how do I avoid “mom energy” with my younger employees?

A reader writes:

I’m a 40-year-old woman managing a team of 10 in a tech company, where several of the team members are 10-15 years younger than I am. How do I avoid “mom energy”?

Specifically, my employee Annie and I met in-person for the first time last week at a workshop. In a group session, I got some feedback that I’m too curt in my conversations sometimes. Annie and I sat down together in private and I asked her to fill me in on the details, like how long it’s been going on (I’ve been stressed the last couple months and was hoping it was related to that). I’ve been managing her for two years and she’s been at the company for five. This is her first job.

“Since you started,” she said, “it’s like you’re my mom, always checking up on me and scolding me.”

That baffled me, because if there’s anything I absolutely don’t feel like, it’s anyone’s mom. I don’t even feel like I’m in a different generation from those I manage — I don’t have kids myself and I certainly don’t have maternal feelings towards these colleagues. Although I don’t hide my age at work (someone’s gotta represent the mature women of tech), we don’t talk about pop culture or generational differences.

So I think it must be about the tone.

Annie prizes flexibility in when and where she works above all else, which is fine with me if it doesn’t affect her work and I know when I can expect her to be working, which is where we keep butting heads. Looking back at our chat messages, I do see my tone getting increasingly impatient as I remind her about the same thing for the fifth time:

“Good morning! I see that you have declined the team meetings for the rest of the week, what’s up with that?”

“Good morning! Are you working? If yes, attending meetings is part of that, unless you are working on something with more priority, in which case I would expect you to say that; if not, I expect an out-of-office blocker on your calendar, so that we know when you are available.”

“Hey, we’ve talked about this more than once. If you are not actively working during normal working hours, you need to have your status set or an entry in your calendar. X is broken and Joe has been waiting for an answer from you since an hour and a half ago. That’s not acceptable.”

Is this a me problem, a her problem, or both? Where is the line between manager and mom when giving critical feedback?

I’m also pretty sure I heard another employee, Jane, once mumble “yes, mom” at one point. Those are in fact the two employees who push against the rules the most and this one was also in their very first job.

This isn’t mom energy and Annie calling it that says something about her inexperience, not something about you. Since this is her first job, I’m guessing the only “someone with power over you tells you what to do” dynamics she’s been familiar with before now were parents and teachers.

But it’s wildly inappropriate for someone to use that framing at work. It’s sexist too.

And that “yes, mom” comment? Really unacceptable. It’s rude, it’s undermining to you, and it implies the person who said it doesn’t understand the nature of your role or theirs. They aren’t your kid, and you’re not mothering them. You are (I’m guessing) doing normal managerial functions like assigning work, giving feedback, and correcting mistakes.

There is a second issue here, which is that when you’re becoming increasingly impatient with an employee and find yourself writing things like “we’ve talked about this more than once” or “that’s not acceptable,” you need to move that conversation out of chat or email and have it in real time (over the phone or Zoom since you’re remote). Chat and email are fine for minor things, but when something is happening repeatedly and/or you’re at the point of frustration, you need a real conversation about it. Judging from the messages you quoted, the problems with Annie are pretty significant ones, and it sounds like you need a bigger-picture conversation about the expectations and requirements of her job, the fact that they’re not negotiable, and whether she’s up for meeting them or not. Using chat messages for that is probably contributing to her feeling nagged — because by using that medium, you’re downplaying the importance of what you’re saying, while still saying it over and over. Take it out of chat and have a serious, sit-down meeting about those issues, and be clear about what the consequences are if the problems continue. (The consequences should not be “I continue to say this and get increasingly frustrated”; the consequences need to be ones for her, not you.)

As a general rule, I’d say that if you’ve addressed something twice in a more casual medium like chat or email, it’s still happening, and you find yourself about to write it out a third time, that’s a flag to have a real conversation. And with more serious things, you might need to move there faster.

None of that excuses Annie’s “mom” framing, though, and you should address that head-on. Approach it like anything else you’d coach her on that she needs to change to succeed at work. For example: “I appreciated our discussion last week on tone. I did want to follow up with you on one piece of what you said — the ‘mom tone.’ That’s not framing you should use at work. It’s normal for managers to assign you work, give you feedback, correct mistakes, and talk to you when you need to do something differently. That’s not about parenting you; it’s a standard part of having a manager and you should expect it in every job you have, regardless of your manager’s gender. Framing it as ‘mom energy’ undermines you — it makes you sound young and inexperienced and like you’re not using a professional frame of reference. It also plays into harmful stereotypes about women and authority. I know you wouldn’t intend it that way and probably didn’t realize how it came across, so I wanted to flag it for you. You’ll be much better served in your career by thinking ‘manager,’ not ‘parent.’”

You could add, “If there are ways we can communicate more effectively, I want to hear about those. But let’s leave the parent references out of it and stick to an employee/manager framework.”

And with that mumbled “yes, mom” comment? If you hear anything like that again, shut it down immediately. Say, “Excuse me?” or ask to speak with the person privately and address it there, but don’t just let that go. If you do, you’re letting people think it’s okay — the person who said it plus anyone else who heard it — and disrespectful, sexist snark should not be okay on your team. (And if they take that habit to their next job, they’re likely to quickly learn how not okay it is, so you’re doing them a favor by shutting it down now.)

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 364 comments… read them below }

  1. NotBatman*

    Agreed that this is an Annie problem, not a you problem. There’s a ton of research documenting the reality that people — especially younger people — both expect female authority figures to be nicer than male authorities are, and give more backlash when female managers are not as nice as expected (e.g. doing their jobs).

    1. Veryanon*

      Absolutely. I am an actual mom, but I understand the difference between dealing with my children, and dealing with other professionals who report to me. I don’t want to be called anyone’s “work mom” or be told that my valid attempts to manage performance are giving off “mom energy” which is both sexist and ageist.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        OMG, same. My mom voice and my work voice are totally different and they are also two different jobs – I am trying to turn my children into kind, functional, independent adults, and I am trying to get the adults at work to produce work product of a quality and timeliness that we keep customers.

        The idea that providing feedback and setting expectations clearly in the work place is “being their mom”? I could never let that fly, for me or the other people on my team who are also parents. I have such a hard time imaging anyone saying that to a man who was doing the exact same thing, too.

        1. Laura*

          or childless women. It doesn’t seem like it’s about her being a parent, it’s about her being a woman who’s a manager.

      2. Agile Phalanges*

        To me a “work mom” would be someone who always reminds you to wear a coat or clean up the kitchen sink. A person who has the authority and uses it to have you do your assigned job is a manager, not a “mom.”

        1. Palliser7*

          I was thinking guiltily of myself as a person who brings in cupcakes for junior teammates every once in a while. But yeah, when your manager tells you something, especially about your peformance, it’s a whole different ball game.

          1. Gato Blanco*

            I think this is pretty harmless and not in the same line of what is going on in the letter. There was an older woman who was an analyst in the office where I worked as a secretary under the Big Boss. So this woman was not my manager or a manager of anyone. She would bring me delicious homemade Mexican food about once a month and would occasionally check on how I was doing personally and professionally (I had just moved to the area and knew almost no one.) Honestly, it was wonderful to have that “work mom” energy from her. She eventually started calling me “mija” and I wholeheartedly embraced that!

        2. RabbitRabbit*

          Exactly. I had a colleague in another department (not a manager or above me in the organizational structure) who would ask me at every board meeting we attended together where my coat was – we had to leave our respective buildings in the work complex to go to this meeting, and she was aghast every time I would leave my coat at my desk rather than wearing it for the extremely short walk between buildings. It’s probably worth noting I was the only younger woman in the meeting and most members were male, though not all.

          Nothing I said would shut her down, no “I’m fine,” “I hate dealing with my coat in the meeting,” “Why do you ask,” trying to ignore it, etc. This went on for a couple years during any cold weather, at near-weekly meetings.

          It only took one or two jokingly/brightly-toned “Okay, mom…” responses to stop it completely.

        3. Event coordinator?*

          Yep- I was expecting this letter to be like “I feed and clothe and chastise these kids (younger coworkers) and they say it’s creepy!” Not literally trying to manage a problem employee. And Annie is a problem employee- she’s unreachable, doesn’t show up to meetings, and is snarky and hostile. I feel really bad for these folks that had formative years during the pandemic, but this person is showing a whole lot of naivety about how workplaces, well, work.

          1. Snell*

            Just a note, Annie’s formative years were elsewhere. She spent the entire pandemic at her current job, and most (all? they’re approximates) of the pandemic reporting to the LW.

            1. BethDH*

              I saw that comment as being about formative years at work, not at home. There are a lot of early career people who spent their first few work years not seeing/hearing as much of other workplace interactions as they likely would have otherwise. I know I based a lot of my work expectations on hearing other people take feedback in stride or coffee room chat about day-to-day meetings and tasks.
              Also a lot of management was light during 20-21 in particular as managers were scrambling with systems and their own stuff. This employee may be chafing because she feels like she’s being micromanaged when she may not have had attentive management before OP, and she’s attributing that to OP rather than a return to normal expectations.

              1. Event coordinator?*

                Yep, I meant “formative years” broadly- anytime someone goes through a major life change that makes them grow: kindergarten, college, first job, etc. I also misread- I thought she had been in the company a total of 2 years and thus started during the pandemic. She’s got less of an excuse to be as naive as she is if she’s worked there for 5 years.

          2. Lucky Meas*

            Same! I’m always surprised when the letter turns out to be “someone totally wrong accused me of something, are they right?” No they’re not!

      3. ferrina*


        As a manager, I will not hold your hand and help you with your homework. I will not tell you “it’s okay, of course I still love you” when you make a mistake. I will not listen to you tell me about Minecraft for 3 hours per day. That’s things only your parent will do.

        As a manager, I will make sure you get access to the training and resources you need– but you need to use them. I will make sure you are not set up to fail and set reasonable goals– but you are still expected to succeed. I expect you to keep your communications clear and not rambling (and while social chatter is acceptable, if you’re talking about your Minecraft builds 3 hours per day, we’re going to have a conversation about professionalism and driving your boss bonkers).

        I am just fine with my children failing and regularly being ridiculous. I do not measure their value based on productivity. Their primary job is to learn about the world and themselves.
        As an employee, your job is to do your job. There is a specific productivity goal you need to accomplish. Your role and relationship with me is predicated around this goal (I have to unconditionally love my children; you don’t get the same offer). If you are not accomplishing your productivity goal, well, I’m not your mother. Repeated failure is not an option.

    2. KayDeeAye*

      If I gave someone a perfectly normal correction or piece of instruction, and that person replied with “Yes, Mom,” I would be So. Angry. It’s so disrespectful and so unprofessional that I might have some problems with my “tone,” too!

      Anyway, OP, you are almost certainly not the problem here. The problem is Annie and Jane, and they need a some instruction in what managers are supposed to do and how to react to those things without sounding like spoiled kids, IMO.

      1. Artemesia*

        Yes THIS is insubordination and a giant big gnarly deal especially from someone who has been a problem in receiving feedback and meeting normal work obligations like attending meetings. That should have elicited immediate serious consequences and a repeat of that should lead to a PIP. Not even slightly acceptable ever. Start thinking of Annie who needs to change dramatically if she is to continue to have a job.

      2. Butterfly Counter*


        I had a *flames on the side of my face* reaction when I read that. Unless it was very clearly a joke reffering to someting other that was said in the conversation, I likely would have seen red.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I have a temper. I control it pretty freaking well at work. That might be my limit.

          1. Pippa K*

            Same. OP, I’m sure you’re handling this professionally and calmly, but just know that on your behalf I’m over here with a facial expression and tone reflecting the icy fury appropriate to this kind of bullshit sexism.

        2. Syvia*

          Me too. As I read it, I thought about how delightful and appropriate it would be to respond with, “You’re fired.” (Although it would be cruel, and for that reason I would never do it.)

        3. StressedButOkay*

          Yep, I would have a very strongly worded reaction to the ‘yes, mom’ snark.

          Nothing I read in OP’s letter on her language/tone is saying anything other than a manager who is increasingly frustrated at someone not doing what she needs them to do.

      3. hbc*

        Yeah, I’m pretty even-keeled, but this is so dismissive that I’m not even sure what would happen if I was on the receiving end. Telling you to show up to the freaking meetings is a *very* normal thing for a boss to do. Going all “yes, Mom” or “must be that time of the month” or even something less sexist like “hey, you might need a Snickers”? Unacceptable.

        I’m thinking a couple of these people might need to learn that the big difference between OP and Mom is that OP doesn’t have to keep them around if they don’t do their chores.

      4. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Like, the only way that is NOT disrespectful is if it was reflexive. I definitely called 2 prior bosses “Mom” at some point accidentally because they were the same age as my mother and I was frazzled. Annie is citing this maternal paradigm in calm conversation.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Once, ToxicBoss1 called my colleague by the name of his problem son. I’m not sure why she didn’t immediately roll on the floor for a mega tantrum.

      5. Tracy Flick*

        Annie isn’t responsible for anything Jane said, and vice versa. Annie didn’t say “Yes, Mom.” Annie and Jane are individuals. It’s actually sexist to treat them as examples of a type.

        And, look, I could be overreacting to this based on my own experiences with sexism (and I am referencing multiple comments on this post, not trying to single you out), but I think it’s relevant that this is a story about Annie and Jane, two young women in tech.

        These are two adult employees on a software engineering team, not unprofessional young girls among an undifferentiated mass of adult male engineers. If Annie has been working at the company for five years, she is a higher-level contributor with a significant amount of experience, not an intern.

        1. Snell*

          It’s about a 40 year old woman and two young women in tech.

          Annie isn’t attending meetings (noted by LW as necessary unless there’s a higher-priority work task) and isn’t cooperatively working with her teammates. Jane framed LW as a mom, and herself as that mom’s child by using the term “yes, mom.” I think it’s a bit much to say they’re not unprofessional, based on the information we have about their behavior at work.

          1. womanaroundtown*

            Ooh, that makes it worse, in my opinion. Definitely ups the sexism factor from him.

          2. NotBatman*

            Yeah, that is a lot worse, and does set off more of my “probably sexism” alarm bells.

          3. StressedButOkay*

            oh noooooo, this is so much worse! Saying “yes, mom” is absolutely intended to be derogatory and sexist.

          4. MauvaisePomme*

            This is sooo much worse. This is some pretty typical “how dare a woman tell me what to do?” tech bro energy.

          5. TechWorker*

            I had a male report jokingly say ‘yes mom’ in a team meeting – I can’t even remember exactly what I said beforehand but yes I am a female manager in tech. I did understand it was definitely not intended offensively (I know him well) but I still was like ooh shit shut that down & in the moment just said ‘er, never call me that again’, people laughed, we moved on. Definitely might be situations where it needs a firmer line but I think that worked for me.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          Annie didn’t do the most grossly unprofessional thing of muttering a teen style snarky response; but let’s not forget she’s ignoring her manager in a perfect example of insubordination and then calling OP a mom because OP hasn’t dropped the instructions to do x, y or z yet. That’s only a slightly more sophisticated version of “yes mom” and it isn’t particularly professional.

        1. Properlike*

          “I’m not your mom. Unlike me, your mom can’t fire you.”

          I’ve had to use similar language before as a college professor drawing that hard line between expectation and reality. “This is a professional relationship, not a personal one, and the expectations are this.”

    3. Polar Vortex*

      Seen that play out way too much in my workplace. I’ve also seen the thing where women are supposed to be the “mom” in the sense they manage all the schedules and plan all the meetings and sort out all the logistical snafus and the dudes play “dad” and just show up.

      Either side is completely unfair.

      But: It might help to reframe a bit. I’ve managed a lot of Annies, and have family who work in high school/college as teachers. It feels like the trend is more kids who have little real world experience when they join the workforce and you need to teach from day one about what professional norms are (even in my extremely relaxed tech world!) and what they need to do to around meeting management. (Had one who expected me to tell them whenever we had a meeting, even with the outlook alerts.) A secondary trend is people who had been micromanaged by their parents and therefore they have both zero skills and assume that everything you do is like their parent because that’s all they know. I revamped our onboarding process for one team because we had so many new hires who didn’t know anything to include a walk through of what anticipated professional norms are, might be worth to revisit yours.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Yeah, Annie is doing a lot here that sucks, but also it seemed really clear to me that she definitely does not understand what the norms are for working in an office. She’s been explicitly told at this point several times, but the behaviour in and of itself screamed “not getting it” to me more than anything else.

        Your point about the onboarding process being used to lay this stuff out explicitly is a good one. I’m currently working somewhere that doesn’t have any kind of clear guidelines about how we use our calendars and it frustrates me to no end when I encounter someone who uses theirs in a way that is completely at odds with what I’d expect how people would use them. That happens with both young and more seasoned staff, so while some of it can be chalked up to inexperience, a lot of it can also be chalked up to no one ever sitting down and saying “How do we actually want to use these tools as a company?”

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          The calendar comment is spot on. Some people keep their calendars super up to date and have no problem if people just drop meetings/calls onto it without discussion…others loathe this and it leads to “I am out at an event that afternoon, can’t make it.” It’s a nightmare when trying to get department heads together in person.

        2. ZugTheMegasaurus*

          Plus, it can be surprising to find out what people *don’t* know. A few months ago, my manager was having me train a team member on a line of business they weren’t familiar with; they’re relatively young but not new to working and have been with the company for a year or two. I basically had them screenshare on Zoom, helping guide them through the steps but having them do everything themselves.

          When it got to sending a meeting invite, something which I assumed would be dead simple and which this person must have done many times before…oh no. Our Outlook comes with convenient plugins to do things like access company address banks, view schedules, and generate Zoom invites but apparently no one had ever told this employee about that. I watched his excruciating process of opening his browser, searching for an email with the right names on it, then looking up every invitee in the company directory one at a time, adding them manually to an email, then opening Zoom and copying his invite, then going back and pasting it in the email. It could have been done in less than 10 clicks from his calendar. It had never occurred to me that someone could be using a tool all the time (and successfully!) but in a really inconvenient/ineffective way. I ended up making a user guide for my team after that.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah, people who don’t use a widget in a program constantly often forget how to use it. (Did that myself with Excel today… haven’t had to make that type of chart from scratch in YEARS and at least one edition of Excel.)

        3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I’d say it’s more “not wanting to be bothered getting it” than “not getting it” because OP explained clearly what she needed.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I think I’ve mentioned it before here, but one of my teams comprises a lot of recent college graduates, and we do a welcome-to-the-workforce presentation in orientation that covers the norms and expectations of our specific office (scheduling meetings, how to prepare for scheduled PTO, when to interrupt/come back later, that leaving things in people’s chairs is not a personal affront and what we do in lieu of mailboxes, etc.). We’ve gotten good feedback on it, both from new hires and from people they work with. It doesn’t take much time and it seems to help.

        I worked with an HR person once who, in a performance coaching prep meeting, told me that I should not send calendar invites but rather a series of emails about meetings, including a day-before and 15-minute reminder, which was just asinine to me when we had Outlook and were working with adults.

        1. All Het Up About It*

          told me that I should not send calendar invites but rather a series of emails about meetings, including a day-before and 15-minute reminder

          I would have LOST my MIND! Also – if I was on the receiving end of those emails – I ALSO would have lost my mind.

          1. ferrina*

            Oh no.

            This is literally worst practice. You know what’s going to happen? No one will ever read emails from you. You will never be taken seriously. And that would be the correct response.

          2. Rainbow*

            Hell no to this. I would think you had lost your mind and/or were trying to be overbearing if you actually did that.

          3. NotAnotherManager!*

            I came very close to losing my mind, but, not surprisingly, this was not the most insane thing she told me to do. But she told me I could not include a bit about no-showing to meetings in the PIP because I wasn’t “doing my part” to ensure the person knew they needed to attend.

        2. Polar Vortex*

          That’s really similar to what I put together! We had a mix of 90% college grads, 8% early 20s who’d only ever worked retail/food service, and 2% of came from another corporate job so it was an adventure getting 5-15 people every month who didn’t know what way was up. Having the training and also documentation for them to access at their leisure made such a difference, and gave me less headaches in the long run.

          Laughing at your HR person though, I’m pretty sure my response to them would’ve been either impolite or smiling and thanking them for volunteering to do that for our meetings.

        3. Observer*

          I worked with an HR person once who, in a performance coaching prep meeting, told me that I should not send calendar invites but rather a series of emails about meetings, including a day-before and 15-minute reminder, which was just asinine to me when we had Outlook and were working with adults.

          No. She should be a kindergarten assistant, not an HR professional with that kind of attitude.

          Especially since ACTUAL adults are going to find this kind of thing to be a massive waste of time.

          1. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Yep. When I signup to attend a webinar the host organization often do those email reminders the day before and 15 minutes before…because I’m a prospect who has no obligation to actually show up, so those are marketing emails aimed at persuading me that I still care enough to attend. And even then, those marketing emails are in addition to a calendar attachment, not instead of one.

            At work you really should be able to trust people to manage their own calendar and show up to meetings without a drip feed of unsolicited reminders. If you can’t, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed on the flaky employee’s end, not something where a manager needs to assume the responsibility for the flaky employee’s attendance.

        4. Brain the Brian*

          “…leaving things on people’s chairs is not a personal affront.” I know this is a serious topic, but I cannot stop laughing at this!

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I had truly no idea people had such strong feelings about chair mail/documents until it came up on a post here. We don’t even have inboxes anymore, and, when we did, they were often not on/near people’s desks. I don’t want new people to think we are trying to send some sort of negative or assertive message by putting stuff in their chair, so I cover it in the first week.

            1. Quill*

              Ah, chair mail. Except at job before last it was keyboard mail, because sometimes people use standing desks.

          2. ScruffyInternHerder*


            In my first real job, the system with my boss was “I will leave assignments either in your hands or in your chair if you are not there, as I will NOT assume that I understand the filing system that is your desk; you will, upon completion, return them to MY chair, if I’m not physically in it, so that it doesn’t get lost in the black hole that is my desk.” This was a spoken expectation. It worked well, in all honesty, in that office. Things did not get lost. I never had to wonder what my assignments were if I happened to arrive earlier than my boss. It also applied to anything that came across our desks that were meant for our boss but had been misdirected. If she was not in her chair, you put it in her chair so that she would see it and know it was “new”. And amongst all of ourselves, we used the same system – it was literally “making sure that you see this and aren’t wondering if its new or not”.

            Fast forward a couple of jobs; I had a mis-directed contract handed to me. I noticed it wasn’t mine, so I wandered to the correct person’s desk, and him not being there, I promptly laid it in his chair. Because I wasn’t going to guess at what his filing system was, we had no physical inboxes, and lost contracts are BAD.

            You guys. He completely, and loudly, misplaced his fecal matter!!!! He even attempted to escalate it to HR and ownership, recommending that I be FIRED for the offense of….leaving a piece of paper on his chair instead of on his desk, because how dare I demand that he look at this right now? (Thankfully, HR & ownership were relatively sane, with the VP he took it to saying “well, how often have you lost contracts in the pit that is your desk? It hasn’t been a single time thing either….and did you actually tell Scruff what you’d like done with it so it doesn’t get lost?”)

      3. Muddy*

        I’m an executive assistant to a team of doctors and I support a doctor who has worked here for decades who also needs to be told not only when each of the meetings on his calendar is, but also whether he should attend each of them. (The answer is always yes.)

        Can I send him to work for you instead, orrrr?

        1. Dulcinea47*

          My mom was like that with her attorney when she was a legal secretary. I remember her having to keep track of her bosses plane tickets for him (back in the day of paper tickets) despite not being his personal assistant. I was 14 and already had to keep track of my own plane tickets and two younger brothers while traveling. Ridiculous.

        2. Jay (no, the other one)*

          When I was faculty at a residency program years ago, one of our residents failed to show up for a weekend on-call shift. This is a FREAKING BIG DEAL. He said he didn’t realize he was on call. My response would have been to make him take a shift for the person who ended up covering his and warn him that if it happened again, he’d be fired.

          The program director’s response was to tell the chief resident that he had to prepare separate copies of the schedule each month with each resident’s name highlighted so they could see when they were on call. This was pre-email, so the chief resident had to do this with paper and a highlighter. The call schedule was sent out each month, and posted in the department office, the on-call room, and the clinic. These were adults who were at least 26 years old. I was horrified.

          1. Lol*

            Residency training director here… 1. I can’t believe there wasn’t a trade bank for the missed shift. 2. At least I know these problems aren’t just “kids these days”

      4. Goldenrod*

        “I’ve also seen the thing where women are supposed to be the “mom””

        I’ve experienced this one, and it is massively frustrating – especially if you have taken over the role from someone who embraced that stereotype. Women in support roles sometimes get enthusiastic about being the mom, for some reason – cleaning the office, providing food, etc. – and when I’ve taken over the job from someone like that, I’ve had to re-set expectations and it’s very annoying (i.e. I’m not going to clean the fridge, etc.).

        1. Rainbow*

          Once, an otherwise all-male team said to me, “are you going to do X unnecessary but friendly tradition that Previous Woman did, given that you are the new woman?”. No, that was very kind of her to do so, but no I am absolutely not, especially when you put it like that. Tradition X died that day and never came back.

        2. On Fire*

          We have someone like that now, and it drives. me. NUTS. Just… stop. I’m 40-something years old, have been in the workforce for 25 years, am a freaking professional — and I have my own mom if I need her. This is not your house; we are not your kids.

          Of course that’s not what the LW is doing. These younger colleagues (and remember, one has been in THIS job for five years; this isn’t a straight-out-of-college newbie) are way out of line.

        3. Critical Rolls*

          I worked as an admin on a project once, and when I left, one of the engineers — a man not too far from my age — told me he thought I would be a good mom. I just stared, trying to process his good intentions and complete lack of understanding of how ill that spoke of the group of men I had been working with. Ultimately I settled on, “Thanks,” and lit a candle for the next admin, and any future girlfriends. Dear lord I did not have the strength that day to yeet him to a more enlightened plane.

        4. Reluctant Mezzo*

          If I am going to be treated like a mom, sometimes I will act like a mom with the Paw of Nope. And they will not like it.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      From the headline I expected the overly supportive end of “my boss is like my mom”, e.g. “Mom Boss will give me another do-over.”

      Alison’s script is very much a good thing to make clear to your young subordinates in their first job, when they blurt out “cause you’re my mom” inappropriately at work.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Same – I was expecting something more like, “I’ve occasionally reminded them to dress appropriately for the weather, which is something I’ve done with peers and from a young age, so it’s not coming from a mothering place, but I realize it’s reading that way and I need to adjust on this, what are some other ‘mom energy’ pitfalls I should be on the lookout to make sure I’m not doing in the workplace?” Not just…a manager holding an employee accountable for failure to meet expectations.

    5. Lauren*

      I’d hit it straight on.

      I am not your mother. It is bizarre that you associate your manager assigning and correcting your work as a parental relationship akin to nagging. You will need to reframe your thinking on this. You can’t be fired as a child. You can be fired for not doing things your manager has expressly said to you 5+ times. I consider this matter closed and your behavior will begin to reflect my expectations for you as an employee; however, if you revert back to this attitude – we can have a discussion about whether or not you want to still be employed here or elsewhere. Also, I’ve heard the ‘yes, mom’ comments. They are sexist and need to stop immediately. As a new employee to working in this type of setting, i’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you just are new to all this. That said – can you commit to reframing your thinking?

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    “I’m not your mother. I’m your boss, and I’m responsible for your performance and productivity in this office, regardless of my gender. If it would help, I can familiarize you with typical workplace norms and expectations. But I’m being very reasonable and realistic with what I’m asking you to do.”

    P.S. I’ve met many an office mom, and you are not that!

    1. Madtown Maven*

      I’d be tempted to flip the script for emphasis: “You are not my child. You are an employee, and you are accountable for your own performance and productivity in the office. In my management role, I can familiarize your with typical workplace norms and expectations. But if you do not respond to these reasonable and realistic goals, you may have undesirable outcomes.”

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        Yes, I think this works best – reframing it so it’s about Annie positioning herself as a child, rather than OP as a mum.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        I think flipping the script is a good way to get through. The only thing I’d modify is the last line – “undesirable outcomes” may be too vague for someone with very little work experience. Adding some specific examples might help really bring home the message that this behavior may lead to a PIP, may result in written warnings, or may even lead to termination.

        1. She of Many Hats*

          But you still need to emphasize the sexist and agist components of Annie & Jane calling you mom. If either of them hopes to be in a position of authority during their careers, they need to understand why doing that undermines their and other women’s ability to climb the corporate ladder.

          1. Some words*

            It’s a double-whammy. 1: I’m going to undermine my manager and let her know I’m going to take her “nagging” as seriously as a 10 year old being asked to take out the garbage for the 5th time. 2: I’m going to make sure my manager doesn’t expect more of me than they’d expect from a dismissive 10 year old.

            Madtown Maven’s script sounds really good to me.

    2. yelena*

      This person has been on the job for 5 YEARS. I don’t understand all these calls for extra training and explanation about basic workplace norms.

      1. Book lover*

        This is what is baffling to me. Yes, this is Annie’s first job, but she is five years into it and two years into OP’s tenure. Way past time for her to grow up.

      2. Twix*

        I think it’s really just an extension of Alison’s frequent advice to stop tiptoeing around the issue and name the problem directly. If someone is in their first job and has been working there and acting this way for 5 years and it’s always been tolerated, it’s not hard to understand why they might not have figured out it’s not okay. If they’re otherwise a good employee, being clear about expectations and seeing if that’s enough to set them straight is a pretty reasonable first step.

      3. Language Lover*

        Thank you! It makes me wonder what her first three years were like and whether or not she had these same issues.

        It’s her first job, sure. But if her first three years weren’t as an intern, then I do think expectations should be higher for her.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          It does scream “BAD MANAGER” for her first set of years, IMO. But it’s a kindness for OP to set her straight about work expectations now. Because most of the time you’re not going to have a manager so disinterested in you and your progress that they don’t care if you show up to team meetings.

    3. EtTuBananas*

      None of OP’s behavior strikes me as mom behavior! She’s not reminding them to pack a healthy lunch or put on a coat, she’s literally asking them to do the basics of their job.

      It also sounds like Annie has serious problems with professional communication. I also wonder if there needs to be a larger discussion around company culture in terms of what is and isn’t appropriate framing for an office environment, since multiple employees have this kind of weird sexist view.

      Nothing like internalized misogyny!

  3. KatEnigma*

    Annie is both sexist and ageist with that “mom” thing. You might explain to her that saying that was inappropriate and put her on a PIP. Her mother loves her and lets her get away with things. A manager needs her to do her job.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I think a PIP would be appropriate for her attendance issues, though I personally would have a more direct conversation with her about that first. I don’t think a PIP is appropriate for one statement about “Mom energy.” While it’s not the appropriate way to frame the issue, it doesn’t rise to the level of a PIP and especially not after the LW invited feedback. Putting someone on a PIP for feedback after LW asked for feedback is a good way to get her group to never be truthful with her again. A PIP is for consistent performance issues. One statement is rarely going to be egregious enough to warrant a PIP without even having a conversation.

      1. Artemesia*

        It is however appropriate if she ever again. mutters ‘yes Mom’ when given feedback. She needs to have the world explained to her in serious terms and if she continues to be on a PIP.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          What would the nature of the PIP be?
          Never say “yes Mom” again? I’m not sure a PIP is the right tool.

            1. hbc*

              I think it’s worthy of a warning, documented with HR. PIPs are pretty much useless if they’re just “don’t do that thing ever again.”

          1. Observer*

            No. It would be “Never be snarky and disrespectful to your boss when getting feedback.” Or, more broadly, “Learn to take feedback appropriately.”

            Because I’d be willing to bet that this is not the only time Jane has been disrespectful or inappropriate when getting feedback.

          2. ferrina*

            I would focus on meeting expectations from the boss. Essentially making it extremely clear that the boss is the boss, and having authority is part of being the boss. Annie is being insubordinate and I’m not sure Annie even realizes that that’s not acceptable (I’ve worked with folks who have never had a good manager who think any kind of management is “interfering”, or asking for a project status update is “micromanaging”)

            I might include:
            – Update calendar to show when she will not be available.
            -She is expected to attend all team meetings unless she has prior approval (prior approval includes calling 15 minutes before the meeting saying “hey, I’m sick and can’t work today”- the goal is to ensure she is communicating with boss)
            -Timely communications with boss on XYZ

      2. KatEnigma*

        Yes and no. It’s part of an overall attitude problem that includes the meeting attendance along with the issue that LW can’t even tell if Annie is working during working hours! It’s not the statement so much as how Annie treats LW as if what LW says is unimportant!

    2. Katherine Boag*

      “her mother loves her and lets her get away with things” this is what I thought ‘mom energy’ was going to mean, someone who looks after the team, is kind, maybe brings in food often. If someone ‘nags’ you, that just means YOU arent doing something you’re supposed to be. Doesn’t reflect on them at all.

  4. Alexander Graham Yell*

    Oh wow. Yeah, you have two young and relatively (less so in one, more so in the other) immature workers who need to be trained ASAP on work expectations.

    Also, from those conversations – it’s really clear you’ve told them what to do, but not what the consequences are for not doing them. I’d say that should be part of the face-to-face conversation when you have it, because it’s that follow-through that’s going to either change their behaviour or make it clear to you that you really need to start looking at a PIP.

    But none of that is mothering, and the sooner you make it clear (in person, in no uncertain terms) that conflating the two in unhelpful to their career and unacceptable in their management structure, the better. And frankly….if all that changes is they *think* it’s you being in mom-mode but don’t *say* it, that might need to be enough for now. You don’t need to change their minds, just their behaviour.

    1. Fledge Mulholland*

      Yes, I agree that a face-to-face conversation is necessary, with clear expectations. If problems continue, you should start looking at a PIP and/or specific consequences like limiting the amount of flexibility she has in her schedule if she cannot be relied upon to work within the norms of your workplace that go along with having that kind of flexibility. She is not a child. She is an employee and there are standards she has to uphold, and it is her manager’s job to address it when those standards are not met.

    2. Just Another Boss*

      Oh, agreed! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that things that are now common sense to me, once were things I had to learn. Through the pandemic, I hired employees who have never worked in an office, and still don’t (we work from home). I love working from home, and I think it’s a wonderful change for corporate America, but one thing I’ve yet to replace is the things you naturally learn from being around other working professionals. More than once I’ve read something on AAM and realized I need to stop and teach that to my newer employees. It sounds like this team needs a conversation about attendance expectations, and what will happen if those aren’t met. I’ve found that the best advice I get from Allison is to be clear about ramifications. “If I have to talk to you again about your attendance, I’ll need to put you on a PIP. Do you have any questions about what that means?” I no longer assume people know, I always try to give them the opportunity to ask.

  5. Justme, The OG*

    My boss could literally be my mom (she has a daughter my age, I’m in my 40s) and I would never act like Annie did to you. This is definitely a her problem.

    1. ferrina*

      On the flip side, I once supervised someone who had a granddaughter my age (early 20s). She decided she didn’t need to listen to me because “you’re my granddaughter’s age”. Once you decide that age factors in, you start forgetting about how management structures actually work.

      1. Fishsticks*

        Yeah, I had the same experience of being a supervisor to someone who declared that because I was young she didn’t need to do anything I said regardless of our status within the company. It was miserable for both of us. She quit a few months later on after a district manager wrote her up over it.

    2. BasketcaseNZ*

      I once spent a few weeks working indirectly for my mother, doing a small project in her team.
      And even when it was genuinely my actual mother, I never behaved like that.
      Granted, she also never had to nag me to do work – I was hired a second time for another project in her wider team because I’d done so well on the first one.

  6. Punk*

    Not saying it’s right, but it reads as stereotypically mom-ish to repeat directives, especially when the deadline isn’t looming. It’s part of management (it’s how you make sure stuff gets done) but multiple preemptive reminders makes people feel like you don’t trust them to get it right without coddling and backseat-controlling, and this unfortunately is really common mom-related baggage.

    Just thought I’d pinpoint an issue so you can think about it in its own context.

    1. londonedit*

      Could be down to cultural differences, but I did read the OP’s messages as slightly passive-aggressive (especially the ‘Good morning! Are you working?’ line) and brusque. I agree that chat probably wasn’t the right medium – people can absolutely read things the wrong way in a short message, it’s difficult to convey tone, and it can come across as impatience when you’re sending someone lots of messages in a short space of time. OP definitely should have had the ‘Look, I’ve mentioned this a few times but when you’re working you need to be clear in your availability, and you need to attend these meetings unless you have something pressing to work on that we’ve previously agreed will take priority’ conversation into a private face-to-face meeting (or call if they’re remote).

      Having said that, yes, there is also a problem with Annie’s attitude and her framing of the OP as ‘mom’. If you’re not following your manager’s instructions, your manager is well within their rights to remind you that you should be, and if you need more than a couple of reminders then they’re well within their rights to have a more serious conversation with you about expectations. That’s not nagging or being ‘mom’, it’s managing people and making sure everyone pulls their weight.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Eh. Having worked remote for a long while with a distributed team, “Are you working” is a pretty normal opening. Because if you aren’t I don’t want to bother you. And the flip side to letting people manage their own flexible schedule is I don’t know when you are working.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Meant to add, “I don’t think it’s passive aggressive to try to determine if someone is actually absent without notifying anyone, or whether they’ve just neglected to switch themselves back to active.”

        2. I Have RBF*

          So, “are you working” has different connotations in different contexts. It varies between “are you online and available for work stuff?” and “do you have your head down in the work and are not available for a different task?” I would default to the more verbose but precise versions just to avoid ambiguity.

          I regularly get work chat questions like “Hi. Got a minute?” which means “Are you online and available to work on something for me?” Since our chat program is pretty clunky for setting away/busy, it’s a reasonable question. But if I’m not logged in? It shows me as offline. If my screen is locked I think it shows me as idle. I can also set it to “busy”, “do not disturb” or “out of office”.

          Annie is actively avoiding meetings, and avoiding tasks, to the point that her manager is wondering if she is even working. This is PIP territory, because the company is not getting what they are paying for. Her attitude about being reminded to attend meetings and show up online to do her job is… not good. If I was like that I’d be sure I was headed toward being fired.

          The problem is both her performance and her attitude about it. While I am often loathe to call out only “attitude” as a problem, in this case her attitude is preventing her from hearing and acting on the justified feedback – she’s dismissing it as “just mom nagging”.

          Annie needs one last conversation about her attendance/attention issues, then go on a PIP. I don’t care if she thinks you are “nagging” – she needs to do her job, including being available online and attending meetings.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        I have occasionally sent chat messages to people on my team saying “Good morning! Are you working?” when their chat status has been reading as away all morning, they aren’t scheduled for vacation, and I haven’t heard about them being out sick. Expectations in my office are that you set yourself to “active” on chat unless you’re away from your desk or are doing head-down work and need to be uninterrupted (in which case most people will add a status with some variation on “working, do not disturb”).

    2. Snow Globe*

      A manager shouldn’t have to issue multiple directives. If there is a reason Annie can’t do what her manager is asking her to do, then she should explain or provide additional context. Otherwise, she should do what her manager asks so the manager doesn’t need to repeat it.

    3. Elle*

      What about her messages was preemptive, though? She was warned about an issue and the issue kept happening. The recipient in this case SHOULD feel that the sender doesn’t trust them to get it right, because she’s… not getting it right. If someone is hounding you about something that is actually happening (or isn’t happening and should be), that’s not nagging or stereotypically mom-ish, that’s you f*cking up and finding out. I think the mom reading here is indicative of someone who is extremely inexperienced in the workplace or is seeing things through a pretty sexist filter.

    4. Samwise*

      It would be pre-emptive, except that OP is calling Annie out on stuff she’s actually not doing. She declined the meetings, then OP followed up. She didn’t post her status, then OP followed up.

      Not, “hey, be sure you accept the upcoming meetings!” But rather “you declined the meetings which is not allowed”

      Annie doesn’t like to be nagged, but if she did what she was supposed to do, and has been told to do, she wouldn’t be “nagged”

      1. HotSauce*

        This right here, and it’s what I tell my reports all the time! You don’t want me looking over your shoulder so don’t do things that force me to do that! Easy peasy.

    5. Juniper*

      I disagree. It might be something a mom also does… but it also sounds like OP knows this person is unreliable and needs to be reminded of stuff. That might read as mothering to you but it’s not inherently mothering behaviour.

    6. Observer*

      but it reads as stereotypically mom-ish to repeat directives, especially when the deadline isn’t looming.</I.

      Except it is FAR from just "mom-ish". Beyond that, this is not even an accurate description of the OP's messages. The OP is specifically asking Anne about things that are happening like "Why are you just declining meeting invites?" and "Why are you not responding to messages?" etc.

      I actually don't think that the OP handled the situation in an optimal manner, but there is nothing remotely "mom-ish" about it. Trying to twist straightforward management into a version of mom-speak is not a really good look.

    7. beanie gee*

      That statement right there is just sexism. If a male was repeatedly reminding his employees to DO THEIR WORK, no one would call them “Dad” they would call them “Boss.” I am so over women being called naggers/moms when the blame is 100% on the people not getting their sh*t done!

    8. Dilly*

      Well, so far Annie has demonstrated that she can’t get it right, even with the reminders. . .

  7. The Person from the Resume*

    Wow! You’ve got a problem and it’s not with mom energy,

    It sounds like Annie has been missing work, declining meetings, not around when she’s expected to be and while you got frustrated via messages (in your example) it sure seems like she needs a meeting where she’s told this has got to stop or she will be fired.

    That’s not “mom”; that’s management. You’ve got to manage Annie and Jane about their attendence, availability, performance at work and that may include difficult phone or in person conversations.

    1. Coffee123*

      Yep – it sounds like you’ve got the right attitude OP whereas Annie and Jane are acting like they can be rebellious teenagers at work and you’ve just got to put up with it because you’re a “mom figure”. That works at home because your mom can’t fire you from being her kid, but at the same time kids don’t get paid to be kids. At work you get paid and get benefits and in return you do your work and respect the authority of your boss because they don’t have to keep you employed there. Leaving aside the gender dynamics for a second, which are also super problematic, I think you’ve got to spell that reality of “what the working world is like” out pretty explicitly to them since they’re new to the workforce.

      1. NotBatman*

        Yeah, I wonder how much Annie and Jane are talking to each other behind OP’s back about “ugh, our manager is so mean! She [checks notes] requires that we do our jobs and take personal responsibility!” The fact that Jane is male… that’s also pretty telling.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      Also the “since you started” is a hint that your management style is different your predecessor’s. Maybe Annie got away with not being available much for 3 years so your attempt to bring her into workplace norms is viewed by her as scolding and nagging and therefore “momming.”

      But if all you have been doing with Annie is scolding her for the same perfomance problems repeatedly via IMs with no consequences for 2 years, you need to make a change too. Do it in person, explain the change needed and consquences if it doesn’t stop – PIP and then firing.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        That’s a good detail to call out. First job, first change in management, not used to change or adjustment.

        It needs to be addressed, but that might help you frame what’s going on in your own head.

      2. irritable vowel*

        Yeah, it struck me that this conversation happened at the first in-person meeting they’ve had in the 2 years since OP joined the company and started managing Annie. I’m not sure if OP meant “in-person” as “face to face” and they’re all 100% remote, so this was a rare occasion that they were in the same room together, or if OP has really not had a one-on-one meeting (even remotely) with Annie for 2 years. While I agree that Annie is in the wrong in terms of behavior/attitude, it sounds like OP needs to be having a lot more one-on-one conversations with Annie than she has been – the IMs make me think that most of OP’s management of Annie is over Slack rather than in regularly scheduled check-ins.

        1. OP*

          Clarifying: both of us are 100% remote, this was our first in-person meeting. We have regular check-ins.

      3. ferrina*

        Yes, this seems to be 100% what is happening.

        Years ago I inherited an employee who had never been properly managed before, and she had some of these same issues. She expected to be able to work whenever she wanted without telling anyone, which caused workflow issues. She didn’t want to be held to standards for her work (because that was “micromanaging”). She didn’t want to give anyone status updates or allow the boss to have input on her work.

        She said I was “micromanaging” when I was doing standard management activities. Annie seems to be taking a similar approach, except calling you “mom” instead of “micromanager”. Both labels are ridiculous- you are doing your job as a manager, and Annie is feeling some kind of way about it. Your expectations are reasonable; hold to them, hold Annie accountable, and get your boss/HR involved if needed. Annie needs to step up. “Show up to meetings” is such a basic expectation!

      4. higheredadmin*

        Adding onto this. I feel like OP is doing her best to coach/train/meet Annie where she is, but as others have noted Annie is five years in. She is not new. If she can’t figure out how to attend a scheduled meeting, she needs to be put on a PIP. If she still can’t figure this out, then out the door. OP, you need to reframe this as a “you/your management style” problem and as an “Annie” problem. (I actually had a remote staff person with exactly this issue – would agree to deadlines/meetings and just disappear. When they were finally let go they were – true story – LATE by over an hour to their meeting with me, where I was waiting with HR to let them go. HR person was like – well, guess we have cast iron proof that this is an issue. They were also totally shocked, even though they were on a PIP.

    3. I am Emily's failing memory*

      I’m not a betting woman, but if I was, I’d bet a paycheck that Annie is collecting one from two (or more) employers.

      1. NeverWasTo*

        I thought that too, but whether she is working 2 jobs or just doing “whatever” that is not work, the Mom statement is not a good look. I wasn’t even taking it seriously until commenters started speaking up. And I am old enough to know better.

      2. Anon-for-this*

        I had the same thought. I work in a fully remote company and the only employee we ever had who made their work hours unknown/unclear was working a second job. We knew about the second job, but only later realized that the employee wasn’t really devoting scheduled times to each job- they just tried to juggle both in normal working hours.

  8. Some Internet Rando*

    I can’t help but wonder if this person was getting the same feedback from a manager who was a man, would they say “yes, dad”? I doubt it.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, and they’d get it wrong by two generations! Early 40s are millennials, not gen X and *certainly* not boomers. LOL!

    1. lemon*

      I’ve definitely worked with some young, first-job-out-of-school co-workers who referred to our male boss as “dad” behind his back. It was equally immature.

    2. wordswords*

      I mean, maybe not, but also maybe. The whole “mom” thing is very often sexist for sure, especially in the details (what’s cute vs annoying, who gets labeled with it faster, how much expectation there is that someone will also take care of and clean up after the “kids,” etc.). But it also sounds as if Annie and Jane are (consciously or unconsciously) using the parental framing to deflect all attempts to call them to the carpet about their mistakes as just parental nagging, and I’ve heard that be used with “dad” too.

      Either way, it’s immature and obnoxious. If it’s also sexist (and it might well be!) then that’s the cherry on top.

      1. Observer*

        But it also sounds as if Annie and Jane are (consciously or unconsciously) using the parental framing to deflect all attempts to call them to the carpet about their mistakes as just parental nagging, and I’ve heard that be used with “dad” too.

        I think you are right. Or maybe “boomer” as another commenter suggested. Because Ann is certainly trying to deflect basic management of really out of line behavior. She says she wants flexibility, but what she’s really demanding is lack of responsibility.

    3. ScruffyInternHerder*

      My guess would be yes.

      As my name references, yes, I’ve on occasion managed interns. Typically the ones who give me, a woman, grief along these lines? They’re not real discriminatory and will give my (male) similar level coworker grief tailored to “Okay Dad”. They’re equal opportunity immature bungholes.

      Those ones don’t often last longer than one season, in a company where returning interns are a point of corporate pride. And I was always shocked that well compensated (because they WERE, believe it or not. My eyeballs popped out of my head when I learned their compensation packages for summer!), college educated (at least a year’s worth), somehow could make it through our onboarding program that very clearly indicated that part of our purpose was to teach them office norms and culture.

    4. Christina*

      Ugh, I had a (young, female) coworker who called her boss her “work dad” (in kind of a “work-husband-but-he’s-my-boss” way) in a meeting and it made me so uncomfortable. Yech.

    5. spcepickle*

      I am a 40 year old women in a management position – I said something snarky in a small meeting setting and man who only about 10 years older then me said my name is such a tone I almost said – Sorry Dad. I was such a knee jerk reaction based on his tone and the strength of just my name. While I agree the letter writer is not giving mom energy sometimes little things from our childhood creep up and surprise us.

    6. Ellis Bell*

      This reminded me so much of the first female manager in my old male dominated industry. One of the guys on the team actually said to her “between you and the missus, I’ve got women telling me what to do 24/7!” Uggggh…
      At least a male colleague responded: “Well that’s your fault if you’re not in charge of your own personal life, but yeah, at work you do have to listen to your boss”. Drives me crazy. Female managers are not so exotic, or fulfilling such a different role, that they need a simile from your personal life in order to understand what the heck they are to you.

  9. Allornone*

    Oh, Annie and Jane are in for a rude awakening. Here’s hoping they grow a bit professionally before the world starts to eat them alive.

    1. Pippa K*

      Or they’ll land in one of the (many!) sexist workplaces or fields and their male colleagues, especially, will find it handy to have this kind of sexism coming from young women, because it provides plausible deniability to other workplace sexism. “Of course we’re not discriminating against Mary because she’s a woman! She’s just kind of a nag. Even the other women think so, so how could it be sexist?”

      This is a real thing that happens, and it’s one of the many reasons it’s worth shutting down the “mom” grumbling and handing the offenders a clue about forms and effects of sexism. Before they’re 40 and seeing it from the other end of the barrel, so to speak.

      1. MauvaisePomme*

        The letter writer came into the comments to specify that, in real life, Jane is a young MAN, so I think he’ll fit in just fine at future toxic tech workplaces, sadly.

    2. sundae funday*

      Yeah, I was thinking about how I’m a little jealous of the flexibility that Annie has but that she doesn’t appreciate.

      It sounds like she can work whenever she wants, as long as she lets her coworkers know when she’s working. And she’s mad that she has to communicate when she’s working with her team. For most of us, our employer tells us when to work, and what she’s complaining about is already a ton more flexibility than she’ll reasonably receive elsewhere, probably.

  10. Siege*

    If this is Annie’s and Jane’s actual first job (not just first real job) you have employees who haven’t gotten teenage rebellion out of their system at the right time. The issue around calendaring alone is pretty significant in highlighting that Annie expects more autonomy than is appropriate for a job. Whether it’s because she doesn’t value meetings in general or thinks she can just unilaterally decide her coworkers are not people she needs to work with isn’t entirely irrelevant. It sounds like she doesn’t understand what a manager does and why, and that it’s not just to wreck Annie’s fun. Either way, the problem is not your “mom energy”, OP.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      My first step would be speaking face to face with Annie and telling her that she is expected to attend meetings and keep her schedule up to date. She is expected to respond to colleagues in a timely fashion. She may prize flexibility, but you need to point out that real flexibility is given to employees who have shown that they are responsible.
      My boss DGAF about my hours or how I structure my work. But you better believe he would if I started skipping our weekly meeting and declining all the team meetings. That’s not acceptable, as they are part of my job! Annie is trying to get away with avoiding a large part of her job, and that needs to be stopped.

    2. I Have RBF*

      Yeah. I work remotely, but I’m expected to attend meetings and be available for questions or problem solving during my stated hours. Even if I have no current tasks or projects. I need to state when I’m going AFK, just out of courtesy to my team.

      I work with a person on another team who does not do this. He is usually late for meetings, if he attends them at all. He always seems to be doing non-work stuff during work hours, like walking his dog, chopping wood, driving to/from somewhere, etc. He’s not early career, either. If I was his manager I’d be having serious talks with him, but I’m not.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        I’m a very literal person so I’m am imagining a guy in business casual chopping wood.

  11. I heart my NC headphones*

    I’ve worked w/ people –– at a peer level –– who bring real “mom” energy to our relationship. That “mom” energy manifests in unasked-for advice on personal (not professional) aspects of my life, such as housing; or a patronizing attitude to things like my approach to handling work/life balance. In other words, for me “mom” energy is primarily about peers getting up in my business, assuming a mentoring or authoritative role they don’t actually have, and not respecting my own autonomy or ways of being as valid.

    What I see here is that not that. As AAM and other commenters have pointed out, the concerns you’ve raised are about work habits, and as these employees’ manager, you are positioned to address them. You’re not a peer usurping authority that doesn’t belong to you, or intruding into their personal life; you’re their boss, with a legit need to know about things like OOO.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      I’m not getting “mom energy” from this, either. I’m getting “manager energy”, which is appropriate.

      1. irene adler*

        Also agree.

        Mom energy is the ‘don’t forget a jacket’ type comments.

        I am seeing ‘teen rebel’ in that Annie won’t follow instructions despite repeated reminders. And Jane smarting off with the ‘yes mom’ comment.

    2. SpringIsForPlanting!*

      Maybe it’s because my mom stayed off my back (thanks Mom!), but I flag “office moms” as “the nice lady who always has hand lotion and kleenex and painkillers if I find myself unprepared”. Sorry ’bout everyone’s nagging moms!

      1. DisneyChannelThis*

        I was coming to say this. “Mom energy” friends are the ones with bandaids on their person at all times, or the friends who randomly do happen to have a can opener on them at an event no one ever thought we would have needed one, just super prepared and well equipped for life. Ive known several who were male.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          I used to say “Mom, I need help!!!” to my old boss, but it was usually things like “I can’t rip open this packet of ibuprofen” or something similar. Then she knew it wasn’t a work task, I was just incompetent with little pill packs.

        2. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Back when I was in college, a peer told me I was “such a suburban mom” because I threw a party with organized activities (pumpkin-carving and costume workshopping ahead of Halloween).

      2. ErinWV*

        OK, that one is definitely me. I’m in my early 40s and I work at a university so I’m just starting to feel very momsy to our students. But it’s more like, reminding them to drink water and get good sleep. I would never pry about their personal lives.

      3. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, I’ve joked about having “aunt energy” because I keep advil and a Tide pen in my purse, but I’m also an individual contributor and not a manager.

      4. Crooked Bird*

        Yes! When my coworker cut his finger kind of badly while giving a presentation the other week (yeah, in our line of work that’s a thing!) I fixed him up and my other coworker was like “having a mom around, it’s almost as good as having a nurse!” (She also wasn’t using the word to mean I was the “team mom”–I am the team lead but we’re very collegial, they’re just a great team and I barely need to direct them–but just that I’m the only one on the team who has a kid.)

    3. Just Another Fed*


      When I was younger, I had older managers do things like express concern about my public transit commute (one even asked me to text them to reassure them when I got home safely).

      That was “parent” energy, and it was inappropriate and irritating. Asking someone to show up to meetings and keep their calendars up to date is not parent energy, it’s management.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yup. I get it more from my older friends, but I went on my first solo foreign holiday at 17 and by 21 had a month’s Eurorail under my belt. I’m 43 now, and have flown across the Atlantic solo. I appreciate the concern — I can appear a bit naive, I am autistic so the Atlantic journey was quite anxiety inducing despite having been to America with others in the past, and it’s done out of genuine care — but yeah, texting you when I get home from the station that we both arrived into from a long-distance journey we made together is definitely overboard.

    4. Joyce to the World*

      Same, and I have found myself saying “I already have a Mom and she is not as critical of me as you are”. It became a method of bullying and we had to part ways.

  12. FashionablyEvil*

    LW, I would think a bit about the overall content and tenor of your communications with Annie (and the other members of your team.) Are you building good rapport? Talking to them about things and giving feedback that isn’t just “you’re doing it wrong”? It can be hard to do this with a virtual team. It’s equally hard to give your manager the benefit of the doubt when all you see are corrective chat messages. I think Annie is in the wrong in calling it mom energy, but worth looking at the totality of your communications with her.

    I would probably also streamline the bit about mom energy—to me, it reads as too heavy handed and likely to be interpreted as a lecture/make it more likely that she dismisses the feedback entirely.

    1. OP*

      It *is* hard to do this with a virtual team! Feedback has been positive otherwise (and from Annie as well) but she is definitely the one it’s been hardest to gel with. Our video chats go well, our text communication doesn’t.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          THIS! OP, while I feel like I might have worded messages a bit differently, the concerns you expressed and the frustration you were feeling are certainly valid, and aren’t “being a mom.” But it sounds like Annie is better at communicating through video chat rather than text chat, so if you want to improve communications with her, try to be heavier on the video chats, especially when you need to give feedback and coaching.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          I agree with this. Even though I think Annie is way off base, I found the wording OP included a little brisk (though I’ve never worked remotely and only ever worked in cultures where you address serious things in person, so YMMV). It would be fine in person though, because of course Annie needs to know what she can and can’t acceptably do. I think if she is also fundamentally misunderstanding the importance of what OP is asking, or that your boss can ask for stuff like this, that a real conversation is more helpful for her.

        3. Quinalla*

          Agreed and I was glad Alison addressed what I was thinking. That one, maybe two chat messages/emails on something like this are ok, but this was well past that to pick up the phone or do a video call since it sounds like in person isn’t an option.

          I will say as someone managing while remote and who was doing it prior to COVID – video chats and phone calls had to be done a lot. And it doesn’t have to be an hour or even 30 minutes every time. And as someone who prefers text based communication, it was hard for me, but I forced myself to call/video chat more often and it really helped with this kind of thing. And yes, with someone who prefers or just communicates better that way, would ramp it up even more.

          And yes, the mom comment 100% agree that is not what is happening here and should be shut down and taken as a teaching professional norms moment. I HATE when people joke about this crap at work “Yes mom!” with the teen sarcasm in full force is obnoxious and usually sexist too.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I have this with my manager. I’m your classic, “hi! Can I just check if you will have time to update the launchpad risk register? Ideally by Monday 5pm, but absolute latest by Tuesday 10am as that’s when I’ve got to present it at interstellar travel strategic ops group. Let me know if toure going to have trouble with that deadline.” manager. My manager sends one liners saying, “I asked you to update the launchpad risk register by Monday 5pm. I see it hasn’t been done yet. Please make sure you meet the deadline.”

        There are three of us, all experienced staff in our 40s and 50s, and we ALL bristle at her tone in emails. Then you meet her in person and say, “Really sorry I haven’t done the risk register, I’ve got some time in my diary on Monday afternoon,” and she gives you a big grin and says, “oh don’t worry too much about it! Just as long as it’s done by Monday evening because I need to take it to the interplanetary travel strategic ops meeting on Tuesday at 10.” But for some reason she never gives that context or that sense of trust in emails, and it’s so frustrating.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          With deadlines that haven’t come up yet, I try not to pester people about them unless it’s something that’s done in stages and saved in a place I can access, and I can see that it hasn’t been started yet and the clock is ticking. Generally, I operate on the assumption that my team can manage their time and will have things ready when they are due. If it’s a long-term project, I might check in every once in a while and say something like “How’s it going with the launchpad risk register project? Everything still on track with that?” But for an employee who has a pattern of missing deadlines or letting things fall through the cracks, I might have to be more hands-on. And if I have to do that a lot, my communications start sounding more like your manager’s.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I think there are times that a reminder can add useful context or information, and I‘ve been grateful for them! I’m OK with, “just a quick reminder that I asked for feedback by the end of the month, but that’s flexible if you’ve got a lot on. Please let me know in advance if you aren’t going to meet it, though!” “Just a reminder that the risk register needs to be completed by Monday. A couple of people have fed back that this was more complicated than they expected, so if you get a chance to check it before Monday and let me know if there’s any other information you need, that would be great.” “Just a reminder that the deadline is Monday. This is a hard deadline because I need to proofread and add the numbers from the central report before it goes to the client ok Tuesday lunchtime.”

            We’ve had a few times when an email has come out saying, “do this, deadline six weeks” with no context at all, and it’s really to know how to prioritise it. Sometimes I’ve done the task and it turned out they’ve forgotten they asked us to do it and it wasn’t that important after all because the conversation moved on. So I do appreciate a follow-up reminder to let me know that something is still important and whether the deadline is “because XYZ has to happen after that” or “deadline is a guideline only, let me know if you need to push it back.”

        2. ASGirl*

          Your version of what you want your manager to say is very gendered. Look at what she actually typed and if she was a male manager, would you have a problem with it? Women are advised not to be apologetic and passive in their written communication, this is hard for us to overcome because we are groomed to be this way since birth. You all are in your 40s and 50s so you need to recalibrate your train of thought that a woman being direct and matter of fact is not a bad thing.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Why do we? Who says our manager is right and we’re wrong, when our strategy gets results without pissing off our employees?

            All the last three male managers I’ve had I’ve had would have written the emails the same way I did, as would.( In fact, I used to coach my last male manager to be more direct! Sometimes he was sufficiently indirect I’d email back and ask him to clarify what he wanted us to do.)

            Generally, I think adding context and making sure people know when a deadline can be changed and when it can’t is a completely sensible and practical way to communicate and gets much better results than one that does neither.

          2. Kella*

            The problem in this example isn’t just directness or lack of apology.

            “I asked you to update the launchpad risk register by Monday 5pm. I see it hasn’t been done yet. Please make sure you meet the deadline.”

            If it’s not the deadline yet, and the employee doesn’t have a history of missing the deadline, then this message is useless. It’s like saying, “I asked you to come to work tomorrow. Please make sure you show up and do your job.” No new information has been contributed and there’s an implication that the employee wouldn’t do the basics of what is expected of them without this reminder.

            I’d say there is a more functional medium before the two examples given. If you can’t offer the flexibility of “Tuesday at the latest” or “let me know if you have problems with this deadline” you can still offer context for *why* you’re checking in, or clarify “Sometimes I’m able to offer flexibility but this is a hard deadline.”

        3. Bridget*

          I used to hate getting emails from my previous manager because she would end them with “Thanks.” and then just her signature block. Felt passive-aggressive every time. It sometimes was, to be fair, but she was just a very…un-emotive person? She was my age but she did not at all communicate like the typical millennial (too many exclamation points, etc). In fact I don’t think I saw her use an exclamation point the whole time I worked there. Baffling.

          1. Mid*

            That seems like a very normal way to end an email, so I’m very confused by your comment. Would you have felt the same way if your manager was a different age or gender?

          2. RAM*

            I used to have a manager that always did “Thanks…” in response to me. It was her style, because I often saw it on emails with others too, but her and I didn’t have the best relationship to begin with, so I always read it as sarcastic.

      2. catling*

        Maybe focus only on video chats for feedback for a while, until you both can better read each other? I’m ~1 yr into a promotion to manager overseeing new employees with a new boss of my own, and I’m still struggling to read the tone of my boss’ text and email messages, even after a year. I end up asking a lot of clarifying questions, and I just recently realized Boss frames directions as opinions (eg, I would means “you must”). My boss and I primarily communicate by text and less frequently.

        On the other hand, I was worried about communication with my team, so I do fairly frequent video calls and specifically said I would turn on my camera so they would read my facial expressions. I think that’s made it easier for my team to know how to read my comments.

      3. I Have RBF*

        I would say that for feedback conversations that it should be done by video chat in regular one on ones. Yeah, sure, if you need to drop a quick reminder about something in chat do it, but anything more substantive needs to be at least voice, if not video and voice. Tome is hard to write or read in text, but video makes it really plain. Annie is not getting the seriousness of your feedback, and is brushing it off as “nagging”.

        You will need to tell her, in a video meeting, that you will be reminding her of meetings and the need to be online until she consistently does these things, and will do them even without reminders. No softening, no apologies, just blunt statements of your intentions and expectations.

  13. Dust Bunny*

    Nope, this is her.

    Flexibility is great but it’s just not something you get to demand to the end of the earth when you’re new at the job/in your career and are still in a position to be managed by someone else (and sometimes you don’t get endless flexibility ever, depending on what you do). This sounds like someone with unrealistic expectations about workplace norms.

    I mean, she’s free to prize flexibility above all else, but maybe not at this job. But you owe here an in-person conversation before things go that far.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I also wonder if this is someone who is really, really, invested in the lack of structure that is implied with remote work, to the point that they’ve lost track of the fact that they’re part of a team and have a manager.

      1. Qwerty*

        That was my read, having run into a lot of that behavior in tech.

        If the company was really accomodating or hands off during the pandemic, it could have exacerbated the issue. We had a “do what you can” attitude for a while since schools were constantly closing / wanting people to rest up whenever sick / mental exhaustion from pandemic fear and sick relatives. The people who took the most advantage of that were the unencumbered, often inexperienced folks who didn’t have a baseline yet on what a full time career job entailed.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Flexibility can also very much be a privilege. If the agreement is “you can have flexibility but your calendar needs to be accurate, you need to be at meetings, and someone needs to be on call for these work critical tasks”, and you don’t follow through on your end of that, it’s reasonable for a manager to say “since we can’t get on the same page about these communications, I need to be able to expect you’re at your desk from 9-5”.

      The work needs to get done. It doesn’t sound like they’ve absorbed that they’re being paid to do a job.

      1. introverted af*

        Yeah, those are all very reasonable expectations for ‘flexibility’, especially if part of the role is to be on-call for various tasks. Having flexibility requires communication. It doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with no input from anyone else.

        1. OP*

          “Having flexibility requires communication.”

          This is the part she was missing. Someone else managed to explain it to her in a way that she understood it (I gather she was complaining about me insisting that she do it to them) and since then I have seen her be better at it.

          So sure, part of my job can be to explain why more clearly I ask for certain things in the future… but also, non-compliance if not understanding is not the appropriate response.

          1. higheredadmin*

            OP, this is not about you not explaining, it is about her not wishing to understand. If she can’t show up to stuff, which is a pretty basic job requirement, then she needs her (proverbial) bell rung. I don’t think she thinks you are serious, and the space provided by remote work only exacerbates that because it isn’t like she’s just sitting at her desk typing away while you are all heading to the meeting – who knows where she is. And following up means calling/texting/messaging. It’s a mess.

      2. I Have RBF*

        I need to be able to expect you’re at your desk from 9-5


        My workplace is remote first. However, we are expected to be online and available during core hours, and if we’re not our chat and calendar show us as OOO. Why? so people know that we are available to solve their problems – we’re IT!

        It comes down to both expectations and communication. If I’m going afk for lunch, I say so. Not all of my team does, unless they are gone for over an hour.

        But not showing up for meetings that otherwise have no conflict on your schedule and are during your expected work hours? No, that doesn’t fly.

        The only time I can dodge meetings like that is if I’m actively working on a high priority, time critical issue. Even then I am expected to drop a note “Working on XYZ outage” or “In a call with $InternalCustomer working on their XYZ problem” in the team chat or the meeting organizer’s email.

        The thing about making remote work successful is that you need to lean toward over-communicating, not under-communicating.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this. I mean, my job is very flexible. We have core hours 9-3 and are expected to note any absences longer than 15 minutes on our calendars during that period. But otherwise we can work pretty much whenever we want between 6 am and 11 pm. The main basic requirement is to show up to any meetings we’ve agreed to attend and inform people if we can’t because we’re sick or have a higher-priority conflict.

          We get flexibility because they trust that we’re professional adults who get our work done without constant supervision. In my particular job it helps that it requires very little synchronous collaboration, but I still have to let people know when I’m available.

          My manager’s also very accommodating with the timing for 1:1 meetings. I’m a morning person, usually at my desk by 7, sometimes earlier when I WFH, and usually by 8 if I go to the office (we’re hybrid). So my manager, who works at a regional office/WFH so that most of our meetings are on Teams regardless, knows that she can schedule a meeting with me before 9 am. But my close coworker who has the same job description has a later schedule by preference, and he can accommodate meetings after 4 pm. I usually stop working by 3.30 pm unless I have an urgent deadline (I work in government, not in the US, and my full workweek is 36.5 hours).

          I really like our manager, and I love the way she takes our preferences into account whenever she can, and she has a team of 20 to manage!

          But the absolutely non-negotiable prerequisite for all of this flexibility is that you don’t abuse it.

  14. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I think Annie also doesn’t understand the different between inputs and outputs. And I think OP could be more clear about that too.

    Annie’s working hours = input.
    Annie’s attendance at a meeting, fixing Joe’s problems, etc = outputs.

    OP starts those conversations with the inputs, and I think that’s where the “checking up on me” & mom comments come from. Because a mom saying to a teenager “Where are you? Why didn’t you answer the phone? Who else is there with you? When will you be home? When will you do X?” is a pretty common form of communication.

    As opposed to
    “Joe has been waiting over an hour for a fix. What’s the status/plan?” (Annie talks) “In the future, make sure your calendar settings are up to date so he’ll know if he needs to escalate to Wakeen in your absence.”
    “You compile the calibration report; you either need to attend the XYZ meeting every month to present it, or explain to me in advance if you’re overbooked and you need a backup”

    1. TraceMark*

      This is a helpful framing. I think I’ll keep it in mind as I give feedback to folks. Thanks!

    2. Sunshine's Eschatology*

      I think you’ve nailed it. To be clear, what I read in the post didn’t read as “Mom energy” at all to me, but I totally see the exasperated mom/sullen teenager interrogation dynamic when you framed it this way.

      I think this approach–starting with the concrete situation/issue and next steps–combined with Alison’s approach of holding these discussions in person will go a long way toward breaking out of this dynamic. Part of it will just be these particular employees getting experience in the working world too.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      Yes, I have found this useful when people aren’t as productive as they could or should be. If you are not getting the outputs you expect, the first place to look is the inputs. This method works pretty well. It also helps to identify things that are missing in a workflow.

    4. beanie gee*

      I love this framing – it’s way more direct and clear. We so often try to soften our hard conversations with politeness, but sometimes that softening also gives the tone “this isn’t important.”

  15. Lady CFO*

    OP, you say she wants flexibility with when and where she works, as long as her job is getting done and you know when she’s working.
    That isn’t happening.
    Have you considered putting her on “normal” work hours until she can correct the issues? I would absolutely put her on a PIP with standard hours a condition.

    1. Orange You Glad*

      This. Or as an alternative to a PIP, make these items part of Annie’s goals for the year (attending meetings, updating availability, responding to urgent requests within x mins, etc). Check in frequently on her status and tie it to her overall performance review.

      This would depend on how your company handles reviews/raises/etc but you could make it clear that her performance of these items is tied to her raise/bonus/advancement. Success at work is more than just output, even if that is what the company is more focused on.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, like, sure you can flex your time, but not to the extent that you get to decline all team meetings for a week… This is apparently not obvious to Annie, and probably needs spelling out. You need to skip here or there? Fine. You decide to never come? Not fine. Part of “getting the work done” is being present for that stuff, but Annie seems to not understand that.

  16. OhGee*

    OP, you’re *not* in a different generation from them! You’re literally all millennials. And I agree with Alison completely – this isn’t mom energy, it’s management.

  17. BellyButton*

    Something similar happened to me yesterday. An employee said “when you give me that look its like I disappointed my mom.” I said “I am not your mom, I am your manager.”

    1. Pippa K*

      “…and now I’m disappointed about two things.” Although I suppose diplomacy requires saying that part only to oneself.

    2. Rick Tq*

      “Your Mom is your mom forever. I am your manager and might terminate your employment here if you don’t shape up. Do you see the difference?”

      1. Ashley*

        This could be really problematic for many people to hear because it assumes traditional family dynamics. It is why the entire parental relationship should be removed from the office.

      2. FashionablyEvil*

        I think it’s important to really be judicious about threatening to fire someone. It can really put an employee on edge and isn’t something that should be said flippantly.

  18. Spearmint*

    Since Annie has been at the company for five years but only under the LW for two, I wonder if her previous manager(s) was extremely hands off and (overly?) flexible. If so, she may have a skewed view about what normal management is.

    Additionally, you say you work in tech, and I think that could exacerbate the issue. There is a bit of rebellious strain in parts of tech culture, a feeling that management and meetings are useless burdens on honest hardworking engineers. I wouldn’t say most people in tech are this way but it is a common view in my experience as someone who knows lots of people in tech. So she may have absorbed that viewpoint.

    Regardless, addressing this behavior is the best thing you can do for yourself and for her.

    1. OP*

      Astute! For about a year before I joined the team was sort of in limbo. That combined with the new remote possibilities during the pandemic – interesting. Might be a factor.

    2. TechWorker*

      Agree on the feeling of ‘meetings mean I can’t do my work’. Tbh I think when managing IC (in tech but maybe everywhere?) we do need to be aware that meetings break concentration. I’ve read that when you’re an IC your unit of time is half days or days, and when you’re a manager your unit of time is more like half hours or hours. Having done both there’s definitely truth to that! A half hour meeting in the middle of my afternoon of meetings, email and short review tasks is less disruptive than a half hour meeting in the middle of the afternoon when someone is working on something requiring deep concentration.

  19. Cheese*

    Anyone bringing the word “mom” or the concept of parenting into the workplace needs to reset their understanding of workplace norms and boundaries.

    I once had a colleague (another manager) say that he’d be happy to take over overseeing a female staff member whose boss had just left, saying “I’d be glad to manage her, she’s like a mom to me.”

    I stepped in and volunteered instead because that type of framing in a managerial relationship is just not appropriate, and I told him so!

  20. Emily*

    I’m the same age and also in tech and people seem to hate taking these kinds of direction from me, too. (It’s all men, though, in my case.) It’s frustrating. The thing that’s helped me is hearing from my leadership that they support me and having them talk me through tools for managing performance.

    1. Spearmint*

      It seems like a lot of people working in tech have a generalized resentment toward and lack of respect for managers (I know a lot of people in tech). I’m not exactly sure why, I haven’t seen similar attitudes in the fields I work in. It seems like it oriel be difficult to deal with as a manager.

      It’s not really a gendered thing either, though it certainly can be exacerbated by gender dynamics.

      1. Elle*

        To me, it must have something to do with how those companies treat their people, because the employees are seeing their direct managers as an extended arm of executive leadership.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I don’t work in tech but my social experience with people (mostly guys) who do is that they’re used to being the smartest people in the room and being allowed to skirt the rules. Having a manager puts that in check.

        1. Qwerty*


          Additionally, a lot of those smart people got through school without putting much effort into the things they didn’t value. It is possible to skip all the lectures for a college class and still pass by doing well on the coding projects* They end up thinking work will be the same way where their code should be the most important if not the only important thing, so they disregard meetings, updating status trackers, interactions with team members, etc

          *Often this involves notes from a female classmate or having a team member on the project who actually goes to lecture, but that gets disregarded

      3. Tau*

        I’m a dev, and a situation that seems to go badly a lot (and is what most of the complaints about bad management I’ve seen were about) is technical staff under a non-technical manager. There are genuine issues that can arise when the person telling you what to do doesn’t actually understand what it is you do and how it works. Tech can be extremely nonintuitive in terms of effort required, timelines, trade-offs, risks and benefits, etc., and non-technical managers can easily make decisions that are based on faulty assumptions and clearly bone-headed from the technical side of things, or start doubting their technical staff’s assessment because it’s so counterintuitive. I’ve been lucky enough not to have to deal with that – my managers have all been great, and also from a technical background – but even I’ve seen e.g. sales signing a contract promising to deliver a feature that is actually 100% impossible to implement, having breezily claimed to the client that we’ve done this in the past without bothering to actually check with the tech team. It’s easy to get sour in a situation like that; let it go on long enough unchecked, and you’ve got yourself a toxic adversarial us-vs-them attitude in your tech team which the individual members will likely carry on to their next job.

        I mean, and some people are full of themselves and don’t respect anyone coming from a non-technical background. That is definitely also a thing that happens! But to me it feels like the reason tech workers often end up so anti-management is more complex.

        Not sure any of this is relevant to OP, mind you.

        1. I Have RBF*

          I’ve been in tech for going on 25 years as an AFAB, and in tech adjacent male dominated fields before that. Along with the stuff that you bring up there are people who act like in order to be “truly technical” you need to have an outie below the belt, not an innie. Plus, those people assigned as female are regularly shunted aside into non-technical roles, or talked over, or gaslighted, or bullied by the “ninja rockstar 10x programmer” types whose shit doesn’t stink that get promoted to “manager”. (Yes, I’m cynical and salty. 25 years as an IC AFAB who still gets talked over by men in meetings gets very, very old.)

          IMO, there are four rough types of managers in tech.
          1. The worst is non-technical, and no management skills either. These people’s only talent seems to be sucking up to upper management and taking a dump on their direct reports.
          2. Next are the ones who have technical chops but lack management skills. These types you have to use solely technical justifications for anything and they suck at coaching and appraisals.
          3. The third type is non-technical, but has good management skills. Sometimes they can be reasoned with and can make allowances for what they don’t know.
          4. The fourth kind is a joy to have – both current on the technical side, but has also developed the very different management skills, and puts them both to work. These folks are rare.

  21. cactus lady*

    As an almost 40-year old woman, I am trying to imagine what I would say to an employee who said “yes, mom” to me, and I am coming up blank. What should that conversation look like?

    (I’ve never been in this position but now I want to be prepared just in case)

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Excuse me? That’s inappropriate. I am not your mother, I am your manager, and I expect us to speak to each other like professionals.”

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I said “I’m sure I must have misheard that. Say again?” Strangely, it sounded very different the second time.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      It’s definitely a bring the thunder type of situation, even if you just put out a low growl. Something like: “It’s very important for me to stress that you do not automatically compare women to traditional roles like that, or imply that you can dismiss what a female boss is saying. Also, any kind of muttering or retort to your boss is likely to make you look unprofessional and be a pretty big deal if you allow it to become a habit”.

  22. Sleepy Snoopy*

    Yeeeeeeah. This needs to be nipped in the bud now. It sounds like this “mom energy” idea Annie has is slowly spreading to other workers (Jane for the moment). If not managed now, you could have a whole group of workers who have decided that they don’t like your “mom energy.”

    I don’t think you’re giving off that vibe, FWIW, it does sound like you are just trying to manage them.

  23. Looper*

    My blood is boiling after reading this letter. Your team sees you as “mom” because they are wildly immature and clearly have never faced consequences before. Stop managing feelings and start thinking repercussions. State the expectation and then follow through on consequences when they aren’t met. You’re letting the clowns run the circus, time to take control.

  24. Catwhisperer*

    +1 to all of the comments that this is primarily Annie’s issue and a combination of sexism and ageism. However, one thing I noticed is that you paired a very upbeat greeting (and exclamation point) with very direct/critical feedback. I can see someone bristling at that because it could be read as pretending to be upbeat as a formality while actually being irritated. I think a lot of us (women) are taught to hide our anger from behind a smile and told we need to pepper our work comms with more explanation points, but when other women do this to us it comes across as insincere. I wouldn’t exactly call that “mom energy,” though, and I don’t think it’s particularly useful to focus on your tone when the issue seems to be more that Annie does not like being held accountable for her actions.

    1. saskia*

      A greeting is often just a formality. If that’s this manager’s style, the employees should get used to it. I’ve had much brusquer managers than this. And I doubt these unprofessional employees would appreciate the more straightforward approach; likely, they’d just see it as rude.

      Plus, if I saw someone IRL for the first time that day, I’d say hi before being like, “why weren’t you at the meeting?” Perhaps online comms are different, but I think it’s just a personal preference at that point.

      …a personal preference the manager gets to have, not the underlings :)

      1. Catwhisperer*

        Oh I agree 100% that it comes down to personal preference, which is why I don’t think it’s as helpful to focus on when the bigger issue is Annie’s lack of accountability.

        At the end of the day, even if a manager does something irritating and grating, it’s on the employee to listen and respond to the feedback. It seems to me that Annie doesn’t understand that she can feel however she wants about feedback, but that at the end of the day her manager’s expectations need to be met.

      2. allathian*

        Eh, certainly the manager gets to have comms preferences, but a good manager will take their reports’ preferences into account as well. Judging by the OP’s comments here, it seems like the OP isn’t getting any pushback from Annie in their video meetings. To ensure effective communication, the OP probably needs to do more video meetings with Annie than with other reports who don’t have this issue with chat.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      It *is* a formality, but not a bad one. It’s the happy medium between people who say “hi” in a chat and won’t say anything else until you respond vs people who just immediately launch into what they need from you without bothering to engage in any niceties. This is LW balancing the two. It’s probably going to irritate someone, but that’s because there is no perfect way of communicating that won’t irritate someone out there. “Happy Monday! Why weren’t you at the llama grooming meeting?” is better than “Happy Monday!” (wait for response) or “Why weren’t you at the llama grooming meeting?” on its own.

  25. Urka*

    I once had a client ask if I was an employee’s mother because he thought we looked alike, and she looked very young. When I told him no, he replied with, “oh, well you’re acting like her mother.”

    And so I found myself explaining to a 65 year old man that no, I was acting like her manager, and those are two different things, even though I was a 32 year old woman.

    People are so sexist about this.

  26. Book lover*

    Based on the headline, I was expecting a very different question. “Mom energy” to me means, “Is everybody doing okay? Who needs snacks? Everybody remember to use the bathroom before we left? Make good choices!” I’m a woman who has to actively fight that kind of mom energy in my own management style.

    Agreed with everyone here that “You miss meetings and fail to communicate with your colleagues about your availability, leaving them in the lurch” is definitely managing, not momming. Annie is way — manipulatively — out of line.

    1. Observer*

      LOL! Yes, I know people who do the stuff in your first paragraph. It’s only when those people are also really good at their jobs that people look the other way, in my experience.

  27. DomaneSL5*

    I willing to bet Annie is WFH. I have a feeling I am going to get pushback on this, but that maybe needs to change. You said you are fine with her working wherever, but it seems she isn’t working at all. I think you need to have a serious conversation about expectations of when she is working. A PIP would not be out of the question here. I would probably do a write up the next time she doesn’t keep her calender/schedule current with you. I would like to think that a write up would do the trick and get Annie inline, but I think you will probably end up doing a PIP. I really hope Annie turns it around.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      Even if she is WFH and doesn’t have an office to come in to (this is the case with my organization), I think revoking her “flexible time” that she’s been having is a reasonable way to reset. I think most places would say you need to earn that, to start with, and that working when you want but still getting your deliverables done does actually include attending meetings and jumping on urgent issues. If I were managing her, I’d start with that and move to a PIP pretty quickly if that didn’t resolve the situation.
      You can sit down with her and say, here are the core hours. You are expected to be online during these times, and that means attending these meetings, all the time, unless you have cleared it with me first to not attend. That means being responsive to emails in a reasonable amount of time. That means responding to IMs in a reasonable amount of time. That means understanding the urgency of issues like X and discussing with me if you need to reprioritize work/meetings to address the urgent issue. I should not wonder where you are. Being away from your desk for a short period of time is fine. Being away for around a half hour at lunch is fine. But not responding to an I’m for over 1.5 hrs is not. (Obviously fill in your own specifics, these are just examples).
      And then in like 6 months you can maybe look at how she’s doing and slowly add in flexibility (one day a week at a time?) if it seems like she’s understanding her job better and has a plan for how to be flexible and also responsive to the meetings and needs of coworkers.

    2. AD*

      Let’s not do this. There are thousands of examples of employees who are in-office who are not good at communication or who have all kinds of performance issues. This blog has been covering that for over 15 years!

      A remote team or WFH isn’t the problem — OP says as much in other comments here. Annie is the issue, and yes, OP needs to address that with her directly.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Seriously. Making someone come in to an office, along with a manager, to address a manager’s inability to manage them remotely is not a solution.

        Yes, managing remotely is slightly different – you manage much more for results than presence. But there are ways to handle availability expectations, and the OP is trying to do that.

    3. ThatGirl*

      The position is literally remote. I don’t think there’s an office for Annie to report to, and I don’t think that’s really a solution anyway.

  28. Justin*

    This is absolutely sexist, as mentioned.

    And I hope no one gets all Kids These Days. I do think that there’s sort of a “what I would like if I were the emperor” and “what I need to be supported and included” thing I’ve noticed of late – from people of all ages, relax – like, I personally believe that almost all hierarchies lead to problems. But I am not going to take that deep-seated belief and apply that to disrespecting my professional superiors because it’s useful to, you know, have a job. People I know (which, as someone with research skills, I know is not representative data) really do seem to be conflating things like “we should all have a living wage and health care and parental leave and ability to choose our workplace” with “I do not have to abide by any professional standards” and it’s odd. And again, it ain’t just young folks.

    Anyway, yes, OP you’re going to have to push harder on them, as Alison said. They’re going to whine at happy hour to their friends but if they want to be able to afford them, they’re going to have to learn to engage differently and actually attend meetings.

  29. Observer*

    Annie prizes flexibility in when and where she works above all else,

    That’s all good and fine. But what she’s expecting is not flexibility, but the ability to ignore any obligations to others and sort of commitment or reasonable communications.

    And you only get a high level of flexibility (assuming that the job allows for it) once you’ve proved that you can handle it, while being reasonably responsive, communicative and cooperative. She’s none of that.

    I think it’s worth calling this out when you have the big picture conversation.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. People who value flexibility go out of their way to prove they can be trusted with it.

      1. I Have RBF*


        One way they demonstrate that ability to be trusted with it is with consistent communication about when they are available, plus meeting all of the obligations of their job, including attending meetings.

        I am fully remote. In any week I have from four to twenty hours of meetings. Some of those meetings are “working meetings”, when the team actually works on things as a group to solve problems. If I stopped showing up I’d be out on my ass.

      2. allathian*


        I have lots of flexibility, but I don’t skip meetings I’ve agreed to attend unless it’s an emergency, like I’m sick or have a sudden urgent task that has a higher priority than the meeting.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Right. My job has a high level of flexibility, my last one was really flexible, and I can’t even imagine missing more than a meeting or two in a couple of months. Flexibility does not equal skipping meetings, I don’t know where she got that idea. I mean, my goodness, my boss wouldn’t care if I went to get a pedicure at 2pm but she would certainly care if I skipped a necessary meeting because of it.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        That seems so obvious to me, but as I think about it I wonder if that’s not obvious at all to these people in their first jobs. Especially if their previous manager didn’t care (which I’m guessing based on context clues). It might need to be made explicit.

  30. Artemis*

    I don’t know why I never realized that feeling frustrated was a consequence for *me* and not for the people who need to change their behavior. It was just one line in Alison’s response, but I just completely reframed how I feel about my workplace at the moment.

    1. Violet Evergreen*

      I find it very funny bc anytime I am doing the right thing but creating friction as a result of how I go about it, I’m like, *shrug*. Like, ok, I needed to step in, I know you don’t like it, but I’m correcting things you missed. If *I’m* missing things, let’s talk about that, but you being frustrated is not enough for me to change what I am doing.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        It depends on who is frustrated. My direct manager, who controls things like my salary and how much autonomy and flexibility I get in my work – I CARE if she’s frustrated, and am likely to try to resolve that relatively quickly. Working in HR some people are frustrated with me a lot of the time for really bad reasons, and those I can ignore. I’m not sure these women have enough experience to make decisions with that nuance – if they did, I’d expect OP to be on their list of “people not to annoy”.

        1. Violet Evergreen*

          “My direct manager, who controls things like my salary and how much autonomy and flexibility I get in my work – I CARE if she’s frustrated”

          Well, but even then, the advice to OP should be, “Tie raises and flexibility to outcomes, not to your frustration.” I’m sure it is frustrating for OP to repeatedly check up on Annie bc Joe is complaining about the delay. But the problem is that Joe can’t do his work while he waits on Annie, not that OP is frustrated. And for Annie/you, she/you should care that Joe is impacted, not that her/your manager is frustrated.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            In my particular case, I’m usually correct (I have a specialized knowledge my boss does not) and she needs to be brought around, but I’m more willing to go through the process of coming around with her because I know there’s a final impact on me that is somewhat based on her subjective evaluation.

            I agree the advice for OP is outcomes not feelings, but harkening back to Alison’s point about frustration being an outcome for you and not the people you manage I think it’s important to call out it can be both, if you don’t get a rein on it.

  31. Madame X*

    Annie has done a good job of undermining your authority to the point that you are now questioning your own managing style. The problem is Annie, not you. Based on the few excerpts of how you communicate with her via I.M. you are professional and giving clear directions about what she should be doing. It’s quite remarkable that Annie seems completely unfazed by your repeated warnings, which is why a larger conversation about Ani’s work habits needs to happen. In this conversation, you should be clear with Annie what will be the consequences if she does not meet your expectations.

  32. The Baconing*

    I’m reminded of something a manager told me when I first started working after I had to be corrected on something and ended up feeling betrayed by my manager. They told me, “I’m your manager, that means I can’t always be your friend.”

    It’s a hard lesson to learn when you’re first entering the workforce, but it’s something that I kept in mind since then. Much later in life, I had a fantastic manager who would say, “Call me the Godmother because it’s nothing personal, it’s business.”

    I can’t help but wonder if these inexperienced workers, in addition to never having experienced a female authority figure other than their mother before now, are also taking things much more personally than intended. If so, it might help to include language explaining that these corrective/coaching measures aren’t personal but a way to help them grow in their career, which is part of what a good manager does. It might help them to reframe how they receive OP’s coaching?

    1. GreenShoes*

      Ironically my mom always told me something similar “I’m your mom, not your friend” Even more ironically I did in fact have a boss at one point that reminded me very much of my mom (although I would have never said anything to that affect)

      But, yeah, I think at the age of Annie and Jane and without a lot of work experience they are mistakenly equating their boss to their mom as an authority figure. There seems to be a dash of petulance thrown in that’s reminiscent of teen rebellion thrown into the mix as well.

      I did see a later comment from the OP that someone else managed to explain the same thing that she was trying to with better success. I think I would try to use that as a jumping off point for a larger communication discussion and that terms like ‘mom energy’ are just not on in the workplace and will trash the person’s credibility more than they know.

  33. Red5*

    I’ve actually had older coworkers try to “parent” me in the workplace when I was younger, but given the OP’s descriptions of how she’s interacting with Annie, this ain’t it. These coworkers would refer to me as “young lady.” They would remind me about personal or work-adjacent things that I didn’t need reminding about, like, “Don’t forget to pack your steel-toed boots for your work trip,” and, “Remember that you need to bring your laptop.” They would even give me directions for my personal life, like, “Make sure you call your mom for mother’s day.” That’s what inappropriate “parenting” in the workforce looks like, not communicating work needs and holding people accountable for their performance.

  34. Garblesnark*

    This made me think of a funny work story. One day in my pretty-professional office, I went to wash my mug at the end of the day. When I got back to my desk, the coworker who sits next to me (and we’re both hourly, so we usually walk out together) had packed my work bag and was holding my coat out to help me put my arms in the sleeves. I guess she was ready to go. It’s the only time I’ve ever called someone mom in a work setting.

  35. LawBee*

    A thing about consequences when you have that face to face meeting: address the workflow consequences of “if you are not at this meeting then xyz cannot happen and the negative impact on abc is this” as well as the personal consequences of “therefore you are expected to attend the meetings on your calendar, period. If you cannot commit to this, after having been told several times, you will be put on a PIP” copy/replace with the actual issues and outcomes.

    Sometimes new employees don’t know WHY they have to attend a meeting that they don’t see the relevance to their job. And they resent what they see as an imposition on “their time”.

    And +1 to the commenter upstream who suggested framing the mom discussion as Annie being childlike, not OP being absolutely normal and managing like a manager.

  36. Momma Bear*

    When I first read this I thought it was going to be more of the “always have a cough drop and a band-aid” kind of office mom stuff. Annie is skipping meetings, not being responsive to her work, and not letting you know her hours or work location. She might “prefer” to do whatever wherever but this clearly isn’t working for you or the company. To leave someone “on read” for an hour and a half and nobody knows where she is? Sounds like someone who hasn’t earned WFH privileges. Were she my employee, she’d be required to be back in the office most of the time if not FT unless this improves pronto. No way should Annie continue to be allowed to skip out on meetings the whole week. I agree she’s being insubordinate and abusing WFH. Her attitude is problematic but her professional behavior is worse. She doesn’t like your tone because you’re legitimately unhappy with her attention to work.

    If you don’t do one-on-one meetings, OP, I’d consider instituting them regularly, even if they are not long. This puts you in front of everyone equally, too, so Annie and Jane can’t say they’re the only ones being called to the carpet. If Annie has a good reason for missing meetings (or you have a good reason she attend them) hash it out in person or at least in a video call. I’d also address the “yes, mom” thing with Jane directly. Wow.

    There are a lot of hardworking younger people, and then there are those like Annie and Jane who need to be reminded that some office norms do still exist.

    1. Momma Bear*

      To add, OP said, “that’s not acceptable.” I think the follow up in person is what comes next, like a PIP. Be clear in the consequences. She’ll lose her flexibility? She’ll lose some key work projects because she can’t be relied on to be available? If she doesn’t like it and balks/moves on, that’s on her. But I think the consequences of these actions needs to be laid out or she’ll continue to ignore OP and do whatever she wants.

      1. OP*

        And I need to get clear with my own manager and with HR what kind of consequences I have available. Our culture is so flexible that it would be really unusual to tell someone they need to start working 9 to 5! As Alison said so well, right now the consequence is that I get frustrated *facepalm*

        1. Tracy Flick*

          If your culture is that flexible, how far outside of norms is Annie’s behavior? It sounds like you see a very clear distinction between her level of ‘flexibility’ and everyone else’s, but would she agree? Have other employees demonstrated similar behaviors? If so, how was that handled?

          1. OP*

            We all have this flexibility, but she does take advantage of it more often than most. The issue is in not showing up for meetings she’s accepted, for example, and not letting us know; or being off work sick without having told anyone (which was the case in the third example!).

            I can only recall very sporadic one-off instances of others missing meetings without warning. They are a pretty reliable bunch!

            1. StressedButOkay*

              There’s a difference between having the flexibility and abusing it. Unfortunately, she’s really hitting that line – or has gone over. I think it’s time for stronger language?

              “As you know, the company values giving flexibility to everyone but I need you to be accountable. I need you to make sure you’re attending the meetings you need to be in, calling out of work when you can’t make it, and whatever else she’s not doing. This is a requirement of the job and you need to make sure you’re hitting those marks, same as everyone else. If not, we’ll need to take a look at restructuring the flexibility you have until we can see an improvement.”

              That benefit is a nice bonus but if someone is taking advantage of it to the point they’re missing meetings, there has to be something that can be done to restrict the benefit!

            2. I Have RBF*

              Flexibility does not mean blowing off work obligations without a real reason. Flexibility means that they can vary their hours around their workplace obligations, which in this case include attending scheduled meetings and being available when people need their services.

              My job is fairly flexible. I can take a two hour lunch – as long as I let people know and don’t miss a scheduled meeting. I can push back on 8 am meetings, because I start working at 9 and have consistently for nearly a year. But I don’t accept them and just not show, I decline with a reason, eg “I start at 9 am”, “Sorry, I’m scheduled to be out that morning for an appointment”, “Sorry, I’m on vacation that week, can we reschedule” or even “Sorry, I have another meeting scheduled at that time”. IMO, remote workers need to default to more communication, not less.

            3. New Jack Karyn*

              Sounds like she has less of a flexibility issue than a communication issue. I think that’s where your focus should lie when you speak with her. ”

              If you’re out sick, you must let me know so I can make sure nothing falls through the cracks. If you have to miss a meeting you already said Yes to, give me a heads-up. These are the expectations in this role, and I need you to meet them.”

        2. Observer*

          I’d say that the starting point would be more supervision, less flexibility and less desirable projects.

          Unfortunately, you need to be comfortable with the real possibility that this might wind up actually managing her out. Not that you should lead with that, or that it is necessarily the most outcome. But framing it that way in your head, and thinking about what point it becomes too much work to manager vs what she brings to the table will help you to frame it to her with the seriousness and work impact – to the team and *to her* – that she needs to hear.

      2. Violet Evergreen*

        “She’ll lose some key work projects because she can’t be relied on to be available?”

        That’s a pretty big consequence. People don’t want to work with unreliable people. A new to the workforce person might not realize this, though. Is there a way for OP to spell this out? The other side of this, though, is for OP to consider which parts of Annie’s working style don’t cause friction with others. If literally nobody cares that Annie misses meetings (for example) except OP, maybe OP should let that go. Joe constantly waiting an hour for Annie to respond is a thing that I am guessing Joe, and the people who depend on him, care very much about. That is something that OP can explain will hurt Annie in the long run.

  37. Master Procrastinator*

    I agree with what Alison says about it being a problematic framing with bonus internalised misogyny – ultimately, an Annie problem. And equally, I wonder whether it might be worth looking at the Transactional Analysis “Parent Adult Child” model of communication (not sure if links are allowed but easily findable online including leadership resources). Ideally, in leadership/management, as with peer to peer communication, interactions would be Adult-Adult, not Parent-Child. That requires both parties to develop an awareness of when they’re being pulled into a state of being that’s an echo of the past, either in a parental or a childlike role. And crucially, it also requires both to respond from a place of rational adult responsibility. Annie isn’t fulfilling that part of the brief by failing to keep others updated about their plans or bowing out of required meetings without an explanation. If you buy into TA theory, one person’s ego state can trigger a response from the other’s corresponding state, i.e. “rebellious child” behaviour in an employee might invoke a “critical parent” response in OP, and vice versa. If I’m honest, I read the content of the messages to Annie as reasonable in content, but maybe a bit “parental” in tone by the time OP sent their final, understandably frustrated message. Different but related example – I’d get frustrated as a manager when direct reports would expect me to solve problems or do things for them that they were more than capable of doing themselves. On a good day, I’d respond in a way that sought to engage their Adult competence and push their questions back to them (which usually worked well). On a bad day, I’d find my parents’ words flying out of my mouth, and would sometimes need to approach them later from a more present place to move things forward. I’m not suggesting this in order to legitimise Annie’s response to OP’s requests, but offering a framework in case it’s useful. I think hierarchical environments can bring out patterns of behaviour and communication that we’ve picked up from our family culture and that it can be worth unpacking this. None of that makes it ok for an employee to disparagingly say “yes mom” under their breath (though this is a great example of communication that’s far from Adult!)

    1. Master Procrastinator*

      A follow-up point – I can imagine disagreement about how to read the tone of OP’s messages to Annie. I think we infer a lot about tone in emails, IMs etc. and it can get messy. In my ideal world, performance issues would be raised face to face (including video call). But I appreciate that when an employee isn’t responsive, we need to work with what we’ve got!

      1. OP*

        I personally value feedback being given as close as possible to the event, and it’s unusual in our work culture to hop on a quick call unless it’s for hands-on work, so I would use chat for small things (like the first chat example). If I wait until the next one on one, that could be four weeks if one of us cancels one.

        In the second two examples, I didn’t have an option for face to face, since she wasn’t online – though I could have stuck to the question “where are you?” and raised the feedback later. Probably a good idea.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          You can always give less charged feedback in the moment and address the pattern in a one-on-one.

          So the first message is fine, the second message becomes:
          “Are you working? I didn’t see an out of office and had expected you at the meeting. Keep me in the loop if something came up.”

          And the third message becomes:
          “Joe just told me X is broken and he’s been waiting to hear from you, what’s going on?”

          And then in person you bring it back to “I’ve noticed communication issues over the last couple of weeks, here are my expectations and things like leaving Joe waiting and missing meetings are not acceptable. We’re going to have to revisit the flexibility of your schedule if I can’t rely on you to keep up your end of the bargain.”

          Of course you can give corrective feedback in the moment like if they say they weren’t working while Joe was waiting you can say “it’s important to keep your calendar up to date so this doesn’t happen”, but when you say things like “we’ve talked about this more than once” you’re addressing the pattern and that should happen face to face.

        2. Violet Evergreen*

          It might be unusual to hop on a quick call, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. If your video calls go better than texts, start quick video calls instead.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes — “give me a call when you have a minute this morning.” Or, “Let’s jump on a quick call — do you have a minute right now?”

        3. Book lover*

          Thanks for the context, OP. This also raised a question for me in Alison’s response. She said that these things should be addressed in a meeting, but in some settings that meeting might not happen for a day or more. That, to me, is a long, awkward gap.

        4. Master Procrastinator*

          I can see how that would make things tricky. And you mentioned that Annie responds better on video calls than via IM, so I think there’s useful info in that observation. I’m a fan of the ‘asking the question/flagging that there’s a problem is necessary via messaging but giving feedback & discussing performance in a meeting’ format. It seems like there might be a need for some expectation management about boundaries, different management styles and responsibilities/consequences. I wonder whether Annie’s first experience of being managed was more hands-off and they’ve framed that as the norm? Though regardless of the ‘why’, they need to know it’s time to step up and what will happen if they don’t. Good luck with a frustrating situation OP!

        5. Observer*

          and it’s unusual in our work culture to hop on a quick call unless it’s for hands-on work

          Culture is not a rule that must always be followed. This is as good a time as any to not follow the culture. To be honest, my first thought when I read this line was “And is it the culture to blow off meetings and not respond when people need things?” The culture you describe works for normal performance, but not necessarily for inappropriate behavior.

          Also, there is nothing that keeps you from putting a meeting invite on her calendar and when she either declines or fails to respond in a timely fashion, tell her that this meeting is not optional. If she has a reason to not accept the meeting, she needs to clear it with you and propose a new time that’s within a fairly close time frame.

        6. I Have RBF*

          Until Annie manages to pull it together, I suggest weekly one on ones, by video. It needs to be a recurrent meeting on her and your calendar. I have heard this recommended for all employees, although how often tends to vary from culture to culture.

          Then again, I prefer weekly one on ones as a subordinate, because then I can check my non-standard perceptions of events with my manager, and get their perspective on things that I may not have.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This might be a controversial statement, but I think this is why people need a bitching friend at work.

      Ideally, someone on your same level. There is no one on my level, I’m a department of one, so mine tends to be my boss who I have a very respectful peer-like relationship with. We both speak more harshly to each other about someone who is causing problems than we will to that person themselves. The content doesn’t change, just the tone. That steam valve is incredibly valuable in keeping our heads when we actually have to handle a situation and to keep the stakes clear to each other as well.

      For some people it’s a co-manager, or someone in an unrelated department, or something else completely. But it helps you let go of that initial reaction and frame a more professional conversation with the person who needs to hear it.

  38. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

    Wow. How embarrassing for them. I would have been like, stop there, let’s clarify that I am not your mom and you need to stop viewing me that way. If you can’t, then maybe this isn’t the job for you.

    1. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

      I have dealt with people who saw everything as about them. They didn’t/couldn’t see the bigger picture and their role in it. I had to break it down and go top to bottom and bottom to top to explain this is where you fit and when you don’t do your part, here is the impact it has everywhere else. I ended it with, if this doesn’t work for you, then maybe this isn’t the job for you, and they left for grad school 6 months later.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      “If you can’t, then maybe this isn’t the job for you.”

      I’d go so far as to say if you can’t then you will find work to be difficult at any employer as you will always have a manager who’s job it absolutely is to direct your work.

  39. SnickerdoodleSandwich*

    I’m a woman in tech and spent several years as a manager in a company with young engineers with sexist undercurrents. I’ve also gotten the “mom” comments, usually when I was asking about an unexpected feature delay or following up on something that was dropped.

    The first time, I let it go because I was shocked. I’m about as motherly as a sack of rocks. But I knew it would happen again, so I spent time thinking of how to respond in the moment. The next time a comment was made I made direct eye contact and said “Excuse me. I am a manager, not your mother. That is a sexist comment, and I do not want to hear anything like it again.” There is a strong undercurrent of sexism in tech and having it explicitly named in the moment made the perpetrator very uncomfortable rather than all the discomfort sitting on me. So LW, I advise thinking specifically about how you want to respond in the moment if it happens again. Letting it go makes it more likely to repeat, but it’s hard to have a response in the moment.

    About the performance issues with meeting attendance, I’ve had this issue with engineers as well. The most effective means for me to address it was to outline that I wanted them to be able to flex their work hours and I had no desire to micromanage their time, but if they continued to not meet team obligations, they would need to commit to a set schedule. One time that worked, one time it led to a PIP that resulted in them being fired.

    If your management has your back, focus on outlining expectations and consequences and following through. Just also be prepared that in a sexist culture this might result in a move from being labeled a Mom to be labeled a “B”, which would also need to be addressed. Should that happen? no. Does it still? yes.
    I’ve seen it change a lot in the past 10 years though.

    1. OP*

      The endless following up on Things That Are Delayed, that sure strikes a chord! Brava to you for having your response ready to go.

  40. H.Regalis*

    You’re acting like her manager, not her mom; and she’s being a sexist jerk about it. “Let people know if you change your schedule” is not an unreasonable request.

    I’m in a position where I can flex my hours a lot, and do, and I put in my calendar and chat status when I’m gone and when I’ll back so that if something goes haywire, people aren’t waiting on a response from me thinking I’m at work when I’m not.

  41. ijustworkhere*

    Can I just say that Allison’s response to this letter writer is a perfect example of why I love this forum? I am so thankful for her professionalism and straight talk!

  42. Flowers*

    no this is…no.

    your boss is not your mom or dad. or your sister or your brother. or your future sex partner/romantic prospect.

    although – my coworkers have an inside joke that one of the partners gives them “daddy issues” because he’s incredibly finicky and detail oriented. He’s close to the same age as us. And I won’t lie – when I heard my boss talk to a coworker about a mistake he made, I got secondhand “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed” vibes and felt awful. I’ve also had my friends (who do not work here) jokingly call him “office dad” because he’s so wonderful based on the things I’ve said – I don’t think of him like that though!

  43. Usually lurking*

    This is so funny to me because I have almost the exact opposite issue. I’m 43 and a mom and I get so frustrated when the younger members of my team seem to want me to behave in “mom” ways. We have some that like to be walked through things and will not make any judgment calls without asking if it’s okay. I frequently get annoyed that I spend more time walking them through basic everyday tasks and thought processes than my actual kid!

  44. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Oh this old chestnut.

    I’m an over 40, childfree, female IT manager and yes I’ve absolutely had the ‘yes mum’ comments. I do not find them funny.

    In all cases it’s been after I’ve told someone they are doing something wrong or reprimanding them for not doing their job. Here’s an example of a retort from me:

    ‘I’m not your mother and don’t ever refer to me as such again. The issue here is that you’ve missed all the team meetings and been uncontactable during a major service outage with no reason. If this continues we’ll have to rescind your work from home privileges’

  45. Juniper*

    It also sounds like part of the problem is that Annie doesn’t understand what flexibility means in a professional setting. I’ve had this mean varying things but there were always minimum requirements.
    1) core hours are 10 am to 3 pm. You could work 10-6 or 7-3 etc with most people working 8-4 or 9-5. Additional flexibility came in where you could go to doctors appointments and use “Flex Time” where you could use times you worked late against the time you needed a doctors appointment instead of using a sick day.
    2) I had clients. I had to see X number of clients a week as assigned by my agency (equalling 20 hours of clients a week, plus about 10 hours of paperwork and 5 hours of “other” stuff – research, whatever). I could book this whenever I wanted starting at 8 am and ending at 8 pm. I cools change it at will and not tell anyone. I could stock pile 4 days and take off a Friday. The fact I could change it willy nilly and not say anything because my work was client based and the understanding was that if anyone needed me, it was standard to understand everyone’s schedules were different and peoples work didn’t depend on me.

    I’ve never heard of a situation where you can do things like just not show up, miss meetings, etc. it sounds like OPs work is more like my first example and the employee is not understanding that. I wonder if there are other performance issues (eg missing deadlines), as some of what OP says indicates it might be a wider problem than this person mom-ifying her.

    1. CanRelate*

      This is exactly what I was feeling as I read through this and the comments. Remote work and flexibility doesn’t mean no one knows where you are for multiple hours. The amount of actual tracking you need to do depends on the culture, but this employee is proving that they cannot handle flexibility on multiple occasions.

      My rule with my own teams has always been, if it’ll be longer than an hour you need to let the team know and have a status up. Everyone has their own individual core hours (because we are a time zone spanning team) and you of course have to make it to meetings. I found more clearly spelling out the boundaries of what I need from people helps employees not get too far off track, but also helps them relax and not tell me every time they need to go to the bathroom.

      It seems like there’s a ton of projection here on Annie’s part, and they sound like a person who has had trouble with accepting general authority. If she’s been getting away with this for 5 years, part of the distortion might be she continues to hear that this is a problem, but suffer no real world consequences. She’s filed this under “Nagging” and you need to make it more clear that this is under “professional feedback that without improvement, will lead to termination”

      1. OP*

        I think setting clearer boundaries for her is a good idea. “More than an hour afk” sounds like an excellent start.

        1. I Have RBF*

          As an individual with a flexible WFH job, “More than an hour afk” is the standard we use in my team.

          This came into play recently when I had Covid, and was essentially working half days and sleeping the rest. If I had to bail during my usual hours I had to put myself as OOO on my calendar and on chat. This is not unreasonable, although my brain fog was bad enough that I wasn’t always consistent with it.

  46. Kevin Sours*

    One thing that stood out:
    “Good morning! Are you working? If yes, attending meetings is part of that”

    This suggests attending meetings is optional if you aren’t working. Which is okay for some meetings but in general the expectation with flexible schedules is that you *are working* when there are meeting to attend.

    Sounds like you may need to have a serious conversation about how flexible schedules are a privilege and if she doesn’t manage hers you are going to have to make it less flexible.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Mm that’s a good point. I don’t have an explicit flexible schedule, but the basic expectations of my job are that I attend meetings and get my work done, and that my calendar reflects if I’m not around during the general 9-5 window. Otherwise yeah, I consider my schedule fairly flexible – no one’s looking over my shoulder, for sure. I wonder if OP and her reports are on different pages about those expectations.

    2. OP*

      Yeah, we are super flexible and it’s not even a problem if she misses a meeting, especially the recurring ones, because she’s got an appointment. It’s just that I need to know.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        I agree with Kevin.

        This may be part of the problem specific to meeting attendance. You may be unintentionally coming across as they are optional all together.

        As in well if its’ no big deal that I miss them because I have a conflict or I’m flexing my time, then I obviously don’t need to be in them at all.

        For example I’m in the office M/F and work from home the other days. BUT I come in for meetings as necessary. Annie would probably interpret this as I’m working form home so I don’t need to attend those meetings that are scheduled on days I’m not regularly in the office.

        You may need to be more direct that meetings are required, not optional to flex around. With the only exceptions being say sick leave or preapproved vacation.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          I mean some might be. I have a daily standup meeting and the rule there is “don’t make a habit of missing it”. But it’s understood that missing it unannounced every now and again isn’t a big deal.

          Appointments are one thing, but not showing to meetings because you don’t want to work those hours is another. Being available to meet with peers is essentially in most jobs.

          1. I Have RBF*

            Appointments are one thing, but not showing to meetings because you don’t want to work those hours is another. Being available to meet with peers is essentially in most jobs.


            At my job, we are allowed to make daytime appointments if we need to, but it is generally expected that we do so when we don’t have regularly scheduled meetings. Yes, sometimes someone wants to schedule something ad-hoc opposite your appointment, at which time you will decline and ask to reschedule. But we regularly have days without meetings, too.

  47. toucan*

    The “mom” comment is disrespectful and definitely needs addressing as part of the solution here. However, it does sound like the writer is micromanaging Annie.

    There is clear dissonance between “Annie has been here 5 years and we need her to fix Joe’s issues within 90 minutes” and “Annie is in her first job and can’t do anything without my constant reminders.”

    The letter doesn’t speak to whether Annie’s work is actually satisfactory – and if it is, the assumption will be that the work was only done because of the reminders. Now Annie can’t win!!

    If Annie’s work is poor, or she is consistently missing deadlines or mandatory meetings, that’s absolutely something to address with her (and so is the “mom” comment, of course). But not by becoming her walking talking alarm clock. And in this case, you would already know the reminders don’t work – if she is constantly being given reminders and still doesn’t do the work, that can’t be the solution.

    On the other hand, if Joe’s issue has a 24 hour SLA on the resolution time and Annie turns up after 6 hours and sorts it out, she is meeting expectations. The letter says that it was agreed that Annie could have this level of flexibility, but it sounds like she isn’t really being given any flexibility – constant reminders about the work, at times when Annie isn’t expecting to be at her desk, are a very strong suggestion that the flexibility doesn’t actually exist.

    The final point I will make is about the mom comment itself: Annie originally said that the letter writer was “too curt” and was asked to clarify in a followup meeting, where she said “like my mum, always checking up and scolding me.” I don’t think this is entirely unreasonable from the point of view of a younger employee awkwardly trying to explain why they feel micromanaged after several years of working independently. Okay, poor wording. But they probably didn’t expect the question, it isn’t easy to criticise your manager (or anyone!) to their face and they still tried to answer openly. I will strongly suggest that there is room for manager improvement there as well (regardless of whether Annie’s work is good), not least because if you demand direct, personal feedback from employees some of them are going to have opinions that aren’t professional.

    1. OP*

      “There is clear dissonance between “Annie has been here 5 years and we need her to fix Joe’s issues within 90 minutes” and “Annie is in her first job and can’t do anything without my constant reminders.””

      That second part is not anywhere in my letter. She works without direct supervision and the primary issue I have is the calendar status thing. I mention that it’s her first job because it means she has little experience of management styles outside this one company.

      1. Tracy Flick*

        You’re right – I think you’re getting blowback for comments from other people, not your original letter.

        I think that Annie’s experience probably is specialized, but that doesn’t mean that it’s limited. She probably has aligned very closely with norms for her company.

        I’m sure I’m reading into her perspective, but she may just see the calendar status thing as very minor – totally outweighed by all of the other stuff she does every day. This is how she has been trained by her professional experience, which is valid and relevant.

        If this is critical for you, and it sounds like it is, you can be direct. You don’t have to figure out how to have some bigger conversation about professional norms or management styles – that’s out of scope. Both of you are bringing a lot of feelings into this, and neither of you need to.

        You can just say, “Look, I need to talk to you about x, because it’s come up a bunch of times. This is really important to me, and I need you to do x. Can we agree on x? Great! I’m going to remind you every time it happens. I want to see if we can reset this.” Or, “I’m reminding you about this a lot because you forget a lot. I need you to keep track of this. Can you do that? If you can make sure this happens, I can stop reminding you. I’d like to.”

        Then do that. It doesn’t have to be a thing.

    2. Violet Evergreen*

      “I don’t think this is entirely unreasonable from the point of view of a younger employee awkwardly trying to explain why they feel micromanaged after several years of working independently.”

      Sometimes the manager-employee relationship really is like a parent-child relationship in very frustrating ways. Parents basically exert complete control over the kid’s life, from where they live, which school they go to, etc. Managers have the same control over employees on things like WFH, which projects they work on, etc. I just had an opportunity that my manager shut down without asking me, and I really felt like a 5 year old whose father decided they couldn’t go to an afterschool program or something. I definitely didn’t tell him he was like my dad, but the interaction was the same.

    3. Kevin Sours*

      “On the other hand, if Joe’s issue has a 24 hour SLA on the resolution time and Annie turns up after 6 hours and sorts it out, she is meeting expectations.”

      No she isn’t. Because the expectation is that she clearly communicate when she is and is not available. It’s not an unreasonable expectation. *Especially* in a remote environment with flexible hours.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Exactly. Joe’s issue is likely not a 24 hour SLA, it’s probably a 4 hour SLA, or a “ASAP during regular core hours” SLA and Annie is not meeting that.

        IMO, for someone without time blocked out on their calendar, the usual SLA is an hour or less for the initial contact.

    4. I am Emily's failing memory*

      I’m not sure where several commenters (not just you) are getting the idea that OP is sending a bunch of alarm clock style reminders to the Annie. Annie is AWOL and OP is asking her, “Where are you? Your calendar doesn’t reflect that you’re out of office right now. If you’re working, there’s a meeting you’re missing. If you’re not working, your calendar needs to reflect that.”

      1. Tracy Flick*

        Well, speaking as someone in tech, she’s not AWOL – she’s skipping meetings to be heads down.

        So from her perspective, she’s at work, she’s just at her desk working.

        It would be like if you were in the office, at your desk, doing a bunch of important work, and your manager was like “Where are you?! Are you working? Are you here?”

        One time, sure, but if this is happening a lot? It’s kind of silly to act like her whereabouts are mysterious. Annie probably doesn’t even realize that she’s out of pocket.

        Based on the industry and some of LW’s other comments in the thread – like one about the team being ‘in limbo’ for a year – I think this is a dedicated employee who has just gotten used to doing a lot of solo work all the time – in an industry that rewards that kind of hyperfocus. She’s not absent or disengaged. She’s just focused on the wrong thing, because she has been trained for the past several years to focus on her tasks.

        So it makes the most sense to just be like, “Hey, I know you’re at your desk working, and you need to come to this meeting now,” Or, “Hey, thanks for being at your desk working, but sometimes you need to work by coming to meetings, which are also work.”

        1. OP*

          “Well, speaking as someone in tech, she’s not AWOL – she’s skipping meetings to be heads down. ”

          I would like that to be the case, but I don’t know that it is. These and several other incidents have damaged the trust and goodwill that I would otherwise have. We’ve changed our working mode recently and she’s now working much more closely with another dev most of the time, which seems to be going well and is starting to alleviate my suspicion that she’s not around as much as she should be.

        2. Snell*

          I will contest that. Annie is indeed going “AWOL,” as it were. AWOL is “away without (official) leave,” not just “away.” Annie is skipping the meeting without letting LW know, taking time off for illness without letting anyone know. It’s the “not letting anyone know” that is causing a problem for LW (and Annie’s coworkers). Also, telling Annie that she needs to attend meetings hasn’t been working, and is in fact the impetus behind Annie’s claim that LW is like a mom.

        3. OlympiasEpiriot*

          We don’t know she’s doing that. YOU might have done that, but, that doesn’t appear in OP’s letter nor comments.

  48. Tracy Flick*

    I think Alison’s advice is not a good match for this situation, and I think that it will make this problem worse.

    Before I say anything else, I want to say that I think that Annie’s response is terrible. Part of her job is maintaining strong relationships with her team, and that includes her manager. She has an obligation to be respectful and responsive. If I were her manager, I’d be really annoyed.


    I think that Alison and the commenters here are focused on Annie’s phrasing, not Annie’s actual complaint: “Skipping meetings? ‘MOM?’ Has she never had a job before?! She needs MAJOR retraining!” Which is a reasonable response!

    But I think that Annie’s sense of this is that she is not a badly-trained employee who was allowed to go a bit feral under a lackadaisical manager.

    Annie’s complaint is that her manager is micromanaging her in a punitive and condescending way – treating her like a bad employee when she is a very good employee. “Scolding” her. “Checking up on” her.

    For several years, Anne was allowed to work with near-total flexibility, probably to a degree that would be unheard-of in most industries – and even in the tech industry, for manyemployees/teams.

    I think this status quo ante is important information.

    Five years is a long time. If Annie weren’t a valuable and contributing employee – if she were lacking in technical AND professional AND interpersonal skills – she probably would have been terminated or reined in. That doesn’t seem to have happened.

    I think Annie believes that she been given permission to basically work independently because she has demonstrated strong skills. I think she has strategies for getting work done, even if they are not what her current manager expects or prefers. And I think Annie is very focused on her work – which she defines narrowly, as software engineering work.

    (Not an excuse for blowing off meetings, but it is relevant that this is tech. The job is basically taking the LSAT in Portuguese all day long. It’s really hard to jump into a meeting and then go back to that kind of work. And many software engineers are fiercely dedicated to solving problems. They see that tendency as a major part of their value. In other words, personalities like Annie’s aren’t just permitted – they’re valorized.)

    So I think Annie’s reaction is something along the lines of, “This was never a problem before! Why am I getting all this intense negative feedback? I’m good at my job! Why doesn’t my manager see that? Why is she talking to me like I’m stupid? Why can’t I just do what I was doing before? Ugh, this is so annoying!”

    And now Annie is probably being avoidant and uncooperative because she is frustrated. If she’s not totally oblivious, she’s probably also feeling anxious, which would drive many people to be even more avoidant and awkward.

    So I think it’s a bad idea to focus on fixing Annie’s bad attitude and bad behavior. I also think it’s a bad idea to deal with these incidents individually, even though I get why the LW is trying to flag them in the moment.

    My approach would be something along the lines of,

    “I need to talk to you about our dynamic as manager and team member. I think you’re a really skilled engineer, and I value your contribution to the team. I know you’ve been working at this company for five years, and that you’re used to having a lot of independence. I understand why that’s helpful to you – I know that focus time is important. But there are some things I need from you. We’ve had some discussions about them before: […]. Can we talk about how to make sure that these things happen? I want to make sure that you can do your job, but I need to make sure that the team can work together efficiently.”

    Then listen to Annie. Annie will hopefully share some efforts to follow directions (great!) and also share some blockers. For example, “I like having x hours of focus time in the mornings because….” or “It’s hard for me to switch from x to y task….”

    It doesn’t really matter what these things are. The important thing is to respond to them as competing responsibilities Good Employee Annie is trying to balance, not excuses Bad Employee Annie is making for failing to do her job. What you want is to offer Annie a way to adjust:

    “That makes sense. I need you to [stuff I need]. Can we [solution] so that you can [stuff I need]? That way, you’ll have what you need, and we can make sure that [stuff I need].”

    And then something like,

    “Thanks, I really appreciate it. Let me know if there’s anything else you need from me.”

    If Annie messes up, don’t let it go, but don’t bother making it a discussion – instead of, “Hey, what’s the story here?” I would just tap the sign: “Hey, you need to x like we discussed.”

    And hopefully over time this will blow over and Annie will reset. If not, then maybe she will need a PIP.

    And if LW has gotten in the habit of focusing on these problems, I think it is worth refocusing on Annie’s considerable strengths. It will help to make sure that Annie receives positive feedback and recognition, especially if LW is giving largely positive feedback to other team members. LW isn’t the only person who has struggled with sexism.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Yeah, I was surprised by the number of people who jumped right to, “omg, this is wildly inappropriate! PIP and firing post haste!!!” I agree that Annie is out of line with the mom comments, but starting with the assumption that we/the LW don’t know everything about Annie’s perspective and being curious about that is important. Also, it role-models for Annie how to start by assuming good intentions, asking questions, and getting to a shared understanding and solutions, all of which can build positive rapport for the future. No need to start with outrage.

    2. Mid*

      Even the most flexible workers with the most independent schedules still need to attend team meetings. It’s not an outrageous request to ask someone to show up to a zoom call once a week (or whatever frequency the calls are.) There is no indication that this is a major change in how the job works either. We don’t know that there are more meetings than in the past or that Annie was allowed to run completely free all the time. We do know that Annie is missing work, not attending necessary meetings, avoiding talking to their manager, and making sexist comments to their manager.

      I also don’t think Annie should be allowed to react immaturely (which is what avoiding meetings and being uncooperative is, it’s a half step above an actual tantrum) just because they’ve done good work in the past. Someone could be a Nobel Peace Prize winner who founded the next Microsoft while building a city on Mars, and they would still need to be able to react to changes at work with maturity and clear communication. Dodging meetings and making sexist comments shouldn’t be excused.

    3. Evergreen*

      We can have absolutely no idea if this is the case for the LW’s situation, but about 5 years into my career as an engineer this is how I probably would have perceived the situation were I in Annie’s shoes.

  49. bamcheeks*

    LW, it might be worth having a look at transactional analysis. I’m not an expert in this and will bow to anyone who’s got proper training in counselling / psychology / organisational behaviour etc, but my understanding of it is that it looks at the roles of adult, parent and child in a conversational and how we transfer between the two. Part of the point of it is that if one person adopts a “child” position in a conversation— sulky, resentful, mulish, feeling “scolded” — it’s really easy for the other person to go into “parent” mode— exasperated, impatient, scolding, etc. And vice versa— if one adopts a parent tone, the other slips easily into Child.

    Transactional analysis can give you lots of techniques for shifting the conversation back to adult-adult. One of way of doing that is to externalise the problem, and assume that you have a common goal— getting the work product out, agreeing a shared strategy— and that even as manager and direct report, you have a shared interest in achieving an outcome and you want to find the best way to do that and (crucially) that you assume your report has the same goal. The outputs/inputs conversation above is a good example of this: “if we know where you are, XYZ can proceed smoothly” is an adult conversation, “where are you? You’re supposed to tell us where you are!” might not be,

    This isn’t to say that you ARE behaving “like a mom”— it’s about the fact that this is a really common way for manager-report relationships to go wrong because they are hierarchal, and I find it a really helpful way of understanding how to keep the flavour of the hierarchy adult-adult and not slip into something that frustrates both of you and makes you feel like you’re opposed rather than supportive. So it might help with that.

  50. April*

    Thank you, Alison, for calling out the sexist and undermining nature of Annie’s comments!

    OP – It sounds like Annie is seeking an opportunity to avoid accountability and has decided (intentionally or not) to take a really inappropriate and unprofessional route.

  51. DJ*

    It’s also an ageist comment. Many older women in the workplace are concern about coming across as patronising because they are accused of this when assertive or express an opinion.
    And yes Annie has poorly communicated. And advising an employee to show via their calendar when available or not available is normal.
    Also astounds me how bystanders ignore such comments rather than at least coming up to you or reporting them. Although some workplaces have no reporting option when an employee feels they can’t intervene ie power dynamics.
    When I had a manager raise their voice at me I would say stop raising your voice. And when I had an in private convo with them I said it jangles my nerves when you rise your voice at me
    and outlined how to approach me.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      I would not report colleagues to the manager and less their behavior was extreme. That’s a great way to ruin work relationships! I see reporting to the manager as a last resort, when it’s interfering with the work or hurting people and they’ve been asked by colleagues to stop but have not.

  52. More Coffee Please*

    I was really interested to read this letter. A few years ago, I was managing a small group of interns who were only 1-2 years younger than me. After giving them instructions one day, one of them replied, “Yes, mom.” I felt my face get hot and immediately corrected her: “Yes, *boss*.” I cringe now at the blunt delivery, but I was already a little insecure as a leader/manager and felt offended someone would interpret “a woman giving directions” as a mom rather than a manager.

  53. Tracy Flick*

    Also, LW – there was part of your letter that really bothered me: when you were complaining about a problem with Annie, a young female employee, you brought up similar behavior from Jane, another young female employee.

    I could be overreacting based on my own experiences with sexism. I also appreciate that you mentioned Jane as someone who used similar language.

    I did notice that you compared Annie and Jane in other ways – “I’m also pretty sure I heard another employee, Jane, once mumble ‘yes, mom’ at one point. Those are in fact the two employees who push against the rules the most and this one was also in their very first job.”

    The way you’re talking about these two employees strikes me as problematic.

    If your company is like most tech companies, Annie and Jane are part of an underrepresented group. When that happens, it’s pretty normal to react by folding them into a stereotype – see similar behaviors like, “This company has two Black employees who keep getting mistaken for each other.”

    I think you’re dealing with some very inappropriate behavior, and I think you’re right that you are experiencing sexist pushback. But I think it is a good idea to avoid stereotyping Annie and Jane, because that is also sexist, and also unhelpful.

  54. DJ Abbott*

    I have a couple of things to say:
    1. I’ve been at my job for a little over a year, and the assistant manager can be overbearing. She has done a lot to help train and make me good at my job, and often the way she does it seems oppressive. When she gets really bad, she might send me 15 messages in one day correcting things that either aren’t urgent, or that I already understand but she doesn’t have context of the situation. This has been so aggravating and stressful, it has made me want to walk off the job. So I suggest you be careful not to do this because it comes off as extremely oppressive and micromanagey, and is extremely stressful for the recipient.
    2. I was interested to read this post because I am middle-aged and for the last few years I’ve been surprised to find that younger people take my attempts to help, or even to just be friendly, as trying to parent them. I don’t have children myself, and don’t feel parental towards people at all, and I have been working on ways to avoid coming across this way.
    I understand where they’re coming from because I felt extremely oppressed growing up with abusive parents and an abusive fundamentalist culture. In addition to parents and family, and there were always at least one or two teachers giving me a hard time. I did not trust any adult to treat me fairly or respectfully. So I completely understand and want to do better in my interactions with people younger than me! It’s just a question of how.

    1. Mid*

      Re: 1. The messages in the letter weren’t sent in a row and there is no indication that LW is sending 15 messages a day (which, depending on the work and the context, is a very reasonable number of messages to send, especially for minor feedback.)

  55. CanRelate*

    I wanted to pick at the language in these a little, because while I dont think of them as “Mom tone” because that’s ridiculous, they could perhaps be more direct?

    “Good morning! I see that you have declined the team meetings for the rest of the week, what’s up with that?”

    I would try:
    “Hey Annie, I see that you have declined the team meetings for the rest of the week. When you’re in, I need some more context as to why.”

    This isn’t a friendly “what’s up?” moment. This is a “Hey, you cant do that without a reason, especially since this is a pattern for you, we need to talk” moment.

    “Good morning! Are you working? If yes, attending meetings is part of that, unless you are working on something with more priority, in which case I would expect you to say that; if not, I expect an out-of-office blocker on your calendar, so that we know when you are available.”

    Honestly, I’m not sure I would even send that whole message:

    “Hey Annie, I’m not seeing an PTO filed or OOO statuses for you. Please adjust that if you’re off the clock. If not, the Team meeting started 15min ago.”

    If she then doesn’t attend, I would send a “time to talk” message and just get her on a call to set expectations. The pleasantries make this sound like you’re open to an excuse, but you’re not.

    “Hey, we’ve talked about this more than once. If you are not actively working during normal working hours, you need to have your status set or an entry in your calendar. X is broken and Joe has been waiting for an answer from you since an hour and a half ago. That’s not acceptable.”

    This is a totally strait forward message that would be hard to completely rewrite, but I would change “That’s not acceptable.” to “As soon as you see this, we need to hop on a call” and start the process of getting her on course and understanding the current severity.

    All of your messages just read as a bit passive to me. Like, YES its obvious you have a problem, but its less obvious that something is about to be done about it. You’re not disappointed in her and hoping that’s enough to change her behavior, you’re her boss and need her to correct course immediately, communicate why she’s struggling with this, or be terminated.

    On a call I would would really dress this pattern of behavior down, both for ageism and also just being as clear and dispassionate as possible that flexibility does not mean unreliable, and disrupting operations isn’t part of the package.

  56. another academic librarian*

    I had a report who used to mutter “Yes, boss.” in that tone. I truly was at a loss on how to deal with that. Thank you Alison. Now I know.

  57. Ari*

    You’ve received a lot of good comments and advice. I’m not sure if your workplace is committed to being remote long term or not. My company has been doing a flex work model since well before Covid. For us (outside of Covid), being able to work some days from home was a privilege, not a right…and one that would absolutely be revoked if people were not performing well. I don’t know if you have the ability to leverage more office time for her or not, but I thought I would mention it. Some people aren’t able to work well without supervision. It sounds like she wants the benefits of remote work without actually doing the job you need her to do. That’s not acceptable.

    1. OP*

      We are committed to remote-first, and while we have offices, she’s not near one. I have gotten a lot of good advice indeed, and lots to think about. I think driving home the “flexibility from us requires transparency from you” aspect is mostly likely to help. She does mostly good work otherwise, and occasionally really impresses me. And I’ll address the mom thing. Unlike many commenters, I don’t think it is meant in a misogynistic or antagonistic way. Hopefully making clear the distinction a la “You are not my child, I am not nagging you, I am stating expectations,” will clear it up for her.

  58. HonorBox*

    Here to second the “have the conversation in real time” comment Alison made. This *may* be about your tone LW, but only because you’re having the necessary conversations you need to have with Annie in places where it is difficult to know and understand tone.

    She’s in the wrong here, both in how she’s approaching her work time AND in the suggestion that your tone is that of a parent. If there are things she needs to do differently or better, you’re absolutely in the right to bring that to her attention. That’s your job! She needs to do a better job understanding the expectations of the job (letting people know when she’s working, following up with coworkers, etc.) and the expectations of how the real world works.

  59. Lobsterman*

    As with many of these supposedly intractable problems: just fire her. Give her a big severance and a non-disparagement.

      1. Lobsterman*

        If I called my boss “mom” I would expect to be fired that day, and I’d have 2 things to talk to my counselor about.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I wouldn’t. That’s not a universal reaction, even if you mean it as an insult and even if you aren’t muttering it. A conversation, sure, but most people don’t get fired on the spot for that kind of thing.

    1. Mid*

      Why would they need to give a large severance? And why is what she’s doing at the level of termination, especially when LW said that her work is overall great?

      1. Lobsterman*

        Because you can’t insult your boss to their face, period. It’s such a total violation of ordinary office norms that their work almost certainly has other issues which may not be clear until they’ve gone.

        I mean, “call me Mom again and that will be your last day” is also reasonable. But still.

        1. lucanus cervus*

          I think this is a seriously big reach. It doesn’t sound to me like Annie is trying to be insulting, she just has a skewed understanding of how this all works. She thinks LW’s expectations are unreasonable. They’re not, but she doesn’t have the experience to grasp that without being told. It’s not like she swore at LW or called her something appalling. She tried to express something about their working relationship that frustrated her, and she did it badly.

          People can be significantly off-base about one thing without being all-round terrible, and it sounds like her work is good.

  60. anon for this*

    I felt my blood pressure rising thru the post. Have skipped reading all the comments to comment fresh (I’ll go back & read). I was a math professor. I am a woman. I was not maternal, I was not interested in having children, I purposely taught primarily graduate students, I did not want to talk about peoples’ feelings. I really had to work HARD to not be treated as peoples’ mom. I taught at an undergraduate institution during a postdoc (realized pretty quick that I didn’t want to do that long-term!) and between being mistaken for an undergrad by the librarians and being asked about interpersonal problems by the undergrads, even to the point of an undergrad asking me if I could remind her to do her homework (I suggested an alarm, or a planner/datebook; she looked… intrigued and surprised… then I suggested she ask her own mom to call her every two days, and a lightbulb went off….)…. AAAAARGH!

    This is your problem because someone else is making their problem your problem. It’s not a “you” problem. This is about people who slot adult women into the “mom” spot. It blocks their own progress and it makes your life harder. I find it good to address it head on. I also found it interesting that this “mom” thing happened a bit more with young women, in my experience.

    Good luck. Ugh.

  61. MillennialHR*

    This is definitely not bringing “Mom energy” into the workplace. A manager (at the last job I had) would often make comments on my personal life, particularly when I adopted my dog. She kept stating that she hoped my dog “wouldn’t take over my life”, because I stopped working 24/7 because I had my dog and would set appropriate boundaries with work/life balance. I am young enough to be a daughter to this boss.

    I did leave the job because it felt undermining to feel like my “mom” was telling me what to do at work, but it wasn’t work related. Had it been work related (like OP’s letter), that would be appropriate. You are trying to help them become professionals by reminding them to attend meetings and keeping them accountable to their work. I would absolutely recommend letting them know that those comments are inappropriate and won’t be tolerated. If they get upset at that, so be it, you are only setting expectations for their work.

    Great job, OP, honestly, in maintaining an excellent frame of mind for their work performance and sending them reminders. A conversation in person needs to happen, but I think so many managers are afraid of the tough conversations they would ignore these things, but you are actively trying to help them become better employees!

  62. Mothman*

    I have flexible work hours as a literal accommodation and only miss meetings if I have a doctor’s appointment! (My work is amazing and would understand if I missed more, but I need to know what’s going on to be the best I can.) How on earth can anyone get away with just blanket rejecting meetings, regardless of position?? Even once??

  63. Jennifer*

    Annie is taking advantage of LW and trying to turn it around on her to get away with it. She is taking advantage of her remote work situation and she isn’t doing her work. Tell Annie that her performance needs to improve or she is going to lose those privileges and be made to come into the office.

  64. E*

    While I’m not saying Annie is a model employee or even a good one (because idk) I do get a tone coming across in those messages. If a second person has also made comments about your tone that’s something you should address. Allison is right about in person conversations because those chat messages came off as super passive agressive and I would hate working for someone who talked to me like that. Again not saying the complains about Annie aren’t valid but I have a feeling this tone probably comes out with less problematic employees as well.

    1. Mid*

      Interesting, because I don’t think they’re passive aggressive at all. Can you elaborate more on what part sounds passive aggressive to you? This sounds very similar in tone to messages and emails I send/have sent, so I’m wondering if people are reading me in the same tone.

    2. OP*

      Yeah, this isn’t passive-aggressive. That would be “Must be nice being able to work whenever you want!”

      I am looking at the tone thing. I think these chats are as harsh as I’ve ever been with my team, and I clearly see how frustrated I was when I re-read them now with a lot of space. However, I also think that if an employee keeps blowing off my expectations, then jolting that employee out of the rut with a strongly worded message is not incorrect! Just – better delivered over video.

      Taking any sort of criticism out of chat and into video meetings is my first step.

  65. A person*

    It’s fascinating how firm the answer on “ok mom” is. I mean, I agree, but I’ve had that said to me (and similar phrases like being referred to as aunty so and so), and when I brought it to management, they yeah-yeah’ed it. “Oh they didn’t mean it that way”, “oh he’s like that with everyone, you just have to ignore it”, “you should always assume positive intent”.

    I don’t have advice… just frustration about how my company handles that sort of thing especially since they’re supposedly “a great place for women to work”. It makes me wonder how bad the companies that aren’t “a great place for women” are!

  66. Ken Adams*

    the lady who I call my “work mom” a) has explicitly told us she likes being called that; 2) is the union rep and therefore is always looking out for any injustices foisted upon us; 3) is not anyone’s boss; 4) tells us to wear our coats, and has candy, Advil and tums in her purse.

    this is very different from what you’re describing here!

    1. Serious Silly Putty*

      Yes, when I read the headline of “mom energy”, I took it as a good thing, and pictured how my mom mentored and encouraged younger employees, because that nurturing energy was core to who she was. Or maybe even my teasing my (slightly older than me) boss with “where is your jacket, young lady?!”
      Not this.

  67. RebeccaNoraBunch*

    Oh lord, now I feel old. I’m 40 too (still settling into it, it’s SURREAL) and in my past roles in tech in the last 8 years or so I’ve been a trainer where I was teaching folks 10-15 years younger regularly. (Now I work with a bunch of Gen Xers so I feel like the young-ish one, lol.)

    As the trainer I was kind of like their big sister and a few of the girls and I became really close outside of work. It’s hard to be a woman, especially a young woman, in tech – and in tech sales, as well! I’m still close with several of them years and years later.

    Most of the folks I trained respected me out of the gate and if they didn’t, I would level set with them and they would often start to because I could get on the phone and sell better than they could. Also I wasn’t their direct manager so if I ever had a problem I would go to their manager and it was often solved or they didn’t stay at the company.

    Now I’m rambling but…this is such an interesting scenario and one that I’m a bit shocked that I’m old enough to be experiencing in the future! Then again, NOT to make it generational but I will say that I haven’t been in the training room in almost 4 years (larger company means no actual facilitation anymor), and that’s right about where the generational Millennial/Gen-Z divide is as far as people who are now in their early-mid 20s. I’ve never had anyone just decline meetings because they didn’t feel like going to them. Hmm.

    1. OP*

      “Oh lord, now I feel old.”

      Right?! I think I fixated on the mom part of this because I was so taken aback by it!

  68. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    You know, there is a decent bit of overlap between a good mom and a good manager. Clear expectations. Fair consequences for bad behavior. An air of quiet authority. Even a desire to build your people up to the best they can be.

    Your employees aren’t just comparing you to a mom, they are comparing you to a bad mom (or at least some of the bad parts of one).

    1. Crooked Bird*

      THANK you! (Belatedly.) I feel like I’ve become much more authoritative and confident since starting to raise a child.

  69. Nom*

    I agree with Alison and that this is an Annie problem, and LW is not in the wrong. HOWEVER, I have had micromanager bosses in the past immediately jump to assuming I’m not working because I miss a chat message (which happens, especially if you get several chat messages at once from different people) or don’t respond within 30 seconds (and I mean this literally – I sent the time stamps to HR). This is both annoying and rude. I am working, I am just not a robot. It sounds like LW knows that Annie is not working due to her request for flexibility, however, it may be worth reflecting on if that’s really the case or if Annie is really working but just not achieving perfection.

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