should I tell my employees I might get fired, coworker is a kiss-ass, and more

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

1. Should you tell your employees you’re on an improvement plan?

I’m a manager in a technical field. Recently I was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). I have a handful of weeks to demonstrate an improvement or I get fired.

One of my primary PIP goals revolves around improving the performance of one of my teams. I’ll leave out the details, but assume I’m accountable for their failures or successes in this situation. The team members themselves aren’t under the same test, but this PIP is attempting to demonstrate whether I should lead the team or whether a different person should do that job instead while I find a new company.

As the team’s manager, I’m wondering whether or not to tell the employees that I’m on a PIP. On the one hand, PIPs are very sensitive topics and there’s a certain power dynamic behind a boss telling you that you need to change your results because his/her job is on the line. I imagine this revelation could also upset morale in the department if it spreads. For instance, raising concerns about “could I be next” or stirring up opinions about myself or my boss.

On the other hand, I feel like it would be proper to tell my team about my situation? If I’m going to modify my behavior or communication techniques to meet a very specific pass/fail condition, I feel like they deserve to know why. I also have a very open two-way communication with my direct reports, so it would go against my usual approach to conceal even something like this. What do you think?

Don’t tell your employee that you’re on a PIP. It’s likely to make people uncomfortable (what do they say in response? are they supposed to express concern? the power dynamics make this weird), as well as make them feel a ton of uncertainty about what’s going to happen in the department if you’re fired. Also, if it gets back to your own boss that you shared it with your team, it could seem like poor judgment on your part — which definitely isn’t what you want when they’re already questioning whether to keep you in the role.

It sounds like you want to share the info so that your team understands why you’re changing how you operate. But you can give context for that without talking about the PIP. You can say, “Jane really wants to see us achieving X in the next Y weeks, so I’m going to be doing Z to make sure we do.” Or depending what X is, you could take Jane out of it entirely — “we need to make a big push to achieve X in the next Y weeks so I’m going to be doing Z.” You don’t need to add, “And if we don’t, I’ll lose my job.”

how much should I tell a team whose boss is on a performance plan?

2. Asking employees if they’re married and where they vacation

I manage four full-time employees. Adam has been part of the team for six years. He’s never offered up personal information, which I fully understand. About two months ago, I noticed a ring on his left ring finger. I didn’t ask, because I don’t want to pry! When he’s put in for vacation time in the past, I casually ask where he’s going, but he doesn’t offer information. (Again, totally fine!)

Would it have been appropriate two months ago to send him an email and ask if he’s married? And is there any appropriate way to ask at this point?! And is there a better, appropriate way to ask where an employee is vacationing? It’s not for any reason — I just truly like knowing about my employee’s lives and happy news.

No, please don’t pry! Adam has shown you through his actions that he’s not very interested in discussing personal information, and you should respect that boundary.

It’s one thing if a personal topic naturally comes up in conversation (like if Adam references a spouse, it would be fine to say, “I hadn’t realized you were married!” and see if he volunteers more, like that he just got married this year or so forth). But emailing him to ask point-blank if he’s married would be a little odd and really isn’t something you need to know so much that it would warrant an email, or that would warrant overriding the cues he’s given about his preferences.

I don’t mean to say that there’s never any value in sharing info about our personal lives with colleagues, because there is! Sharing about our lives when there are natural openings for it does help build warm relationships when people choose to do it. But it’s not necessary to building warm relationships; it’s one way of doing it, but you can also build those relationships simply by working together in a warm, collegial, supportive way. And really, you’re less likely to build strong working relationships if you don’t respect people’s cues. (In fact, you might consider Adam’s signals about his boundaries to be a piece of personal info he has shared with you!)

Re: asking where an employee is vacationing (not just Adam, but more broadly) — it’s certainly not the biggest boundary violation to inquire but rather than asking point-blank, statements like “I hope you’re doing something fun!” or “I hope you’ll have some time to relax!” let people who don’t want to share avoid it, while making room for people who do want to offer more. (And there are all kinds of reasons someone might prefer not to — like dealing with a private or painful family situation, traveling out of state for reproductive care, etc.) Plenty of managers ask out of genuine good will and I’m not saying it’s a dreadful sin if you choose to (and most people are prepared for the question anyway), but since you’re raising the question, it’s thoughtful to be sensitive to that.

3. My coworker is an over-the-top suck-up

I have a coworker who I’m having a hard time dealing with. I am senior to her, not her direct manager, but as one of the few women in our male-dominated field, I’d love to be able to engage with her on a more mentorship type of level. The problem is that it seems impossible to engage with her without her spouting effusively about how good I am at my job, how talented, how skilled, etc. Now, I am good at my job, this is true! But she’s so over the top and lays it on so thickly, she’s just making stuff up at a point, and it’s extremely disingenuous — she doesn’t work directly with me enough to actually know these things! It’s uncomfortable enough that I’ve begun avoiding talking with her at all, which is disappointing to me; I think our company could really benefit with her in a leadership position. Any advice?

Sometimes you can redirect this kind of thing by saying in a fairly dry tone, “I appreciate that but I really want to talk about (subject change).” If you say that a few times (or other variations on “let’s talk about you, not me”) and she keeps doing it anyway, then you’ll have a natural opening to say very directly, “Whoa, this is way too much and some of it isn’t even true. I’m not being falsely humble; it’s really too much.” If she can’t take that feedback at face value, I’m not sure she is a great candidate for leadership — but if she does and you’re able to move into a mentor-type relationship with her, that’s an area you could talk with her about down the road (because you might not be the only person she’s doing this with and it’ll harm her credibility over time).

4. Annoying ring tones

I work in an open office with three to four other people on any given day. A new member of our team uses her personal cell phone for work. The problem is that she has very annoying ringtones that go off throughout the day. There are different tones depending on the caller. Some of them are silly catchphrases by cartoon characters, car engines being reved up, and animal sounds. Most of us keep our phones silent and turn on vibrations to alert us to calls and messages. Occasionally she steps away from her desk and we hear her phone going off for a while. Some of these tones are louder than others. Our boss is unable to be in the office every day, but she did say something to this person along the lines of, “Oh wow, that startled me.” I believe she was hoping that would be a clue to turn it down.

Am I being too picky, or is this unprofessional? While this woman is not my superior, she is about 20 years older and has a ton of experience in the field.

She should realize she’s annoying others, but since she apparently doesn’t, you have standing to speak up and say, “Would you mind keeping your phone on silent? Some of your ring tones make it hard to focus.” If she seems hesitant, you could add, “We generally keep our phones on vibrate so they don’t ring.” Say it warmly, as if of course she just didn’t realize and will be happy to comply now that she does.

If she doesn’t and it continues to disrupt your work, feel free to ask your boss if she’ll make that request — but it makes sense to try it yourself first.

Read an update to this letter

5. I can’t bring myself to thank the company owners when I leave

For the past 12 years, I’ve worked at a small, family-owned business. I gave notice recently and my last day is coming right up. Hooray! It’s time for me to go for a variety of reasons, including family health issues, but primarily because for the past three years the owners have been uninterested in managing my bullying (and truly toxic!) coworker. My quality of life has been severely compromised by dealing with this coworker on a daily basis. In 25+ years of employment, this person is by far the worst coworker that I’ve ever had. Although I finally accepted that my boss sucks and isn’t going to change, I haven’t been able to let go of my resentment over how my coworker’s abusive behavior was ignored, mismanaged, and sometimes even encouraged.

Here’s my very low-stakes question. I’m an inveterate thank-you note writer. My mom taught me the value of a thoughtful thank-you note early, and I’ve come to appreciate the process of reflecting on what I’m grateful for. At work I typically write thank-you’s to my direct reports, coworkers, and the owners at the end of the year. I’m leaving this job on good terms and I want to show the owners my appreciation for the professional growth opportunities they’ve provided, At the same time, when I get ready to start a thank-you card, I think back to being bullied and mistreated by my coworker and I just start grinding my teeth. What do you recommend?

Give yourself permission to skip the thank-you note. It’s not something most people do when they leave a job anyway, so no one is going to think “I can’t believe she didn’t write a thank-you note when she left.” They’re not going to know it’s even something you considered! Don’t devote any more effort to worrying about it, and just enjoy moving on.

{ 305 comments… read them below }

  1. SimpleAutie*

    LW5- Congrats on the new job! I’m really sorry that this situation happened and you needed to leave a job you’d otherwise been happy in for *over a decade*- cheers to the new adventure tho!

    1. Eyes Kiwami*

      Write an ironic thank you note in your journal, in which you thank them for making you stronger, thanks for making me a fighter, etc. That will satisfy your urge to write the note, you can be as honest as you want, and no one at work ever needs to see it.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra.*

        My go to if I want to write something that I know won’t be well received is to write out the note – and then go to my barbecue grill and burn said note. For some of us who get some satisfaction from writing it all down – doing that and then burning the note (so it is never accidentally mailed) is so very helpful in the moving on process.

      2. London Calling*

        I write in my diary every day three things (sometimes more) for which I’m grateful. Sometimes it’s ‘thank goodness I don’t have to roll out of bed at 6am to go to x job’ or some variation thereof – like not having to grapple with a new system that doesn’t work for me or not having to deal with toxic colleagues. Two birds with one stone there.

        1. WillowSunstar*

          That’s a good one. I’ve put things like “coffee exists,” “I have a roof over my head,” and “the sun is pretty today.” They are small things in the grand scheme of things, but it helps.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        “Thank you for forcing me to learn to set boundaries, and to discover which boundaries are most important to me!” (I could have written that about many people that I’m glad to only see in the rear view mirror.)

      4. Rhymeswithmonet*

        Apparently the lyrics to Fighter by Christina Aguilera doubles up as an ironic job leaving note! (Going back 20+ years now..)

      1. LW #5*

        Great perspectives from Alison and everyone in the comment section (as usual) – it’s putting my anxious mind at ease

        1. All Het Up About It*

          I like the idea of writing out a snarky one, or one that’s a mix, that you don’t intend to send. That could be enough, or that could let you release some of your justifiable resentment, and find some real nuggets of things you are thankful for over the past decade that you want to share. Or not.

          And then you just blissfully move into your new role. Which – congratulations on that!

      2. DrMrsC*

        I can commiserate here with the fact that feelings around Mom driven Thank You Note obligations can be hard wired into us and very hard to deprogram! My mother in law just passed, and my husband and I are very much “you take care of your side, I’ll take care of mine” people. Still, MY mother has been hounding ME about funeral related Thank You Notes! (Is that even really A Thing?) This is despite the fact that my husband has other siblings of both genders. I gently told my mother that being married to the oldest son did not make this my responsibility to manage. Sure I said the words, but I still have this nagging little guilty itch about it. STAY STRONG LW5! :)

        1. Elsa*

          DrMrsC, omg funeral thank you notes are Not A Thing! That is crazy, don’t do it (now or even in some future situation where it would theoretically be your responsibility)!

          1. old old schooler*

            Actually, they are a thing, but you still don’t have to write them if you don’t want to!
            My family always got little cards as part of the funeral package with the same cover design as the little memorial cards. My parents are Catholic, so maybe it’s a Catholic thing or a certain funeral homes kind of thing? My family only sent them to people who provided extra support or close family members, not everyone who attended the funeral. Think messages like “thank you for taking care of the pets/bringing us meals/being there for us” etc.

            1. K. A.*

              It’s not a “Catholic thing.” I wrote the funeral thank you notes for my Jewish grandmother’s funeral.

              1. Age Discrimination Sucks*

                Black person here…funeral thank you notes are most definitely a thing and always have been.

          2. What's my name again*

            Unfortunately, they are a thing… 20 year old me hated every second of being forced to write them after my Mom’s funeral.

            1. Petty Betty*

              Very much not a religious thing. My childhood friend’s mom passed when she was 18 and a senior in high school. Her dad went through the motions of the funeral but he was devastated (for very obvious reasons). They weren’t church-y but the extended family was very insistent on a religious funeral.

              My pregnant-with-kid-2 self made myself as indispensable as possible to the core family and took copious notes and wrote the thank you notes myself because the younger son was just barely coping, father couldn’t face it, and my friend’s dyslexia and penmanship was always a source of embarrassment to her.

              I did the same thing after my grandpa passed because I was the one working from home (with three kids) and chauffeuring my grandma around (she never had a license). Granted, Grandma DID help, and wrote very personal ones to close family and friends. I just wrote more generic ones to more distant relatives and friends – of which there were many. I swear my fingers were going to fall off after that.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              I did not know this was a thing.
              I made sure to thank the church ladies (for lack of a better term) who fixed us lunch after my dad’s funeral last April. I just did it in person.

          3. Valancy Snaith*

            There is, of course, no obligation to do them, but they are absolutely a thing and are not crazy. I sent thank-you notes to everyone who attended my mother’s funeral and signed the guest book, and it was nice to acknowledge their support in a difficult time. But they are not a requirement.

            Cultural and social mores around funerals vary.

          4. Bibliovore*

            They are a thing and I tried for about 6 months. I think after about 60 I gave up. I had help. Friends came over and addressed and stamped envelopes. I have about 50 more to do. I think it was the weekend commenters who said it was okay to give up and people will understand.
            I’m wondering if people will think I’m nuts if I finish writing them now.

            1. Lizzo*

              Do them at your pace, if you want to. My dad passed in the fall, we had the funeral the following summer, and mom slowly got around to sending notes the following fall. It is always kind to send a note, even if it is (in theory) delayed, any anyone who gets pissed about the delay? Well, that says a lot about them, and maybe you don’t need them in your life.

          5. Some words*

            As you can see from the other responses, sometimes they are a thing. This is especially true if people have given gifts/donations, etc.

            I assume people still do such things for grieving families.

          6. Claire*

            I’ve attended two funerals in the past few years, and received thank you notes for both. Just for attending, not for doing anything special. That’s part of the reason for putting your name and address in the visitor’s book, I guess. I feel bad for the people who have to write them while grieving the death of a loved one.

          7. Wilma Flinstone*

            They are indeed a thing, but it took me concerted hunting to find black-bordered note cards. They are maybe not a thing anymore.

        2. Lilas*

          They are for people who particularly helped the grieving family, but one of the things close friends are supposed to help with is writing those notes. The people directly bereaved aren’t supposed to be the ones writing their own thank you notes; they are obviously understandably not up to the task. And no one would notice or hold it against you if you don’t do it.

          1. Elsa*

            OK, I see from all these responses that they sometimes are a thing. I figured that since I have attended dozens of funerals and never received a thank you note, it was never a thing. Now that I know that some people do it, I take back what I said.

            However, I will say that I think it should not be a thing, and if I received one I would feel bad that the bereaved person had to put herself out to write me a note.

    2. lifebeforecorona*

      I recently left a job that I really loved because of a toxic micro-managing co-worker who over time became my BEC. Being constantly told how to perform basic functions every day is very irritating. (I know how to open a file! You don’t have to tell me every day!) That being said, is there an casual way you can mention how toxic this worker is to your boss? With some concrete examples? When people are this toxic it’s usually to everyone. When I announced that I was leaving several people asked if Toxic Coworker was part of the reasons why. Bosses often have a blind spot as to how bad these workers can be because they aren’t constantly exposed to their behaviour and sometimes see them as being helpful which is how my TC presented themselves.

      1. LW #5*

        That’s a good point, bosses are often the to know about dysfunctional employees. Unfortunately, in this case multiple staff members brought their experiences with Coworker to the Owners’ attention over the past 3 years. And then they resigned after nothing was done. “It’s just a personality conflict,” the Owners said, over and over. “We couldn’t do what we do without Coworker” they said {insert eye-roll emoji}

        1. LW #5*

          And I forgot to mention that I’ve discussed my concerns about Coworker with the Owners multiple times, giving them many, many opportunities to say “There’s nothing we can do!” – but very soon it won’t be my problem anymore! Heh, heh

          1. Petty Betty*

            When I worked my last non-profit, I had a co-irker who thought she was my super-secret supervisor. No amount of coaching and reprimanding could change her mind. Mostly because our *boss* encouraged it so she wouldn’t have to supervise us and my boss was well aware that I was offered her job before she was hired and I’d turned it down (I was making the same wage hourly with better work, I didn’t want to go to salary and get more responsibility for essentially less pay).
            I ended up leaving, making double my pay. Nearly 7 years later I’m making nearly triple what I used to make, while the both of them are STILL there, and making maybe $4/hr more than when I left.

        2. Mockingjay*

          OMG. I gnashed my teeth at “It’s just a personality conflict.” I once had a co-irker who created very real hardships among multiple team members, including myself. When we went to management with specific examples of ill-conduct, technical errors, etc. and the effects on the project (taking emotion out of it on our end), we were told exactly those words. It wasn’t until he started gaslighting his BOSS that they got rid of him. Then management found out just how poorly he had performed, how much work he had left undone, and how much work had to be redone correctly.

          OP5, you are moving onto a better place. Take your well-earned skills and focus on New Job. I wish you all the best!

        3. Where’s the Orchestra.*

          Sadly it sounds as if they have chosen then OP5. Enjoy your freedom from the bully.

        4. WantonSeedStitch*

          Argh, this is frustrating. Personality conflicts are a thing, but they don’t preclude the need for coworkers to treat each other in a professional manner. Managers can’t make coworkers like one another, but they can absolutely insist that whatever their personal feelings, they treat each other civilly and communicate effectively.

          1. ferrina*

            Right?! I’ve had my share of coworkers that I wasn’t going to be friends with, but if you can’t work well with people, that’s a work issue, not a ‘personality conflict’. Being able to work with your coworkers is a tenet of the job.

            I once had a coworker that took umbrage at my personality. She completely refused to work with me. I asked her directly if there was anything I could change or start or stop doing that would help, and she just said “No, it’s just who you are.” Um…I’m not trying to be your best friend, I’m trying to coordinate on the project we’re assigned to work on together! I escalated it to the director, who tried to coach me on conflict management. Which was useless and unnecessary, because I’d taught conflict management courses and had tried every trick in the book! But you can’t solve a conflict that the other party doesn’t want solved.
            I resigned within a month. The director was fired less than a year later.

        5. Cat's Paw for Cats*

          In my experience there is no such thing as a personality conflict. There are people who treat others well and people who don’t. Good manners and common courtesy go a long way to allow a lot of people who don’t have much in common to get along and work well together.

          1. Boof*

            I think it’s totally possible to have personality clashes (see ask vs guess culture) but if it’s impacting ability to work together it’s a work problem, not a personality problem, and it should definitely not fall on the most reasonable person to cater to the most unreasonable person (like sometimes happens with conflict avoidant management). The opposite in fact!

        6. AnonInCanada*

          If they want to turn a blind eye to this toxic co-worker and not see why you and your other former co-workers left the company, they let their short-sightedness come back and sooner or later blind them. You’re letting this toxic person rent space in your head. Don’t do that. Think of how much happier you’ll be in your new job and let karma run its course. :-)

        7. goddessoftransitory*

          Unless Coworker is literally Iron Man and has his heart battery hooked up to the building powering the computers, that is NOT true, LW5’s ex bosses!

          1. laser99*

            Well said! I will never understand bosses who behave like this. The only possible explanation I can think of is this person knows where the bodies are buried (so to speak).

    3. AnonInCanada*

      My sentiments exactly. And just one more thing for OP#5: don’t let that toxic coworker continue to rent any space in your mind. You left this company for a reason. I know it’ll be hard to forget the years of toxicity that co-worker gave you at your (former) boss’s encouragement, but think of how much happier you are now that you’ve left that wasteland. And no, don’t bother with the thank-you note for the former bosses either: it’ll just conjure up the bad memories of why you left there.

    4. Miss V*

      ‘Wishing you all the success you deserve’ is my favorite go-to for situations like this. Because it comes across as warm and a genuine well wish for success, but secretly I’m thinking that the level of success they deserve is for their business to sink and go under in a year, possibly with a bonus fraud investigation of some sort.

      I’ve used it in letters of resignation, when saying goodbye to departing coworkers while I’m actually doing an internal happy dance that they’re leaving, whatever.

  2. Observer*

    #1 – Manager on a PIP

    Alison is right that if it got back to your boss that you told your team it could make them question your judgement. Why exactly do they need to know about this? They have no responsibility to your job.

    The only reason to make any changes is how you manage them is in order to get the results your managers need to see. If you have reason to believe that these changes will accomplish that, share that. So, if you think that, eg, more formal scheduling with more oversight on your end will lead to more deadlines being met, then say so. But “I’m going to be monitoring schedules more closely because I’m on a PIP” doesn’t make a lot of sense. And “I’m going to be working on meeting deadlines because otherwise my job is on the line” does not make you look good to your staff. It says that you wouldn’t care about timeliness if you weren’t being directly threatened with losing your job,which is a bad look. And is somewhat places the responsibility on your team to meet schedules to help you keep your job. That’s not really appropriate, to say the least.

    1. Artemesia*

      The OP appears to think that he can get the team to do better to ‘help him out’ on the PIP; that seems to be the subtext here. That alone is unprofessional (when the boss comes look busy.). I hope the OP has a plan B and has a job search underway or at least is getting resume polished.

      1. JSPA*

        That’s not a particularly charitable reading.

        If my boss had been vague on deadlines, and happy to wave everyone out the door at 3 pm on Friday, but then said that they had “really, really a lot invested in getting project X in on time, on budget, and in excellent condition,” I’d be happy to work through breaks for a couple of weeks, keep the project at the top of my awareness on the ride in, and really focus more intensely than usual. “This has become unexpectedly make-or-break, and I need your 110%” isn’t, “look busy.”

        1. hbc*

          Yeah, but a PIP isn’t just “this one project X is make-or-break.” OP needs to change their approach to managing the team forever, basically. It wouldn’t be helpful to imply that project X is important, but they can go back to our 3pm departures once eyes are off. Bad for OP and bad for the team, because OP will be fired once it’s clear that the improvement was temporary, and the team will have to step back up anyway once OP’s replacement comes in and starts running a tighter ship.

          1. JSPA*

            I’m assuming that 3PM departures are not the problem, and that OP has the intention of turning things around substantively. But substantive change takes time, and to have time, OP first has to save their own job.

            Focusing on that as a short-term crisis is reasonable from OP’s point of view.

            And OP can always then say, “the word from above is that this is how they want us to work, plus also X, Y and Z.” The message, “I know you can do it because you just did it” can actually land a lot better than, “lets change everything, forever, starting now, because I say so.”

        2. Artemesia*

          He clearly wants to leverage sympathy over the PIP to get them to change their behavior and be more productive. This is not changing management style or improving management which is what is required. I think he is unlikely to succeed on the PIP anyway because it is rare once one gets to that point that success is likely — for many organizations a PIP is going through the motions by the organization which has already made up their mind. He MIGHT succeed by dramatic changes in how he operates, but it is unlikely for most of us to be able to do this. To try to shortcut these changes by calling on his team to ‘help him out’ is not making the change he is being asked to make. If he has a genuine chance here then once the word gets to management that he has shared the PIP with the team, that is likely to ruin those chances.

      2. I would rather be eating dumplings*

        I’m not sure I agree that’s the only subtext. It’s very common for people to feel obligated to share detailed information (I need to change what we’re doing because I’m on a PIP with x goals) when high-level information (I need to change what we’re doing based on Janes needs) is enough.

        The fact that OP is writing in speaks to the fact that they don’t feel fully comfortable divulging the PIP, otherwise they would have simply done so.

        1. Smithy*

          Yes – I also think the judgement around how much information to tell a team about the reasons for changes between “because I said so” and “I’m on a PIP due to these performance metrics, all of which need to see improvement.” Because honestly, neither are amazing motivators and there is a case to be made for some version of transparency.

          Now that transparency may be regarding Janes needs, or sharing that there’s an interest by management in seeing if X changes can improve the pass/fail rate. Essentially some version of the how the target in the PIP is worded.

          Because again, a charitable reading of this letter is that the OP will be making some management changes that could include more micromanagement or greater expectations. And giving some explanation as to why usually helps.

          1. Mockingjay*

            The difficulty is that part of OP1’s ability to succeed (survive?) the PIP depends on their team’s performance, which introduces a lot of variables. OP1 could do everything correctly as a manager – setting clear goals and due dates, training team members, monitoring schedule, solving problems and so on – but if this particular team still doesn’t produce to corporate satisfaction, then OP1 is going to be held accountable. Which is a manager’s role of course. But sometimes a project is not going to succeed no matter what or in the time frame allotted, or the deliverable benchmark is impossibly high, and I don’t think the PIP accounts for any of those outcomes.

            I think the corporate culture is “success or else.” OP1, follow Alison’s advice against revealing the PIP to your team, but be prepared to move on.

          2. ferrina*

            Agree with all of this. It worries me that the LW thinks sharing the PIP is the right way to manage. There is no good interpretation- either the LW is pointing at their boss as the bad guy (for putting them on a PIP), or their asking their team to be responsible for LW’s performance, or even just doesn’t have good judgement in what info to share.

            The best way to handle a PIP is to accept where your shortcomings have been and own responsibility for that. The team’s poor performance isn’t an issue just because of the PIP- it’s an ongoing issue for the company! LW has plenty of standing to say “I know we can do better- here’s what I want to see from the team.” That’s a manager’s job to share the vision, make sure people have what they need and hit benchmarks. Yes, it can feel weird when you ask your team to do something new. But I’ve seen plenty of managers do this without a looming punishment. You don’t need a PIP to do this.

            1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

              I agree. That it is even a question for OP makes me question how comfortable they are as a manager.

            2. Alanna*

              Yes, this question suggests OP has a larger issue with communicating standards and expectations to employees and taking ownership of decisions. Presumably there are business reasons that they need OP to step up their management skills. People do wonder why their boss is suddenly being harder on them, or why they now have to do a task in 2 weeks if they used to have a month, and it’s good to communicate context, but when possible, that context should be the actual business context.

              I’ve been trying to tighten up some things on the ship with my directs this year, and I do try to explain what I’m doing, but I say things like: “You might have noticed that I’m taking longer to approve new ideas and pushing back more. That’s because I want us to proceed only when we’re really clear on what we’re doing and trying to achieve. Sometimes in the past, we’ve moved forward with projects that weren’t fully baked, and I want to avoid that this year.” (Unspoken: This is direct feedback from my boss, who is going to ask me what I’m trying to achieve with a new project, and will expect a clear answer.) Or “You’re getting shorter deadlines in some cases. That’s because it’s important that these tasks be done quickly and not drag on for weeks.” If I pass the buck, I try to do it all the way up: “It’s a companywide priority this year at Teapots Inc. to improve our spout design. That’s why we’re spending more time on it and you’re going to see more spout-specific assignments.”

            3. Millennial Manager*

              I think it’s fair to question someone’s judgement if they are considering sharing their performance issues with direct reports, but I don’t outright agree with the interpretation that LW1 is trying to garner sympathy from his team so they’ll help him save his job. Maybe that is the case, but that isn’t how I read the post. It sounds like he’s worried about his team and how they would adjust to a noticeable change in his management style and/or the effect on morale if he disappears randomly after his PIP (unsuccessfully) runs its course. Alison’s advice is spot-on; the best way to handle it is to just explain that XYZ is important and his management style will look different to ensure the team is successful. From there, he’ll need to either keep that style or risk being exited from the company.

              That being said, should LW1 update his resume and start looking around for new roles? Well yeah. Everyone should be doing that though to some extent…you should always be prepared for a random, last-minute meeting being added to your calendar by your boss or HR during which you will be told the company doesn’t need you anymore. Depends on the company, but a PIP doesn’t automatically equal “you’re fired”…in my experience, I would say it’s been about 50/50 over the years seeing people graduate from their plans and stick around or getting to the end of the road and being let go. Any half-decent manager should go into a PIP with the goal of actually getting their employee off the plan successfully.

      3. Boof*

        I’m not sure about that, my subtext read was they like being open with their team and it’s possible their manager won’t be there much longer. But that’s just too much unactionable uncertainty to load on subordinates. Best to stick with the action items they are supposed to be working on and communicate management changes when/if they become definitive.

    2. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      yes I can also see it as the OP blaming their reports. I’ve been on the receiving end where my team lead was saying how she gets in trouble because our numbers were not hitting goals. It makes you feel bad.

      1. Meep*

        My former manager used to bully me into doing her job, by threatening that if I didn’t she would be fired every other week and I would have to do it anyway. Even if it isn’t OP’s intent, I don’t like the implication either.

      2. MassMatt*

        I’ve been a front-line manager and this is why it’s hard to be a manager, but it comes with the territory. If someone on your team is underperforming, or the whole team is underperforming, then the manager needs to do something, and that “something” is not whining to or scolding their reports or making them feel guilty about low production. Action items are–training, coaching, leading by example, pointing out and promoting good performers and having them share what works for them. Most people want to succeed at their jobs.

        If people are not able or willing to improve, then it needs to be made clear that they need to do so or they will be let go. Focus then on making sure to get good new hires and train them well.

        I’ve had to deal with long-term problem employees that prior managers had given up on and overhaul entire teams where terrible habits became endemic. It’s not easy, but that’s what a manager has to do. Managers above you should be held to the same standard–are they training you, and giving you the resources you need? If not, well, there’s a problem with the organization.

    3. Chickaletta*

      +1. LW1 is missing the whole point. They don’t need to get their team to perform better so that “they don’t lose their job”, they need to get their team to perform better so that whatever it is they do gets done better. That’s it.

  3. Observer*

    #5 – Leaving old job.

    I’m with Alison. Don’t write the note. And don’t mention your habit of writing notes. Unless you bring it up, you won’t do any damage, and that’s really all you need out of this situations.

    Congratulations on finding a new job. I’m sorry that you needed to do that to get away from a toxic coworker.

  4. AnonyAnony*

    OP#1: Sorry to hear you’re in this situation. It does sound like your judgment about several things are a bit off here:

    “I imagine this revelation could also upset morale in the department if it spreads. For instance, raising concerns about “could I be next” or stirring up opinions about myself or my boss.”
    -If your management skills is poor enough for long enough to warrant a PIP, believe me, your reports would already have certain opinions about you, if not your boss. It’s no revelation to them their boss is not performing well.

    “If I’m going to modify my behavior or communication techniques to meet a very specific pass/fail condition, I feel like they deserve to know why.”
    -What your reports deserve to know and have is their boss have the skills and intrinsic motivation to be good at their job. How does learning their boss modified their behavior only when made to do so with a PIP does not help you or them?

    I’m also not sure focusing on whether telling your reports about your PIP is the right thing for you right now. Perhaps focusing on improving and at the same time looking of a new job would be far more productive.

    1. mlem*

      In a functional company, a PIP can certainly indicate pervasive problems that are likely to show to reports as well as to bosses. They *can* also be misused, though, which I mention only because one of the “performance improvements” mentioned is to be responsible for the successes and failures of an entire team. That can certainly be entirely appropriate (say, achieve and maintain a rate of X teapots painted per hour); but it can also be unrealistic (say, always paint 10% more teapots each month than the prior month without increasing staff; or achieve 100% attendance of all direct reports, with one person taking a sick day being considered failure.)

      I just think we should be careful about assuming that of *course* the reports see that their boss is “failing”. I’m not sure that’s inherent to the situation.

      1. ferrina*

        Nothing the LW says indicates that this PIP is being misused (it’s possible- I’ve been on a misused PIP- but no evidence that that’s the case here). It’s pretty normal that a manager is responsible for a team’s success- often a manager is responsible for setting expectations, ensuring the team has the training and resources necessary to meet expectations, then taking appropriate action if expectations are still not met. Every management role I’ve been in has had this expectation (and yeah, it’s one of the reasons why management is tricky). LW doesn’t give any indication that their boss’s expectations are unrealistic.

        1. Boof*

          I don’t think there’s enough information in the letter to say one way or another. I think the LW did the right thing to write in about this and their judgment was good enough to realize maybe this wasn’t something they should share and decide to ask for advice from a good source, even if they weren’t entirely sure why or what they should share instead given somewhat conflicting personal values (ie, “openess among team” vs “keeping up moral” vs “this seems like it wouldn’t go well but I can’t fully articulate why”)

      2. laser99*

        You put it very well. They can certainly be used to wrongly force out an employee who is “too old” or “uppity” or whatever.

    2. Bearly Containing Myself*

      How can you know that “it’s no revelation to them their boss is not performing well”? It’s entirely possible that the employees don’t know that!

      1. JSPA*

        It’s also possible that the boss formally takes the fall for their incompetence (whether for lack of oversight / proofreading, for not “whipping them into shape” or for not firing them and replacing them). In which case, they ARE next in the line, and they may well be clueless.

        But if so, the situation may not be fixable (for any of them, or for them all as a unit). Sometimes, once a bad pattern sets in, the only effective way to break those patterns is to break up the unit, and everyone gets a fresh slate, in some other job, with lessons learned.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Giving honest feedback to your team–even in this difficult time–is still important. If someone on your team is struggling so much that they’re next in line for a PIP, *that* is necessary to share.

      2. Roland*

        Yeah, if they’re acting like someone at OP 5’s workplace it’s one thing, but it’s possible to simply not be meeting their own boss’s standard without being a bad manager getting in the way of their employees. Things I don’t know about my manager’s performance include “are they communicating decisions from above us in accurate and timely ways”, “are they helping people who are not me grow in their career”, “do they show up to high up planning sessions prepared and organized”, “are their goals for my team ambitious enough for upper management”, “do they require a lot of handholding from their manager”, etc.

        1. My company sucks and isn't going to change*

          Conversely something I DO know about my company is that upper management keeps demanding unrealistic deliverables & deadlines despite attrition & layoffs & system changes.

          If that’s OP’s situation? Even employees who want to help can’t meet impossible demands.

      3. ferrina*

        It’s very possible that they know their boss isn’t doing well, and it’s very possible that they don’t know. LW seems to think that this revelation might be a surprise (“undermine morale….stir up opinions”), but it’s possible that some folks wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve had a few bosses that I knew were struggling. Hearing they were on a PIP wouldn’t make me pity them- it would make me think “Finally!”

    3. bamcheeks*

      How does learning their boss modified their behavior only when made to do so with a PIP does not help you or them?

      This assumes a PIP is necessarily punitive, and that’s not always the case. It can also be, “You’re a lovely person and a hard worker, but we think your skills and aptitudes are bad match for this position. We’re going to give you some intensive training in the areas we think you need to do better and look at the results. We want this all formally noted because that’s company policy, and it’s better for everyone if we have clear targets and we’re all on the same page that one possible outcome is that you are let go.”

      It’s completely possible that LW is well-regarded by his team, but that the team isn’t properly aligned with the organisation’s strategy, or working fast enough, or using the right business systems, or a whole bunch of other things which need to be fixed but aren’t an indication that anyone is necessarily lazy or unmotivated and so on.

      LW, if there is going to be a significant change in your management style and communication or your team’s tasks or working environment, I do think you should directly address that with your reports. But you should address it as a positive– “Senior management want us to take this in a different direction, so we’re going to be…” Your job is to be frank but positive, though– not “those bloody idiots in head office have said” or “well, frankly all of our jobs are on the line if we don’t…” As with other types of organisational change, talk about the wider environment that makes this necessary, and address what the difficulties are likely to be.

      Assuming you *pass* this PIP, the point is presumably to sustain long-term change, not prove you can do it for 3 months and then go back to normal. So you need to approach it in that light. Think positively about what you need from your team, think about what they need from you, and then do it.

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        I tend to think that this PIP is just papering the LW’s termination, sadly, because it’s very rare that someone can change the performance of a team in a “handful of weeks.”

        1. ferrina*

          Agree. I’m not hopeful for the LW. Changing a team’s performance can be doable (depending on the situation), but you need to be a really strong leader to begin with. You need to have a clear vision, realistic expectations, be able to motivate people to be excited about pursuing the vision, and train/discipline as necessary to ensure the team is on track. These are a tough skillset to begin with. Sharing the PIP would undermine motivation from the get go.

      2. Lily Potter*

        Your advice regarding the LW’s response within his/her organization is spot on.

        That said, I have never (in 30+ years of working in orgs of all sizes and types) heard of using a PIP as a training tool. It’s always, always been more of a “last chance before we fire you” process. Sometimes it’s even a “we’re going to fire you regardless but we have to zip up some paperwork first” process. Using it as a training tool sounds lovely though!

        1. Boof*

          It really shouldn’t be a training tool; it should be a last resort, but at the same time, there’s no point to it if there’s zero chance at turning things around. So I should think it’d be possible to come out of one even if it’s not likely or common.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Our framework is exactly the opposite (it’s not called a PIP, although it can fulfil the same functions.)

        2. bamcheeks*

          That’s interesting– unless it’s a very clear misconduct issue (you’re arriving late too often), our equivalent of a PIP generally wouldn’t be accepted by our HR team unless it included a training or development element. The framework is very much, “this is the standard required, this is what the expectations of you are, this is the support the organisation is putting in place, this is the timeframe and here is how we know if it’s been met”. We’re expressly told to introduce them early, so that HR is aware of problems or need for improvement and can provide expert support from the beginning. The thing NOT to do is to try training, development, coaching etc without a clear framework and then try all the same things again with paperwork.

        3. alienor*

          Yeah, at least at my current company, I’ve only seen PIPs used as a way of documenting performance before a firing, and firing has always been the ultimate outcome. I’ve never known anyone who was on a PIP that led to retaining their job and ultimately becoming successful over the long term.

        4. ferrina*

          My company just started integrating training into PIPs within the last few months. The PIP itself isn’t a training tool, but the trainings use the PIP to determine focus areas. Part of the PIP is usually ‘participate in X as required trainings’.

          Having trainings with PIPs is such an incredible resource. It ensures that the person has the information they need to succeed (sometimes they are struggling because someone dropped the ball on their trainings), and it underscores that we want them to succeed (if we didn’t think they’d make it, we would have let them go and not invested the time in training).

      3. Pugetkayak*

        A PIP is always the same. Firing someone is not punitive, it is recognizing their skills do not work for your company and you need to part ways. Sure, some people get fired for being a jerk and others try hard a lack skills, but the result is the same.

        1. Meep*

          As someone who was nearly fired for buying a freaking house and watching coworkers being fired for *checks notes* Chron’s Disease, being trans, and being non-binary, I would like to have a word with you.

        2. Helewise*

          I got fired once for not wearing skirts enough days a week. True story. Not all workplaces are functional; not all firings are the same.

    4. Auga*

      It’s really odd that OP thinks their team “deserves” to know why they are modifying their behaviour. If it has to be explained, they could simply say “I’ve received some feedback about XYZ, so I’m trying a different approach – please let me know if it’s working for you.”

      Absolutely no need to mention the PIP. I do think that subconsciously – and only subconsciously – OP is looking for support/sympathy from their team.

      1. Me ... Just Me*

        I think the tone of this letter gives us insight into some of the issues this manager is having that has led to his PIP. The last minute nature of things, blaming the PIP for sudden changes, the sort of “we’re all in this together” sort of mentality; all this paints a picture of a rather lax manager who doesn’t have good boundaries and maybe isn’t used to holding people accountable. “Let’s all hurry up and start doing what we should have been doing all along, so that I don’t get fired.” It’s just not a good way to manage, and I think the OP is beginning to figure that out.

    5. DanniellaBee*

      “If your management skills are poor enough for long enough to warrant a PIP, believe me, your reports would already have certain opinions about you, if not your boss. It’s no revelation to them their boss is not performing well.”

      I take issue with this specific comment because of companies like Amazon that engage in constant stack ranking which forces things like PIPs and terminations. Even high performing people can be managed out at certain companies due to churn and burn culture.

      With regard to this specific LW, I think they are a new manager that is struggling to get desired results and probably does need training on management. Alison’s advice is spot on.

    6. linger*

      The PIP, and OP1’s proposed options for responding to it, strongly suggest that a large part of the problem is that OP1 is having difficulty motivating their team to meet existing productivity goals. It may be that those goals are unrealistic (certainly, expecting a complete turnaround within a few weeks seems to be setting OP1 an unrealistic goal). But hard agree, sharing the news of the PIP will not help motivate the team in the way OP1 expects. (Especially if the outcome of OP1 being removed from their role is that one member of that team would then be promoted into OP1’s role!) Rather, if the goals being set from above are at all realistic, OP1 needs to act as a manager by giving their team explicit and specific goals for improvement to achieve that output, and then following up that those goals are being met.

  5. Bearly Containing Myself*

    I didn’t see where LW5 has a new job. I think it’s possible they are leaving without another job lined up or have decided to retire.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Ooooh, good point :/

      Yeah, it probably wouldn’t occur to people to expect a thank you note when leaving since that’s kind of out of the usual routine.

      1. londonedit*

        In my experience, when people leave jobs they’ll either send an email on their last day to their immediate team, or more unusually to the whole company, saying something like ‘It’s my last day today! I’ve really enjoyed my time here and it’s been great working with you all – if anyone wants to keep in touch, my email is [email]’. Nothing in-depth and not really a thank-you note, just an acknowledgement really. I can understand that the OP doesn’t really want to say ‘I’ve enjoyed working with you all’ and of course they have no obligation to even send an email on their last day, but it’s definitely something that’s been the norm in my experience. Sending an actual thank-you note after leaving a job, though, wouldn’t be something people would expect.

          1. londonedit*

            I’d definitely keep it simple! If you don’t want to use the ‘been great working with you all’ language because you feel it’d be disingenuous, you could say something like ‘Today is my last day! I’ve really enjoyed my time here, but after 12 years I’m looking forward to something new. If anyone wants to keep in touch…’.

            1. Common Taters on the Ax*

              Gosh, you don’t even have to say you’ve enjoyed it since it sounds like it’s not really true. Why not something like, I have learned a great deal from you all?

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah, departure emails are the only way I’ve seen; actual paper thank-you departure notes are pretty much limited to retirement parties for some 20+ year fixture of the company.

          That said, the departure email is in a nice central Goldilocks zone: It’s common enough that nobody will be surprised if you send one, but it’s not so standard that anybody is going to notice/judge you if they don’t get one.

          1. The Original K.*

            Yeah, I do departure emails but never thank you notes, because … thanks for what?

            “Today is my last day at [Employer]. I’ve enjoyed working with you all [this may or may not be true] and wish you luck in the future! All best, [name],” and I drop my LinkedIn under that. That’s it. Easy peasy.

            If I receive one of those emails from someone I’ve really enjoyed working with, I respond saying so and usually offering my support – “if I can support your career in any way going forward, please let me know.”

          2. Sasha*

            I actually would expect the thank you email to go from the employer to the departing employee – “thank you for all of your hard work, and good luck in your future role”. Etc.

            OP it may help you to reframe yourself as the recipient not the sender of the thank you note?

  6. CarlDean*

    #2 – I feel you! I would have a hard time connecting with Adam, and I get the urge to want to discuss personal details to connect. I was just imagining how strange it would feel to me if I didn’t know anything about a colleague. But, Adam doesn’t have to share certainly if he doesn’t want to share.

    I’d be curious to hear from folks who don’t want to share even basic personal details (like the existence of a spouse) with coworkers, what is the motivation/reason. I know some people are just very private.

    I have a few times hesitated to mention details about my spouse when I’m worried people will have a bad reaction to the face that I’m gay. I do this with clients, not colleagues, but this is what I thought of immediately.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, also thought “Adam’s probably gay and living in a non-gay-friendly location” right off.

      1. At this time, anon*

        Even in a gay-friendly location, there can still be some awkwardness if your particular team is of the homogeneously hetero/married-to-someone-they-met-in-undergrad/2.4 kids type.

        That, and sometimes people can be weird about finding out that someone who they read as straight isn’t.

        1. quicksilver*

          Also, depending on how you define “friendly”…some people are well-meaning but really do not know how to appropriately manage their curiosity about LGBT people. People like LW2 who have a cheerful attitude of “just liking to know things” are often the worst offenders in this regard. I’ve only ever had jobs in progressive areas but I no longer speak about personal stuff in the workplace at all as a gay/trans person because I want it to be clear that I’m there to work, not to regale anyone with the story of “how I discovered my true self” as some apparently might think….

          (This isn’t meant to add to the speculation about Adam, since I could imagine any number of other reasons why he prefers to leave his personal life out of the workplace. But this kind of weirdness is definitely a large part of why I have that preference too.)

      2. roisin54*

        Not necessarily. I have a male co-worker who I’ve worked with for almost a decade, and only after knowing him for 5 or 6 years did I learn that he has a girlfriend (hell they might be married by now for all we know.) He just doesn’t like talking about non-work things at work. Some people are just like that.

        1. bamcheeks*

          We had, “Just to let everyone know, Aadam’s wife had a baby last night, and he’s on paternity leave for two weeks.” “Wait, hold on– Aadam’s MARRIED?????!!”

        2. metadata minion*

          Yeah, with a former coworker of mine I knew she had a teenage kid because she would periodically need to take time off or whatever to deal with kid-related things. But I’d vaguely assumed she was divorced or that Kid’s father was otherwise not in the picture, because she never mentioned a spouse. But no, she was happily married, just very private and we weren’t particularly close on a social level.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            This happened to me recently with a colleague I’ve known for 15 years in my freelance side gig (so I see him for a few days in a week about 4-6 times a year). I’d assumed he was divorced too, then he mentioned something about a conversation with his wife. Oops. Other than that, his spouse has never come up in conversation before.

    2. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

      Maybe they are in a witness protection program! Or lead a double life as a super hero or an evil villain, and it’s important to remain as low profile as possible! Chances of this – very very tiny. But it’s far more likely they just don’t want to talk about personal stuff in a work environment. Just naturally a private person. I have worked in places where I have not disclosed anything of interest about my personal life, because there were staff who were gossipy and mean-spirited with any information they could get – maybe this staff member has witnessed that in the past somewhere and prefers to avoid any such possibility. Certainly sounds like he has very solid boundaries in place.

      1. I would rather be eating dumplings*

        That was my first though too lol

        I immediately assumed Adam is involved in some sort of spying situation

        Or perhaps he’s a werewolf and the vacations are supernatural blood transfusions that help him to manage his condition? Endless possibilities here.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Remember, we’re supposed to address how our wild speculations would change the advice.

          LW #2, if it is true that Adam is a werewolf, try to be extra accommodating about his PTO requests around the time of the full moon.

          If Adam is a superhero, it’s important not to reveal that you’ve figured out his secret identity; just pretend he’s a completely different person when he takes his glasses off.

          If he’s a spy, try to give him a desk with good sightlines and make sure never to accept mail for him shaped like a cartoon bomb.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Coworkers at a former job used to joke that they thought I was in witness protector or the CIA. Nope, just previously had a stalker and didn’t want to do/say anything that might enable a thoughtless person who didn’t know accidentally “network” their way into leading said stalker right to me. But also didn’t want to say to everyone “btw, stalker”.

        1. Ellie B*

          I have been bitten by this sort of “networking” in high school back in 2005!

          I didn’t want to talk about which high school I had transferred from to my new classmates, but happened to mention to the female class president with an adorably clueless image that we have a mutual classmate.

          Saviour complex female class president then went to ask the well-intended mutual classmate which high school I had transferred from and also found out I had been bullied in secondary school (the mutual classmate was from my secondary school days).

          I found out when the male class president let this slip in conversation.

          She proceeded to publicly treat me as her charity project to look like a kind sweet girl in front of the teachers and other classmates, without actually asking me what support I needed.

          When I told the homeroom teacher about this, the teacher said that adorably clueless class president was just trying to help me.

    3. LG*

      I’m a very private person, and I don’t like sharing my personal details with coworkers. I have worked with so many people who over share their lives at work, and the gossip that goes with that makes me cringe. It also makes me uncomfortable to meet some of the spouses and children after some of the stories I’ve heard about them.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Oh my pet hate is people who talk smack about their significant others, and kids to anyone who will listen. It is possible to mention them without making the office your venting spot though!

        1. rayray*

          Same! I can’t stand it when people at work start complaining about their spouses. Besides being annoying, it is such dull conversation to hear about a spouse that is an inept adult that doesn’t clean.

          1. Onym*

            I’ve that a colleague openly ponder whether she should have an affair in front of me. I don’t know why you couldn’t keep that to yourself or wait until you can take it somewhere private (she had her own office). How awkward meeting her husband after that, when I’m pretty sure she landed on “yes”.

        2. ferrina*

          Ooh, I’ve been this person, and I apologize to all my coworkers that had to put up with this!

          In retrospect, I was venting to my coworkers because they were the only people I had. My then-spouse had effectively isolated me from having friends of my own (he was very insecure and would guilt trip me any time I wanted to go somewhere without him; if I made a friend without him, he would insist that he meet them, then love bomb that person so they would think of his friendship as equal to mine, and then it wouldn’t be “fair” if I complained about him to them). The only people I felt I could talk to were my coworkers, which wasn’t fair to them. A bad situation all around.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I had a close work friend who would complain about their wife, starting with pretty innocuous things and *very* gradually escalating to “And sometimes she hits me and our disabled child.”

    4. Beltway*

      I worked with US military folks in the “don’t-ask/don’t tell” era. When one colleague was having some minor surgery, I asked my boss if we should bring her a casserole or something because I thought she’d be alone with nobody to help her. My boss, who knew her a lot better than I did, bit his tongue and said, “Um, no, she’s got someone to take care of her.” At her retirement ceremony several years later, I got to meet the woman (also retired military) who was her partner.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I’m convinced “don’t ask/don’t tell” is going to go down in history as one of our strangest policies.

        1. MassMatt*

          Very strange.

          Fun fact–Antigay expulsions from the military INCREASED during the don’t ask, don’t tell era. And the cherry on top of that sh!t sundae was being lectured on sexual conduct by Bill Clinton. Good times.

    5. JSPA*

      Yes! And the only “need to know” is, “need to remind my group that if their official family unit changes, they’re eligible for coverage, and should stop by HR when it’s relevant.”

      And that’s a message that should

      a) go out to the whole group periodically and

      b) include links to the policy where (one hopes) it’s made clear that all spouses or legal domestic partners qualify.

    6. Despachito*

      What value would there be in connecting with Adam as he apparently does not WANT to connect at this level?

      I’d leave him completely alone in this. While for a lot of people talking about family and vacations indeed is a small talk enabling them to relax and they are glad to share, not everyone is like that, and if Adam thinks that he owes his workplace and bosses spotless work but not a part of “his own self”, he has set a boundary he is fully entitled to, and it would be a mistake to try to push it.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Yeah, I personally have no problem opening up to colleagues, but nobody should feel like they HAVE to share details about their private lives with coworkers. There could be many reasons why Adam is uncomfortable with it, none of which are anyone’s business. It’s perfectly possible to have friendly relationships with colleagues without talking about your personal life.

        What’s making this situation even trickier is the fact that the LW is Adam’s manager. Dealing with a nosy colleague is one thing, feeling like your superior might not be respecting your boundaries is another. I think casually asking where he’s going when he mentions his holidays is fine, as long as LW back off when he doesn’t give an answer, but sending an email out of the blue to ask if he’s married would come across as really odd. I would really be wondering why my manager takes such a keen interest in my marital status.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        That’s also a part of my reasons: I have a work self and a home self (and a load of other selfs) and they’re best kept apart.

      3. ferrina*

        Totally agree! Pushing Adam to share details wouldn’t help anything- it would just annoy him. Respecting Adam’s boundaries is the best way to foster a great working relationship. I’m in a role where I need to cultivate strong relationships, and I’ve found that when I don’t demand personal information, people enjoy talking to me more. Some people may later open up, but some people never will. Those that don’t open up still enjoy working with me, I suspect because they know they won’t need to field personal questions they don’t want to answer.

      4. DyneinWalking*

        Yes. OP seems to be confusing cause and effect here. People share private details because they feel comfortable, not the other way around. Quite the contrary, actually – pushing people to share private information when they don’t want to will make them feel much less comfortable and incline them to retreat even further! (AAM is full of examples of this).

    7. Arctic Willow*

      This is a really good question! I am one of those people
      The most likely explanation is social anxiety. Unlike avoidant personality disorder, social anxiety is situational, so one can be pretty confident at discussing professional topics, public speaking, etc., but suffer from anxiety in very specific situations, e.g. like discussing personal life with coworkers.
      Or like other commenters suggested, Adam might be lgbt+, or might have some difficult family situation, or might have an invisible disability that he does not want to disclose but which affects how he spends his free time.
      I don’t like to talk about myself and my personal life because I a first gen immigrant older women in a very “hip”, young and, white and male dominated company. I don’t mention my husband because no one ever asked me. I usually have nothing to answer to “how was your weekend?”. I volunteer for a very politically charged cause and co-author a political blog in my native language and I am don’t feel safe talking about it at work. Other things that I do on my free time, such as gardening, crocheting and talking by skype with my friends and family in my country of origin are pretty boring. My vacations are to very unusual destinations (the next one i am currently planning is to East Timor) and are expensive, so I don’t want to give food for gossips (yes, my spouse is well off) and don’t want to make anyone think that I don’t need raises and promotions. And yes, I am still traumatised by my awful boss at my previous workplace, he loved to gossip, demanded answers to personal questions and then used this information against us.

      1. WS*

        Yes, having someone, especially a superior, demanding personal information then using it against you is something you don’t easily get over. So Adam may have a completely boring life with nothing to hide, but has previously run into someone like that and is protecting himself now. The only way for that to change is making him feel safe, and part one of that is never prying!

      2. Lime green Pacer*

        Yes, my second thought (after LGBT) was that Adam has money and wants to keep his expensive holidays on the down low.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          My thought was that he wasn’t going on holiday, just spending a relaxing week at home and was afraid the boss would think, “oh, that can easily be rearranged if we are busy.”

          But it’s very likely that he is just a private person. Or that his spouse is and he doesn’t feel comfortable talking about them to strangers.

          It’s also possible that there is some personal issue he wouldn’t want to divulge, like his spouse is in rehab or prison or severely disabled or undergoing cancer treatment, but I know people who don’t like to talk about themselves much at all, even to close friends and family members, even when they don’t have anything in particular they are keeping private. They just feel their private life is private or perhaps they are concerned about being judged.

          1. Lexie*

            It could be just staying home or the “vacation” might not be a vacation. It could be taking a care of a friend or family member who is having surgery and they just don’t want to share, it could be scouting an out a new place to live because they are moving but don’t want to risk being fired before they give notice, maybe they are testifying in a trial and can’t/don’t want to talk about it, or a number of other things. It could also be that when a supervisor asks them what their plans for time off are they conclude it’s so the supervisor can determine if they have a good enough reason to to be off. I personally always wonder if that’s the case when a time off request wants you to list a reason and I have never had an employer tell me I didn’t have a valid reason to be off.

          2. Jayne not Jane*

            There are some people who still have very old school or toxic ways of thinking about work. I have a friend that for some reason is absolutely terrified of getting fired. She is a teacher so gets summers off. Otherwise if she had a regular 9-5, I am not certain she would ever take vacation. Pre-Covid she rarely called in sick. She was very overwhelmed and burnt out and we encouraged her to take a mental health day. She was convinced someone would find out she wasn’t actually sick and get fired. She won’t push back or ask questions out of fear.

            So maybe he just has a fear of getting fired. Maybe he didn’t want to say he was just at home bc he worried he would be called in, bc “it wasn’t a real vacation”.

      3. Arctic Willow*

        However, this thread made me think that I am in the wrong and should be more open and talkative at work.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          I don’t think there’s a wrong or a right here. I think it’s just a matter of what you are comfortable with. I have some colleagues who announce details of their private life to the room at large (sometimes including very personal stuff like their child was suspended from school or they are getting a divorce or that kind of thing) and others who say little or nothing at all. One of the people I work closest with hasn’t even told me if he is married or not. We have a good working relationship but he doesn’t speak much about his private life and I respect that.

        2. Smithy*

          I definitely don’t think you’re in the wrong – and I will also say that for some people talking only about the “work friendly” parts of their private life that also appeal to their coworkers is really hard.

          For example, I have a job in an industry with a lot of women and therefore on a team of any size it’s a safe social assumption that there will be a few people who enjoy cooking/baking. Or at least talking about food even if they don’t bake. So saying “I tried a new recipe this weekend” 2-3 times a year, you’ve done your job.

          Among less “feminized” professions, those topics might be more sports based? And if you never watched the game last night – it might just be easier to just not engage. All to say, most of us have parts of our private lives we don’t share at work. But how easy it is for different people to know what’s good and easy to share and what’s smart to keep private – that’s not so universal.

        3. Colette*

          I don’t think it’s wrong to be private, but I do think you’re missing out on an opportunity to build connections with people.

          That doesn’t mean you have to overshare, but talking about things like what show you’re watching, hobbies/pets, etc. help build connections and make people want to help you (including with things like “connecting you to other people who might employ you”). I’ve worked with people who were completely private and, while that’s entirely their choice, I don’t remember them. If they asked me to connect them with someone at a company they were interested in or if someone I knew was hiring for something they were great at, I wouldn’t remember they existed.

          1. Scarlet2*

            I think it’s totally possible to talk at length about your interests without getting into your personal life though. My colleagues know all about my love of metal music, horror movies and fluffy animals, but close to nothing about my romantic and family life.

            Knowing that Betty is married with 2 kids doesn’t tell me a lot about who she is, but listening to her talk about her passion for medieval axes or Columbo re-runs can be spark great conversation.

            1. Colette*

              Absolutely! It’s fine to share the more superficial stuff. But if you just keep to yourself and share nothing, you’re missing out on stuff that can help you.

        4. WantonSeedStitch*

          Nah. I mean, I’m someone who is very chatty by nature and likes small talk with my colleagues. But as long as my interactions with a coworker are warm and professional, I’m happy working with them even if they aren’t someone with whom I can have a non-work-related conversation about kids/vacation plans/the merit of the Star Wars sequels. But that actually makes me think: if you do feel like you might want to be PERCEIVED as a bit more open, you can do small talk without sharing a lot about yourself or your private life. Pop culture, sports, food, etc. are all things that people can talk about pretty easily and extensively without getting too personal. And sometimes it’s easier to inject a quick remark or question into a group water cooler conversation on those topics without talking a lot yourself, and still have people feel like you’re participating.

        5. ferrina*

          Nah, there’s no right or wrong here. As long as you are approachable on work items, you don’t need to change anything. If folks seem hesitant to approach you for work, maybe chatting about some of the boring innocuous things- for the record, I will happily nerd out about gardening, and my boss will occasionally bring up her needlepoint hobby (no one else on the team does needlepoint, but we think it’s cool that she does it).

        6. Some words*

          There is no right or wrong in this, just personalities and preferences.

          I think it’s a good reminder to those of us who can be on the more sharing side to be sensitive to clues from other people about their boundaries. What I think is totally innocuous chit chat someone else might feel is prying. Okay, I’m mostly reminding myself here.

          1. Ozzac*

            Regarding preferences.
            I work with the public, and a lot of times people talk to me about their private life. Family, holidays, etc. While I know how to seem engaged and interested most of the time my inner monologue is “I don’t care/leave me alone/I have stuff to do”.
            I understand that it’s me and on the outside I smile and act friendly.
            Regarding the letter writer: you don’t need to know anything. Regardless Adam’s reasons you don’t need to know where he goes on holidays, his marital status or if he is a worshipper of Azathoth as long as there are no work issues. He made it clear that he doesn’t want to talk about his private life, and a manager asking point blank if they are married would feel weird at least, and could even push him to send cv around.

      4. Fluffy Fish*

        Social anxiety could be a reason but its not the most likely reason and people shouldn’t get in the habit of assigning mental health issues to people they work with.

        1. Me ... Just Me*

          Yes! That comment felt wrong to me. You don’t have to have a mental health issue to be someone who is private. I speak a whole bunch about my dog and my husband but very little about my kids (there’s 5 of them). I carefully cultivate what I want to remain private, without seeming “private”.

          1. Justin D*

            Yeah I’m glad people are more aware and accepting of reservations issues but I hate how every deviation from a prescribed norm is attributed to them.

    8. Ed123*

      I’m not a private person but I don’t share about my relationship or holidays either to colleagues. I’m in a long term relationship (almost 11 years now) and it is a long distance relationship. People tend to have very strong judgemental opinions and very personal followup questions. I don’t want to justify my choices at work.

      As for holiday plans. I usually go with my boyfriend (so ties up to above) and the few times I’ve shared something there is a snide comment about how I can afford it. So I’ve learned not say anything. I share with few colleagues that I’m friends with but not with others. I’m quite open in general.

    9. Seeking Second Childhood*

      DON’T ask about Adam’s marital status. Even if it’s to make sure he’s claiming family benefits you offer.

      My father died when I was 10. Mom got asked about her husband for years. In a sitcom that question triggers nervous laughter from the audience. In real life it can trigger tears. Even if you don’t see them then

      (People asking me what I was doing for father’s day was bad too. I just dropped silent. I never did get the nerve to say “taking flowers to the cemetery”.)

      1. Pugetkayak*

        I’m so sorry. My son’s (age 7) father died last year. We were just at the pediatrician who already had records that we were divorced the nurse was like…both mom and dad in the home? And I was like well no, we were divorced, but also he is deceased.

    10. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This commentariat constantly reminds me how much we read into words based on our personal experience. Your life suggests he could be gay. Mine suggests he may be a widower. And of course we could both be right.

      For Adam’s sake I will hope I am wrong.

    11. I should really pick a name*

      Does there need to be a motivation for it?
      Some people just go to work to do their jobs, and that’s it.
      Coworkers are a random segment of society, and if you don’t particularly click with them, there’s no real urge to share your life with them.

    12. DJ Abbott*

      IME people who like to connect by sharing personal details come from safe environments where it was safe to ask about personal lives, and safe to answer.
      I came from abusive parents in an ignorant place. When I was young in the 80s, coworkers and managers would quiz me “ are you married? No, why not? Do you have a boyfriend? Here, come over here and meet this young single man about your age. Wouldn’t it be great if you got married? Are you a good cook, he loves good food!” Seriously, that was one of the more ignorant places I worked.
      And as I got older, it was “Do you have children? Why not?”
      Imagine the reactions of these nice, clueless people if I had said “ I’m not married because my abusive parents made me afraid to get close to people. I don’t have children because I know I couldn’t take care of them by myself. One of the reasons I couldn’t is health issues.” Just imagine saying that to coworkers in the 90s and 2000s.
      The workplace has improved a lot in terms of respect for personal boundaries, and that’s a great thing! The choice between having to reveal enough to let them judge me, or keep quiet and be considered unfriendly, is not a good choice.
      Please leave Adam alone and relate to him on his terms, and don’t judge him in any way. He’s protecting himself.

      1. Megan C.*

        I had this same thought. If he came from a judgmental, gossipy, or abusive family situation, he may have just learned it’s better to keep his private life private. If I tell one family member something then I’d better be okay with all of them knowing it, because it’s going to go around the family grapevine whether I want it to or not. I also don’t volunteer my personal info at work.

    13. lifebeforecorona*

      Years ago I read a work related letter from a woman (not sure if it was AAM). A manager was very private about her personal life. No one in her office knew that she married, had kids and even what her personal interests were. One co-worker took it upon themselves to seriously dig up as much personal info as they could on her and shared it with the office. Manager has kids! Manager lives in a house that costs $$! Manager surfs as a hobby! The manager was justifiably furious. Also people don’t share for valid reasons, toxic families, stalkers, and just a general disinclination to be open about their personal life.

    14. Squawkberries*

      I am like that with my boss – whom I dont fully trust. He doesnt get info about much of anything outside of work related topics. He removed any desire for me to share personal info the moment he shot down one of my work ideas becauze I was the only one who could use the tool and “what if I decide to have another child and go on maternity leave”. That was it. While I’ll mention my kids / life to coworkers and even my grandboss, boss gets nothing. Its mentally easier for me to maintain that boundary than it is to analyze every sentence out of my mouth for its potential to haunt me later.

      LW2, are you sure you havent said / done something to make your report mistrust you? Maybe not, maybe he is very quiet/reserved by nature or had bad experiences in the past. Just food for thought.

    15. All I do is lose lose lose*

      I’ve been burned before by getting too close to colleagues and then when shit hits the fan, and you’re no longer amicable, I didn’t like that they knew so much about me. So I’m my new job, I just didn’t tell anyone anything. I also have a coworker now who is simply aghast at anything outside his bubble, so things like getting a second cat (which he found out) are cause for lots of gasping and “I can’t believe you got a second cat! You’re gonna be a cat lady!” Sooooo yeah.

      1. anonymous packet*

        All of the above, plus, with social media oversharing and public shaming being such a thing now, there’s even more risk to sharing personal info. It’s bad enough with toxic coworkers, I don’t need data trackers following me around online or anonymous internet stalkers either…

    16. Fluffy Fish*

      I generally don’t share personal information.

      Why? Because I’m there to work and my personal life isn’t relevant to that. And I very firmly am not friends with my colleagues.

      I don’t care about my coworkers lives (not in a mean way, more of a its not information I need to know). That doesn’t mean I don’t make polite conversation with them when they do mention something.

      I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of people who 1) gossip and 2) way way overshare details of their personal life. Not volunteering my details is a way to deter both. Not foolproof but works fairly well.

      I only share personal details if its somehow relevant to work. For example my child is graduating college this spring. So I let my bosses know that as context for the fact that I will be taking of more time than usual this spring and potentially last minute depending on what happens with award ceremonies, getting a job and needing to relocate etc.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Congrats to you and your child! Getting through a degree in pandemic times is a huge accomplishment!

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Thanks that’s so sweet of you!

          I don’t know that I did much, but she handled it all like a rock star. Even started a new sport Sophomore year and made captain this year!

          Anyway enough parent bragging. Thanks again :)

    17. FloraPsmith*

      This letter could be about my spouse. There is nothing exciting or nefarious he’s hiding, it comes down to 2 things:

      – he likes keeping work life separate from personal life. Whether in the minds of his colleagues I exist or not has absolutely no impact on whether the work gets done well.

      – we are long-distance and I live in a more desirable locale. We are comfortable with this set-up but know that others might judge or make decisions based on what they would be comfortable with. Mainly, he is concerned that higher-ups may make judgements about his timeline for moving here and sideline him from projects or push him out.

      1. Sara without an H*

        FloraPsmith, you raise good points. A lot depends on the organization and what kinds of information can be shared without repercussions. People can be very judgy about any domestic relationship that is different from their own.

        I once worked with a man who didn’t come out as gay until after he’d achieved tenure. (This was in higher education.) Would it have made a difference? I like to think not, but given the stakes, I fully understood why he chose to keep that information private until his tenure had been approved by the university.

    18. Sara without an H*

      CarlDean, there’s a complicating factor in that LW#2 is Adam’s manager. While it’s natural to want to connect with people, there’s a power imbalance in the manager-direct report relationship that can be abused if the manager isn’t careful.

      I tried hard when I was a manager to make sure my direct reports felt it was safe to confide in me, but I also tried to be clear that they were under no obligation to share anything they didn’t want to. If somebody told me something that I thought really had to be passed along to my own boss and/or HR, I discussed it with the employee first, to make sure they weren’t blindsided.

      Short version: Everybody is different in how much and what kind of information they’re willing to share with coworkers. And it is normal, and expected, that they’ll be very selective in what they share with the boss.

    19. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I used to be on Adam’s level of deeply private at work. It’s just exhausting and tedious to explain my private life to people who don’t understand, can’t relate, and often turn hostile because of it. My worksona is a blank slate and folks color that in with their assumptions; they tell themselves a story about me that fits in with their worldview and that makes life easier for both of us.

      I have friends and family that fulfill my need for deep, personal connection; I go to work to fulfill my need to pay for food and shelter. I’m not willing to risk satisfying that need on the off chance I might connect with one of my coworkers (which is unlikely anyway).

      Now that I have built up some respect and social capital at my job, though, I’ve been making an effort to share some of the things about myself that are stigmatized and work through the same tedious set of questions and remarks in the hopes that I’m making it easier for other people like me to be their authentic selves in all parts of their lives if they so wish. That reward seems worth the risk to me.

      Hope that helps! (This sounds sarcastic but it is meant genuinely.)

      I’m also neurodivergent if it wasn’t evident from the way I approach this.

    20. anon for this*

      I have an unfortunate tendency to over-share. It has come back to bite me more than once. I also tend to over-correct and share nothing. So for me, not wanting to share much comes from a place of not having good natural work boundaries. I’m working on it, but I think I’ll probably default to silence on personal matters. This is why I especially hate any team-building that focuses on hobbies or outside of work stuff. I overdo or get invaded and yuck, this is not how I want to feel on a “team.”

    21. Cyndi*

      Some people are citing social anxiety, and I am ND and have some anxiety so those are certainly factors! My internal gauge for what’s appropriate to say isn’t always on point, so I’ve learned to err on the side of keeping quiet.

      But also…unlike a a lot of ND people who seem to struggle with masking at work, I find it very relieving. Being “myself” at home and putting energy into things I actually care about involves a conscious effort, never mind socializing, but at work I’m just Data Entry Keyer or Retail Worker or whatever and I don’t have the internal pressure of living up to my image of myself. I’m sort of not a person at my job and I like it that way? I hope that makes sense–it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately.

      1. Avery*

        I totally get this! Even when my social anxiety was a lot worse than it was currently, I didn’t have trouble with it working as a cashier. Learn a few stock phrases, keep a smile on… it didn’t seem like REAL socializing to me, for whatever the value of “real” there is that triggers the social anxiety in the first place.

    22. Private for this*

      As someone who is part of multiple minority subgroups of the population (Pagan, LGBTQ, polyamorous, and I have a partner involved in alternative lifestyle with a different partner of theirs), how much I share about my personal life heavily depends on where I’m working and the type of people I’m working with. There is too great a risk for me to face discrimination otherwise, and not all of it would be protected under employment laws – and even the parts that should be covered under law depend on proving that’s what it is. It’s just easier to keep my mouth shut and present a very bland exterior rather than invite trouble by providing too many details at work.

      1. I have RBF*

        Yeah, I am also a multiple minority (disabled, over 60, lgbtqia, pagan, AFAB, childfree, sorta poly). I don’t share much except that I’m married, and that I will do coverage on Xtian holidays.

    23. anon for this*

      I don’t want to share some basic personal details because my life doesn’t look like Standard American Social Norms. My fiancee lives hundreds of miles away and we have no plans to change this. My local boyfriend is married to someone else. I don’t think knowing either of these details would make my coworkers feel more connected to me. I think it would just lead to them quietly judging me (or, worse, peppering me with inappropriate questions).

      I’m not a particularly private person. My coworkers know all about my pets and my eldercare struggles and where I went on vacation. But “the existence of a spouse” is a quagmire I’d prefer not to fall into at the office.

    24. Dread Pirate Roberts*

      I used to be extremely private at work, to the point that my coworkers found out I had a long-term boyfriend because he sent me flowers at work once, and that I had a certain hobby because of media coverage around it. My boss was extremely conservative and seemed to think everyone should be religious, heterosexual and married with 2 kids, and tried to pry into my life because she suspected I was gay and not religious. Being an atheist who didn’t want marriage or kids, with a very strained relationship with my mother, I felt like work was not a safe space to talk about my life. And even though I’m not gay, I didn’t want to give her the “satisfaction” of knowing I was straight because I’m petty like that. I’m far more open at work now but that’s mostly a reflection of working with people who have open minds, in organizations that make an effort to embrace diversity in all its forms.

      Adam clearly has his reasons for wanting to maintain a private life, even if it’s a simple preference, and any pressure to get him to open up is likely to make him more certain about his choice not to.

    25. Mark*

      “I’d be curious to hear from folks who don’t want to share even basic personal details (like the existence of a spouse) with coworkers, what is the motivation/reason.”

      I think it comes from being in a family with eight kids, but I am an extremely private person. I have a complete separation of my work and home life. I don’t like talking about work with friends/family, and I don’t talk about friends/family with people at work. A perfect example is when a brother died. Everyone was shocked regarding how he died because I never once at work mentioned his several-year battle with cancer. It’s just not something I felt people at work needed to know.

    26. J*

      The hilarious thing is my husband is this way. He invited some colleagues to our wedding but only the ones who had since left the company…and Ted. Ted knew us both from outside the office so it made sense. When husband showed up at work the Monday after our honeymoon, someone commented on his tan. Ted spoke up and was like “must have been a great honeymoon” and his coworkers were like “I didn’t even know you were dating someone!” which was especially hilarious since I worked on the same street and we walked and dined together half the time. Then they had all sorts of questions and he really hated it. He just doesn’t like to volunteer things about himself or draw attention (forgotten middle child syndrome) so he never knew when to bring it up and no one ever specifically asked.

      I’ve since taught him that volunteering some limited information tends to make people feel like they know you, even if they don’t. He made his profile picture on Teams a photo from a trip so people now “know” he travels and he shares his running hobby as his fun fact so they “know” he’s a fitness guy, though he never told them about his marathons. I realize he barely shares with his family, I think he’s just gotten a lot of rejection over the years and he keeps a tight inner circle and people like Ted made the cut but others probably suspect he’s in hiding from the mob.

    27. Ben*

      The amount of personal information I’m willing to share varies wildly depending on how much I trust and, frankly, like my colleagues. Sometimes I choose not to share simply as a matter of principle. We are not a family, we are all here for a mutually beneficial economic reason, and there are situations where it’s very important to keep that fact in focus.

    28. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve always been an oversharer, but I’m determined to not do that going forward. So I may be sort of an Adam but share a few general goings-on, like “I saw M3GAN this weekend; it was hilarious!”* or “I went to an art exhibit at [venue]; have you seen it?”
      I’ve worked with people I really wouldn’t want to have information about certain things, as they were somewhat nasty. The Coworker from Hell springs to mind.

      *M3GAN was totally hilarious

    29. Meow*

      I don’t mention having a partner or spouse because…I currently don’t have one. I am currently dating and have had a couple of false-start romances over the past year, but I usually don’t mention people I’m dating to colleagues unless they are more or less permanent partners. I would be miffed if someone thought I was being shady or something.

    30. I have RBF*

      When I got married to my same sex partner, I kept it quiet. When one of my coworkers asked me, I told him is was a low key thing where I was just formally marrying my Domestic Partner. He got it – same sex marriage was fairly new at the time.

  7. Kfish*

    LW 3: King Canute dealt with fawning courtiers by standing on the seashore and ordering the tide to stand still. His wet feet proved that the king’s power was not infinite like the flatterers had claimed.

    Probably not a recommended management technique, but a good story that shows your problem is not new.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      It seems to me that the best sort of mentoring and leadership development that LW3 can do would be to have a frank discussion with her more junior colleague to tell her that this habit she has of overly praising others is going to be bad for her career and credibility. Kind of like, “Listen, Fawn, I want to give you a bit of constructive criticism. You’re very kind to appreciate other people’s efforts and accomplishments, but being overly complimentary is going to cause people to feel uncomfortable, and some people aren’t going to believe that you are being genuine. It will seem that you’re trying to flatter people for an ulterior motive, especially if you’re praising them for things that they haven’t done. I think you have a bright future and I would love to see you progress to leadership roles, but you should develop your credibility by what you do, not by how you flatter people.”

      1. Despachito*

        Possibly Fawn could also use some directions how to find the right measure in this?

        I can see how excessive flattering is annoying (I have met a Fawn as well), but on the other hand, sincere appreciation is a nice thing and it would be a shame if Fawn stops acknowledging people completely for fear of being an overkill.

        1. High Score!*

          The excessive flattering could be an indication that she knows OP3 wants to mentor her and she’s not interested. OP being driven away by the excessive flattering could be exactly the behavior new employee hoped for. She kindly declined the mentorship.

          1. Abogado Avocado*

            This was my take exactly. As a woman who has long worked in male-dominated areas of my own profession, I find it very generous of you, LW3, that you want to mentor this younger female employee. It would be wonderful if all those we wanted to mentor wanted our mentorship. My sense is that your prospective mentee has decided you and she are not a match for a mentor/mentee relationship. That doesn’t mean you can’t take her to lunch or out for drinks and ask her how things are going, but, for the moment, I’d withhold giving her advice unless she specifically asks for it.

            1. Boots with the fur*

              I’ve used this exact tactic recently to head off a colleague who constantly wants to mentor me. She is a wonderful person and excellent at her job, but a flaw of hers is that she’s drawn to giving select people unsolicited advice and mentorship to an exaggerated degree. On my side, it’s anxiety-provoking to feel constantly noticed and critiqued. Not to mention undermining. It is totally possible that OP’s situation is nothing like this, and that her “Fawn” genuinely could benefit from well-worded feedback. But as a general proposition I think any of us who go out of our way to mentor someone without being asked, or without an official need to do so, should do a self-check to make sure our motives aren’t self-serving. Putting someone psychologically underneath you, even if ostensibly for “their own development”, can be an ego boost. Over-the-top, off-putting flattery is a great defense against unsolicited critique because it’s the “nice” version of the exact same behavior (giving unsolicited opinions) and redirects the attention spotlight.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra.*

        It is possible thr over the top flattery has always worked so well that she never learned the art of sincere compliments. It would be a good mentoring moment to try and teach that skill – because I’ve seen lots of people dive straight to flattering because they can’t figure out a compliment.

      3. lifebeforecorona*

        Exactly, I am not the greatest thing since sliced bread but I do make an excellent grilled cheese sandwich. Focus on the tangibles.

      4. BethDH*

        Also “people will question whether you can be an effective manager when your assessments are so out of line with performance.”
        Not delivered like that because this isn’t an evaluation, but I wouldn’t put her in a management position because I wouldn’t trust that she would have an appropriate reading of performance.

      5. Butterfly Counter*

        I have a feeling that this LW3’s colleague’s “love language” is words of affirmation. She’s giving what she hopes she will receive.

        For me, I tend to “overly” compliment my friends. I’ve never been good at well-meant smack talk. Instead, I just talk about how wonderful, smart, and gorgeous my friends are. The bonus is that I’m usually don’t feel like I’m exaggerating all that much. However, this is not something I do at work to colleagues I don’t know well.

        So, for me, this kind of praise is a tad out of line, but not too terrible in the long run. I think getting to know this coworker would help LW3 to feel comfortable in telling her to tone it down and to help figure out how to help this person navigate a job where words of affirmation might look different to what she’s used to.

      6. MassMatt*

        I’m stuck wondering why, other than the fact that she’s a woman in a male-dominated field, LW wants to mentor this person and attempt to get them promoted. She sounds annoying, but maybe she’s great otherwise and has this one (big) issue.

    2. JSPA*

      I wonder if it’s a sort of “obviously joking fawning to indicate appreciation”? That’s a bit of a niche thing, culturally, and has its own social rules (which usually include tacking on stuff that’s clearly intended as hyperbole, not some sort of confusion.)

      “Thank you for this excellent feedback, for talking me up to Lucinda, and for keeping all the stars in their appointed celestial paths” is a quirky “I appreciate that you’re going above and beyond,” not fawning.

      But if the last bit is pitched too low: “singlehandedly keeping this whole company solvent”–or whatever–then it works if you are the new intern talking to the older intern, but it’s in the awkward zone, once you’re the new hire talking to someone a couple of ranks up.

      Even if that’s not what’s going on, it may be useful to treat it as, “if this is a joke, it’s not landing as intended, and if it’s not a joke, it’s incorrect and distracting.”

    3. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

      And yet that is often told as King Canute thinking he could stop the tide. He is one of the most misunderstood characters in history.

      1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        That’s what I’d always thought the story was.

        Or maybe Old Canute actually did think he could stop the tide, but one of those over-the-top courtiers retold the story to rebrand Canute as a very wise and self-deprecating monarch. ;-)

  8. Rosamond Vincy*

    OP#1 – To echo Alison, don’t do this! I had a manager share she was on a PIP and would be fired unless we met certain metrics, which was extremely stressful for the whole team, especially since some aspects of meeting the metrics were out of our control. This will make your reports so uncomfortable and there are definitely other ways to communicate the result you need to achieve. Best of luck!

  9. AcademiaNut*

    For LW1, telling your reports about the PIP in this case in particular would put unfair pressure on them. The successful completion of the PIP requires increased performance from them, and telling them that directly will likely come across as pushing the responsibility for making sure you keep the job onto them (ie, “do better or I get fired”), rather than your ability to improve things through your own actions.

    1. Despachito*

      There also is a possibility they would WANT her fired (I do not want to insinuate it is the case of this specific OP) and if they knew she is on PIP they would act accordingly.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yup, both of those concerns occurred to me. Either her reports like her and would be upset at the thought of her being fired (and might feel responsible for ensuring she succeeds) or they don’t like her and might think, “oh well, what’s the point in improving? The only consequence will be that a boss we dislike gets fired if we do things wrong.” Which sounds horrible and probably wouldn’t be that conscious, but it could be at the back of their minds.

        Or at a more minor level, they might just feel she is going to be fired anyway and stop taking her as seriously. If she had to speak to somebody about something like time-keeping, it might not come too well if it came shortly after she divulged that she was on a PIP. “I’m on a PIP, but you need to take my word for it about how to do your job well.”

        I do think she could tell them “the boss is concerned about our teams performance in x area and we need to make the following changes to improve,” but I don’t think she should divulge the PIP.

        1. TechWorker*

          If OP wants to keep their job and thinks that her team need to put in more effort for the teams performance to improve this is a good way of discussing it.

          ‘Boss has raised concerns about our teams performance. In order to improve I will be changing x and y and I need you to focus on w more closely going forwards.’

    2. Sean*

      And in the event that LW1’s team’s increased performance results in you keeping your job, the team members may expect to be suitably rewarded during the next set of annual pay reviews.

      The problem arises if one or more of them feels they were not rewarded sufficiently for their hard work, and resent being ‘used’ for your benefit and not theirs. They would now know to throttle back their performance after that, putting you on a PIP for the second time, and would be less inclined to do you a solid.

      Are you responsible for the awards made to your team during annual reviews? If so, do you grant everyone a generous review, leaving the higher-ups scratching their heads and demanding an explanation from you as to why everyone on the team is now a stellar performer in need of a bounteous raise?

      1. TechWorker*

        This is a bit of an odd take, it sounds like the team is currently underperforming (from the perspective of the second line manager, at least). It’s possible that’s all the managers fault, it’s also possible that part of it is the manager not managing underperformance closely enough (which you might still view as their fault but is a bit more nuanced). If that’s the case then coming up to ‘meeting the baseline’ is not cause for a bonus/raise.

        1. Sean*

          The team members might view it differently though. They give their all to raise the baseline, aware that the OP’s job is also on the line. OP benefits by keeping their job at the end of the PIP period, while the team members get little or nothing in their reviews.

          Obviously it depends entirely on the attitude of each member of the team, but it is something OP should consider when weighing up whether or not to tell the team about the PIP. Disclosing the PIP leads to many potential minefields.

  10. Jade Rabbit*


    I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed working at XYZ. You have shown me the difference that good management makes.

    (because I haven’t and because you’re not good management)

    I’m sure other commentators will have similar lines too.

    1. Merrie*

      I used some variant of “I learned a lot from working with you” when my apathetic and ineffectual boss resigned and I was looking for something to write in his card. I mean, most of what I learned was under the “how to work with people I want to strangle” umbrella, but I did learn a lot.

      1. Somehow_I_Manage*

        LW 2 is the most interesting subject to me. I think it’s worth acknowledging that on the spectrum of “normal” social work behavior, Adam’s approach is certainly abnormal, and that’s ok. Such a sharp contrast against yesterday’s LW who wasn’t invited to after work social events.

        I do, however, feel bad for folks who aren’t intentionally private, but just have an out of touch boss, and therefore sometimes get excluded from participation in normal social events. For example, I’ve worked places where it’s typical to chip in for a gift card or have a small celebration for a newlywed or a baby shower. Sometimes, somebody will pass this milestone without acknowledgement- not because it was unwelcome, but just because their supervisor never asked or told anyone!

  11. Luna*

    Adam from LW2 makes me think of Leela’s old boss in Futurama.
    “I didn’t know you had a wife; you never wore a ring.”
    “And my wife doesn’t know I have a job. I keep my personal and professional life very separate.”

    1. Clisby*

      I always think of The Ten Crack Commandments: “Keep your family and your business completely separated.”

    2. Cat Tree*

      It reminds me of Johnny Tightlips from the Simpsons. Someone asks how his mother is doing and he responds, “Hey, who says I have a mother?”

    3. Hannah Lee*

      Very funny quote Luna!

      On a practical note for the LW –
      I don’t know how small the company is, and what processes are in place for employees updating information, but at my (admittedly small) company, once a year we ask employees to confirm/update basic information such as their contact info (phone, email, address), emergency contacts, W4 tax withholding forms (in the US), benefit elections ie are they electing a individual plan or employee plus spouse, employee plus kids, family. For each of those things there is a clear business purpose for the employer to have the information.

      So, for the LW, a process like that could be a means for gathering the information needed for business purposes. But for just “I’m curious” or “I want to know this employee better/have a closer relationship” purposes, you really should just let it go. Find other ways to have a stronger working relationship, demonstrate you value, respect them as an employee and a person.

  12. Old Admin*

    #2 : I say leave the married coworker alone, brief the team on any benefits/coverage for spouses, and don’t gossip.
    I’m intensely private at work and sometimes push back against digging attempts:
    I’m a lady in a (hetero) marriage for over 10 years (HR spread the news, sigh) and have recently been called gay (“ask your wife” etc.). That just triggered an evil giggle in me, hoping hubby will come to a company event, want to see jaws drop :-D

  13. Irish Teacher*

    LW2, this is a small thing, but just wanted to say do you know they are going anywhere? If Adam actually said, “I need two weeks off because I’m going on a vacation,” then yeah, I think it would be appropriate and normal to say something like “oh, anywhere nice?” but if he just said, “I’d like to take my two weeks (or whatever it is) vacation at the end of next month,” then asking “oh, where are you going?” could sound like you are assuming that everybody spends their time off taking trips. And some people feel like taking their time off to lie in and watch TV isn’t a “good enough” use of it and that people are going to start asking them “why aren’t you doing something fun?” or even, as you are the manager, they might think you would feel “oh, they can easily rearrange that” and would therefore be more likely to reject the request or ask them to change it around if things got busy than you would be to ask the same thing of somebody going abroad or taking time off to spend with their children.

    1. AngelS.*

      I usually don’t mind sharing where I’m going on vacation. What got me was being asked, “Oh, you have family over there?”! No, I’m going as a tourist. Nothing wrong with visiting family, but don’t assume that is the only reason to travel.
      That’s just me.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      I had a petty boss who would ask what you where you were going on vacation so she could cancel your scheduled time off at the last minute and tell you it didn’t matter because “it’s not like you had plane tickets or something.” This made her feel powerful…or something. I don’t know…she was nuts.

      I like keeping work and my personal life very, very separate, so I rarely got bitten by this. Thus, she changed her tactic to denying every request I put in, and I’d have to put in fake vacation requests and act very disappointed when she canceled the week that I didn’t want and force me to take the week I really planned for. I’d have to gauge her level of glee at ruining my plans, and decide whether or not to put in a second fake request. It was very stressful.

      So, LW, I get that you think your curiosity is benign, but a lot of people have learned that no good comes from sharing with your boss. Plus, I have to say, you don’t need to know more than your employee is telling you. This is a you thing. Let it go.

  14. I should really pick a name*

    It sounds like you REALLY want to know more about your employee and you need to step back from that.
    It seems like you have the right instincts, because you’ve left them alone, but for every statement you make in your letter about not wanting to pry, there’s an accompanying question to the effect of “but is there a good way to pry?”.

    You say you like to know about your employees’ lives and happy news.
    You spend 8+ hours a day with them, so you DO know a lot about their lives and happy news, it’s just not the part of their lives outside of work. Can you get something out of what you DO know? For example, you might notice that Adam seems really engaged on a project. That’s good news! If you gave Adam a good performance review/raise, that’s something good in his life!

    1. Persephone*

      Definitely. If a coworker/boss emailed me just to ask questions about my personal life the way LW suggests, I wouldn’t just be thrown off—I’d think they were unfairly intrusive, and perhaps even rude. Would absolutely impact my relationship with them, as they clearly want to know for their own reasons and not out of care.

      LW, you are way too invested in Adam’s personal life—it’s quite frankly none of your business. He’s not your friend, he is your employee. Are you this invested in all of your employees’ lives, or are you particularly interested in Adam because he hasn’t shared?

  15. MurpMaureep*

    LW 1, first, I’m sorry this is happening. Whether the PIP is something that could have been avoided or not, it’s of course hard and I feel for you. You don’t give derails about what led to this, but if you are being evaluated on how you manage people Alison is correct that it would be a giant red flag if you shared your situation with staff. I wouldn’t be surprised if it resulted in immediate termination.

    Not only would it put a weird pressure on your employees, but it would also give those with an axe to grind way too much information and leverage. The hard truth is that frequently when a manager’s management skills are questioned, it’s because there’s a lot of employee dissatisfaction.

    I used to work for a very non self aware person who ran afoul of very powerful peoplein our organization. He thought oversharing with the team about hus troubles made him sympathetic and would make us rally around him. Instead it gave us the courage to start questioning lots of things he did, from financial mismanagement to inequitable treatment based on gender/race/ethnicity/sexual orientation, to souring relationships wuth key partners, to blaming others for his screw ups. He ended up being let go. But before that it was very stressful for his direct reports to hear about his clashes with leadership and it made us resent him even more.

  16. Jayne not Jane*

    #2- Some people are intensely private at work. I had a former boss that was this way. Once he took 2 weeks vacation (I was his admin) and didn’t even tell me. He just had it blocked on his calendar as being out. I have no idea where he went or what he did. He hardly ever talked about his family (occasionally it would come up) and his interests. I found it a little odd, but I learned to respect his boundaries. He was still a really great boss and I enjoyed working for him. So he could just be very private.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I had a supervisor once who didn’t even tell us she was getting married. Somebody asked her if she was doing anything for her vacation time and she said something like “oh, I just had a lot of time saved up and figured I’d better use it,” then a customer came and and said “supervisor got a lovely day for it, didn’t she?” and I was like “what?” and they said, “didn’t you know she was getting married today?”

      Some people really are that private.

      1. Jayne not Jane*

        I won’t lie I struggled with it at first. I have enjoyed getting to know my colleagues and bosses (on a reasonable and professional level). I thought he didn’t like me or was just aloof. But then his boss made a one-off comment about him also being very private. So, I realized it wasn’t just me.

      2. londonedit*

        My sister basically did that. She’s not necessarily hugely private as a matter of principle, and she gets on well with her colleagues, but she absolutely did not want a fuss around her wedding (which was very small anyway) so her boss was the only one who knew exactly what she was using that week’s holiday for. It wasn’t about keeping things from her colleagues, it was just about the fact that she didn’t want to be the centre of attention and didn’t want to talk about weddings at work. So she didn’t. A few people noticed her ring afterwards and said ‘Oh, is there news?’ and of course she said ‘Oh yes, we got married the other week – just a very small ceremony!’ and that was that.

      3. Phony Genius*

        We had an upper-level manager who got divorced, but wouldn’t tell anybody. She had IT change her e-mail address to match her former (and now new) last name. She sent out e-mails like nothing happened, and we had no idea who this was sending them. I guess she expected us to just know that it was her.

        1. TechWorker*

          I really don’t find this weird – people change their names for all sorts of reasons that aren’t worth a public all company announcement (tho I guess in my org the actual email wouldn’t change..). But I would have thought you can easily figure out who it is from context, or at worst from looking through hen up in your company directory.

      4. Meep*

        I did that. I took a “random” Wednesday (it was our 10-year anniversary) off to get married myself. Only my closest coworker knew about it.

        Then again, my boss was an absolute loon who was obsessed with my uterus and ovaries.

        1. I have RBF*

          Sounds like my wedding. I took the day off, and we had a small ceremony in a local park. No reception, no honeymoon, no name changes. It was the anniversary of our DP declaration, and we finally could get full-on married. I only told a few close coworkers.

  17. Single Parent Barbie*

    #4 Annoying ring tones. OMG my desk is in a bullpen… sometimes there are 2 people in there and sometimes there are 25. And everyone has a different ring tone, and notification tone. I have my notifications muted, but have to keep my ringer on due to my job. But add the ring tones, and the notifications, to the use of speakers on their phones, to having google meet meetings with no headphones, or watching videos on their phones during a break with no headphones, it is a cacophony of noise.

    1. SALES LADY*

      Oh wow, your situations sounds worse than mine. The annoying ring tone is just that…annoying. I don’t think I would mind if it were traditional ring tones and alerts, but these are full on obnoxious sounds. At least people in my office do wear headphones when watching videos, and people generally do step into a closed room meetings and longer calls.

  18. Long Time Fed*

    I’m a private person and no one at work knows much about my life, but if you know absolutely nothing other than, “Bob is an accountant,” Bob becomes a robot/non-entity. There is professional benefit to having at least a lukewarm relationship with some of your coworkers or supervisors.

    1. Samwise*

      ehhhhh. Bob is an accountant who brings lattes for his admin. Bob is an accountant who has avocados for lunch every day. Bob is an accountant with a gigantic tie collection. Bob is an accountant who’s always very friendly and helpful/surly and rude. Bob is an accountant who listens to Death Metal during tax season.

      I have coworkers who I see rarely and know nothing about except that when my students have a financial aid question, I can be sure that Bob in the financial aid office will be prompt and helpful. Bob is a person who is a financial aid counselor. He’s not a robot or non-entity.

      1. metadata minion*

        I agree. There are tons of work-related ways to show your personality and really most people do even if they’re very quiet about who they are outside of work.

        Bob has a painfully large collection of tax-related puns. Bob likes novelty sticky notes. Do not ask Bob questions before he’s finished his morning coffee. Bob is amazing at mentoring junior accountants. Bob likes to talk about the weather — no, really, he’s actually interested in meteorology.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I absolutely adore the coworker who sits next to me, but we don’t talk about our personal lives much. We do talk about the fun socks that he wears, the plants that I’m struggling to keep alive, etc. There are plenty of ways to have nice relationships with coworkers without prying.

      2. The Original K.*

        Totally agree. You can have a lukewarm relationship with your colleagues without sharing your personal life with them.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      Nah. Personal details are in no way necessary.

      Presumably Bob exists at work and has a personality.

      A collegial relationship with your colleagues also does not require personal details.

  19. Erin*

    #3 do you know that this employee wants to have a mentor/mentee relationship with you? If this informal mentorship isn’t common practice in your company culture, raise the topic with her directly. She deserves to know what’s going on, and opt in/opt out, and you deserve to know that your efforts are a good use of your time & energy.

    1. Proofreader*

      The LW is asking for advice on how to handle the over the top flattery she feels her coworker indulges in, not whether or not she should act as a mentor to her coworker.

      1. Kat*

        Disagree. OP wishes to be in the mentor role. Coworker, who is NOT her direct report, probably senses this and may feel nervous around her. Everything matters regarding behavior between people.

      2. Tobias Funke*

        Nah, this is totally relevant. I would probably act super weird and awkward around someone who had self appointed themself as my mentor because I would not know what to do. Not that my experience is universal – I am pretty inept socially – but it’s uncomfortable to be seen as a project.

    2. The Eye of Argon*

      No, it’s a fair question. You can’t fix it without knowing what’s causing it.

      I’m firmly on the side that you should ask before trying to mentor or otherwise steer someone’s career. What you think they should want and what they want for themselves are two totally different things.

      LW doesn’t say if the coworker does this to others. If it’s just LW, and especially started after LW started trying to mentor her, it makes me say “hmmmm”. I can see it as a passive-aggressive way of putting LW off without risking fallout from telling a superior to butt out.

      1. Kat*

        OP can also be making this person so nervous they start in with the needless praise. Just let this person do their job and interact for work purposes. Stop trying to direct her career and mentor her and just let her do her job. She has a manager.

  20. vincent*

    LW4 — this would make me crazy and you should ask her to put her phone on vibrate, but your boss saying “wow, that startled me,” isn’t any kind of clue, it’s just a statement. i don’t think you should even consider the idea that your coworker should have realized to turn her phone down because of it.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      It might have clued in a more conscientious person that their ringtone was too loud, but then again a more concientious wouldn’t need to be told.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      I think that in “guess culture” type of environments, that would actually be considered very direct. I’d certainly take it as a clue.

      Like if I said “ouch, that hurt”, I’d expect you to understand “please avoid stepping on my toes”. Similar for any “this thing you did inconvenienced me”-type statement: to be heard as “please stop!”

    3. SALES LADY*

      You are right. You can’t expect people to take a hint. Sometimes you have to say something out right.

    4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I used to run a wine bar. Very relaxed, quiet environment.

      I saw one customer involuntarily tense up several times, which was weird. Then I paid attention to what was going on, and another customer about 15 feet away had his phone out texting. That customer’s text alert sound was a distinctive “whoop whoop” sound, but not particularly loud.

      So the next time I checked on the tense customer’s table, I asked if he had been in the Navy. He looked up at me started and said “Yeah, how did you know?”. I told him about the texting customer and he replied “So that’s why I’ve been on edge!” It was just loud enough for his old reflexes to jolt him – when he listened carefully next time he heard it and was able to relax.

      You never know what cool/funny/etc ring tone you have may drive another person bonkers.

      1. I have RBF*

        My roomie was in the Navy. She does not like it when we have Reveille as one of our alarms on our phone, because old habits die hard. So we don’t use that.

        I’ve also had to “retire” ring tones that were associated with toxic on-call experiences. It’s a thing.

    5. MassMatt*

      I was remembering the dialogue in a Matt Groening cartoon entitled “Signs you have a weird girlfriend”: “I believe this interpretive dance will explain how I feel about our relationship”.

      #4 is yet another case where a problem can be very simply solved by using actual words.

  21. Lady Blerd*

    Thank you LW4 because I’m having that issue and I am a supervisor! Her ringtone isn’t annoying in itself but her phone goes off throughout the day and it gets grating for that reason. I just wondered if it was something I had to tolerate vs something I had standing to impose the vibrate option.

    1. GreenShoes*

      I think the litmus test is … Is X annoying me or is X having an impact on others.

      If it’s just you, then I’d leave it. If it’s others then you have standing to address.

      Most likely though, if you are otherwise a reasonable person, if something is annoying you, it’s probably annoying others as well so there is typically a fair amount of overlap. But always a good idea to evaluate with a critical eye.

      1. Lady Blerd*

        In this particular case, her phone also happened to go off during a meeting that that made it relevant. But it’s not just the calls, it’s also multiple alarms going going off, and there’s a new employee with a ringtone. In any case, I sent my email as soon as I posted my comment :)

    2. ferrina*

      It’s norm at my office to minimize disruptions, and to keep phones on silent if they’ll be going off. I keep my notifications silent but my ringtone on, in case my kid’s school calls. Most days it makes no noise at all (so I’m a rare nuisance).

      I think you’re fine to say “hey, your phone is going off multiple times a day and it’s distracting. Can you please turn it to vibrate or silent?” Especially since you’re a supervisor, your words will carry more weight than a coworker who may feel uncomfortable speaking up. This is a normal request- I’ve even worked places where it was a part of basic orientation.

  22. RIP Pillow Fort*

    #3- As another woman in a male dominated industry, this sounds a lot like some of the things I’ve dealt with. A lot of the time it comes from a good place of wanting to lift each other up and support other women. It’s just very poorly executed most of the time. You don’t say whether she does this to other co-workers or if it’s just you/other female workers.

    I think you should have a frank conversation with the co-worker about the fact her praise is so over the top it’s going to come across as insincere. If she can’t handle that, then Alison is very right she’s not really going to be leadership material. I’ve had a lot of uncomfortable conversations with co-workers and bosses. I had a boss tell me they thought that as a person I was very passive aggressive in a meeting and other people in the meeting agreed with him. Which hurt a lot (because they were talking about positive personality traits with other people and singled out a very negative one for me) and caused a lot of soul searching to figure out where that came from in how I behave at work. I did make some minor adjustments in my professional life and no one has brought it up since.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      And just because the LW thinks the coworker would be good leadership material and wants to have more strong female leaders in their industry, you can’t want things for other people unless they want the same thing. Coworker could be happy where she’s at, or want to take her career in another direction, or maybe become a leader but not right now.

      I agree that talking it out is the best way to find what’s causing the behavior and also to find out whether the coworker wants to be mentored at all.

  23. The Eye of Argon*

    My mother worked with a guy for over 20 years and never knew he’d had a brother until after they’d both retired. The brother had been killed in a car crash as a teenager and the family basically acted like he’d never existed.

    The same man was very private about other stuff, too. Some people are just closed books.

    1. ferrina*

      My family of origin is mostly terrible people, so I generally won’t talk about them at work. That kind of trauma isn’t the kind of thing that my coworkers need to be subjected to (though I did once work in a teaching role where we had to learn the signs of emotional abuse– I ended up teaching that training). You never know what someone’s personal situation is, and people can have very good reasons for not sharing information.

      1. irene adler*

        Thank you. This is the situation for me.

        I don’t want to share that I have a family member who is incarcerated-for very good reasons. They won’t be getting out. Ever.

        Other than that, most are deceased.

        So when asked, I just say everybody is dead.

    2. Meep*

      The older I get, the more I feel like not sharing personal information with some coworkers is completely valid.

      Then again, the second my former boss found out I had a boyfriend she was assuming I was pregnant any time I got sick, telling me to dump him every other week (never meeting him), and offering unsolicited advice like how I should buy the condo we live in, not tell him, and make him pay my mortgage. When we moved, my mom helped him deal with the movers while I went to work acting like we didn’t just buy a house and when we got married, only one coworker who I really trusted knew about it until she was fired.

      I don’t think OP is this over the top, but I have a hard time blaming him for not sharing when she wants to email him about his martial status!

        1. Meep*

          No good way to do it, hands down!

          “Hi, Adam. I noticed you are wearing a ring. When did you get married?” is so invasive.

  24. JustMe*

    LW 1 – in addition to Alison’s point, it wouldn’t be completely fair to your team. They likely would feel that they *personally* are responsible for making sure that you don’t lose your job, when really, this is about whether you may have a potential skill mismatch in your current role. If you do eventually lose your job, they may feel that it’s their fault; it may motivate your employees in the short-term to overperform out of fear that they will lose you as a manager (“We have to stay till 11 every night over the next few weeks to finish these TPS reports so Fergus isn’t let go!”) but that may not be sustainable business practice, and management may eventually wonder why the team “turned it around” and then eventually went back to their old practices.

  25. The Eye of Argon*

    Just as long as no one starts Annoying Ringtone Wars. One coworker (Uncle Grumpy) has as his ringtone an earsplitting theremin thing at top volume, his reason being that he can hear it wherever he is, in the office or elsewhere in the building. Another coworker (Jokey Smurf) decided to get revenge by setting his own phone to a series of obnoxious ringtones at top volume.

    My office is across the echoey tiled hall from theirs and I’ve had customers just about jump out of their skins when one or the other goes off.

  26. So Tired*

    Re LW2: I’m not sure that saying something like “hope you’re going somewhere fun!” or “I hope you’ll have some time to relax!” is the way to go. My friend’s boss told her to have fun on an upcoming vacation–my friend was going home for her mother’s funeral. I understand wanting to be kind and open with your team, but those kinds of statements when you don’t know the reason behind someone’s time off can come across badly.

    If someone says they’re going on a family vacation or something like that, then sure, it’s fine to wish them a happy holiday! But if you don’t have context, I think it’s best not to risk offending someone who’s taking time off for a decidedly not fun or relaxing reason.

    1. A Person*

      There’s a big difference between “Have fun!” and “I hope you’re doing something fun”, at least in my experience. The second leaves it open for me to say something vague like “unfortunately it’s a family obligation” or even share a bit more if it’s a manager who I am close with. “Have fun” assumes a lot more about the vacation.

    2. I have RBF*

      My goto is “I hope your vacation goes well.” Yes, even if it’s a funeral, I hope it goes well.

  27. Michelle Smith*

    LW5: “At work I typically write thank-you’s to my direct reports, coworkers, and the owners at the end of the year.”

    This is highly unusual. I won’t say it’s over the top, but it’s approaching it. I think it’s nice that you do that for people, but please don’t mistake your habit of doing it for obligation. I’ve worked a ton of places and have never heard of anyone doing something like that yearly.

    I hope this situation never happens for you again, but I’ll mention it anyway for what it’s worth. I put whatever thank yous I’m going to put directly into my resignation letter. So for example, last time I resigned from a job (which was recently) I wrote that I greatly appreciated the opportunity to work there and specifically named 3 people (a former manager, her replacement, and their boss) who I thought deserved recognition and weren’t getting it. I didn’t say it in those words; I was very careful to explain how they supported me, their teams, and the office, which spoke for itself. I also was very intentional about leaving a 4th person off of that list who was a horrific manager and garbage human being. That spoke for itself too.

  28. HonorBox*

    OP4 – Absolutely say something to your coworker. It would be challenging (read: annoying) enough if it was a single ringtone but having multiple ringtones for different people is over the top challenging. I think kindly suggesting that turning their phone to vibrate to help others in the workplace would be great. Point out that it can be alarming or startling to have loud sounds coming from their phone, and it is distracting for you and others. It also makes me wonder if someone you’re talking to on the phone can hear that in the background, too, which might make them feel like the workplace is less than professional.

  29. Hiring Mgr*

    The ringtone thing seems pretty mild to me. Unless there’s an expectation of silence in your group I don’t get why it’s an issue. Even if they had it on vibrate and answered the phone, don’t they start talking anyway? If so, what’s the difference?

    Guess I’ve never worked in an environment where this would come up

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I think it depends on the overall work environment. Most of the offices I’ve been in there’s alot of talking ,people on calls, and so on.

    1. Lily Potter*

      I think that “dueling ringtones” in the bullpen was a far more understandable thing 10-20 years ago, when your choices for phone notifications were “vibrate” or “loud enough to hear the ring across the room”.

      With today’s technology, a person can be discreetly notified about a ringing phone via their watch, bluetooth earbuds, and other ways that I likely don’t know about. It’s harder to claim the need for everyone to have their custom ringtone up full blast in order to know that whose cell phone is ringing.

      (and before someone chimes in about how “employees shouldn’t have to buy an Apple Watch with their own money” for a company phone, I’m going on the assumption that most of these phones are personal phones. Even if they’re not, wireless earbuds are reasonably cheap, presuming the wearer isn’t insisting on AirPods)

    2. BellyButton*

      I was hot desking in the office and a person a few rows over had their ringtone set to Stewie from Family Guy saying “mom, mama, mommy, mom, mom, mom, momma.” It was annoying and jarring. I didn’t know the person, but I asked them to turn it off.

      1. silence is golden*

        I had a coworker that had his ringtone set to his grandkids(??) yelling “GRANDAD! PICK UP THE PHONE!!” over & over. Luckily we had to keep our phones in our lockers so I only ever heard it on my breaks but damn was it annoying.

      2. Aerin*

        I sat two cubes over from a guy who was just walking obnoxiousness. For a while he had his ring tone set to LMFAO at full volume. I’m talking it would go off and a guy in our side chat who sat clear on the other side of the floor would start saying “SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS.” I sat 10 feet away from this prick. Oh, and most of the floor was a *call center*. It took a surprisingly long time to get that dealt with. (He was in an adjacent department and weirdly I didn’t actually see him hardly ever. And also he had a very “lulz u triggered” vibe so I doubt a direct conversation would have been productive.)

        Same jerk also once had a Blackberry locked in his desk with an alarm going off. For some reason no one could get into it for like two hours. I was a shaking mess for the rest of the day. The next time I spoke with my manager I said that if it ever happened again, I was going home sick as soon as it started because I was NOT going to subject myself to that again. I think they changed the key situation after that because it never happened again.

        And of course on top of that, dude had no inside voice. I have never been so happy when someone transferred to another department.

    3. Chutney Jitney*

      I had a coworker whose ringtone was a fake duck quack (QUACK, QUACK, quack-quack). If you don’t think that’s F-ing annoying and distracting when it goes off for several minutes while she’s out somewhere, you don’t have much imagination.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        If your coworker was an AAM reader that ringtone makes sense. You don’t want to miss an important Duck Club call

    4. Distracted Librarian*

      I had an employee years ago whose ringtone was a woman screaming–one of those awful, I’m-being-stabbed-to-death horror movie victim screams. The second time I heard it, I told him to change it. Way, way too disruptive in an office.

    5. The Person from the Resume*

      Probably because you haven’t been subjected to terrible ring tones or phone alerts. The standard ones are not too bad. The “fun” ones can be much longer and can just go on and on.

      As an example, someone I know had their text alert set to a clip of irish bagpipe music. It wasn’t the sound itself. It was the fact that a standard text alert is less than a second long ding and her’s was clip of at least several seconds, but after hearing it repeatedly felt like 5 or 10 seconds EVERY SINGLE TIME SHE GOT A TEXT. It was so annoying to everyone, but her.

  30. Kat*

    Perhaps the complimenting coworker does not want to be mentored by OP and is effusive because OP makes her nervous. OP is not her manager. Why not just let her do her job instead of trying to mold her into a project for promotion? Keep your interactions to the job at hand and otherwise try letting her be.

  31. El l*

    Can this information – your PIP – help them do their job better? Make them go the extra mile? Check their work more?

    Depends on situational knowledge only you have. But I doubt it. So, no, don’t tell them.

  32. BellyButton*

    Telling your team about the PIP for the purpose of them stepping it up or doing things better, isn’t managing, which could be why you are on a PIP. You are expecting them to manage themselves and this project. Manage the team, manage the deadlines, manage the out comes.

  33. YarnOwl*

    LW4 reminds me of a coworker at my last job who set her ringtone to the theme from Psycho one Halloween (the very grating REEE REEE REEE REEE from the shower scene), and never changed it back. She would leave her desk all the time and people would call her and just let the phone ring and ring and ring. Finally an exec heard it while he was walking by and told her to put her phone on silent, hahaha.

  34. k*

    On letter #2: I prefer to operate, generally, on a “mind my own business” principle. Because I mind my own business (by not discussing things like my own family matters, vacation plans, health concerns or healthcare appointments, recent large purchases, money concerns, etc.), I believe it allows my colleagues to mind their own business as well. No, it’s not a perfect system – people are people, after all – but colleagues do seem to get the message that I don’t talk about myself much, I don’t ask them much about themselves, and these things mean that we can all focus on the reason we’re there: the work. LW, I encourage you to respect your employees’ right to privacy and know that you can still be a great boss and colleague without knowing everything about their lives.

  35. Here for the Insurance*

    If I’m going to modify my behavior or communication techniques to meet a very specific pass/fail condition, I feel like they deserve to know why.

    I think your view of the “why” is off, OP. It’s not because you’re on a PIP. You and your team are being asked to improve your output for a business reason determined by management. That’s why your behavior needs to change. I don’t know what that reason is, but you as their manager should. Whatever the business reason is, that’s what you should be communicating to your team.

  36. American Water Dog*

    I’m a trainer. And, I train trainers. The issue with taking exception to someone doodling, or knitting, or using a fidget spinner, etc is a diversity and inclusion issue. The problem isn’t the doodling or the knitting but the uninformed biases of the observer. I directly address this concern when teaching newbies how to be effective facilitators, and I tie it to our standards of critical thinking, empathy, and self-awareness. In one famous example where I work, a student managed her cognitive success with coloring books. After several days, other students were buying coloring books for her. So yes, knitter, I hope you get to knit away even as you may have to take some time and energy teaching DEI lessons to the biased, uninformed, or generally clueless.

  37. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    Hey LW#4, your coworker probably doesn’t realize that other people are keeping their phones on silent. She’s just assuming they don’t get calls. Do her a favor and let her know that she should turn her volume off (not just down) when she’s at work.

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