info optional (“there’s more background info if you want it, but it’s not necessary for the job at hand. Do you want to hear about it, or would you rather get started on the task?”). This isn’t her career, and she doesn’t need or want a mentor to move up in the industry.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I am a terrible auditory processor and, as much as I, personally, like exhaustive background information, I am pretty much incapable of absorbing more than like three things at a time aurally. I need you to get to the main point because I can’t keep track of what you’re saying and sort it for the information I need. If I want to spend more time on the decorative part I’ll ask during a more relaxed time.

    5. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Yep, this is me. I will glaze over every time someone is teaching me or giving me new information. As far as I can tell, it is tied to my involuntary yawning that I cannot control when I’m taking in new information. It is as if my body is grasping for oxygen or something and my eyes glazing over is a symptom of it. For me, this means nothing and certainly has never meant I’m not listening. I think OP should ignore it.

    6. Whence*

      Yeah, and especially when you’re starting in a new role at a new place you’re getting A LOT of information thrown at you already. Having clear priorities about what really needs to be learned right now is super valuable. Background and broader context may make more sense/be more interesting later on, even for someone who isn’t all that interested, but it isn’t always the right time for that level of detail.

    7. PolarVortex*

      Agreed! Actionable information is a huge part in learning. Doing helps build the muscle memory, but just hearing it doesn’t often provide any context.

      I’d also say: what is this person’s learning style. I can’t stand video training or talking at me training without my eyes glazing over (probably in part because of ADD). Doesn’t hold my attention an iota. Give me a book or throw me in at the deep end and I’m fine. Think about how you’re providing training the way you think it’s useful, not the way your trainee thinks it’s useful. If this sort of training is going to happen regularly, develop small sections of talking, reading, action, to hit most of the learning areas so there’s something she absorbs.

      Also think about what the trainee needs to know vs what you think would be useful to know. What’s needed for operational purposes and what context you’re adding just because it’s interesting but not actually needed. I can understand the need to explain deeper context behind why we do x process in a weird meandering way, but some people don’t care they’ll just do it in that way without questioning if it could be more efficient. She sounds like that kind of person.

    8. Butterfly Counter*

      I’m going to go against the grain a little here and not assume that it’s not a problem with you giving context, but might be an issue with attention span. I know that when I have a student that I am meeting with who tells me they have ADHD and that sometimes communication is going to be an issue. I could be in the middle of explaining the exact steps that they need to take in order to pass my class and see that glaze because someone is having a conversation 2 doors down. I usually follow up with an email about the action items.

  9. Language Lover*

    lw #5

    I am going to assume your temp’s work is satisfactory to you. If not, Alison is right, that’s what you need to address. I also like the comment above mine about making sure there’s some structure/goals to your training.

    But I also would like to recommend having both of you turn off your cameras during training unless there’s a specific reason you need to see her and she needs to see you. Training is exhausting. People’s eyes can glaze over even when they’re effectively taking in what they need to know. You’ll get less offended if you can’t see that happen. She might end up having more energy to listen if she doesn’t have to expend energy trying to look engaged instead of just being engaged. I know that’s not everyone’s experience but being on camera saps so much out of me.

    That’s not to say that you couldn’t mention it to her to give her feedback on body language but there are changes you can make too that might make it easier on both of you.

    1. Allonge*

      I have not thought about turning video off but I was going to say the same thing: “eyes glaze over” and bored body language are not that specific visuals (especially over videoconferencing) that utter boredom is the only possible conclusion! This can be her paying attention face for more theoretical things.

      So I would question the assumption that the temp does not care at all. Even if that were reasonable, and is quite possible.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yes, if I’m listening to a spiel over video call it’s pretty difficult to keep your face looking engaged! Even if I concentrate on making a “listening face” my eyes do get a bit unfocused. (And this temp might prefer to put her concentration into actually listening rather than performing listening.)

        It’s just different on a video call than in person. Part of that is probably that in person, the person speaking isn’t usually looking at the listener the whole time.

      2. Selene*

        On one occasion, I was publicly called out for “not paying attention” when I was actually listening very carefully! For the rest of that meeting, I was so focused on looking interested that I was less able to pay attention.

    2. 1*

      I was going to say this, “eye glazing” may not be boredom or not listening at all! I do this when taking in a lot of info, its just concentration and well, my face.

      1. alienor*

        And even if she is bored…sometimes necessary things are boring. I’ve sat through a LOT of classes and trainings and meetings that felt like they had been going on since the last Ice Age, but I still took notes and got the information I came for while I waited to be allowed to escape. Looking/being excited about the material is a plus, not the end goal of training.

    3. Workerbee*

      This! Undergoing training, when you’re trying to absorb everything/take notes/ask intelligent questions/relate it to what you’re doing, is a full workload in itself. Appearing engaged on the outside in a way that will appeal to every person is just not possible. Hell, half the time when I’m thinking of something, I don’t pay attention to where my eyes even _look_.

      If I have to worry about someone taking it upon themselves to assign values to my expression, well, guess what, I’m going to spend more effort on schooling my face than listening to what you or others are saying, because that clearly is more important to you than the content of this meeting that could have been an email anyway… /snark

      And for all that we’ve ramped up video calls (at least in my experience), we haven’t been as good at interpretation vs expectation when it comes to body language through this kind of medium.

    4. Samwise*

      This. Even when I’m very interested in the info, I can look zoned out on zoom. I’m *listening*. But if you aren’t an actual person in the room with me, I’m not going to look at you attentively.

  10. Ellis Bell*

    OP5, it sounds a little bit like you’re teaching, rather than training? On top of what Alison said about focusing more on the actual job, rather than the extras, here are two teacher tips which might be helpful with the training here too: 1) teachers are told to never ask “did that make sense?” because only a confident learner will respond “no” with a follow up question. A less confident learner will not have any questions at all, and will be reluctant to say no and admit how overwhelmed they are. The glazed eyes are a classic sign of information overload. Instead of asking such an open question, ask a specific, foundational question like: “So, how do we do (basic task)” or “Based on what I’ve said, why do you think x might be important?”. Don’t give all the information, either. Ask her to fill in some common sense blanks, and don’t move on from a point without getting a response. 2) Break up information into small chunks as much as possible. If you’re not getting verified feedback in her responses after a few minutes of talking (like two to three minutes), then stop and break it down into simpler pieces. Your description makes me think you might be doing the opposite; elaborating in the hope of sparking interest.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      Yes, it’s nice that you want her to understand all the background in your job. But she’s a temp, who is not that interested in this field. She doesn’t need to know that stuff to do her job, and she probably doesn’t want to know it, because it’s not in her field of interest. When I was temping, 20′ on “background on project science and why we chose this readout” is helpful. 20′ on “history of the project and why we think it’s important in the greater context of research and how it fits into corporate strategy” is not helpful to my job, boring, and taking up time I could be doing my work. Think about what she NEEDS to know to be successful (if her work needs help) and give her that and skip any extraneous stuff.

  11. Sundae fun day*

    So it would be totally inappropriate to want an AMA from LW3 because that sounds fascinating, right???

    1. Mid*

      As long as people refrain from sharing their sad pet stories, I think an AMA would be awesome from the OP.

      1. Mom To Two Cats*

        Oh, there would be way too many sad stories and people saying how much LW3 would have helped them when they had to put Fluffy down. Just like her grocery store conversations but quadrupled.

        1. Lunch Ghost*

          But with comments you can stop reading as soon as you realize it’s a sad pet story– or not read comments at all– and the commenter(s) will never know. It sounds like the OP’s problem is she doesn’t want to stop people from telling their stories but doesn’t want to listen to them herself, which is doable in a comment section while not in a face-to-face discussion.

    2. SuzyQ*

      Seriously. I have a Social Work degree and of the many possible career options they told us about in school this is not one of them. It’s sounds pretty interesting.

    3. Kitry*

      Yes, please! I would be fascinated to read an interview with OP3. I am a veterinarian and I did not know that veterinary social workers existed until they were mentioned on a podcast I listened to a few months ago.

  12. Keymaster of Gozer*

    2. Tax offices, be they IRS or HMRC, are not something you mess around with. Never put anything other than the truth on a form for them.

    This guy is very dodgy. Definitely report this back to the non profit (‘I just provided babysitting for him, why am I being asked to fill out tax forms?’) and then walk away. Whatever happens to him is his own fault.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*


      I remember discussions (between my parents) when I was a teenager who was babysitting. That I could have been hit with a tax form was mind boggling to them, but had hit their radar. (I did meticulously track what I earned – it never cleared the benchmark for the time, thank goodness.) Given today’s babysitting rates? Its something to keep in mind that it could become an issue if your child does a lot of babysitting.

      1. Cj*

        You only send 1099 forms to people you pay on the course of your business. So if its legit that the nonprofit paid her for babysitting during evening events or something, the yes, she would get a 1099. But you wouldnt get a 1099 for personal babysitting.

        However, if you are doing childcare while the parent works, and they claim a daycare credit, it might get reported to the IRS that way.

    2. aebhel*

      Yeah. In the unlikely event that he was legitimately entitled to use funds from his job to pay for childcare and was just going about it in a weird, shoddy, uncommunicative way, that’s for his employer to sort out. But the most likely option is that he was stealing, and not in a particularly bright way.

    3. Observer*

      Definitely report this back to the non profit (‘I just provided babysitting for him, why am I being asked to fill out tax forms?’) and then walk away. Whatever happens to him is his own fault.

      But DO file and pay the taxes!

  13. Kermit’s Bookkeepers*

    Former nanny here, and may I humbly earmark OP#2 for a future update! Shady parent drama is one of those things I’m glad to leave behind and desperately miss having dirt about in equal measure.

    1. Not Quite a Henchman*

      I desperately want an update to this as well! Maybe the nonprofit is doing some childcare credit but doesn’t have the details worked out yet?

  14. Irish Teacher.*

    I just want to say thank you for the work you did. Those were tough decisions and I would imagine it was a difficult job.

  15. Viette*

    Re OP #3 — I suspect that there is, in your passion and love of talking about her work, an invitation for your audience to relate to it. And this is how your audience is able to relate: through their own experiences on the other side. I have a more common job that has similar responses and frankly I think much of it is down to people not having another way to try to engage in the conversation.

    My question to OP #3 would be, what do you WISH people were saying to you in these conversation where you tell them all about your job and your love for your job? What questions do you WISH they were asking you?

    Consider if those are reasonable Qs/interests to expect from complete strangers. If so, you can try to control the direction of the conversation by proactively focusing on those answers/topics yourself.

    I find this quite useful myself — just launch into it. Your audience doesn’t know anything about your job so it all seems equally relevant to them. “Yeah, the work culture is great. People come from XYZ backgrounds.” Give your audience an invitation to talk about what you want to talk about!

    1. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

      What a great response! I’m going to use this in many situations.

  16. Kwsni*

    #2, Thank you so much for doing what you do, not only for the families of pets, but for us burned out, over worked, underpaid tecnicians and vet staff too. Your position is sorely needed in most clinics, and carrying our own emotions and the ones from clients is what makes the burnout and suicide rate for our industry so high. I hope your clinic and staff appreciate the work you do.

    1. jane's nemesis*

      Sending my support and sympathy! I have so many friends in the veterinary world and I worry about all of them, all of the time.

  17. Princess Deviant*

    So with LW5, I wonder if asking

    “I might be misinterpreting, but when I talk to you about X or Y, you seem like you’re bored or wanting me to wrap up. Am I reading that correctly?”

    would get you an honest response, especially if asked out of the blue? What else could you say that would open up a conversation about the body language of the listener that would generate an open conversation?

    1. Mongrel*

      I mean, it sounds like it’s already been answered, from OP;

      “She’s expressed this isn’t her dream job or anywhere close, but a learning experience and a way to pay the bills. It’s been three months.”

      It may be worth following up on the ‘learning experience’ quote and what exactly it means but it just sounds like they just want to do the work, take the cheque and leave it at that.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. Not everyone views a job as the most important thing ever. Some people don’t want to develop / think strategically about the future (especially if it’s a temp job). They just want to do the job and go home. If your member of staff isn’t that interested in the field and just wants to do the job and go home, it might be better to just let her do that and stop trying to help her make a career of it or progress if she’s not that interested.

        Obviously she needs to do the core elements of her job and meet her objectives, but otherwise maybe don’t try as hard to develop her if she’s not interested.

        1. londonedit*

          I agree. She’s a temp, she’s said this isn’t her dream job or something she’s particularly interested in pursuing – so it makes sense that she isn’t particularly interested in investing time learning about all the various tools and systems. If I was in her situation, I can imagine I’d just want to do a decent job and take the pay cheque. And I do think I’d get a little bored/irritated if someone was constantly trying to teach me about things I really wasn’t interested in. It just feels a little presumptuous and even maybe a little patronising? Like…I’m here to do my job, I’m not here to listen to lectures because someone thinks I should be learning while I’m here. I guess by ‘learning experience’ OP assumes the temp means ‘a job I want to learn more about’, but it’s probably more like ‘something I’ve never done before that might be interesting to do for a while’ or ‘another string to my bow’.

        2. River*

          Agreed. I have a staff member that has worked in the same position for nearly 20 years. She is fantastic at what she does because she’s been doing that same job the entire time. I have asked her if she’s interested in moving up and she always politely says no. After a few tries, I accepted that she wants to come in to make money. Like I said, she’s good at what she does, she’s very quiet but friendly, and on a rare occasion will make a helpful suggestion/idea. She’s not a strategic thinker either. I am perfectly fine with someone doing their job very well and being satisfied where they’re at in the company. It could always be worse…

    2. WellRed*

      I’d be mortified if a manager/trainer asked if I was bored. I’m surprised that was part of the advice.

      1. BatManDan*

        Well, the OP or the temp deserve to be mortified; one of them is doing this wrong, and it would serve them both to find out who.

        1. ecnaseener*

          I disagree with that. No one needs to be doing anything wrong or “deserve to be mortified” (!) to explain this situation. Maybe LW is erring on the side of giving a little too much information because the temp said she wanted this to be a learning experience. Maybe the temp is listening and trying to be polite but has trouble keeping her Attentive Face on over video calls (as do a lot of us!) Maybe both.

          Like yes it’s possibleLW is rambling on and on or the temp is tuning her out, but there’s no need to jump to that.

        2. EmKay*

          No one “deserves” to be mortified here. OP just needs to adjust their expectations of the temp.

        3. yala*

          Sometimes neither person is doing it “wrong,” they just have different communication styles.
          If the temp isn’t bored, then what is she doing “wrong?” Her facial expression?

        4. Ellis Bell*

          Hmm, one person is passionate and seeking to replicate the situation that fired that passion, while the other person wants a more practical how-to guide so they can just be of use. I don’t think either of these people deserve mortification!

    3. Sloanicota*

      I agree a temp in a position of no authority is not going to concede that the boss is boring them. Any degree of polish or experience will have taught them to politely demur. It sounds like the OP worries that they’re a blowhard, but it’s unlikely this temp is going to be able to articulate that. I suggest OP just adjusts their approach without feedback.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      An honest response? Not even at gunpoint. I’d fear retaliation in the reference system.

      1. AllY'all*

        I’m not even a temp and I wouldn’t answer that question honestly either. For one, there’s no real way to do it without being rude and saying something out loud that amounts to “Yeah, I have no interest at all in what you’re saying.” I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect to say that to someone without it affecting your relationship with them, whether consciously on their part or not.

    5. Ginger*

      I too was wondering about the power dynamics of this. Maybe a way to approach this is to ask the person about what (if any) topics they want to learn more about. For instance, if I’m trying to teach someone about workers comp and they’d rather learn about employee relations, they’re definitely not going to show the same level of interest or enthusiasm.

    6. Office Lobster DJ*

      Is an honest response the goal? It’s pretty much a guarantee the temp will say oh no no, but now the temp has a flag that she is being perceived a certain way by LW. This is good information for her to have. Maybe it would be the opening to a conversation, or maybe she quietly reconsiders her body language, or maybe it just lets her know that she and LW don’t mesh well and she might think twice before asking for a reference or something.

      I think that last bit is especially important, because if LW stews in her interpretation of the temp as bored and annoyed without ever bringing it up, and then she gets asked for feedback or a reference, the temp has never had the opportunity to course correct or explain “oh, that’s just my face.”

    7. ferrina*

      Rather than making the temp opt out, give the opportunity to opt in.

      If you say “Am I boring you? I can stop if you want,” you are making the person opt out of the lecture. A lot of people won’t feel comfortable saying “Yes, you’re boring, please stop.” So they’ll be stuck due to politeness.

      Instead, say just the relevant info for the task, and then say “The history behind this process is really interesting. If you want to hear it, I can go into it, but otherwise I’ll leave you to it!” Then leave it to her to say “Yes, I’m really interested, please tell me” or “Thanks, I’ll get started on this task.” People that are genuinely interested will let you know, and folks that aren’t interested or don’t have time will appreciate the easy out.

    8. yala*

      “you seem like you’re bored or wanting me to wrap up”

      ooof, no, I don’t think most people would give their supervisor/trainer/someone above them on the ladder an honest response to that. It sounds like a trap.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Yeah, now that I’m firmly in middle age, I have the skills and confidence to tap-dance that question” “No, not bored! Just eager to get back to Project G and try that solution you just gave me. I want to make sure I have it down and don’t make a mistake we’ll have to fix later.”

  18. BlankStares*

    LW5, why are you making assumptions about how this person looks in the moment? What you are perceiving as one person’s ‘blank stare’ could actually be any number of responses to what you are saying. There is some good overall advice in these responses, but I would add not to make assumptions about what someone’s face ‘means’, especially if all of your meetings are remote.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      While I agree with other comments that blank face could likely mean focusing on the conversation over video, I find this edging towards being disingenuous for calling out OP for interpreting a facial expression. Body language, including expressions, is a thing, and most people are going to use them as part of language/communication.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        Yes. But as a person who has studied nonverbal communication, the things the facial expression communicates and the things onlookers infer from the facial expression don’t always line up. (Think about all the people with RBF who have been accused of being angry or rude when they’re just concentrating)

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        This comment seems to suggest that every person can recognize each facial expression and that expression means the same exact thing every time, and every part of the foregoing is wrong.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          It does not in the slightest. It means that when people are communicating with each, there is nothing wrong or unusual in using facial expressions as part of that communication. Misunderstandings happen with all types of communication. It doesn’t mean we should stop using expressions/verbal cues/etc. all together.

      3. aebhel*

        Facial expressions communicate things, but plenty of people cannot sit through a lengthy lecture – even on a subject they’re interested in! – with an unrelenting look of bright engagement on their faces. It’s just less obvious in person because you have more things to look at.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      It would be wrong to draw a conclusion based on one expression, one time. However it would be absurd to continue ignoring an ever present signal that most people can recognise. The OP has sought to clarify verbally as well as writing here for perspectives, so I don’t understand how they can be accused of jumping to conclusions.

    3. allathian*

      Yes, this. For a lot of people, it’s a choice between appearing engaged and being engaged while their face does its own thing. Especially on camera.

    4. Kella*

      It’s totally fair to use your interpretation of someone’s facial expression as a data point in evaluating how best to interact and effectively reach this person. But what OP is observing is that this data point seems to be at odds with the other data points: OP asks if they understand, they nod, OP tells them to interrupt if they’ve heard enough, they don’t interrupt etc.

      It is also wise to remember that misinterpretation of facial expressions can happen, which is why Alison included the suggestion of asking if they were interpreting their facial expression correctly. Facial expressions as a mode of communication are not that dissimilar to words: Sometimes you misunderstand and need clarification BUT that does not mean you should assume all facial expressions have no meaning at all.

  19. Medium Sized Manager*

    My sympathy to LW3. Just mentioning that I work in the veterinary field leads to every Tom, Dick, and Harry telling me about their pets illnesses, how they feel everything is overpriced (it’s likely not), how their vet takes advantage (I doubt it), and it goes on. I leave the veterinary part out now if I’m talking to random people because it’s just too much.

  20. I should really pick a name*

    What kind of response would you ideally expect from her?
    It sounds like you’re simply providing information, so does it warrant a response? Especially from someone who has admitted that they’re not invested in the field.

  21. Mockingjay*

    OP4, please reply to Carlyle and ask to be removed from further emails. If he persists, block his email address. It’s not rude; simply setting and maintaining a boundary.

    As for Hiram, no need to stand up for him unless he requests your assistance. He may be newer in the field, but he’s an adult who can manage his own relationships and professional network. Situations that irritate one person may be shrugged off by the next. (Likely that’s what Hiram is doing. Or, if he chooses to engage with Carlyle, again that’s his business to manage.)

  22. Catwhisperer*

    LW5, I think a key component that hasn’t been addressed is your admission that you talk a lot. Sitting in silence while someone else talks at you, with little to no meaningful engagement, is incredibly draining even when you’re interested in the subject matter. Pair that with your temp openly stating that this isn’t her career path and I’m guessing you’re overwhelming her on a regular basis and she’s being too polite to ask you to stop.

    It’s clear that you have good intentions, but I think your actions are misdirected. If I were in your temp’s shoes, I’d be miserable and looking for a way to escape a job where my boss constantly monologues at me as soon as possible. Please just give her a break and let her get her work done unless it’s absolutely vital that she needs to know something.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes, I picked up on this. OP mentioned it twice which tells me this situation, eyes aglaze, shouldn’t be all that surprising. OP you have this self awareness. That’s great. But learn from it.

      1. Catwhisperer*

        I’m also wondering what the purpose of these sessions is. OP says the temp has been there for 3 months, which is a really long time to be training a temp. If I had to sit in a meeting week after week, while someone explained things that aren’t relevant to me over and over, I’d be bored and a bit resentful of how much of my time was being wasted.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Yeah, the particular one here sounds like, “What do I do if there’s an apostrophe in a client’s first name? It works in the field for last name, but not first name.” And OP gave her the answer, but then started a deep-dive (maybe medium-dive?) into name field conventions in software and her brain just dipped.

    2. River*

      Great point. It might help the OP as well for peace of mind to stop at an appropriate time during the conversation to check in with their temp. “Does that make sense?” “Any questions?”, then continue the conversation. It gives the OP a moment to take an extra breath as well. Also in defense of the temp, people have told me that my eyes look like they are glazed over when in reality I am processing information. I have had to explain that part of me to some people for their own peace of mind. If the temp is great at what they do, then I think that’s the least of the worries. It could be worse. Maybe the next temp will actually want to be part of the company. You can’t win em all.

  23. QueenofBees78*

    I would love to know how someone could get into being a veterinary social worker! It sounds fascinating.

  24. Mary Connell*

    About letter 3: I have friends and acquaintances who teach religion at the university level, and several of them have mentioned having to use a protective fib when asked what they do. Not sure I’ve ever heard about people having to do this besides lawyers and doctors, and now this report from an animal social worker.

    1. londonedit*

      It’s not so much a ‘protective fib’ for me but I definitely leave out a lot of info and just go really top-level when I’m speaking to someone random about what I do. I work in book publishing as an editor and as soon as someone finds out the conversation goes one of two ways. Either they do the dreaded ‘Oh! Well, I’ve actually been working on a book for the last few years, I’ve been looking into how to get it published – can you tell me how to do that? Do I need an agent? How do I find one? Maybe you could read a few pages and tell me what you think…?’ or they do the slightly less dreaded but almost as annoying ‘Oh, really? That’s really interesting…the last book I read, there were SO MANY typos. Does anyone actually read the books these days? I’m always finding typos! Why are there so many? Don’t you have any checks in place? One book, they got one of the characters’ names wrong halfway through! How does that happen???’ And then I either have to listen to their book proposal while trying to explain that a) I don’t commission and b) I don’t work on the sort of books they’re writing, or I have to try to explain and justify how the entire editorial process works and apologise for errors in books I had absolutely nothing to do with. So I usually try to stick to ‘I work in publishing’ and if pressed say ‘Oh, it’s quite niche, I don’t work with fiction and I’m not involved with commissioning’ and then try to turn the conversation round to asking them what they do (or some other topic).

      1. irianamistifi*

        Yes to the ‘protective fib’! It protects your sanity and time. I find this is more of an issue in the US where “What do you do” is like, one of the first things you ask about a person because work-life is so engrained into our society. We never seem to get these types of questions when we’re on vacation abroad.

        My partner is an actuary and fibs when this question comes up because not a lot of people understand it, it leads to more questions, and those who DO know what it entails often want to engage in lengthy conversations about death. Super fun.

        So he tones it down and declares that he does a job that is not likely to engage a lot of follow-up questions. ‘Accountant’ seems to be one of those. or ‘Data Entry’.

    2. Beth*

      Well, I work in investment management, and last year a cab driver asked me what I thought about bitcoin. It turned out to be a very interesting ride, because I have a lot of strong opinions on that subject.

      That’s the only time I’ve had anything like that happen, though.

  25. DameB*

    I mean, LW5 says they talk a lot and is reading A LOT into what they’re perceiving on a Zoom call! I’m sure I look bored on zoom calls too, even if I’m interested. Especially if the trainer is ramble and doesn’t interact with me. Especially especially if the training is repeating stuff over and over again.

    Training/teaching is HARD, y’all, and doing it in an entertaining fashion is harder. Bill Nye is singular for a reason. The subject/ your presentation may just be, y’know, boring. Not a criticism — I’m known as a really entertaining trainer at my office but, despite fun gifs and rants about Melvil Dui, my training on our style guide boring because style guides are BORING. Doesn’t mean she’s not listening.

    Also, I ask this gently: are you a dude? Men often are trained to expect a rapt female audience, regardless of whether or not they ramble.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      That kind of dude would rarely ask if they’re overstepping, though. Especially given the mention of the former mentor, I think the LW is giving info that s/he would appreciate.

    2. Mill Miker*

      Is there a screen share involved at all? I know I’ve looked like I’m bored and not paying attention while someone monologues, but it’s because I’m looking at the little speaker thumbnail in the corner of the screen, instead of more directly at the camera.

    3. Alanna*

      Yes, this. I teach virtually, relatively long class sessions, and I basically get a ton of glazed-eye stares any time I have to lecture (which is an inescapable part of the class).

      Afterward I’m usually thanked for being engaging, enthusiastic, entertaining, etc.

      Sometimes being trained is not always interesting and that’s fine! OP, I think you are putting WAY too much pressure on yourself to be constantly fascinating — though if this information isn’t mission critical, you should probably give less of it.

    4. River*

      I think environment also plays a part in this. When you are physically in a professional or work setting, I feel like you are less inclined to give off body language that indicates boredom or no interest. When you’re at home or in a comforting atmosphere for a virtual call, one may present bored, laid back, or other body language that the person on the other end may interpret as less engaging.

  26. Jenny*

    #3 I’m an exclusively in home euthanasia veterinarian. I do not tell people what I do unless I want to get into long, tearful stories about their deceased pet or how their last euthanasia was horrific or telling me I have the worst job in the entire world. I have enough clients saying that to me on the daily basis and it gets old being questioned like I’m some kind of sociopath because I do it all day. It’s really ok to be vague about your job to random strangers!

    1. BuffaloSauce*

      Our veterinarian is mobile and comes to us with a truck. She also offers these services. I can’t tell you how wonderful she is. So that you for what you do. It means so much to patients and their families.

    2. Lyudie*

      We used a service like yours in 2020 for our kitty…I just want to say thank you for making something so hard just a little easier. I wasn’t able to be there for it (crying in a dark room with wine) but the woman who came sat with my husband and the cat, hugged him when she left, and left a candle burning. Not having to deal with that in public was a huge relief, and the extra kindness shown was amazing.

    3. AnonRN*

      I’m a critical care nurse in a field associated with a lot of trauma and pain. Our patients are frequently news stories. I hear “I don’t know how you do it!” constantly. And it’s said in an admiring tone but at the same time the background is “I don’t know how you put patients through those painful treatments” “I don’t know how you can look at those wounds” “I don’t know how you cope with the devastating stories”…and it’s like “well, someone has to do it, and the patient won’t get better if no one does it.” But it feels like “you must be a broken husk of a human to do that stuff.” So yeah, I don’t always say where I work!

      Jenny, the work you do is amazing and I hope when one of our pets reaches that point that we can call someone like you.

      1. eeeek*

        Wow, AnonRN – your comment has provoked in me the sort of brakes-busting screeching halt in operations. I use the phrase “I don’t know how you do it…” rarely, since I know it can be freighted with baggage, but I do use it when I try to convey something like “I am so greatly in awe of someone with the moral integrity and personal emotional reserves to do work that I know is very difficult; I know I do not have the capacity to do that work and remain whole and functional and kind as you obviously are. I am grateful and envious enough to try to do better, myself…thank you.” I’m so very sorry that it might be heard as pitying the broken husks who have to do terrible work.
        Thank you for doing the work you do. It is incredibly important.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          +1. I totally understand not wanting to hear “I don’t know how you do it,” having been there with a personal trauma, but I don’t think it’s implying that you’re a “broken husk” and probably much more admiration–that you have strengths that other people often don’t.

        2. Pippa K*

          I’ve tried to focus my language a bit better in this same way and found what I’m usually trying to say about jobs like this is “what a wonderful/important job. I imagine it’s rewarding, but difficult” and that lets the person nod and move on or get into it if they want.

          It seems even more sensitive now for professions like medicine, where there’s been plenty of “hero” rhetoric but not backed up by actual care for working conditions and nurses’ pay. “I don’t know how you do it, you’re a hero, I could never” seems like it might ring kind of hollow in that context, even though most people probably mean it sincerely.

          Years ago I read something by an animal shelter worker who was tired of hearing people say “oh I could never do that, *I’m* too soft hearted” without realising that they were implying “you must be callous and unfeeling compared to sensitive me.” I’ve said (and still say!) plenty of clumsy things in my time but this has helped me to avoid some of them.

        3. Cari*

          Me, too!!! I definitely mean sincere “geez, that’s gotta be hard, kudos to you” when I say it and I’m appalled that it might be landing as @AnonRN is hearing it. It never occurred to me that it might be.

          I’ll definitely be reflecting on how I can replace the phrase. Maybe “I really admire your ability to do that, I’m sure it’s functionally and emotionally grueling,” … but that feels more invasive. Must cogitate.

      2. Hen in a Windstorm*

        Wow, I’m so sorry you feel that way when someone says “I don’t know how you do it”. I used to work at a nonprofit and one of the social workers only dealt with children with HIV. One of her child clients died while I worked there. I definitely said, “Someone needs to do this work, but I could never do it” – not because I thought *she* was a broken husk of a human, but because I felt *I* wasn’t strong enough to do it. I admired her for being able to do the work.

        If you can tell it’s an admiring tone… perhaps you can reframe it that way for yourself so you can hear it as a compliment? It’s like you hear the admiration part correctly, but then your brain goes down a dark path that is criticizing and insulting. I sincerely doubt people are thinking the things you suspect they are thinking, especially since it’s said in an admiring tone.

      3. OP3*

        My usual response to “I don’t know how you do it” is “I love how different people are drawn to such different professions and callings – I’m sure I couldn’t do what you do either!” It’s true – I’ve been in many jobs and the ones I absolutely loathed were the ones that are most common.

        1. Alanna*

          A writer I follow was a caregiver for a partner with a terminal (and ultimately fatal) illness at a heartbreakingly young age for both of them. She has specifically mentioned disliking “I don’t know how you do it” (or the related “I don’t know if I could do that” or “I don’t know how you cope with it”) because it implied she options other than figuring out how to rise to the occasion to get through it.

          A different situation, but sharing because you are not the only one who is rubbed the wrong way by that phrase, even said with the best of intentions.

    4. Greengirl*

      Thank you for the work you do. I know it makes a huge difference to the comfort of your patients and their families.

    5. OP3*

      I’m so glad we have people like you! It’s so helpful to be able to refer to services like yours when we have clients who would feel more comfortable at home.

    6. jane's nemesis*

      Thank you so much for what you do! Euthanasia at home is a precious gift to animal lovers.

    7. Cari*

      I absolutely agree that it’s okay to be vague about one’s job! Or, even, lack of one. Especially for emotionally intense jobs or jobs that elicit strong responses. Jobs can be great conversation starters, but they’re often fraught.

      I say consultant most of the time, sometimes scientist, and if somebody has irritated me in a particular way, I’ll tell them sustainability and climate science while staring them in the eyes. Mostly it’s just “niche area consultant” if I’m not looking for a conversation about it.

      And a specific note (hopefully this doesn’t fall into “this is exactly what we’re talking about *not* doing!”) – I used a mobile “hospice vet” in Northern CA two years ago for my wonderful 22 yo cat, and it was the first time I’d heard the term. I had no idea such a role existed, which I think is true for a lot of people. She was fantastic and the whole experience was so much better than it might have been (I’ve had pets for years, this wasn’t the first goodbye, just the hardest to say). I think you have a *hard* job, and one I respect you for doing, but not an *awful* one. I’m sorry people act as though you’re a sociopath. I rather suspect that the people who do such jobs well have more rather than less empathy.
      I want everyone to know professionals like you and her are out there! I just haven’t figured out how to tell people – there’s really no good moment in general pet conversations!

  27. BuffaloSauce*

    #5 – this happened to me often in my late 20’s and early 30’s. Which happened to coincide with when my kids were babies and toddlers. I wasn’t getting much sleep and was exhausted.

    This would happen to me when I was in long meetings or trainings without breaks. Once I was in a meeting that was nearing the 2 hour mark. It was super warm in the room. I could literally feel the eyes start to roll back in my head. My eyes fluttering closed. I sip water/coffee, pinch myself etc. Honestly the only thing that helped was getting up and moving. Or taking a break. Perhaps these sessions are too long?

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      They hit me the same way. Maybe some of this can be documented in writing for self-paced consumption instead of soliloquy?

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Two hours IS too long to go without a break. I think 90 minutes is the outside. A 2-hour meeting should have a break at the 1-hour point.

  28. ZSD*

    #2 It is *conceivable* that this nonprofit has added a benefit of supporting childcare costs for its employees and is going about it a very strange way. Highly unlikely, but conceivable.
    (I think it’s more likely that he’s stealing from his employer, though.)

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Even if it does, the LW doesn’t have a relationship with the company that would warrant them issuing a W9 form.

      1. Can Can Cannot*

        But if LW is cashing checks from the company, then there is a relationship. The key issue is whether there should be a relationship, and whether the company should be sending LW checks.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Alison’s advice is good for this case, too. If OP2 calls the non-profit, explains the situation, and they say “yeah, Fergus was paying you through our childcare support program,” then OP2 knows it was all above-board and can go ahead and use the W9 to file taxes.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I don’t think so actually.
        As I said above, the LW doesn’t have a direct relationship with the non-profit, so they shouldn’t be issuing a W9. The father hired the LW, not the non-profit.
        If this was above board, someone screwed up, and more questions need to be asked.

        1. Observer*

          Not necessarily the case. The organization was paying her, so she did actually have a fiscal relationship with the, whether she knew it or not, and they will issue a 1099 to her and to the IRS.

          It’s still messed up. So messed up that I actually doubt that it’s legit.

        2. Meep*

          One thing I learned from working at a start-up is that small companies are very lackydaisy when it comes to other people’s money and it is easy to miss things.

          We had our VP of Business Development stealing from the company (and employees). Because no one was paying attention, she did something similar where we were essentially paying for her divorce lawyer and they had to figure out what were these monthly $1,000 payments to “Anne” after she was fired. On the other hand, because things slipped through the cracks, we were apparently paying for Google and Microsoft to host our email addresses (she is an absolute loon and kept switching between either or based on which one she felt was more “secure” for the day and based on which one the current client used). We also had a million and two different video conferencing subscriptions. No one noticed until we audited things until after she left to see the damage she caused*.

          It is possible that they just assumed the dad was going to do his due diligence (like one would think about ending subscriptions, we frequently complain about being too expensive so we switched… >.>) and explain it to LW#2 while he decided it was too much of a hassle.

          *Ironically for her, she was fired because she refused to hand over the payroll account passwords to our new President. Wonder why.

      2. Cj*

        You don’t use a W-9 to file taxes, you use a 1099. A W-9 is what the company sends you to get your name address and Social Security number so they have the information to send you a 1099.

        They should call to get it cleared up because you are required to fill out the W-9 for somebody you actually did contract work for. She should say she was employed by the father instead. But whether she gets any type of tax form or not, she should be reporting this on her tax return.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Thanks for the correction! I’ve only ever dealt with W-2s and W-4s and didn’t think to look up what a W-9 was or how it worked.

  29. Baron*

    LW #1: “how important it was that I never question his authority” – ugh, this is where this boss lost me completely. I’m a pretty meek person, respectful of legitimate authority being exercised legitimately – but to say you can “never” question someone’s authority is absurd and a little frightening.

  30. MoxieForward*

    I’m always struck by how, when I read this column every day, so many of the work issues people experience wouldn’t even exist if their co-workers would just mind their own business and keep their eyes on their own paper.

  31. Canadian Girl*

    To OP #2, please send in an update! That is banana crackers (as a non-American, your tax system is very strange to me)!

    To OP #3, fellow social worker here who has done everything from hospice work to child protection to disability benefit management, and everything in between for the last 27 years. I DO NOT TELL people what I do. I simple say I am in “benefit administration or work with the elderly” or you could say “I work in a vet office” then leave it at that and change the subject.

      1. Tax Admin*

        As someone who has worked closely with American CPAs and Canadian CPAs (formerly CA/CGA/CMAs), and has sat in rooms for discussions with Partners in various European countries, plus India, Australia, China…tax is weird everywhere! Although the sheer AMOUNT of it in the US kinda wins for utter ridiculousness. (I used to organize NHL players’ tax returns and the US pile would be a foot high – “please sign here” stickers for days!)

  32. Workerbee*

    OP #4, Any reason why you haven’t just blocked or otherwise diverted Carlyle’s email to junk mail?

    I wouldn’t even bother responding to him first. He doesn’t seem to have a high level of social grace to understand he shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

    And Hiram can stand up for himself (if he also hasn’t already blocked this weirdo).

    I get that he and Hiram are still (it seems?) somewhat part of this “collective,” but that doesn’t mean you need to waste another second on this one-sided drama. And if you are concerned that you might miss an unrelated & important email from Carlyle – however zero percent of a chance that seems to me – I am sure you will find out about it from the other hapless designers.

  33. Sylvan*

    3. You don’t have to tell people exactly what you do. “I work for a vet’s office.” (If you’re tied to a specific office, rather than working with a company dedicated to your services for multiple vets.) “I work with pets.” “I work with pet owners, it’s kind of like pet insurance.” (It’s related to vet care but not vet care.)

    5. Can you ask her to tell you in her own words what her takeaway from a meeting is? You might find out that she’s absorbing everything while simply looking disconnected — or that she’s not taking enough information in. Also, if you’re concerned that you’re long-winded, can you organize your thoughts before you meet with her by writing an outline or notes?

  34. Stitch*

    The problem now is that OP2 also has some indication she’s been receiving stolen money. Do not continue to accept any checks from him call the organization ASAP. It’s hard to tell but the longer this plays out (the more OP should be aware of what’s going on and the amount of money that adds up) the higher it is the organization may attempt to recover the money from OP, or worse.

    OP needs to take self protection actions here.

    1. Anonymous cat*

      I was wondering about this. Can LW2 get in legal trouble from accepting checks from the org instead of the person?

      1. Observer*

        To start with, probably not although it’s possible that the org might be able to claw it back.

        But if she continues to take money and does not report it, I could see a prosecutor going after her. Because at this point she has enough information to realize that something significantly shady is going on. Stopping to take the money is the key, but reporting indicates that she was actually acting in good faith to start with.

      2. CharlieBrown*

        If this is embezzlement, LW didn’t steal the money. The person she babysat for stole the money. He’s the one on the hook.

        I mean, how does anyone know they’re not being paid with stolen or otherwise illegal funds? I imagine even drug dealers hire babysitters at times. I can’t really imagine how LW could be in trouble for this up to this point. (Now that she’s received a 1099 from the organization, she could be, however.)

        1. Stitch*

          The issue is that stolen property belongs to the true owner even if you obtained it legitimately. So if you buy a painting that turns out to be stolen, the painting goes vack to the actual owner. Your recourse is to sue the person who stole it from you.

          So if you’re paid it stolen money even inadvertently, the person who itnwas stolen from can recover their property.

    2. SnowedIn*

      I doubt they would attempt to recover funds from LW. A nonprofit I used to work for had an executive director that was very fond of embezzling. Lawsuits ensued and the ED was on the line for misappropriated funds, not the vendors that were paid.

      1. Stitch*

        They probably won’t because it’s not enough money to be worth doing so. But anyone in a future position like this needs to be cautious. say OP was a contractor getting paid for home renovations like this.

    3. Your local password resetter*

      That seems unlikely unless the nonprofit is really vindictive.
      It’s probably a small amount by company standards, and OP is an unrelated third party who accepted the money through entirely normal and above-board transactions.

      Any sensible organisation would recoup the payment from their fraudulent employee, not on whomever he spent his stolen money on.

      1. Phony Genius*

        Vindictive or really strapped for cash. The complication here is that he didn’t steal the money then give it to the LW, he gave the LW checks directly from the nonprofit with their name on it. They could try to say that the LW was “in on it” by accepting those checks. You are right that this is unlikely, but if there is any hint from the nonprofit of trying to put some of the responsibility onto them, LW may need a lawyer’s help.

    4. EPLawyer*

      They probably won’t go after her. Unless she was part of the scheme to steal. Which she wasn’t. She does have to pay taxes on the money she received, even if it was embezzled. Even ill gotten gains must be declared on your taxes*. Uncle Sam always gets his share.

      * I’ve always wondered why the IRS thinks that someone who engages in illegal activity (not people like LW who just got caught in a bad situation) will be honest on their taxes? Yes I made 12 million from drug dealing, but I had 11 million in expenses so my taxable income is 1 million here is your share Feds.

      1. Observer*

        They don’t think this. But it’s a nice fiction to keep up, because it provides a handy way to go after people who they can’t otherwise touch (like maybe all the witness get fitted for cement shoes…)

      2. FD*

        “I’ve always wondered why the IRS thinks that someone who engages in illegal activity (not people like LW who just got caught in a bad situation) will be honest on their taxes?”

        They don’t! But A) then they can go after you for tax evasion when you don’t and B) when they catch you, the IRS can get their share. What’s particularly funny is that while you can’t claim any costs where the expense itself is also illegal (e.g. the cost of purchasing illegal drugs as a drug dealer) you CAN deduct regular expenses, such as legal fees.

  35. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    I used to work at a faith-based school, at which teachers were required as part of their contracts to sign a document agreeing to live by the standards of the faith of the school. Better than 90% of the teachers were adherents of that faith (frankly, you had to be; the pay was so low that you did it because it was a ministerial calling) so it was never an issue.

    Until the year we hired a non-adherent to teach. He hung those ‘coexist’ stickers, where each letter is a different religious symbol, on his door, did a Wiccaning in his classroom, invited the local atheists’ group to come talk.

    (It was an art class, btw…)

    He was face when he was told to take the stickers down, not permitted to have outside speakers, and his contract wasn’t renewed.

    That was one of the worst moments of my professional life as a crisis comms person, when the parents found out and the Board found out and holy hell.

    1. Observer*

      OK, they were right to not renew. In fact, I am surprised that they didn’t talk to him the day his sign went up, and didn’t fire him for the other stuff.

      What were they thinking and what was he thinking?! Teaching art doesn’t mean that anything goes.

      As an art teacher, it’s reasonable to expect that he’s not going to teach School Religion, and it’s stupid to ask a person in that role to commit to living by that religion. But it’s another whole thing to actually teach about other religions on your own or to explicitly espouse other religions.

      did a Wiccaning in his classroom

      That is absolutely egregious. I can imagine that the parents were livid! This is not about Wicca / Paganism, to be clear. I would be saying the same thing is this were a Christian rite in a Madrassa (even more so, probably!) or a Muslim prayer service in a Jewish school, etc.

    2. AllY'all*

      …Yeah, as an atheist with Wiccan leanings myself, absolutely none of that (except the ‘coexist sticker, arguably’) belongs in an art class and I’d have been livid too. That guy wasn’t a “non-adherent,” he just didn’t adhere to whatever faith your school was based in. He was basically evangelizing for other faiths and I have no idea how he did the Shocked Pikachu Face when his contract wasn’t renewed.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I’m pagan, and doing a Wiccaning in a classroom at any juvenile school (unless literally a Wiccan/Pagan school) would be a “don’t do this, ever” thing. Christian parents get downright vicious when you expose their little darlings to any non-Christian religion, especially any form of paganism. Most pagan denominations don’t even accept trainees/seekers under 18 without explicit parental permission. (Paganism is taught via something like apprenticeship. You have to be of age and specifically ask.)

        This kind of thing can actually get pagan people hurt in the backlash. This guy was so far out of line he was in the next state over.

        1. Observer*

          I’m pagan, and doing a Wiccaning in a classroom at any juvenile school (unless literally a Wiccan/Pagan school) would be a “don’t do this, ever” thing.

          Sounds very sensible to me. Others should be equally sensible.

          Christian parents get downright vicious when you expose their little darlings to any non-Christian religion, especially any form of paganism.

          But not really relevant here. Would a Wiccan school be on board with a teacher having a priest come in and do a Christening in the classroom?

          This teacher was WILDLY out of line and it has nothing to do with the *specific* religions involved.

          1. Sylvan*

            The reactions to minority religions do sometimes have something to do with the specific religions involved. These were still inappropriate things to do in class, of course!

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      The guest speakers and doing a Wicca in the classroom were clearly out of bounds, and he could have been straight-up fired for them. The sticker could possibly have been either innocent, or a little bit of boundary pushing. His shocked Pikachu face would have gotten an eyeroll from me: “What did you expect, dude? You’re working at EFG Academy, you knew that going in.”

      1. Observer**


        Except I might not even bother to say “what did you expect”, because I’m not sure he was actually shocked.

  36. SWer*

    #3: I am also a social worker (in the medical field) and experience this too. I think it’s unfortunately something common for our field. If you wanted to broaden your response a bit I wonder if you could say your work in the medical field instead of veterinary, since that’s just a little less niche? Just a thought. I’m mostly commenting to say that I nearly applied as a social worker at a vet’s office last year but when I really thought about it I couldn’t imagine how challenging of a job that would be. Huge kudos to you and take care of yourself.

  37. Well That's Fantastic*

    #2: Many moons ago, as a teenager, I babysat for a family regularly. Once or twice a year, one of the parents had a work event where their (for-profit) company would pay me instead of them. Before the very first time, I had to fill out a W9. The parent would cut me a company check, I had to sign an invoice for the babysitting pay, and all was fine. There was a verifiable paper trail that made it clear I was providing childcare at specific times on specific days. My mom did contract jobs at the time, so I remember her walking through all the tax stuff. (The company also paid me at a higher rate than I regularly got for babysitting, which made it worth the hassle.) It was a world of difference from LW2’s experience. LW2, please report them before you get caught up in the situation even more!

    1. Observer*

      This is EXACTLY what I would expect to see at a reasonably run no-profit as well. Even more so, to be honest.

  38. CorgiDoc*

    I’m a veterinarian who works at a veterinary teaching hospital that has a veterinary social worker. So either I’ve just discovered that my coworker also reads AAM or there are more out there than I thought! Such a valuable resource for my clients.

  39. Narise*

    OP5 Let your temp drive as much as possible. Instead of showing her have her drive and share her screen and walk through a process. This may not work in all instances but hands on training does force the person to be more engaged. If this doesn’t solve the issue or if she’s not learning anything then loop in your boss and discuss if it’s worth it continuing her employment and that you do not recommend hiring this person.

  40. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I think a SSN is necessary for a W-9? It would be concerning to me if a probable embezzler had my social security number, for obvious reasons. If he does have her SSN, she should at least keep an eye on her credit report, or possible do more (freeze or the like).

    1. Cj*

      A W9 is to request your SS# so they can issue you a 1099, which is what shows the amount the paid you.

    2. Observer*

      That’s the main piece of information it asks for.

      Also, in theory, the Dad should never see the SSN because that’s not information that is going to him or through him. If the OP provides the W9, it should go straight to the fiscal person / person who handles income tax.

      I say “in theory” because the place seems sloppy enough that who knows who sees what.

    3. Rosemary*

      I imagine it was the organization that sent the W-9, not the dad. W-9s are very, very standard.

  41. Observer*

    #2- Babysitting. I haven’t read the comments yet, but I did a quick check and didn’t see anything that looked like it was from you.

    Please reach out to the organization. Make sure your question goes to multiple people and that you document the whole thing.

    I know that that sounds paranoid, but here is the thing. He wrote *multiple* checks that got cashed. Someone generated a W9, and no one asked you any questions. That says that either someone is in cahoots with this guy or someone is DRASTICALLY falling down on their job. If you report this to the person who allowed this to happen (or their good buddy) the complaint may get swallowed till a whistleblower shows up or there is an audit. And that could have far worse repercussions for everyone. Which is not entirely your problem – except that the repercussions for you could also be problematic. At best, there would be questions about what you knew and if you were knowingly taking money from the org that you had not right to.

    Unfortunately, it’s possible that it could mean that you would have to pay the organization back. I don’t know. But as much of a problem as that would be, it would be FAR less of a problem than having them come after you in the aftermath of fraud investigation.

    1. EPLawyer*

      THIS is why people who handle money have to take an enforced 2 week vacation. Someone covering might have noticed the checks and wondered what was up. Chances are the guy is the finance person, he generated the W9 to cover his tracks. I do wonder if the non profit has an independent auditor. Because the auditor will know if there are contracts for logistics support.

      If LW calls, she should speak to the ED or the Assistant ED, less chance of a LW or his buddy covering up.

      1. BuffaloSauce*

        I was going to say when this organization gets audited, they will find out. I worked for non-profits for several years. Every payment made was tracked very carefully to show how funds were being spent. Reports went to the board etc. The places I worked this would have be difficult to do. I don’t know how his organization is ran, but someone will find out. Possibly soon as year-end finances come to a close.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Probably the organization would not try to claw back the money, unless it was an awful lot or they are very small. More trouble than it’s worth. Besides, can you imagine the headlines? “Teen tips off non-profit to scam–they take her to court!”

      1. Observer**

        Clawing the money back would probably be a terrible idea, publicity wise. But this does not seem to be a well run organization, so it would be a mistake to make any assumptions here. Hopefully, good sense will prevail. But I would not make my plans based on this.

  42. Camellia*

    #3 – Many of us “lie” about our jobs. I’m in IT and we learn to do that very early. So we don’t say we work in IT, we say we work in insurance or whatever our current firm is. Please do the same for yourself!

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, because if you say you work in IT they want you to help fix their 10 year old Windows computer that is infested with malware and that their toddler has spilled sticky something in.

      I tell people I work with Linux. Most people ask “what’s that”.

  43. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    OP #3, I used to be a sign-language interpreter. I was doing it part-time while also teaching ESL, and I finally got to the point where when people asked me what I did, I’d only say teaching. It was a bummer, because I loved interpreting, I was proud of it, and liked to talk about it. But I quickly learned that whenever I mentioned it, I’d either have to watch people show me the alphabet, or ask me what certain signs were. I’m glad other people where enthusiastic about it, but it was hard to extricate myself. Good luck to you!

  44. ChickenTender*

    Lw3, I provide a related tale from my family a few Thanksgivings ago.
    Sister: “I hate talking to strangers on the plane! As soon as they hear I’m studying marriage and family therapy they won’t stop telling me all their problems!”
    Uncle: “Odd, as soon as I mention I’m in seminary school, they all shut up!”
    (Not advice, just sympathy)

  45. Cartoonbear*

    OP#4: I’m so interested to know what city this is. I live in Baltimore and we had a similar Big Idea Changed The City thing in the eighties (which is, OMG, 40+ years ago!) I’m also really interested in urban planning, and how these “top down” urban planning movements change (and have changed) our lives and the balance of social justice, for better or worse. Anyway, it’s interesting stuff and I wonder if you’re in a city like Baltimore, where there were lots of Big Thinkers and Important Committees that changed the landscape forever.

  46. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #5

    I, too, and someone who likes to explain the whys and what fors when training someone; however, I really wouldn’t bother doing much of that with a temp unless it was something critical to her tasks. Especially if she’s said this isn’t her dream job and is just a way to pay the bills. Eyes glazing over usually means boredom, or tuning out those things we don’t see as important. Save your training technique for someone who wants this particular job or field, whether it’s a temp or perm.

  47. CrankyIsta*

    OP5–speaking as a contract temp project manager, some context can be really useful. I do need to know who the players in an organization are and how they interact, there’s tons of things I like to know about to do my job well. That said, this is a temp job! I do not care about a lot of things someone planning to stick around cares about–irrelevant background is irrelevant and yes, I tune out of discussions that are either out of my purview or above my pay grade. (As someone who got involved in everything when I was on staff, I absolutely love these boundaries, btw.) Best of luck with your temp!

  48. CatMom*

    LW5, as an autistic person, I cannot tell you the number of times I have been asked if I was “bored” or “confused” (men especially love to ask me if I’m confused) when I was simply listening quietly with a blank expression. It’s very stressful to be constantly adjusting one’s micro expressions to convey interest! Even for neurotypical people, I imagine. Not only do I think that you can’t expect an honest answer if you ask her if she’s bored, I also don’t think you should take her facial expressions so personally (because you may not be able to read them as well as you think — or that’s my experience, anyway). Focus on her actual work and give her feedback if she needs it.

    1. AllY'all*

      You’re right – I’m neurotypical, and if a meeting runs more than about ten minutes I can either pay attention to the content or arrange my face to look like I’m paying attention to the content. I cannot do both those things at the same time. My face is bad at multitasking.

    2. Funny Little Thing*

      This is so true.

      And as well as NeuroDiversity, vision problems or a whole load of different medical issues that effect the face (everything from nerve damage and scarring to short term dental issues or allergies) can make it hard to perform typical/expected micro expressions. (I’ve had people thinking I’m scowling when I’ve just been trying to see detail or that I’m distracted because even with prismatic lenses my eyes drift apart when I’m tried)

  49. DramaQ*

    I work in research and I deal with A LOT of people very passionate about their pet topic.

    Which translates into a dissertation every time they train. I look bored because I am. We are an hour in and I still don’t know what you want me to do!

    I told one finally I’m a tech I’m not paid to think! Show me what you need done and save the dissertation for later.

    We worked together better after that.

    When I train I focus on what it is I expect you to do as your job. I weave in the theory as relevant and if interest is expressed I’ll happily talk your ear off.

    But I don’t consider it part of job competency to be as interested or invested as I am. If you can do the motions that’s what I care about.

    Alison is right if the temp can do the job her personal interest isn’t relevant. She’s a temporary and for some people a job is just a means for a paycheck it isn’t a personal interest and that should be okay.

    She’ll be out the door shortly focus on core job competency not trying to get her excited about it.

  50. WillowSunstar*

    The problem with bumper stickers and revealing political or religious views at work is that they can get you effectively discriminated against if someone who strongly disagrees sees them. In the US, it may be technically illegal to discriminate against some things, but why do something that may leave yourself out of a promotion or getting paid more? We all know it does happen even though it isn’t supposed to.

  51. Observer*

    #1 Bumper sticker.

    Your boss was an idiot. But he COULD have *required* you to take it off, despite the fact that it wasn’t public facing, etc. Having said that, I suspect that the reason he “hounded” but didn’t push it to an order and escalate it up the chain is because HR / his boss or upper chain of command would have laughed him out of the room.

  52. SpeckledBeagle*

    Lw2: this is serious and you should report it to the IRS. Tax stuff is serious and the IRS doesn’t mess around. They aren’t going to care about you- you’re not the one embezzling. But they’re going to be very interested in this. I would report it to the IRS rather than the company because they’re in charge of enforcement, and you’ll safe yourself from even the possibility of (criminal) liability.

    Also, the IRS gives a monetary award to people who report these things. Report it and claim it- that way if you run into any financial troubles as a result of this scheme you’ll hopefully be covered.

  53. ABCYaBYE*

    OP2 – I took a class about fraud and how to identify fraud, and this would be a perfect example of a scenario the instructor would have highlighted to showcase fraud.

    You’re receiving a W9 because somehow you’re listed as an outside contractor for the business. That means the payment you’re receiving is being shown on the company’s books as a business expense. As others have pointed out, there may be something within the company’s setup that allow for this type of childcare support for employees. However, it may be that he’s trying to pass babysitting expenses off as a legitimate company expense when there isn’t anything provided by the company.

    You absolutely need to ask about this. First, because you should have been informed from the outset that you are a company contractor and your payments will be on the books. Second, and more likely, your position is being mischaracterized by the person who hired you to babysit to his employer. Yes, the tax implications are real for you no matter what (if you’re earning more than $600) but they’re much more real because if you’re filling out a W9, you’ll be getting a 1099 and the IRS will definitely know what you’ve received. So there won’t be a way for you to not pay taxes.

    IF it is legitimate, asking the question about the W9 will provide you an explanation and peace of mind. If it isn’t … not your worry. While he’s a single dad and whatever, he can’t be using company funds for something that the company isn’t permitting him to do.

    As Alison said, just asking the question of the accounting department would be the way to go. No accusation necessary. You’re just gathering your information and were surprised that the company is asking for the W9 since you thought the business relationship was between you and their employee directly. And it might be worth talking to an attorney just in case you need protection from the company asking for the funds back.

    That he started by paying with Venmo and cash and then switched makes me think he figured out how to loophole these payments to you and he knows its wrong.

  54. NotAnotherManager!*

    To me, a “Question Authority” bumper sticker and the previously-mentioned large, front-window custom misogyny advertisement are not even in the same ballpark. First, a bumper sticker is far less prominent than what Mr. Jacked Truck had laid his $100+ out for. Second, “Question Authority” is also a very well-known cultural phrase that’s been around since the 60s (and adopted by each teenage/young adult cohort since) and not a personal insult aimed at an ex that also happens to be anti-woman and fat-shaming.

    In this OP#1’s case, I think the boss is a hypersensitive and overreacting. In the prior letter, that specific, custom, prominent messaging had the potential to negatively impact the business, not just reflect poorly on the jerk who wrote in.

  55. Starfox*

    LW 5, keep in mind that the body language you’re reading may not be what she’s trying to signal AT ALL. I’m autistic & have trouble with audio processing. When someone talks to me I have to put all of my focus into comprehending what they’re saying & have a hard time figuring put how much eye contact is appropriate so I might be looking past them or somewhere else entirely. From the outside it probably looks like I’m not paying attention but the reality is just that all of my attention is on their words & I don’t have any left for trying to perform “listening” correctly.

    1. Meow!*

      I was just about to comment this! I don’t have a formal diagnosis, but I really struggle with listening and processing auditory information. I’m fond of saying that I wish life had subtitles!

      1. EtTuBananas*

        I’m not autistic, but neurodivergent and also struggle very very much with boredom and seeming engaged! Sounds to me less like the LW needs to have a managerial conversation (as Alison suggested) and more like the LW needs to revise their training style.

        Even for a neurotypical person though, just talking at someone ad nauseum is not a great way to train.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, me too, and I expect that I’m reasonably neurotypical. I’ve certainly never had any problems reading social cues, for example. But I do have some undiagnosed problems processing auditory information, I can’t retain names unless I see them written down, for example. I’d also far rather read stuff than listen to it, unless it’s the kind of training where I do something and the trainer gives me feedback, or it’s a collaborative process, a discussion rather than a lecture.

        I was rather proud of myself when I got the department that’s responsible for our mandatory trainings to provide written, illustrated scripts as well as videos for our training courses by addressing it as an accessibility issue. I’m a fast reader, and if I’m allowed to read the material, I can get through it in half the time it would take to watch the video, and I also retain stuff I read much better than if I hear it. When most people hear “accessibility” they tend to think of people with dyslexia or language learners who need simplified language, or perhaps the Deaf who need subtitles, but it can also be an auditory processing issue.

  56. ChillChaplain*

    OP 3, I hear you! I’m a college chaplain and get these questions when I try and get a haircut. I typically pull out one small fraction of my work (teaching Sunday School –> teaching, planning student-led worship services –> planning events for colleges students) to dodge these.

  57. Wondering*

    For #2- Just playing devil’s advocate here, is there any way the organization could be covering the cost of the childcare?

    I realize this is highly, highly unlikely.

    But I am curious if anyone has ever (legitimately and legally) had their childcare costs covered this way.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I negotiated that I could charge my childcare costs to expenses once when I had been asked to work on my non-working day. I had to pay extra childcare for that day (£60), so I got my boss to agree I could claim it on expenses.

      The boss was a temp hired because he was a mate of the director, and wildly incompetent.
      The normal thing to do would have been to go back to the client and say nobody was available that day and offer another date. But he hated saying no to clients, so he pressured me to do it and I said I would only do it if it didn’t cost me a full day’s childcare. Finance approved the expense since I had a paper trail showing he had agreed to it, but also sent me an email saying it was a one-off and would not be approved again. The boss’s contract came to an end shortly afterwards and was not renewed.

      However, that was me paying the childcare costs and then claiming them back, not my childcare provider being paid directly by my employer.

    2. The Wizard Rincewind*

      I used to babysit/quasi-nanny for a coworker. I was office staff in a pediatric clinic and the coworker was a therapist whose specialty was desperately needed, so (with my fully agreement, since I was working part-time hours and welcomed more) my boss made an arrangement with her where I would pick up her four-year-old after preschool and stay with him until one of his parents got home, so the therapist could work through the afternoon.

      She (or her husband) paid me in cash and I think they submitted for reimbursement through the facility, so not sure how much of a tax dodge it might have been, but everyone in the organization was clear about it. We kept this arrangement until they moved out of town. I miss that kid; he was sweet.

    3. Observer*

      But I am curious if anyone has ever (legitimately and legally) had their childcare costs covered this way.

      It’s theoretically possible. But I can’t imagine any halfway competently run organization doing it this way. And there is no reason that no one ever said anything to the OP.

    4. Hello From NY*

      If the smoker is really providing a benefit (unlikely), this is a terrible (possibly illegal) way to do it. My employer offers a child care subsidy benefit. They provide funds to employees via a dependent care FSA. Cut and dry and 100%.

  58. Also Alex*

    I would love a Q&A with #3, the veterinary social worker! What a fascinating job, never heard of that one before.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      This isn’t mansplaining. For starters, we don’t know #5 is a man. Second, they actually *do* know more about the topic than the temp does. They’re not assuming more competence than her simply because of gender, which is the core of mansplaining.

      OP 5 is more excited about their field than the temp is, AND is long-winded. They need to dial it back more than the temp needs to change anything, but it isn’t mansplaining.

  59. The Wizard Rincewind*

    As a random aside re: bumper stickers at work, my professor dad stuck a “Republicans for Voldemort” sticker on his office door. A few days later, he got a very earnest email from a student asking if he would be the faculty advisor for the Young Republicans club “due to the sticker I saw on your door.” My dad politely declined. He never got in trouble for it but I think the sticker got lost in various office shuffles over the years.

    (It’s referencing the web comic Goats making fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger running for California governor: one character walks out wearing a “Republicans for Voldemort” shirt and another says “Wow, they’ll elect anyone, won’t they?” Hilarious in 2003, kind of a funny aneurysm moment in 2023 and he probably wouldn’t put it up now.)

    1. Observer*

      Some student actually thought your father was serious?!

      I mean, I get the fact that someone can be a “cultural illiterate”. But if you are going to be doing ANYTHING related to politics, the first thing you do when thinking about who you are going to ask to speak / advise / help in any way is to check the person’s background. And if they indicate “for X” check out what X is! That’s the bare minimum.

    2. Panhandlerann*

      That student really didn’t get the point of the message on the bumper sticker, did they?

  60. McS*

    LW5, if she is not paying attention to info that she does need, you need to shift to coaching and teaching, not just explaining. Do not talk about the tool. Ask her to use the tool as you guide her. Do not touch anything.

  61. soshedances1126*

    OP3- medical director of an animal shelter (and also a vet tech) here. THANK YOU THANK YOU for all that you do. I’m so thrilled that this is becoming a career in vet med. I work with clients with mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and so many things that we could utilize a social worker for (it’s the dream to have one here one day). We’ve left the people side out of veterinary medicine for far too long, and we as a profession need to really be treating people as well as we treat their animals (and we need to treat our veterinary staff well too). I appreciate what you are doing so much!

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      President of an animal nonprofit here — and I also want to thank LW3.

      (We’re trying to get social workers, or more probably social work students in need of practice hours, to come and work with us as well, as we work to keep pets and people together and basically all of our animal issues are social work issues to some degree. I didn’t know that vet social workers were a thing and now I’m going to be especially on the lookout for students interested in that)

  62. Mrs. Peachs*

    LW #5 – I suffer from perpetual Zoom fatigue, even early in the morning. I am sure my eyes glaze over as soon as a meeting starts. It’s not disinterest, it feels like a physiological response, like something about meeting over the screen is much more draining compared to meeting in person or even talking on the phone. I also have a mild case of “resting bitch face” that can unintentionally come across as bored or annoyed. If your temp is engaging with you verbally, I think that matters more than her facial expression. And if she struggles with Zoom fatigue it might be helpful to meet with cameras off.

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      My face does that when I’m thinking hard or processing a lot of information. My eyes do basically glaze over, because I’m not using them for anything.

      I blame years of dispatch work for the fact that my business voice is great but my Resting Business Face is … let’s just say I have a face for radio, literally.

      So as Allison rightly observes, the question is whether her other responses show she’s engaged.

      If they do, it’s probably worth mentioning it to her once, because whether or not she wants to or can fix it it’s useful to know these things, but probably mostly in a “did you know you do this?” way.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I am absolutely thrilled that my current company meets with cameras off. It saves bandwidth and avoids dealing with people’s RBF.

  63. Yes And*

    I agree with Alison’s responses to LW#1 and to the earlier letter referenced, but only because I find one message offensive and the other not. Content aside, the situations are more or less identical. The only exception is the size of the messages, but I’m pretty sure I’d feel the same way about both if “Question Authority” had been the big windshield sticker and “Fat Girls Can’t Jump” had been the small bumper sticker.

    I think that this is an area where discriminating on the basis of the content of the message is appropriate, but I’m having a hard time articulating why. Would love to hear others’ thoughts on this.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Discriminating on the basis of the content of a message is entirely reasonable. You don’t have to make a blanket rule about all bumper stickers when only certain ones are a problem.
      I think some people forget that discrimination itself is not inherently bad, only certain types of discrimination (such as on the basis of race or gender)

      The employer has the right to ask for either sticker to be removed from the premises. It’s their premises, their rules.
      But they would only be reasonable in one case.

      One message is hurtful, the other is not.
      One says there is a problem with women with certain body types the other does not.
      One message is going to make a large number of employees uncomfortable, the other will not.
      One message will reflect poorly on the company, the other will not.

    2. Marna Nightingale*

      I think it’s relevant to the difference that a) the first one doesn’t actually express any kind of conviction or opinion that can be argued

      (or at least that *should* be argued — I am a fat “girl” and I can jump remarkably well but this is never going to be relevant to that dude’s life unless I’m trying to get AWAY from him and anyway we do not rebut vile BS with carefully-referenced logic because life is short and obnoxious people are plentiful) you don’t find the first one offensive because of a personal quirk or experience on your part.

      You find it offensive because it’s a nasty remark about a whole section of humanity, with no redeeming arguable point to it, and you could reasonably predict that the vast majority of people will find it offensive.

      And you would be correct. Using as a test-market the famously though cordially idiosyncratic and argumentative comment section of Ask A Manager, I don’t recall anyone at ALL being on the side of that LW.

      So I’d argue it’s different in kind as well as intensity from one particular manager being offended by something as anodyne as “Question Authority” — which I swear I saw on a poster with a misbehaving KITTEN, once, good LORD — and which does express an actual and arguable opinion on a matter of importance to reasonable people.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        There should be a b) in front of “you don’t find the first one offensive because of …”

    3. Observer*

      I think that this is an area where discriminating on the basis of the content of the message is appropriate, but I’m having a hard time articulating why. Would love to hear others’ thoughts on this.

      Because what you say and do does matter. Going out of your way to insult a swath of humanity is legitimately offensive to any decent human, and there is no reason why any company has to accommodate that.

      Content that glorifies terrible behavior is also something that is legitimate to refuse to countenance. Again, a company has no obligation to provide a platform for expressing support for that.

      Tired cliches that don’t especially poke at a particular category of humans may offend some people, but it’s hard to make the argument that they are categorically offensive to any decent human.

    4. New Jack Karyn*

      I’d say that we *usually* discriminate on the basis of content. To use the extreme example, I wouldn’t care how big a bumper sticker it was, a pro-Hitler message on a car isn’t going to fly with me. People talking that crap at work get fired, and in some cases, socially ostracized. All of which, I am fine with.

      We do this on a much smaller scale all the time. I work in a public school. It’s not okay to hang up religious stuff on the walls (barring exceptions such as displays of student work). I could hang a ‘Question Authority’ sticker, but not a ‘F*&^ The Army’ sticker.

      You start by saying “Content aside,” but content is never aside. The question is whether the two messages are equivalent, or close to. A pro-Republican sticker is equivalent to a pro-Democrat sticker, but a pro-N@zi party sticker is not.

    5. Yes And*

      These are all great answers, and do a great job of articulating what I was struggling to find words for. Thanks!

  64. Cam*

    #3- I too am in social work. Specifically I work in rape crisis with survivors of sexual assault. Whenever I tell people that (on a beach in mexico on my honeymoon, on a cruise down the Danube, etc) people offer up really horrific personal stories. My face screams “tell me the worst moment of your life I guess”. My husband has gotten used to it. But when I was on that European river cruise with my mom, she was so shocked that a stranger at dinner told me some truly awful things. So, I now say “I work in non-profit” or “I am a social worker” if I am not in the headspace to hear those things. So, I would try those non-committal answers when asked what you do.

    1. Appletini*

      Thank you for what you do. Also, this really highlights the uses of being vague — ironically, I almost wrote some details of why I really appreciate people who help survivors of sexual assault and then realized I’d be doing exactly what we’re discussing here. It’s the first thing that the topic brought to my mind so I nearly said exactly what you don’t need more of.

  65. AsterRoc*

    LW 3 reminds me of my own experiences on airplanes. Somehow I always get chatty seatmates. If I want to keep talking, I tell them I’m an astronomer. If I don’t want to keep talking I tell them I’m a physicist. And if I want to talk politics I tell them I’m an educator.

    1. Cari*

      That is so hilariously spot on.

      Although I have noticed that “physicist” has gotten more interest in recent years. But it also seems to depend on the flight time/demographic (homebound commuter flights, if we’re not all working, it gets lots of followup – might be a Bay Area thing?).

  66. Hello From NY*

    LW 2: Yes, you need to report it and do not accept any other checks from him. It probably goes without saying, but once you report this guy, you will need to look for babysitting gigs elsewhere. He will either fire you for reporting him, or he will lose his job and no longer be able to afford the babysitting (seems he was not affording anyway if he resorted to embezzlement). Option 3 is you decide you don’t want to work for someone who is embezzling/stealing from their employer. And you really really don’t want to work for this but anyone, so go with option 3.

  67. LML*

    I’m a therapist (private practice and at a substance use treatment center). I really empathize with the social worker (LW 3), especially since the pandemic as EVERYONE has had some sort of trauma happen. I very rarely speak to strangers in public in the first place because I’m usually “talked out” and I wear headphones in public places and I purposefully put on my RBF. I make myself look unapproachable because I need that self-care. My best advice is to avoid the small talk and chatty people because sometimes their boundaries are too flimsy for people who need firm ones in order to survive what they do.

  68. Crop Tiger*

    I have a question. Do you prefer me to restrain my cat so she can get the medical care she needs, or do I stand back and everyone gets hurt but me? This is an honest question.

  69. I don’t post often*

    OP 2- I skimmed the comments and no one mentioned it here, that I saw. Put aside for a second, this person potentially stealing money.
    If you make a certain amount per year, as a babysitter or otherwise, you must file taxes, even if you are paid in cash. Once upon a time pre-COVID, we were thinking of hiring a full time nanny and did research on this issue. While I cannot recall the exact amount $2,000 is sticking in my mind.
    Make sure you know whether you should be filing taxes on your income from babysitting.
    As for what account/ organization/ individual is paying you, there is lots of good advice here. Good luck.

  70. Not Alison*

    #2 Alison’s answer says to contact the organization but doesn’t say who to contact. Should the LW ask for the accounts payable manager? Or the finance manager? Or the executive director?
    It isn’t enough to just call the phone number of the organization and ask the question to whoever answers the phone. I’m thinking that LW should ask for the finance manager – just as long as the finance manager isn’t the man who employs her. In which case I would ask for the executive director.
    What do others think?

    1. Yes And*

      The way OP phrased it, I get the sense that the employer is handwriting physical checks on the company’s check stock – which indicates that he’s at least Director of Finance, if not the ED himself. Whichever it is, OP needs to go one level higher. (If the employer is the ED, that means the board treasurer.)

  71. This Could've Been a Slack Message*

    OP #5: could you try being more concise in a couple of conversations, and see if that gets a better / more engaged response from your temp ? You could “rehearse” an answer based on the types of questions your temp asks, or you could let her take the lead by saying “the short answer: yes, we need to de-scope (task) and (task) to focus on (project). I’d be happy to chat further if you’d like — we can set up a 15min tag-up tomorrow. Otherwise, let’s plan for you to have (deliverable) by (date) to get the ball rolling.” That way, if she wants more detail, she can have a separate conversation with a planned start and end time and avoid interrupting her workflow. If she doesn’t want more detail, this is a really easy way to dodge a monologue without having to confront you. Positive confrontation is still confrontation, and some people would rather daydream through a long explanation than have to tell a higher-up that they’d like them to stop talking.

  72. Orchid*

    #5 – it might not be here yes glazing over, she might be processing. I’ve had a situation or two where my processing of info was interrupted as disinterest or worse:
    – SIL gave me a small gift of a necklace in my favorite color, I immediately started to plan what to wear it with in my head, she then says “if you don’t like it…” & I was confused.
    – someone explained something to me & I immediately started applying it to my project in my head & they sort of got offended.

    My problem is the “in my head part” but my brain & mouth do tend to work at the same speed.

  73. Pdweasel*

    LW3: I work in the death investigation field, so I feel ya. I was having a similar conversation with one of the people in my running cult—uh, I mean—club, who works in security at a university. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves playing in our respective corners of the same shitty situation sandbox. She said when people ask what she does, she tells them she works in the Business Office at the Uni, and then their eyes glaze over & they don’t ask anymore questions.

  74. MissM*

    LW#4, and if he ignores your request, I would just create a rule when you get an email from him to Hiriam & you’re BCCed, it can go directly to the circular file. No reason why you have to see it even if Carlton doesn’t respect your request, which I suspect he won’t

  75. Luna*

    LW1 – That boss is exactly the type of reason why ‘question authority’ is good, and am glad that my mother raised me like that! You *should* question authority, especially when they do something wrong.

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