intrusive medical questions at work, do I seem too busy, and more

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

1. Answering intrusive medical questions at work

Last fall, a recurring medical issue led to me having a bowel resection and being fitted with a temporary colostomy. I am not ashamed of this — the six-year-old up the street has asked questions and I am happy to educate him! — and have been open with my coworkers, friends, and family about both the challenges and the good parts of it, when they have asked.

My ostomy bag is partially visible under most clothing. There are ways to hide it, but for me they are physically uncomfortable and like I said: I am not ashamed. It saved my life. But that doesn’t mean everyone has a right to know what it is.

My problem: I work for the federal government in a public-facing, social-work-esque position. This means I work face-to-face with a whole lot of people who don’t have the capacity to understand why they shouldn’t ask “What’s on your stomach?” or “What’s under your shirt?” or “Are you pregnant?” And while I am happy to talk about it, I don’t want to talk about it with strangers, all day every day, at my job. It isn’t coworkers so it isn’t something my bosses can fix. But it is certainly something I can get in trouble for if I snap rudely at the wrong person.

I told the curious six-year-old it was something my doctors gave me to help me get better, because he knew I was sick. (He wanted to see it after I told him that. He’s awesome.) Is that the most polite way to tell people who don’t understand social norms that it’s none of their business?

The return to working in the office has been physically exhausting. All of the three major surgeries and a total month in the hospital over both Thanksgiving and Christmas was emotionally exhausting. I am barely holding it together even with my physical recovery improving, and I am in the middle of a physical set back anyway. I know that the wrong answer is to yank up my shirt and say, “I shit out of my abdomen, fuck off.” But what is the right answer that is both fair to my mental health and the understanding of the fact that the people who ask almost always don’t understand why they shouldn’t ask?

Aggggh, intrusive questions. I realize in this case you’re dealing with a population who aren’t necessarily at fault for asking, but I’m sure that doesn’t make it any less exhausting.

The simplest response is probably just, “It’s a medical device” in the hopes that you could leave it at that. If someone asks for more details, you could say, “It’s a private medical issue that I don’t discuss at work.” (If you were dealing with someone who you felt pretty sure should understand social norms, that response could still be fine — but in that situation it would also be fine to simply repeat “it’s a medical device” in a colder tone.)

2. Can I ethically help my company-assigned mentee in his job search?

My company started a formal mentoring program which matches employees who are looking for mentorship with those willing to provide it. I signed up and was matched with an employee in a completely different department in a different part of the country who was looking for assistance in getting promoted. We worked together for several months to get our ducks in a row (looking at his responsibilities / accomplishments vs the job description, looking at the “above and beyond” things he does, salary comparisons, mock conversations with their boss, discussing ask vs guess culture, etc.). One of the pieces of advice I gave him was that he should decide, before having the meeting with his boss, what he was going to ask for and what the “minimum” he was willing to accept — I consider this to be good practice for any negotiation (knowing your BATNA, aka “best alternative to a negotiated agreement”) so that he wouldn’t be caught off-guard by pushback from his boss.

Unfortunately, things went south in ways that I couldn’t imagine. From what I can gather, the conversation was like a highlight reel of all the things bad bosses do, including arguing with the list of accomplishments, gaslighting about the level of work, and rejecting the salary comparison, which was pulled from our own internal job posting site. Short version: no promotion, no raise, and nothing ever likely to happen anytime in the future. As he described it, his relationship with his boss is now damaged beyond repair.

My mentee is now looking to leave, and I can’t blame him. Everything I’ve done so far is easily “in service of the company” because I think it’s clear that we want to keep this individual (who has been with us for decades), but now he is asking to pivot our meetings to job searching and negotiating a new offer — which has a lot of skills overlap with what we’ve already done. I’m now torn between my responsibility to my mentee (to help him better his situation) and to my company (to avoid helping good people leave). If this wasn’t a formal, company-sponsored mentoring program, this wouldn’t be an issue for me — I have no problems helping people do what is right for them as a “private citizen,” but how “private” is a mentoring relationship supposed to be? This isn’t doctor / patient or lawyer / client, but maybe somewhere in between?

Yeah, your company almost definitely didn’t intend for you to use work time to help your mentee leave the company. I don’t think it’s a big deal to answer a few questions about interviewing, but if he wants to pivot the bulk of your time together to talk about his job search, ethically I don’t think you can use the mentorship for that. However, you could certainly point him toward other resources — “I think getting too focused on your job search would be outside the scope of what Company wants us working on in our meetings, but X and Y are really good resources so you might try there.”

Also, are you in a position to share what happened with someone who might be in a position to do something about it? Either right now with your mentee’s explicit permission, or after he leaves in a “this manager needs coaching/oversight” kind of way (again, with his explicit permission before you share anything he told you)? That’s outside the scope of mentoring, but it might not be outside the scope of what your company would appreciate from you, depending on your role and your standing.

3. Should I examine my “busy” vibe?

I have a low stakes question for you. Over the past six-ish months, three or four people have been hesitant about asking me to do things that are squarely part of my job, saying that they know I’m so busy. In one or two cases, there was even an apology. I’m a senior level individual contributor, and these comments have come from people at a variety of levels and different departments.

Sometimes I do get quite busy but I am always willing to make time for requests that are part of my job and I feel a lot of ownership and responsibility for my role. Sometimes I even tell people specifically that they can always ask me questions. I hope that there aren’t others out there who are avoiding asking me for things because I’m giving off such a busy vibe that they feel like they can’t interrupt me.

I don’t remember this happening in the past, in earlier stages of my career. But am I overthinking this? Is this just their way of being polite when making a request? Or should I look more closely at my own behavior to see if I need to change anything?

There’s a good chance it’s just people being polite, especially if the people who you noticed it from are sort of apologetic/deferential/excessively polite in general or if you’re known to be particularly busy right now or if the things they needed were obviously low priorities relative to other things you’re known to be working on. But there’s no harm in reflecting on whether you’ve seemed particularly harried or stressed lately — sometimes it’s easy to come across that way (because you are harried or stressed) without realizing that it’s discouraging people from approaching you.

If you do that reflection and you’re still not sure, you could try asking one or two people whose judgment you trust and who work closely enough with you to know how you’re coming across.

4. Asking an interviewer about the company’s bad Glassdoor reviews

I know that about a decade ago, you advised that it was worth it to ask about a company’s bad online reputation in an interview. Is that still the case? I know we’re seeing a shift favoring job-seekers, so I was wondering if you had any new guidelines for doing this. I’m getting ready to interview for a position, and the company’s reviews are bad — REAL bad.

It’s still the case! You don’t want to be accusatory or put your interviewer on the defensive, of course, but it’s perfectly reasonable to say something like, “I noticed some reviews of the company online talk about X and Y, and I wondered what your take was on that.” Your tone should convey that you’re not assuming what you read is the whole story but you’re curious and would like to learn more.

However, I’d be very wary of taking a job at a company with really bad reviews, especially if you see the same themes coming up over and over again, unless (a) they’re able to point to steps they’re taking toward real change (like different leadership, increased staffing levels, or something else concrete) or (b) you have no other options, in which case it’ll at least help to go in with your eyes open.

5. What to say when I’ve run out of questions for my interviewer

I always come prepared to every interview with questions about the job, the company, etc. But in every interview, there is a moment when they have answered all my immediate questions, and they ask, “Is there anything else you’d like to ask us?” and I have … nothing to say. And I feel a little foolish saying, “Nope, you’ve answered everything I have for now, we’re good.” It sounds smug and disinterested. Do you have any wording I can use that sounds a little better and doesn’t leave an impression of being disinterested?

To be clear, I usually do have further questions — things like salary, benefits, etc. But I don’t want to get into those at the first interview. And even if I did ask those questions, there would still eventually come a time when I just run out of questions. Any suggestions?

“I’m sure I’ll have more questions if we move forward, but you’ve answered all of my immediate ones. Thank you!”

(Of course, that assumes you did ask some questions first, which you should always do. But it sounds like you’re asking questions, they’re answering them, and then they’re asking if you have more.)

{ 228 comments… read them below }

  1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    #1, is it at all possible that you could be temporarily reassigned to a non-public facing role, until you get past this lastest health setback at least? You sound (understandably) stressed, and even if your job isn’t physically demanding, most bosses would be completely understanding in tailoring duties temporarily to foster your healing, and mental health is a huge component of physical healing. Please consider talking to your doctor about getting a note in this regard. This helped me tremendously at one point back when I was teaching- it didn’t require physical labor but after suffering a long illness my principal temporarily reassigned me to creating curriculum until my doctor gave me the go-ahead.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m echoing this question as well. Is it possible for your office to put you on a lighter duty/caseload while you are still in recovery to help in that recovery process?

    2. Lisa L*

      This is a great idea if LW1 needs it.

      If she would rather just keep doing what she’s doing, I think that the best thing to do is return the awkward to the sender, as per Captain Awkward. No one has a right to know about LW1’s health. I would suggest saying kindly “That is an intrusive (or unwelcome) question” and then, as others have suggested, moving on immediately with “How many copies of form ID ten T do you need?”

      1. Loulou*

        Surely you can see how returning awkwardness to sender does not work in a customer service situation? Particularly if you are a government worker interacting with a population who has special needs?

      2. Ammonite*

        Customer facing roles, especially government services, are not good places to take a “return awkward to sender” approach. Unless the service LW provides is coaching on social skills, educational-type answers, like “that’s an intrusive question,” are not the right tone for this situation. Either a polite, direct, factual statement or a polite, direct refusal to answer (or combination) is better.
        “It’s a medical thing. Now, you’ll need form ID ten T.”
        “I don’t like discussing it. Now, you’ll need form ID ten T.”
        “It’s a medical thing, I don’t like discussing it. Now, you’ll need form ID ten T.”

    3. LW1 here*

      Thank you! I appreciate this suggestion; I had plenty of accommodations right out of surgery / hospital stay, and I am recovered enough that I am happy to be back to my normal duties. At this point, for me, this is not the answer – I love my job, a huge part of it is face to face customer service, and I’m great with that. I just need a polite shutdown statement at this point!

      1. Llama Llama*

        My kids have lots of medical problems and various medical devices. Honestly a polite ‘its a medical device’ shuts down 99% of questions even from those with special need.

  2. Granddaughter*

    OP #1: “I am not ashamed. It saved my life.”
    I think Alison’s advice is just right and I’m so sorry you have to encounter this at all, let alone so frequently. I don’t have any advice to add for your particular situation, but as the granddaughter of someone who, post-cancer, lived with a colostomy bag from his late-30s to his mid-90s, I want to wish you a complete recovery and many happy, healthy years ahead. Your attitude is awesome.

    1. LR*

      This answer isn’t going to make sense to people asking who have no idea what the bag is or why anyone would be ashamed. It’s just going to lead to more questions.

      1. Willow*

        They’re quoting the letter writer and responding, not suggesting the letter writer use this as an answer.

      2. Soup-free head*

        The comment or wasn’t providing it as a response. She specifically pointed to Alison’s guidance.

  3. Allonge*

    LW3 – I had what I consider good and bad examples of busyness in my immediate work surroundings and for me the conclusion was this:
    1. – there is a limited influence we have over other people’s actions. If someone perceives you as busy and they decide not to ‘bother’ you about what is essentially your work, they made a decision with all the information on how urgent/important the task is for them. If they think it can wait (and they rather it would wait on their desk, not yours), up to them.
    2. – you are in control of your actions – in this context, how you react when someone does come to you with a task and how much you mention or imply that you are very busy indeed.

    The worst example I saw: was someone who would complain, often and out loud, how busy they were but would be territorial and very offended that some of the tasks would be done by others / outsourced.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I worked with that same person. She’d saunter in 2 hours after everyone, and whinge about how she was soooo busy and how she worked so hard. And yet, if anyone dare suggest the work get spread around she’d shriek that people were trying to steal her job.

    2. Smithy*

      For #2, I would also divide it one step further into actions that I’d describe as “performative business” but also perhaps include what it means for those who do ask you for assistance.

      Performative business I think of as a work version of PDA – where it can be a genuine expression of having a lot on your plate no different than lots of people who engage in PDA are very much in love. But due to how performative, you do lose control with how people will interpret it. And the more senior you get, that interpretation from junior colleagues can be more intimidating than when you’re more junior at work. If you’ve been working late every night one week due to being busy, it’s not that you can’t talk about it – but how are you talking about it?

      The second part I’d flag is how easy it ends up being to actually work with you – particularly when you’re busy and particularly if there are workarounds if they don’t collaborate with you. In lots of large workplaces there are official, less official, and unofficial ways of getting things done. And when the more official channels feel challenging due to who you have to work with, how long it takes, etc. – then people are more likely to opt for workarounds that are perceived as easier. If to collaborate with OP3 will be an additional 10 hours of work and someone they’re nervous about working with – and an ok workaround only takes 4 hours and is an acceptable result. OP3 may find the “busy” claim to be more of an excuse for a larger basket of issues.

      1. Smithy*

        For what it’s worth – #2 is how I’d describe working with the social media part of my Coms team at work. I know when I *could* go to them to collaborate, but for the time it takes and what it means to get a project done – I’ll only bother when I know we need a very high-quality result. If we can get away with any other kind of workaround/average result – I’d take it. And if put on the spot would defer to a response like “oh, you guys are just always so busy, and this project isn’t such a big deal.”

        In this case, saying they’re busy is more of a euphemism or excuse for me to say that they’re a bit difficult to work with and I’ve assumed a reason for all of their processes is because they’re busy.

    3. Miette*

      LW3, I also wouldn’t rule out how others are discussing your busy-ness, too. I had a manager that was always talking about how busy the department was in leadership team meetings–I believe out of a way to be sure the work we did was valued–but that trickled down throughout the org and led to a side effect of people not approaching with legitimate needs from the team.

      1. Smithy*

        Yes, I do believe that a lot of performative business is around the perception of being in need or of value to a team or an employer at large.

        And I also think that if you’ve ever worked on a team that engages in a lot of that, some of that behavior might be more normalized as workplace chitchat or behavior.

        1. Quinalla*

          Agreed, I’m honestly sick of performative business. So many people doing the humble-brag of “Oh, just working through all my meetings again today!” I’m like, I get you are busy, but you should just skip the meeting if you are that busy, why are you attending and not paying attention? If the meeting isn’t worth my attention I will drop the meeting (I know this isn’t possible for all meetings, but it is more possible than people think) or I can’t pay attention because of other priorities, I let the organizer know I won’t be there.

          1. peacock limit*

            At one point in a previous job, I put my foot down with my boss (I managed the budget) and told him he wasn’t allowed to pay to go to conferences/meetings if he was just going to have his laptop out the whole time. He had always argued he went to be seen, and I’m like, yeah, people are seeing you checked out…

          2. Smithy*

            Yup – I will also say, that I think this can come together to create an overall competitive environment – again, even if you don’t mean it.

            For people who talk about how very busy they are all the time, it often seems to coincide with a willingness to take on work that they value but as an excuse to avoid work that they don’t value. And certainly, that’s reasonable from an individual basis and preference – but for colleagues left to do that undesirable work or left feeling as though they don’t get answers on those less desirable tasks it can generate other reputations. At best, one of someone being largely unavailable to those unless they bring work that’s deemed properly fancy, special or valuable. And while it’s understandable to not want a reputation for being a source of info for how to make copies or complete expense reports when that’s not your job – that’s usually not the kind of undesirable work I’m talking about.

  4. Fikly*

    LW2: I would suggest the following as an ethical way to handle your responsibilities to both your mentee and the company:

    For the mentee, on company time, direct them to resources for a job search, and offer to provide a reference if you possibly can – their current manager will certainly be a terrible one, and someone who has been at one company for a long time often has a terrible time coming up with references. Then pivot to mentoring for while they are still employed by the company. On your personal time, if you are so inclined, you can help further with a job search.

    You have no responsibility to the company to prevent a good employee from leaving, incidentally, when that employee isn’t someone you manager or otherwise work with – it’s the company who has failed them by not dealing with a horrific manager. It’s also not your company. It’s the company you work for.

    For the company, once the mentee has left, with permission from the mentee, explain that this manager was the direct reason the mentee left, and how the manager caused it. It is then up to the company to decide if they want to do something.

    1. Lucky Meas*

      I also think OP’s level of responsibility depends on their role and context within the company.

      For example if they’re only a level or two above entry level, individual contributor, not in mentee’s org or management chain, not a lot of capital to use on behalf of their mentee–then I don’t think there is much OP COULD do besides flag the issue to others. Therefore I think OP’s responsibility to do what is best for the company is much lower.

      However if OP is a manager or director, has a close relationship to HR/leadership/key decision makers, has a strong reputation and could really go to bat for their mentee–in this case I think OP has more responsibility to ask their mentee if they can try to fix this and keep the employee. When you’re higher up in the org, it’s not just “the company you work for”, you’re also expected to make decisions in the org’s best interest.

      I imagine that the mentee’s grandboss would want to know that this formerly ambitious and engaged worker, who has been there for decades and wanted to get promoted, is now looking to leave because of their manager! And after the mentee leaves, they might ask OP why didn’t they flag this critical issue. The fix could be as simple as promoting the mentee away from their manager.

      1. DataSci*

        Helpful reminder, because this is my biggest pet peeve about the site, that “individual contributor” and “only a level or two above entry level” are not the same thing. People management is not the only way to advance or be skilled.

        1. Lucky Meas*

          Yes, I am aware of that and I meant those lists as a collection of “or” factors, any of which could influence the decision. An IC with years of experience and close relationships with leadership and a good reputation across the org would have more responsibility to the company, I think.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > if they’re only a level or two above entry level, individual contributor, not in mentee’s org or management chain, not a lot of capital to use on behalf of their mentee […] I think OP’s responsibility to do what is best for the company is much lower.

        I think having the “mentor” responsibility is one of those things, like being a manager, that gives a higher level of ‘responsibility to the company’ such as that is. If I asked the mentor “oh, why didn’t you flag this up” after the mentee left and they said some variation of “oh, I’m not a manager therefore I don’t have any responsibility to the company”, let’s just say I would not think highly of that person.

        1. Lucky Meas*

          Yes, I would think so too. But some companies don’t really use mentorships in effective ways, ie pairing new and ambitious workers with higher level experienced workers who can teach them a lot about the company. It might just be a random connection between two workers. I was a little confused by the mentee having been at the company for decades–that must mean OP is higher level or has also been there for a long time?

    2. Well...*

      My gut would have been to just use mentoring time to help the mentee in any way you can, including a job search, but I’m coming from academia and I’ve been on fixed term contracts until recently.

      I still think there’s an argument for it (though maybe not a strong enough argument to actually do it): mentoring helps both you and the mentee develop (just like teaching deepens and broadens your own understanding of a topic). While you’re helping your mentee with their job search, you’re enhancing your own skills in both job searching and hiring, updating your knowledge of the job market, learning about the specific competition that might tempt employees away, etc. As you’re not planning to leave your job, these skills you acquire can be applied in service of your company. That’s the kind of long-term goal such mentoring programs are supposed to accomplish.

      The downside for the company is they lose an employee they were going to lose anyway, and the upside is that you gain more skills.

    3. L-squared*

      “You have no responsibility to the company to prevent a good employee from leaving”

      This is exactly my thought. If they want to leave, because of another bad manager, its not your responsibility to stop that. Nor are you wrong for assisting that person with questions

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        OP doesn’t have to help prevent the employee from leaving, but on the other hand it seems a bit much to help them leave, especially while they both are on the clock.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          I’d say that the responsibility is to not use the company’s resources to help someone leave the company, and OP’s compensated time and the mentoring program in general are part of those resources.

          I do share the view that a question here or there or “I found X website helpful” is not a big deal….especially since it sounds like the mentoring program is specifically meant to discuss how to get promoted and career growth (albeit internally), I can’t see how OP can avoid the whole topic.

        2. Nomic*

          LW1: I would move the mentoring relationship OFF THE CLOCK, and maintain it.

          If I know they are strongly looking, I would ask them for permission to push this up the ladder, either now or later (but hopefully now — maybe your boss could add insight to this very unfortunate situation). Bad Boss is costing them a valuable employee.

          1. Allonge*

            But then OP is mentoring someone on their own time. Most people have limited time to do such things.

    4. 15 Pieces of Flair*

      Alternative framing that may help: Coaching your mentee to explore options for advancement, even if that path leads him to another employer, helps your company maintain a good reputation in the market. A smart employer doesn’t attempt to retain employees at all costs as that would cause dissatisfaction and lead to diminishing returns.

      If his manager has shutdown any potential for promotion and there’s no path forward on another team with a different reporting line, looking externally makes sense for your mentee and the company. The alternative would be to stay in role where he’s unhappy indefinitely, which isn’t a positive outcome for anyone. He’s not going to continue doing great work while working for a manager who doesn’t value him. There’s a reason many consulting firms have an “up or out” approach to career development.

    5. Anon for this*

      I feel a bit sheepish reading this post, because I’m in exactly the same situation as the letter writer, and I DID recently coach my assigned mentee out of our company–on company time. And to be honest, it never even occurred to me to consider whether that was ethical! My thinking was that my responsibility is to my mentee and what’s best for her, and our company actively encouraged us to have meetings on company time.

      She was in a completely different part of the company (not just a different department, but basically, a whole different sub-company). Her work area was riddled with dysfunction, and while I wasn’t pushing her to leave by any means, I led her though some professional planning and future visioning exercises that ultimately ended in her concluding she needed to leave. When she arrived there, I helped her think about what to look for as her next professional move, and essentially how to structure her job search. To be fair, I was heavily emphasizing internal roles at better, more functional areas of the company as well, but I did also talk to her about external roles, and that latter path was the one she ended up taking.

      I would maybe feel guiltier if her terrible old sub-company didn’t announce mass layoffs literally one week after she gave notice. But I do feel a bit weird that it never even occurred to me that this could be a conflict of interest. (I do think I would behave a lot differently with a mentee inside my own sub-company, but then again, my sub-company is actually a functional, healthy workplace, so…)

      1. samwi*

        You did the right thing.

        I have outright told younger coworkers — the department has made it clear you are not getting promoted any time soon. I hate to say this, because I think you’re an excellent co-worker and you contribute a lot, I like working with you — but you need to find a better job and a promotion elsewhere at this employer, or at another employer. I would be honored to be a reference for you.

        And I would not say word one to anyone else at work about it.

    6. Haijlee*

      I am thinking too, OP, while it is possible your mentee has a terrible manager, its also possible your mentee is not hearing the things they have been told by their manager time and time again. I was in a similar situation as that manager. Mentor kept coaching mentee on how to get promoted, but never once talked to me about what that would look like for a particular role. I would time and time again lay out what achievement would look like and what stretching beyond current role would be but mentee focused on things like “I am supposed to do 10 of these things and I did 11!” The entire conversation(s) was frustrating for both of us and meanwhile mentor kept coaching on new approaches. It would have been more helpful if mentor would have talked to me about what things mentee needed to demonstrate for promotion. Although to be fair, I did have the same conversation with the mentee several times per year. In the end, I promoted the mentee before they were ready (since Mentor was one of our SVPs and I felt I could only push back for so long without being labeled “terrible manager”) and they struggled with their new responsibilities and left the company. They were shouldering much less work than their peers in the same role that had in fact met the promotion criteria and took in what we said in the first place. Not saying this is your situation at all, but posting as a reminder there is often more than one side of every story.

      1. Lynn*

        I had the same thought. I think it’s really valuable to have the perspective of a mentor outside of your work area, but then it’s also hard for them to have a clear understanding of if you are performing well or not

  5. LBD*

    OP 1, if you can pull it off, answering, “It’s a medical device,” and then replying to any further questions or comments with, “Oh, that’s enough about me, now how many copies of form n0Yb15 do you need?” in a breezy tone that suggests you’re being so very kind by not boring them with your private information, might deflect some of the annoyance of peoples curiosity.
    I wish you a smooth and comfortable recovery. Although autocorrect wanted to wish you a smoothie!

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Yes to this. You can even put the transition back to the work topic in your first answer: “it’s a medical device, now how many copies of form n0Yb15 do you need?” Moving the conversation along, and off the topic of your ostomy bag/medical condition/etc. will head off follow-up questions from a good chunk of people. Unfortunately, not everyone, but it will still be an improvement. Also wishing you a smooth and comfortable recovery!

      1. cleo*

        I agree. And for people who don’t follow the topic change, try variations of “it’s a long, boring story and I don’t want to get into it, let’s focus on X” or “enough about me, let’s focus on you”

    2. TootsNYC*

      I like this.
      Just because someone asks questions doesn’t mean you’re obligated to answer them.
      It does often take practice to figure out how to ignore the question, because we’re so programmed to simply answer. But we needn’t be.

      Or make a small face (at the world, not at them) and say, in a friendly tone, “I really don’t like to get into it at work; let’s see if we can get you what you need.”

  6. Melicious*

    LW5: You could add a look down at your notes before going with the suggested script. That seems to appease most people that I did come in prepared with questions I wanted answered.

    1. JSPA*

      Look down, then, “All that’s left are topics that are only relevant later in the process, so I’m happy leaving it here, unless there’s anything you wanted to circle back on.” And look ready to stand up and shift to handshake / handshake-equivalent.

      1. constant_craving*

        I would be prepared to be asked what those questions for later in the process are if you go with that option.

    2. Rainy Cumbria*

      Definitely. And perhaps add something like “I had planned to ask about X and Y, and we’ve covered both of those in our conversation”, so they know at least that you thought about things in advance.

      1. Venus*

        This is what I would do.
        “I had questions about A and B, and the information you shared today has answered them”

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah, that works if there are genuinely no questions left to ask – but I understood that the LW had already asked several at that point, in which case I don’t think it’d be necessary – I personally just go with “No, I think that was all I had for the moment, thanks!” or something similar.

          1. Venus*

            “But in every interview, there is a moment when they have answered all my immediate questions”

            It isn’t clear if the LW has asked questions and had them answered, or my interpretation that the questions happened to be answered during the conversation. I agree that my response makes more sense in the second context.

      2. Tiny Tom*

        This is the format that I’ve preferred, both as an interviewer and an interviewee. It shows that you prepared and had questions that you cared about, and it shows that you were paying attention to the information that you got in the interview.

        As an added bonus, it leads nicely into saying something positive about the company/role if there were things that you liked in the answers. If you liked the type of work, you can add, “I particularly liked that X will be a part of the job”. Or if you felt like the interviewer gave particularly good answers, “I really appreciated your description of how the team manages the alpaca grooming schedule”. It ends the interview on a positive note for everyone.

      3. Antilles*

        This has always been my strategy when someone answers all my questions during the interview, because it emphasizes that my lack of questions is NOT a lack of interest, just that we had a thorough discussion already.

      4. TootsNYC*

        when I would interview people, I took to heart the idea that they were judging the job (and me) as much as I was judging them.

        So in explaining the job to them, I would cover everything I could think of: hours, potential for overtime, how mistakes were handled, what I was like to work with, scope of freedom inside the job, etc.
        Then I’d say, Do you have any questions, and they’d say, “well, you already covered everything I was going to ask.”

        There’s also that they’d ask those follow-up questions about possible late nights while we were discussing hours and shifts. So of course there wasn’t yet another question.

        I never held it against them if they didn’t have questions, as long as I felt our conversation had at some point covered the parts I would have wanted them to be curious about, or to have in mind as they made their decision.

        1. Venus*

          Yes, I’ve done numerous interviews in a row and by the time I got to the last one I answered almost every question that was likely to come up.

    3. ThatGirl*

      Yep, in situations like that I often make a point to look at the questions or notes I’ve already jotted down just in case something does jump out at me – and then say that I think I’m good.

      1. starsaphire*

        I’m always careful to have my questions written on a separate page of my interview notebook, and I’ll put a line through them/make notes under them as the subjects come up in the interview.

        When I get “Any more questions?” I’ll flip back to that page, look at it, and then look up and smile and say, “Looks like we got to all of them, but I’m sure I’ll think of more later,” or something like that.

        But it’s there in front of me, in writing, that I did have questions and I noted it as we covered them.

    4. Hamster Manager*

      Agreed, check the notes. I go with something complimentary like “looks like we already hit everything I was curious about, thanks for being so thorough/informative/whatever.” That way it’s not “I’m incurious” it’s “you’re a good communicator.”

    5. arthur lester*

      Yep, I usually do this– not even as a performative thing, necessarily, but just to be really certain I didn’t miss a little question I jotted down in a margin somewhere! It definitely seems to go over well

  7. JSPA*

    #1: “device” is one more (complicated) word than you need.

    (Especially with people who may have only encountered the word “device” in the context of a movie where the “device” is a bomb that’s going to blow, or turn us all into mutants.)

    “Just a medical thing.”
    “Oh that, it’s medical, and it’s fine.”
    “It’s a medical thing, this is how I have to wear it.”
    “I have a medical pouch, it’s fine and I’m fine, now how are you doing?”

    Some of them just want you to know that it’s showing, in case you don’t want it to show (whatever it is).

    Some of them want to shame you for not caring to hide it more completely (in which case, F them, but politely).

    Some of them may have friends or family with an ostomy, or a port, or an old-style glucose pump, and want to share support, or ask you who did yours. If they pony up their own info, you can then choose if you want to share further, or move into “I don’t get into that at work” or “they prefer us not to talk about our own medical stuff at work.”

    This presumes you don’t want your clients to be distracted by being anxious about you, such that quickly shutting down the anxiety is the best tack. (For someone whose baseline level of function is, confused about life, confused about how to interact with people and/or confused by any situation that does not come with clear rules, it can be really distracting to encounter anything that’s not within the Rule Book of How Life Works.)

    So, the calming message that will work for most is,

    “this is a medical thing, it’s fine like it is.”

    Basically: no problem here, time to move along.

    1. Nebula*

      I would find ‘medical thing’ more confusing than ‘medical device’, as ‘medical thing’ to me implies ‘medical condition’ or something like that (not that I would ever ask about this in the first place, but you know). I don’t know what LW’s ostomy bag looks like exactly, but if someone had a bulge under their shirt and said ‘It’s a medical thing’ there’s a strong chance I’d think ‘Hernia?’ or similar, rather than what it is. Now of course, LW should use whatever language they’re comfortable with and it doesn’t matter if people get confused. However, ‘medical device’ seems to strike the right balance between accuracy and non-specificity to answer the question and move on. ‘Medical thing’, to my mind, would make people ask more questions.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Hey, so one thing to note is that adults who have difficulty with social cues/boundaries are not necessarily incapable of understanding words like “device”, or would only know it in the context of bombs or mutants. It may be that OP’s service users would struggle with the term, but it could also be that being more precise rather than vague would help. OP will be best placed to figure that out, though!

      1. Pencil*

        The fact is that most people, no matter how smart or educated, will process shorter, simpler words faster. Using small words isn’t insulting. It’s often a very good way to move past the topic quicker. Saying “it’s just a medical thing” could bypass an extra half-second of processing time for “device” and get the conversation back on track that much faster.

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          I wouldn’t feel talked down to by “it’s a medical thing” and I like to think I’m above average in intelligence. It doesn’t sound like the speaker thinks I won’t understand, it sounds like they don’t want to explain.

          And really “device” doesn’t actually convey much more information than “thing”. It just sounds fancier.

          I vote for “medical thing”.

          1. Tulipmania*

            “Thing” is more casual and answers the spirit of the question without providing as much of a foothold for more followup. It also sounds warmer, or at least less not-warm, because it’s a more colloquial phrasing. It also has the slight double flavor of “The thing you’re looking at is a medical object” and “The situation you’re observing is medical in nature.”

            I’d definitely go for “it’s a medical thing.”

        2. kalli*

          You know what’s shorter and simpler than ‘it’s a medical device’?

          ‘None of your business!’

          1. JSPA*

            Yeah…but they were pretty clear that this is a job serving a population that can be difficult to engage with, and to serve effectively.

            Why, exactly, is left to the imagination.

            But they’ve been pretty clear that they’re looking for something that doesn’t risk interfering with carrying out their core job. The now-standard, “send the awkward back to the source” is not going to make their overall job easier.

            1. kalli*

              Neither is opening the door to a zillion and one ‘what’s wrong with you’ questions when ‘We’re here to talk about you!’ is right there and doesn’t require anyone to give information they explicitly don’t want to give to people who 100% have no right to know it.

          2. Tulipmania*

            You can’t say that to a client / patient / coworker without getting in trouble. There are a million more light/ subtle / professional ways to achieve the same effect.

            1. Irish Teacher*

              And I would imagine that saying it to a vulnerable client who may have learning difficulties (from what the LW says below this sounds like it may be the situation) when one is in what appears to be a “helping profession” would be even more of an issue.

            2. kalli*

              And instead of employing any of them, we’re going straight to disclosing a medical condition because… oh yeah, it’s “nicer” than being professional and maintaining boundaries.

              1. greenland*

                “None of your business” is about the farthest thing from a professional response possible.

        3. MsM*

          On the other hand, “device” signals “unless you’re a tech, whatever advice you’re thinking about giving for whatever condition you’ve decided is causing this probably isn’t applicable, so let’s move on.”

      2. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Yeah, smartphones are so ubiquitous nowadays, and people are used to things like Netflix asking them what kind of devices they plan to watch movies on, or being asked to “select your device” from a list of options as the first step in a help wizard, or opening their Bluetooth settings and seeing a list of “connected/paired devices” and “other nearby devices,” or being warned when they enable biometrics in an app that “any fingerprint saved to this device will be able to login,” etc. I think the word has become totally commonplace.

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah, I’m not really sure why someone would think that people have never encountered the word “device” except as a bomb strapped to your chest/B-movie sci-fi device is baffling to me in a world where the overwhelming majority of households have an electronic device of some sort (e.g., 84% of American households have a smartphone).

          Even if the population you serve includes people in that 16% who don’t personally have a smart phone or other devices, I think it’s pretty reasonable to assume they’re at least familiar with the concept and have heard the term “device” in reference to modern technology.

          1. Tulipmania*

            Yeah it’s not exactly an a-level vocab word. I’d expect any adult to have tons more associations with it than a bomb.

        2. JSPA*

          I’ve taken various friends to sign up for food stamps, housing aid, etc. One ends up hanging out in the office, waiting and listening to conversations, for some hours. The range in people’s basic life skills (and language skills and desperation levels and determination to connect) is mighty wide. If you offer more specialized services, I suspect the range increases further.

          My guess is that the subset of people who reliably function at that level of understanding and the people who are asking inappropriate questions about shirt bulges, don’t have that much overlap.

          1. sagc*

            gotta say, your entire line of commenting here seems wildly patronizing toward… the general public? “device” is not some obscure word that needs to be avoided.

            1. JSPA*

              This. Isn’t. About. The. General. Public. It’s about a “hard to serve” population. If you think that describes the general public, that’s at least as patronizing…no?

              1. Coconutty*

                “Device” is an extremely common word. Sure, they may encounter the occasional person who doesn’t understand it in this context, depending on the specifics of the server population, but that seems unlikely to be the norm. Wildly overcorrecting for a problem that’s not actually a problem is indeed patronizing.

              2. Nope.*

                It’s the “hard to serve” equating to “only knows a device as a bomb, use simpler words” that’s coming off as patronizing and condescending. They’re rough around the edges, not five year olds who don’t know basic vocab.

          2. AbruptPenguin*

            This comment feels classist at best. Being low-income doesn’t mean you lack social skills or a “level of understanding” to know the word “device.”

        3. amoeba*

          Yeah, true – but on the other hand, a “medical device” sounds quite technical to me (even though I know it doesn’t have to be) – so it wouldn’t come to mind directly when describing the bag and I’d probably end up going with “thing”!

          1. GarlicBreadAfficianado*

            Hi! Gov’t social worker here!

            Depending on the population she’s working with, device wouldn’t sound technical at all. Equipment would be incorrect terminology for that population as well. I work with people and their families with brain injuries. Equipment in our little hunk o’ the world are things like hospital beds, wheelchairs, walkers, hoyers.. DME basically.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      People thinking ‘device’ equals ‘destructive object’ is a very long stretch that I don’t think needs accommodation.

      ‘It’s a medical device’ is perfectly fine.

    4. MauvaisePomme*

      I’m pretty baffled by this comment, to be honest! I think “device” is a widely understood term, thanks to the rise of digital devices like smartphones. Even on the off-chance someone doesn’t have a high level of comfort with the term, the more precise and correct term here is a much better way of shutting down and redirecting the conversation. I can’t help but imagine the vagueness and informality of “medical thing” would just invite more questions from the kind of person who would be bold enough to ask initially, whereas “medical device” is a little bit colder in its precision, and is a better word for setting that boundary that the letter writer isn’t going to be answering follow-up questions.

  8. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    To OP5, in the past I have used “all my immediate questions have been answered, however is there a process you want me to use if I do have any further questions?”

    That way I’m following their process, and also showing interest at the same time.
    And as Alison said, come prepared with questions, written down in some way if possible.

    1. Quinalla*

      Yes, I do something similar. “That’s all the questions I have for now. If I have anything further, how can I follow up?”

  9. HollyTree*

    I’m a support worker for the population you describe (I’m assuming it’s autistic adults/other learning disabilities) and I’d go with: ‘It’s something that helps me get better’ and immediately change the subject back to whatever is relevant. A single follow up question gets ‘It’s private, so no more questions please + subject change.’ Any more questions gets ‘I’ve answered you/no more questions, please.’

    For anykne who ever needs it: Simplicity and directness delivered with a firm but warm tone is the way to go in any subject with this population, there’s no need to twist yourself up in knots over it. You’re doing them a favour by showing how you want to be treated. You might even find they’ll remind each other if you work in a group setting or with the same people often enough. Short words in short sentences, no metaphors, and positive language – or as we say, ‘don’t say don’t’. When someone is only capable of understanding one, two, three or even four key words in a sentence if you take up one of those slots with a negative (don’t/won’t/shouldn’t) you’ll increase chances of confusion or even generate the exact behaviour you’re tryng to avoid. this can also be because some people only hear or understand what’s at the end of a sentence no matter how long it is – so ‘don’t run’ is processed as ‘run!’. So if you use positive language ‘don’t run’ becomes walk. So, topically, instead of ‘I don’t want questions at work’, you’d use something more like: ‘No more questions, please’ or even ‘Questions finished now’ to completely remove the negative and extra key words. of course, exactly how short you get depends on the person you’re talking to – you wouldn’t want to use ‘questions finished now’ to someone with a PHD just because they’re autistic, but ‘It helps me get better. No questions, please + subject change’ is vastly more clear than ‘I don’t discuss it at work’. Obviously you’d know whether your particular population would understand the phrase ‘medical device’ or not.

    1. cabbagepants*

      this is interesting. thanks for sharing this background. But wouldn’t “No more questions, please” have the same problem with a leading negative as “don’t run”?

  10. JSPA*

    #2, I can see two reasons that they matched you with the mentee. The less likely is that they were near the PIP zone, and they wanted you to boost them free. The more likely is that they suspect that the manager is crappy, and is squelching good talent, and they wanted you to help do an end run around that.

    I’d discuss those things with the mentee. Then, option 1: figure out if there’s a promotion or a reasonably desirable lateral transfer inside the company that would use their skills reasonably, while getting them away from the horrible manager. Offer to be the reference. Option 2: manager may be shutting things down because mentee is bright enough to be in line for the manager’s own job, such that the manager is out on their ass. And…the manager may not be wrong! Can you potentially place a word in the right ear to make that happen?

    Finally, IMO, in talking to other manangers whom you know well, “I’ve been mentoring a stellar person who’s undervalued and whose immediate boss has made it clear they will block all chances of advancement, which is just such a waste” would not be something you’d even have to clear with the mentee. Best option is that someone hires them away internally, no???

    1. I should really pick a name*

      They were matched because they both signed up for the mentoring program. There doesn’t need to be a reason beyond that.

      1. MsM*

        Yeah, I’ve been at orgs that didn’t give much more thought to mentorship matching than “well, you’re at about the right level of seniority for this person.”

      2. londonedit*

        In our mentoring programme, the way it works is that the mentors complete a short profile about themselves, and then the mentees are offered a choice of two or three options based on which profiles match their stated goals. The mentee then chooses who they’d like to work with.

    2. mlem*

      If mentorships are 1:1 and public, speaking vaguely about your mentee when everyone knows who that is both exposes their business without their permission and comes across as strangely coy.

    3. AnonAgain*

      Yeah that is not an accurate assumption.
      I was a top performer at my last company and fed up with my boss/department and lack of promotion, so I signed up for our mentor program and was a mentee. Our program was through HR and an HR person mentored me on getting promoted and salary negotiation and I used that info to 1) try to go through proper channels to get promoted and then when that failed 2) leave the company. It was a great program.

      (Side note: Our HR were not company employees. We were a huge global company and our HR was mostly outsourced).

    4. TootsNYC*

      I’m a mentor in a company sponsored program.

      I promised my mentee that I would never* discuss her to the wider company.

      It’s too risky that someone might figure out who she is, especially if it’s juicy (and that’s a juicy tidbit). Or that something I say to someone else will travel back to the HR person who is administering the program. She’s in another country; we only meet by Zoom; nobody probably knows who she even is. But this is where she works, and it’s important that I not expose her.

      I told her I might speak of her situation, but never her name, if I were trying to get advice from a friend of mine about how I could help her.

      *the only caveat to that “never,” which I covered, is if she tells me something that exposes the company to risk–for example, if she’s being sexually harassed or sees her boss do something illegal. And even then, I would not bring that info out of our “safe space” without her knowledge and hopefully with her involvement and her guidance on how to protect her.

      So no, there is NO WAY I’d mention to someone in the company that my mentee’s boss was sandbagging them.
      Not even to warn HR that the company was about to lose someone.

  11. JSPA*

    LW3: with age comes a certain air of seniority; with experience, the aura of being hyper-competent and respected.

    You may see yourself the same way now at at 21, but the people around you should, in the natural scheme of things, become a bit more defferential as you grow in age and experience. (A little–or a lot–of gray hair can help. Even for women / even if it gets you ignored in the supermarket.)

    Unless you feel that you’re telegraphing frazzled vibes, just enjoy being treated like the senior expert that you’ve become.

    1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      Yeah, I’ve started to get this just within the past few years, although I’m not sure how much of it is the particular junior team member in question. Most of his queries would come as “Do you have time to…? I know you’re so busy/you have so much stuff on your plate” when in fact, a nontrivial portion of the time, I was between tasks, or waiting for something to finish processing, or catching up on AAM.

    2. Quinalla*

      This is a good point! It’s good to examine if you aren’t being welcoming to questions, etc. when folks bring them, but I definitely get a lot of this now that I’m seen as someone with experience who is doing a lot for the company. I got out of my way to be as available as possible and to explicitly tell people yes I am busy, but bring what you need to me and if I really am too busy I’ll suggest someone else for you to go to. Maybe you need to examine if you are being as available as you need to be, but likely they are just being deferential.

  12. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just good at it*

    Just before we were blessed with the pandemic I entered the hospital with colon cancer and left with no cancer and a semi-colon. Although I did not need an ostomy bag, the doctors decided my bladder needed some tweaking and I suffered for a month with a catheter/foley.

    My 9 year old proudly told everybody and then some that his daddy had a “pish bag” as I never realized how easy it was for me to blush.

    I hope that this is a temporary setback for you, and in the future you can think back on this with uncomfortable amusement.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Mad props for “semi-colon”, that’s a great term for it!

      There are some quite fun patterned osteomy/catheter bag covers, for anyone who does want to cover up/obscure their bags (sounds like LW doesn’t which is fine).

  13. Filicophyta*

    OP1, you may want to check out Hannah Witton on YouTube. She has a few channels but the main one (just called Hannah Witton, I believe) talks a lot about her stoma and wearing a pouch, attitude, and dealing with reactions.
    If you want to go that way, you can also get a wide variety of covers and co-ordinate with your outfit, or even go wild and decorative with it.
    Sorry people are giving you a hard time about it.

  14. Sasha*

    LW1: It is perfectly fine to tell people who are not aware of social boundaries, what those boundaries are.

    So if you say “it’s a medical thing” and still get further questions, it is absolutely fine to say you know, it’s a little rude to ask strangers about their private health conditions”. Or “oh, I don’t really want to talk about my health at work, thanks”.

    You can say it matter-of-factly, and carry on with what you are doing, but it’s fine to shut it down and not answer any questions! I also have patients with poor boundaries, and I have never had any kind of negative response to politely telling them “no”.

    1. SimpleAutie*

      Seconding this. Lots of years working with adults with developmental disabilities, and a clear, simple explanation of the boundary is fine- in fact, preferable to answering!

      “It’s something my doctor gave me to help me feel better” and then any follow up questions can be answered “It’s not appropriate to ask about people’s health stuff, so we’re going to focus on what we’re here to do”

  15. kalli*

    Forgive me, but ‘it’s something my doctor gave me to make me feel better’ isn’t in any way ‘none of your business’, and nor is ‘it’s a medical device’.

    I understand that medical care is expensive and light duties may not be an option, although LW#1 is entitled to all the accommodations they can access under ADA and FMLA – ADA should be considered because it is a disruption to a bodily system with long-term effects. Absolutely, at the very least, they can run this past a supervisor or boss; whether the result is an ADA accommodation for a role that doesn’t put one in that position, or permission to put up a sign that’s like ‘My appearance isn’t relevant to my ability to help you!’ but in employer-supported wordage and permission to just point to the sign and ignore invasive questions. These aren’t coworkers, they’re members of the public, so redirection to the actual work is more than fine.

    1. BubbleTea*

      That sentence is what LW chose to say to a six year old with questions. It’s a perfectly good response in that context, and may well be in other contexts too – I think we can trust LW to judge when that’s the case. The sign you suggest strikes me as being very likely to sound rude and unnecessarily aggressive. People aren’t asking questions because they think LW’s appearance affects their job, they’re curious or concerned or confused. The sign wouldn’t fix that. Anyone who doesn’t already recognise that the question isn’t appropriate wouldn’t understand that sign as being relevant to them.

      1. kalli*

        They specifically ask if that’s the polite thing to say for ‘none of your business’.

        Anything that goes ‘it’s medical’ is also not ‘none of your business’. If just getting on with the actual reason for the interaction is insufficient, then backup for enforcing ‘stay on topic’ with people who are transient is more suited than ‘I have a medical condition!’ over and over to people whose business it is not.

        It’s the kind of situation where mild aggression is already reached by way of exasperation – it’s not LW’s job to appease someone’s curiosity or confusion; LW is also at work doing their job, clearly functional enough to do so, so a customer genuinely does not need to be validated in expressing “concern”. It’s an ostomy bag, not a weeping sore. Nobody’s expected to go ‘it’s a medical device!’ over a bandaid or appease a customer being “concerned” because someone has a bandaid. An ostomy bag is the same level of nobody else’s business and the boundary has been set by LW as ‘do not want to discuss at all’ not ‘I’m happy telling people it’s a thing but it’s under control’.

        1. steliafidelis*

          OP specifies that they can’t just snap at their clients and wants an answer that is fair to their own desire for privacy and the fact that the asks aren’t coming from a malicious place. “None of your business” is unnecessarily escalating, even if it’s technically correct (the best kind of correct!). Maybe “It’s private,” but that might invite more curiosity, and if OP wants to shut down that line of questioning and move on in the smoothest, least escalating way, I don’t have any better suggestions than Alison’s.

        2. JSPA*

          If “medical” feels like TMI,

          Try, “Oh, I have a thing. It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

          Basically, acknowledge their potential concern for you (whether they fear that it’s serious, or that you want to hide it) and immediately deflect from it being a topic.

        3. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

          I think you are missing a fundamental part here. These are not CUSTOMERS! The op mentions she works in a social work type of job where the clients do not have the capacity to understand that these questions are not appropriate. I’m getting heavy vibes that she works with people who are in some way mentally handicapped or otherwise mentally incapacitated and/or vulnerable. I’ve lived my whole life with people like this who just blurt out their thoughts and will come up and ask you the strangest questions like “Why do you talk that way” or “Where’s your other leg?” They are not trying to be intrusive or rude, they just don’t have a filter like most people do.

          1. kalli*

            Whereas you are assuming that someone who needs “social-work-esque” services *must* be incapacitated, which is patronising at best.

            Customer being a word meaning ‘an individual with whom one must deal’ and all.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      “It’s a medical device” has the benefit of hopefully bringing the portion of the conversation to an end quickly AND avoiding having a client file a complaint about how they were treated.

      This is one of those areas where there’s a distinction between how things should work, and how they actually work.

      1. kalli*

        Then again, complying with the latter, whether out of an assumption that it’s unavoidable or a desire to be the good disabled person who suffers so prettily (blah) to comply with the expectations of others or just trying to be ‘polite’ and hoping (!!!) it works because people who have no boundaries magically learn them when they get results, ends up perpetuating it so that it never gets to the former. It’s clearly something that LW is aware of given it’s rather difficult to not know about having to poop through one’s tummy and shower/dress/eat accordingly, so they don’t need it brought to their attention; they’re working, so they’re clearly able to work enough to manage that; there’s nothing justifying the intrusion and it shouldn’t be encouraged, particularly as LW doesn’t *want* to.

        ‘Are you aware you’re sitting in a chair with huge wheels?’
        ‘Oh, it’s a medical device!!’

        ‘OMG! You have thread sewn into your skin!!’
        ‘Uh, yeah, it’s a medical device!’

        And ‘but they might get complained about’ for not entertaining the disclosure of having medical issues to people who don’t need to know? The company should not be validating that either, which is also why they should be involved in the conversation about the issue of customers being overly intrusive.

        1. rusty*

          I’m pretty sure that we’re talking about a form of social work involving clients, i.e. service users, who don’t have the capacity to comprehend that they don’t need to know. We’re not talking about a private company with customers who can simply be turned away. So LW is trying to find something that will actually work to change the subject quickly, given those circumstances. No, she shouldn’t have to disclose anything, but if the real outcome of this is that she then has to field twenty more questions from a confused person who genuinely cannot be held to ideal standards of politeness, she might be looking for a compromise.

          1. rusty*

            (I do agree that the organisation should be involved here and LW should get the support they need! You just can’t take that diminished capacity out of the equation when figuring out how to deal with this, and LW is more familiar with her clients than we are.)

            1. kalli*

              We really shouldn’t be assuming or encouraging government + client facing = diminished capacity. You shouldn’t underestimate the nosiness and lack of boundaries of people with expected capacity, either.

              “It’s a medical device” includes “it’s medical” which is a disclosure LW considerins none of their business. If redirection to the actual work fails, then LW is faced with endless questions regardless of whether they’ve said ‘it’s a tree’, ‘I’m babysitting a tadpole’ or ‘it’s a medical device’, and that’s something LW should have training in and support for if their customers are like that regardless of whether it’s “small talk” about their appearance, invasive questions that they should not be required to answer for their job and do not want to answer even for the sake of social expectation. That doesn’t mean turning away clients, it means getting support for their chosen path so they can stick to it and the org has their back when doing so.

              1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

                We’re not assuming it, she said it: the clients she deals with “don’t have the capacity to understand.”

              2. Be Gneiss*

                I get that you’re really angry about this, but we are supposed to take letter-writers at their word, and this letter writer is looking specifically for a polite way to manage this in a situation where – based on LW’s words – they could get in trouble for snapping at a client, they are dealing with clients that don’t have a good understanding of social norms, and they don’t have the capacity to understand.
                We can all agree that in perfect and fair world, LW wouldn’t have to say anything, or could tell anyone who asked to jump in a lake, but LW is asking for advice on how to handle the situation in the real world that we actually exist in, and your responses feel hostile and out of touch for LW’s actual situation, based on the facts as LW presented them.

              3. Colette*

                The OP specifically says: “This means I work face-to-face with a whole lot of people who don’t have the capacity to understand why they shouldn’t ask “What’s on your stomach?” or “What’s under your shirt?” or “Are you pregnant?” “

                1. kalli*

                  Yep, and you don’t need to be disabled or have “diminished capacity” to not have that particular filter.

                2. rusty*

                  Kalli, LW has clarified that she is talking about clients with challenges that affect their ability to understand social norms. She specifically referred to their capacity. She knows them, and she seems sure that she can’t respond to them as she would to a person with no additional needs whatsoever who is being willfully and/or obtusely terrible about disability. She’s asking for specific strategies for dealing with a specific population. (YES, those terrible obtuse people are very real, yes I have long term conditions that have led to unhappy encounters with those people, YES I get what you’re talking about, but it’s not what LW asked for.)

        2. JSPA*

          This isn’t about coworkers with normal comprehension skills, it’s about a hard to serve population, without. The LW is in this job with the intention of serving that population.

          And yes, some of them will also ask about (say) a scooter rather than a wheelchair, or want an explanation of why your cane has 4 feet, or why you’re wearing socks rather than shoes in your chair, or why your hair isn’t there, did it fall out?

          If you’d find it intollerable to work with a population like that, then it’s good you don’t…but OP does, and presumably they take pride in getting services to people who are challenging to work with.

          1. LW1 here*

            Thanks. I do find it satisfying. I love my job. And I’m good at it, which is why I’m reluctant to make any changes where I work face to face with people less. I think people are interesting and fun and mostly awesome. No matter their challenges.

            And also (not to you JSPA specifically), because apparently my letter wasn’t clear enough: I work for the US federal government. I work, directly, face to face with many people (not all, but also not none) who have mental challenges that mean they don’t understand social norms. Having confirmed that, I appreciate any further advice.

            1. Hlao-roo*

              There might be some advice you can use from the “my office is walking on eggshells around our overly-friendly coworker” post. I’m thinking specifically about the quote “the kindest thing you can do is to be direct and straightforward about what you do and don’t want him to do, because otherwise he won’t know.” (I’ll link to the post in a follow-up comment.)

              For people who understand social cues, the “it’s a medical device” and then a subject change is a polite way to hint at “please don’t ask further questions.” But for people who don’t understand social cues, the polite thing to do is to say “please don’t ask me any more questions about [this/my medical device/my appearance]. We are here to talk about [work topic].”

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

              Have you talked with your coworkers or anyone to get some ideas. You might not know it but someone else may have gone through the same thing at one point and have some pointers for you. I’ve lived my entire life around people with developmental disabilities so I know exactly what type of questions you are referring too. From my experience and what I’ve seen others do is be matter of fact. if you want to say something like “its a medical device or medical thing” then go for it. Otherwise you can say, its something personal. Do it in a kind way and then try to redirect the conversation.

              good luck with everything!

            3. Lady_Lessa*

              You know the folks that you work with best, but could something like this work. “it’s something special the doctor gave me to make me feel better”. Or would that cause more challenges.

            4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

              LW1, can you just be matter of fact that you’d prefer not to answer questions? I think start as Alison said, but if people keep asking questions, just say (pleasantly) “please don’t ask me about it.” It seems like the populations you’re talking about often will happily comply to direct requests like that.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Bit of a nuclear option there, and I say that as someone with visible walking aids who’s occasionally asked personal questions about them.

      ‘I need it for medical reasons’ or ‘it’s a medical device’ is a fine and professional response. Putting up a sign trying to call attention to the fact that I look different while simultaneously saying that you mustn’t mention it would likely backfire. A lot.

      1. kalli*

        And a response LW does not want to give. Their employer should support them in that, regardless of the course they end up taking in the range suggested.

    4. Peanut Hamper*

      I think we need to add this sign to the passive-aggressive notes discussion from last week. Just, wow.

    5. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      I’m sorry but you sound a bit ableist here. There are lots of people who have colonoscopy bags and live their lives perfectly normally and do not need FMLA. Although you may not have meant it this way but the way you phrased it sounds like you are saying that because the OP has this going on she should not be working and therefore they won’t get these questions from clients.

      The OP was not asking for advice on how to get FMLA or get further time off. It sounds like she mentioned her exhaustion because it can be harder to think of a controlled response when you are tired and you get asked the same intrusive question repeatedly all day. Lets not give OP advice she isn’t asking for. She knows what she can handle and if she needs accommodations. That’s not what she is asking here.

      And putting a sign up that says My appearance isn’t relevant to my ability to help you is very rude and is not going to make clients feel they are in a safe place. The clients OP works with are people who do not have the capacity to understand why they shouldn’t ask these types of questions. Putting a sign up is not going to help the OP and is going to make her job harder. .

      1. kalli*

        I’m sorry, but you sound a bit presumptuous here. OP is entitled to accommodations in the workplace because their medical condition specifically entitles them to a range of potential accommodations that they can negotiate with their employer, being any within a range of options from a chat about this particular issue in their particular workplace to the light duties suggested elsewhere to support for whatever method they agree will work best. An example is not necessarily a suggestion, merely an example; but in this case it’s become a great example of how people who would not voluntarily put themselves in the frame of being described of having language difficulties do actually have issues in parsing and communicating language, boundaries and filters…

  16. Archangelsgirl*

    #2… Why does your mental need a mentor if they’ve been with the company for decades? I’m worried there’s stuff going on with this person that you’re not aware of, and I’d probably seek to get out of the relationship, or at least ask some more questions. Something doesn’t track here.

    1. kalli*

      Being with a company for decades doesn’t mean someone can’t want or ask for training or professional development.

    2. SarahKay*

      My company offers a formal mentoring scheme that (more-or-less) anyone can sign up for as a mentee, and anyone with enough experience/seniority can sign up for as a mentor.
      While most mentees I’ve been aware of are new to the company I’ve also seen people who’ve been here for years sign up. Sometimes they’ve entered a new phase in their life so now want to grow their career; sometimes they just want to change directions but stay with the company (we’re a global org so lots of scope for movement). In OP’s case the mentee presumably wanted to move up in the company.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep, same here. We have mentors across the company, and anyone can sign up to work with a mentor. You don’t have to be new or entry-level – in fact there are some high-level mentors who have worked with senior colleagues on career development.

        1. Venus*

          Yes in a big mentorship program all levels are encouraged. I’m more of a mid-level contributor with no management experience and have signed up a couple times to be a mentor. I didn’t want them to think that I was misjudging my experience and I made it clear that I knew my options for mentees were limited and didn’t expect to get anyone. I ended up mentoring a couple new employees who appreciated the opportunity to understand the company and work environment without asking coworkers or their boss. One was struggling with their manager and joined my former group a year later. I didn’t plan it that way, but kept telling them that there were better groups including that one, and I was very happy for them a year later when they moved to somewhere better. It meant that we didn’t lose them and they were able to work on much more interesting projects.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      It sounds like anybody can sign up to ask for a mentor and I can think of a few reasons why somebody who had been with a company for decades might want to do so. One that seems fairly likely in this case, is that the manager has long been a problem and is unsupportive and the mentee wanted to be matched with somebody else in the company who was senior to them to get advice from somebody who wasn’t so problematic.

      Another possibility is that the person simply had difficulty applying for promotions – due to shyness or neurodivergence or lack of role models or whatever – and wanted to be matched with somebody who had successfully negotiated this and could advise them.

      Also I think there is a personality thing. Some people like to have somebody they can turn to for advice, regardless of how experienced they are. (Others bristle at the idea of advice even if they are entry-level!) And hey, no matter how experienced one is, there will always be somebody who knows more than you.

    4. Oryx*

      Formal mentor programs at companies are often open to everyone, no matter how long they have been there. I know ours is.

    5. Totally Minnie*

      I’d guess based on how the mentee’s manager reacted when he asked about a raise/promotion that he’s been with the company for decades, and has been wanting to move forward to the next step of his career but not getting any traction, so he signed up for the mentorship program in hopes of getting some help to get over that hurdle.

    6. kiki*

      They may have been with the company for decades but not always within the same area. The person may have initially been working on the factory floor for many years but has somewhat recently moved into the office side, or something like that.

    7. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      1. Did I miss something I don’t see where it says that the mentee has been with the company for years.
      2. My company recently started a mentor/mentee program. Anyone can be a mentee or mentor. It’s more about professional development and learning about other departments than “I’m guiding this person who is new to the company and showing him the way” type of thing.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        1. In the last paragraph, the OP writes “I think it’s clear that we want to keep this individual (who has been with us for decades)” where “this individual” refers to the mentee. Easy to miss because it’s a parenthetical at the end of the question.

        1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

          thanks for the info, I read it a second time and still didnt see it, which is why i was confused.

      2. Venus*

        1. “I think it’s clear that we want to keep this individual (who has been with us for decades)”

    8. Ammonite*

      Evidently they thought they needed one bc they couldn’t get promoted.

      People benefit from mentoring at all stages of their career. One thing that impressed me about my current company when I was interviewing was that a senior person both tenure-wise and position-wise said he had a mentor. To me, it showed that he knew that there is always more to learn and more to work on about oneself. OTOH, I’ve seen senior people bristle at the thought of being mentored, and it throws a caution flag for me.

  17. Irish Teacher*

    LW 1, I’d suggest cheerfully saying something like “oh, it’s just a medical device. Nothing too interesting/not something I talk about at work” and then pivot back to the situation at hand. “Now, how can I help you today?”

  18. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: a good friend of mine has chrons (spelling is off today) and had a very large amount of intestinal tract removed, thus has colostomy bag etc. When we worked together she’d shrug off anyone who asked what that ‘thing’ was with ‘medical device’ so I think that’s perfectly fine. Only a very few exceptionally rude people ever enquired further.

    (For them she had a ‘it’s not contagious so it’s none of your business’ response. Been hanging round me too long)

  19. Rainy Cumbria*

    2 – a previous manager told me once that a good employer should support their employees to grow, develop, and move on to bigger things, even if that means they leave. I don’t think that supporting your mentee in his job search is entirely out of the scope of your relationship. Having said that, are you both certain that there are no other roles in the business outside of his current team that he could move to?

  20. Blackbeard*

    OP #4, avoid accepting to work for a company with so many poor reviews. This reminds me about a job I had years ago — what was funny was that the company’s reviews on Glassdoor were a long, long line of bad reviews spread over 10 years with always the same criticisms (peppered now and then with the occasional 5-star rating obviously written by HR).

  21. DJ Abbott*

    #4, Bad employers and bosses will lie about their record. They will say they’re taking steps when they are not and they’ll pretend things didn’t happen. When I was young I had a couple of employers who did that.
    I wouldn’t even bother contacting employers that have a lot of bad reviews, unless you live in an area where are there aren’t any other jobs. It’s better to have a job with less prestige or pay that’s a decent employer and stable, then a higher level job with a bad employer. No matter how good you are dealing with people or hardship, the bad employer will eventually cause problems for you.
    Good luck in your search!

    1. irene adler*

      Or worse: they blame the bad reviews solely on poor performing employees who are/were disgruntled. Hence, no need to address the issues cited in the reviews. That’s bad on multiple levels. How might they take legit criticism from employees in good standing?

      It can be an interesting thing to see if the interviewer acknowledges any part of what the reviews claim or whether they insist the reviews are 100% falsified. Not suggesting that doing so mitigates a bad employer. Given there is no such thing as the perfect employer, might be worth seeing how much responsibility an employer takes with the criticisms lodged against it.

      1. Colette*

        But if they blame the reviews on disgruntled, that’s good information to have.

        The idea isn’t that you accept whatever they say as true, it’s that you evaluate what they say and decide how likely it is to be truthful.

      2. DJ Abbott*

        Why spend the time though? Unless you’re particularly interested in this, or have lots of time.
        I’d rather use that time for something else.

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

      I think the best thing would be to ask people who work in the company what it’s like. I would take anything the hiring manager said with a grain of salt, but if you have connections to people working there (even if its just a friend of a friend type of thing) or if you get to spend time with your potential coworkers without boss around, then ask them.

    3. Venus*

      It could be argued that taking a bad job with higher pay isn’t worth it if you spend that extra pay on therapists and waste your days so stressed that you can’t enjoy your time off.

  22. KatEnigma*

    #1 “It’s a medical device. Now, let’s focus on Client’s reason for coming to you”

  23. L-squared*

    #2. Its of course up to you, but I’d have no problem doing this. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should be sending him job postings from your work email, but I think this can easily be a wink, nudge, “general” job hunting mentorship with things that “could” help should another role at your company come up, but also could just be good stuff to know in general. In fact, I’d argue most mentorship things can be applied to ANY job, not just jobs at your company. This is one of those situations where, even when I like my company, my priority lies in helping people, not corproations (especially in this situation where it sounds like the corporation screwed this person).

    1. Somehow_I_Manage*

      I suspect that OP has fairly directly made it clear to their mentee that the things they are hoping for may not be possible internally and that seeking a new job is a valid choice. I think all managers should be willing to say that. Nobody is held hostage.

      But actively participating in interview prep, evaluating job postings, etc. is beyond the scope of their relationship.

  24. LB33*

    Did the mentee in #2 have any kind of issues previously? Because the boss in this scenario sounds completely awful – treating a DECADES long employee like that?

  25. cardigarden*

    OP 5:

    I like to run down my list like “Okay, so we covered [x, y, z]. Could you elaborate a little bit more on [pick one of those things that were previously covered that you might want extra info on]? The only other question I had that wasn’t already touched on was [w].” Running through the list of questions you had prepared that were already addressed by them shows that you did come prepared, but that they also did a good job covering info a candidate would want to know.

    If you need questions that may not be anticipated by the hiring committee/manager: “What do goals do you expect the person in this position to accomplish in the first year?” and “Where do you see [insert company or department here depending on the size of the unit] in 5 years? 10 years” are my usual go-tos.

    1. Melissa*

      Oh that’s a good one! Even if you can’t come up with a question because they were thorough, you can look at your list and verbally go “Hm let’s see, well you told me about the flexible schedule… and we talked about where I’d be located…” so they know you did actually have questions, and they just got answered already.

  26. Starchy*

    LW4, last year I interviewed with a company who didn’t have great Glassdoor reviews. I looked for the common themes in the reviews and asked about them in my interview. The company was very transparent and was able to explain the changes they have been making in the company with leadership and culture. I followed up with requesting to speak to some one who is in the dept I was interviewing for. They let me do that, then I followed up via LinkedIn privately with someone who was willing to speak with me. Everything they said lined up with what was said in my interview. I ended up accepting the job while knowing it was still a work in progress, but I valued the transparency from the interview. I’m now 6 months in and I can see the work being put in to change things, so I don’t regret my decision.

    1. irene adler*

      Some companies take Glassdoor reviews to heart and take actions to change. Your company is one of them. Good to see! Glassdoor did its job!

  27. HannahS*

    OP1, I also serve the public and work with people who are sometimes not socially calibrated. I’ve found that being really directive goes over fine, because they won’t pick up on subtle anyway. I say things calmly and pleasantly. Also, I immediately provide a subject change; literally steer the conversation.

    “It’s from a surgery that I had, but I don’t like to talk about it. Can you tell me more about what brought you in today?”

    If they move on, great! If they don’t, immediately start talking over them and DON’T STOP until they stop talking. Harness the power of social norms.
    “What’s it for/that’s funny because it makes you look pregnant/well I only asked because–”
    (Louder) “THAT’S FINE John but we aren’t here to talk about me. I actually have some very important questions to ask you.”
    As soon as they stop talking, “Thank you John, let’s move on. Like I said, my role here is to support you with _____ and to do that I need some information from you.”

    1. Franklin*

      This! I am a social worker. As human beings– often particularly as finely socially attuned individuals– sometimes we think it does others a favor by being subtle/vague in response to a boundary crossing. The longer I do this work, the more I find that being direct is actually kinder since it gives the person the information needed to make a change. A famous psychotherapist once wrote about setting boundaries with clients (and others) as a way of “guarding yourself against resentment,” which actually protects your relationship with them. I think being direct about not wanting to discuss something is one way of doing that.

      1. Lily*

        I 100% agree with this. I can’t stand ‘subtle hints’ and am frustrated by co-workers who become upset that a client didn’t take their ‘subtle hint.’
        One can be direct and honest without being rude.

  28. EPLawyer*

    #2 – If possible, talk to other mentors to see if there is a pattern developing in mentees trying to grow within the company. I don’t think the company started this program in order for people to leave the company. If there is a pattern of mentees trying to move up and getting shot down, or even a pattern of mentees getting squelched the company needs to know about it.

    #5 – The interviewers are asking just to make sure they covered all the questions you have and are not cutting you off prematurely (well the good ones are). So if you have covered everything, then saying so is perfectly fine.

  29. Jules the 3rd*

    LW1: “It’s a medical device. What do *you* need today?”

    The quick pivot will help a lot. Most people will be happy to close the social loop and move on to their own problems.

  30. Queen Ruby*

    “I shit out of my abdomen, fuck off.”

    My day has only just begun, but I know this will be the best thing I read all day!

    1. Usagi*

      Me too! Of course I don’t think OP should say it, but I do low-key wish they would just so we can hear about how it goes.

  31. Parenthesis Guy*

    LW #2: Pivot to helping him find new internal opportunities within the company.

    1. Blueberry Spice Pancake*

      Seconded. Internal transfers are a great way for the company to hold onto talent, and you could help him prepare for that. If he happens to use the updated resume for applying outside of the company as well that can’t be avoided, but hopefully he can find something else in another department and stick around.

  32. Snooks*

    #1 Limited capacity calls for the most simple and brief answer. “It’s just a thing my doctor says I need.” Immediately follow with a question directly related to the client’s situation. Begin with the person’s name if known. People rarely pass up on a chance to talk about themselves.

  33. Avril Ludgateaux*


    I know that the wrong answer is to yank up my shirt and say, “I shit out of my abdomen, fuck off.”

    What about a sign that says exactly this, hanging on the wall of your office or cubicle? Or a t-shirt you put on, conspicuously over your work clothes, maybe even slipping it on in direct response to the question, with a blank expression your face? Or… a button, positioned close to the device so when they are caught staring they can get their answer right then and there.

    Am I too aggressive or northeastern because I think that a rude response is appropriate to a rude question?

    In all seriousness, I’m sorry you have gone through such a tough time (all those surgeries and in such a short window!) and that people think their curiosity overrides your dignity. You mention your job is customer-facing, but would it be possible to offer your services via phone or video calls to clients instead, as an ADA-compliant accommodation?

    1. ThatGirl*

      It may be a slightly rude question, but the LW says explicitly that a lot of the people asking don’t have the social/intellectual understanding to know why it’s rude. So that would be an extremely, unnecessarily aggressive answer.

      1. Avril Ludgateaux*

        1. Sadly, whether or not somebody has the capacity to understand something is rude, does not mitigate the effects of their rudeness. As evidenced in the OP’s letter where she acknowledges how exhausting her experience has been – even though she is generally happy to answer questions (this probably has a higher bar for “rude” than most), it is Too Much to be probed by strangers all day every day at work, when it is irrelevant to the job.

        2. I acknowledged that the first paragraph approach was aggressive, and I thought it was very clear that it was made in jest, especially considering I ended my comment with (paraphrased) “in all seriousness, is there an accommodation you can ask for that allows you to control what your clients can and can’t see?”

        1. ThatGirl*

          I know that you were being jokey, but you never know who might take you seriously. Yes, I’m sure it is tiring to be asked about it over and over and over, but much like any public-facing position, each new person doesn’t know they’re the 10th or 50th person to ask. Part of that kind of job.

      2. Nina*

        I’m an autistic adult – fortunately not to the extent that I need the services of people like LW1, I have a job and all, so, pinch of salt – I may not be capable of understanding why something is rude but by god I can understand that it is rude and know not to do it. A lot of the things neurotypical adults know to do in interactions with fellow humans they pick up intuitively; I have to rote-learn and consciously perform appropriate behaviors, which is like, tiring, but it’s not that I can’t do it, it’s just there’s some stuff I don’t know without being explicitly told.

        If LW has the bandwidth (and recognizing that they are the expert in their job) ‘It’s a medical device. We don’t ask people about medical devices’ would be exactly the right amount of blunt for most of my friends.

        1. Lily*

          “it’s not that I can’t do it, it’s just there’s some stuff I don’t know without being explicitly told”
          Ditto. Being mean to me because I don’t know that what I’m asking is considered “rude” doesn’t help me understand, it makes me feel like I’m an idiot (or like you’re a glassbowl). It does not help me be a better person. It makes me want to crawl in a hole and not interact with anyone.

  34. El l*

    You don’t have a a privileged relationship like lawyer/client and doctor/patient here. If the substance of your discussions were made known to wider society, they would not lose their reputation – and there’s not a chance that if they said to you “See ya” they would be unable to figure out what to do about the problem at hand. Your responsibility is “Insofar as they work for this company, I’m going to provide the small leg-up this person needs for their long-term professional success.”

    This person needs more than you can provide. Because you can’t provide job search help. Even leaving office politics aside, not your circus and not your monkeys.

    Thankfully they can get that need filled lots of places. Just not from you.

  35. Margaret Dohnal*

    Busy Vibe: Your facial expressions may be giving that vibe. Someone passed me in the hall once and mentioned that I looked very serious and asked if I was on my way to an important meeting. I was actually on my way to buy potato chips.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      That sounds like importance to me. I mean, which flavor will you pick??!!!

  36. What even*

    #4: I have to slightly disagree with Alison’s advice on this one. I don’t think bad reviews of companies can be taken as true as they used to be. It is too easy for one disgruntled employee to go on and create multiple bad reviews, and they can say whatever they want. There are no consequences to lying on the internet.

    Absolutely, a interviewee should ask about patterns in bad reviews. I think there is info to be gleaned from how that question is answered. But I wouldn’t be turned off by bad reviews, especially if they are particularly egregious… Which seems entirely illogical. What I would be turned off by, though, is a pattern of bad reviews and then a bunch of overly positive, sickenly sweet positive ones to follow them up, as that is an obvious attempt at a company to cover up the poor ones, which I see as a negative sign.

    Essentially, I’m saying nothing is that easy anymore.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Well, it’s not super simple, but it’s not that complicated either. I like to read all the Glassdoor reviews from the past year or so and see what patterns emerge. If they all mention the same kinds of issues, good or bad, that tells me something. Of course, one person’s dealbreaker may be another’s deal maker.

      It’s been interesting to watch the glassdoor reviews for my current company over the past year. We merged with (were acquired by) another company and the viewpoints vary wildly depending on which one was your legacy company. Someone reading all of them together might not quite know what to believe.

      1. MauvaisePomme*

        100%. I find that, like many kinds of reviews, the substance of a negative review can be really telling. Vague, emotionally charged complaints (“This company is a bunch of jerks! Steer clear!”, etc.) I take with a grain of salt. But if I read something concerning and specific that seems to come from a more reasonable person, then I’ll take that more seriously. For example, if someone does give the company credit for a couple of positives and then shares more grounded criticisms, like “opportunities for advancement here are rare to nonexistent” or “I was disappointed to see the company fail to address a pretty egregious issue of racial discrimination directed at one of my colleagues from a big client,” then I’m going to operate on the assumption those are true reviews and take those red flags very seriously.

    2. Cee S*

      Some companies actually asked their employees to write positive reviews. Those reviews are usually overly positive but vague and followed by some detailed bad reviews. Such a pattern in the reviews is a red flag for smaller company (<200 people).

  37. Dinwar*

    #2: Mentoring, as I have always understood it, involves not just providing advice to your mentee, but acting in their best interests when they’re unable to act. What I mean is, as a senior person in the company you have political capital, knowledge of the system, and contacts that your mentee can’t have (otherwise they wouldn’t need you).

    In this situation it’s worth spending some time digging into what’s going on, among your peers and people a level or two above you in the org chart. Is this a systematic issue, or is this one person being a jerk? Are other people noticing? Is there something you can do to help?

    Something I saw work in the company I work in was mentors pointing mentees to other departments. There was one extremely difficult person, for example, that drove several people out of the company by behaving the way the boss in your letter did. A few people in the mentorship program noticed this trend and started actively providing people working in this person’s group with mentorship opportunities outside that person’s department. The newbies stayed with the company, so we didn’t lose the onboarding costs, just not with that person.

    It’s also worth remembering that a complaint issued by the worker is going to have FAR less weight than one issued by you. The worker’s complaint can be dismissed as just a disgruntled, entitled kid. Someone with political capital and a reputation, on the other hand, will be taken more seriously. Plus, you know the company to an extent–you know how to word things, and who to talk to, and when to talk to them so that your complaint gets listened to. This is part of mentorship: going to bat for your mentee. Yeah, it burns some political capital in the short run, but it builds political capital with your mentee and with those looking at you for mentorship in the future. I can tell you right now, if my mentor didn’t at least try to help me after a discussion like that with my boss I’d be VERY hesitant to go to them with any other issues, and would probably warn future mentees about it if I could. On the other hand, if my mentor did go to bat for me, I’d let people know that.

    What it boils down to, though, is that the mentor/mentee relationship means that the boss didn’t just verbally abuse your mentee. You’re involved. It should be somewhat personal to you, and it’s worth spending some time, energy, and political capital to address.

    1. MsM*

      “I can tell you right now, if my mentor didn’t at least try to help me after a discussion like that with my boss I’d be VERY hesitant to go to them with any other issues, and would probably warn future mentees about it if I could.”

      Eh, if I’d already made up my mind to leave, I’d rather my mentor respect that take it upon themselves to try and start up a campaign on my behalf. Otherwise, you wind up in a situation like the letter where the OP found themselves in a discussion with the CEO about a complaint they had no idea was being filed and would have tried to stop if they did:

  38. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    LW1: I’m a firm advocate of framing one’s own private, none-of-anyone-else’s-business, medical information as “boring” when other people ask intrusive questions about it. “Oh, just some boring medical stuff, only interesting to my doctor. Say, did you see _____________ (the latest game on TV/a movie or TV show that everyone’s talking about/an article in the local paper, etc.)?”
    Keep tossing off your medical device as “too boring to talk about” and eventually even the thickest busybody will HAVE to realize that they’re being (cheerfully and politely) stonewalled and that their most persistent questions will get them nowhere.

  39. TootsNYC*

    3. Should I examine my “busy” vibe?

    I used to have this same problem, and I was just recently thinking about it.
    (I don’t supervise people anymore, so it doesn’t really happen.)

    The people who did it most were my crunch-time freelancers, both the ones who were with me longer term, and those who came in for just one session.

    I even once quizzed my full-time team about whether I gave off a vibe that meant people felt unwelcome, or that I was too busy. They didn’t think so.

    It was weird, because I was usually up and down and bopping around making things move, as opposed to sitting down and focusing on something (I did the short things so THEY could sit down and focus on the longer ones). I thought that would make them feel less like they were interrupting.

  40. Student*

    LW #2:

    One thing you can ethically do on company time as a mentor is try to help your mentee find a new position within the company. Obviously, this depends a lot on your company and your mentee’s skills and career interests. Since you have multiple locations around the country I’m hoping your employer might have room to move a talented employee to someplace better suited to retain them, though.

    I’ve done this with talented employees that we’re at risk of losing. You can try a couple of different approaches, depending on how you expect this would work at your company. One approach is just to talk with your mentee about different jobs that they may not have much exposure to, especially jobs that might overlap with their interests and skills. You can introduce your mentee to different people in your company to hear about their jobs and departments, and you can use the fig leaf of “networking” if necessary so it’s not openly an internal job search right away. You can talk up your mentee’s accomplishments to any folks with hiring power within your company that might be within your network.

    Usually, you can get the hiring manager to think about whether the mentee might be a good fit for their department without giving away that the mentee is planning to leave or conducting an external job search. For example, you can mention that the mentee is looking for growth opportunities within the company, or interested in learning more about available career paths within the company.

    I realize this may not be within your powers or purview, but I’d urge to consider it seriously if you have any room to do it. I’ve definitely done this even when I was low on the employment totem pole, and generally gotten good results as long as the person I was shopping around was good at their job. Most people are grateful to get a recommendation like this, even if they can’t hire the person.

  41. fgcommenter*


    Ethically? Yes. You were assigned to provide mentorship to someone who wanted assistance getting promoted. His boss shut down the promotion on faulty grounds. So a legitimate next step in providing assistance in getting him a promotion is to help with a job search that can result in an offer that he can leverage into a promotion in the current company, or a promotion outside the company that he then may decide to use to come back to the current company once he can no longer be blocked by his current boss.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      That’s a bit of a stretch.

      You would have a hard time convincing the company that helping someone find another job on company time is within the intent of the mentoring program.
      I personally wouldn’t judge the LW poorly for doing it, but don’t pretend that that’s what the program is for.

      1. fgcommenter*

        You would have a hard time convincing the company that helping someone find another job on company time is within the intent of the mentoring program.

        That’s beside the point of whether it is ethical to do so. The LW was tasked with assisting this person in getting a promotion. Since an unreasonable obstacle is in the way of promotion, the only way to get the promotion is to work around the unreasonable obstacle. Convincing the obstacle to move aside has already been thoroughly tried by all means except getting another job offer to counteract the obstacle’s excuses. Alternatively, zigzagging around and above the obstacle by getting a promotion in a different company and using that position to go back to the original company in a position above the obstacle also fulfills the task.

  42. Morgan Hazelwood*

    LW5 – I usually go with: “I’ve been asking as we go along, so I don’t have any other questions right now.”

    Here’s to hoping that’s about right.

  43. Don't kneel in front of me*

    OP#1: Its a nunya. They ask “what’s a nunya?” And you say “nunya business.”

  44. North Wind*

    #3 Also consider whether someone else may be communicating this about you. Maybe someone mentioned in passing at a meeting how busy you were at some point, and it just stuck.

    I say this because I had a manager who used to say I was super busy when I wasn’t – people would treat me with kid gloves and I’d be confused about it. Sometimes she did it to have a reason to push back on work she didn’t want our team to accept. Sometimes I think she was trying to protect my time, but without communicating with me about it. I was an SME and would get a lot of questions from all directions, so I think she randomly tried to stem the flow but again – without checking in with me. She did a lot of assuming what was going on with me without asking – so that was a general vibe there, and this is one of the ways it came out.

  45. TrixieD*

    LW1: I have a wearable technology for diabetes that lives on my upper arm. I am always shocked at people who try to touch it or ask, “What’s that thing on your arm?”
    Initially, I would simply say it’s a medical device. Most times, that would end the conversation, but with others, the prying questions would begin, and I’d have to repeat myself with more of an edge in my voice: “It’s a medical device for a personal medical issue.”
    I decided that wasn’t working well either, so now I tell people that it’s a device to communicate directly with my parole officer.
    That shuts them up right quick.

    1. kalli*

      Right? It’s like ‘medical’ is an invitation to some people and you can’t tell until you’ve opened the barn door and they’ve grabbed the horses and started lecturing you on how to keep the door closed.

  46. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    #3 – Busy vibe

    While I have nurtured a Busy Scowl(tm) that scares off the masses when I need to, I also make a point to shift gears if someone comes by, whether for asking for help or just social — “Hey, Fergus, what’s up?” with a big smile. Then if I’m super busy, I can change out for a “Hey Fergus, I’m under a bit of deadline at the minute — have you got something quick or should we touch base later?”
    I might also do a quick tour of the office if I have a few minutes to check in with colleagues — “How’s it going for you?” especially if I might be a person who could assist. Being visible and open periodically gives me lots of permission to hide in my corner behind the tall shelves.

  47. GreenDoor*

    #3 It might help if you let your team know HOW they can interrupt you. I’ve told my team things like “If my door is closed and you need me, shoot me a text – I’ll have my ringtone on.” Or “I have my headset on, but I expect to be on hold with this place for a while so it’s OK to knock.”

  48. Lifeandlimb*

    #1 – Sorry you have to deal with all this at once. Allison’s response of “it’s a medical device” is good. Sometimes I find it helpful to follow up that kind of answer with “So, the team memo!” or “Anyway…about the team memo”. I think that sends a carefully clear answer to people that you’d like discuss it no further.

  49. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#2….slightly different take maybe. Disclaimer: I’m cynical and have been manipulated by mentees in the past.

    You say that your mentee is in a different department and a different part of the country. So how much do you really know about what he is telling you he does/has accomplished? Is there any possibility that perhaps he is showing you a “highlight reel” of his best work, that may comprise say 20% of his efforts, while the other 80% of his work is mediocre or subpar? Could there be other performance issues that have hindered his promotion that he isn’t telling you about?

    I’m not trying to discount the very real possibility that his manager is the problem or roadblock to his being promoted, but I’m wary to take someone at their word when I really don’t know them, and no one else can vouch for them either. I’ve encountered plenty of people who love to tell you all of their accomplishments, but fail to tell you their shortcomings.

    I’d simply encourage a balanced view of the scenario and be cautious of using any of your own political capital to help this person unless you know 110% that everything they have told you is true and they are really as great as they are telling you they are.

  50. Raida*

    5. What to say when I’ve run out of questions for my interviewer

    “That’s everything I’ve noted down, thanks. I’m sure I’ll have more in the future!”

  51. KitandKat*

    LW #1 — I have a visible disability and work in a public facing role. I think “it’s a medical device” is fine if you want to do mild disclosure. If you don’t want to disclose at all, modifying these for your situation but I have had success with similar statements (these are my statements that are softer for people who don’t understand they are being rude, not for people who know they’re being rude lol), paired with a smile and breezy tone:
    -Yep, that’s my belly! Anyway…
    -Nope, that’s just my stomach! Anyway…
    -I do look different, isn’t it great that people are different! Anyway… (aware this could potentially sound condescending but I’ve used it on adults and haven’t gotten bad responses)
    -Oh must be something weird with my clothes today. Anyway…
    -Oh we’re not here to talk about me! Let’s get back to what you came in for.
    -(for repeat questions) I don’t really want to talk more about it! Anyway…

  52. Irish Breakfast Tea*

    LW5 My go to questions when I don’t necessarily have questions:

    1. As a manager, you’ve seen multiple people hired for this role. What key skills or traits do you find impact success in this role?

    2. I’m always trying to improve my skills – was there a topic I didn’t mention/question I didn’t ask that I should have?

  53. wait, what did u ask*

    OP1, I’d just say that – its very intrusive question. and redirect – let’s look at…

    if you say its a medical, thing, NeXT question would be -well, what is it? why do u need it.. etc etc

  54. Anne of Green Gables*

    LW #2: Since this is a formal mentorship program, is there someone who oversees/coordinates the program? That’s who I would consider going to. I feel like they would want to know if the mentee is being blocked in their goals for the program, especially if my read that you think your company wants to retain this mentee is correct. If the mentee is valuable to your company, the person running the mentorship program should know what is happening with/to your mentee.

  55. Bopper*

    #3: Busy Vibe

    I was working on a team for a software product and my spouse got a job overseas and fortunately I was able to go with them and work remotely. I set my work hours 2-10pm so they would match the US working hours. I fowarded my work phone (back in the days of Magic Jack) so calling me would be exactly the same if I was in the US. My whole job is working with this team and still I would get calls “Sorry to bother you, but …” and I would say “You are not bothering me! This is my job!”

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