asking candidates about their least favorite parts of their jobs, coworker snooped through my personal files, and more

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

1. I ask candidates about their least favorite part of their job — should I not?

I read the post yesterday on oddball interview questions, and I’m hoping I’m not being a jerk with my favorite question.

In the last year or so, I’ve started asking candidates what their least favorite thing was about their last role. It usually comes after my colleague asks about strengths and preferred work styles.

I have a legitimate reason to ask, or at least I think I do. I have a great deal of flexibility in how roles are assigned tasks within my department, and those tasks can be reassigned easily based on workload and goals. I also try to really base assignments individually. For someone fairly new in their career who wants to grow, I try to develop their weaker skills and expose them to a variety of things that could be useful depending on their long-term career path. If a person who is nearing retirement isn’t interested in development (in that way), I structure their role around their strengths, with emphasis on mentoring. I’ve found that my group is most successful when (as far as possible) I’m able to balance what they’re good at with what they enjoy doing.

When I ask about a candidate’s least favorite thing, it gives me a chance to see if I’d be able to support that or offer more transparency about the requirements. Someone who really doesn’t like speaking on the phone but enjoys data entry or vice versa could be easily accommodated but it helps me if I can structure their training with that in mind. Or be clear at the interview stage that task X is something there’s no getting around, unfortunately, would they still be interested in the role?

I don’t intend or want it to be a “gotcha” question or some sort of weird reverse psychology fake-out. I was also really hoping (probably misguidedly) it would help me be aware of some biases that would unfairly eliminate neurodivergent candidates that could be excellent employees. But am I really just actually being a jerk?

You’re fine. You’re asking a work-related question, which is very different from asking something totally unconnected to work like how the person organizes their closet or what their favorite dessert is. You also can clearly articulate how you use the answers in a work-related way.

That said, make sure you’re allowing for the reality that you won’t get fully honest answers across the board. A lot of candidates are going to worry about giving the “wrong” answer and may hedge in what they say. You might get somewhat more honest answers if you explain why you’re asking first, so that people know how you’ll use their response.

2. My coworker snooped through my personal files and found my salary

I have a situation where I’m aware that I’m partially at fault. We use a shared drive at work and have general folders sorted by topic and then personal folders for everyone on the team where we save our ongoing work. These are clearly labeled “Name” rather than “Work Topic.” My mistake is that I saved personal files, including my resume, cover letter, and offer letter for my current position in my personal file, the navigation of which looks like, “Jane –> Notes –> Personal –> Career.” Other subfolders I have are labeled by how they pertain to my duties, like, “Expense Reports,” “Templates,” etc.

Recently, I went out to dinner with a coworker, Stacy, who told me that our other coworker, Annie, told her that she “stumbled upon” my offer letter, which contained my salary. Annie then shared my salary with Stacy and shared her frustration that it was higher than hers. Our jobs have salary bands, and my salary band is higher than Annie’s. I’m generally a proponent of salary transparency but it bothers me that (1) she was clearly snooping, since my files are clearly labeled and she wouldn’t have a work-related reason to even access my personal files and (2) she shared my salary with our coworkers without my permission.

Is this something I can or should raise with my manager? Or is it my fault for leaving that personal information on a shared drive in the first place?

Well … you’re right that Annie shouldn’t have been snooping (and it sounds like she would have been well aware she was snooping based on your folder structure) but it’s also true that you really, really shouldn’t keep things like that on a shared drive because if you do, it’s highly likely someone will see it at some point.

To me this doesn’t rise to the level of something you should raise with your manager — although if you’re really bothered by it, you certainly can. If Annie had come across something else personal and was gossiping about it (your bills, for example, or something health-related), I’d feel differently … but companies’ secrecy around salaries hurts employees, so I’m less inclined to escalate it. That said, companies are the ones responsible for salary transparency; you shouldn’t need to bear that burden on your own and against your will. So if you did feel strongly enough to raise it to your manager, I don’t think you’d be out of line.

It’s also worth noting that while the National Labor Relations Act gives non-supervisory employees the right to discuss their salaries with each other, it explicitly does not give that protection to employees who obtain information about their colleagues’ pay through files known to be off-limits to them (or if their job gives them access to other people’s salary records, or if they get others to break access restrictions and give them confidential information).

Read an update to this letter. 

3. Does plagiarism mean different things in different industries?

I worked in academia for 10 years before transitioning to the private sector. In my former role, plagiarism — the passing off of another’s thoughts and ideas as if they were the writer’s own — was a fireable offense. It also ruined your credibility and integrity as a scholar, effectively sinking your career.

In my new role, I write content for which others take complete credit. (When I accepted the job, I was told I wouldn’t get a byline, but I was not told that my writing would be attributed to someone else.) I’m not talking content like analytic reports — more like thought leadership pieces, blog posts, etc. that I fully research and write that are then published to the company website under someone else’s name.

I’m struggling with this! It’s 100% my work! When celebrities “write” their memoirs with someone else’s significant help, the author line will say “with Helping Hand” to give credit. I also know that ghostwritten content is legal, but the ghostwriter willingly participates in a contract with the full knowledge that another person will receive credit for their work.

Am I being too sensitive here? These pieces contain my words and my opinions. Can I use them in a portfolio when I apply for other jobs, even if someone who searches for them online will find them published under someone else’s name? It’s been so ingrained in me that plagiarism is the ultimate integrity and reputation destroyer. I don’t understand how things can be so different in corporate America.

Yep, this is super normal in some lines of work (for example, law, think tanks, government, and many others — everything from thought pieces to “a message from the CEO” letters). Part of your job is ghostwriting for someone else, and it’s really common and accepted in those fields that you won’t be given credit in the piece. It’s just a completely different model than academia.

It’s not considered plagiarism because this is literally how those jobs work (just like it’s not plagiarism for, say, a governor to have staff who write public statements for her). It would be considered plagiarism if you copied someone else’s work and presented it as your own — not that you are hired to write under someone else’s name.

You can indeed use the pieces in a portfolio in the future, explaining you ghostwrote them; employers will be used to seeing this model.

4. Am I a passive-aggressive emailer?

I have a case of social anxiety that I’ve made great strides in dealing with. I’m still a little cagey about saying things that I know are likely to initiate conflict, but I no longer scale back my requests or diminish myself as a prophylactic against it.

A few days ago, I stumbled across an article about passive-aggressive phrases in work emails like “just a reminder,” “for future reference,” “going forward,” “thanks in advance,” and “if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to [contact methods].”

Not only do I use most of the phrases they listed, but I fear the root of the problem is my professional writing style altogether. My anxieties likely had a hand on the wheel while I was developing what felt like an appropriate work parlance, and it’s steered me toward bad habits and a lot of faux pas. And to complicate things, my current work situation makes it difficult to break those habits because my job means I often need to inform people I don’t work closely with that they’re doing parts of their job wrong and need to do it differently going forward. I know that’s not a pleasant message to receive, and can even be interpreted as combative if not delivered gently. But in trying to imbue those emails with empathy and patience using workplace-friendly language, I now realize they usually read like an omnibus of the world’s most irritating office candor.

The article offered some “better alternatives” for the phrases, but I’ve been struggling to incorporate them. I know “It would really help us out if you consulted the flowchart when entering XYZ forms going forward” is not great, but it feels real blunt and kind of rude to just say “Please consult the flowchart when you enter XYZ forms.” (Especially when I’m not the recipient’s boss!)

Instead of singular “better alternative” phrases, are there any good guiding principles for avoiding sounding like a jerk without coming off as two-faced?

I think you just read a crappy article. Phrases like “if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to [contact methods]” are really standard things to write in a business email. We can tear apart standard business language all day long — there’s plenty to criticize — but phrases like these are standard and you don’t need to second-guess your own use of them to this extent. I mean, “just a reminder” isn’t the greatest phrase in the world but sometimes it’s a reasonable one for the context, and that doesn’t need to cause you any anguish.

That said, obvious attempts to tiptoe around your message instead of being straightforward can be grating on people — it can make them feel like you think they’re a delicate flower who must be carefully handled (personally, the phrase “gentle reminder” sets me on edge like nothing else) — and so if you’re seeing a lot of that in your writing, it’s worth considering whether you could just be more direct. The example you worried about being too blunt — “please consult the flowchart when you enter XYZ forms” — would be pretty blunt if it were the entirety of the email, but not if it’s part of an email that’s friendly and helpful overall. (For example: “Hi Jane! I saw you entered X as Y, and we’re asking people not to do that because it causes problem Z. Please consult the flowchart when you enter XYZ forms, since that lays out the correct process.”)

{ 523 comments… read them below }

  1. Ahdez*

    On the plagiarism issue, one way to think of it is who’s ultimately responsible for the ideas and content – and either positive growth or fallout resulting from it. I think that academia and book publishing are very individual-focused, and each author takes personal responsibility for the content published. Different from when an employee researches and writes content for a business – it’s more like the business itself “owns” the ideas rather than the individual, and often that means the CEO/owner/top name is presented as the author.

    1. Norwegian Lurker*

      Exactly! I work in public administration, and our boss often “writes” opinion pieces in newspapers etc. They are always written by someone with more in depth knowledge, but of course in accordance with the official policies and the agency’s official stand. Our boss approves the content and gets the byline, because it isn’t really *her* opinion, it is the official opinion of the public agency.

      And right know I am making a Powerpoint presentation that my boss will give next week. It is part of my job to make the presentation and write bullet points of what she is supposed to say. I know the subject, and she frankly hasn’t got the time to do it. That’s not what they pay her for…

      1. Totally Minnie*

        I work for a state agency that presents reports on other state agencies. Every report is attributed to the head of our department, because as you say, they’re not really. our judgments, they’re our agency’s judgments and the agency head is the person responsible for everything.

        I try to frame it in my mind that it’s not me the person writing the reports, it’s me the employee of the agency.

      2. Hamster Manager*

        I think this LW is being a little disingenuous asking about plagiarism when what they clearly care about is getting credited. It’s incredibly normal not to get credit for things you produce at your corporate job (for instance, have you ever seen the name of the person who designed those reports you write, wrote the software you wrote it with, or the names of the people who assembled your coffee maker?).

        Academia is an outlier in many ways, and getting credit for your work in that way is one of them. I know it feels like “this is a thing I MADE people should know I CREATED THIS” but we’d be here all day if we credited everyone for their contributions. Try and reframe it in your mind as a team sport.

        Also, it can be much more impactful to credit your work to the company figurehead, who’s presumably built up more of a name/clout than a lesser-known staff writer; more people will see the piece because they know the figurehead.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          I needed to update procedures in my LastJob, and people were turning in company-branded reports with academic-style credits (including arguing over order of authorship–like, it’s a 5 page report on widgets, my dudes).

          First thing I did was update the branding of client reports to say:
          Prepared by Global Company, Inc.

          Rather than:
          Prepared by:
          Team Lead, PhD
          I.M. Junior Staff, MS
          I.M. Also Junior Staff, BS
          I.M Just Here Because I Reviewed One Paragraph, MD
          Senior Team Lead, MD, PhD

          As a former academic, yeah, it took some adjustment to move from “this work is mine and my lab’s” to “This is a company product” and I agree, the OP seems more concerned with credit rather than plagiarism.

          1. Alia*

            As someone who previously worked for an academic research hospital, the MD reference is both hilarious and accurate.

            Almost everything I write or edit goes out under someone else’s name…from emails that our CEO sends to research reports. That’s just standard at most nonprofits. I’m convinced a lot of C-suite correspondence is actually mid-level staff writing to each other under their leaders’ names.)

        2. Lils*

          I don’t agree with the characterization of “disingenuous”, rather I would call it “muddling two issues together”…issues that are closely related and incredibly important in the teaching side of academia but maybe not so much in corporate workplaces.

          LW, one thing to consider is the different ways one is evaluated and compensated in academia. I often think of publishing–and the credit you get as an author–as a “currency”…it is certainly a very important proxy for value. Your publishing is what’s measured to show your value to the institution, demonstrate you are an expert in your field, and it’s also what’s measured to evaluate you for tenure, rank, and compensation. Thus, publications, authorship credit, and impact (citations) become *insanely* important. Many people say they’ve become TOO important. I’ve only ever worked in academia and I would love to know what it’s like to be measured more for my actual contribution to the organization’s success rather than this rather silly and biased system of publication credit.

        3. D’Arcy*

          True, but academia is already very much a team sport, the days of the lone scientist are long gone and never coming back. It’s just that academia is super strict about proper attribution, whereas the corporate world pretty much doesn’t actually care about intellectual property other than top-level corporate ownership.

      3. Orora*

        I get your point, but then I also feel the boss should give credit internally if the report/press release/whatever is well received. A quick “Great work on the press release, Andy. Thanks!” email goes a long way to making an employee feel appreciated.

      4. BG*

        I do similar work as part of my role, and I think of this very similarly to you. To me, plagiarism requires someone to essentially “steal” work/ideas–but because this writing is part of my job, I’m *giving* my written work/ideas to my boss (and I’m being paid to do so).

    2. KR*

      I’ll add the same thing also happens in academia. On the staff side, we frequently write letters, grant applications, statements, recommendations, etc for senior leadership to issue.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Seriously — this is the equivalent of a campus-wide letter from the Provost. In most cases, I am sure the Provost didn’t actually write that letter.

      2. ferrina*

        I worked in a non-academic setting that had academic affiliates. It was not uncommon for them to use research I had done and put their name as first author (sometimes leaving me off entirely, because I was “too junior”. Just not too junior to design, execute and analyze the research). As long as they made some kind of minor edit, they would put claim to it.

        1. Danielle*

          Same experience here. My spouse is a junior researcher in a CS department. A whole huge team of grad students worked tirelessly on this report they just put out, and their names are listed somewhere on the thing, but it still gets publicly credited and praised as their professor’s research. Even though the did 10000x more actual research than the professor did.

      3. Smithy*

        I would also add that outside of academia, there are other employers who hire more traditional researchers who do still publish under their name and in the spirit of traditional academia. Think of any employer that employs scientists to test, develop or evaluate “stuff”.

        Professionally, I think part of that divide is where the employer wants to gain traction. If it’s in academic circles, then you want to show your PhD’s or other researchers working at a high level among their peers. But if it’s among the Forbes, Davos, USA Today/CNN spaces – it’s more common to see C-Suite or similar senior leadership aimed to speak with the most authority as opposed to say Sr. Analyst.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Some places that hire cadres of PhD/Masters level researchers, you’re doing a company branded report for a client, but if the work (and client allows), sometimes those reports can grow into traditional journal publications with the team being credited authorship. But a lot of proprietary reports, even if potentially interesting to the greater readership may not be published because of confidentiality.

      4. Sparrow*

        Yes, I came here to say this. My past couple of jobs, I’ve worked in higher ed administration within a dean’s office. I’ve written SO many things I’m not directly credited for. (And yes, I have used those pieces as personal writing samples before.) I even occasionally come across a internal proposal or communication that was clearly repurposed from something I originally wrote. It doesn’t bother me, perhaps because I know going in that I’m writing it on someone else’s behalf.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      Corporate authorship is just different from individual authorship. In fact, my guess is that the names of the people on the OP’s writing aren’t as important as the titles they have in the organization. That’s just how it works.

      Plagiarism in that case would be if another organization used the OP’s employer’s written product without permission. (And I have found cases of this that I have had to report to my employer.)

    4. new year, new name*

      Yes, exactly. I work in advocacy and periodically write op-eds to place in various news outlets – always under someone else’s name! If you’re trying to convince a decision-maker of something, it’s way more effective for the message to come from Dr. Famous Expert than me, who nobody’s heard of. And it’s a way more efficient use of everyone’s time for me to draft the text than for Dr. Expert, who has more important things to do but is happy to do a quick review and then lend her name to the piece. It’s all in service of the advocacy goal, rather than one person’s individual work.

    5. Princess Peach*

      Yes, the intent of attribution is different in academia. To succeed, I have to prove I wrote [X] pieces, did [Y] presentations, was cited by other people [Z] times, and brought in [$] grant money. If I can’t demonstrate that, I lose my job. The university needs me to be a tangibly effective individual contributor, and being listed as an author as many times as possible is often the best way to do that.

      When I worked in corporate America, all that really counted was the business’s reputation and profit margins. That is what most affected whether there were layoffs or whether I got a bonus. My manager and department generally knew what I was doing, and that got reflected on my annual reviews or bids for promotion.

      Saying, “No, *I* wrote that” would be an important, serious accusation in academia, but likely seen as out-of-touch and arrogant in a corporate environment. Obviously, there are nuances, and different schools and companies may approach things differently, but those are the broader cultural differences I’ve observed.

      1. Princess Peach*

        Ha, I just typed up a non-work related thing and signed it with my spouse’s name. I wouldn’t have thought twice if I hadn’t just been musing about credit and attribution this morning. You get used to different norms depending on the situation.

    6. PotteryYarn*

      Exactly! I write our company’s press releases and 95% of the quotes from our executives are written by me. As a former journalist, I was appalled at this when I first started, but like Ahdez said, I’m writing on behalf of the company and the company has ownership over the content I produce for them.

      1. ferrina*

        Lol! Yep, this is so, so normal. I’m in a job where I ghostwrite a LOT of internal content that then gets attributed to someone else. It’s much better for everyone- some of their writing is, well, imagine Tolkien drunk.

        1. PotteryYarn*

          For sure! We have lots of employees and executives that are from outside the US and have varying mastery of English. I do a lot of taking their ideas and simply cleaning them up so that they can be widely understood.

    7. L.H. Puttgrass*

      One caveat about this, though:

      “You can indeed use the pieces in a portfolio in the future, explaining you ghostwrote them…”

      That’s not always true. I expect that it’s highly dependent on the job, but there are situations—I’m thinking in particular of government and certain areas of law—where “I wrote this, not the person whose name is on it” would be breaching trust or confidentiality. The better rule of thumb, IMO, is to check whether anything you “ghost wrote” can be used as a writing sample.

      1. Smithy*

        Yeah, I also think a caveat on this is whether or not it will be believed that you wrote it entirely yourself.

        I’m in nonprofit fundraising and work a lot with grants – and for better or worse, lots of job postings in the field will often ask for a writing sample. My first fundraising job was in a place where I was the only fundraiser and one of only 2 English as a first language speakers. And had two proposal I wrote published in an open process, so no privacy issues. But even on those terms, to truly say I wrote them entirely myself from start to finish (with no significant usage from other materials anywhere) is a bit disingenuous.

        I know that there truly are other positions where people do write 75% or more truly by themselves – but I’m always suspicious of how much is a collective effort of the larger organization vs one person’s solo work. I don’t say this to discredit the OP’s claim for their position, but also why I think it’s important to network in your field to get a sense of how other people gut check this one.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Yeah, writing samples in biosciences are a PIA–in science it is SO VERY UNUSUAL to have a sole-authored peer-review publication (I think my dissertation in 199something was the only one).

      2. RNL*

        I work in legal talent management, and an external recruiter recently sent me a writing sample for an associate candidate that was an un-redacted privileged client opinion letter! To a competitor law firm!

        I mean it was an easy way to screen out both the candidate and the recruiter but… yikes.

    8. Hats Are Great*

      My sister’s entire job is writing things like op-eds for some very famous people. She’s had her work published in the New York Times several times … under her client’s name. She’s written for nationally and internationally-known politicians, academics, leaders of large companies, even a few Hollywood celebrities. Speeches, position papers, op-eds, public statements — all kinds of different things. She specializes in putting complex medical or scientific discussions into layman’s terms. When you read an op-ed in the New York Times from the head of the American Medical Association or someone who runs a famous lab at MIT, and it explains a really complicated underlying thing in a clear and understandable way, so that you can understand the policy proposal (“we need to change this about drug approvals” or “this kind of AI should be banned” or whatever) the person is putting forward, it’s likely my sister wrote that. She’s really good at getting into her client’s voice, and then helping them figure out how to present a complex topic clearly in limited space.

      1. Alanna*

        Can I ask where she works (not the specific firm, but is it a speechwriting business, a consulting firm, something else)? I’m in journalism, and if I were to make a career change, it would likely be to doing something similar, but I know very little about how the business of ghostwriting works.

        1. researcher mouse*

          Seconded! I’d also love to know. I’m a researcher and writer, and this type of writing focused on making complex ideas understandable to public audiences is really interesting to me.

        2. BadCultureFit*

          I’m not the sister in question, but that’s a lot of what I do too. You’d want to look at media agencies for this kind of work, or you’d want to transition into in-house corporate communications.

          This past year I’ve ghostwritten op-eds for Financial Times, Fortune, and many more.

        3. ItsJustWritingInMostCases*

          Tip #1: Don’t ask about ghost writing – unless it’s in publishing or journalism it’s typically just considered writing. If you ask about ghost writing opportunities in any formal way you’ll be greatly restricting your market.

    9. Ace in the Hole*

      This is a really good way to think of it.

      If I write a policy document for my org, it will not have my name credited as an author. It will have our organization’s name and the name/title of the director who approved the document. Ultimately, the responsibility falls on the organization and the director to ensure any policies they approve are good no matter who wrote them. Doesn’t matter if our IIPP was drafted by a cat walking on a keyboard as long as it’s compliant.

      On the other hand, if I am leading a training or presenting at a conference I put my own name on any content I created for the session (as well as the org name). Part of training documentation is showing that the instructor was qualified/competent to teach the topic… that means the individual identity of the author is important.

      1. CompanyWotkProduct*

        this is not standard. I’ve never worked anywhere where it would be acceptable to take personal credit for company training material or documentation. The very idea of thinking of putting a name on it gives me hives. It’s work product you do for the company.

    10. Required*

      “I think that academia and book publishing are very individual-focused, and each author takes personal responsibility for the content published.”

      But that doesn’t get you to a sensible answer either. It’s not plagiarism to have somebody ghostwrite a book for you.

      1. David*

        Well… to the mind of an academic, maybe it kind of is plagiarism – or at least perilously close to the line. Like, as a former academic myself, the whole idea of ghostwriting gives me an uneasy feeling. Even though I know the people doing the ghostwriting are (presumably) fully aware all along that they will not be credited for their work, and I know that they consent to doing the job with that fact in mind, and I know that it’s a very common and standard thing to do, the fact is it’s still putting words and ideas out into the world without a proper representation of where they came from, and that feels deceptive to me as the reader. (I wouldn’t make a fuss about it, though, because it is such a standard thing.)

        1. BG*

          Part of my job is to write various pieces on behalf of my boss and then submit them under boss’s name. If it’s at all comforting to know this, I wanted to share that my boss edits and approves these pieces before I submit them to relevant stakeholders–and the messaging is agreed upon beforehand. So, in my mind at least, these pieces do still “come from” my boss.

  2. Seal*

    #2 – Never put something you don’t want others to see on a shared drive. Aside from the possibility that someone is snooping, someone else could stumble across your personal files while running a search on the drive for something else. Speaking from experience (running a search, not snooping!).

    1. Tau*

      This is a really good point. Even if OP feels the folder structure should’ve made it clear that this was personal information, if someone is coming for a search (ex: searching for whether there’s some template for offer letters available, or the like) they may not see the structure at all.

      I also generally tend to assume everything on a shared drive is something I’m permitted to see, because otherwise why would I have access? OP’s “Personal -> Career” would probably make it clear it’s something else, but don’t underestimate the ability of people to miss the obvious, especially if it’s uncommon for people to store sensitive personal info on the drive and so they’re not expecting it.

      1. philmar*

        Yeah, I’m an unabashed snoop. If I have access to your files, I’ll read them. Password protect the folder or the file, save them to the local drive of your computer or the desktop, or don’t keep them at work at all, but if you have them on publicly accessible drives, and they can come up in keyword searches, they aren’t private.

        I also like your point about things on a shared drive being for everyone. I have to write things like awards and evaluations for myself and others in similar positions, so it’s very helpful to find old versions of those documents, which are often saved under (Name)/Career or things like that.

          1. LJ*

            Maybe the parent comment phrased it in a brusque way, but if people are putting things in a Shared drive, I assume they want me to see it, or at least don’t mind people seeing it.

            Stop sharing things you don’t want people to see folks!

            1. Michelle Smith*

              There’s nothing wrong with reminding people not to put things in a shared folder that they don’t want other people to see, but it’s also incumbent upon other people not to be snooping jerks.

              If I leave my front door unlocked, that’s not smart and it’s reasonable to tell me I should be responsible and lock my door to give myself protection from people being able to just wander in. However, if I leave my door unlocked and you come into my home and steal my TV, you’re still at fault for stealing something that quite clearly wasn’t yours, even if I failed to exercise reasonable precautions to prevent it.

              1. MassMatt*

                That’s not a very good analogy. This is more like sharing a hotel room and getting upset that I saw what you had in the closet. A shared drive is shared, it’s right there in the name!

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  I would say more along the lines of having a shared refrigerator at work where people put their lunch bag labeled with their names. I assume you’re not in the habit of opening up lunch bags that aren’t yours to see what sandwiches someone else brought?

                  I’d feel differently if it was a shared drive named with project/client names, but personal names is just flat-out snooping. (Though I do agree that OP should not have kept personal info on a shared drive.)

            2. Flan*

              This is not the same as having a good reason to look at it. Perhaps they assume that you are a person who minds their own business. See how assumptions are of limited utility?

              1. LJ*

                That’s awfully sharp take. Again, these are files intentionally placed in a place where it’s shared with others. Not left out by accident, intentionally uploaded to a shared drive where it can be found (and yes searched) by all

          2. Nina*

            idk, this could be a quirk of where I used to work, but it was the norm there that a) anything you thought might someday be tangentially useful to a colleague, you put on the maximally shared drive because who knew when you’d leave and they’d lose access to ‘hey where is this file’ and b) anything on the shared drive was fair game for reading, either because it was directly related to your own work or because the high turnover and resultant constant loss of institutional knowledge required everyone to have at least some degree of understanding of all parts of the business and where bodies were buried.

        1. They*

          Buddy, I’m also a Nosy Parker too but you have GOT to respect the fact that you don’t have a right to know

          1. new year, new name*

            Yeah, I guess that makes me an “abashed snoop” because I do kinda want to be up in everyone’s business but somehow manage to restrain myself…!

            The commenter above who mentioned things coming up in a search has a great point, though. Especially when there’s no standardization of file names or metadata, sometimes you really do have to take a quick look at something to figure out if it’s what you’re looking for. It’s the electronic equivalent of flipping through the pages left on the printer to see which one’s yours.

            1. They*

              100% with you, I agree they should take precautions and not save sensitive stuff in places everyone can access!

              Like you, I /love/ knowing other people’s business, but I do it mostly by osmosis and I think we do have a responsibility to respect other people’s privacy

            2. Fish*

              Indeed, @new year. Pages not picked up from a printer, was how I found out a client was very dissatisfied with something about our firm’s work for them. And they were right on the mark.

            3. Ace in the Hole*

              That, and sometimes files are stored in the wrong place! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found a shared, public document stored in someone’s personal folder on the shared drive. Things like reference documents, memo templates, draft SOPs, meeting minutes…

              In a perfect world I’d ask first before poking around, but if they’re not at work and I need the file I’m gonna risk opening “General meeting sign in form blank.pdf” even if it’s in Wakeen’s personal folder.

        2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          Really, Philmar? You brag about being an unabashed snoop? Would you like to have every rando on YOUR job read YOUR personal / personnel files – and then gossip about what they find on them?

          Seriously, Philmar – please find another hobby. Because this one has the potential to create a very nasty backlash for which you – and you alone – would be responsible. For starters, think about how many people really trust a “snoop” (spoiler alert: the answer is “nobody”!)

          1. philmar*

            I’m perfectly okay with anyone seeing the personal files I keep on the shared drive. I’m aware it cuts both ways. That’s why I don’t keep information I don’t want people to see on the shared drive…

            1. Peanuts*

              I agree with you. Keep your stuff locked up if you don’t want people in it. I snooped into a collegue’s file and found out that she trash talked me to our boss during her performance review. I’m 100% glad I snooped because prior to that, I had wondered why my boss suddenly started treating me differently and making my work life harder.

              I also kept my work and personal files completely separate. I never save anything personal at work. If I wanted to make sure people didn’t see it, I saved it to my own drive or my desktop, but not the shared drive.

              It’s because I know people like me are out there. And people like Philmar are out there. People can try to uphold other’s privacy all they want by not snooping, but Snoopers are gonna snoop. Protect yourself.

            2. Reluctant Mezzo*

              And leaving certain kinds of papers on the copier/printer is also a bad idea. One item I just left there and hoped nobody else saw it, and another I returned to the owner and said, ‘Oh no I didn’t really look at it once I saw it was yours’. It’s a useful face-saving phrase that everyone accepts as true if there is trust between the two people.

        3. sagc*

          honestly, I get it. browsing through a shared drive at work is like the least-invasive way I can imagine to be a “snoop”.

        4. Lady Blerd*

          Sorry but no. A lot stored info is on a need to know basis, even on a shared drive. I could look up notable people in my HR software but if I’m caught, saying that the info is accessible to all won’t prevent me from getting written up. In OP’s situation, we don’t know how her colleague got to her offer letter but if she knew she was in OP’s personal folder, there’s nothing noble about being a snoop.

          1. Lydia*

            Hopefully HR files are not on a shared drive accessible to anyone. There is a difference between you looking up privileged information using your HR status and someone in the cube next to you looking at the things you saved in a shared folder about yourself. It’s not the same thing.

            It is, however, a good idea not to go looking at them, but responsibility cuts both ways.

            1. Zweisatz*

              I do think it is not a bad example. Per my recent jobs I have had access to both a vast amount of personell as well as IT data. Doesn’t mean that this is an open invitation to look up confidential information that is not relevant to the task at hand.

              1. STG*

                There is where I fall.

                Perhaps it’s because I’m in IT and I’m used to having elevated access but I regularly tell the department that just because you have access to sensitive data doesn’t mean you have a reason to use that access.

                It doesn’t matter whether the data is privileged or secured. Just because you can access something doesn’t mean you should.

                1. Observer*

                  It doesn’t matter whether the data is privileged or secured. Just because you can access something doesn’t mean you should.


                  This is something that every adult should understand. Just because you CAN does NOT mean that you *should*. For a whole host of reasons.

                  Do I think the OP was being an idiot? To be honest, yes. But is being an idiot such an egregious offense that it excuses invading someone’s privacy and then gossiping about them? Nope to the Nth degree. Being the snoop and the gossip is the really problematic behavior. And if someone is in a job that requires a decent level of discretion? That’s going to be a real black mark against them.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            Presumably if you have access to confidential information as part of your job duties, your employer has policies and trainings on who is allowed to view which files under what circumstance. And I certainly hope they don’t keep such files on a shared drive that can be viewed by anyone – it should be someplace only accessible to designated, trained employees.

            I look at it like a paper filing system. A shared drive is like a shared filing cabinet – you can label a folder/drawer with your name, but it’s not shocking if a coworker flips through it without asking. A non-shared work drive is like keeping folders in your desk drawer: not truly private since your employer still has the right to access it at any time, but it would be a huge overstep for colleagues to just riffle through it under most circumstances. And anything confidential should be kept in a locked room/cabinet with keys only given to those who have legitimate need for access.

            1. Tau*

              This is how I see it.

              Maybe it’s a matter of company culture, but anything that’s on a shared drive at my company is something I expect was intended to be shared with other employees, and if I’m in the group with access I expect I’m one of the people it’s intended to be shared with. Even folders with individual names – that could easily be notes specific to stuff [name] is working on, but available to others in case they need context or the like. I would think nothing of rifling through a shared drive to get a picture of what other teams are working on, look at the way they organise their meeting notes to see if there’s something we can learn, grab a colleague’s notes while they’re on holiday, etc. If I stumbled across someone’s personal stuff, I’d back out immediately and wouldn’t spread it (and might ping them going “hey just fyi your [thing] is visible in the shared drive!!”) but I would absolutely be taken aback.

              The key part here is, I think:
              – we all have storage available to us that isn’t shared, and
              – there’s decently fine-grained access control lists in place

              meaning that it’s pretty safe to assume that something on a shared space I can see is fine for me to peruse – the shared cabinet / desk cabinet / locked room split in your example. If a company dumps everything onto one big shared drive, well… you still shouldn’t store personal stuff there, but I can see how you’d feel like you had more of an expectation of privacy.

              1. BethDH*

                I think you hit on the crux of the divide here worth what “shared drive” means.
                I’ve worked places where the shared drive was a network drive that was the only significant place to store documents that was backed up, so there folders often had personal stuff.
                More recently I tend to work places that use more of a google drive – type model, where everyone has their own backed up digital storage and the ability to share individual files and folders with anyone, and the “shared drives” on that model are “someone may need this someday and I can’t predict who” (and yes, people still name folders their own names in that situation, probably mostly out of convenience — the name as a shortcut for the role). I feel very differently about reading a document outside their own folder if I imagine it with version A vs version B.

          3. Nina*

            If your HR software allows that kind of snooping, your HR software is bad and needs to be fixed immediately.

        5. Anonymous 75*

          while I don’t think I’d go actively looking for something, of I came across it, I’d probably look. and id fully expect people to look at mine if I kept something like that on a shared drive.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            Same. A good IT will be able to restrict access to only people who are allowed to look. If it’s accessible to me, I presume I have a right to look.

            1. Observer*

              That assumes that the OP has good IT.

              But even so, mistakes get made by IT. I’ve seen more than one occasion where people wound up with access to stuff that they shouldn’t. Now, most of our staff know better than to store anything sensitive on shared drives because I periodically remind them that anything on the drives can be seen by the org, and that we *will* look if we feel the need (not that it’s happened more than once or twice that I can recall), and that even if *we* don’t feel the need to look, if we ever wind up with an investigation on our hands, it’s open season. But there are other issues where people who shouldn’t have access do. So I always plug that hole IMMEDIATELY. But it happens – maybe someone changed roles and their access was not properly adjusted. Maybe there was some miscommunication about what roles should have access to what. Or (and this is surprisingly common) someone misunderstood the folder and access structure and thought that something had a different access level than it does.

              The bottom line is that it takes a lot of (willful?) ignorance to believe that mere fact that you got access actually means that it’s ok to poke around.

          2. JustaTech*

            As someone who is known in the office as “The File Spelunker” (because our computer files are a disaster) I often have to open folders called things like “Bob’s Files” because inside Bob’s Files are the only copies of essential project documents (thanks a lot, Bob).
            But if I open a file or folder and it’s clearly something personal I’m going to close it ASAP and make a note to myself to not open it again.
            Just like when I was cleaning out a lab and found a binder of someone’s bank statements. I read just enough to figure out what it was and who it was and then I stopped reading (and worked with other people to get it back to them).

            And I’m the kind of person who, it there is text, I am reading it, from the side of a cereal box to legal documents left lying around. It’s just what my eyes do.

            1. Observer*

              I’m not the “file spelunker” but I’m in much the same position on more than one occasion. And I’m also like you on reading stuff.

              And I *also* agree with you on how to handle coming across stuff that’s not my business.

            2. Orora*

              Yes. As soon as you realize that the file is not what you’re looking for AND personal in nature, you shut it and move on. If it’s misplaced, you look only enough to figure out who it belongs to and get it to them.

              You don’t “stumble across” an offer letter in a folder marked “John’s personal files” thinking it’s the P&L statement from 2017.

        6. Observer*

          but if you have them on publicly accessible drives, and they can come up in keyword searches, they aren’t private.

          Sure, the OP needs to better protect their private documents. But what you are saying is the equivalent of claiming that if someone leaves their car unlocked or leaves their wallet or food on the break room table it’s really there for public consumption.

          1. LJ*

            Those examples are things that you do by accident. It sounds like the situation here is intentionally uploading files to a shared drive and then being surprised they’re being accessed by the share recipients.

            It seems like we have 2 camps of opinions in the comments here. I guess we really do use shared drives differently – I wouldn’t have expected so much controversy!

            1. Observer*

              Lots of people leave their food in the break room. Certainly in the creak room or shared kitchen refrigerator! Does that mean that anyone can take whatever food is in the refrigerator?

              1. LJ*

                But the office refrigerator is the only place to keep one’s lunch cold. That’s the commonly accepted usage.

                The shared drive is not the only place to store one’s private files. One store one’s private files on one’s own computer. At least I thought, but it sounds like maybe there are some workplaces where storing private files on a shared drive is also a common use case.

          2. Nina*

            This is like someone leaving a plate of falafel balls in the lunchroom under the sign that says ‘food for sharing goes here’ and then being shocked, shocked, that someone ate the food they put in the place food for sharing goes.

        7. popko*

          Getting a lot of “if you didn’t want me to read your clearly-labelled diary you shouldn’t have left it out where I could see it” energy from this thread, jesus christ.

          1. Nina*

            The trouble with most shared drives is that you can search them, and the search function is completely agnostic as to whether the folder it finds keywords ‘Offer Letter’ in is labeled JENS FOLDER DO NOT TOUCH or USEFUL HR TEMPLATES PLEASE USE.

      2. Self-Appointed Bear Safety Trainer*

        I agree about stumbling across these things while doing unrelated searches. I routinely search our drives by date, because my job involves finding/using the most recent version of certain files in hundreds of separate project files. While doing this I’ve legitimately accidentally stumbled upon all sorts of personal files – just because they were updated within the last day. I’m not looking for these, but I have to click on their previews to see if they are the things that I am looking for. There’s no file structure visible when I’m doing this. I try to “not see” the content of these files as soon as I recognize that they’re not the things I was looking for.

        1. trick*

          At my OldJob I set up a series of folders “Personal–Private–” and then the only thing in it was a Rickroll. It made me laugh so hard to imagine someone finding it but not being able to talk about it without admitting they were snooping.

            1. Kit*

              Seconded! This is, quite frankly, a masterpiece and exactly what any snoopers deserve (and a much, much gentler reminder of how inappropriate they’re being than they could be getting).

        2. J*

          I had a search rule in place because people would forget to add them to our special collaborative team. If it said PROJECTNAME anywhere in the file then I was instructed to review and add to our directory. Management literally set up the query with the help of IT.

          Then they got mad because they found out I was viewing files that were “confidential” except they were on the shared drive and it was their idea to have this process. Somehow they never thought people would put their own performance reviews, layoff plans, acquisition plans on there in the midst of budgets, pitches, public presentation attendance data, client reports, etc.

          And naturally one of the managers who insisted on the query was the worst offender and deeply offended to have “his files” opened. I’d run the query and essentially auto open everything and close out immediately when it appeared things were confidential but that still angered them. I would have much preferred these were kept off the shared folders but somehow it was my fault for reminding people of their personal cloud drives.

      3. Mizzle*

        I don’t think “it’s on a shared drive, so it’s something I’m permitted to see” is always applicable. Long ago, at my workplace, we had two options for saving files: either to your local drive or to a shared one. If I needed to share with a colleague, the shared drive was the obvious choice, but that doesn’t imply an invitation for everyone else to look at it.

        1. Lydia*

          It’s not really about it being an invitation, though. It’s more that if you put it on a shared drive, there is a reasonable expectation that other people can and will see it.

      4. Timothy (TRiG)*

        Also, younger people don’t use folders any more, apparently.* The entire concept of a folder structure, with directories and subdirectories, isn’t part of their mental map of a computer. They just use search directly. So storing stuff in a folder labelled “Personal” may have little effect.

        * Ref: Chin, Monica. “File Not Found”, The Verge, Sep 22, 2021.

    2. Nodramalama*

      Yeah I’ve genuinely found things that shouldn’t be for my eyes from just using general search terms in shared folders before.

    3. Roland*

      Yes, the search is such a good point! This coworker gossiped about what they saw and so is obviously not a good actor, but they and anyone else could have seen it by running a search for something innocuous.

      1. English Rose*

        Yes, that’s what I came here to say. I frequently run a search in shared drives rather than drilling down the file structure when I’m not quite sure where something has been saved.

    4. WoodswomanWrites*

      Absolutely this. In a previous job where we had about 600 employees, many had been there for at least 10 years and some much longer. The IT team was looking to make more room on our server, and in doing so they discovered there were a lot of personal files taking up space.

      The IT lead sent a message to all staff asking them to remove their personal files. While he didn’t mention anyone by name, he used as an example that they’d found someone’s tax returns. He reminded people that in addition to cluttering the server, they had no privacy with their documents there for anyone to find. That prompt got people to pay attention and remove their personal documents from the shared drives.

    5. Erica*

      Came here to say this! Wouldn’t assume it was snooping.

      I also wouldnt consider it gossip bc salary equity is such an important workplace issue: Annie may have told Stacey to find out if they were both getting screwed or if Stacey was also getting higher paid pay than Annie.

      OP; it feels weird when people see things you don’t mean for them to but I hope you can reframe this in your head.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        It’s gossip when it’s information that wasn’t intentionally shared with you

        1. Sloanicota*

          Hmm, I’d say it was gossip if it was idle or unproven, but just the privacy issue doesn’t mean this factual conversation, based on having seen a signed offer letter, is gossip! I guess I’m nitpicking word choice here though.

      2. EPLawyer*

        It might not have been snooping. But good manners requires that if you find something is clearly private, you don’t then discuss it with others.

        Salary transparency is great. But in this context, OP was NOT sharing her salary. The proper thing for Annie to do would have been to pretend she never saw it.

      3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        Yeah, I agree. I get why the LW feels weird about it, but if she supports salary transparency, then she would have shared her salary anyway, right? The fact that it was discovered rather than shared should be more of a no harm, no foul thing and a reminder not to put anything on a shared drive that she doesn’t want shared.

      4. Observer*

        Wouldn’t assume it was snooping.

        I also wouldnt consider it gossip bc salary equity is such an important workplace issue: Annie may have told Stacey to find out if they were both getting screwed or if Stacey was also getting higher paid pay than Annie.

        You could be correct, but based on the way it was described, I think it’s unlikely. It sounds very much like gossip, which means that reading that information was snooping.

        Also, as Allison says, pay transparency is on the employer, not on individuals. Obviously if our employer shares that information that’s one thing, but otherwise people have a right to not share that information if they want. So even with self declared righteous motives (which we see no sign of here), it would still be out of line.’

    6. Dread Pirate Roberts*

      Yes, searching can lead to this, and in our company that uses Microsoft 365, recent documents from the shared folders appear on our MS365 homepage. It’s rare I’d be logged on to the homepage but when I am there’s usually some other person’s clearly personal document title that reminds me not to put my own personal documents in shared drives.

    7. 1098, 1099, Whatever*

      I work in a field where I see a lot of identity theft, and leaving your resume where anyone can see it is just begging to have your identity stolen. Don’t do it. It’s assuming a level of integrity in the people who can access that file that is far from universal. The letter writer is mad because they feel that trust has been breached, but they never should have extended that level of trust to every stranger who might ever have access to that drive. LW #2 you are probably an honest person, but you need to remember that there’s a large percentage of people in our society who aren’t. You would not believe how one person stealing your identity can destroy your life.

        1. Unfettered scientist*

          Yeah this is exactly what I was thinking! In academia (or for people who go through it and end up elsewhere) having a personal website with cv is super common. I have one! LinkedIn also includes this info. Is this really dangerous?

        2. Antilles*

          Even beyond that, I’m not really sure what valuable information is on a resume that isn’t already easily found elsewhere.

          My name? Right there on Microsoft Teams and my email “Bob.Jones”.
          My cell phone? In 2023, nearly everybody has this in their email signature.
          My personal email? Could be looked up online with a bit of effort.
          My home address? Easily found through the County Tax Assessor’s website.

        3. 1098, 1099, Whatever*

          They didn’t have just the resume, though. There was the offer letter, and other undefined personal documents. You don’t need someone’s social security number to steal their identity. Social engineering makes it frighteningly easy. I had a customer at my desk last week who called his bank to ask for his account number. They gave it to him when he supplied only his name and two pieces of readily available public information. They absolutely should not have, but I see it happen regularly. Yeah, most of that information can be easily found, but why make it easy for someone dishonest? It’s like leaving my front door open while I go to work and then complaining that someone walked in while I was gone.

      1. JustaTech*

        My company requires everyone to upload an updated copy of their resume every year as part of meeting our federal regulations, so not only is everyone’s resume in the resume system, but almost everyone’s resume is in their personal drive (or cloud or email or somewhere on our computers).

        You’re right about identity theft though. Lock your credit reports!

      2. DataSci*

        I’m missing a few steps here. What’s the threat from someone having access to my resume? My phone number, email address, and city are available elsewhere. Is the idea that someone would literally take my resume and apply for jobs using it? If they know enough to get past a phone screen they’re good enough to do that with their own resume. Seriously, what am I missing?

      3. laser99*

        Hard disagree on not telling about the snoop. This should be elevated. This person has revealed herself as someone who cannot be trusted and is attempting to stir up trouble.

    8. Tigger*

      Yes same thing here. I worked with a company with a share file no one organized but was connected to all company computers. People would make me search for stuff because they couldn’t be bothered to look themselves. Found many personal forms, and some porn which gave me a heart attack.

    9. TN/GA Lady*

      Also if you work for a government entity, _everything_ on the servers is covered by open records laws, even information that might be considered personal in other contexts.

      I know of a divorce where the wife’s attorney accessed key information about the husband (I can’t remember what – hidden assets, an affair, something) through a simple open records request.

    10. Penny*

      Yes! I search docs all the time in my own drive. Someone really could stumble across the one document by searching keywords. That level of snooping—clicking on one document—feels different than intentionally clicking deeper into someone’s personal folder chain.

    11. Beth*

      And while you’re at it, be careful what documents you print at work. I accidentally found out some very private and sensitive medical information about a co-worker, because I had to check the printer logs and read the list of recently printed documents. There was more than enough medical detail just in the title of the document, and the user’s name was part of the same record.

    12. EvilQueenRegina*

      In my old role, there was a file called “Downloads” in a shared drive, and one time something work related got dragged and dropped into that folder by accident. While trying to recover that, I came across lots of documents belonging to someone who had transferred to a different department the year before, but her access to our shared drive had apparently never been revoked, and she had been saving lots of personal documents such as her pay slips, something to do with a trip for her parents, job application forms, photos, and applications to appear on quiz shows. So there’s another way it could have been found by genuine accident.

      (Manager was NOT happy when this came to light.)

    13. Required*

      True, but also: if you’re an employer that uses this kind of shared drive system, have some freaking security. (Or, OP could learn how to secure folders herself.)

      1. Observer*

        Sure. But even with decent security, stuff happens. The example from the person above you is really not uncommon.

    14. NotAnotherManager!*

      When we migrated document management systems about a year ago, they remove document security from anything that had been authored by a departed user, which ended up exposing ALLLLL sorts of HR-related information from the prior HR regime, which had terrible information governance policies. I ran a search that I expected to return a handful of documents that I authored and secured and ended up with YEARS of documents I had not authored, contained sensitive information (like performance coaching, PIPs, and reviews) that should not have been visible. Reported it and ruined a lot of people in IT’s and HR’s days.

      I see this as very different than snooping around in shared folders with other people’s names on them. Should they secure them better? Yes. Are people running legit searches going to get their stuff and accidentally see it? Yep, and they should close it, move on, and keep it to themselves. Should nosy people trawl around in them just because they can and have no self-control? No, and sharing the snoop dirt makes the coworker even grosser.

    15. Jenna Webster*

      Very much agree – no personal files on a shared drive where you can’t limit access. If, for some reason, you need to do that, put them in a mislabeled file that no one would ever want to read, like Archived expense reports. But really, just don’t do it. I’ve known people in every job I’ve ever had with a shared file who sought out things like this and then made sure to share everything they learned.

    16. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      My exact thought. No one calls digging through nesting folders “stumbled upon”. It would seem more logical that maybe Annie was looking for something using search terms and a file called “Offer Letter” came back. Is Annie supposed to assume that was LW2 personal file and not some pitch offer to a client? And once they click on it and see that it IS LW2’s offer letter….well, I don’t blame them for looking to see what LW2 was offered for a salary (also, Offer Letters are short, easy to quickly look and have the $$$ part jump out at you). I’d feel differently if they accidentally opened LW2’s tax returns or their FSA reimbursements, then I would think reading them would be wrong AND Annie would have an ethical obligation to LW2 to let them know that they found these items accidentally and were able to open them.

  3. Pippi’s Mom*

    No. 4 hit home—just today I was steaming because I got an email that started with “friendly reminder to do XYZ,” which landed like a passive-aggressive “I’m telling you to do your job.” It didn’t help that I had reached out but hadn’t heard back, so I wasn’t the hold-up, someone else was. But I really don’t think there’s a way to “friendly remind” someone in a way that doesn’t sound a little patronizing.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      But if you go too far in the other direction, it can sound rude, especially if you’re lower in the hierarchy than the person you’re emailing.

      It’s one thing to write to your direct report something like “Jane, I see you entered X in the Y column. Going forward, consult the flowchart to make sure this is done correctly ,” and another to write that phrase to someone above you, so in that case I don’t see anything wrong with more passive phrasing like “just a reminder, consult the flowchart so the data is accurate. Thanks!” and if I replied to the VP who emailed asking for information I gave them in my last email with “I already mentioned this, please read again,” it wouldn’t go over as well as “per my last email, the process is to do X and then Y.”

      Some of it is about soothing egos and some is about maintaining work relationships through politeness, and the tried and true phrases are tried and true for a reason.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This. People often identify as “passive-aggressive” what is actually a culturally constrained polite indirection, with these constraints varying wildly across cultures and, as you point out, dependent on rank.

        1. Malarkey01*

          I love this description. Additionally some of this allows for escalation if needed. There’s a time and place to be more blunt but if each issue or error starts heavy handed it leads little room to adjust.
          Jane you overlooked an email update should get a very different message than Bob who has been told three times what the new process is.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            I also love this description, and good point re: allowing for escalation. I’m not going to come in on everything at a 10, especially not if I’m middle of the food chain.

        2. new year, new name*

          Where I work there’s a culture of using “just bumping this up in your inbox” because there’s a good chance that the original request(s) really did just get buried. I’m sure that could come off as super passive aggressive in other contexts, but around here staff at all levels tend to use it with each other and it seems accepted as being generally well-intentioned and snarkless.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            At a previous job, everyone was so buried in work that it was an explicit part of the culture (taught during onboarding!) to badger your coworkers until they did what you needed.

            The accepted way to remind a coworker of an upcoming deadline was to send them an email with the subject “Badgering about [x]” with a photo of a badger. I would send an adorable baby badger for the first reminder, then a normal looking badger, then an irritated one. The snarling badger was reserved for missed deadlines.

            Yes, I thought that sending a coworker a photo of a badger bearing its teeth was appropriate workplace communication. Alison is right, working at toxic company really screws with your perception.

              1. Bookmark*

                Yes, I actually think this is kind of awesome as part of an explicit company policy. In some types of workplaces (I’m thinking some nonprofits, direct service, government) there’s always too much work, and there’s only so much management/leadership can do to resource work appropriately. So an explicit understanding that, hey, you’re going to miss emails because you’re human, please give coworkers grace and remind them if you really need something, and please don’t take it personally if someone reminds you of something actually sounds like a pretty healthy culture.

            1. A Little Birdie Told Me*

              Oh, dear…. I suppose my snarling hyena is a no-go? (To be fair, she was only ever directed at third parties who NEVER saw the emails and was a representation of the frustration of all internal parties having to deal with Difficult Third Parties.)

            2. iiii*

              I once left a voicemail that went something like, “Hi Maria. This is [iiii], calling about [thing I’ve left already left multiple messages about]. If you don’t get back to me on this, the next voicemail is going to be me singing “Maria” from West Side Story, and no one wants that. kthxbye.”
              She faxed me the thing that afternoon, on a page decorated with musical notes.

        3. StressedButOkay*

          It’s also sometimes exhaustion being masked as being polite – my entire job seems to be ‘gently reminding’ people about government deadlines where I need X, Y, and Z or else we don’t meet those deadlines.

      2. Turingtested*

        Recently a project I was involved in was late for reasons beyond our control. I’d had many frank discussions about why it was late and what we were doing to speed it up.

        I was pretty taken aback when someone with junior in their title wrote an email to numerous managers and directors that said my due dates are not negotiable and you need to start taking them seriously.

        She wasn’t wrong but the implication was that we hadn’t updated her (we had, many times in verbal and written form) and that we weren’t meeting dates because we didn’t care (untrue).

        It was the kind of email a pissed off director sends, not someone with less than 90 days industry experience. A few kind phrases would have made that email much more appropriate.

        1. Fran*

          That may be a bigger issue with a new worker not understanding her position and how offices work. She should have spoken to her boss in private, not a mass email with incorrect information to other superiors!

      3. Lacey*

        Yes. I am 1000% sure I am annoying my coworkers when I say,
        “Just a reminder, we can’t do x because of y and z”

        I am telling them to do their job.

        But, what’s my alternative? I can send them something overtly rude, “Hey Bev, because you don’t submit tickets right, you ruin everyone’s day, every day, please learn to do your job correctly”

        Or I can waste hours and hours of time doing Bev’s job for her.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          “But what’s my alternative?”

          Exactly this! I regularly use a few of the phrases OP lists (and have stoutly defended “going forward” here before) and don’t see myself replacing them because the alternative is worse.

        2. CommonTater*

          The subject line of my emails is useful for this. I process requests made by project owners, and they require approval from higher ups.

          So I might send out emails with the subject lines:

          ACTION NEEDED: Please approve request #1234
          (sent to C.Smith)

          FYI: Your request is currently pending approval from C.Smith
          (sent to L.Brown, project owner so they can follow up w/C.Smith if they want to)

          1. CommonTater*

            Also use:
            STATUS NEEDED:

            and I also use
            NO ACTION NEEDED:
            when clarifying system requests that were sent to project managers implying they needed to do something (when they don’t).

        3. Chilipepper Attitude*

          @Lacey, Alison gave a really good example of an alternative in her answer.
          “Hi Jane! I saw you entered X as Y, and we’re asking people not to do that because it causes problem Z. Please consult the flowchart when you enter XYZ forms, since that lays out the correct process.”

          Hi Bev, I noticed you submitted a ticked saying x when it needs to say y in order for us to take care of this quickly for you. We have ABC to help you choose the right code for the tickets or I can review with you if in-person would work better for you. Let me know!

        4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          Yes! There’s no alternative. I have to follow up when someone doesn’t do their end of the work and it’s usually someone equal or above me. I don’t do “gentle reminders” because that is annoying, but I do “I’m following up on the X project. I sent Y on Monday and need a response/approval/missing content, etc. by Z date/time. If you have already sent this, I’m afraid I didn’t receive it; can you please resend…?” This way, I don’t directly tell them “hey you messed up,” but I repeat my side because it’s possible they did respond.*

          *It’s possible they sent a response to someone that wasn’t me and they thought it was. Possible they sent a response to someone else intentionally and assumed that it would trickle down to me. Possible their response is sitting in their drafts folder or bounced.

      4. starsaphire*

        I really hate when standard basic politeness gets called out as being passive-aggressive.

        Social lubricant exists for a reason. I get that today we are all about disrupting everything, but really – especially in the workplace – I’m going to get a lot better response from “Just checking to see where we are on the tapir report, thanks!” than “Hey Lee, get me that tapir report now!”

        And I’m going to be a lot more likely to stop in the middle of the wapiti project to answer the first message than I would be for the second.

        (Honestly, I’m reminded of a good friend who spent years telling me all about how any and all forms of etiquette were nothing but classism and snobbery, and how the whole concept should be discarded wholesale…

        …and then tried to plan their own wedding, and was completely overwhelmed because they had no idea what to do or how to do it.)

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          This sounds like a variation on the rules of writing–it’s considered okay to break them if you know what you’re doing. Understanding what the rules are to being with is important to good writing–even when you’re deliberately breaking the rules.

          If your friend doesn’t recognize any rules of etiquette, then there’s no framework at all for social occasions, even if they are pushing back on many/most of them.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I think basic politeness is fine, but the problem is when you the message is watered down (and we move from tell to guess culture, and I’m not a mindreader) or it comes across as sounding like someone doesn’t think you’re capable of doing your job without their “gentle reminder” (a phrase that totally sets my teeth on edge).

          Some people will send the “just checking on that report, thanks!” email and then complain to me that the recipient didn’t turn it around immediately, when their email was light, breezy, and didn’t sound at all like it was urgent and the report needed to be in their hands *right now*. I’d much rather have someone be clear about their needs and bound it with the pleasantries than soften the ask and be angry that the recipient didn’t read their mind on deadline/urgency.

          We’re very big on being direct and specific at my office, but it’s also surrounded by please, thank you, and giving people public kudos for a job well-done. We do a lot of orientation training about expectation setting/management and deadline compliance.

        3. beanie gee*

          I feel like the better term for passive aggressive is indirect. You can be polite and direct. Polite and indirect is what causes confusion and things not getting done. Most of the time even higher ups appreciate directness if it’s not overly rude.

          “Just checking to see where we are on the tapir report” is polite, but maybe the receiver doesn’t know that you actually need it by Friday or the company doesn’t get paid. People appreciate timeframes and context! “Hey Lee, can you give me an update today on where we are on the tapir report? We need it by Friday or the company won’t get paid, so if you have any concerns about meeting that timeframe, please let me know today so we can work out other plans.”

      5. LK*

        Right. I’m responsible for coordinating a project in which most of the people providing content or information are technically above me on the food chain. When I’m chasing down the assistant director to get something weeks overdue, I can’t just bluntly be like “These are late. Get them to me ASAP.” Especially when I know her delay is because she’s trying to wrangle people above her level. There’s passive agression, but there’s also diplomacy.

      6. Not that other person you didn't like*

        Just yesterday I wrote “About that (thing) question… did I miss a reply from you?” to a client who really needed to confirm a requirement. Direct isn’t appropriate, so passive aggressive it is!

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      My go-to for a reminder-type email is along the lines of, “Hello [Colleague], may I ask about the status of the TPS report review? Thank you.”

      I’d appreciate hearing how that lands and suggestions for alternatives.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        My go-to is similar: either asking about status, or “any news on X?” if I suspect the holdup may be elsewhere, or sometimes “have you had time to get to X?” or “when can I expect X?”.

        There really is no 100% nice way to ask someone if they did their job, but sometimes it’s necessary.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I like this one in part because it allows for “I sent that Tuesday.” Or “The deadline is Tuesday cod and I don’t expect to complete it before then.”

      3. Peanut Hamper*

        Yes, I always think you can’t go wrong with a question. “Is there anything I’m missing?” is frequently part of my messaging because I work remotely with a mostly on-site team, and am frequently missing things. But there are times when I’m not missing anything, and the response is usually “We just haven’t heard from the client yet.”

      4. Katness*

        I am sometimes in a project manager function checking up on lots of things. I use similar wording but will add in what the expectation was in a slightly softened way.

        “Hi [person], is there any status update on the TPS report? I had down that it would be done on Friday so wanted to check in.”

        This is obviously softer than “you’re late” and allows for the possibility that it was already done, or that something genuinely more important got in the way.

        1. ferrina*

          I use language really similar to this. I’ll usually prep this by confirming when we set the action item. “Okay, so you’re going to create the llama sock prototype and have it to me by Tuesday. Great!”
          Then on Wednesday: “Hey, checking in on the llama sock prototype. I had in my notes that you would send it on Tuesday. Did I miss it?”

          Could some people read it as passive-aggressive? Sure. Some people read “Good morning” as passive-aggressive. Like Turquoisecow and Richard Hershberger said upthread, this is a cultural thing that plays out differently in different contexts.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I like this version better because it’s not just asking an open-ended question, it’s also making sure we’re on the same page about when it’s due.

        3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          That’s a great addition! A lot of what I check up on doesn’t have a hard deadline, but I will keep that in mind when there is a deadline.

      5. Purple Cat*

        I work in a casual office, so I typically send a “Just checking in on this.” As a first-follow-up. Then I might move to “Hi, Checking in again as this is outstanding. Are there any issues I should be aware of?” or “Any holdups I should know about”?
        This morning I did send a follow-up email with “3RD REQUEST” in the subject line with a, “Please let me know if there’s somebody else I should be reaching out to” (Knowing full well there isn’t somebody else, this task falls squarely on this person’s shoulders)

        1. NB*

          Yes, I much prefer “just checking in” or “has there been any progress” instead of “may I ask”- which is so indirect to me it hurts. Like you are already asking in that sentence, why are you asking if you can ask?!? But I’m a direct communicator and don’t mind people saying “how’s [task] progressing?” cause things do fall off people’s radar/plates/etc and sometimes we all need a reminder.

      6. Mizzle*

        To me it reads as overly polite, which I would find mildly irritating but not offensive. The combination of ‘may I ask’ ‘the status’ and ‘Thank you’ all distracts from the point of “Is it done yet?”

        (I’d also be tempted to point out that you might be undermining yourself with this kind of phrasing.)

        For optimum assertiveness, I’d recommend something like “When do you expect to complete the TPS report review?” It’s neutral enough that it works both when the person forgot or was slacking, and when there’s a legitimate reason for the delay. Also, you’re probably more interested in hearing when you can expect it, than just ‘sorry, not done yet’.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          This is where local and industry culture matter a lot.

          In some places it might be totally appropriate to email “May I ask the status of our annual permit renewal application? The submission deadline is coming up soon (Feb 31) and I was hoping to get it by Friday to review before we submit. Please let me know if you need my help with anything.”

          Other places would find that grating and overly polite, and would prefer emails like “Are you done with permit renewal app yet? Due Feb 31., I need ASAP for review.” Which would be offensively brusque/direct for the first group.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        I don’t know if I’d call it rude, but it is unclear what it means. If I received something like this, I’d probably ignore it (though I typically don’t need three reminder emails anyway).

      2. TechWorker*

        Tbh I would view it as a bit rude, yes. If I’ve made it to a third reminder I would usually move to IM; by that point I’m assuming they’ve either not read the email or have forgotten about it. My tone tends to go:
        1st reminder: have you had a chance to look at this?
        2nd reminder: any update?
        3rd reminder: (different contact method) Hi can you please take a look at thread X’ (+ additional context why it matters if need be)

      3. I should really pick a name*

        That’s going to really depend on your company culture. It’s very informal.

        1. Lacey*

          Yeah. I think if you have that kind of relationship with a coworker it would be fine, but if I got that from any of my coworkers I’d be private slacking other coworkers to say, “WTF is this?”

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I once worked for a company where you were expected to “badger” coworkers if your project was falling behind deadlines, and the accepted way to do so was to email them a photo of a badger.

          I assume that would go very badly at any other company, but it had become a tradition.

      4. ecnaseener*

        Yeah I think that might be confusingly brusque. A complete-sentence version I use is “Hi Name, just bumping this up in your inbox!”

      5. cabbagepants*

        It totally depends on your audience. Some people are grateful for the reminder and also are familiar with the use of the word “ping” in this context. Other people want more smoothing and soothing.

        Is your audience likely to feel defensive about being reminded, or grateful for the reminder?

      6. Michelle Smith*

        I would find it exceptionally rude and would not respond. I am not perfect and don’t always remember everything, despite best efforts, but the least you can do in communicating with me is use a complete sentence.

      7. ferrina*

        rofl! I’ve had a coworker or two that have done this, and I enjoyed it.

        BUT…..that’s because we already had a really good working relationship, a shared sense of humor, and a lot of respect for how busy each of us were. We had an established precedent of respecting each other’s priorities and time limitations, doing what we could to make things easier on each other, and a high level of collaboration and respect for each other’s expertise. We also knew that we’d never throw each other under the bus- if I missed a deadline, they wouldn’t tell their boss “ferrina didn’t get me X!”. They’d say, “ferrina needs to push the deadline on X because she’s swamped with the aardvark stiletto launch. Here’s how I’ve adjusted the project…”

        When I send mass email with reminders, it’s usually more specific and actionable (I also assume that some folks who are too busy to do what I ask are also too busy thinking about their work to remember what I had asked)

      8. Timothy (TRiG)*

        Do non-programmers even know what “ping” means? I wouldn’t see it as rude myself.

        1. BadCultureFit*

          I am the furthest thing you can be from a programmer. Yes, we know what ping means. Come on.

      9. Silver Robin*

        This reminds me of how I use the “like” button inside Facebook Messenger to bring attention back to the chat when I am waiting on responses from friends. It is sent accidentally so often that folks generally consider a decontextualized one as meaningless, but it *does* bring the chat up and can be a reminder to tell me if we actually have plans this weekend.

        “Ping” would probably be too informal, even for my workplace, but I do so wish there was a way to nudge people without having to write repetitive emails.

      10. BatManDan*

        Mostly for prospects who’ve gone silent, but really this one can work for any internal or external partner who has to realize by now that the ball is in their court. Here’s the entire email that I send:
        Subect: You don’t sing me love songs…
        Body: You don’t bring me flowers….anymore.

        It ALWAYS gets a reply; usually they pick up the phone and call while they are still laughing…”You’re right, I didn’t get back to you…okay, what we’re going to do is….”
        But, I guess they gotta be old enough to get the pop-music reference.

    3. Alternative Person*

      Yeah, having had to write several ‘friendly reminder’ e-mails recently it is hard because (at least in my experience) you’re toeing a fine line between making your request/reminder sound important/strong enough that people actually do it, often by a deadline, without pushing so hard that people’s hackles go up. I’ve gone back and forth on phrasing for longer than people probably spent on the tasks I was e-mailing about because I was trying to strike a suitable balance.

      That said, I try to remind myself that as long as you’re being clear and fair, reasonable people will understand that you’re just trying to get your job done/bases covered. Unreasonable people will find something to complain about either way.

      1. Sparkle Llama*

        I deal with a few people who are in different departments who are chronically bad at getting things to me (and everyone) and have supervisors that don’t address the issue. My department had a conversation about it and we all agreed to effectively stop being nice about it. So no more softening just “I asked for this by Tuesday it is now Wednesday. Get it to me today.” Not something I would want to do without it being directed and supported by my supervisor and department head but I think at a certain point you need to give yourself permission to not be gentle with the feelings of people who refuse to do their job in a way that impacts your job.

    4. Office Lobster DJ*

      I did a quick search. Not sure I found the same article OP referred to, but it was essentially the same idea. The proposed alternatives were just bad, involving a lot of using a lot of extraneous fluff about how you’re sure the recipient is swamped, how you hate getting reminders yourself and really don’t want to be That Person, but….

      I’d find that far more aggravating to sift through and more manipulative than any of the listed phrases.

    5. Is it straightforward or is it rude*

      This is where being a bit socially clueless can be a good thing, maybe. I generally skip all the gentle dancing-around language and go straight to “Name, I need the abc info so I can complete xzy. Please send it as soon as possible. Thanks, myname” I have wondered if this is too blunt, but I don’t like the idea of talking to a colleague as if they were a sensitive 12-yo.

    6. DataSci*

      To me “friendly reminder” isn’t softening at all. You know how when some parents are mad at their kids their voices will get very quiet and calm? It comes across like that. Like they’re really unhappy and are trying to rein it in by being icily polite.

      1. penny dreadful analyzer*

        “Friendly reminder” and “gentle reminder” to me sound like reading the stage directions out loud. A friendly reminder is when you phrase the reminder in a way that’s friendly, not just when you say the word “friendly”! Do people who say this say “Exit” when they leave a room, too?

        1. Celeste*

          I love this characterization. Now I’m going to be thinking about stage directions for my work communications… enthusiastic hello, tentative yes, regretful no, solemn goodbye….

        2. Silver Robin*

          Yeah, but tone can be so tricky and folks are busy. In casual chat, emojis function as tone indicators, which is great. But they are not generally acceptable in professional emails so I almost appreciate the directness of “friendly reminder” because it says “I mean this to be friendly, so please read it that way”.

          Of course, people use politeness and friendliness to mask frustration all the time, so a common (and overused, perhaps) template is going to start looking fake pretty quickly.

  4. Kella*

    LW4: Just about anything can be passive aggressive, depending on how you use it. So, “if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to [contact methods]” is passive aggressive IF you say it because you think someone really should’ve been asking you questions and it’s a problem that they haven’t been and you are trying to prompt them into doing what they’re expected to do without actually asking them to.

    A rule of thumb might be to consider whether you are actually asking someone for what you need or if you are saying something that you hope they will interpret as what you need and give it to you.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Haaaaaa! The accuracy!

        My sister had a schoolteacher she particularly disliked, and years later when the woman was retiring, my sister was planning to go to her retirement party. I was like, “Are you planning to hide an ice pick in your pocket, give her a big hug, and finish her off?”

        (I was kidding, obviously. But my sister never wished this woman well a day in her life, so why she needed to go to her sendoff was a mystery.)

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I used to know a person that I could not socially avoid and did not like, but I used to mutter to my bestie behind closed doors that if only this woman would move back to her home state, I would help her pack and wave goodbye, and when she announced she was moving back home, I totally showed up to help her pack and wave goodbye. Sometimes seeing that someone is going with your own two eyes is a relief. Heh.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Agree with this. These phrases aren’t passive-aggressive on their own; it’s that too many people use them in a passive-aggressive manner, or instead of saying what they really mean.

      It’s okay to use a little bit of social lubricant to fill out an email; it’s not okay never to say something directly. In related news, it’s not rude to be direct; it’s just rude to be rude. You can be direct and still be polite. If you are always tiptoeing around your actual point with phrases like this, even when your point is perfectly fine to make, that’s when you might consider stripping away some of the padding.

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        I’ve been referred to as “blunt” often enough that I think I can say I’m blunt. And I use all of these except TIA and don’t see these phrases as tiptoeing at all. I think they add color/connotation to what I’m saying. E.g. “going forward” means don’t think you have to fix this one, just remember in the future. “FYI” means something similar–here’s a thing you may not know that might be helpful.

        Although I dislike “gentle reminder” for the same reasons as Alison.

      2. beanie gee*

        100% agree! You can be simultaneously polite and direct! Often times people actually appreciate you telling them what they need from you by when! When we nicen up our words so much that it’s unclear if we’re just hoping something will happen someday vs you need something tomorrow, no wonder we end up having to send multiple gentle reminders!

  5. LG*

    LW1- You’ve got the exact opposite of yesterday’s “oddball” questions. Like Alison said, make sure you tell the candidate your reason for asking, and I’m sure you’ll get honest answers.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      In fact, I would venture to say that LW would get better answers if she would just come out and tell the reason for the question instead of asking this question this way.

      If I were asked this question, I would smile and say something joking about some irksome administrative task, like filling out my time sheet. Under no circumstances would I tell the full truth, which likely is something about my annoying hosebeast of a coworker, or how underpaid I am, or my soul-sucking commute. I’m not leaving because I hate the TPS reports; TPS reports are part of almost any job. I’m leaving because I am sick of these people or of how I am treated or paid.

      But if you explained how work is assigned in this office, and asked me how I would use that flexibility in organizing my tasks, and whether there are any tasks I would not choose to include, you would get something much closer to the truth.

      1. Varthema*

        When I’ve asked this question though I’m not asking to find out why you’re leaving your job, I’m asking to see if the role and you are a good fit. So I wouldn’t want to hear about your coworkers or working environment anyway since by default all that will be new.

        1. cabbagepants*

          I think this can be clarified by asking about least favorite work tasks rather than least favorite part of the job.

          1. Tired of Working*

            Yes yes yes! You must specify that you are asking about the least favorite task, not the least favorite part of the job. From the letter to Alison, where it was said that the LW was asking what was the “least favorite thing was about their last role,” my honest answer (depending on whatever was my most recent job) would have been “being screamed at all the time” or “being expected to be in two places at once” or “having to cover all the time for another employee who was always late, and she was always late because she knew that I would be there to cover for her” or “having to go to the bank every day during my lunch hour to deposit checks, and that would take around forty-five minutes, and if I wound up taking one hour and five minutes for lunch, I would get yelled at when I got back.” But I probably wouldn’t say any of those things. I don’t know what I would say. But I certainly wouldn’t have any idea that the LW was talking about tasks.

          2. Daisy-dog*

            Yes, least favorite part of the job would prompt me to give a high-level answer. I dislike ineffective communication company-wide or how the decisions are made. I would not think to say that I don’t like doing a certain task.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I think if the answer was “I hated all my colleagues but Fergus was in a separate league” it might give me pause…

        3. Michelle Smith*

          Respectfully, the question as posed was “I’ve started asking candidates what their least favorite thing was about their last role.” It’s open to interpretation, and I could absolutely see a candidate interpreting it as “why are you leaving your last role” (common interview question) as opposed to what you’re actually looking for. So I would clarify what you actually are getting at when you ask the question if you find that you’re not getting the kinds of answers you expect. I did in fact leave my last role in large part because they promoted an absolute tyrant of a human into a supervisory role that I had to report to. To me, even though that person in particular would not be relevant to the new role, the things about her that made me run as fast as possible (management style, communication style, lack of work/life balance that led to unreasonable expectations of others, etc.) would absolutely be relevant in my mind to the new role. If I’d have to report for someone who expected me to take non-urgent meetings on my days off or who thinks raising her voice and talking over people is professional behavior, I am not a good fit for that job.

      2. new year, new name*

        Yes! The underlying question here is actually “when you have a choice, which types of tasks do you enjoy and which would you rather avoid?” – explaining can help make that a bit clearer. Otherwise it could be confused with “why did you leave your last job?” which is very different.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      I think it also might be more useful for this OP to ask this question in an initial meeting once the candidate has the job – that way, they’re more likely to get an honest answer.

      1. Lirael*

        I thought that at first, but then OP says that it’s useful to take that into consideration before hire…

        When I ask about a candidate’s least favorite thing, it gives me a chance to see if I’d be able to support that or offer more transparency about the requirements. [snip] Or be clear at the interview stage that task X is something there’s no getting around, unfortunately, would they still be interested in the role?

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Except that she will be hiring with a view to her existing team.

        So say she knows that Alex and Bob hate spreadsheets so currently Carol does most of them but it’s Carol being replaced – a candidate who expresses loathing for Excel might be less of a good fit than the one who loves playing with data and prefers not to have to give presentations. They might all be excellent llama groomers on paper and in fact, but that detail might be the missing part of a team puzzle.

        I think it’s unlikely this question would ever disqualify a good candidate, but it might be useful as a tiebreaker between equally good candidates.

        1. Hullabaloo*

          I wanted to use this as a tiebreaker with the two equally excellent candidates i interviews on Wednesday but I couldn’t figure out a way to ask it that didn’t seem like a trap. I made a decision I can be comfortable with but really wish I’d scene this article yesterday morning when I was still deciding!

    3. Turquoisecow*

      Exactly. I think it’s actually a really good t and the reason for asking it makes a lot of sense and shows that the OP is thinking about how to make a team work together and enhance everyone’s strengths and help their weaknesses. If a potential boss asked me that question and explained the reasoning, I’d really think highly of them as a manager for considering those things, after many years of working for bosses who didn’t seem to consider how individual strengths and weaknesses and can help each other.

    4. Josh Lyman*

      LW #1 I also ask this question in interviews! One of my first questions in every interview is “Looking at your resume you’ve done a lot! I’d love to hear your favorite project or task you’ve ever worked on at work”. I get great stories from this question and it often loosens up nervous or more introverted candidates – everyone lights up talking about things they love doing.

      My next question is always “On the flip side, we all have projects or tasks we don’t enjoy as much at work. Mine is X. What’s your least favorite project or task you’ve worked on at work?” I find that the vulnerability of sharing my least favorite task is key here – it makes it a little safer for candidates to share. I did some informal A/B testing a few years ago and it really does make a difference in the quality of answer I get.

      For me this question set serves 2 purposes. First and foremost, it’s an easy way to screen out candidates who truly won’t enjoy the job.

      In the past I’ve hired for a role with a title that can drive applications from people who would not be interested or good at the job (department is Research, so the job is “Assistant, Research”, but it’s a true assisting/coordination role that does not actually do any research). I’ve talked to many candidates who read the very clear job description, made it through the initial resume screen where questions were focused on the tasks of the role, and the HR screen who told me their favorite thing to do at work was initiate large-scale research projects, and their least-favorite activity was scheduling meetings. Similarly I’ve had EA candidates tell me they hate booking travel, and office manager candidates say they prefer to work remotely. The question helped surface deep compatibility issues that might not have otherwise come up during interviews.

      Second, like you I am able to customize roles on my team to some extent. If I hear that a candidate loves data analysis but hates taking meeting notes, I may be able to place them in a slot that fits that profile and it’s incredibly helpful to have that insight when I’m deciding between candidates.

      1. Sneaky Squirrel*

        I echo this! I find it’s beneficial to me to not only understand if the candidate is a fit for the role, but also to understand where a candidate might be interested in taking their career path. For one particular entry level job that I was an interviewer for, we had an urgent need for a task that could be considered simple and dull for some candidates (think QCing paperwork); I want to make sure that the candidate isn’t going to be turned off immediately by the role when they start. But also the work flow for that task varies, so we could easily supplement the role with more interesting tasks that the candidate likes to do to help grow their career where they see fit.

    5. MassMatt*

      I would totally BS my way through this LW’s question. An initial job interview is not the place to get me to badmouth either my previous employer or my abilities in any way. And it seems strange that someone would think of a plan for development for someone they just met.

      I also get the sense from the letter that the writer’s idea of “developing people” is getting them to do exactly what they DON’T want to do. If I tell you the worst part of my prior job was, say, the public speaking, and your development plan is to have me focus on public speaking… I am going to resume my job search, ASAP.

      1. Sneaky Squirrel*

        Interesting that you perceived it as the LW’s way of developing them is getting them to do exactly what they don’t want to do. I perceived it exactly the opposite; that LW is trying to help them by giving them tasks to overcome their weaknesses BUT if you absolutely hate public speaking, LW will try to find ways to develop your skills that avoids forcing you to do public speaking if possible.

        I also don’t think anyone should have to BS this question. Some tasks are just boring or we’ve done them so much that we’re ready to move on to something different. It’s not a reflection of the company. I think a safe way to answer this question would be “I’ve served as the primary receptionist answering phones for quite some time now, in my next role I would like to no longer be answering phones so that I can focus on new tasks”.

    6. World Weary*

      I’ve gotten this question three times during my career and each time it was a gotcha. These days, I would simply thank them for their time and remove my candidacy, but when I was a young woman, this was not the norm. All three of these interviews became abusive, pushing harder and harder on whatever answer I gave. For me, this is a definite red flag. I would never give an honest answer and would think hard about whether I wanted to move forward. It might be better coming toward the end, if we seemed to make a connection during earlier in the interview.

    7. Riot Grrrl*

      Perhaps I am naive, but I approached this all very differently back in my job-hunting days. Basically, I answer honestly because I want to end up in a job that is the right fit for me, not a job that I’ve managed to contort myself into for the purposes of the interview but is entirely wrong.

      For that reason, I typically use a “best possible spin on the truth” approach. For a question about your least favorite part of a previous job, that would mean actually telling someone my least favorite part of a previous job, phrased constructively and–if relevant–with some follow-up about how flexible I am on that and to what extent it is a deal-breaker or not.

    8. Sharon*

      I like to ask this question, but I usually try to pose questions as open-ended as possible, using multiple phrasings. So I might say “tell me about the types of tasks you do well at or really like, and also those types of tasks either you need to improve on, or that you’re good at but don’t particularly enjoy.”

      I’m less concerned about getting an answer to a specific question and more concerned about giving the candidate an opportunity to tell me about themselves and how they work. A good interview (like a good date!) is a back and forth conversation rather than a series of questions with “right” answers. That being said, if I’m hiring a llama pen cleaner and they tell me they really like phone work and writing procedures and prefer not to do manual labor, work outside, or get dirty — I’m going to question their situational awareness.

  6. Tinkerbell*

    OP3, although Alison is right that it’s standard in many industries, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily standard in yours! If you have the feeling that you *specifically* are being taken advantage of in a way that your peers aren’t, or that your manager is taking credit for your work and trying to hide the fact that you’re ghostwriting for them, it may be worth further investigation. Sometimes just asking around to coworkers you trust to know the way things work (“hey, is this legit?”) is enough to either put your fears to rest or give you a path to go forward.

    1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      If these get posted publicly somewhere, you can just look at the bylines of past articles or articles from other subunits. If it’s all CEO-and-similar, clearly that’s the way of things at this company. If most articles are bylined by people at your level, but yours are instead bylined by your manager, maybe ask around.

      1. oranges*

        This is good advice because having a comms person write things for you is standard outside academia. (Writing is a skill that not everyone has.)

        The main function of my whole team is to create content for the leadership and executives in the company. We ghostwrite their social media posts, email blasts, intranet announcements, media articles, quotes, speeches, etc. All things externally attributed to them.

        I’d never consider what I do as them plagiarizing my work. It’s literally my job to write FOR them, and it’s a thing everyone expects.

        1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

          Absolutely this is the way it worked at my large company too. There is a whole content team and writers that create articles for sales and executives, who then post them on LinkedIn as their own article.

          Sometimes I admit it kind of bothers me, because if you say you ghostwrote it, who’s to say? It’s not like the VP of Sales is going to admit they didn’t write the article they posted as their own now are they?

    2. Uranus Wars*

      I am a person who regularly has articles in industry mags and online that someone else researches and writes, including the social media contest that I use when I share my “latest article/post”. As a company, we have a particular style of writing. I am an OK writer but lack time as well as am not trained to be a writer for our company.

      I don’t think our writers are explicitly told at hiring this is what they are doing, but as a title “Content Specialist” or similar they know this is part of their job. The OP, coming from a academia, might not have realized this.

      To me, what you are alluding to is someone taking credit for your work. It sounds to me like OP was hired specifically to write for others since they addressed her not getting a by-line.

  7. GingerApple*

    4, everyone on the internet’s got an opinion and wants to put it up and out there so they’re mama can clip it up on the fridge. Don’t fuss about it. The problem with these random think peaces is pragmatics. The authors thinking on thing from they’re experiences and you are thinking another thing fretting from yours. Be a t peace. Don’t fret, it is advice that doesn’t serve you. Internet stuff is just the internet love this blog thou of course <3

    1. cabbagepants*

      Agreed. These articles exist to get pageviews, not to somehow improve the discourse.

  8. John Smith*

    I saw a report yesterday of how people in these kinds od roles are allegedly using ChatGPT to write xontent for them. I suppose if you’re not getting credit, you may as well get someone/something else to do the work for you!

    But seriously, my head of department takes a lot of credit for my teams work, even though he hasn’t set foot in our office for over 8 years and no-ones actually seen him for some time. I k ow who’s done all the work, and that’s enough for me.

  9. Apples*

    OP2, I would also be super put off and upset by someone snooping through my files – even if they’re on a shared drive, that’s above and beyond invasive. I don’t know if I would go to HR or not but I can definitely validate your feelings.

    1. Former call centre worker*

      I agree, I was appalled reading that one. It was clearly labelled Personal and they not only read it but shared the information. If it were me I’d go to my manager, but I’m aware that the rules/norms for handling personal details may be a bit more strict on this side of the pond than in the US.

      1. PurplePeopleLeader*

        Labels aside (see search discussion further in the thread, because that is what I originally came here to say, and especially in SharePoint this is extremely easy to do unintentionally), ANY INFORMATION you put into a company file server, email, chat or other digital entity should be assumed to be readable by anyone. If you wouldn’t want others to know it/hear it/credit it to you—then don’t put it or access it via company resources—workstations, shared drives, accounts, etc. Nearly every corporation puts this policy in writing and nearly no one reads it. LW 2, I get the pain. It’s embarrassing to be put in that spot. But you must take responsibility for this. As a people manager, if you escalated this to me, I would not only put it right back in your court, I’d seriously question your decision-making.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          If the complaint is “Sam read the personal document I left on the shared drive,” I agree with you.

          But if the complaint is “Sam read the personal document I left on the shared drive AND THEN GOSSIPED AROUND THE OFFICE ABOUT THE CONTENTS,” not so much. Sam is at the very least getting a “Dude, I get if you open the thing and see what’s in it, but when it is very obviously personal, can you please pretend you didn’t see it and let Matilda know so she can take it down, rather than going out of your way to make it an active topic of discussion.” (Matilda also gets “Well, no, that wasn’t cool, but you probably shouldn’t be leaving extremely personal information on the shared drive in the first place.”)

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      In pre-electronic days (and pre-security camera days), I had a coworker who would not only go through people’s mail (opening envelopes and then trying to glue them back together), but she’d also go through the garbage, looking for anything anyone tossed away. We all thought we’d sound crazy if we went to management with this, so we just made up hundreds of fake “Personnel and Confidential” envelopes and we’d stuff them with “Hi Karen! We know you’re going through the mail!” to get her to cut it out. Amazingly, she went to management and complained that we were putting fake mail in people’s mailboxes. We didn’t have to put up with her for too long after that.

  10. Brain the Brian*

    Standing in solidarity with LW4! My job also frequently requires me to tell people with whom I do not work that closely and who are far outside my supervisory chain that they are doing things wrong. Some people prefer that I deliver these messages bluntly; others — or their own managers, whom I have to copy on emails — prefer a “gentler” touch. Keep straight which are which so as not to offend anyone or get a lambasting from a manager who outranks me but not my own manager is an art, and not a fun one to learn.

    1. Hanani*

      I keep a document with notes about this kind of thing, and consult it with some frequency

    2. Office Lobster DJ*

      Similar situation here, and a major hat tip to you for keeping track of these preferences!

  11. Worldwalker*

    With regard to ghostwritten books, it’s not necessarily true that the ghostwriter gets cover (or any) credit. For instance, William Shatner did not write any of the “Tek” books; Ron Goulart did. “Victor Appleton” and “Carolyn Keene” never existed; they were house names for contract writers. Commercial writing is a product you’re providing to your company as part of your employment, just like building widgets would be, and they can do what they want with the words they now own, just like they could do what they want with the widgets.

    1. Bookwitch*

      Oh yes, there’s been a push in the celebrity children’s book market in the UK recently for the actual children’s author who wrote the book to get theit name credited somewhere (if not in smaller writing on the cover, then maybe the title page) but it doesn’t always happen.

      What I find interesting is that LW3 didn’t seem to know that ghostwriting is part of their job. When I worked as an in house content writer I was well aware that the deal was the company owned the copyright and my name didn’t appear on anything i’d written.

      1. Tau*

        It sounds like there may have been a mismatch of expectations – LW3 was told their name wouldn’t be on the byline, and it sounds like they interpreted that as “published articles aren’t credited to any specific author, just the company as a whole” where their company may have thought they were totally clear that it’s a ghostwriting gig and the articles would be published under someone else’s name.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I still tend to blame the company for this though, if that’s the case. I interviewed for a job last year where the expectation was that I wouldn’t get credit for what I wrote. But they were explicit about that in the interview. The conversation was something like: “We have people in this role write letters, op-eds, and articles frequently. They are approved and signed by the CEO. Your name will not appear on any of the things you write and will only be attributed to her. Would you have any problems with that structure?” It was the only interview I had where that was laid out so plainly and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to decide for myself whether I was okay with it.

          1. MassMatt*

            I am wondering how an author doing this kind of work can actually get credit for it when they look for other jobs. Do you just say “I wrote the website content, it was published/posted under the director’s name”? How does the interviewer check on this, by calling references?

            1. Roland*

              Most job accomplishments don’t have bylines at all, you just revert back to the same approach that’s used in other interviews.

            2. Riot Grrrl*

              If I were interviewing someone who said, “I wrote all of Rochelle Walensky’s public op-eds” I would have no problem believing them. That’s because I already don’t think that Dr. Walensky (head of the CDC) is literally sitting there writing all of the things with her name on it. Of course someone else is actually writing all that stuff! And it wouldn’t have to be someone famous for me to think that either. I worked in a small (12 employees) think tank where the director wrote perhaps 60% of her own “writing”, but the rest was written by assistants and researchers. This was not a big scandal. I would have no trouble believing someone who represented themselves as one of those writers.

      2. londonedit*

        Yep, I was going to say the same – occasionally in book publishing there’ll be a small skirmish where the book-buying public will be shocked and appalled by the fact that X Celeb hasn’t written their book themselves, because it’s not always the case that ghostwriters are credited. Especially with celebs writing fiction or children’s books – often what happens is that the celeb goes to a meeting or two where they kick ideas around, and then a writer is hired to turn those ideas into an actual book. Of course the celeb’s name goes front and centre because they’re what’s going to sell copies. And the ghost should really be credited, but often the contract they sign does say that they won’t be (and are happy enough just to be paid for doing the work).

        In that case, though, everyone involved knows the score, and it’s only people outside publishing who are surprised to learn that many celeb writers don’t actually write very much at all. It sounds like there’s been a miscommunication or a misinterpretation in the LW’s case, and they weren’t fully aware or didn’t appreciate that their writing would be credited to a specific other person rather than to the company.

        1. Has a ghost-writer*

          Yep, this. I’m actually an industry-facing employee and one of our content writers writes our articles and I get the byline. We usually meet and talk about the subject at hand and they’ll take things I’ve said as the expert and turn it into something readable while meeting criteria for good SEO and other content best practices. I’m good at what I do and the writer is good at what they do. One time I asked if it bothered them and they said no (they get bylines on some other articles occasionally), their job is to support me.

          Like others said, sounds like a mismatch in expectations. But maybe there’s room for some bylines if you ask, LW!

          1. Lalala*

            ^ Here to second this. I’m in marketing and do some content writing as part of my role. In most cases, I actively do not want the byline – I want the byline to go to the salespeople and SMEs I support who have a strong reputation in the field, because that carries more weight than thoughts from some random marketer. If your goal is to build your reputation in this field you might be able to ask about co-credit in the byline, but it really depends on what the content is and the norms of your industry.

        2. editor*

          Yes, this. There’s also, at least for books published in the US, a general consensus that the more public-facing credit you get, the less you get paid, and there can be a bunch of different tiers: “Celebrity and Ghostwriter” listed as the author on the jacket, “Celebrity with Ghostwriter,” either of those on the title page but not the jacket, credit in the acknowledgments but not elsewhere, no credit in the book but permission for the ghostwriter to list it publicly on their website and resume, etc.

          1. Orsoneko*

            My favorite(?) formulation is “Celebrity as told to Ghostwriter.” As a kid, I envisioned the celebrity verbally composing all of the material on the fly while someone else wrote down what they said, word for word. I used to wonder why this person was getting such a prominent credit simply for taking dictation.

    2. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      At my last job, one position was “President’s Writing Assistant.” She wrote his speeches, articles, most of his books, and never got public credit. Everyone was tickled when a typo on the staff list re-labeled her “President’s Writhing Assistant.” We all felt her pain!

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Writhing Assistant sounds like a job that would be necessary in some of the more dysfunctional offices we hear about

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          I think the Mock Turtle’s school needed that person, for when they taught Reeling and Writhing and Fainting in Coils.

    3. Dread Pirate Roberts*

      My job includes writing for senior leaders to use under their own names, and it’s such a normal part of the communications profession that I’ve never seen a job description or had an interview where anyone would think to mention it. I could use those pieces in my portfolio for future jobs because hiring managers would be aware of the ghostwriting convention; if I were pitching a freelance article I’d likely not use them since I’d fear editors would be skeptical that I had full authorship if I didn’t also have similar clips under my own name … and if I did I’d be inclined to just use those and not the ghostwritten pieces.

      1. Velma*

        100%. I have a PhD and work in communications in higher ed. Even around academia this practice is common. I write talking points, media quotes, and the occasional op-ed for our faculty leadership. The OP is paid to channel the CEO’s voice and ideas. The IP/writing product belongs to the company to use and credit however best suits company purposes.

        1. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

          I currently ghost for our CEO for a specific marketing piece I put out a few times a year. Our old CEO was very involved and wanted to game it out with me beforehand and go over the pieces in a detailed manner (when he had time to do that, which he usually didn’t). When he left, his #2 moved into the role, and he was very familiar with the marketing piece and my writing and was happy with what it was. His guidance was “Write me like you did former CEO and we’ll be fine.”

    4. Anon Y. Mouse*

      I was coming down to say the same thing! OP, you are a ghostwriter, and ghostwriters do not get public credit.

    5. DameB*

      Yes, this! I’m a writer on a team of three and we produce pretty much all the public-facing text that my company produces. That’s everything from social media posts and magazine articles written by our sales people to blog posts, the website, direct mail pieces, weekly newsletters, and emails from our president.

      Hell, I write the applications for awards for our top level people.

      I never get the byline and it’s usually attributed to one of our public-facing people. That’s the job.

    6. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Yeah, just like, as a translator, my work never ever gets credited. I’ve had maybe one acknowledgement in a book, one website I’ve translated and a handful of CDs where musicians thank me for my work, and that’s it.
      In France at least, if you write something on company time, it belongs to the company, you have zero claim to having produced it.

  12. John Smith*

    I’m really stuck on how the invitation to contact in an email can be seen as passive aggressive. I use it all the time to my clients, and for colleagues, it’s usually “give us a shout” or similar.

    Being direct is the way to go. “Its been reported that Z application has crashed again. Can everyone please ensure they do X when doing Y, as this is what causes Z to crash. There’s instructions in you can refer to, or give me a shout.” is typical of my style and I’ve never had any issues.

    If you have to tell someone that a reminder or whatever is polite or friendly, I can guarantee it either isn’t or someone will think it isn’t.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, that one confused me too. Maybe it’s in a context of “contact THOSE people not ME, you contacted the wrong person”

      1. OP4*

        The best I could figure is it has the intended vibe of “we’re here for you! ” but an implication of “There. I just plunked a bunch of info in your inbox and if you don’t fully understand it, the onus is on you to reach out to me. Otherwise, if you fuck this up in the future, that’s fully on you.” The “please don’t even hesitate” might be the offending bit as it lays our accessibility on a little thick.

        There may also be an element of “I know how to use the reply button and how to call the number in your signature, and was unaware I needed permission”.

        (I’m aware these are all very uncharitable reads of a very innocuous phrase! But “uncharitable reads of a very innocuous phrase” is how a lot of venting about PA messages plays sounds to me.)

    2. hbc*

      I think the “contact X if you have any questions” can be passive aggressive, but it really depends on context. I’ve definitely seen it deployed when it’s clear that further contact will result in the sender essentially saying, “You still need to do what I said.”

      Fine: “Hey, guys, there’s been a lot of variability in how and when we’re escalating customer issues, so I put together a flow chart that covers the process. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for improvement.”

      Not great: “I’ve noticed an increase in escalation of customer issues that don’t really need to be escalated. I’m attaching the flow chart that we all should be following. Please contact me if you have any questions.” The first two sentences are a bit brusque, but the third doesn’t actually soften the message–no one believes this person actually wants questions.

      1. Allonge*

        Totally depends on company culture though. At my current place, the second example is a lot closer to how we write emails.

        Others have made the point, but anything can be (seen as) passive-agressive; there is no way to say ‘you are not following policy’ or ‘where is my teapot report’ that makes the other feel good.

    3. Tesuji*

      I would assume that’s a reference to directing them to contact someone else, not you.

      For example, “if you have any further issues on this, here’s the number for tech support,” which has an implicit “stop bothering me to do your job for you” message.

    4. cabbagepants*

      I agree — being direct is best. You can ask directly for what you need without being rude or accusatory.

      The more people apologize for making totally reasonable requests, the more those requests are read as unreasonable.

  13. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (salary documents on shared drive):

    > Our jobs have salary bands, and my salary band is higher than Annie’s.

    This got me thinking, are OP and Annie doing “the same” or “equivalent” jobs so that even if their individual salary is different due to whatever reasons, they are on the same band. If there’s no transparency about salary bands, how does anyone know that the band they are in is “the same” for them as it is for someone else in the same role…

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Not sure if that came out clearly. What I meant was if they are both Lion Tamer 1 but OPs salary band is e.g. 50-70k and Annie’s is 40-60k.

      1. Jaydee*

        The way it was worded makes me think both are lion tamers with similar responsibilities, but Annie is a Lion Tamer 1 and OP is a Lion Tamer 2, putting her at a higher salary band. It may not be obvious to Annie either that they technically have different positions or what differences there are between her role and OP’s role.

        But I think the bigger issue is probably that OP is interpreting Annie’s complaint about the salary difference personally, as if Annie is upset *at OP* that OP makes more than she does or is questioning the value of OP’s work relative to her own. And the second-hand nature of the complaint kind of gives it that feel. But it could simply be that Annie either doesn’t realize that OP is a Lion Tamer 2 versus a Lion Tamer 1 or that Annie is wondering why she was classified as a 1 instead of a 2 and if/how she can change that.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          ” both are lion tamers with similar responsibilities, but Annie is a Lion Tamer 1 and OP is a Lion Tamer 2, putting her at a higher salary band”

          My thought was similar, but possibly Annie and OP are both Lion Tamer 2, but OP has some credential that makes her a 2A, with a bump in pay, and Annie is still 2B. Or not 2B, who knows.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, I was a bit confused by this too. I thought the whole point of salary bands was to have transparency and consistency— so you don’t know exactly what Annie is earning, but you know she’s a Lion Tamer (G8) and Jill is a Lion Tamer (G7) and they have slightly different responsibilities. Having salary bands that are secret and two colleagues not knowing that one is higher than the other sounds super weird to me!

      1. BlueWolf*

        Salary bands are not public at my job. I know what my salary grade number is, but I don’t know anyone else’s and I can’t see the whole pay scale to see where I fall into it. However, I’ve always felt like my company has treated me well when it comes to compensation. I have consistently gotten merit raises, promotions, and occasionally market adjustments. I am making basically double what I started at 6 years ago. It’s a pretty competitive industry, so I think leadership is cognizant of keeping up with our peers when it comes to compensation and benefits.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      I read it as they’re both Lion Tamer I and the salary band is 50-70, but Annie makes 55k and OP makes 73k. Not outside of the band but still different. But I don’t know how salary Banda work, maybe that range is too big. And maybe it’s a smaller discrepancy but Annie is still upset.

  14. Cass*

    Autistic here- can someone please explain how those phrases are passive aggressive? Like “gentle reminder” is literally telling you that it’s gentle, which means they are being nice and considerate. “Friendly reminder” has the word ‘friendly’ right in it- how is it being taken as the opposite? Why not simply take people’s words at face value?

    1. nodramalama*

      it’s passive aggressive because most people aren’t meaning, and won’t take it literally. People will use softening language because they’re irritated- so “gentle reminder” is often used when someone feels like they have told people something multiple times. It basically becomes STOP DOING THIS IT IS SO ANNOYING.

      It’s not always true, but language also isn’t static and you can’t read and understand language in a vacuum.

    2. Bit o' Brit*

      Also autistic, so I may be off-base, but to me it’s because using an adjective doesn’t make it true. They may intend to be friendly and gentle, but if what they’re doing is causing me stress and aggravation, it’s like someone yelling at you while telling you they are calm and talking quietly.

      1. Roland*

        Yup. I know rationally that people aren’t always intending to be passive-aggressive when they say “friendly/gentle reminder” but this is exactly why it sets my teeth on edge. Like just say that part after it…

      2. Budgie Buddy*


        It’s like when so one says “Jane is so sweet, and I value her as a friend.” Followed by a long speech or 3 paragraphs of Jane being absolute garbage. I get the strong message that this person doesn’t like Jane, or at least is infuriated by many things about Jane. Doesn’t matter that they for some reason want to claim they and Jane are besties.

    3. Tau*

      Basically what nodramalama said – it’s a very softened form of the phrase which often gets used in situations where someone is actually extremely annoyed, to the point where it’s gained that connotation. Also, there’s a thing that people can do where they exaggerate the politeness level in what they perceive as an obvious request and basically litter it with “if you wouldn’t mind!” and “just a friendly reminder!” as this way of… underscoring how reasonable they are being vs how unreasonable the person is for needing the reminder? So really exaggerated politeness in everyday situations can come off as passive-aggressive.

      That said, as a fellow autistic, here’s a secret it took me a while to figure out: the best way to react to passive-aggressiveness is usually to apparently take it at face value, meaning that being autistic and actually taking it at face value becomes a superpower. There are a number of strategies NT people can use to annoy each other which I’m effectively immune to and it’s great. I mainly remind myself not to *use* the phrase “friendly reminder” etc. because I now know there’s weird connotations, but I don’t try to parse them.

    4. Mariana*

      I also take “friendly reminder” literally and find it reassuring. But it’s possible that the people I’ve worked with who use that phrase meant it genuinely and I was picking up on that!

    5. Jaydee*

      On their face, none of these phrases are inherently passive aggressive. And like Alison said most are really common in work emails. I end probably 75% of my work emails with “please let me know if you have any questions” and I genuinely mean it (even if I’m hoping they won’t actually have any questions).

      But some people do use them passive-aggressively because norms around work communication don’t always allow us to fully express frustration with others. The same words can take on a different tone in different contexts. So, for example, there’s a difference between:

      – “For future reference, here’s [a document that outlines this new policy]” and
      – “For future reference, here’s [yet another copy of the policy that I assume you haven’t read because you sure haven’t been following it]”

      – “Going forward, we will be doing X instead of Y” and
      – “Going forward, please make sure to do X (because that is what you were previously told to do)”

      – “Morning team! Just a reminder that time sheets are due early because of the holiday this week. Please submit them by noon on Thursday.” and
      – “Morning Fergus! Just a reminder that your TPS report is due by noon today. Please turn it in on time this month.”

    6. londonedit*

      It’s become a bit of an internet joke that these phrases are *always* used passive-aggressively, but it’s definitely not true. It’s like the joke that says you know a British person is screamingly angry with you when they sign off an email with ‘Kind regards’. Which, as with all good jokes, has a grain of truth in it, because it’s a stereotype that we Brits will tend to get ever more reserved and polite the angrier we get. But that doesn’t mean ALL emails with ‘Kind regards’ at the end are sent by angry British people, or that you can’t use ‘Kind regards’ without everyone thinking you’re angry.

      1. philmar*

        I work in a very international environment where most people are not native English speakers, and regards/best regards/kind regards are the most common sign offs. I guarantee no one means to be passive aggressive. I don’t even read them, they just let you know the email is ending.

      2. 1-800-BrownCow*

        Interesting, as I work for a European country and we are required to use the company signature for all emails, which includes “Kind Regards, [Insert my name]”

      3. Nina*

        It’s ‘regards’. ‘Kind regards’ is a lot of British people’s standard. It’s when the ‘kind’ gets left off that you know they’re screaming mad.

        – for context, my first professional job was in the UK in a place that observed this rule rigorously, and I was horrified when I moved home and discovered that my partner used ‘regards’ as standard on all emails, including emails to me.

    7. Jessica*

      I LOATHE ‘gentle reminder.’ Reminding me about a work thing you need is a normal business thing to do. Of course one shouldn’t be rude, but you can just remind me. You don’t need to walk on eggshells to avoid offending my delicate sensibilities. I find “gentle reminder” really annoying and condescending because it implies that I need special handling and that you can’t just talk to me about work things in a normal way.

    8. The Prettiest Curse*

      “Gentle reminder” never seems to be used by anyone who isn’t absolutely on their last nerve, to ask people to stop doing something that is either deeply annoying or wastes a lot of time. So it’s not the phrase itself that seems passive-aggressive – it’s the context and the general tone of communications in which it’s usually used.

      Personally, just due to past experience of people using both these phrases in a really unpleasant and patronising way, I find these phrases grating in the extreme (same with “thanks in advance” – there’s a whole comment thread in the AAM archives about whether that one is rude.) However, I know that not everyone uses them in a passive-aggressive way and for some people it’s just ingrained in their communcation style, so I try to bear that in mind and look at the overall context of the communication. (Also, my response is probably skewed by the fact that I’m British and we have mastered the art of the passive-aggressive note – don’t get me started on the phrase “please could you”.)

      1. londonedit*

        I have an in-built hatred of ‘please’ being shortened to ‘pls’ in emails because several years ago I worked with a woman who micromanaged everyone, talked down to everyone, and assumed I was there to run around doing whatever she wanted whenever she snapped her fingers (my job description said otherwise, but she didn’t care). She would always send emails where the entire message was just ‘pls update system immediately’ and it felt rude, dismissive and passive-aggressive. So now whenever I see ‘pls’ it makes me bristle, even if the person writing it doesn’t mean to be rude.

        Personally I don’t think ‘thanks in advance’ is rude at all, but I probably would bristle a bit at ‘Gentle reminder’ because that does feel patronising. It is all about context, though, and an email that begins ‘Gentle reminder’ but then continues in a cordial manner (‘Gentle reminder – year end is coming up, so if you could all please submit your expenses by the end of this week, it would be extremely helpful to the Accounts department as we approach this busy time’) is going to land very differently than one that goes ‘Gentle reminder – I should NOT have to tell you people to file your expenses in a timely manner. This causes huge problems for Accounts and will not be tolerated’.

      2. Kara*

        Oh dear, ‘thanks in advance’ is a favorite of mine because you’re doing me a favor and i appreciate it. So it could sometimes have been landing wrong? So how DO people ask nicely for something?

        1. Hlao-roo*

          “Thanks in advance” doesn’t particularly bother me, but I can see how it would bother others. It can feel a bit presumptuous: I am already thanking you because of course you are going to do this thing for me.

          I think it lands differently in different contexts. For example, in the AAM open threads, I see “thanks in advance” as “I may not be back in this thread to engage with people in real time, but I do appreciate everyone who answers my question. In a work context, if it’s my job to process TPS reports and you send me an email “here’s the latest TPS report, TIA,” I see that as “I’m going to avoid cluttering up your inbox with emails that just say “thanks.” In a different work context, where you’re asking me to do something that’s outside the scope of my usual day-to-day duties, a “thanks in advance” might rub me the wrong way if I were already in a bit of a bad mood. “I would really appreciate your help with that” or something along those lines might land better.

          1. Malarkey01*

            I think you’ve described this well and I am always very interested in language. I use thanks in advance as a way to signify that I know I’m asking you for something a little more than average and I want you to know that I really appreciate your work.

            You’re right that it assumes you’re going to do it for me because well your job is that you do this. It’s not a favor you can decline. Personally I’ve thought when it’s done for something or to someone that is responsible for fulfilling the request it’s fine. If I’m actually asking a favor that someone can decline I use something like I appreciate any help you could give me or pointing me in the right direction if you’re not the right person (or the right direction of someone better to ask, etc).

        2. They*

          Language is so funny, isn’t it? I personally only use “Thanks in advance” when I’m annoyed with someone and I’m trying to say “I expect you to do this thing, just so you know.” However, I only take this approach with people who I already know are passive aggressive and I wouldn’t automatically assume someone else using it was trying to be passive aggressive

        3. The Prettiest Curse*

          One of the points made the last time “thanks in advance” was discussed was that it assumes the person you’re saying it to can and will do the thing that you’re asking them to do. (I may just have negative feelings about it because the only colleague I’ve had who used that phrase used it when asking me to re-send documents to her that I’d already sent repeatedly to her, just because she couldn’t be bothered to search for them. I was so tempted to reply saying “Please just print this the f out. Thanks in advance!”)

          I think it’s a lot less annoying if it’s directed at multiple people in a situation where it’s optional to respond, like the open thread comments mentioned by Hlao-roo below.

        4. LadyByTheLake*

          This one really annoys me — mainly because it implies that there is a question of whether or not I am going to do it, with the implication that without the “thanks in advance” I would blow off the request. I don’t know why it rubs me the wrong way — it just does! However, a simple “thank you” is fine.

          So I am fine with “Hi! Can you send me the Smith file? Thank you!”
          If you send “Hi! Can you send me the Smith file? Thanks in advance,” what I read is “Hi, can you send me the Smith file? I think you are a deadbeat who won’t do it, so I am making sure to point out that I’m thanking you in advance so maybe you’ll do it this time.”

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m with Alison on “gentle reminder” and it lands as akin to “Well bless your heart” said through the teeth, in a context where everyone knows this is not actually a blessing.

        This thread is an interesting reminder of how the most innocuous turn of phrase can raise hackles in the right context, in part because the turns of phrase are not literal.

    9. Irish Teacher*

      To me, that’s the problem. If a person is being friendly or gentle, then that should be obvious from the message itself. If somebody has to preface something with “I am being nice,” it’s often an indication that that person is not being nice.

      Plus, they really aren’t in a position to judge that anyway. It’s really up to those hearing to say if something was phrased gently or not or if it came across as friendly or not. Most people think they are being nice and considerate, even if they are not (very few people go around thinking, I’m going to be nasty and rude). Even people who go around openly insulting people often have themselves convinced “I was doing it for his/her own good.” People can’t really judge their own behaviour accurately, because they are biased, so essentially telling people “I’m being nice here” is kinda meaningless.

      Either what they are saying is gentle and friendly, in which case, why bother saying it? Or it’s rude and unfriendly, in which case, saying that it’s gentle and friendly doesn’t change that fact.

      It also kinda makes it difficult for the other person to push back if the “reminder” is incorrect. For example, if a boss writes, “gentle reminder that I expect everybody to volunteer for overtime,” it is much harder to say “nope, not doing that” than it would be if he said it more directly, because if you push back, you look like the one starting an argument. So it can be kinda manipulative.

      As others have said, a lot depends on context and when people see them as passive-aggressive, it’s usually not because of the specific phrase, but because the speaker is being passive aggressive, in this case, by saying something nasty, preceded by something like “friendly reminder” to imply “you’re not allowed to say you’re offended when I offend you because I said I was being friendly.”

      But even when meant genuinely, it can come across as a bit condescending, like they think the other person needs to be told what tone to read the message in.

      That said, it sometimes more seems to indicate the writer/speaker is insecure and afraid of being misinterpreted and in those cases, it’s just a bit awkward and not insulting.

      1. Kara*

        I do fear being misinterpreted because i have a long history of just that happening. I am also autistic, and I’ve learned to not only spell out my full train of thought including the context, but also include tone signifiers because if i don’t it’ll come across badly and/or rudely. Again. I’ve looked at how other people write and i can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong!

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Very few people go around thinking, I’m going to be nasty and rude.
        There is a separate problem where people fear seeming nasty and rude, and so put on so much softening language that the recipient misses the message, or misses that the message is supposed to be a firm absolute and not an optional suggestion.

        1. hbc*

          Yeah, the in-person equivalent is someone tiptoing up to you at your desk and going, “I’m so very sorry to bother you, but Jane said you have the Kresge files and I need them for…oh, thank you so much, are you sure you’re not using them?” Please do me the favor of acting like I’m not an ogre who needs to be appeased for doing a very normal work thing.

      3. Seashell*

        I think it can be hard to read tone in e-mail. Someone might take “I need the Johnson report by 5 pm today” to be just a matter-of-fact statement. Others might think that it means the boss is mad, since there’s nothing in the way of please or thank you or it’s not a question, just a demand.

    10. Molly Millions*

      I personally find it a bit condescending – a normal reminder in a business context isn’t something threatening, and the sender shouldn’t feel the need to soften it.

      (It might help to consider that the phrase is never used in a genuinely friendly context – you don’t see “friendly reminder, there are cookies in the break room.” It’s generally used when someone’s forgotten to do something or made the same mistake multiple times. In that case, I would personally rather have someone correct me in a straightforward manner than act like they have to be “gentle” with me if they want me to do my job.

    11. Napkin Thief*

      The phrases themselves are not inherently passive aggressive. They tend to be used that way as the gap between what a person genuinely feels and what is socially acceptable to say (especially in writing) widens. Some people
      lean heavily into either “nice” or formal language, especially in written communication, when they actually feel absolutely infuriated, because a) it maintains the appearance of scrupulous professionalism, while b) highlighting the contrast between one’s own behavior and the other party’s, thus, in theory, c) getting the point across in a way that would make the other person look bad to complain about.

      Example: “friendly reminder” is in the email when the situation is “this is literally the 12th time this month I’ve had to ask you to do your %#^*> job and I’m sick and tired of it – but if I say that I will look like the rude person and the bad guy, even if it’s completely justified! Are you actually incompetent? Did you pick up an idiot ball somewhere and forget how to actually be a useful gonna being? I’m going to speak to you as if that’s the case.”

      As is always the challenge with passive aggressive behavior, it only “works” when you know that, based on context, the person is actually more likely to feel the opposite of what their words say.

      1. Napkin Thief*

        Muddying the waters a bit, some folks do use phrases like “friendly reminder” etc in order to convey a positive tone in a situation where they actually DON’T want to make the recipient feel bad, despite the circumstances.

        Honestly I think the best practice for dealing with passive aggression is ignoring subtext, anyway. People, allistic or autistic, shouldn’t have to be mind readers in the work place. Return awkward to sender.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          I agree. I see it in my workplace and I do not believe they are irritated or being passive aggressive at all. Mostly from HR/IT — they’re reminding about critical deadlines because it’s really, really important for the employee to do a thing (like, signing up for insurance) but employees are busy and forget / procrastinate. They’re trying to convey time-sensitive messages (repeatedly) without sounding pushy — in part perhaps to avoid getting blamed later.

          1. Orsoneko*

            This is definitely the context in which I most often see it used. When I get a “gentle reminder” email from my supervisor, it’s almost always accompanied by an explanation that the higher-ups have been bugging him to make sure all of his reports complete [Annoying Administrative Task That Everyone Tends to Put Off] on time. My impression is that he’s mildly annoyed at the situation but not at me specifically.

    12. Purple Cat*

      Personally, I despise the phrases “Gentle reminder” and “Friendly reminder”. Mostly because I always read it in a sing-song voice that belongs in a daycare, not a professional environment.
      Part of that comes from, for me, one should always assume that a reminder or request IS gentle. That’s the default, unless someone is coming at you guns-a-blazing, they’re just doing their job.

      Terrible analogy, but a nice guy generally doesn’t go around (or need to) call himself a nice guy, the actions speak for themselves. If somebody feels the need to call the reminder “gentle” it seems like they’re trying to convince themselves (or you)

    13. hbc*

      I’ve been thinking about this, and I think it’s because reminders are never really that friendly. A reminder says, “I don’t trust you to get this done on your own.” Putting “gentle” or “friendly” in front of it just means you don’t want to own up to the fact that you’re expecting me to drop the ball.

      A much nicer approach, especially among peers, is to nudge for a status update if one’s needed. “TPS reports are due in two days, please let me know if you foresee any problems with getting them in on time.”

      1. Silver Robin*

        “it means you don’t want to own up to the fact that you’re expecting me to drop the ball”

        By that logic, all reminders mean that. Half my job is reminding people. Because they forget. I do, in fact, expect them to drop the ball. That is okay, I get why the tasks I remind them of are not at the top of the list. But those tasks are necessary and so I send reminders and follow up. However, people dislike being given regular indications that they are dropping the ball, even if it is a totally reasonable thing. So I couch my language. Spoonful of sugar and all that.

        The fundamental irritation of receiving reminders does not go away until folks are self-aware enough to understand that they need the reminders sometimes, the reminders can just be a normal part of business interactions, and if someone is receiving lots of reminders for something really big and important, well that is, indeed a problem; they should work on needing fewer reminders. But even in that last bit, the reminders are not the problem.

    14. fhqwhgads*

      “Gentle reminder” and “friendly reminder” are very often used in a context where the subtext is “if I spoke plainly, the recipient would think I was making a bigger deal out of this than necessary, which I fear will undercut my message and derail. Thus instead of letting that show through, I will state that I am being gentle/friendly about it, which inherently means I am NOT making a big deal, in hopes that the instruction will therefore be more readily accepted.”

      You can take people’s words at face value of course, but be mindful that people often chose not to state plainly what they mean and often do rely on subtext. That’s part of the problem with being passive-aggressive in the first place: they’re intentionally NOT saying what they mean. When the recipient recognizes it, it can be frustrating because why not say what you actually mean? But what’s at issue here is when a phrase is so frequently used in a passive-aggressive manner that to take it at face value will much more often than not be genuinely missing the point.

      Most of the phrases OP mentioned from the listicle they read don’t really fall into the category of “it is much rarer for someone to genuinely mean this than not”. However, “gentle reminder” is very much in that category.

    15. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      In general, words have their literal meaning-the face value that you mention-but they also have the memory and context of every other time you’ve seen the word or phrase used. This allows for subtle and complex communication for people who have a lot of shared context, but also means that subtlety can be lost for people from different cultures or histories.

      The most obvious example is every slur that used to be a normal word. The literal meaning is still fine, but the context of every time the word was used in a nasty way turned it into a nasty word.

    16. Critical Rolls*

      Squishy brains with varied experiences is, I think, the short answer. Some people are much more prone to analyzing this type of thing for nuance than others; some people have had negative experiences with particular phrases/tones that left a lasting impression. Nearly any way of communicating is bound to set *someone’s* teeth on edge, so as long as the communication is more or less in the middle of the scale of impenetrable–>softened–>direct–>harsh, it’s fine.

    17. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

      Hi Cass,
      Fellow neuroqueer here, but this is one social communication thing I think I’ve got a good handle on. Phrases like “gentle reminder” or “friendly reminder” aren’t always or necessarily passive-aggressive. But they do unavoidably contain an opinion asserted as if it were fact, inarguable. I find that presumptuous, especially if I disagree with the opinion or think reasonable people might– or have other evidence that suggests it could even be a lie.

      People can do that (assert opinions as facts) innocently in good will, not realizing they’re being presumptuous in assuming their audience ‘knows what they mean’ and can respond to what they mean rather than what they actually said. Or people can do that manipulatively, to purposefully make it hard for their audience to recognize that the assertion is not a fact, and hard for them to form or express an opinion contrary to that ‘fact’, so that the speaker/writer’s perspective goes unchallenged.

      Why not just take those words at face value?
      1. It’s legitimate to disagree with an opinion, even when it’s not presented as open to disagreement.
      2. It’s useful (IMO) to practice recognizing opinions-presented-as-fact and considering the complications they pose to communication, even if they don’t seem manipulative and you end up agreeing with the opinion once considered it *as* opinion*.
      4. It’s useful (IMO) to recognize when someone (myself or others) is being presumptuous or making assumptions, because patterns of unexamined assumptions arise from and contribute to bias, inequity, and miscommunication, and I want to limit those.

      Irish Teacher’s comment in this thread addresses some of these same idea in a different way.

    18. Allonge*

      Another thing to consider here is – a lot of people will say, like Alison and many commenters here, that a term like ‘gentle reminder’ annoys them like nothing else.

      This is not literally true either in most cases – most people have many (many!) things that annoy them more.

      It’s a low-key thing that one can complain about; it’s very unlikely that using such a term in an email, by itself, will have a negative impact on your relationships with others.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, you’re of course right that there’s some hyperbole, but if I had to pick a commonly used written phrase that annoyed me more than any other, it would probably be that one…

        It’s like if someone came up and softly whispered their request to me in a tender tone. AGGH!

        (I’m stealing the comparison to “tender” from someone elsewhere on the page because it’s perfect.)

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Well NOW I will never not be able to read “gentle reminder” without hearing someone be all tender at me.

          Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments or concerns.
          R. S.

        2. Allonge*

          Oh, thanks, that’s a… vivid image, there :).

          Still, I imagine that you and other reasonable people would either let a repeat offender know that you would prefer to be reminded ‘without gentleness’, or at least decide not to dwell on this long term.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh, of course. No one is getting ostracized or fired for this. I wouldn’t even say anything about it unless I managed them, and then only if I had reason to think it was irritating other people. We’re just talking about phrases to voluntarily strike from our own writing!

            1. Allonge*

              Thank you – the only reason I am insisting a bit is that the original poster on this thread speaks about taking things literally, and in that context the ‘worse than anything’ type of language is quite scary.

    19. Turquoisecow*

      I think in a lot of cases there’s a history and backstory here that’s hard to get across in a simple example but is clear when you’re in the middle. Someone sting “gentle reminder” on its own isn’t passive aggressive, but when you have to remind them to send the weekly report on Tuesday EVERy TUESDAY, you really aren’t in the mood to be gentle. But you can’t send an email like “BOB THIS IS THE 82ND TIME IVE ASKED FOR THIS DO YOUR &:@$/#*ING JOB,” so people go the other direction with fake sweetness. “Bob, could you kindly send the weekly report as soon as possible? Kind regards, Jane,” doesn’t sound passive aggressive without that context but if Jane is annoyed by the delays and/or Bob feels like Jane is a nag because he has until end of day Tuesday and she’s emailing him at noon, there’s a definite reading there that won’t be easily communicated through the words themselves.

      It’s often not the phrase that’s passive aggressive itself but the message and history under it. And so next time Bob gets an innocuous email (from someone else) saying “kind regards,” he may interpret it that way even if that’s not how the sender intended it.

    20. DataSci*

      Because most neurotypical people aren’t good at taking things literally or at face value! It’s so common to be expected to read between the lines or get a lot of communication from body language and tone of voice that people read between the lines when there’s nothing there, or infer tone and body language in a pure text context when it isn’t there.

    21. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Cass, is there ever a time when you actually said to a person, I am giving you a gentle reminder that you did not do the thing I want you to do? If you did, how did they react?

      Looked at on its own, gentle can be a nice word. In context, it has different meanings. And really, most words are kinda neutral without any context. For example, love. Sounds nice, but has different meanings. You can say, “I love that” in a situation and in a tone that means you don’t like it at all or in a situation and tone that mean you love it. My in-laws (from a very different region of the world) hate that Americans can say, “I love your shoes” and then say “I love you” to their spouse. They have told me that the same word love cannot be for both things and people and it is devaluing to people to use the same word.

      Adding gentle sounds like something you say to a child, “touch the baby gently!” So saying that to an adult (unless they are hurting you in a massage or something) sounds like you are talking to them like they are a child. That makes it uncomfortable and awkward for me.

      And I have never seen anyone use that phrasing at work except for two types of people:
      1. fairly clueless people who don’t realize the problem with it or
      2. very rude and power-hungry people who use it to try to show they have power over others

      I abhor the phrase because a very difficult coworker at my old job used it All. The. Time.
      She meant to imply that she had the power to send these reminders and was trying to be the boss of others when she was not.

    22. Observer*

      Friendly reminder” has the word ‘friendly’ right in it- how is it being taken as the opposite? Why not simply take people’s words at face value?

      Well, to use this example, if someone has to TELL me that it’s friendly, that it’s pretty likely that the rest of the email is quite UNfriendly. And in that case I don’t care if you SAY you are being friendly, because even if you mean it (which is not a given, if you are writing unfriendly stuff), what you wrote is STILL unfriendly.

      Don’t TELL people that you are being friendly. DO it/ WRITE that way. Or not. (But don’t not be friendly and then dress it up by telling me you’re friendly.)

  15. GingerSheep*

    OP2 – Are you definitely sure Annie was snooping? I have myself come across confidential (and highly personal) documents when running a search on a shared computer. If she had been looking for an offer letter template, for instance, the search would surely have brought up your offer letter, without showing the file structure (at least, that’s how my computer works). If your document was just titled “offer letter”, she could very innocently have opened it hoping it would be what she was looking for.
    Of course, she shouldn’t have shared the info.
    But really, the confidential stuff I’ve seen brought up by computer searches in my job is mind boggling. People, don’t store stuff you wouldn’t share on a work device!

      1. ecnaseener*

        Where do you get that? Annie said she “stumbled on” the letter which would be consistent with finding it by accident, not snooping.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        If she truly came across it by accident, which, yes, is possible if doing a search of an entire folder, she would have simply closed it and not mentioned it to anyone, except maybe a quick “OP you might want to know I accidentally opened up your pay slip when looking for X, you might want to password-protect that folder or transfer all those documents to your home device”. I’ve done that before.

    1. Yes And*

      Yeah, I see no hard evidence that Annie was snooping. It’s possible she was – but there are two parties to every letter, the sender and the recipient. It’s possible Annie didn’t even “stumble on” LW’s copy! She may have found the organization’s copy. (That doesn’t excuse the misuse of the information she found there, but it would mean she wasn’t in LW’s files.)

  16. nodramalama*

    LW3 as someone whose work can go through more than 5 or 6 levels before the final product, you just can’t be precious about ownership. It’s not about plagarism- in some industries you’re basically doing the research/background/first draft for someone. the piece of work comes from your general manager/ your branch/ your entity, not you personally.

    1. Tau*

      This may be the case for you, but it doesn’t sound like it’s the case for LW – they say it’s “100% their work” and that the pieces are

      more like thought leadership pieces, blog posts, etc. that I fully research and write that are then published to the company website under someone else’s name.

      It sounds like a very different situation to the one where all work is effectively crowd-sourced and then credited to your head of department or a group. From what other people are saying, the ghostwriter model is also common… but I admit that just like LW I’d also find it deeply irritating to have someone just present something that was 100% my work which they were in no way involved in as entirely theirs. I don’t think that’s being “precious”, although it may be a sign this wouldn’t be the right industry for me (or LW).

      1. ThatsTheJob*

        Yeah, don’t work as a writer outside of journalism if you want credit for the things you write.

  17. Lara*

    Ugggh same to “gentle reminder”, and not only because it implies I can’t deal with a standard reminder like a normal person, it also grosses me out so much!
    I know it’s a personal read and this not the only accepted use of the word, but: it’s so strongly associated with more vulnerable, intimate moments that including it in work email seems inappropriate – invasive even. Gentle is for lovers, for detangling baby birds from bushes, for dealing with children. Just be polite and fair and let anyone who needs way more than that sink or swim.

    1. lucanus cervus*

      Yeah, I find ‘gentle’ reallyodd in a work context. Like you, I know this is my personal take on it, but it gives me the ick because…this is not a ‘be gentle with me’ moment, we are at work.

      1. lucanus cervus*

        Like, in my head it’s only one step less personal/intimate than ‘tender’, and I do not require tenderness from colleagues tymv.

        1. Francie Foxglove*

          It makes me think of gentle hints dot com, from which can be ordered a basket of soaps to leave on a co-worker’s desk. An alternative to saying, “You’re stinking the place up; take a bath already.”

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        It reminds me of the way Miss Manners starts her responses with the words “gentle reader”. I do not like Miss Manners.

  18. Varthema*

    I’ve found the least favorite aspect of your job to be a really enlightening interview question. If you’re using it for a specific purpose, it’s a tough one to hedge completely!

    For example – I work with a team of people who are largely ex-teachers, working on curriculum content. We do use our teaching/knowledge, BUT a lot of the job is a lot more akin to data entry than to content creation. We get a lot of internal applicants from our teaching team though, and 99% of them (unless they already know someone on our team) are under the impression they’ll be creating content in their role which just isn’t true. So I have had applicants respond with things like, “My least favorite part is the admin work before and after lessons and all the stuff we have to fill out,” – while this would be a harmless hedge for a teaching role, for ours it is honestly a red flag, because compared to teaching, our role CAN feel very tedious and a lot of it is “filling stuff out,” so the following question would be, “Admin and filling stuff out is a big part of this role, so what do you (etc)…”

    Often our most long-term successful candidates are the ones who are actually a bit burned out on the people aspect of teaching and welcome a bit of quiet repetitive work as a break. So this question does help chase out some misapprehensions a bit.

    1. BagOfBolding*

      Same! My version is, “Tell me about a work project you liked. What were the best parts, and what parts were least fun?” My jobs involve a lot of wildly divergent activities; something akin to llama roundup from our 50 acre preserve, llama manicures, tracking of grooming records and creating custom reports for our facility funders. Most hires will be involved in most of the activities at some time or another, but I balance the assignments (and hires) on interest and aptitude. I also know that, “I really hated having to work with animals,” may indicate that an applicant isn’t likely to enjoy the job, so I should probably dig a little deeper there with follow up questions.

    2. Anne of Green Gables*

      I also use it to help me determine if the role will be a good fit. I don’t mean it as a “gotcha” question, as LW mentions, but as a true effort to make sure you will be happy with the reality of your role. My current wording asks for your favorite and least favorite parts/tasks of your current job. I learn a lot from the answers. And very occasionally, yes, it tells me the candidate is not a fit for the job. (The candidate for a library job that was at least 50% staffing a service desk whose least favorite part of their current job was staffing a service desk.)

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Reminding me here of a commenter who was looking for a filing clerk. She would put some questions to be answered at the same time as candidates would be uploading their CV and cover letter. She would ask very basic things like “Do you like filing?” and was amazed at the number of people who clicked on “No”. IIRC the computer had whittled all those out, she was left with very few candidates, and went back to check the system because she’d been told they had over 100 CVs uploaded and couldn’t figure out why she could only see a dozen.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I think I found this story in the post “loose cannons, interviews from the toilet, and other stories of ridiculous job candidates” from August 2, 2016 (#6. Not interested — will link in follow-up comment).

      2. EEK! The Manager*

        This is exactly how I ask when I’m interviewing. It’s a way to make sure the role is the right fit on both sides!

  19. Jill Swinburne*

    #3 – I know what you mean! My first job, straight out of university, was in PR, and it was really quite something to read your press release in the paper with someone else’s byline and some minor changes. It’s just one of those things about being a writer for hire.

    1. Sunshine*

      Agreed! Content writer here. It cracks me up to think about how many Important Legal and Medical blog posts were written by me as a hungover 24-year-old running on 3 hours of sleep. I would like to think that the people I ghostwrote for would check over my work one final time for accuracy, but I really doubt it. Don’t trust everything you read online!

  20. Lena Clare*

    LW4. Type not being passive aggressive! That was a bad article I think.
    My most hated phrase is “moving forward”
    I detest it! Surely there’s no reason to clarify the direction you’re going in, unless it isn’t forward, like “moving diagonally” e.g. (rolls eyes).

    1. Lena Clare*

      I meant ‘you’re not being’ passive aggressive.
      I have no idea how it changed to ‘type’, or how I didn’t notice that!

      1. ecnaseener*

        Lol that read as some very strange advice: just type “Not Being Passive Aggressive!” in every email and you can’t go wrong!

    2. Marni*

      In my experience, the implication of the “going forward“ phrasing is to clarify that the person being told this isn’t in trouble/being criticized for doing it differently before, it’s an acknowledgment that either this is a new process or it wasn’t explained properly, so it’s setting up a clean slate and saying“let’s not get stuck in overanalyzing the past, let’s just do it this way in the future.”

      Of course, it *is* sometimes used diplomatically or passive aggressively when the writer is actually infuriated that the person they’re writing to has been doing it wrong up until now. But they don’t want to get into all that, they just want it done properly going forward.

      1. londonedit*

        I think it’s context again – for me, the irritation around ‘going forward’ stems from the fact that it’s a business-speak sort of word and there’s a far clearer and plainer way of presenting the information. ‘In the future, let’s do it this way’ says exactly the same thing but without the ‘Grrr, stupid buzzwords’ baggage. And that’s the point with all of these, really – if your overbearing micromanager signs off all their horrible emails to you with ‘Best’, or starts them with ‘Friendly reminder’, then it won’t be long before those phrases will spark an instant rush of irritation whenever you see them.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Hmm, I think getting upset about “in future” versus “going forward” requires some self-awareness on the part of the person who is upset, in that a reasonable person might be picking either term without a ton of thought.

        2. ecnaseener*

          I wonder if there’s a regional difference or something here – “going forward” feels just as normal and clear and non-loaded to me as “in the future.” I’ve definitely heard it in non-business contexts and never thought anything of it.

        3. Roland*

          “going forward” and “in the future ” seem identical to me tbh. Like one could also object to “in the future”, because obviously you can’t change what you did in the past so “future” is unecessary just like “forward”. I respect we all have our pet peeves but I do think you’re ascribing too much motive to this one.

      2. Cat Tree*

        I agree. In my job there are some things occasionally that DO require us to go back through and change/fix previous work. When I say “going forward” to my employees, that means we’re not going backwards to change things but future projects need to be done differently.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Agree. We often have to change priorities in research, so at the end of a discussion someone might say “So going forward we’ll focus on X and Y instead of H”. The takeaway is not that H was bad and we were wrong for focusing on it. It’s that we’ve decided that H isn’t our path, and we need to do X and Y instead to advance.

      3. Phryne*

        This is very interesting. I am not a native speaker of English, and I have never read that phrase as anything but a neutral stylistic devise to signify ‘from now on’…

        1. Sloanicota*

          TBH, that’s one of my issues with people nitpicking very minor implications of language choice! I love words and writing, but in a business context, not everybody brings the same level of proficiency or has the same cultural connotations with certain terms / phrases.

          1. kiki*

            Exactly. I also think most of us have to write or say A LOT at work without a ton of time to dwell on every single potential reading of a word or phrase. When I was a student, I had weeks to think and rethink all my word choices in papers. It felt fair to have teachers and peers analyze every word. As a working adult, most writing happens in under an hour. If someone is deeply annoyed that I said, “going forward,” I apologize, but it was the phrase that sounded right to me in the 10 minutes I had to draft this email. I probably used it because that’s what somebody else wrote in an email to me recently.

            1. Silver Robin*

              TRULY! This is what template words / social lubricant / polite scripts / whatever you call it are FOR.

              I have xyz I want to say. I have ABC social etiquette rules I need to follow. Template 123 indicates I am following ABC while communicating xyz without spending more than a moment writing it out.

              Sometimes, it really is just not that deep.

        2. Hlao-roo*

          I am a native English speaker, and I also have never read that phrase as anything but a different (neutral) way of saying “from now on” or “in the future.” I suppose someone could say it with a tone that implies “I would really like to punish you for doing things differently in the past,” but I have never heard it used that way.

          1. Angstrom*

            My annoyance with “going forward’ is that it — or the synonymous phrases — are often unnecessary. “Going forward, our budget will include…” If you delete the phrase, you don’t lose any meaning.

            1. Orsoneko*

              You don’t lose any meaning by deleting it, but you lose the stylistic effect of starting that sentence with a transitional phrase. That effect may or may not be desirable depending on the context, but it absolutely serves a purpose.

    3. Sylvan*

      Yes, exactly.

      I don’t need to be told that the thing you’re asking me to do is in the future. I can’t do it going backwards. Please stop. :)

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I know you can’t do it going backwards, but I’m clarifying that this is a change to the way it was previously done, not a mistake on your part, and I don’t expect you to go back and redo the work you’ve already done. So no, I’m not going to stop :)

  21. Mathilde*

    So, I am not in the USA, but where I am (in Europe), when you put a file names Personal on your work computer, legally your work can’t open it (I assume there are exceptions in criminal cases…). I understand this is a colleague here, but the principle is the same.
    I do think that a file named personal should NOT have been opened, and that the coworker was definitely snooping. As far as I am concerned, it is akin to go through our bag.

    1. LJ*

      We must use Shared drives differently. Maybe it’s not the most polite thing to open a folder named Personal, but if someone puts a folder on a Shared drive, my expectation would be that they intended to Share it with everyone who has access to that drive.

      1. LJ*

        Maybe the analogy is like, instead of having a resume in your bag (=snooping), you left your resume in the middle of a communal table in the break room, and someone saw the contents. Should they have been reading?

        1. JB (not in Houson)*

          For that to be a good analogy, you have to also say that resume on the table is in a folder labeled with someone else’s name and the word “personal” on it.

    2. Susan Calvin*

      That’s pretty dramatic, and also definitely not the norm in *all* of Europe! Besides, as multiple commenters have pointed out, this may well have been a product of Microsoft’s notoriously great search function, and the file itself seems to have been named something reasonably business relevant, with “personal” only showing up somewhere in the middle of the file path.

    3. doreen*

      I wouldn’t disagree about the file marked personal – but the way shared drives worked at my job was that everyone had a file with their name on it and I would save documents in my folder that other people might need if the sensible way to organize the files was to have all of my llama grooming reports together and all of Fergus’s together but separate from mine. There were other folders without anyone’s name, like “Forms”. Sometimes. it wasn’t always easy to determine which folder – there might be ” Forms” and ” Templates” and the blank evaluation form might be in either. So someone searches for “Evaluation” or “Evaluation form” and they get my completed evaluation that I saved in my file in the shared drive. Which has my salary grade and official title on it – but they won’t necessarily notice that it was saved in a file named “career” in my personal folder.

    4. Erik*

      This is not a European regulation. Many European multinationals operating with base in and beyond home country will tell you that any data you put into their systems, across their networks or access via their devices is as good as sharing it with them.

      People, don’t put sensitive personal stuff on your work machines! Just don’t! You have no expectation or right to privacy.

    5. Peter*

      I’m sorry Mathilde, I think you may have just learnt an unfortunate lesson that M365 makes privacy impossible unless it is in an access-restricted folder.
      I also think that your interpretation of GDPR is unlikely to be legally actionable (it certainly wouldn’t be in the UK which still follows the same GSPR rules as the EU).

  22. Boolie*

    #5 Oh man, I say “friendly heads up” when I have to guide someone towards something (e.g. a reminder to upload completed tickets to a shared folder). As an individual contributor I use the phrase to not sound bossy or know-it-all but maybe I’m being grating per AAM response? What do y’all think?

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I think context matters a lot and if your general tone is friendly and you’re not a bossy person, an individual phrase is unlikely to be much of an issue one way or the other.

      Personally, I think I’d prefer something like “just a heads-up” than “friendly heads-up” but I wouldn’t be annoyed by one phrase unless the overall tone was bossy and the “friendly heads up” was just tossed in in a way that made it sound like “I’m not being rude, but…” And it really doesn’t sound like that is the case.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I’d rather a “quick heads-up” tbh because if you’re gonna waste a lot of my time, I’ll be pretty mad, I’m on a deadline.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Agreed with Irish teacher that “just a” is a bit less grating, but like, it’s fine. (And tbh “just a” is still somewhat grating, but I haven’t found a better option!)

      0% grating is probably just unattainable in most work environments.

  23. cam*

    I think its also culture. I work with a lot of Europeans who use the word kindly a lot of in email, where as where I am from it comes across as really passive aggressive

    1. I should really pick a name*

      It sounds like a good idea to know this kind of thing up front.
      If Fergus hates spreadsheets and the rest of your team hates spreadsheets, Fergus might not be the best choice.

      1. andy*

        In that case, it would be even better to tell applicants you want them to do spreadsheets instead of hoping it is not their second most hated thing.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Definitely true, I’m just curious why the person said the conversation about what you don’t like shouldn’t happen in the interview.

    2. Sloanicota*

      #1 was an interesting one. I enjoy OP’s assumption that people have specific, reasonable, work-related tasks they don’t care for that could be worked around … if I were the interviewee I’d be thinking “uh I hate having to get up and come into the office, obviously I can’t say that, I hate annoying colleagues bugging me all day, being told what to do by bosses, sitting in pointless meetings – can’t say any of those , crap, what do I say!” which is why Alison’s right that you might get a lot of polite fiction such as “I hate not being allowed to produce to my full potential!!” However, I think with some introduction it’s possible you could get there. I agree it’d be easier if you’ve established more trust.

    3. Eng Girl*

      I completely disagree. It can save a lot of wasted time for everyone if this can be addressed in the interview. I’ve had people come in because they thought the job would be mostly X, and yeah X is a part of it, but it’s going to be like 10% X because I have another employee who’s awesome at X and loves X and I don’t want to take too much X away from them and risk losing that stellar employee.

      In reality I need someone to help cover Y and Z, which might equate to 60% of the job. I try to be upfront and pay attention to if someone shows an extreme interest in X, because I want to say “yeah there will be some X for sure, but the majority of your time will be in Y and Z” but it doesn’t always come up organically or a candidate doesn’t express a strong preference if asked. If the candidate hates Y and Z, this isn’t going to work.

      Unfortunately that person doesn’t realize how little X there is until they’ve been trained and been there about 6 months, at which point they say “hey, I left my old job because it was too much Y and I thought this would be an opportunity for X, I need to find a different job” then they spend 3-4 months checked out while they look for a new role and now it’s about a year after I started looking for a person I really needed and I’ve got to start all over again when they leave.

    4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Well no, I want to pick the candidate who will best fit in to the team. If they absolutely hate the one thing that nobody else enjoys in the team, that’s not going to work. If they love what nobody else enjoys, everyone will love them from day one on.

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

        This is a very poor way to assess that, though. If you need a candidate who doesn’t hate that one thing, you have to explicitly bring up that one thing. Might you end up with people who claim to love spreadsheets but hate them? Sure, but. The chance of ending up that candidate is low, compared with all the candidates who would gladly tell you they hate spreadsheets if you ask, but won’t happen to mention it as their number one thing they hated about a previous role, for any one of a number of reasons (polite fiction, their hate list has more than one item on it, they managed to accidentally or deliberately avoid spreadsheets in their last role, etc.)

        If it’s really just about training, as the LW1 stated, then don’t ask it in the interview. Ask it after you’ve made the hiring decision (extended an offer) when the candidate will be more likely to be honest.

  24. Kiitemso*

    #4 I don’t think you’re being passive aggressive. I know my boss uses some of those phrases a lot but I know her to be a very warm friendly person and she also uses a lot of “nice” phrases in her emails and communications to soften some of the messages.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, #4 – look, everyone has their own personal bugaboo about certain words and phrases, and for the most part I’m of the opinion that we need to manage our own quirks ourselves and not make it someone else’s problem. So if someone hates “kindly” or “per my last email” or whatever, those are still reasonable ways to communicate, sorry. As you say, you have to communicate a message that most people aren’t going to be all that enthusiastic about getting, so you really can’t go too overboard managing their feelings about being corrected. If your emails are clear and not too rude, let them handle their reactions and keep on keepin’ on.

      1. Sloanicota*

        For example, I used to give instructions to a team of two women with long (but American!) names, let’s say it was Staceyanne Hatfield-Perschnutterson and Emmilou Meyers Harvordshire. As a young person in an early job, I used to address these emails to “ladies,” which is something I would not do anymore because I know it bugs people and sounds weird and is unnecessarily gendered etc. But I also forgive myself in retrospect, because I was young, and because I had to write complicated long emails full of instructions, the content of which was really important. So I’m sorry if I didn’t do all 100% of it perfectly, and I know they noticed and thought it was funny, but I was doing my best and learned better.

    2. Antilles*

      The one that baffles me about #4 is the “if you have further needs, reach out to Contact”. How is that passive aggressive?
      -If it’s me redirecting you to someone else (e.g., “if you need more information, talk to Jenny), that’s me saving you time in the future and getting you better answers because Jenny is a better source than me for this particular topic.
      -If it’s me saying how to contact me in the future (e.g., if you need anything further, please don’t hesitate to call my cell and we can discuss), that’s again me saving you time by letting you know the fastest/easiest way for us to follow up if needed.

      In both cases, I’m making things easier for you. Not really sure how that would be passive-aggressive. Am I missing something here?

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I agree it’s not an inherently passive-aggressive thing to say. Which, as Alison points out, is another clue that the listicle OP read was written by someone perhaps articulating their own peeves about common phrases, rather than a thoughtful analysis of phrases commonly used passive-aggressively (or used passive-aggressively more often than not, which is probably how the article framed it).
        I suppose one interpretation is: they said “if you have further needs, reach out to Contact” but they meant “I helped you this time, but you shouldn’t be coming to me, you’re supposed to ask Contact and you should know that, so stop contacting me”…but if that’s the case that’s more about the person having the interaction than the phrase itself.

  25. Irish Teacher*

    LW4, I think the term “passive-aggressive” is one of those that is coming to be overused. To me at least, in order to be passive-aggressive, you have to be attempting to be somewhat aggressive (for example, planning to say something rude or trying to make somebody feel bad or guilty) in a way that won’t come back on you or which they can’t defend themselves from. It’s trying to upset somebody without doing so directly.

    Some of those phrases are ones that could be used in this way. “Just a reminder” could be used to imply, “you must have forgotten this really obvious thing because you couldn”t possibly be so stupid as not to know it” or “going forward” could be used to imply “I’m not going to tell you you made a complete mess of things; I’m just going to tell you that in future you should do everything differently and leave you to wonder ‘does that mean she’s really displeased with the way I did it last time?'” But even in those cases, the problem isn’t the phrase; it’s the intent behind it.

    I don’t think you can usually fix passive-aggression by changing how something is phrased or saying it more directly because to me at least, the real problem is the “aggression” part, the fact that the point is to be nasty or express aggression or to undermine the other person.

    It doesn’t sound like you are doing that. There is a big difference, in my mind, between trying to hurt a person but doing so in a “sweet” way that means they will look like the bad guys if they try to defend themselves and having a job where you have to let others know they are doing parts of their job wrong but doing so as politely as possible. It’s like the difference between being in a role where you have to tell people they are doing parts of their job wrong and being very direct about it and just going around undermining and openly insulting people.

    The intent is different and I think most people know that. There are some people who take any correction as a personal insult, but they are the minority.

    I agree with Alison about “gentle reminder” though. That really does sound to me like “you did something wrong but I’m going to stress that I’m being nice while correcting you” and seems one step off “I’m not being rude but…” or “I’m not telling you what to do but…”

    Generally, I find it problematic when people tell you how to interpret what they say. It’s like “I’m going to be rude to you, but I’m going to say first that I’m not being rude, so therefore if you notice it is rude, you’re not only whatever rude thing I say to you, but you’re also too sensitive.” “Gentle reminder” isn’t quite on that level, but…I do think that you shouldn’t have to tell people you are being gentle. (And honestly, I don’t think most people want others to be “gentle” with them anyway.)

    That said, I had a colleague who used use “gentle reminder” all the time and it didn’t bother me because it was just her way of speaking/e-mailing. If you didn’t know her, she would come across as kind of fake, because she used all those cliches people use when they are saying nice things they don’t really mean. Except she was equally sweet behind people’s backs and clearly did mean it. So again, it really is back to intent.

    LW1, the one thing I would say about that question is that you could maybe be a bit more specific. (Though it may be obvious in the field you are in.)

    I mean, there are many ways to interpret what you liked least about a job and some are less actionable than others. If I were honest, the things I like least about my current job are probably yard duty (just because it’s boring and often cold and if I have classes before and after it, I don’t get a break and am pretty hungry by lunch) and having to get up at 6:30 because of the commute. Neither of those is really actionable. I could easily imagine somebody saying something like they disliked a long commute or they disliked how cold the building was or something.

    I mean, if you are getting the answers you want, then this probably isn’t an issue.

  26. sequitur*

    As someone in a communication role, I find it kinda funny these days when other folks get mildly squeamish about having content I’ve ghostwritten attributed to them. It happens most often with younger/less experienced people, and I notice it more from US colleagues (we’re a UK-headquartered company with global offices) which I assume is because there’s an even stronger culture against academic plagiarism in the US vs the UK.

    From my perspective it’s totally normal and unexceptional. I actively don’t want my name against every piece of content I write, because it would turn our internal blog posts & newsletters into the me show. There’s often a lot of value in having the person most relevant or responsible for the work be the ‘face’ of the content we publish about it, even if I or someone from my team wrote it for them. Things would get boring quickly, to the point that I suspect people would stop listening, if I got a byline for everything I write. And yet some people still feel super bad that I did the work and they got the credit.

    1. Sloanicota*

      As someone who is not in academia, I remember being a bit puzzled by the cultural obsession with citation when I was a grad student teaching undergrads, TBH. We were instructed to automatically fail a student’s paper if they cited any idea (not a quote or a datapoint, I mean just a concept) without full attribution. It almost seemed like an ego thing to me.

      1. Carlie*

        It’s not ego, more like having gold-backed dollars. The only thing that academics trade in is ideas; your career, reputation, ability to get grants, etc. is all based on how good your output is, and your output is what you write and how useful it is to others (as determined by how much is it cited). Ideas are the currency. If academics start using the ideas of others as if they are their own, it’s stealing not just someone else’s work output, but their ability to build on that output for future gains. If plagiarism becomes a common occurrence, now it’s like printing fake money and soon the entire economy collapses. The enterprise only stands if ideas are “backed” by the ironclad agreement that output stays tied to its originator.

        1. J*

          Different poster but I come from the opposite world which is business development for IP lawyers (I’m not a lawyer but often play one via ghostwriting). One of the principles we communicate to people, especially those wanting patents, is that ideas are not patentable. If you want to keep an idea protected, you must keep it secret until you do have an IP protection. Then on the marketing side, we have the belief that few ideas are original and it’s often about execution.

          Working in the field I’ve seen 10 people come to a similar design scheme for a similar industry without any trade secrets being revealed. I tend to look at plagiarism from a copyright mindset as a result. It’s really interesting to read your insights on how your industry sees this. Mine sees the end result of the billable hour or IP law so it’s a wildly different perspective and I’m so far removed from academia at this point that I missed that idea that you helpfully conveyed through your comment so thank you for taking the time to explain your perspective.

  27. Melissa*

    LW 3:
    I follow President Biden on Instagram, and all of those posts are presented in the first person, as though he wrote them. EG: “I am so proud of the work we have accomplished regarding XYZ…” Nobody is under the impression that Biden is sitting there with his phone typing them! There’s an assumption that behind the scenes is a person who has “write Instagram posts” as part of their job description, but they’re not credited.

  28. New Yorker*

    OP2 — keeping personal information on a shared drive is on you. Does everyone where you work do this? I really doubt it.

  29. Peanut Hamper*

    #4 — A lot of the web is not there to inform you, but to get you to view a webpage which serves up a lot of ads. And a lot of those webpages are, indeed, crappy articles.

  30. Application Error*

    Is it ok for me to hire somebody to write my cover letters for me and pass that writing off as my own, or do only executives and governors get to do this sort of thing?

    1. Sloanicota*

      I’ll be interested to see how it shakes out with ChatGPT on technical or business writing. Will it be considered “cheating” to have AI write your cover letter / resume / answer to standard background questions / email correspondence about a job?

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Insofar as “expert knowledge of ChatGPT” is fast becoming the new requirement in all writing related positions, it would surely work in your favour?

    2. I should really pick a name*

      As long as you’re not applying for a job where the quality of your writing matters, I don’t see a real problem with that (except that you’d need to make sure they know enough about you to write a good letter).

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This is where I land as well. As Alison says, a resume and cover letter are marketing tools. If you’re not good at marketing, and can afford to hire someone who is, I don’t see the issue. After all, people have been hiring other people to write their resumes for a long time.

    3. Hlao-roo*

      There has been a similar question in the past. I’ll link to the letter in a reply to this comment, or you can find it by searching “is it okay to write my partner’s cover letters, I don’t want to sign a petition about bathrooms, and more.” The short answer is:

      Some people might say yes, but I’d say no — at least where the cover letter is concerned. The cover letter is supposed to be written by [you]. It’s supposed to be a sample of [your] written communication skills.

      1. Antilles*

        Speaking generally, I’m one of those who’d vote yes, it’s fine. Most jobs really don’t need *that* high of level of written communication skills. There’s also plenty of day-to-day communications where the level of polish and refinement you’d want on a cover letter just isn’t required – for a quick email, “good enough” often is “good enough”. If you’re applying for a job as a writer or in PR or some other role where written communications are critical (which might have been the case in the story given that the husband was an English lit major), it’s a different story though.

        That said, I would question the effectiveness of a paid or ChatGPT cover letter. You know your industry better than a random online writer. You’ve done actual research on the company you’re applying for and the job description. You know your own resume and job history better than anybody else on the planet. If/when it leads to an interview, you’re the one who has to be able to discuss the cover letter. So I’m just not sure that hiring someone to do it is really producing the best possible outcome.

    4. analyst*

      There are literally paid services to have someone write your resume or cover letter.

      Even more common, to help fix yours. The idea that any of these docs represent just the applicants work is….not accurate.

    5. Critical Rolls*

      I feel like this is dismissing the sheer volume of writing that has to come “from the desk of” executives and governors, and the many other tasks that are more important to their job functions. Also glossing over the implied authorship of documents. Resumes are presumed to have been written by candidates; memos from on high are not.

    6. Observer*

      Is it ok for me to hire somebody to write my cover letters for me and pass that writing off as my own, or do only executives and governors get to do this sort of thing?

      When did you stop beating your wife?

      See all the ridiculous assumptions in that (classic) question?

      There is a difference between ghostwriting in roles where it’s expected and in situations where you are expected to write your own copy.

      Having the President write his own Instagram posts is a stupid waste of time. By the same token, I don’t think anyone had a problem when Scott Thompson had someone ghost write public facing communications from Yahoo. But he DID get fired for fudging his resume. Similarly, Governors generally don’t actually write the declarations and executive orders they signed. People understand that, even when the Governor talks about the “executive order I made” etc. But if they (or their aides) lifted and executive order from a different State and claimed that they had authored it, that would create a fair bit of fuss.

  31. LB33*

    I’m all for salary transparency but poking into someone’s personal files (yes i realize they were on the shared drive) and gossiping about it isn’t the way to go.

  32. Dinwar*

    #4: There are practical reasons to say “If you have questions please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [insert phone number here].” When was the last time you saw a contact list? Even if your number is in your email signature, you may have a preferred way of communicating–replace “phone number” with “email address”, for example. I’ve also used this to inform people where my office is. I’m a contractor working on a client facility so my office is technically temporary (it’s only been six years), so even if they have a contact list I’m not on it.

    So far from being passive aggressive, this is actually useful information delivered in a polite, business-appropriate way.

    As for the rest of the phrases, they’re largely your standard meaningless platitudes that serve to make your emails more pleasant. Not including them can be seen as hostile. I’ve got a coworker who’s like that. In person he’s great–funny, knowledgeable, diligent, was my mentor for years–but in email he’s…abrupt. I’ve had to explain to a few people “No, he’s not angry, this is just how he emails.”

    Some of the phrases do have bite to them. We’ve all gotten a “For future reference” email that was intended as criticism. That’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you need to be corrected; that’s how life works. If the person you’re correcting isn’t able to handle that with professionalism that’s THEIR fault. Taking negative feedback is one of those skills you’re supposed to learn in school, in sports, and in your first job.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Yes, exactly. There’s nothing wrong with softening language, and sometimes it can be useful.

      I use “gentle reminder” when I’m following up on a request that’s unusual in some way. If I’m asking someone for a favour, or for something very complicated, or I know the timeline is ridiculously short but I really do need the TPS reports tomorrow – “gentle reminder” is my way of acknowledging that I’m the one operating outside the norm in this interaction.

  33. some author*

    LW #3: Not all ghost writers are credited. Prince Harry’s isn’t, for example. I saw him on Colbert saying “Every word in this book is mine!” But in fact the book was written by a guy named J. R. Moehringer.

    I once turned down a job writing a book on those terms. But I know people who do it.

    1. Lore*

      Moehringer gets a lengthy paragraph in the acknowledgments, which is often how such credit is given.

    2. Marketing Ninja Unicorn*

      Interestingly, the ghostwriter was offered up as the scapegoat when inaccuracies and falsehoods were found throughout the book.

  34. ecnaseener*

    LW3, you say it’s fine for ghostwriters because they know what they’re agreeing to. But it seems like you also knew what you were agreeing to: “When I accepted the job, I was told I wouldn’t get a byline, but I was not told that my writing would be attributed to someone else.” So is it just that you thought there would be no byline at all or just attributed to the org as a whole, and that’s what’s tripping you up? I think that’s splitting hairs – you accepted the job knowing the important parts, that you wouldn’t own the content or be credited publicly.

  35. Ranon*

    #4- Cultural context is also important, even within the US. There are places where what some folks see as “direct” will be “rude and blunt” and there are places where “polite” will read as “stop beating around the bush and tell me what’s really happening, why are you lying to me”.

    There are not actually universal standards for what the right way to communicate actually is, it is contextual both on a regional and individual level. Certainly why we’re seeing divided opinions in the comments!

    My work is spilt between the upper Midwest and the urban northeast right now, I don’t write emails the same way in those contexts because to get the same effect takes a different approach with the folks I’m working with. People are different!

    1. GreenCrayon*

      Exactly! I personally find a lot of “friendly” language as too much fluff (gives me more work to figure out what you want or need) or manipulative to get me to do something in their role.

      The lesson is more to ask people about their preferences. If it’s impossible, do a little bit of friendliness and match it by their response.

    2. Lucky Meas*

      Yes I work in a very indirect guess culture, and I can’t imagine using some of these “better” (ie more direct and blunt) ways to remind people of deadlines or request information.

      I also suspect that people who are so bothered by “gentle reminder” wouldn’t see it so often if they met their deadlines ;)

  36. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    LW1 I was interested to read your letter because I too used to fish for negatives. I was generally seeking to hire an intern or colleague to help with project management translation and proofreading. We used to get a really wide variety of translations, from complex legal and financial documents through to fashion fluff. So I would send applicants a set of translation tests sampling from our biggest customers. The test was scheduled in advance, I would let them pick a day when they’d have enough time to do the tests, allowing for one hour per text. I would tell them to only do the translations they felt comfortable with. I didn’t expect them to translate everything, and I wanted to know how well they would fit into the team. If they only tackled the fashion fluff and journalists’ website, I knew we would still have a problem dealing with the finance stuff that I personally hated. If they had a go at everything, I would wonder whether they knew what their strengths were, but I would ask how they thought they did in each of the tests, which one they made the most mistakes in.
    I was always very happy with the applicants I chose, so it certainly worked for me.

  37. Kate*

    I recently encountered a great example of gentle language that I’m incorporating into my own vocabulary. Someone who doesn’t have authority over me wrote “I’m confused because X should have been done before now…” (spoiler: I’m the one who should have done X.)

    Oops! Message received! I thought that was a great way to gently call someone on their BS.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Ooooh, that feels VERY passive-aggressive to me. You’re not confused about why I didn’t do X yet, or if you are, your confusion isn’t relevant. I would much rather get a “Wasn’t X supposed to have been done earlier?” or “We need X to be done first, ecnaseener what’s the status of that?”

      1. Marketing Ninja Unicorn*

        Yeah, none of that feels gentle or kind to me at all. In fact, ‘I’m confused because X should have been done by now…’ sent by a peer reads to me like that peer is assuming her request is the only thing I’m working on or that I don’t know how to manage my priorities or that I didn’t have something else come up.

        If I got that email from a peer, I’d be seething.

      2. Lucky Meas*

        I genuinely don’t see a difference. “Wasn’t X supposed to have been done earlier?” is also expressing confusion.

    2. Sylvan*

      That wording is recommended on AAM fairly often, but I always want to ask, “Are you confused or do you disagree?”

      1. ecnaseener*

        I’ve seen similar language recommended from a manager to a report, the “what’s going on?” approach, but I can’t remember seeing it suggested between peers.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I actually don’t think it IS recommended here very often, at least not in recent years! I know that has come up before and I’ve assumed it’s a correct assessment, but this made me curious so I just did a search of all the posts that use it, arranged by date, and as far as I can tell*, the last time I recommended it was eight years ago in this post (question #3):

        The five most recent uses before that, from most recent to least (which were from 2012-2015):

        I actually stand by all those uses of it except for maybe the last two, where I do think it’s too passive-aggressive. But in the other examples, I think it works for the context. But I agree that “I’m confused because X should have been done before now…” (the comment that started the thread here) is not great. The context really matters!

        * I guess it’s possible my WordPress database search isn’t bringing up the full list of results for some reason, although it’s normally pretty accurate? I searched for “I’m confused” and these were the only ones where that was part of the advice (as opposed to something the LW themselves wrote).

    3. popko*

      Nthing that I’d actually find this somewhere along the spectrum of “incredibly passive-aggressive” to “clumsy and a bit unprofessional” depending on how genuine I thought the person was in their confusion– if they were genuinely confused/weren’t in a role where they could realistically have insight into how X hadn’t occurred yet and who was responsible for making X happen, it’s more understandable, but also maybe not the most thoughtful or proactive way of communicating the situation.

      Outright feigned confusion, though? That would rrrrrreally rub me the wrong way, and even as someone that’s typically more in favor of softening language than a lot of AAM readers, I would find it much more embarrassing than a more direct approach like ecnaseener’s second script. The “I’m confused because…” approach doesn’t actually help you save face because it still calls out the error, *and* forces you to step forward and do the whole “it’s me, I’m the mysterious faulty cog in the system” dance.

      (And as far as calling out the error goes, even something ultra-direct like “Looks like we’re behind schedule on X– Popko, any updates?” at least plainly acknowledges being behind as something that just happens sometimes in a work setting, instead of treating it like some ~wow how weird how could this have possibly happened~ incomprehensible thing.)

  38. Samwise*

    OP 4

    Articles like that are exasperating. All of the phrases you listed, OP, are just fine. Everyone understands that these are standard forms of business politesse. Well, almost everyone, and anyone who doesn’t, doesn’t understand the real benefits of conventional language and is just looking for drama.

  39. EPLawyer*

    #3 — yeah Academia is its own special animal in regards to citations.
    In the law, yes we cite a lot. But we might not have written the brief our names on our on. Plus cut and paste is the order of the day. Oh hey that other attorney wrote a great paragraph for a separation agreement in that other case, let me use it in this one. Without citing the other attorney (who probably copied it from someone else anyway).

    1. J*

      I was just saying above how especially working with IP lawyers has made me realize how different the legal world feels about this. Especially since I tend to ghostwrite so much and I also am helping to build templates based on letters or clauses that have been handed down without citation for generations.

    2. BorisTheGrump*

      I’m thinking about how often I send or receive emails using the phrase “does anyone have a sample they’d be willing to share?” Either to my own colleagues or to accomplices on a listserv.

      In the law there’s a sense that if you’re *not* copying boilerplate you’re wasting time. It’s just so different

    3. A.K. Climpson*

      Yeah, law is an odd beast when it comes to citation and attribution.

      It’s vital to cite to *authority* to support your arguments, so there are many references. And signing a brief is even more meaningful than a byline–you are making legal representations about the content (and subject to sanctions for misconduct based on it).

      But *attribution* is absolutely nonexistent. Everyone starts by grabbing another example or template, the lead counsel rarely did the drafting, and we know judges’ decisions are typically written by clerks.

      The take-away is probably just that the assumptions about credit, citation, and copying are all extremely industry-specific.

  40. Phony Genius*

    On #3, an important thing to remember is that you plagiarize some other work while writing such content, and then it gets published under somebody else’s name, the person whose name is on it will take the fall for plagiarism (and likely you, too).

    This has happened with many political speeches. It is often not completely the politician’s fault, but rather their speechwriter’s. Although it doesn’t look good for a politician to not recognize a speech that somebody else gave, nor does it look good to employ a plagiarist.

  41. Eng Girl*


    I’ve been told I ask weird but useful interview questions by my colleagues who have stolen some of them. A lot of the issues people have with my company have to do with the environment, not the actual work. So yeah, I want you to describe your ideal work environment to me because if you’re looking for slow paced, this isn’t going to work. I want you to tell me the traits you find most frustrating in colleagues and managers, because I want to know if I need to avoid pairing you up with that engineer that always procrastinates but still gets the work done on time.

    If I’m asking about Netflix or hobbies it probably just means we’re waiting on their next interviewer and they look nervous as hell so I’m genuinely just making conversation. I’ve long since accepted that the people I’m interviewing and I aren’t going to have similar interests.

  42. Dani*

    OP1: I have a couple of similar questions I ask in the interview process, and I tend to overexplain and give them all the context of the question to elicit the best answer. So if I were in your shoes, I’d straight up say, “As a manger, I’m very committed to using a strengths-based approach and strategically assigning tasks to folks who are most likely to enjoy them and succeed at them. With that said, I’d love to know what work you’ve had to do before that you’d avoid forever if you could?”

  43. But what to call me?*

    LW 1:
    As a neurodivergent employee, I think that’s a great question with the caveat that you really MUST explain why you’re asking if you want anything resembling an honest response. Without that context, I’d never even hint that I’m happy to do any part of whatever job I apply for except make phone calls, so I would be delighted if an employer was willing to structure my role to minimize the phone call component and maximize the time doing pretty much any other part of the role.

    Without that explanation, I would NEVER share that information in an interview in even the mildest form, because it’s too easy for someone who doesn’t know me and my work to interpret it as me saying I will either avoid all phone calls at the cost of doing my job effectively, foist work off onto other people, or just do such a bad job of making phone calls that I embarrass everyone involved, when the reality is that I do find them stressful but can do them effectively if I can just have a minute to jot down a quick intro script and some bullet points first so I don’t forget what I’m saying or how to say it during the call.

    It’s probably like that with other job preferences too. With the context, that question suggests a helpful, flexible employer, though even then candidates will worry there’s a wrong answer. Without the context, it feels like too much of a gotcha to risk anything even approaching honesty.

    1. Katherine Boag*

      This so much (both knowing the intent of the question and disliking phone calls but using a similar strategy to handle them)

  44. BellyButton*

    Question 1: I have been asked that question before, and this is how I answer it, in case anyone is wondering
    “I wish I could spend all my time on strategy, people development, coaching, and creating content. But that isn’t reality! There are still budgets, administrative work, and other things like that that have to be done. My passion is developing people, and that gives me the energy to do all the “have tos” in my day to day. “

  45. Avril Ludgateaux*


    It gets even worse in “the real world” of work!

    As somebody who took academic integrity very seriously in my academic career, I still struggle with and cringe over the rampant, unabashed plagiarism in my job. I’m in government and it’s not quite as aboveboard as your case here – where you do the work and somebody in your organization takes credit, by design, laid out to you ahead of time, and with your (albeit reluctant) consent; it’s more like “hey this [similar organization in another part of the state/country] already did this [federal/regulatory assignment] and theirs is really good, so we’re just going to copy and paste sections A, C, D, G and K and change their name to ours.” The first time working on one such project, I stumbled upon an unfamiliar acronym and Googled it, to find out it was a different agency’s initials. I brought it up to my director, absolutely scandalized that somebody working on this has stolen the work of another agency!!, to find out it was my director who did it and felt no qualms about it. It was explained to me that it’s “how it’s done” and “every [organization] does it.”

    Nowadays, I can tell which sections of our bylaws, memos, public announcements, contracts, proposals, grant applications, etc., have been lifted because my director is… not a great writer. So when there are sections that are cohesive; have solid grammar, punctuation, and diction; and appropriately address whatever topic is meant to be addressed, 9/10 times, it was written by somebody else, and 5/10 times, that somebody else is from a different organization in another part of the country and does not know they contributed.

    My dumb (but I would say ethical) ass still writes my assignments myself, without “borrowing.” It slows the work down but at least I have no guilt or shame about attaching the good name of Avril Ludgateaux to what I put into the public.

    1. No creative name yet*

      As someone who’s worked in state and federal government and for private sector government consulting roles, this conversation is fascinating to me! Of course the specific details may vary, but it’s true that it’s not only normal but in fact expected in my experience that state agencies share resources, which often in practice can mean things like each customize a shared template or use language from another state. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see many state grant applications, etc. with identical language. Obviously there are situations where it’s not appropriate, but in many cases it’s better to avoid reinventing the wheel and focus resources elsewhere. Again the specific details may matter, but wanted to share that perspective.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        Yeah I have to say, if I found out my local governmental office was using 10 taxpayer-funded hours to draft a document from scratch rather than use 1 taxpayer-funded hour to identify and tweak an existing document used by a similar government office (for the same country), I would be…not pleased. What else could have been done with those 9 hours instead that would have advanced constituent interests much more effectively?

        1. J*

          My local government even just proudly shared a policy change where they said they talked to 9 other agencies, found out our city was out of alignment and used the leaders in that field of 9 who proudly shared language for a rules change that they lightly adapted to fit our city’s structure. I loved that they displayed the efficiency and they had spent the 10 years meeting and visiting those agencies when the leader was a lower level worker using their annual travel allowance that at the time people criticized for even existing and here she was showing the ROI once she had power to make change. I’m so glad that once she had power she immediately relied on existing documentation instead of setting up a committee to research and never implement, as all her predecessors did. Interestingly, she’s an academic and has a PhD now.

          1. Avril Ludgateaux*

            My local government even just proudly shared a policy change where they said they talked to 9 other agencies, found out our city was out of alignment and used the leaders in that field of 9 who proudly shared language for a rules change that they lightly adapted to fit our city’s structure.

            This is not even remotely what I’m talking about. What you’re talking about is conscious and aboveboard collaboration with the explicit end goal of uniformity across similar entities. What I’m talking about is Googling the topic of an assignment, stumbling on another agency’s publication (which may or may not be perfectly aligned with what we’ve been asked to do), and copy and pasting it as our own.

        2. Avril Ludgateaux*

          Funny, if I found out my local government office was pilfering the work of other local government office’s, I’d be wondering why that local government office needs to exist at all. I mean, why waste any of our taxpayer dollars when we can just have (the other office from some other state) do the work on their dime?

      2. Avril Ludgateaux*

        I’m not talking about templates, boilerplate, or collaborative/shared resources, I’m talking about – for example – copy and pasting another, unaffiliated agency’s operational structure on a federally mandated regulatory document that is supposed to outline our own operational structure, then not even bothering to swap out names.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Well, not swapping out the names is just being lazy. But I don’t think re-inventing the wheel is necessary for a lot of this stuff. Copy and pasting a flowchart of chain of command, and then changing the names and tweaking it a little bit–I just don’t see this as a big deal.

          1. Avril Ludgateaux*

            Copy and pasting a flowchart of chain of command, and then changing the names and tweaking it a little bit–I just don’t see this as a big deal.

            Perhaps “outline” was the wrong choice of words for an example, but operations are not something that is standardized across our industry such that using another agency’s document would be comparable to borrowing a template. Templates are easy to find, available freely, and are ethically unambiguous to me. When I suggested “outline of operational structure”, for the purposes of our work, I’m thinking of something much more comprehensive. Think of a notice with very specific, granular instructions to explain how your organization executes fundamental elements of (federal regulation) where Section G: Personnel expects you to define specific roles with titles, duties, salaries, funding source/designations, supervisors and reports, etc. – with specific individuals resumes/credentials included in appendices. Somebody on the team finds that a local agency in Kenosha, WI published a ~similar document in 2005 based on a precursor legislation and “eh, it’s close enough, just change out the names and attachments.” But the local agency in Kenosha had 1/4 the staff we do to serve 1/8th the population, not to mention the standards in 2005 were quite different, so their operational structure was entirely different.

            Even if there were no ethical qualms about copying the work, given the choice, I’d much rather spend the time writing ours up from scratch (or updating an older document of our own – again, since I understand my and my colleagues’ output knowingly becomes the institutional resource of my organization, I do not have issue here) than trying to modify plagiarized work to suit our operation, even if the latter saves me an hour.

    2. Allonge*

      That’s a really weird attitude though. Even in academia, there are templates and such.

      A lot of legal / policy documentation (bylaws, memos, public announcements, contracts, proposals, grant applications as you say) is based on templates/previous versions and it’s perfectly ok in a lot of cases to borrow from others’ work, especially if it’s the same government. Benchmarking is often the office-lingo for it.

      It’s not the same thing as plagiarism in this context. Reinventing the wheel is usually discouraged – why start from scratch when defining a policy that has been written in a hundred places already?

      1. Avril Ludgateaux*

        As I wrote above, I’m not talking about templates, boilerplate, or collaborative/shared resources, I’m talking about – for example – copy and pasting another, unaffiliated agency’s operational structure on a federally mandated regulatory document that is supposed to outline our own operational structure, then not even bothering to swap out names.

        I’m not talking about using old versions of our published documents and updating them for the current year, either, which I find completely appropriate and makes my job easier. It’s the “why would we answer these prompts as appropriate to our own operation when this [office/department/agency] in Kentucky has a plan that’s already fully written?”

        I find it wild that people here are having a hard time understanding why, after a lifetime of conditioning against such, a person would be opposed to this approach.

    3. LawBee*

      Lol never work in the legal field. It is incredibly common, and expected, to share briefs, complaints, and other writing, and to grab entire sections for your own use if they match what you need to say. For us, it’s a “why reinvent the wheel” viewpoint. There are really only so many ways to explain things, and if someone has done it well, and given their document to you (directly or via a document bank), then it makes more sense to spend your time on the more case-specific writing.

      1. Avril Ludgateaux*

        Removed. You can’t be rude to people here; you’re welcome to repost this without that first bit. – Alison

      2. Avril Ludgateaux*

        I never said anything about document banks or documents being given to us. Please re-read what I did write.

    4. Tesuji*

      > My dumb (but I would say ethical) ass still writes my assignments myself, without “borrowing.” It slows the work down but at least I have no guilt or shame about attaching the good name of Avril Ludgateaux to what I put into the public.

      Yeah… were I your boss, I’d be calling you in for counseling, and if it continued, a PIP.

      You’re imposing a weird and personal set of beliefs in a situation that doesn’t call for them. It’s like if your religion was against maps, and you were bragging about how when your work sends you somewhere, you spend extra hours (paid for by your employer) to get there honestly, without ‘borrowing’ someone else’s route.

      This isn’t about ethics. It’s about you coming from a different culture and stubbornly insisting on sticking to your own cultural customs.

      1. Avril Ludgateaux*

        This is beautifully oblivious comment from somebody with an extremely rigid approach based on their own work culture, trying to impose said view on anybody.

    5. Sunshine*

      Just commenting to say I getchu, Avril. It’s often a matter of quality, as well. You can create a new document that perfectly expresses your message, or you can just blatantly use someone else’s that doesn’t really completely cover the bases. It certainly is faster to just use something that someone else already wrote, but if you’re attaching your name to it, you probably want it to actually be good and useful!

  46. JustMe*

    LW 1 – If I was interviewing for a job, I would interpret that question as a gotcha. I’ve been asked similar-ish questions in interviews, and my response was always to say that my least favorite parts of my previous job were things that I knew I wouldn’t be doing in the new role if hired (ex. “In my previous role, I really did not like how much time was spent on Portuguese translation, so I’m excited about this role and the possibility to do more strategic planning.”) I think Alison is right that someone is not going to be honest when answering that question–I think it almost might be better to just straight up tell them what the requirements for the role are and to say you want to get a sense of how best to structure the training if they are hired.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Same! I’d see it as a way to weed out people not interested in all aspects of the job.

      My go to is always to bring up the job that could not figure out how to schedule people properly. It was not retail or food service, but we did have to cover a service desk. They just could not do it well, despite other similar orgs having few problems, and it drove us all nuts! That is just not relevant at most jobs. Also, I had a boss use that as a gotcha when I was a kid looking for my first job. It still bugs me!

      What I am saying is, I would not be honest unless you told me why you were asking.

    2. Eng Girl*

      This is a really interesting perspective to me and good information to have! I think as a hiring manager you tend to forget that it’s a different experience from the other side of the table and that there are plenty of other hiring managers out there who interview in a very different way than you.

      I’ve always come at it from a very conversational, hey you’re interviewing me as much as I’m interviewing you perspective. So when I’m interviewing a major turn off is people who ask no questions or who I can’t form a rapport with.

      My company was hiring for a bunch of different roles a while back and the decision was made to pool candidates where it made sense which meant I got to interview with other managers. For the most part we did it separately but every now and then we’d do it round table style. A couple of us meshed really well, but we had one manager (who I generally adored) who would always be much pushier and more formal. We also all had very very different criteria with what we were looking for, but interestingly also wanted the same candidates about 70% of the time.

    3. GreenDoor*

      Totally agree that you should preface it with some of the context you’ve shared here. If I heard the question, I would assume you were looking to see if I’d trash-talk my last job or start on a rant about my former boss/clients and I’d give you a bland answer like, “well, no one likes filing. I sure don’t,” so as not to sound like an angry lunatic. But if I had the context you shared here, I’d answer by saying my least favorite task is “taking calls from angry members of the public, but after 20 years of public service, I’ve developed thick skin and honed my de-escalation strategies such as X and Y and, although getting screamed at isn’t fun, I enjoy ultimately being able to connect the public with the services they need.”

  47. CTA*

    Re LW #2

    I’m not sure about LW’s location, but I’ve worked at a company where “sensitive” things were kept on a shared drive. I’m in the US and I don’t know if this is standard at similar companies. I worked a medium-sized museum. The shared drive was only accessible on-site and it wasn’t available to everyone. The shared drive did contain each employee’s yearly review, including reviews from past years. Is this the same as the LW’s situation? No, but I’m just offering an example of private information that a company trusts you don’t access out of curiosity. I’m not sure why there was a shared drive with everyone’s yearly review. I think it was setup this way for easy submission to HR and easy access for the future. This was several years ago and maybe they have changed. Maybe at the time it was a system that worked for them.

    LW, I don’t think you were at fault for putting personal things in a shared drive because you 1) marked it as personal and 2) trusted your colleagues not to read things marked personal.

    1. Roland*

      I think that’s a horrible system. If my personal review was stored where anyone could read it as a matter of course, I’d be extremely upset. OP isn’t like, morally wrong for keeping their private info in a shared drive, it’s just a bad idea, but that company keeping other people’s private info in a shared location is not ok.

      1. Allonge*

        Technically we store them on a shared drive but access can be configured beyond ‘shared’ and so it’s only for the person, their manager, and relevant HR actors (who file these things mostly).

        There is no way for me to randomly search or browse to someone else’s reviews. On the other hand if a new manager comes in, they have access via this system.

        1. Observer*

          That’s a totally different thing, though. It’s like saying the your building is shared so everyone can go into any office (which is the general “shared drive” scenario) vs the building is shared, but each tenant can only go into the space that they rent, and some tenants will restrict who can go into which offices as well (you’re scenario).

          The first is ridiculous in almost any workplace, the second makes a great deal of sense.

    2. Observer*

      No. Your company was being irresponsible with the information they had. And if you are in the EU, it’s possible that this set up is actually illegal under the GDPR.

      “Trust all staff” is absolutely NOT an acceptable security / privacy strategy. Someone who does that for themselves is simply being foolish. Someone who does that for data relating to others is being inexcusably and irresponsibly sloppy. Would you say the same thing about access to money? Would you find “We’re not going to put the signature stamp or the cash into a locked safe because it’s inconvenient and we trust all our staff” a reasonable way to operate? If your employer additionally required you to leave YOUR cash in an unsecured place, how well do you think it would fly?

      I’m not defending Ann- it seems pretty clear to me that she’s a snoop and a gossip. But the OP was absolutely not in the clear for putting their personal and private information in a public spot.

  48. Camelid coordinator*

    LW3, I know what you mean! I recently went from decades in academia to a very small church-related nonprofit. A volunteer in our communications team writes lovely reflections on the work of programs we support, which I sometimes lightly edit or modify, and they go out under my name as the head of the organization. I wanted them to go out under both of our names, which she didn’t feel was necessary. We compromised on a statement at the end thanking her by name for her help telling our stories. The other place my background in academia comes up is in footnotes. There was at least one piece I wrote where the development people took out the footnotes before we sent it out.

  49. Young Business*

    OP 3: I’ve worked in PR and communications for about 10 years and I’ve drafted interview responses and bylined articles on behalf of executives. I can recall perhaps 1 or 2 times an executive took a collaborative approach and we worked together to finish a piece that was attributed to them. Heck, I’ve even drafted entire keynote presentations that I never got credit for. I suppose I’m used to it now and I’m also actively saving the pieces I work on in my portfolio.

    When I share my ghostwritten work with a potential employer I write something like “and here’s an op-ed I wrote on [subject matter] on behalf of the president.”

    Executives and other “higher-ups” don’t have the time — and frankly oftentimes lack the skill — to draft elaborate pieces of content, so this is a skill that is super-sought after in the corporate world. And I think everyone knows that executive teams have a team of content writers, whether that’s a marketing, communications or PR team.

    I totally understand your reaction. My husband was in academia and he shares the same sentiment, and he still doesn’t understand that in my field written work being attributed to others is the norm.

  50. Didi Nic*

    For the plagiarism one, this is very common in consulting. My boss is technically the expert witness, and therefore is the listed author of the expert report. But several people assist in writing large swaths of the material. I know expert witnesses in our field who write hardly any of the report, but are still listed as the authors.

  51. Essess*

    OP2 – I admit that the coworker was ethically wrong to discuss your salary without your consent. However, if I was a manager that you raised this issue to, my first reaction would be that it is a red-flag to me about your ability to handle/store confidential information. You knowingly put confidential information on a shared server that you didn’t want others to read but you knew it was accessible to others and then complained someone accessed it. I would worry whether you make accurate decisions for storing confidential company information if you are that relaxed with your own information.

    1. LB33*

      That seems a little bit of an overreaction. If someone dropped their keys once, I wouldn’t think they’d be unable to handle things carefully.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Agreed. This could arguably go the other way and you could say that it’s a red flag for me as an employee that you as a manager do not have the ability to hire and train employees who will respect someone’s privacy when they have a folder marked “PERSONAL”.

        All of the companies I’ve ever worked for have already had policies in place for dealing with the company’s information, but they have never had policies in place for what you do with your personal information.

    2. FrenemyOfThePeople*

      I don’t think the issue is the LW’s handling of her information. She clearly labeled it “Personal” and said she has no problems discussing salary. Her issue is that someone else SAW a file named PERSONAL and though “ooh let’s see what’s juicy in here.” If they were looking for “The Jones File” and the file was named “Work Products” sure….perfect sense. But the snooper KNEW they were snooping into stuff unintended for them–confidential or not. I wouldn’t want anyone snooping thru my folder labeled “Dog Pics” which is literally 800+ pics of my dogs. Not because they’re confidential but because it is MY FILE.

      1. Observer*

        She clearly labeled it “Personal” and said she has no problems discussing salary

        Anyone who thinks that this is a reasonable way to insure privacy does NOT have good judgement. Someone who comes to me and says “I realize it was foolish to put the files there, but I thought that Jane would be more discreet” is a bit different. Because at least it shows that they understand where they went wrong and in a case where “Jane” is in a position that requires high levels of discretion, this is not a totally unreasonable assumption.

        This is not an excuse for Ann – she’s a snoop and someone the OP should be cautious about. But even though it doesn’t justify a car thief, most people are going to look sideways at someone who is SHOCKED! Shocked, I tell you! that someone in Crime Central stole their unlocked car.

        There are snoops in every company. On this blog there is a person who says that they are an “unabashed snoop” who works on the principle that if they can find it, it’s fair game. Expecting someone like that to NOT look at a folder marked “personal” is dangerously naive.

  52. not a hippo*

    Honestly LW 4, I don’t have the bandwidth to figure out if I sound passive aggressive or not.

    It takes all my professional energy not to fire off nastygrams to people who chronically make mistakes so yes, “just checking in on the status of this order!” might be a little passive aggressive but “you routinely forget to process orders so I don’t trust that this one is in production and you’re beyond the promise date you useless curr” is far ruder so ¯⁠\⁠_⁠(⁠ツ⁠)⁠_⁠/⁠¯

    1. JP*

      Yes, I am very much in agreement here. I’m just at the point where I’m so sick of certain coworkers constantly missing deadlines that I do not care if they feel like I’m being impolite.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        Useful email-ending phrases I learned in academia:

        “Understanding how busy you are, if I haven’t heard anything from you by XXX, I’ll proceed on the assumption that this works for you.”

        Passive-aggressive? Yes, or at least it certainly can be. Effective as all Hell? Also yes.

        1. Marna Nightingale*

          (Obviously this is less effective when you actually do need them to do something, but it’s excellent for releasing you from “I need fifteen sign-offs on this and twelve of the people involved are total flakes” purgatory.)

  53. ZugTheMegasaurus*

    Re: #4 “just wanted to check in on this” has become my go-to phrasing rather than anything like “reminder.” I started doing it when I had a boss who insisted that I check up on things way more frequently than I thought was necessary (like sub-24 hours from the initial message) and it was the most professional thing I could say in place of what I wanted (which was “I know this is super annoying and wanted to give you a reasonable chance to respond but they’re making me pester you about it so here we are”).

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      “Just making sure I’m staying on top of all the moving parts here” works too.

  54. El l*

    There is no one “better alternative” that will give you what you want – which is your recipient having exactly the response you desire.

    How blunt you can be depends on context – industry norms, who you’re speaking to, the record of your interactions – and there’s no formula for when you can be that, and when you have to be more roundabout.

    People use business phrases like “please let me know if you have questions” and roundabout phrasing because it’s a reasonable default. You can’t spend all day sweating every possible reaction a person can have to a phrase, so choose something distanced instead.

    Part of the problem is that you don’t have all the tools you would when over the phone or in person. When speaking, you can use your tone to soften a blunt message. Here, it’s just the words on the page, hastily typed.

    TL;DR – Yeah, this article sold you a bill of goods. The only way you avoid ever coming off passive-aggressive is to be…just aggressive. And that ain’t worth it.

  55. FrenemyOfThePeople*

    So, first and foremost, password protect any truly personal files that you don’t want seen, or limit access to them through working with your IT dept. to set up file permissions. And while this may not necessarily be an HR/management issue (maybe tho…I’d be pretty steamed) it’s definitely an “if you have a question about me, a project I’m working on, or something about my employment, ASK ME. I have nothing to hide and I believe in salary transparency and am happy to talk about it, but do not go through my files. That is entirely inappropriate and frankly, sneaky and immature,” conversation to have with your colleague.

  56. the Viking Diva*

    Haven’t seen this pointed out yet:
    OP2 and Alison both seem to assume that the file structure was sufficient signaling, i.e. Annie drilled down into files marked OP and Personal and read what she found despite it being “clearly labeled.” But she just as easily could have run a search on the shared drive for company info on “salary,” found a snippet of text that looked helpful, and didn’t realize it was from a document that the OP considered private. Yes, ideally she’d have stopped there and not shared it with Stacy. But if the file is on a shared drive, it’s not fair to assume Annie could see OP’s “keep out” sign. I think this one’s on OP, and bet she won’t make that mistake again.

    1. Sunshine*

      Agreed, I do this all the time. We have infinity folders, so I’ll usually just do a search and click on whatever looks like what I needed without even looking at what folder it was in or even what the document name is.

  57. DataSci*

    LW1, I think asking about your “least favorite” part of a job is a perfectly reasonable question, especially if paired with asking about their favorite part. It’s one of my standard go-tos when I’m being interviewed (I’m in a field where having your potential future teammates involved in the interview is standard and expected) – I always ask about the favorite and least favorite part of the job. It wouldn’t be part of my question set when I’m interviewing but that’s because of how we divide things up, not because it’s intrinsically a bad question.

  58. female peter gibbons*

    Passive Aggressive:

    I just want to say…. “For any questions please contact me at” always makes me laugh. I know somebody who always ended her emails that way, and if you asked a question she would handly it very badly. All capitals, shouty answers, “I DON’T KNOW”, “That’s the way it’s done!, etc. It would make me scream laugh. But I understand that’s just a one off person. “Thanks in advance” is kind of annoying, but that’s just my personal pet peeve.

  59. Observer*

    #2 – Snooping in your files.

    No, I don’t think that there is anything to bring to your manager, unless your coworker has a position that requires a high level of discretion. In that case, yes, you should bring it to them.

    Also, why on earth would you leave personal information that you consider sensitive in a shared, unprotected file system? There are a number of ways that someone who is not a snoop could have come across it. And even a non-snoop could share information they come across, especially if their position does not normally require high levels of discretion.

    Having said that, I would say that Ann and Stacy have actually done you a favor. Yes, this is sensitive information, but ultimately it doesn’t sound like she found something really private or problematic. On the other hand you have just learned something VERY important about Ann – she’s a snoop. She also apparently is not the sharpest knife in the tool-box if she doesn’t understand the pay bands. Regardless, watch you back with her. Be VERY careful about what you share with her. Both personally and professionally.

  60. FattyMPH*

    For #1, as an autistic person, if you told me WHY you were asking as part of the question I would be able to give a better answer. That’s true for most questions but especially when you’re getting into “potentially asking me to speak negatively about work” territory which is one of those red flags I have learned about but am also inclined to take very literally/concretely. You could also be more specific about the nouns — asking about “tasks” or “responsibilities” as opposed to the more open ended “part” or “thing” because to be real, my least favorite part or thing about a job is always office politics.

  61. Addison DeWitt*

    I’ve written everything from brochure copy to speeches. Often it’s presented as the words of Big Shot X. Hopefully I drew on past words or an interview with them, and they reviewed it before saying it. But… that’s “hopefully” in the sense of “maybe, maybe not.” Doesn’t bother me either way.

    The only situation that ever bugged me was getting an assignment where they wanted my byline on it, but basically I was writing something that read like a review (of a food product) but was crafted like an ad. In other words, passing off their sales copy as my opinion with my name on it. I found that sketchy and potentially harmful to me, and quickly stopped doing that.

  62. Sans Serif*

    #3 – I’m a marketing copywriter and some of the best stuff I’ve written is attributed to someone else. That’s because I’m writing an article for a trade journal, or a white paper, and my name doesn’t carry any weight or credibility for the industry. Now, the person who I’m ghostwriting for often gives me background info to help me, and they review the copy once it’s done. But the writing (and a good bit of the research) is all mine. And that’s fine – everyone I work with knows who really writes it and I get all the credit internally (I’m the “go-to” for white papers at this point) and that’s all that matters.

  63. Eff Walsingham*

    LW1 – the least favourite thing

    I kinda love this question. It represented the turning point in one of my top 2 favourite interviews where I didn’t get the job.

    Everything was going great. We’d established a rapport, and when asked this, I answered honestly that I was hoping to get away from unscheduled overtime, which was a problem at my current position. I said that I realized that it was often an issue in my industry, but it happened most weeks at my current employer. My dad would ask me a couple of days in advance if I could attend an evening event with him, for example, and I’d say “yes” because I was scheduled 9 to 5. Then on the day of, my manager would say, “We need you until 9” and it was getting old.

    My interviewer looked down and then said, “Ohh… You’d probably really hate working here then. We know it’s a problem and bad for morale, but we just don’t seem to have a handle on our scheduling yet.” Now, I suppose that if I had really wanted to make the change, if there was something about the new company (it was kind of a start-up, still, IIRC) that made it predictably better than the job I already had, I might have tried to moderate what I’d said in some way. But we just moved into more general discussion of the industry, she thanked me for my time and insights, and we both agreed that it’d be great to work together in a hypothetical future. (I’ve never had this pay off, but it’s still nice to hear.)

    For me, it comes down to, Do you just want A job, or do you want a job you want? In some fields, available jobs will be very similar in many respects. If we hadn’t had that conversation, and I had left my adequate job for another job with all the same issues and no additional perks to compensate for my annoyance, I wouldn’t have stayed there long, and they would have had the bother and expense of hiring again.

  64. A Person*

    For #1, I wonder if you might get better results by being more specific. I like to ask questions like “what’s your leave favorite part about using Tool X” (where Tool X is something we need in this job that’s on their resume). This has a dual purpose of understanding their personal preferences as well as digging into how much they have used the tool (power users often have interesting preferences).

    I also wonder if for your purposes you could just ask for 2-3 “favorite” parts of their job, which is more positive and serves the same purpose.

  65. Cindy B.*

    I made the shortlist to be the executive assistant to the CEO of a large airline. The interviewer asked me why I left my previous job. I said that I had been asked to clean toilets as part of my duties, and I felt my talents we’re not being fully utilized. I was so comfortable in the interview, that the next thing I said was: “and there was too much catering. I do not enjoy cleaning up after catering.”

    I didn’t get the job.
    Happy ending:
    I am now working in the field of clinical research and am very satisfied with my current position and career path.

  66. TheyPayTheyOwn*

    As a professional writer, when you write something for a company or organization, they almost always own it. They can legally publish it anywhere under any name. Sometimes it will be published under your own name, sometimes the company name, and sometimes someone else’s name. I’ve even had the same piece published in a journal under the CEO’s name and on the corporate blog under mine (and then switch to the marketing director’s name after I was no longer employed because my account in the system was shut down). I ghost write stuff for my boss all the time in my current job and I write most of our company’s responses to regulatory proposals under the company name. The one time I was bothered was when my entire role at a company was writing a technical blog (articles on data science projects, machine learning, specifics of how particular features of product work technically, architecture decisions, SDLC choices, APIs, etc) and after months of being published under my name they changed it to the official development lead for each thing I highlighted. That was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, my entire role was writing the blog, and I was really proud of that work. Even so, I recognized it was ultimately their choice and moved on.

  67. SB*

    Sure, snooping is a pretty crappy thing to do, but as someone who runs searches on our company shared drive several times a day as part of my job, I can guarantee that other people have seen your personal files during their searches & just not said anything. I have seen so many personal things – medical information, disciplinary letters, personal financial information, drafts of resignation letters that were definitely never going to be sent like that (think, “Dear Dips**t, I quit, F U” type letters), etc.

    If you want to keep your personal information personal, do not keep it on a shared drive, or a company owned computer for that matter as in the end, if the computer belongs to the company, they can access all files contained on that computer whenever they like.

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