why am I anxious at work when I’m doing so well, requiring internal profile photos, and more

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

1. Why I am irrationally anxious at work when I’m doing so well?

I feel as though this question is more appropriate coming from a 20something, but I’m well into my 40s.

I work for a very large organization, and I am the only person with my job. I have been here for almost a decade, and it really suits my natural aptitudes, background, and interests, and I have a lot of enthusiasm for the job. I feel as though I am well respected in the org, have won several awards, and am given a lot of autonomy. I am accepted as the organizational subject matter expert in my role, and have gained a lot of expertise in my time here. I’ve also been given a number of really cool, interesting things to work on over the years. It’s great, and I know it is an enviable position to be in.

Then why am I often so anxious at my job?! I get a panicked feeling every time one of the higher-ups calls or emails me, and it is generally for something totally innocuous. I feel an incredible and painful sense of urgency to respond immediately. (I know it is politically savvy to be prompt with senior management — I would just like to do it without the frantic feeling of anxiety.) If I make a small mistake, which is uncommon but can happen as I am a human, I become disproportionately upset with myself. I suspect that my colleagues and boss would be shocked to hear this about me, as I probably come across as confident and knowledgeable, and I have good interpersonal skills (which means at times that I am skilled at hiding big emotions at work). I have been described as “diplomatically assertive” and am not afraid to speak up or contribute — but I always feel secretly anxious.

I feel like this is ridiculous at this stage in my career, and I have been given no reason in my current role to feel this way. That said, in my earliest days, I worked in three toxic workplaces where issues ranges from incredible leadership incompetence to bullying (not of me, but others) and general chaos. I feel like this really had an impact on how comfortable I feel at work, even though I know these reactions are irrational. Any insight?

There’s a decent chance it’s what you wrote in your last paragraph — habits and ways of thinking at dysfunctional organizations can stay with you for a long time unless you actively work to counter them (and even then it can be hard). Those early professional experiences can wire your brain to expect the worst. There’s some advice here on how to recalibrate your reactions.

But there’s a second possibility too, which is that it could be rooted in family-of-origin stuff (as a lot of our issues as adults are). Any chance you grew up in a family where doing something wrong was a big, scary thing because the response would be disproportionately harsh? Or where approval was dependent on you being perfect? Or where it was so rare for problems and disagreements to be discussed openly that you never learned to be comfortable with even mild conflict, which means that when it happens now it feels bigger and more consequential to you than it seems to feel to others?

Very often, when you’re mystified about why you’re having reactions that don’t really feel warranted by your current situation, it’s helpful to ask if you ever were in a situation where that reaction did make sense … and then you can often trace it from there. If that resonates with you, therapy is the most straightforward way of tackling it!

Read an update to this letter

2. Is it OK to require internal profile photos?

I’m a new manager of, let’s say, the Teapot Nerds department, whose main function is to support the company’s Teapot Evangelist and Teapot Sales teams. I was a Teapot Nerd myself at this company for 10 years before receiving this promotion. Historically, despite fulfilling a critical function, our team has not had the best reputation or goodwill among colleagues, with Evangelist and Sales folks often speaking dismissively about — and worse, in some cases to — members of our team.

Part of my strategy as department manager is to work to change the perception of our team to reflect our role as critical partners, which should give us more scope to expand our contribution. I have a few ideas about how to achieve this, and one small step in that direction would be for all of our team members to upload a profile photo to our internal email/messaging systems. Currently, most Teapot Nerds have the default grey circles as avatars, whereas the business norm is to have a headshot. Most employees work from home, so most interaction takes place via these platforms, and I think the literal facelessness of our team members isn’t helping the above issues.

Teapot Nerds tend toward introversion, in strong contrast to most other colleagues in this industry, though they do need to interact regularly with other teams, and most have solid interpersonal skills. They’re just shy about putting their faces out there. Is uploading an actual face pic a reasonable thing to strongly encourage or even require of a bunch of introverts? I’ve already raised it as a suggestion, but nobody’s acted on it yet.

I see where you’re going with this — it’s harder to be rude to someone when you see their face right in front of you rather than seeing a faceless grey circle (I think there’s even research backing this up) — and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to try it and see if it helps. That said, you’ve also got to be sensitive to the reasons someone might prefer not to — for example, many women have found they’re subject to a lot more harassment and condescension when they have their photos up. So I don’t love the idea of just issuing an edict for photos without at least first having a real discussion with your team about it, where they can hear your thinking and you can hear their concerns if they want to share them.

But also, it sounds like there are bigger issues that won’t be addressed by adding photos: Why has the team historically not had a strong reputation or good will from colleagues? It’s tough to give advice without knowing the story there, but I suspect to really make headway you’ll need to dig in on those issues and then find ways to visibly counter them … and photos are likely to be pretty minor compared to that.

3. Hiring team never responded after I turned down their offer

I recently interviewed and received an offer for an amazing job I really wanted. I found out I was pregnant the week of the first interview, and it was four months of interviewing before I received my offer. I waited for the verbal offer and disclosed to HR that I was pregnant and my acceptance would need to be conditional on what leave benefits they would offer. I told them I currently have eight weeks paid and four weeks unpaid and I did not want to lose that. Their company policy was to allow just that … but only if I made it there three full months before the baby is born. I said that was too risky for me, because babies come when they do. I asked if there was anyway they would give me a sign-on bonus or other compensation that would guarantee I was financially whole if the baby came early. I offered to wait for the additional compensation, or receive it over months, and I also offered to relinquish any other paid leave, including parental leave which I would have been entitled to after six months (basically it was set up that I could take additional paid leave for a full year after the baby came, but not until I had been there for six months).

They said no, and so I said while I appreciated the opportunity I could not accept. I sent the hiring team emails letting them know I was disappointed the timing didn’t work but I hoped we could stay in touch. No one ever responded to me. I added them on LinkedIn and nobody accepted my request. What gives? Are they mad at me? I have declined other offers and maintained positive relationships. This is a billion dollar company so for them to guarantee me eight weeks paid leave is basically nothing, while for me losing the pay would be catastrophic. It seemed like a no hard feelings situation to me. Did I read it wrong?

I think you’re reading more into their lack of response than is really there. You declined the offer, so they moved on. Yes, ideally they would have replied to close the loop (and so you could be sure they received your response), but it’s not unheard of for the email turning down the offer to be the last in an exchange like this because they figure that’s the final word in the discussion. It’s of course more gracious for them to send back a “thanks for letting us know / best of luck to you / hope to cross paths again” email, but the fact they didn’t doesn’t indicate anything other than that they assumed the exchange was done. I would not worry!

4. My coworker’s new haircut makes him look like Lord Farquaad

One of my coworkers, who is a good friend of mine and also a well-known figure in our community, just got a new haircut. Usually he wears his hair up in a ponytail but lately he has been keeping it down. The length and style are exactly the right combination to make him look like Lord Farquaad.

It’s starting to affect his reputation since this is all I can think of whenever I look at him. What should I do? Is there a way to get past this so we can continue to have a strong work relationship? Do I need to have a discreet conversation with him?

For further context, he is fortunately quite tall, but he does have a position of significant influence, similarly to the original Lord Farquaad.

There is nothing that can be done, but know that at some point he will be eaten by a dragon.

5. Can servers be forced to “volunteer” at a private event?

My adult daughter works as a server at an upscale restaurant in our small city. The front-of-house staff has been asked to “volunteer” to work at a private event (non-charity) hosted by the restaurant owners. Management has stated that participation isn’t mandatory, but if you’re normally scheduled to work that night, the expectation is that you will spend that time working this event.

Compensation has been promised (in the form of cash payment or tips), but they won’t be allowed to clock in. No one has mentioned any repercussions for not attending, but as management controls scheduling, the reality is that refusing could result in a loss of hours or even termination. Is this legal in New York?

It depends on what the compensation ends up being. It’s fine that they’re not clocking in, but they do need to be paid for their time working there. Employees cannot be ordered or allowed to work for free, and that doesn’t change just because their employer wants them to work at a private event that night rather than in their normal duties.

So this really comes down to what the employer means by “volunteer.” Do they mean “we need people to volunteer to be at this event, at which you will be compensated as normal”? Or do they mean “you will be volunteering your time without legally required compensation”? The first is legal but the second is not.

{ 492 comments… read them below }

  1. nnn*

    #2: I agree with everything Alison says about reasons why people might be reluctant to upload pictures and digging into the real underlying issues of why your team hasn’t had a good reputation.

    But if you do end up pushing headshots, you could set everyone up for success by having a professional photographer do professional headshots, making sure to organize it so they have enough time to get good, flattering shots of everyone, and making sure they do touch-ups etc.

    Even if you don’t require it, you could offer it as an option. “Free professional headshots! Contact this photographer with this coupon code!”

    That way, even if your team are a bunch of shy nerds who aren’t taking selfies every single day, they don’t look bad next to their more gregarious colleagues who already hold them in contempt.

    1. LG*

      I was personally hoping that the Lord Farquad lookalike worked for the company in Letter 2, so everyone could enjoy his new look!

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      This depends on how well the company is doing, imo. It sounds like they are in tech, which as an industry is going through a lot of layoffs etc at the moment. If my company were doing badly and they paid out for professional headshots for a non customer facing team, there would be a lot of raised eyebrows (yes, I realise the cost of a photoshoot is much less than the amount companies go into the hole by. No, this doesn’t stop people thinking/saying it it).

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      Uh, no. Bad enough having to have my photo taken by me or someone I know. But to have to go out to a professional photographer for a photo session? Nope! My anxiety peaked just reading this. I would honestly start job seeking at this point. I do what I do because the job doesn’t require headshots!

      1. ThatGirl*

        Generally they would just set up at the office for a day or so. And look, you’re definitely allowed to not have your face out there, I don’t always like looking at pictures of myself. My job doesn’t require headshots; I’m not a model or an actor or on camera ever. But they are nice to have for professional purposes! your reaction seems a lot stronger than most people.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I get the impression the idea is A: to have the photographer come in (like a school picture day except ideally with a bit more care), and B: That it remains optional, even if it’s available.

        1. on the couch, with the cat*

          My former employer required everyone to post a photo to the internal messaging/email/calendar system. They hired a photographer to come in and photograph all the Big Cheeses; it was mandatory that these people be photographed by this photographer. The pictures were sort of stiff-looking but okay.

          The rest of the staff were left to solve the problem themselves. Some people had current photos of themselves that they liked. Some people posted photographs of themselves as children. Some people posted portrait sketches done by friends. An acquaintance had a new children’s picture book coming out and as part of the promotion, you could create a simple avatar of yourself as the main character, so for years I was represented by an otter.

          Everyone put up something. No idea if anyone in management ever checked to see who had done what, because no one ever got any kind of comment or was asked for a replacement for a non-standard image.

      3. CLC*

        Agree. A family member of mine recently threw out the idea of getting family portraits done and I had an anxiety attack. If I (or my company) were paying for a photographer I would be stressing for weeks about what I should wear and how to do hair and make up and worried I’d get a huge breakout. I had a job years ago that had a photographer come in for the website and I actually went out the night before and bought new clothes that I never wore again. Especially for women, if you are not a person who knows about clothing and hair and make up and things of that nature having a professional photo done that will be *your photo* at work for all eternity is extremely stressful.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Oh goodness, it doesn’t need to be “your photo” for all eternity. I would guess you wouldn’t even need to use it if it turned out that badly. But it’s very normal in some fields to have a headshot you use for a few years.

        2. SchuylerSeestra*

          Some I’m an actress in addition to working full time in an office job. In both cases the headshot is not about looking glam or hip, it’s about looking like yourself. In fact it’s usually discouraged to get super gussied up.

          You don’t have to wear a ton of makeup. It helps bring out your features. If you go that route a little bit of lip gloss, blush and mascara in neutral tones is just fine.

          The headshot is from the chest up so a plain top is just fine.

          Think of it like a school picture. Not super posed.

        3. Eukomos*

          Work photos are usually headshots so you at least shouldn’t have to worry about clothes. And the men aren’t getting blowouts and fancy makeup, why should the women have to?

    4. LifeBeforeCorona*

      We have to provide a photo for a public facing board that also included job titles and a brief bio. Most people chose an action work picture and we could also write our own 2 sentence bio. People chose fun facts about themselves and because they chose the photo most of them were flattering and fun. One favourite was the underwater selfie from the diving instructor.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        I somehow managed to misread this as “underwear selfie from the driving instructor” and was so very, VERY confused for a moment.

    5. Lacey*

      Yes. My company has taken to making us all submit our own headshot for client facing communications and it’s infuriating since some of my coworkers obviously have the means/opportunity to get their photos taken somewhere nice with someone who knows what they’re doing and I’m desperately trying to get a friend to take a nice shot with my camera phone.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        If it helps, you can get a tripod for relatively cheap (under $20) or get a passport photo at Walgreens (also under $20) that you can either scan using a machine at work or take a clear photo of with your cell phone.

        FWIW, I had to take my own ID photo for my employee badge. I don’t live with family or roommates and so I was on my own. I ended up taping my phone to a wall in my apartment with a couple of pieces of packing tape and grabbing a clear, professional looking shot in front of a blank wall that way.

        1. Lacey*

          Yeah, lack of tripod isn’t really the issue.

          It’s more that while my coworkers can afford to be somewhere nice and well lit for the their photo – even if that’s just their much nicer home – I am stuck with my shabby house or a dimly lit coffee shop. Especially since they insist on doing these in January.

          And they absolutely do not want a passport photo for this. The whole idea is that we won’t have boring corporate photos, but some of us have photos in Belize or Hawaii and others are hoping you can’t tell we took a photo in the bathroom, where the best lighting is.

          1. Anna*

            I don’t know your life of course, but perhaps you could take said friend and said camera phone outside on a nice day and take a picture outside? Perhaps in a park nearby, or in front of a nice(r) building in your town? The outside usually has good lighting, much nicer than a bathroom. You could even bring a thermo bottle of coffee/tea and a snack to enjoy with the friend before or after taking the pictures. That way, the friend gets something out of it too (namely, some time pleasantly spent with you), and you have a good chance of looking happy and relaxed in the picture (because friend, snack and coffee/tea). Costs very little money (for the coffee/tea and the snack) and not too much time.

            1. kt*

              “Insist on doing these things in January” is what Lacey said. Nice day with sunshine where I live, in January, = 11 degrees Fahrenheit with 4 feet of snow this year. (Warm winter day = cloudy by def’n, for those not from here.) Some dedicated folks will risk hypothermia for an attractive non-bundled-up photo but I like keeping my ears.

              Rather than brainstorming individual solutions (certainly coming from a place of helpfulness) we can acknowledge that requiring photos can expose differences in socioeconomic status etc. It is what it is. Providing a headshot day at work for low cost is actually a very fair way of addressing this.

              Setting precedent by having senior leaders also use awkwardly cropped segments of someone else’s wedding photos for their avatar is pretty effective as well.

              1. Gemstones*

                But it isn’t January now…if Lacey has already done it, she could retake it now that it’s spring or in a few months even.

              2. BadCultureFit*

                This is SUCH a reach. Come on now. There is nothing socioeconomically challenging about taking a photo in good light.

              3. Eukomos*

                It just takes two minutes of stepping outside and snapping a few photos with a smartphone. Even in 11 degree weather you can do that, and most of us who live in places who get that cold own a heavier coat that’ll get you through it. Cloudy weather is good for photography, it diffuses the light. This really is doable!

      2. on the couch, with the cat*

        I have a photo I’ve used for some years now for professional purposes that was in fact taken by a coworker with a cell phone. It’s one of the best photos anyone has ever taken of me!

      3. SchuylerSeestra*

        My current work photo was taken by a friend on my cell phone. It wasn’t even taken for work, we were hanging out at a rooftop for another friends birthday and it the lighting was really nice. I’ve also used selfies as my work photo at past jobs.

        1. Aerin*

          My spouse and I are both using pictures I took during our trip to NYC as our work photos. What can I say, the lighting was *really* good that week. Mine is a selfie but my arm isn’t visible in the shot, especially when it’s cropped to square/round, so it doesn’t look like one.

    6. Butterfly Counter*

      I think this is one solution.

      Perhaps another is to have a pic of some kind, not necessarily of oneself. You could request that people upload a photo rather than have the gray circle. If they don’t want their own picture, maybe a nice shot of their pet or kids or something non-controversial and personal (it would be up to them)?

      My students do this on our university site. It’s helpful to me, especially when I don’t meet a lot of online students. I can think, “Oh, Orange Cat Jane Doe! Of course! I love them!”

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        oh that would be nice ( although I think maybe the pictures are to put names to faces) because I look like a gremlin in pictures

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        This — mine is me with one of my dogs, but we have some with head shots, some with pets only, some with sports logos, a few with just little clip art or their initials in a fancy decorated font.

      3. Alpaca Bag*

        A person in my organization took a combo approach – her photo is of her on a horse so her face is small but meets the requirements. Also, the horse is beautiful!

      4. Miss Muffet*

        I work remotely, with a group of people that at the core, all used to work in an office together (although that hasn’t been the case for 3 years now and they have hired a ton of people in that time too). I HATE when people don’t have their actual picture. We also see a variety of non-human pics (cartoon characters, designs, pets) and it really makes it hard for someone who has never met you in person to connect the same way. I don’t particularly want to do video calls much (and our culture is pretty non-vid) but an actual photo – even one from your iPhone cropped from a group picture or whatever – is better than none at all.

        1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

          But why though? I’m a fat, gender-nonconforming woman, and it’s obvious in pictures of me. I’m here to trade labor for money, which has nothing to do with photographs.

          I want my work product to be judged on the quality I produce, not how I look.

          1. I have RBF*

            This. As a fat, disabled, enby I don’t think a head shot does me any favors. While I don’t break mirrors, I don’t think my picture is anything much to look at or impress folks.

            I’d rather be judged by what I do than how I look.

          2. BadCultureFit*

            Because we are people, not robots, and for millennia people have connected to each other through visual cues.

            It’s fine to not like headshots! Of course! But I find it so disingenuous to act like it’s so out of the norm for people to want to put a name to a face.

            1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

              So using your visual clue logic, a screen cap of my WoW character showing off my shiny transmog armor would be fine. (Which I have used, btw.)

              I communicate with people all over my state, mostly via email, IM, and phone calls. We will never be in the same ZIP code, let alone the same office. My appearance is completely irrelevant to the work I do for them. All they need to know is if they need x, they call Pointy.

        2. Auntie Social*

          I can understand the feeling – it just feels weird talking to a gray dot. But given how strongly evidence repeatedly shows how significantly treatment of people change during “gender switching” experiments in professional settings or once gender ambiguity is resolved, and how much discriminatory behavior is aimed at people are treated in professional settings if they are overweight, “too old”, “too young”, “too fringe”, from minority races, ethnicities or religions, or just not considered attractive by modern beauty standards, it’s clear there is a legitimate professional argument for those who don’t fit into ideal physical or other visually obvious norms to run screaming at the thought of having a picture up.

          1. SchuylerSeestra*

            I’m torn on this. As I’ve mentioned on other posts I’m a Black Women. And I’m very much aware of the chances of discrimination because of my race/gender.

            But by taking a “color blind” approach, is not a proper tactic to addressing bias in my opinion. In fact it reinforces the mindset of othering folks. We should be teaching folks to not make judgments based on biases.

            1. Dawn*

              That’s all well and good but it doesn’t mean that it should be my job to be the Ambassador Of All Trans People to my department, or yours to be the Ambassador Of Black Womanhood.

              Let the non-marginalized folks take on that emotional labour; you are not being paid enough to teach people to be better people on top of your actual work.

        3. Lenora Rose*

          Maybe I’m too online, but I have found that I can associate very well with someone with a cartoon wombat as their profile picture, or a weird -half-abstract Lego figurine, as long as it’s the same personality and consistent opinions and output behind the image. It’s the difference between Anonymity (nobody knows a thing about you) and Pseudonymity (Nobody knows your real name or face, but they do know you as a person).

          1. on the couch, with the cat*

            I feel this way too. Sometimes when I’m out somewhere with a lot of people I know from online, I wish their nametags had their avatars and screen-names. There are people I’ve known online for so long that I literally don’t think of them by their government names, just by their online handles.

            1. Aerin*

              I actually do make a small sticker with my online avatar to put on my badge at conventions and workshops. It’s a tip I stole a long time ago and it’s brilliant.

          2. Aerin*

            Same. I’m also in a Nerds department, and we have several people on our team with avatars of cartoon characters and the like. So I may not picture a face when I talk to you, but I’m picturing *something*.

            And honestly, since being back in the office this month I’ve discovered that even having a headshot as their avatar doesn’t make it any easier for me to recognize them in meatspace. My memory for faces is rubbish, and that picture is a 1cm tall bubble and might not look anything like they are now.

            1. Certaintroublemaker*

              Yup. I was thinking people could post a cartoon avatar they made that vaguely matches their appearance, or just their favorite superhero, or their pet, or a hot air balloon, or… I was just remarking to my sister yesterday how adorable her sloth avatar is.

        4. Isben Takes Tea*

          I work for a 100% remote company of 100+ people in 20+ countries, and our policy is to have a photo for all internal communication profiles (Gmail, Slack, etc.). As someone who hates photos of themselves, I still managed to find one to use, because it really does affect collegiality and culture. There are some who have cartoon avatars and some who drag their feet on uploading something, and it does affect how much of a “team player” I judge them to be (though I try to not be biased about it, for all the reasons listed here—but it still rubs me the wrong way).

          There is truth to the fact that photos can promote unconscious bias, and there is also truth to the fact that linking a name to a face helps improve group dynamics.

          In #2’s case specifically, I agree that it would be good to get context on both the policy and the resistance. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the company policy is to provide photos, and their department is a holdout, that that is a small but significant contributor to the team not being considered equal team players.

          1. I have RBF*

            If having a photo or not affects whether you judge a person to be a “team player”, then I really think you should re-evaluate the shallowness of your assessments.

            For those of us who are not conventionally attractive, a photo is actually a negative, contributes significantly to bias, and a cartoon avatar is much more indicative of our personality.

            1. The Charioteer*

              Judgements based on a lack of photo, whether conscious or not, are just as much of a bias as whatever you think they might glean from the photo itself.

              The photos are also not to express your personality? They are there so people can recognize their colleagues and know what they look like, just as they do when they see them in person.

          2. Sopranohannah*

            I’m starting to think this may be one of those things that it’s nearly impossible for people to agree on. I’m remote and only a few people in leadership have actually pictures. Most have their initials. A few have a non-photo picture. I’ve never felt like it affected collegiality or culture. Maybe it helps that we have the odd video meeting every month or so. Maybe me, with my rather poor vision, has always gotten a better sense of personality with tone and timbre of voice than a picture. I didn’t realize how much perspective played on how people felt about this, or that people had strong feelings at all.

        5. RWM*

          Same! I found it really hard when I started a new job and all my new coworkers had jokey avatars (celebrities, memes, etc). It was both annoying in a practical sense because I was trying to learn who people were when I saw them around/needed to meet with them and just kind of alienating (like if I didn’t know a reference/get the joke). I’m introverted too but the idea of being *so* opposed to having your actual photo as your work avatar (it’s work! not an anonymous message board!) is a little surprising to me quite honestly, esp when so many people are remote now.

      5. TeaCoziesRUs*

        This was my thought as well. I have a couple great pictures of my cat I would switch between… so on the days that require a warning, I could post the cat cleaning herself. In that classic Puss In Boots pose. Otherwise I have a great picture of her being startled out of one of those cleaning sessions that would be my primary.

        And, no. This isn’t sarcasm. :)

        1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

          I’ve used a pic of my cat before as my avatar at work and other places. My cat is cute. I am not.

          I do have an avatar at work. It’s just not a photo of me. I don’t even have my own picture on FB and was known for a number of years as “that person with the Picard pic” in my social circle.

      6. I have RBF*

        At my work, instead of headshots we use avatars. My boss uses Yoda, and others use science fiction or movie avatars as well. It displays our personalities more than just plain initials, but doesn’t include our actual faces.

      7. Random Biter*

        Yep! My “icon” is my McCord Clan crest which is even round. It’s actually been a conversation starter on occasion.

    7. Chirpy*

      All it really takes is someone who can come in with a decent camera to take “standard” pictures at the office one day. If they all match in quality/ lighting/background, they’ll look better than a hodgepodge of selfies and professional shots anyway (assuming the photographer is decent, at least).

      1. Philosophia*

        All it really takes is for people to realize that there are many reasons many other people do not ever want to be shot by a camera. My employer recognizes this. A number of employees have posted pets, sports insignia, scenes from nature, and the like. Somehow we manage to work together.

        1. Chirpy*

          Oh, believe me, I understand. I’d also rather not have my picture on everything. I just think if you’re going to require actual headshots, at least make them as easy as possible.

          1. Rubber Ducky*

            There is a BIG difference between someone with a “decent camera” and someone who can take a quality professional headshot. People *might* feel a little more at ease with a professionally shot and edited photo than just someone with a nice camera who fancies themself as a photographer.

            1. Chirpy*

              True, but if all the headshots are at least the same level of mediocre it’s not as bad as having nice ones next to awful ones.

    8. Image not available*

      At my (well-funded) non-profit, an appointment with the photographer on staff is part of the standard on-boarding. These pictures are used for internal purposes like email and the employee directory and for some limited external applications. The day my professionally-taken headshot replaced my terrible first-day ID photo was a happy day indeed. I’m not public facing and my org has nothing to do with acting, modeling, or anything you’d assume required a headshot, but everyone up and down the org chart has their photo taken in the same studio in front of the same backdrop.
      I know your team might not have these resources, but the bare minimum of organizing a well-lit room and a volunteer to hold the phone camera can remove a barrier for those who would like to opt-in. You could even throw some snacks in and make an activity out of it. (Like my dog, I’m very food-motivated)

  2. Bluebambue*

    #2, I think requiring some sort of representation, even if it isn’t a headshot, would give some amount of personality and differentiation to your team.

    1. Bluebambue*

      At one company I worked for, for example, several folks had their favorite cartoon character as their picture. This level of casualness might not fly at your company.

      1. Anon for this*

        One of my colleagues had a photo of Jason Statham as his profile picture for a surprisingly long time (in a company where pictures that were not of you were frowned on). The only visual similarity was that neither of them had hair. The Jason Statham photo made it into the weekly ‘hey so and so’s work-iversary is this week!’ section of the company newsletter, whereupon people noticed.

        1. Eyeball*

          That is pretty funny.

          My Slack avatar has been of Catherine Deneuve (in Donkeyskin) for the entirety of my tenure at my company, and a number of people have asked me if it is a picture of me acting in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

          (I do not resemble Catherine Deneuve in real life)

      2. Your Computer Guy*

        My company is pretty casual about the profile pictures. It results in lots of super hero logos and movie/video game references, which can be great conversation starters. Mine is a silly cat picture, and it is an excellent ice breaker. Now that I think about it, an actual headshot is the least common option. I like that we get to have a little fun with it. Definitely something for OP to consider (if possible at their organization).

        1. Boolie*

          I get it, it’s allowed, but personally I think it’s a little juvenile for the place that signs your paychecks. (Ironically, kids don’t get to have cartoon photos on their school ID pictures.)

          1. Rebecca*

            ID cards and profile photos serve different purposes.

            Many kids are allowed to have avatars on their Google classrooms or platforms.

            1. Boolie*

              Sure, but those platforms aren’t often used for (a) external correspondence or (b) correspondence up the chain of command. If the chat platform is linked to the main email (as Teams and Outlook are) I’d kind of side-eye someone with a kitty cat picture who is meant to be taken seriously as someone I am to rely upon for info & deliverables. (And I say this as a cat lady! but that’s neither here nor there.) And I wouldn’t see someone with a kitty cat picture as exactly ready to move up in the ranks if that’s what they’re eventually going for.

              1. Your Computer Guy*

                This is fascinating insight into a perspective that I don’t think I’ve gotten to experience at work. I don’t think I’ve ever thought too deeply about other people’s icons/pictures, except to comment when I get the reference.
                My cat picture has in no way held me back or otherwise interfered with my job. I’m extremely well regarded, moving into leadership, and the go-to resource for a frankly overwhelming amount of technical information and processes. I have excellent relationships with the clients I work with, and I’m in high demand for project work because I always deliver.
                When/if someone notices that little icon it’s good for a laugh and that’s about it. I suppose I have built my “brand” on having more of a sense of humor and injecting levity into otherwise dry proceedings, but I back that up with real expertise and professionalism.
                This kind of thing is obviously very workplace culture dependent, and one of many things that OP could consider in improving cross-team relations for their team. From their verbiage, headshots might be more the norm, and therefore something to consider more carefully for reasons already discussed. Something else for OP to consider – finding a way to publish/share KPIs that demonstrate the value your team provides for other teams. “We solved X this week, which supports Team A in accomplishing M,” or “we’re 50% through initiative Y, which will enable Team B to better deliver on N.” We have a centralized services team that posts weekly updates like this and it’s very positively received.

          2. Education is Essential*

            My profile pic is not a form of ID.

            Students in my school can have have cartoon avatars as their Team/Office 365 icon, and are encouraged to do so, but are not allowed to use their real photos for safety reasons. Those who do not upload an avatar have a coloured circle with their initials.

          3. Your Computer Guy*

            If you think that’s juvenile, you should see the memes that fill out various team chats (this is all in Microsoft Teams, btw, which provides gifs, stickers, and emojis built-in, so even Microsoft thinks you should have a little fun at work).
            Support work can be very stressful, since you’re almost always dealing with people who are already agitated because something is not working. No one is calling you for support because everything is great and they’re so happy that they just wanted to share.
            You’ve got to find the small joys/pleasures where you can. My silly cat picture allows me to start a lot of meetings with a laugh, and I find I can accomplish a lot professionally when people are in a better mood.

          4. I have RBF*

            As a 61 year old enby whose face is basically round: tough cookies. I use an avatar, not my face, because my face gets adverse judgement whereas my avatar does not. Since the only people that I deal with are internal and the cartoon/sci fi/movie/cute pet think is customary where I work, it’s not “juvenile” at all.

            Sheesh. Now having fun at work is “juvenile”.

          5. Me*

            Email profile pictures are not analogous to ID photos. I actually work as a teacher and both students and faculty/staff can chose their own profile pictures for their email. Most photos are not of the person. All of us have our real photos on our IDs.

        2. irianamistifi*

          Actually, I really like this as a potential option for support staff. If your team is responding primarily to calls for assistance or help, would it be ok for each team member to adopt their favorite hero’s logo?

          It might give your team a little morale boost like, “I’m the Blue Beetle and I’m here to help.” And the general population knows what super heroes do too and it might encourage them to remember the hero who helped them last. “Oh last time, my problem was solved by Captain Marvel. She was so helpful”. It’s not great for getting your team specific name recognition, but if each team member has a different hero, then users could still specifically call out those who gave them excellent service, and as a manager, you’d actually know who each person is.

          1. Jane*

            but this suggests that people have a favorite superhero. are blue beetle and Captain Marvel real superheros? I’ve never heard of them. I don’t think any of this is a big deal so if my team wanted photos or theme icons or whatever I could find something to match. for example, there are plenty of parody and non-comic superheros, I’m sure I could find a cute one. I’m just saying that some things people think are universal really are not. just imagine the reaction on here if someone suggested sports teams.

            1. RussianInTexas*

              I honestly don’t see the difference between Captain America and Dallas Cowboys as an avatar. Both are equally ok, if you are allowing cartoons.

            2. Rainy*

              I had such a strong reaction to reading “is Captain Marvel a real superhero” because of the kind of online hate that she has gotten. I get that you are just demonstrating how little you know about superheroes but wow did that hit wrong.

            3. Chirpy*

              Blue Beetle is a bit obscure, but Captain Marvel is getting her second movie this year (and also has appeared in several other Marvel movies/ shows at this point)

              1. Kit*

                And Blue Beetle’s getting his movie this summer, too!

                I don’t think the pfp issue is really the heart of the problem, Alison’s right, but wow does “I’ve never heard of them” come off as tone-deaf for characters that are appearing in major studio films this year.

                1. Rainy*

                  My husband hadn’t realized and is pretty excited at the news! (I’m a Marvel girl and second-gen Cap fan, but my husband grew up on DC.)

        3. TomatoSoup*

          I’m all for cat pics. Mine used to be a cat with a grapefruit peel helmet. It won’t fly at every company but is fun when it can.

      3. TeaCoziesRUs*

        Man… if this is IT, which I’m assuming it is, lean HARD into the nerd-dom! Post a pic of your favorite esoteric interest! (Mine would either be Captain Tight-pants in his pretty floral bonnet, a tattoo of an anguisette, or a monk’s flourish from a medieval manuscript – if they don’t want 00s pop culture).

        1. straws*

          I’m not sure I’d consider anguisettes to be work appropriate, but I agree with leaning into the esoteric interests of tech people!

    2. Artemesia*

      Creating an avatar like those available for responses on signal or other sites might suffice for someone who doesn’t want an actual photo. Mine looks pretty much like me, but is still a cartoon and not a photo.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I have one of these for messaging apps etc (I used the Voila app to create it). The image is identifiable as me, but isn’t me, and that’s a distinction that keeps me happy.

    3. Jess*

      Exactly what I was going to comment with. At my org, most people have a photo, but some have cartoon avatar/chariactures of themselves, or a cartoon character or pet photo.

      If the culture allows for it, that could be a great way of personalising your team.

    4. AlsoADHD*

      It’s a good idea not to require a personal picture but give this option. There are many places and times in my life I would not be comfortable giving my image personally and I used other things. As a woman, issues with harassment and judgments abound. I don’t take pictures to post on social media and don’t even let my husband or family take or post pictures of me. I did spring for professional photographers recently for freelance work I do on the side and am comfortable enough at my remote company now to put that in the little circle but if people were already hostile to my department or it was a mandate, I’d be really upset to do so.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        Yeah, I had low-level harassment issues in the past and now there are few/no photos of me in any of my professional online presences. Back when I used Facebook, I didnt post pictures of myself there, either, and my friends don’t post anything with me unless they’re locked down or I’m not really identifiable (think summer shots where I’m wearing sunglasses and a big hat). I have twice politely declined to provide a photo for my employer’s website (and they can only push back so much, because our IT staff don’t have their photos up either).

    5. Dog Lover*

      I work at a pet care tech company, and lots of our slack avatars are of our pets. I may not know what they look like, but I know they have a whippet or bulldog!

    6. Jenna Webster*

      As a heavy woman, I can say that I would expect it to have a negative impact on how people respond to me, because, well, of the totality of my life experience.

      1. Morticia(she/her)*

        That’s one of the many reasons the avatar option is good. So often, many of us feel that photos don’t really represent us, or that they highlight something that others may respohnd to negatively, so it’s great if we can just choose an image that we feel does. And it does personalise the account so people get a flavour of who they’re talking to.

  3. Louisiana Jones*

    Re: # 4: I’m not quite sure I understand your question/dilemma. Your friend/coworker has a new haircut that has turned out to be rather unflattering and unfortunate. I really don’t understand this part of your letter:
    “Is there a way to get past this so we can continue to have a strong work relationship? Do I need to have a discreet conversation with him?”

    You can’t work with someone who has a bad (to you) hairstyle? You can’t respect him?

    1. Just why*

      Thank god I didn’t work with #4 when I was just entering the workforce, I had a number of very questionable haircuts lol

    2. margaret*

      I also don’t know if this was intended to be tongue in cheek, but it “ruining his reputation” = “I, personally, can’t stop making this association” made me laugh. That’s not a reputation! OP, you can do nothing and should say nothing.

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Haha yeah I thought that was pretty clever! (I took the whole letter as a joke).

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I just watched Shrek (again) last night because it’s a light hearted movie before another Monday morning. Your co-worker as someone is memorable even though he did end up as a dragon snack.

    3. GiantKitty*

      I don’t understand this part either:
      “It’s starting to affect his reputation since this is all I can think of whenever I look at him.”

      LW#4, how exactly does your personal dislike of his haircut “affect his reputation”? Are you talking about it with people behind his back?

      And why on earth would you need to have a “discreet conversation” about the fact that his current hairstyle makes you think of a cartoon character? That’s a YOU problem, not a HIM problem.

      Did it ever occur to you that he might really like his new haircut, regardless of what you (or anyone else) thinks of it?

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        I read the entire letter as a joke! The background being “I know I’m being ridiculous and there’s nothing to be done, but man oh man, am I ever obsessing over this intense haircut”.

          1. English Rose*

            But perhaps it gives an opportunity for a whole new collection of stories of ridiculous hair styles along the lines of questionable email sign-offs…

          2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

            But it would be REALLY satisfying if more advice ended with dragons eating the coworkers.

              1. ScruffyInternHerder*

                Debating whether it would be better to have Bryagh or Smrgol do the eating. Bryagh would eat someone because he’s a villian, Smrgol would eat someone because he was just done with them.

        1. I edit everything*

          Yeah, it’s definitely an “I’m going to burst if I don’t tell *someone* about this ridiculous thing at work!” letter.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          This is how I read it as well – more the LW poking fun at themselves for being so caught up in it. I currently work with someone whose voice sounds exactly like a well-known cartoon character, but I am fully aware of how ridiculous it is to find it as amusing as I do and would never say a word to my lovely, highly-competent coworker since the issue is in my head. (And it’s safer to say it here than to mention it at work and run the risk of someone poking fun or saying something hurtful to them.)

    4. Well...*

      Making jokes about it on a site where no one can connect them to LW’s coworker is not a bad way to handle the situation. LW can safely blow off steam here.

      It’s nice that we’re far enough away from lockdown times that we’re starting to joke about haircuts again. I remember thinking that everyone was just going to be shaggy and disheveled forever. What a trip.

      1. Alrighty Then*

        This thread doesn’t seem like it was received as a joke. Note the prompt hat has been placed at the top of the page.

        A safe space to make jokes about a coworker’s appearance?

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          It’s a safe space to make jokes about our reactions to new hair styles.

          Life is generally easier when you lighten up at the appropriate moments. Recognizing those moments can be a challenge, I admit. I recognized this was a joke, and I often don’t. Yay, me! I got one right!

        2. Saddy Hour*

          A safe space to make clearly light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek jokes about how a coworker you respect now, stylistically, resembles a movie villain.

          Good grief, y’all. I’m a huge proponent of not judging or mocking people for their appearance, and I’m overly-cautious about not accidentally hurting someone’s feelings. But that doesn’t mean ALL JOKES FOREVER are bad, because the other major use of jokes is to celebrate the target rather than to degrade them. This letter is basically: “I have a coworker who’s a good friend, a prominent member of our community, well-known and respected, and his hair looks like a bad guy’s hair, how will we all cope with that dissonance, ha ha.” It’s about as gentle a ribbing as I can imagine, and it’s not even to anyone who knows him and might actually give him a hard time. It’s so incredibly benign.

          1. Allonge*

            Also the joke is at least half that OP cannot get over this similarity to a fictional character, and both OP and Alison treat this as a legit work issue (for all of a minute). They are laughing at themselves, here.

  4. Jules*

    OP 1: I am constantly on alert to being yelled at (which doesn’t happen at my current job) or to fixing mistakes. I’ve worked in some toxic environments where managers wanted to keep coming back to the mistake I made that I fixed, or places that were just completely dysfunctional, like my boss was supervising his wife and her emotional well-being was paramount to our work. I am currently in a fantastic environment that I recognize is great and I hope to stay here for a long time. But it’s really hard to shake those early feelings of inadequacy. I often find myself picking apart something that I might have done wrong, even though there’s no evidof that and literally no one is telling me that I’m wrong. It’s a lot of baggage to carry.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      You are a trauma survivor! I hope you can find the help and support you deserve to heal from this.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Alison suggested therapy if it is family based. But even if its left over toxicity from previous jobs, therapy would still be a good idea.

    2. Jackalope*

      I don’t know if this will be helpful to the LW, but when I was trying to recover from this it helped to think things through in my head. For example: I would get an IM from my new, good boss, and I would immediately stress about what was happening. I would try to have some form of this conversation: “She’s not [toxic boss], and she normally has nonaggressive reasons to want to talk to you. It will probably be okay.” To give just one example. I found that it helped to remind myself that things were likely to be okay (and the one time it wasn’t, she came to get me in person and I could tell from her tone that it wasn’t – stressful on that particular day and but a good reminder on other days).

      I don’t know if that will work for you, LW, but see if there are ways you can reframe it for yourself on a regular, ongoing basis until you feel less anxiety. It takes awhile, but I am personally much less anxious at work than I used to be, and this is one thing that helped change that for me.

    3. londonedit*

      Yes, I worked for a genuinely toxic company earlier in my career, and over a decade on it can still affect me. I’m respected and liked in my current job, I get a lot of praise from the authors I work with and my boss is extremely happy with my work, but I think subconsciously I’m still waiting for it all to blow up in my face like it did 10 years ago.

      I also read a letter here a while back where someone in the comments mentioned something that really struck a chord with me – a particular childhood experience where if you’re known for always being top of the class and always getting excellent grades, it can become a thing where any tiny mistake you make is seized on by others. ‘Oh my god, YOU spelt a word wrong??!!!’ It becomes a huge deal because you’re supposed to be the ‘perfect’ one, the teacher’s pet. I realised that was something that happened a LOT in my school days – other children would seize on any mistake or slip I made and make a massive thing of it. And I realised that’s why I’ve always been so terrified of letting my guard down, in all areas of my life, not just at work. I try incredibly hard not to make any mistakes, ever. Which of course isn’t possible, so I’ve also had to try to get better at accepting that I will make mistakes. Anyway that’s an essay about my own life, but I wondered whether it might be something the OP would find useful to consider.

      1. Inkhorn*

        Can’t speak for the OP but I’m reminded of being at the optometrist and a lens clicking into position and everything suddenly becoming clear. A lot of things in my work life (and life in general) make so much sense now. Thank you for posting this – you’ve given me something very helpful to mull over.

      2. Anxious OP*

        OP here – this is probably the nail on the head for my childhood! I was a very good student, incredibly responsible and conscientious, and I was known for being bright. (This turned into a problem in later years when I developed anxiety around math and making mistakes!) But yes, this really resonates for me, coupled with some early negative experience with terrible working environments.

        1. Em*

          yeah I think my anxiety about mistakes at work is down to my dad shouting at me about grades if I dipped below a B+. Heaven forfend I had a C on a progress report.. I’d feel impending doom, just wait til dad gets home and sees this.. sigh.

      3. Third or Nothing!*

        I had the same experience in school! It was awful. I felt like I was always on display and if I slipped up even a little bit my classmates would never let me hear the end of it.

      4. Jack Russell Terrier*

        Have you watched this season’s Mrs. Mazel? I immediately thought of a little sub plot … .

    4. Artemesia*

      Both you and the OP really need therapy to work on this. It might be that LW1 would benefit from a fairly short course of therapy to deal with anxiety. It might be that she needs meds — but lots of people don’t. I am a fairly anxious person and was able to develop some practices to deal with stress so that I didn’t need to think about meds. When you have a psychological issue that makes work or any situation consistently aversive, you have a problem that can probably be overcome with some sort of counseling/therapeutic intervention. Don’t spend the rest of your life under stress.

      1. TeaCoziesRUs*

        I see therapy as maintenance. We wouldn’t expect to drive a car forever without getting an oil change – and occasionally rebuilding or replacing faulty parts. How anyone can expect to go through life without having one check-in period to examine their baggage, find those defense mechanisms needed earlier in life that no longer serve us, or simply have an objective observer give us a “get-a-grip” moment, I don’t understand. Of course not everyone needs medication (although if you do, there no shame in it!!). But I think it would do everyone a world of good to consider short-term (CBT or similar) therapy as no more shocking / damning / weak / insert other negative reaction / than any other life maintenance.

    5. Indisch blau*

      When my key doesn’t fit into the lock on our building immediately my first thought is that I’ve been let go and they’ve changes the locks. No, that has never happened to me (neither with work, family or in a relationship). And no, there is no reason to think that I’m about to be let go. But I, too, have deep-seated insecurities and feelings of inadequacy.

      1. Indisch blau*

        In fact this happened today – and not for the first time. I’ve gotten used to the thought and can shake it quickly.

      2. Pam*

        I have some thinking that goes like that. Regular moments of paranoia for scenarios that are possible but not likely. Like I’m driving and assume that the car next to me might suddenly decide to switch lanes into me without checking or signaling. Possible, but not likely, and not worth the energy I’m putting in.

        I have this because growing up, my parents didn’t play by societal rules. They only followed conventions and norms as long as it worked for them, and would change the rules when they felt like it (they always had an excuse, and that excuse was usually guano). It was like signing a social contract that was constantly being re-written. So my childhood-self got used to authority figures breaking/changing rules whenever they felt like it for their own convenience, then blaming my child-self for not abiding by the new rule (that I usually didn’t even know). My job was to be hyper-vigilant to any sudden changes and expect that they were allowed to do whatever they wanted. What was a survival technique in an unhealthy environment is a maladaptive habit in a normal environment. Paranoia kept me functional through childhood, but left me with a regular intrusive thoughts and a depressingly high tolerance for Machiavellian behavior.
        Therapy is super helpful.

        1. Tired but Happy*

          Because of a similar upbringing, and despite therapy, I still get paralysis when people either change the rules on me or I’m, say, following a procedure and someone in a senior position tells me to do something else without an explanation, and someone else gangs up and corners me.

          I’m a little better now at saying “The manual says XYZ, so I would like to know why we are diverging from it, or if the manual needs an update” (I’m on document control QA)

          A lot of the time there is either a reason, or the way things used to be done are no longer correct and we follow the procedure as is.

    6. El l*

      Let’s not leap to “OP needs therapy.”

      Many are – by nature, nurture, whatever – wired to be conscientious. The same mindset that leads people to think through things, sweat details, and do a good job – is the same mindset that leads to feelings of anxiety. You think of the ways it can go wrong.

      Frequently, it’s also just a function of what you’re doing. If you’re like me and doing something where foul-ups can happen because of small failures done a long time ago – yeah, you learn to be a little anxious. Beyond a better product, it keeps you from getting complacent. Even if you pay for it a little personally.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        The way you’re framing it here makes it sound like therapy is something extreme and only people in the most extreme situations should need it, and that’s not true.

        Mental therapy serves a function that’s similar to physical therapy. If my knee is hurting in ways that limit my ability to function the way I normally would, a few sessions with a physical therapist may help me figure out how to strengthen the muscles that are necessary to get things back on track. OP’s brain is currently doing a thing that prevents them from interacting with the world the way they want to, and it’s possible that a few sessions with a therapist can help them figure out why that is and how to work through it and get to the place where they want to be.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          Nod. I am wired to be very anxious. Therapy isn’t very extreme. the most popular is cognitive behavioral and they’ll talk about the OP’s thought patterns and try to reframe it. it’s not so bad.

        2. AlsoADHD*

          I think “need therapy” makes it extreme. Therapy as a non extreme thing isn’t framed as “you really need therapy”. It’s one of many potential mental health maintenance options. But if someone says “you need therapy” they are either evangelizing therapy for everyone and everything (not ideal) OR they see the person as having an extreme dysfunction OR they should consider how their statement comes across.

      2. Anxious OP*

        OP here – I think this is part of the issue for me (and maybe one where therapy WOULD help!) I feel like I benefit in lots of ways from being hyper conscientious, even if it comes at a personal cost. The vigilance and high standards I set for myself allow me to excel, to be very responsive… and one particular aspect of my role does require a lot of diligence because those foul ups would be a big problem. So in a way, this feedback loop I receive keeps me constantly anxious, because I feel like releasing that anxiety would have a negative impact on my performance, if that makes sense.

        1. Bob Loblaw*

          I really feel this, and I feel like it’s not talked about as much as it should be. I’m a lawyer, which means I need to anticipate all the things that could go wrong for a client. And I’m naturally good at that. When it’s on behalf of a client, there are no big emotions involved, so I can usually deploy this negative thinking with an appropriate degree of detachment that allows me to move on to problem solving once an issue is identified. But in my own life (including my anxieties about work), I lack that detatchment and can get stuck in Cassandra-mode. It’s like my greatest work strength becomes a liability when I’m issue-spotting for my own life.

          This is something I’ve been working on the last couple years, after identifying the issue. If this resonates, therapy might be a good option. I’ve personally not found it helpful but I know so many people do. Journaling is another option to unpack things.

      3. Rebelx*

        I don’t see where anyone is “leaping” to “OP needs therapy”… Alison and many commenters are suggesting it as an option that may be helpful and/or talking about how therapy helped them in similar situations. Suggesting that therapy is something we shouldn’t “leap” to is an attitude that prevents people from seeking care when they need it – I know because I avoided getting help for my own mental health for *years* because of attitudes like this. I believed that I wasn’t unhealthy enough to need therapy (I was very high functioning in many aspects of my life) and that I *should* be able to sort things out on my own. But there is nothing wrong with trying therapy. In fact, I think more people should “leap” to therapy if they are having a rough time with something in their life, and I wish it was more easily accessible for everyone. Therapy is not just for the “mentally ill” – it can be helpful for anyone, and if for whatever reason it’s not a good fit for someone or their situation, there’s no obligation to continue with it. But suggesting we not “leap” to therapy just holds people back from seeking help when they do need it.

    7. EvilQueenRegina*

      I still find myself on alert after working for my old boss “Professor Umbridge” – she was another one who’d address something in the moment and then bring it up again, and still think it was a thing four years down the line, and I was always developing coping mechanisms to try and fix things and save us all from getting shouted at over something minor. While I’d joke about things like “I’m surprised it doesn’t say ‘I must not breathe’ ” on the back of my hand, it did stick with me for a while and still does to an extent even though Umbridge quit four years ago – example, panicking and feeling I had to hide a disputed wrongly addressed invoice before looking at it properly and finding out that one had been sent to me in error and was another department’s mistake.

    8. Flowers*

      I’m definitely sensitive to bad habits I may have picked up. Early on my boss would ask me every few months if I’m happy here and how I like it, and reassure me that they liked me and all that. Which, I REALLY appreciated. But after the 2nd time, I just blurted out “yeah I love it here, have I done something to indicate otherwise?” He reassured me that absolutely not.

      See at my last job, about a month into starting I was pulled aside by my then-boss and she asked if I was enjoying my time there. I said absolutely, and she said “okay so why are you acting as if you don’t like it here?”…. being “rude” to clients, making too many mistakes etc. (the “rude” was more along the lines of me not being fluffy and warm enough with them and just using direct communication. The mistakes? inevitable when there’s no training).

      So anytime he’d ask me that I’d tense up and worry.

  5. Santiago*

    Honestly, if I were on a team that was being treated unkindly across the institution, I would prefer not to have my face visible.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      That’s a good point too. I’ve been in bullying environments where I felt a lot of shame, and anything that made me more visible would have made me feel like more of a target.

      I agree that the LW should help manage the deeper issues first.

    2. gyratory_circus*

      In my position as an auditor, I don’t like having my picture out there because there are more people than you think who will become very hostile towards you if you find mistakes that they’re making. I’ve had colleagues who, in the Before Times when they had to go into an office, had to have their desks moved multiple times because of harassment.

      There’s also a fair amount of sexism in the level of pushback I get from people when they know what I look like versus when it’s more ambiguous. I’ve got a gender neutral name and no photo on my profile currently, and there’s a marked difference in how I get treated by people who haven’t met me IRL and just know me by my title/position.

  6. Observer*

    #2 – Should you require headshots.

    Please don’t waste your time and capital on this. Sure, suggest it. Or maybe an avatar – that does seem to help change the perception around a gray circle. But you’ve got significantly more serious issues here, so you really need to pick your battles. And if there are broader culture problems, the headshots could easily make the issue WORSE not better – especially for women (there is plenty of research on the issue, as Allison notes) and anyone who does not fit the visual image of what someone in the role is “supposed” to look like.

    I’d be willing to make a few bets.

    First: Part of the problem lies in the social skills of the team – you note that “most” have solid interpersonal skills. How bad are the skills of the rest of the team? And how REALLY solid are the skills of the ones you consider solid when working with people who by and large are almost certainly the opposite of introverts. Keep in mind that Sales types tend to be more extroverted and this is even more true with “evangelist” types. A lot of introverts seem to have a bit of disrespect for extroverts. That lack of respect is not going to make for good partnerships. The good news is that this is something you can work on.

    Second: Part of the problem is broader culture. Unless your team was being rude, obtuse or inappropriate, how do others get away with being dismissive to your team members? The bad news is that there is probably not a lot you can do to change that. But understanding the dynamics may be able to help you protect your team and work around it.

    Third: *Asking* some questions would get you some useful information. Start by *asking* your team why they don’t want to use their head shots. Depending on what they say, also ask them if they are willing to use avatars of some sort that create a persona. You might also want to ask them what they think would be helpful to move towards a more collaborative and mutually respectful situation. I would be shocked if the answers were not enlightening, even if they don’t give you directly actionable suggestions. eg If they make it clear that they think the sales staff have a habit of over-promising stuff you may not be able to get that to stop, but it still helps you to figure out what you can (and cannot) accomplish. If they tell you “We can’t work with those loudmouths, don’t even bother”, that’s a different kind of important information even though you can’t magically make them think Sales are not actually loudmouths.

    It might also be worth talking to your peers on the other teams to ask them what they need to see from your team. Yes, there are culture problems, but even so there is probably a reason why the other teams are so rude. Asking the question seriously and in good faith shows management that you care about the problem and also lets you push back when their staff is rude to your team. But it also gives you information that could be critical to getting things to turn around.

    I know that you said that the head shots are a “small step” to changing perception, and changing perception is a “part” of your strategy. But the fact that you don’t really know why your team doesn’t want to put up their pictures leaves me wondering whether you’ve really looked at the fundamentals here. Yes, you say that <i just shy about putting their faces out there“. But WHY? Why are they so shy about putting their faces “out there” on *internal* communications to their *coworkers*? That sounds like a little thing, and it could be that it is a little thing. But it strikes me as a flag that something bigger might be going on there.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, there are bigger problems going on here. There’s something seriously wrong with an employer that doesn’t put a stop to bullying based on how people look.

      My employer doesn’t require people to use a profile picture, but they do recommend it fairly strongly and the vast majority of employees do use them. I work comms adjacent, so when my manager hired a professional photographer to take photos of the C-suite, we got our photos taken as well. I’m still using the same photo 5 years later, and it’s a great photo so I’ll continue to use it for as long as people can still recognize me from it. I still look the same, my hair’s just a bit longer and grayer now.

      It’s entirely possible that one reason why people don’t want to use profile pictures is that they just don’t know each other at all in a fully remote company. I bet that the threshold to use profile pics is lower if you see the same people at the office occasionally anyway.

    2. andy*

      > Part of the problem is broader culture. Unless your team was being rude, obtuse or inappropriate, how do others get away with being dismissive to your team members?

      Business departments do tend to look down on more tech departments. Some of that are cultural differences, but most of it is simply hierarchy. While techies are expected to treat business people in a polite way, business people are rarely expected to reciprocate. For all the “tech people dont have interpersonal skills” I have heard, the expectation of politeness goes only one way.

      Business and management people bringing up stereotypes or jokes about programmers first time they meet the team is fairly frequent. The underlying assumption of “what you are saying must be wrong, therefore I do not even have to try to listen” is also fairly frequent. Try that other way round and whole teams gets a lecture about social skills.

      1. ClaireW*

        Ugh yes this is so true. As a software engineer, it makes me cringe so hard when my peers (or even worse, managers) make those ‘hilarious’ jokes about how ‘the tech department is all those guys in hoodies who keep their headphones on and can’t speak to you, don’t interrupt them or try to interact’. It does so much harm to us as a group when people spread these stereotypes and it makes it harder for folks who don’t fit the mould (e.g. women who are social) to be taken seriously too.

        1. Prospect Gone Bad*

          I work directly tech adjacent with these type of people all day, and I don’t understand your logic. If there is a “harmful” stereotype (which I don’t even think this is, just because you are describing how many people are doesn’t mean it is a stereotype or harmful), how does someone not fitting it (in your example, a social female) hurt them and make it so they aren’t taken seriously? If anything, wouldn’t that make them stick out in a good way?

          You’re saying that not conforming to a harmful stereotype is also harmful

          1. Willow Pillow*

            Women are dismissed as not being dedicated or knowledgeable in all sorts of industries, and being social just amplifies the airhead stereotypes.

            “…studies have found that women in academia are evaluated more on personality then ability, compared to male colleagues, and are expected to be more nurturing and empathetic. Not only do these stereotypes have implications for women’s careers if they do not conform to being ‘warm’, but as a marginalized group, they may penalize other women who display this stereotype. In addition, accomplishments that challenge the stereotype (e.g., women being good at science) are often discounted or attributed to outside help.”


            “New research identifies one reason women might be shying away from certain professions: They lack confidence in their ability to compete in fields that men are stereotypically believed to perform more strongly in, such as science, math, and technology.

            Women are also more reluctant to share their ideas in group discussions on these subjects. And even when they have talent—and are actually told they are high-achievers in these subjects—women are more likely than men to shrug off the praise and lowball their own abilities.”


            “Women continue to experience high levels of pressure from their jobs, and they have been found to experience high levels of mental ill-health when they utilize an interpersonally oriented leadership style in male-dominated industries. Gender-specific behaviour demotivates and demoralizes women in the workplace. In organizational settings, negative beliefs about women’s performance or efficacy may damage their aspiration for career advancement. Women may opt not to apply due to challenging or leadership roles if they fear that they lack the ability to perform such roles.”


            There are plenty of other examples online.

            1. Prospect Gone Bad*

              These are some pretty obscure sources. I dug into the last one and it looks like a college paper sourcing other papers and not making the tie between it’s premise and the sources, not to mention the two quotes you quoted barely pertain to this topic. We should be able to discuss harmful stereotypes without labelling anything and everything a harmful stereotype.

              Someone being slightly more social than your coworkers is not “harmful.” Someone wearing a hoodie and ignoring their coworkers for large chunks of the day is not “harmful.”

              1. Willow Pillow*

                As previously stated then, there are plenty of other examples online. I prioritized studies and credible sources when doing that work for you (while trying to actually work). You’re free to have different priorities in your own research.

                As a woman in tech, though, your perspective isn’t doing your position any favours. I give in to that stereotype of women being helpful and your response ties right back into my initial statement of the “airhead stereotype”. You don’t seem to have a point beyond logical fallacies, and I’m not going to further retraumatize myself for your sealioning.

          2. andy*

            People who do not fit the mold are assumed to not be a “real tech”. They will avoid asking you questions and will go to “fit the mold ” colleagues. They wont trust what you say. They will treat you more nicely and communicate with you in a more pleasant way.

            As managers, they will be nice to you, pressure you less etc. But, they will not expect you to have technical ambitions and will act shocked when I am trying to manage own career toward those. I will be able to chat about kids, holidays and movies … but I wont be able to effectively talk about project related issues.

      2. Willow Pillow*

        Yes, I’ve been there. I did a stint with an internal help desk and most people were fine, but the few who weren’t more than made up for it! If everyone is receiving the same dismissive treatment, the answer shouldn’t be that they need to be more accommodating of disrespect. Not only is it victim-blaming, it might actually be illegal – tech tends to attract more neurodivergent people, and having different social skills is often seen as a deficit (this is not an attempt to armchair diagnose, just bringing up general data).

    3. Mister_L*

      “A lot of introverts seem to have a bit of disrespect for extroverts.”
      I think you mixed these two groups up. Introverts usually are perfectly happy to just do their job, as long as nobody wastes their time for his social needs / wants.

      1. Allonge*

        I don’t think you are making a good point on who respects whom here (and I am pretty introverted)!

        The fact that someone is happy to do their job says nothing about how respectful they are towards others.

      2. Lexi Vipond*

        And you don’t see characterising extroverts primarily as people who waste others’ time for their social needs as disrespectful?

        1. Mister_L*

          I apologize for being unclear. I do not think that all extroverts are people who waste others’ time.
          Only the part of the group that thinks everyone else has to cater to their social needs.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            You do realize that wanting to be left alone to do their job is also a social need?

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        This would be really funny with sarcasm tags, but unfortunately I don’t think they are implied.

        Engaging in human interaction with coworkers is a requirement of most jobs, since that’s how we exchange information.

      4. MaryB*

        You seem to be proving Observer’s point with the way you view your extrovert colleagues with clear contempt.

        1. Mister_L*

          Hello Falling Diphthong and MarryB, I hope you don’t mind me answering both of you in one post.
          Regarding the exchange of information: It is part of my job and I don’t mind it. What does annoy me is people holding up this exchange either with non workrelated chatter or by suddenly starting to shout-talk with each other to the point where I can’t hear callers through my headset.
          This however still merely annoys me occasionally. Assuming I view my colleagues with contempt is a bit of a reach.

      5. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Everything is set up for extroverts so I think they should just take the greater ease of their lives as a win and not worry if people who are introverted are morally deficient or whatever. I’m ok with a little chatter but please don’t waste hours of the work day because we need to have ‘ fun’. Or if we must please extend the deadlines! You just made me spend 3 hours doing a scavenger hunt with my coworkers. I did not get any work done at this time.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This is where I am. I don’t mind some social chatter and am fine with doing my part to build and maintain positive relationships at work, but I am absolutely exhausted of the judgment, assumption that I am withering away without frequent social interactions, and insinuation that there is something wrong with me for preferring the company of a good book to a constant parade of events and interactions.

          This site may be heavily biased towards introversion, but that’s not the case in the real world and, in the real world, being naturally extroverted is quite an advantage.

    4. Prospect Gone Bad*

      You are missing the “whereas the business norm is to have a headshot” part.

      I worked at an awesome company that did “active” shots from waist up, people who were body conscious only did face shots. It’s just part of the culture at some companies.

      1. Observer*

        No, I’m not missing that part. But it’s still the smallest part of the problem. And given what else the OP says, forcing the issue is not likely to help, but it could do harm. And the OP needs to focus their resources on the bigger issues.

    5. I have RBF*

      A lot of introverts seem to have a bit of disrespect for extroverts. That lack of respect is not going to make for good partnerships.

      LOL. No.

      IME, it is the extroverts who show a general disrespect toward introverts, expecting them to conform to extroverted standards of interaction and dumping on them when they don’t. Now, maybe this generates a lack of respect in the backlash, but the disrespect doesn’t start with the introverts – it starts with the extroverts stomping all over the introverts’ boundaries.

      How can you respect people who regularly interrupt you, dismiss what you have to say, yet demand that you be social with them in order to even try to do your work?

      The reality of a sales team dumping all over the product nerds is all too common. While it is a problem for the nerds, the solution has to start with the sales team.

    6. Aerin*

      Yes to all of this. I work an internal support desk that has a glowing reputation in the rest of the org. We’ve achieved this in a few ways:

      1) Prioritizing customer service first and foremost. I can generally teach someone the technical knowledge if they’re willing to learn, but soft skills are much harder to train on, so that’s the main thing we look for in hiring. People know that when they contact us, it’s going to be a pleasant experience and we’re likely to be able to solve their problem outright, or will make sure it gets solved by the right people.

      2) Hard metrics and good PR. We are very, very data-driven: CSAT scores, handle times, time from intake to completion, etc. This gives us specific ways to work on improving our techs’ skills, and we can easily see and reward our top performers. It also means that once a year we can put out a report of “Look at everything [Desk] accomplished this year!” with all kinds of impressive stats to increase our visibility.

      3) Someone is much less likely to be a dick to me when my manager can (and will!) talk to *their* manager about it. That’s less possible when serving external clients, but for internal people? No excuse for bad behavior. Management also actively looks for things driving up contact volume, both in the moment and long-term, and makes an effort to find workarounds and permanent fixes.

      That last one is the biggest, honestly. Some of our best managers have zero ability to do what we do themselves, but they go to bat for us in all kinds of ways to help us do our thing and to make our lives easier, and they always have our backs even if they get overruled on something. The other stuff can take time or a team of a certain size to accomplish, but advocating for your staff is something you can do right away.

  7. Waving not Drowning*

    During lockdown, with all meetings online, our company had a very very VERY loose definition of what constituted a profile picture, and a backdrop. A lot of people had their pet/s or a cartoon figure as their profile pic (and still do). Is that something they would be more comfortable with?

    I am not comfortable for a variety of reasons having my photo out there. It was only because I was made to by a previous manager that I did actually have it taken (I’d avoided it until I was basically ordered to do it). Our workplace had a professional photographer in to take the headshots, and its much better than anything I’d take myself. However, that manager was all about appearance (she gave us tips on our makeup for zoom meetings…), and there were so many many MANY ways she could have helped us and supported us instead of focusing in on having a photo on our website. Make sure you are focusing on what matters, not hung up on providing a face to a name.

    1. allathian*

      I think that using photos *internally* is completely normal. I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with making it mandatory for all employees to use a reasonably current profile pic of themselves on Teams/Zoom and the intranet, provided that the employer requires its employees to treat each other professionally. This includes requiring employees to use the correct pronouns for nonbinary/trans employees and punishing them if they don’t. If the employer can’t manage that, then using some kind of photos to indicate personality, such as Catherine’s owl below, should absolutely be allowed.

      That said, I’d strongly object to publishing my photo on our website for the general public to see. I’m not on any social media and my job isn’t public-facing. Thankfully my employer is reasonable and doesn’t publish photos online, the only exceptions are our top executives and a few senior specialists whose photos are included on their blog posts.

      1. I have RBF*

        I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with making it mandatory for all employees to use a reasonably current profile pic of themselves on Teams/Zoom and the intranet, provided that the employer requires its employees to treat each other professionally.

        I do. The “requires its employees to treat each other professionally” part is pretty much impossible to police. How do I prove that a person treated me badly, discounted my opinions, or whatever because my photo is a fat person? The offender probably doesn’t even realize the subconscious bias!

        Haven’t you ever noticed that it’s mostly thin, pretty people that get the promotions? I have. How many AFAB people who are fat with grey hair do you see getting a lot of respect in organizations?

  8. Catherine*

    OP2, please consider that if you require photos, it shouldn’t have to be a photo of the person necessarily or their face. Perhaps just something indicative of personality?

    I’m nonbinary and when I was made to use a photo of my face on my Teams profile I kept getting called she/her no matter how many times I corrected people. After a talk with my manager I got permission to change my photo to an owl and everyone around me subsequently developed the miraculous ability to use they/them pronouns.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I’m glad you were able to change your photo! I’ve seen departments have a series of illustrations or cartoons from which people can choose and that seems to work well. I do think it’s probably harder for people to be rude to someone if there’s a face on their profile – but it doesn’t have to be a photo of a human face to have that effect.

      1. Scarlet2*

        I’ve always been pretty skeptical about that, seeing how often people are rude to each other on Facebook, photos or not.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Facebook isn’t the same as a work environment (except for people who work at Facebook) and people interact on social media in a different way than they do in a work environment. So I don’t think this is an apples to apples comparison.

          1. Scarlet2*

            You’d also expect people to behave professionally towards their coworkers, whether they can see each other’s faces or not, and yet it doesn’t seem to be the case here. So this doesn’t seem to be a work environment where people behave with the courtesy you might reasonably expect.

            1. Aerin*

              People behave professionally to their coworkers when they know there are consequences for doing otherwise. That’s the key cultural piece that’s missing, not whether their faces are visible.

        2. Bit o' Brit*

          There’s still a sliding scale, I think. I’ve never seen someone be as vile on Facebook as I have on Reddit, for example.

    2. Mongrel*

      “Perhaps just something indicative of personality?”

      Or, if the whole department is portrait adverse then a cohesive set of designs or characters.

        1. beedy boop boop*

          I would be pretty happy if my entire institution just had owls as profile pictures. More owls, please.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        At one of my old jobs, we did a team building thing where we used a meme generator to make memes related to our jobs, and a lot of people ended up using their meme as their profile picture afterward. It’s an option if you want to add the “this is a human with feelings” component without requiring people to use their face.

        1. Dancing Otter*

          Did you work with me? I loved that! They even got us team tee shirts with a group “photo” of all the generated pictures.
          Mine had an old-fashioned accountant’s green eyeshade, because I did the metrics reports.

      2. Observer*

        Yes, that really sounds like it could be a good idea.

        But I think that the first question to answer is WHY is most of the department so averse to putting up their photos?

  9. Mothman*

    Regarding the photos, what about just *A* photo? Most of us at my workplace use photos of ourselves (ranging from professional headshots to goofy photos, but mostly selfies because who has the time or money?), but some people use their dog or a cartoon character. It gives them some personality if not a face, so it seems a bit more like there’s someone over there.

  10. Fikly*

    #2: Consider this: Not only is requiring a photo unlikely to change the actual situation, it’s likely to lead to your team feeling like they don’t have your support, because instead of focusing on actions that will help them, you are focusing on forcing them to do something they do not want to do that isn’t going to help them.

    And when a team doesn’t feel supported by their manager, it’s never good.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes, once again (as I feel like we see this often in letters) OP has been taken on as a change agent but it’s unclear whether she has proper organisational backing to succeed. The photo situation seems symptomatic of focusing on things that are not the real root cause of the issue, which may be part of the reason the situation has got as far as it has (I appreciate OP is new to this role so isn’t accountable for that). Did they have a manager before or was the team more independent / “leaderless” in that respect – they have probably got used to the idea that they have no support from management and I think the commenter above is right- “I know what’s wrong!! no one has a photo in Teams!” will just cement the idea that management don’t have any real solutions.

      1. Allonge*

        To be fair, OP seems perfectly aware that this is a small aspect of the problem or the solution – they mention it’s part of a part of their plans (‘Part of my strategy as department manager is to work to change the perception of our team […]I have a few ideas about how to achieve this, and one small step in that direction is [photos]’.

        Presumably for the other parts they have questions they could discuss internally or a plan they are ok with.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          I agree. Adding a photo does not appear to be LW’s whole solution, just one small thing. And she says that having a photo is the “business norm” at her company, so it likely will help a little for people to put a face with the name.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Yes, although I wonder how much of that strategy will be visible to the team. It sounded to me more that the photos are the first “tangible” change they will see.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah, it sounds like there might be some unprofessionalism from others towards the team and I would be really careful about any message which could possibly be misread as: “People don’t treat us well – this is our fault for not projecting the right image”. I wouldn’t necessarily throw out the idea, but I wouldn’t make it my first move out of the gate. I would probably try to get people’s faces, skills and backgrounds known in more meaningful ways, like zoom meetings or presentations (which are genuinely informative about the department, not just ‘this could have been an email’ type meeting) and then hook the picture idea back in at a later date: “You really impressed everyone with x,y,z last week so I think if you use a pic on email that will help people to remember you.”

    3. JSPA*


      1. If the team wanted their photos up, their photos would already be up. So one should start with the presumption that this is not something they welcome.

      2. If the manager guesses wrong, and people from other teams are not suddenly more polite upon seeing the faces of the team– that is, if people who are rude as a default simply switch to be rude and dismissive in more targeted ways, with extra intentionality– they’ve made the situation that much more painful.

      3. A focus on metrics and value is by default a stronger business argument than…”look, actual people do this job.”

      If there are differentiated roles within the team. it might make sense to have an avatar that fits each role–especially if (for example) there is some unnecessary stress because requests are not always going to the best person for the specific job. Or have people pick a color and pattern, so they’re not uniformly gray, if there are problems with people forgetting who’s who.

      But uf people can’t remember who’s who on the basis of a name and title, they may be just as vague (or continue to NGAF) about faces. That is, the same people who think that all [social subgroup] names are hard to remember (or not worth the brain space), often also think that people from [social subgroup] look alike (or are still not worth the brain space).

    4. Lacey*

      Yes! This LW reminds me of my manager. All his solutions are around making us seem more personable – or just making us shut up – instead of requesting that other teams treat us more politely.

      We love our work. But this one issue might be what makes us all leave.

  11. Min*

    #4 – When one of the senior managers at my company first started with us he bore a remarkable resemblance to Fry from Futurama. It’s been over 5 years, he’s changed his hair, but STILL that’s all I see whenever I see him.

    There’s no coming back from this.

    1. Nodandsmile*

      I was stage managing a play, while a drama student, and someone pointed out that the director looked like Crash Bandicoot. He did – and that’s who he remained in my head for the rest of my studies!

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I remember working in a grotty language school in a suburb of Paris, my first real job. Sitting in the teachers’ room, sort of preparing lessons and I look up to see DeeDee Ramone. My jaw dropped even further when he spoke with an American accent.
      Later on I summed up the courage to asked if he was related in any way, but he hadn’t even heard of the Ramones, he was more into Santana and Hendrix. So there I was, crushing hard on the bloke, and managing to make him feel old for the first time. Oh well.

    3. EvilQueenRegina*

      My grandboss has the same laugh as Rumplestiltskin from Once Upon A Time. Ever since it was pointed out to me, I can’t not hear it.

    4. SarahKay*

      A-level physics (age 16-18) we had a new teacher start at our school. Short, slightly stout, dark curly hair and slightly pointed beard (back in the late eighties when beards weren’t very common) – basically matching the description of a hobbit.
      One of the other pupils and I caught each other’s eye and as soon as we got out of class we said to each other “Do you think he has big hairy feet, too?!?”
      Some years later I admitted this to my dad, who also taught at that school. He nearly fell over laughing and said while he hadn’t seen it before, it was certainly all he was going to see now.

    5. Sister Michael*

      I once worked for a company whose owner looked shockingly like Carl Fredricksen from the movie ‘Up’!

      And not in a work capacity, but it took me years to find an appropriate way to ask a friend if he was aware his father looks like Peter Griffin. (He was, and he and his sisters thought it was hilarious, probably because they don’t all look like characters from Family Guy themselves.)

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Mum forbade me from saying anything to my one uncle (her middle brother) that the Coronation Street character Roy Cropper looked like him, then one New Year, their youngest brother pointed it out in front of the whole family. Turned out my cousin had been winding him up about it for weeks.

    6. Tree*

      One of my colleagues is the spitting image of a character in Wynonna Earp (Bobo). It’s not to his detriment though because he doesn’t wear floor length fur coats.

    7. Totally Minnie*

      I had a grandboss once whose last name was remarkably similar to a fake swear word used in Star Wars novels. I had to stop myself from giggling every time I got an email from the lady whose last name was the Outer Space F Bomb.

    8. Chutney Jitney*

      I once had a new grandboss start and I had a hard time getting over the fact that she looked *just like* Dana Carvey’s Church Lady from SNL. Same haircut, same hair color, style of dress, manner of speaking… I had to smother laughter through several staff meetings before I lost the association.

    9. The Eye of Argon*

      My college held a seminar on careers in industrial chemistry, and the guest speaker looked exactly like Wally from “Dilbert”. The short-sleeved dress shirt and tie, the thick square glasses, the baldness, the thick lips. It didn’t help that he actually sounded pretty jaded about his career and was kind of a grouch.

      This was in the late 90s when the strip was at the height of its popularity and I wasn’t the only one who noticed the resemblance.

  12. Rachel*

    Re #2 – Being an introvert means that you get psychological rejuvenation primarily from being by yourself. It is associated with having a lower threshold for social and sensory stimulation. It isn’t a reason in and of itself to not do things with or for other people. I don’t know when introversion became The Reason for stuff but it’s so annoying and incorrect. This team can all be literal introverts and that’s not a reason for not having a photo.

    1. MK*

      It didn’t become The Reason. It became a widely known term and people started using it to describe not only it’s actual meaning that you gave, but also many personality traits that are or feel similar, like being shy or antisocial etc.

    2. Well...*

      I find introvert discourse to be highly irritating as well. Extroverts can have social anxiety (I’m living proof) and somehow introverts dominate the conversation on socialization accommodation when it’s not a mental health problem, it’s just a personality type.

      1. DataSci*

        Maybe if introverts weren’t expected to, and told how to, change to accommodate extroverts there’d be less pushback. Just let people be! If you want to make small talk, find another extrovert to chat with. If not, excuse yourself from the conversation.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          As an introvert, I have truly come to feel that normal human interaction–like small talk–actually is a middleground between introvert and extrovert.

          And if you refuse to ever engage in small talk with people you don’t know extremely well, and then people send good work opportunities to people who will talk to them, and seem like they would also speak to other people: that’s a normal response to making yourself very difficult to communicate perfectly with.

          1. Gray Lady*

            Yes. And as an introvert, I notice that there is a huge amount of rhetoric about how extroverts should change to accommodate US. Don’t exclude me from parties, but don’t expect me to act like I’m at a party when I’m there. Don’t talk to me unless I send out certain signals about being interested in conversation, and oh by the way here’s the list of topics I’m willing to talk about, and they must all be meaningful by my understanding.

            Maybe we all just need to learn some basic social skills outside our immediate comfort zones. For introverts, that’s learning how to engage. For extroverts, that’s learning how to limit engagement or direct it intelligently.

            1. Well...*

              Ugh, people like this give introverts a bad name. Good luck with “don’t exclude me from parties” with that attitude.

              Also that’s fundamentally an externalizing as opposed to an internalizing attitude (socializing keeps going badly for me, it’s EVERYONE ELSE’S fault). Kind of funny how that goes.

          2. Totally Minnie*

            I consider myself an ambivert, but I do lean more toward the introvert end of the spectrum. I also worked in customer service for close to 20 years, so “polite chit chat with strangers” was literally a job requirement. And yeah, there were days/weeks where that was pretty exhausting and pretending I enjoyed it could be hard. But that was the job. Sometimes it sucked, and sometimes it was great.

            I think the thing to remember is that no matter where you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, nobody is getting their ideal level of socialization at work, so you do the best you can and compensate during your off time.

        2. Allonge*

          But this is exactly the thing – introvert does not mean ‘cannot do small talk’ any more than extrovert means ‘will present without any provocation to any crowd over 20 the full plays of Shakespeare’. There may be a slight correlation, but that’s it.

          1. Not Australian*

            Indeed. Because I could just about do the latter but *still* struggle with making smalltalk, which to me is essentially wasted words!

        3. Well...*

          Yup, people with social anxiety or other mental health diagnoses can’t relate to being forced into a box at all, only introverts get it /s.

          Also extroverts don’t solely communicate via forced small talk, way to do the thing that you’re complaining about.

        4. LeftEye*

          As someone with both extrovert and introvert tendencies (and who thinks the binary concept of these things is pretty much junk “science”), I wish people who identify strongly as introverts also realized extroverts feel pressured to change and accommodate others as well.

          When I’m feeling keen for interaction with others it can be utterly exhausting and misery-making to keep a tight leash on my interactions so as to not overwhelm others or dominate interactions, and I can go home drained and sometimes have even cried in my car after a long day of desperately trying to make myself smaller and more socially acceptable. When I’m feeling the need to withdraw and keep to myself it can likewise be exhausting to pump up the enthusiasm and volume of my interactions, and being interacted with sometimes feels like something pressing against my raw nerves.

          (and then of course there are many days where I’m adoring the people around me or my own company just the right amount and everything is a delight!)

          I think social interaction just takes a certain amount of self-monitoring and adapting to group norms that can be hard or wearying for literally anybody. I also find within myself that my patience and ability for adapting and monitoring myself in relationships with others depends a lot on larger circumstances, like how burned out I am overall, or if I don’t particularly care for the people needing the social niceties with me. If small talk at work feels like such a cruel imposition to you I recommend you consider the overall picture of your life at work rather than just snarking on “extroverts”.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, I find this assumption that introverts are shy, quiet, socially anxious little mice lacking in confidence while extroverts are loud, talkative, confident social butterflies who love being the centre of attention to be problematic on both counts. It leads to introverts being harrassed to “get out of your comfort zone” and their preference being assumed to be the result of anxiety and that they just need to be “pushed” to do what they “should be preferring” and it means things like anxiety and insecurity and discomfort over public speaking and so on are overlooked in extroverts because it is assumed that they are clearly super-confident.

        And…neither of these things are true. I’m an introvert who loves public speaking and has been accused of being over-confident and one of my best friends is, I think, an extrovert, who is really shy and lacking in confidence. I’m not sure how much of her insistence on virtually never being alone is extoversion and how much is that she feels self-conscious about being on her own because she feels everybody is watching her and assuming she has no friends.

        1. Artemesia*

          Me too. I am an introvert who enjoys conversation at parties and giving dinner parties, who loves public speaking and had a career which involved a fair amount of public leadership and public speaking. But I NEED time to myself to re-charge. Being anxious is not an introvert thing — both intro and extroverts can have that issue.

          1. ursula*

            Same. I heard someone describe themselves as a “performance introvert” and I relate to that. I’m social! I love public speaking and I’m comfortable in my leadership role! It just also drains my batteries in the way that good exercise drains one’s batteries – effort expended on something you value and enjoy that leaves you tired nonetheless. And then I need the night/weekend/whatever mostly in solitude to recharge. I bristle at a lot of the “uwu” around introverts. The word people might be looking for is “shy” or “socially anxious,” which is related but not synonymous.

        2. Becky*

          I was just having a conversation with my family about this the other day – I am confident, assertive, not shy, not (usually) socially awkward. I love both public speaking and teaching. And I am very much an Introvert.

        3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Agreed. People always labeled my ex and I backwards. I’m an introvert who is talkative and energetic with people, but I burn out fast and prefer to be quietly at home almost all of the time. My ex was an extrovert, incredibly quiet and private but craves being out and thrives on the energy of others. But of course intro/extro is just one dimension of a larger personality. It’s clear to me there are other anxiety / trauma / neurodevelopmental reasons behind why I prefer to be alone and he prefers to be with others.

        4. Turquoisecow*


          I’m an introvert but I like to hang out with people once in awhile. And I love small talk with people because it gives me an opportunity to interact with other humans on a surface level without setting off anxiety. I don’t mind an occasional party and I can make conversations with coworkers or acquaintances without problem. It’s just not my *preferred* activity, and I want to go be alone afterward. I also worked customer service for many years and hated it but was also good at it.

          I also know a number of extroverts who are quite socially awkward. Just because they love to talk to people doesn’t mean they’re *good* at it.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      Yeah, people tend to conflate introversion, shyness, and social awkwardness/anxiety. Those can co-occur, but they are really separate things, and people can be one without the others. “Introvert” is the term currently misused to cover all of those (it used to be “shy” and was seen more as a flaw than a character trait, so, progress?)

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yeah, like it’s an excuse now. I’m an introvert myself, but I force myself to get out there and talk to people. With the internet, introverts can withdraw to a point that was never previously possible, and I’m pretty sure that reclusiveness is going to pose more and more of a problem. I’ve seen memes joking about cancelling orders for pizza because of having to sign the delivery person’s receipt, I don’t think it’s funny.
        Yes those Sales people can be a real drag, always needing to talk in person when they could have sent an email. But there’s such a thing as meeting people half-way and making an effort.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I see it used a lot when people are describing either severe social anxiety or general misanthropy.

      3. cosmicgorilla*

        Emmy Noether, I agree! Some behavior I’ve seen attributed to introversion sounds like social anxiety.

        I call myself an introvert. I enjoy being with my friends and other groups I’m familiar with. I don’t dread hanging out with them or seek ways to avoid leaving my house. But after a certain amount of time with them, I need some down time. I need to recharge by myself.

        On public speaking, I’ve read that introverts can actually feel more comfortable at public speaking because there’s distance between us and the audience.

      4. Qwerty*

        Yes! My quietest friend is an extrovert – she wants to go to the party or happy hour and listen to all the conversations / people watch, but say nothing. So people think she’s an introvert that has been dragged there and is silently wishing she can go home.

        I feel like in *online* discourse, “introvert” is being used in place of “anti-social” or “misanthropy”

        I’m in tech, my team is mostly introverts. They are incredibly social during the day and happily hang out after work. But it is just followed by recharging in the evenings or not joining the water cooler chat once the social meter is full.

      5. upipaniot*

        I’ve become averse to the whole framing of introversion vs extroversion since being diagnosed with social anxiety years ago and realizing how parts of the internet enabled me to hide behind the introvert label to stay in denial about the anxiety longer than I might have otherwise. These days I don’t even know where I fit on the introversion/extroversion scale and simply don’t find it useful for me at all. But I can’t shake the discomfort with the conflation of introversion and social anxiety that comes from remembering my past and wondering how many others are going through the same thing.

    4. The Prettiest Curse*

      And people forget that introverts can be a-holes too. The introvert is not always right, and I’m saying this as an someone who definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert.

    5. Well...*

      Also, I can pinpoint the moment introversion because The Reason, and it was the publication of the cringy Atlantic article by Jonathon Rauch in 2003. This quote is my favorite:

      “Are introverts arrogant? Hardly. I suppose this common misconception has to do with our being more intelligent, more reflective, more independent, more level-headed, more refined, and more sensitive than extroverts.”

      Zero self-awareness lol.

      1. Allonge*

        Um, this was tounge-in cheek. The article discusses a real problem but most of it is not meant to be taken literally.

        1. bamcheeks*

          as everyone knows, introverts don’t do irony. That’s exclusively an extravert thing.

          1. Allonge*

            Speaking of irony, read this sentence from the same article:

            ‘Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone.’

            Just sit with this for a second, and then think again about the fact that this was written in 2003. There are like, 5 different PhD theses in there.


        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Agree that that is so clearly tongue in cheek. (Like Lord Farquaard: It’s. A. Joke. People.)

          I liked that article, which I thought did a good job of laying out that introversion means we want to go sit quietly by ourselves to recharge after socializing.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              No. I think this is a humor piece published in the Atlantic, and that even in 2003 there were stereotypes like:
              • I’m an introvert, a rarity you’ve probably never encountered before
              • I’m an introvert, and therefore I’m oppressed because people talk to me
              • I’m an introvert, and therefore refined

              I believe a more recent humor piece took “a friend helps you move; a real friend helps you move a body” and rolled with it. It was not literally describing an actual murder that the author and friend had covered up.

              1. Well...*

                I mean, read his own words on the topic, see the “Introverts of the World, Unite!” follow-up.

                Also aside from the author’s intent, there’s the impact this work had on the world. I have read at least three response posts from women who were told they were “as inscrutable as a puppy” by their introverted world-revolves-around-me-and-how-deep-I-am boyfriends.

          1. Observer*

            Agree that that is so clearly tongue in cheek.

            Maybe. But Susan Cain was definitely NOT tongue in cheek.

            1. Observer*


              This is her TED Talk. Yes, she didn’t have a good camp experience, and her counselor was not too smart. But, still. According to her introverts are the ones who are creative, etc. Her book largely makes similar arguments.

              She makes some good points but she really pushes the narrative of the oppressed introverts who are crucial to society because you can’t get creativity without them.

        3. Well...*

          I mean, that though crossed my mind, but it’s honestly hard to tell if you read the full article. The whole thing is about how great introverts are and how much extroverts suck, and the response to it and follow up article absolutely reflects that straightforward reading.

          1. Allonge*

            I think you are ignoring the context a bit (it’s not that obvious, so no worries): this was a time when introverts barely had any good press yet (in the US at least). The way to be was Obviously an extrovert.

            This is before social media and most of what we know now as the online world – Facebook came two years later, the iPhone four – you could talk to people online but it was still some effort. Being a geek was just starting to get cool. Substract 20 years of discourse on how introversion is not the same thing as shyness from where we are now. etc.

            It’s absolutely making a serious point. But it’s not all literally meant all the same. See e.g. the serious research he did on Google.

            1. Well...*

              I’m confused… do you think what I quoted was a tongue-in-cheek joke, or do you think it was meant as part of a serious effort to elevate introverts? Or some muddled combination of the two?

              Also, I didn’t see this article when it came out, but far before 2003 I had met men who weaponized being a special introvert to justify their inability to come up with anything intelligent to say on the fly, especially when they were faced with doing so around quick-thinking women (who are just so chatty, don’t ya know, not really “thinkers”).

              1. Well...*

                In fact, I’d say that the minimization of social adeptness and cooperative thinking in favor of individualistic institutional achievement is a habit of our society that far predates 2003. It’s got strong roots not only in sexism (where I first encountered it in the wild) but also imperialism and colonialism.

              2. Allonge*

                do you think what I quoted was a tongue-in-cheek joke, or do you think it was meant as part of a serious effort to elevate introverts

                Why can’t it be both?

                But it’s more talking down extroverts in a way that is not unlike how introverts are talked down. With humor, because using humor, irony, sarcasm, or plain old jokes is not antithetical to broaching a serious subject.

    6. Serenity*


      I’m an introvert who isn’t shy in the least. I have a job that requires regular interaction with clients, and when I’m in the office, I’m sought out for questions and information because I love interaction with my peers. I’m known to be a great trainer (especially of new staff) because I convey useful information in concise ways.

      The ongoing cultural perception of introverts as socially inept is wrong and harmful.

    7. alienor*

      I’m an introvert and I’m glad to have a photo on my profile, because it makes it easier to get away with not turning my actual camera on during calls. I don’t mind participating in meetings, but having the camera on is incredibly draining for me. If a static image in a little circle on the screen (that I chose/edited myself) can fulfill the requirement of being “visible” without making me have to go there, I’m all for it!

    8. The Other Dawn*

      Yes, thank you! I’m an introvert and all it means is I need to be by myself to recharge. That means reading usually. I don’t hate people. I’m social and speak to lots of people. I enjoy some good water cooler chat. I speak at meetings. I have a profile picture at work for email, etc.

      1. Jam on Toast*

        Yes, I’m an extroverted introvert, too. I have a *very* public facing job and I’m great with people. I’m frequently described as upbeat and welcoming and I enjoy my role immensely. But since I was a kid, I’ve needed ‘head time’ too – seriously, that’s what my parents use to call it – quiet, by myself time where I read, or played piano or recharged. If I don’t get that, I honestly get squirrely and anxious and wound up because I just don’t have the bandwidth to deal with people. So, yeah, I’m an introvert but that’s a question of my bandwidth for socialization overall, and not an intrinsic dislike of people or an inability to be a good colleague or friend.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          Interestingly the days I have the worst fatigue is when I have meetings because the demands of masking ( when you hide your true characteristics to fit in) combined with introversion make many things difficult ( like if Ive got 4 or 5 hours of interaction that’s the day.

          maybe we could shift the idea of being a good worker in ways that are more inclusive. Even extroverts want time to get work done.

          1. Allonge*

            That does sound legitimately exhausting even without having to mask.

            I am an introvert so I cannot vouch for this but it sounds like it would be exhausting for the extrovertiest extrovert too. It’s not like they the bonus they get from social interaction totally overrides the impact of actual work!

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      Introversion is also a preference and not a behavior mandate. I am about as introverted as introversion gets, but my job requires that I regularly interact with people in a positive and productive manner and build relationships. This is not my innate, natural preference, but I’ve learned how to do it well enough that many people are surprised to learn I’m a 98% introvert. I basically structure my time so that I have a recharge break after work before I have to put my game face on for family and kids’ activities. Being introverted is not an excuse to be rude or unable to work with other people.

      1. Nancy*

        Agree, I am really tired of how people misuse introversion. It actually does not help us introverts.

        As for the profile photo, my organization uses our work photo ID.

    10. Observer*

      This team can all be literal introverts and that’s not a reason for not having a photo.

      And that’s why the OP should not force the issue, but SHOULD find out why they don’t want to post their pictures. SOMETHING is up and “oh, they are introverts” doesn’t really explain it.

  13. urguncle*

    #2: I don’t know if this is a real suggestion or not, but it’s worked well for me so far in my career. I don’t like having a headshot up, but I do rotate animals in costumes through my Slack profile, depending on the season. It is much harder to be mean to a Virginia opossum wearing a party hat for the new year or a raccoon in a pumpkin costume for Halloween.

    1. skunky x*

      I think this is the key thing, it’s less about “people need to know what you look like” and more giving the sensation there is someone behind the keyboard, which a grey circle with someone’s initials in doesn’t really lend itself.

      I am lucky/unlucky (depending on your view point) that I am in an industry where you’re expected to have a personal page on the website, so one of the first things they do when you start is organise a headshot. Even then, before I got my headshot, they snapped a quick photo to put in my email/for security reasons. They gave me warning thankfully, so it wasn’t like the mug shots you get when they need to print an ID on the first day!

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        A grey circle, especially if it’s not standard in the rest of the org, gives a vibe of either being too new to have set a picture up or a temporary account. It either speaks of inexperience or deliberate obfuscation that can get people’s backs up, even just subconsciously. It’s like someone having the twitter egg as their avatar – you just lend less weight to what their replies because they’re either brand new or a troll.

        1. Grith*

          I think this is a really astute point.

          If grey circle is what the Sales team have for the first week or two until they get their “real” photo sorted, being forced to rely on a “newbie” for tech support is going to read as their questions not being taken seriously and palmed off to the inexperienced staff. And similarly it makes it harder to build relationships with members of your team who they do get good support from.

          Even with distinct avatars rather than actual photos, it will give a sense of someone who’s established in the company, and might also trigger memories of helpful assistance over time.

          1. I have RBF*


            If the team does not want to do photos, they should at least be required to post an avatar of some sort. Whether it’s a cartoon, a pet picture, or something like that it should reflect them as a person. This makes them distinct from a “grey box”, and people can associate their actions with a representation of something individual.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I think this “actually a human being” thing can be compounded when other departments are asked to communicate with your team as a single entity (eg “email IT” or “put in a support ticket”) and/or updates come from a shared address. So yes you might sign off your message “Thanks, Susan”, but in the header it has come from “Support” or “Helpdesk” or similar not-an-individual-human-being.

      3. Chick (on laptop)*

        Depends on the job. I’m an assistant, and my job is infinitely easier when I know what you look like.

        1. Me*

          How? I don’t mean to be argumentative I’m just struggling to understand how knowing what someone looks like could help you do your job.

  14. andy*

    #2: If other teams treated us dismissively badly and you came to me with the mandate to put in photo with assumption it will make actual change, I would file it into “management out of touch living in its own alternative universe again” category. “These people are dismissive of you, put up photo to hopefully please them” is not exactly trust inducing theory.

    And that would be regardless of whether I think that our team has bad process or too many incompetent members or whether I think that other teams are jerks here. (It is natural to conclude latter, obviously, but). I would prefer to see combination of process changes and boundary setting.

  15. Cher*

    LW1: If you’re female, these feelings can also be part of pre-menopausal symptoms. I say this as someone in her mid-40s. They may not too. Just thought I’d mention it.

    1. UKgreen*

      YES! Adding a very strong +1 on this – I’m now 45 and am definitely concious of much more anxiety that I never, ever previously had, which has ‘crept up’ on me as I have started to experience other, more obvious symptoms of menopause.

    2. Maybesocks*

      Yes. I wish I had taken medication to even out my hormones during peri menopause. No one told me about these years of misery during the middle school presentation. Just “and then it stops, but you’re still a woman.” Made me wonder… was I supposed to think I wouldn’t still be a woman?

      1. Violet Rutherford*

        People often say that a period is when a girl is no longer a girl but now a woman. So I guess they were trying to say it’s not like Pokemon, there’s no evolution after woman to something else. Still odd that they thought middle school aged kids might think all the old ladies were some secret third female thing, though.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Honestly, it’d be nice if there was something even more amazing waiting for us after menopause. Like, that we go from girl to woman to superwoman. Eh, you know what? I hereby declare that after menopause all women officially are now superwomen.

          1. Hotdog not dog*

            I’m in! This seems like a very reasonable promotion, after all, some women progress from mother to grandmother to great grandmother, so why not girl to woman to superwoman?

          2. Hananobira*

            The grandmother hypothesis! It’s been observed in several species – off the top of my head I can remember dolphins – that if the grandmother sticks around to help raise the grandchildren, the mother will have more and healthier offspring. So the current theory in evolutionary biology is that human women go through menopause so they can turn their attention from having their own children to supporting the next generation’s children. Which is presumably why the females live longer than the males in most mammal species.

            People treat aging like a disease – men online say horrible things about women being “washed up” after thirty or other such nonsense – but there’s plenty of evidence that older women play an invaluable role in the community, as reflected by their longer lifespan and centrality to most families. Where would we be without our grandmothers?

        2. TeaCoziesRUs*

          But they missed it… we do morph. Into crones, hags, and other keepers of wisdom. :)

          (Please don’t read anything negative into this. I’ve been on a kick of listening to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola-Estes’ audiobook series on The Dangerous Old Woman and looking forward to Sharon Blackie’s new book on Hagitude ever since she took down her article on it last year. I’m leaning into my inner hag. :D )

          1. I have RBF*

            As an over 60 AFAB, I tend to lean in to the crone/elder thing. I’m not pretty, but I find that I’m loving the look of my hair going gray.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        There was an episode of Designing Women where one of the main characters has a hysterectomy and every other character has at least one line where they’re like “too bad you’re not going to be a woman anymore.” I was 10 or 11 the first time I saw it and it was clear to me that it was some ridiculous nonsense. It’s not like Julia was going to stop circling F on government forms just because she had surgery one time.

        1. Anxious OP*

          Just wanted to give you an A+ for mentioning Designing Women. One of my favourites as a kid!

      3. Well...*

        It was probably a halfhearted attempt to counter the narrative around menopause in many anatomy books that seems to imply the factory is shutting down and the whole person will become a ghost town.

    3. Dear liza dear liza*

      Yes! Perimenopause is the gift that keeps on giving. I had no idea how much hormones affect our physical and mental health.

    4. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thanks! I don’t think it’s related, as it has been an ongoing thing for my entire professional life… but I appreciate you flagging this, as I’ll keep an eye on this worsening as I get older.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Hey OP! I feel like I could have written this letter, myself. The main difference is that I haven’t won awards and no one above me calls me into their office for anything, but everything else is spot on for me. I just don’t feel good at my job despite doing it with pretty good feedback for over a decade now.

        For me, it’s Imposter Syndrome combined with the fact that newer hires have new techniques I was never exposed to. Basically, by the time I started getting over Imposter Syndrome knowing that with time and experience, I DO know what I’m doing, now I don’t have the youthful energy and fresh knowledge that I think people around me responded to when I was younger.

        It’s right at that sweet spot where I think I should feel like I have my job handled, but instead just feel bad at both ends.

      2. takeachip*

        I experience the same thing and for me, it’s a combination of some things others have pointed out (family of origin trauma = hyper vigilance, people pleasing, and self doubt, always waiting for the other shoe to drop) plus the feeling of vulnerability that comes with lacking a safety net. I don’t have a partner so I have to be completely self-reliant, and yes the older I get the more I am aware of that vulnerability. It feels like a heavy burden sometimes. The stakes are high for me with employment, both financially and in terms of my identity and social status. I don’t fit in to a lot of social norms (no partner, no kids, no family nearby) so work has always filled more needs than it ideally would. Maybe something here resonates for you?

        1. I have RBF*

          Ooof. I’m the sole breadwinner in my family. I actually end up supporting my (retired) mother, too. Even though I have a disability, I am still working. If I don’t bring in a salary, five people (myself and spouse plus three disabled roomies) could end up on the street. Needless to say I get anxious whenever I’m not pulling rabbits out of hats and exceeding expectations – as an older AFAB in tech I have a lot of pressure to be smarter than my younger peers.

  16. JG*

    LW#5 – I would be very concerned about working and not being punched in. Without being punched in, the person is not covered by workers’ compensation insurance if they got hurt or minimum wage differential if the payment for the work doesn’t exceed the legally required amount. If this is the case, then the person is working as a contractor and other paperwork needs to be completed.

    1. Jessica*

      It also sounds like the pay for this event is cash under the table, no tax withholding, and isn’t that part illegal?

    2. I should really pick a name*

      I’m not aware of any legal requirement to be punched in to be considered “at work” for their purposes of compensation , that simply seems like the company’s method of tracking hours.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — you do not need to be punched in to be covered by workers comp or to receive full pay for your time. Lots of workers don’t punch in at all.

        1. Happy*

          But at restaurants, it’s really common for people to be “officially” working while clocked in and then also to illegally work off the clock so as not to run afoul of overtime rules.

          A restaurant asking people to “volunteer” to work for cash tips without clocking is waaaay more likely to be planning to have people work illegally than to be tracking hours, paying taxes, etc. using some other system.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            I would be very surprised if worker’s comp didn’t apply during those “unofficial” hours.
            Clocking in or not is just used as evidence the employee was there, it’s not a legal requirement to be eligible for employee protections.

            1. Happy*

              Worker’s comp applies either way.

              I’m talking about the likelihood that hours are being tracked correctly and taxes and benefits are being being paid, which I think is roughly 0 in this case, due to the language in the letter and the industry.

    3. Delta Delta*

      This is probably wrong, depending on the state. If it’s a work event, it’s work and it’s covered.

    4. EPLawyer*

      Punched in is not a requirement for being covered by worker’s compensation. Salaried people are covered by WC and they generally don’t punch in.

      In this case, I will bet that owners are trying to get away with not paying by saying its a “private event” so they aren’t really doing their regular duties which is serving “in the restaurant” meaning paying customers. They think if they call it “volunteer” and “private event” it doesn’t count. Spoiler alert – it does.

      1. Antilles*

        Your last paragraph is exactly what’s happening. The owners are trying to say it’s a private event, claiming it’s different than normal work, and pretending that there’ll be endless tips to make up for it…so then they don’t have to pay for the labor.

        Think about this: Let’s pretend that being a private event, the attendees assume the staff is comprised of paid caterers hired by the venue/organizer and therefore don’t tip themselves. So at the end of the night, you’ve worked for X hours and made basically $0 in “cash payments or tips”. What do we think happens?

        Zero percent chance the owners just pull out their wallets to start handing out cash to square things. Instead, they’ll just shrug, say it was volunteering anyways, and leave it at that.

      2. Venus*

        If the private event was a different location, menu, etc. then a reasonable employer could say that working outside the normal scope would be ‘voluntary’ where the pay would be the same but no one would be expected to work outside the restaurant. The event location might be unreasonable for some people, or they might want to decline for other reasons.

        But people working for good employers don’t tend to doubt wording like this and don’t tend to write to AAM!

    5. Vanessa*

      I worked at a restaurant group that would occasionally pull staff from restaurants to cover catered events. Often we were scheduled to these on the rare occasion they came up. As they were remote we couldn’t clock in as the infrastructure wasn’t there. But we were paid for the time we worked.
      I will also say it’s unfortunately the cost of working for a restaurant where you make good money. Occasionally you get stuck with catering or the twice a year brunch event.

    6. Observer*

      Without being punched in, the person is not covered by workers’ compensation insurance if they got hurt or minimum wage differential if the payment for the work doesn’t exceed the legally required amount.

      An employee is an employee and gets treated as such whether they punched in or not. In fact, there is never any legal requirement to punch in. Smart places require it because they know that it makes it much easier to get payroll (and cost accounting) right, and it’s easier to document stuff.

      If this is the case, then the person is working as a contractor and other paperwork needs to be completed

      If someone is a contractor, that needs to be on the record. But paying people as both employee and contractor tends to be complicated enough that many organizations just won’t do it. If it’s for the same type of work, the company would almost certainly lose if they tried to get out or employer obligations if they tried that claim, even if there WERE paperwork in place.

    7. Me*

      I’m not a lawyer, but this sounds incorrect. I work for a salary and never “punch in” at all. If that means I’m not covered by worker’s comp then my union is gonna have a fit.

  17. Liz*

    Letter 1: I felt this down to my toes!
    Twenty plus years in, acknowledged in my company and industry as great at what I do, and I still wake up every day anxious.

    In my case, it is probably related to both early life stuff, but also the years before I was dx’d with ADHD (which often manifests as anxiety for me and also means that I often need to do a LOT of extra work to manage organization, task initiation etc).

    I don’t have a solution but wanted to let the letter writer know that they are not alone.

    1. MsM*

      Yeah, LW, I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but if you’ve never been screened for anxiety and similarly manifesting conditions like ADHD, it might be worth at least having a chat with your doctor. I have some of the trauma from toxic workplaces and childhood pressure to not fail at things, but knowing those are a contributing factor and reminding myself I’m not in those situations any more is only part of managing the “oh no; how am I about to be disciplined?” feelings for me; the other part is medication. (Your mileage/needs may vary, of curse.)

    2. ferrina*

      Liz, this is really common with us ADHD folks! Studies show that ADHD kids get a lot more reprimands and criticisms than their neurotypical peers, and that can make a big impact on us as adults (imposter syndrome, anxiety, self-doubt, etc.) I recommend reading Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell- he’s got great info in there. I found it helpful just to read more and know that it wasn’t me, my experience was really common.

    3. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thank you for sharing your experience. Waking up anxious is The Worst. (I did read somewhere that cortisol levels can naturally be very high upon waking up – knowing that this could be a natural physical reaction helps me to do some breathing when I wake up full of adrenaline.)

      Interesting notes on ADHD here. I’m not sure if this is the case with me, but I’ll look into it a little more, thank you.

  18. Antigone*

    Letter #2: In addition to the points already raised about gender, profile photos can also make salient someone’s race, weight, or other physical appearance difference. One of the pluses of working from home for people who are visibly different from the norm at their workplace in some way is the reduction in microaggressions about their appearance, and requiring the photos may bring those roaring back and be a real morale-killer for those people. I’m off to have my headshot taken this week for a similar work initiative and I’m *really* unhappy about it for this reason. Please consider leaving it optional for your team.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Age is another one. I don’t need people to see that I’m young before they read my first email.

      1. should be doing laundry*

        More than twenty years ago at this point, I worked a job entirely online, where no one saw my face. It was customer-facing, with the customers being mostly teens and young-twenties, for the most part. I got called fat, gross, ugly, etc, even BEFORE they saw a picture of me. It got worse after they did. (Of course I had no support from higher-ups.)

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        And gender. I had a client who sent me work and never had any feedback for years on end, all by email. Then one day they phoned me and wouldn’t believe it was me because in their country, my name is a man’s name. From then on, they would nitpick all my work, and disappeared after a couple of nitpicking sessions.

    2. Lacey*

      Yes. My department’s biggest problem is that the head of another department is a low-key misogynist and we’re all women. Photos would not help the issue.

    3. Becky*

      Religion can be another one – some religions have garb that could/would be visible. A Jewish yarmulke, Sikh turban, a Muslim hijab, Christian Plain clothes, a bindi, to name just a few.

      If someone wants to display a photo that is their choice, but no one should be forced to.

  19. Former TV girl*

    LW1: I could be you. Late 30s, not quite 40s yet, but everything else just speaks very specifically to how I am in my role. It can be tough. I’m not sure I have so much advice except to echo Alison — it can DEFINITELY be from early work or home experiences. It can also just be something a generally anxious person deals with! If you’re not already, working with a therapist might help. But really I just came here to say: I get it!

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thank you, I appreciate the reply. I definitely think it is related to a lot of early experiences. I grew up in a very loving, and supportive home – but also one in which there were definitely Expectations for Behaviour, even if the consequences weren’t punitive. (Disappointment, sure – agonizing for a young, conscientious girl!) I was also a very good student, which comes with its own pressures. Add that into some gross workplaces early in my career, and I guess this is where I end up at 41. I hope you can find some relief, somehow.

      1. Bananaphone*

        This sounds a lot like me, and I was finally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my mid-30s. Therapy and medication has helped enormously. Good luck!

  20. Not My Money*

    #2 – my team posted pet pictures as their avatars as I’m not a fan of requiring headshots. I find it works well will most other teams.

  21. onetimethishappened*

    #1- I was in a very similar situation as you about 4 years ago. I am sorry, its awful to feel that way. Therapy really helped me work thru some feelings of insecurity and find my source of anxiety at work. I am like a different person when it comes to work now. Best wishes to you!

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thank you, I appreciate the supportive comment! I’m so glad to hear that you feel like you have a better handle on things.

    2. The Eye of Argon*

      You’re not alone. It was a combination of things in my case: growing up my mother called me stupid and/ or punished me for making even minor mistakes, blamed me for things I didn’t do, and her love and approval had to be earned with success. Plus my first job out of college was horrendously toxic and management didn’t hesitate to throw you under the bus (I stayed way too long because I was used to everything being my fault at home :\ ).

      When I started my current job I was a nervous wreck, plagued with anxiety and afraid to do anything out of fear of doing it “wrong”. It’s taken therapy and medication and a lot of facing things I never wanted to face but it was all worth it. I’m calm and productive at work, I’m not scared to death of my boss, and I don’t hear my mother shouting at me if I add up a deposit wrong.

      Whatever you wind up doing, I’m rooting for you!

  22. 653-CXK*

    OP#1: You have my sympathies.

    I worked at my ExJob for 21 years. When I transferred to another part of the company in 2003, my job had an incentive program where you had a certain percentage minimum to do mistakes before you were marked down and then put on disciplinary action. I had to notate everything just so or they would mark me down, no matter how insignificant it was. Little wonder that the day I was let go from the company, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.

    At CurrentJob, I still have those anxieties. A few weeks ago, my boss and I were going over a weekly report, and she asked me why it took so long. It was because I had to give the other workers a reason why something needed to be done, and she said, “That’s doing their work for them…you don’t have to do that!” Then it clicked – ExJob expected every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed or I would be marked down for not doing my job. It has resulted in getting a lot of my own work done while freeing me up for other things I need to do.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t have anxiety at all. There are times when I get that occasional passive-aggressive email or phone call and it transports me back to when I was at ExJob. When I give the caller/email the facts and the details, 99% of the time they understand and the situation de-escalates (“Oh, I didn’t realize you were waiting for X…let me send you that, and let me know if you need anything else.”).

    1. Sloanicota*

      For number 1, I’m reminded of the companies that specifically targeted “insecure overachievers” because they were the kind of people that will work hard for long hours without demanding more pay, year after year. OP sounds like she fits this description to a tee.

      1. Anxious OP*

        OP here – “insecure overachievers” is a pretty apt term for me, I’d say. Weirdly, I am actually quite confident in lots of ways – I will not hesitate to state my opinions, and I know where my strengths are. I just………… get massive anxiety when I have (often imaginary) fears that I’ve done something wrong, or will do something wrong. And I think the highers up at work would be very surprised to know this about me, because I’m quite sure I appear to be confident and capable, not always sweating at my desk when the phone rings.

      2. I have RBF*


        This is like me. I have had some very toxic jobs, and was constantly bullied in school, right up until I hit college. It held me down for so many years, until I learned when things were just too much and when to get out. Those lessons were paid for in anguish.

        My current job is the first one where I really actually negotiated my salary. I didn’t get all that I wanted, but I got significantly more than the original offer.

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m not sure if #4 is joking or not, but having just rewatched Shrek recently I think Lord Farquard looks great, hair and all. It’s like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast – he may be obnoxious/evil but you can’t deny his handsomeness

  24. FD*

    #1- I’m in the same shoes! I’ve gotten consistently good feedback, yet there’s still a part of me that panics any time my manager asks me to pop over to his office.

    Medical treatment (whether that’s therapy, medication, or some combination of the two) can help take the edge off a bit.

    Something I’ve found helps a lot though is to deliberately solicit feedback on how you can improve. It feels less scary if you’re inviting it, because then you’re more in control of the situation, and it can help desensitize you to the feeling of getting constructive criticism.

    Ironically, managers often often *don’t* give that much constructive feedback to high performers because it feels like nitpicking and they don’t want to demoralize an excellent employee.

    A formula I’ve found is helpful is naming a specific area where you’re trying to improve. For example, “Something I’ve got a as a professional goal this year is [area where you think you could be a little better]. Can you give me any ideas about specific ways I could improve on that?” Giving someone a soft opening helps them ease into it, and helps them feel (correctly), that by giving this feedback, they’re helping you instead of feeling like they’re nitpicking. Once they’ve taken that opening, you can use a script like, “Thank you for the information–it’s very helpful. Are there any other areas where you think I could focus on improving this year?”

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – reading all of these replies, it seems that I’m in good company!

      It’s funny you mention desensitizing – I have worked hard on this in other areas of my life (for example, I have a fear of flying, but I just do it so I can work on that exposure, which has improved it), but not this. One side of it- and I’m not suggesting I’m above reproach here! – is that I work in academia, in a non academic role, reporting to academics who don’t actually really understand my job, the skills required, etc. So it’s an odd dynamic regarding constructive feedback, which I take professionally (but it secretly stings), because I sometimes feel that they don’t know something as well as I do. And I realize that this might sound condescending! I’m not meaning it that way, just to say that this is a quirk of working in higher ed – that career academics don’t have the same skillset, at all, as others, but they have a lot of power and influence in ways that aren’t always aligned with the organizational operations.

      But I love your script here for a performance review, and I will definitely adopt it. Thank you!

  25. rosebramblewolf*

    #1: You could also have an anxiety disorder. They’re usually genetic and therapy would be the answer there too, possibly with medication.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I agree. As someone who has generalized anxiety and PTSD from last job, I can assure you that the two things form a vicious circle. Some days are just…too much.

    2. MadCatter*

      I have anxiety and a lot of what LW #1 said is similar to my experience. I have rarely received negative feedback about my work, but I am constantly worried that I am in trouble or people are thinking negatively of me. I was also recently diagnosed with ADHD (at 38), and Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD) often occurs with ADHD and I think has significantly contributed to and built on top of my anxiety about work performance.

      Now, I am not armchair diagnosing anything, but this is to say that if it’s something that is impacting your life and work, talk to your Dr or a therapist about it. It can help to get some outside perspective and if there is something else going on, answers can bring understanding if nothing else.

    3. atalanta0jess*

      Yep, this! Some of us just be anxious. *shrug* OP 1, there’s things that can help, but also I think it helps to know that it’s ok! It’s just a feeling. It’s not inappropriate to feel that way in your forties. It doesn’t mean that you’re bad or wrong or failing. It sounds like there are some ways that it is affecting your behavior that you wish it wouldn’t, and I do want to be clear that it’s totally worth trying to impact that. But I also hear a lot of self-judgment in your letter, and sometimes just letting go of that can be super helpful. Humans feel anxious sometimes!

      1. Anxious OP*

        OP here – no one self judges harder than me :-D It’s interesting you say this, as I wasn’t feeling particularly harsh on myself, but self-compassion is definitely an area others have said I could really work to improve on. I think more what I was meaning is that I am not new to the workplace, so these anxieties I feel aren’t related to normal inexperience or whatever, which probably indicates it’s something that is out of the ordinary.

        1. atalanta0jess*

          Hah, as an anxious person I find anxiety about any old weird thing TOTALLY within the ordinary! But it sounds like that’s not your general experience. (I’ve been told some people don’t have anxiety, haha.) Hopefully some exploration with a supportive person will help you break through!!

  26. Kelly*

    #1: I’m 40 and in the same boat. I am a highly experienced professional with a graduate degree, but my last job let my assistants run the show despite having minimal education in the work I did. One went as far as to try to get me fired due to her insecurity and another tried to bully me and order me around my first week, then threatened to tell my boss I did things wrong. My boss NEVER stood up for me and actually lectured me about communication when clients were scamming us.

    I still get panicky when my current boss says he needs to talk about something, even though it’s always just a new protocol for payment or something silly. I actively tell my body to relax in these situations and it helps. I know everyone says to find a good therapist, but have those people actually tried to do that in a semi-rural area where everyone is completely booked and/or doesn’t take your insurance? I’ve tried the online services three times and I would NEVER recommend them.

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – this sounds really tough. I’m sorry you experienced this. I think working on managing the reactive physicality that happens would be beneficial to me. I hope you can find some relief.

    2. New Day*

      Telehealth is very common now after covid, and I think that helps rural healthcare for things like counseling. I have been using it and am incredibly grateful that I can stay home and have an appointment as I also struggle with recent post toxic job trauma and am working on healing those emotional experiences so I can go on and be my best self in a healthier job situation. The impact of a dysfunctional job on our psychic well-being can’t be underestimated. I have always been a high achiever and very well liked but an abusive environment can not only derail your work life and profession, but throw you into the weeds emotionally, and it can take some solid therapy and other methods, to regain your inner strength. I always appreciate hearing others experiences here as it helps me regain a more balanced perspective.

      1. New Day*

        * I think I meant ‘over estimated!’ you see, even my ability to think and write clearly is still affected. It’s only been a few short weeks since leaving toxic job.

  27. Ellen*

    I’m running into this volunteer problem at my work. It’s a college. The college sent out a request for volunteers for commencement and said you are eligible for comp time if you volunteer. My boss said that doesn’t apply to me only professional staff. I’m a Civil Service employee. In the answer you stated employees can’t be allowed to work for free. When you volunteer isn’t there usually an expectation of no pay. Is it because it is a the institution asking for the volunteers that makes it ILLEGAL for them not to offer some form of compensation. So can the employer keep you from volunteering?

    1. WellRed*

      Of course the employer can keep you from volunteering. There’s no labor law that says they have to allow you to.

    2. Colette*

      As I understand it, if it’s a for-profit business, everyone has to be paid.

      If it’s a non-profit, they can have volunteers, but employees can’t volunteer to do their jobs; they’d have to do something else. So if you’re an accountant for a non-profit, you can’t volunteer to do accounting, but you could staff a booth at an event on a volunteer basis.

    3. BethDH*

      You can volunteer for plenty of tasks that are still paid — everything from “who will volunteer to take on this notoriously difficult client now that Iliana is burned out” to “can someone take Seanan’s shift on Friday.”
      And sometimes those volunteer tasks come with a different pay structure. Lots of places ask people to volunteer to cover holidays, and they pay time and a half but still ask for volunteers first before just assigning people.
      I do find that academic institutions are horrible about telling people which opportunities or requirements are directed at which classifications of jobs, partly because they have so many. All faculty or just post-tenure or just adjuncts? All staff or just salaried or just full-time or just ones paid directly by the college? What about post-docs or graduate students who teach?

    4. KittenLittle*

      I work at a college, too. We have a foundation with no full-time employees; all the work for the foundation is performed by full-time college faculty and staff in addition to their regular duties. When we have foundation events after work hours, should employees who work at these events be paid?

    5. doreen*

      “The college sent out a request for volunteers for commencement and said you are eligible for comp time if you volunteer. My boss said that doesn’t apply to me only professional staff. ” What are the differences between “professional staff” and “civil service employees ” other than the actual work you do and what exactly does he volunteering consist of in terms of hours? Because if the professional staff is exempt and/or non-union and the Civil Service employees are non-exempt and/or unionized, that may mean the rules for “volunteering” are different. For example, when I worked for a state government , my last position was exempt and non-union. I could be volunteer or be voluntold to work outside my normal hours – say, to attend a community meeting at night or on the weekend. I could receive comp time or no compensation at all. When unionized staff was offered the opportunity to volunteer for work outside their normal hours, they had to be paid and if they went over 40 hours it would have to be at time and a half – comp time was not permitted.

    6. Aggretsuko*

      From what I heard from other people at my alma mater (a sort-of relative works at a dean’s office, not doing anything related to student work), certain offices, including the relative’s, were forced to volunteer, especially since it was during daytime hours on Friday. I presume the same happened over the weekend too.

    7. Me*

      It’s them being for-profit that matters. Universities can, and do, have volunteer workers if they are not for profit.

  28. Purple Cat*

    I’m not so sure LW#4 MEANT it as a joke, but that’s okay :)
    In case it’s real. It’s a you problem, not a them problem. If you’re going to change your opinion of someone due to a slight resemblance to a cartoon character based on a recent haircut (not even behaviors!) that’s not on them. If it really is somebody you have a close working relationship with them, you can making a joking reference to Lord Farquard – ONCE.
    Otherwise, take the advice Alison usually gives on getting over a workplace crush. Focus on the things they do well AT WORK and while DOING THEIR JOB. And your mind will get back into a proper place real quick.

    But in the meantime, keep wearing a fire-retardant suit to protect against dragons.

    1. ampersand*

      I wasn’t sure it was meant as a joke, either. This letter seemed completely believable to me–during the early days of covid, I gave my toddler daughter a haircut that unfortunately made her look like the starburst berries and cream commercial guy, whose hair looks not unlike Lord Farquaad’s, and I also couldn’t unsee it. I’m just glad my kid’s hair grew out…so maybe dude’s hair will grow out or he’ll change it up eventually? And also, yes, this is a LW problem, not a coworker problem! Just focus on anything that isn’t his hair!

  29. Peanut Hamper*

    LW #4: Worf also had a similar haircut during the first few seasons of ST:TNG. Maybe if you thought of your coworker as a brave Klingon warrior instead?

  30. Reality Check*

    #1: Are you by any chance a first born or only child? The anxiety issues you have are common among this group, as parents tend to be too demanding on us (I’m a first born). While their intentions might have been noble, we learn quickly that mistakes are a Very Bad Thing, and many, if not most of us, carry it for life.

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – yes, I am the oldest, and a woman, too, which I think is probably relevant here. Very conscientious and responsible by nature (but also maybe a bit of nurture, too…)

      1. Reality Check*

        Another trait we first borns/onlies share is that We Hate Surprises. Which could explain your dread when management calls or emails. Dr. Kevin Lehman has written books on this topic, if you’re interested. Just being aware has helped me a good bit.

  31. EPLawyer*

    I’m going to disagree slightly on #2.

    This is a company that everyone has profile pictures — except the excluded department. Not having profile pics contributes to the general view. Will it solve everything? No. Will it start helping to integrate the department into the rest of the company? Maybe.

    1. Observer*

      Will it start helping to integrate the department into the rest of the company? Maybe.

      Actually, there is a really significant chance that it will NOT help their integration. And there is also a good chance that it could make things worse.

      So maybe avatars, but don’t push the head shots till you get a better handle on everything else.

  32. Kathleen*

    Even if the letter is a joke, it’s not a bad idea to point out that Lord Farquad‘s reputation isn’t actually being “affected” just because OP can’t look at him without giggling.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        LOL I had that thought too. “His reputation is being affected because I am personally affecting it!”

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      If anything OP’s reputation will take a hit because everyone will think of her as the giggly one, which is not conducive to careers taking off.

    2. bighairnoheart*

      But he *is* going to be eaten by a dragon at some point! If that doesn’t impact his reputation, I don’t know what will!

  33. MicroManagered*

    OP1 I’m just here as another woman in her 40s to tell you: There’s no age limit on this stuff. You’re not alone. I could’ve written your letter. Alison’s response is spot on. Therapy helps me, so I hope you’ll consider it!

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thank you for the reply. It really is nice to know that I’m not alone with this stuff.

  34. BluePhoenix*

    OP#1 You are so so so so so so so far from alone on this.

    And Alison’s point that it can come from a few different places (or not) is so spot on.

    Ex 1) At an old job I applied two there were two positions open, I told them I was only interested in the one, more entry-level position as I didn’t feel the other was good for me. Fast forward a year, the other position opens up and we ‘try me out’–it was terrible, we all agreed and I went back to the more entry level before excelling on a track more geared to my skills. Even with me knowing it wouldn’t work out, them thanking me for trying it out and taking the responsibilities from that position as I moved up in different ways for years, them talking about how they wish they could clone me, I still got nervous every time.

    Ex2) Even now when I visit my parents, anytime my dad wants to ‘talk to me when I have a second’ I panic and wonder what I did wrong.

    Ex 3) studies have shown that negative experiences/words/thoughts are about 5 times more impactful on us than positive ones. You need about 5 compliments for every one negative comment. Even if you’ve only had great work experiences

    Overall, you are not alone, this is very common, and I hope you find a way to lessen the anxiety that comes with it. One suggestion, maybe take time each day, each few days, each week to look at your positive parts of work–or even if you’re not looking, think about the accomplishments you could put on your resume.

    Take care of yourself

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – that info about negative words/experiences having much more impact is 100% true. I manage a large program that is incredibly complex and detailed, and I solicit feedback from participants at the end. It is invariably +95% glowing, with 5% room for improvement – which makes me panic and ruminate. Rationally, I know this is ridiculous – I would advise a capable friend or colleague to simply take the feedback on board for improvements next time, and be proud of the 95%. Instead, I just skim over the good stuff and wave it away. It’s not rational! Taking some time to reflect on the positive feedback I get – of which there is no shortage – is a good suggestion, thank you.

  35. Eviltwinjen*

    OP 1, I’ve been exactly where you are. 20 years into a successful career and anxious about making a single mistake. All the positive feedback in the world wasn’t helping. I too am praised for my diplomacy, which partly comes from my desire to neutralize conflict and avoid rejection. Therapy has been incredibly helpful. I wish I’d started it sooner, but for a long time I thought my problems weren’t bad enough. It took a mini crisis at work leading to bad press featuring my name to finally push me to get help. I’m so glad I finally did. You don’t have to have huge trauma to deserve or benefit from therapy.

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – “neutralize conflict and avoid rejection” – wowwwwww, yes, that’s me to a T. I am not unassertive, and am good with people, a good problem solver, and still diplomatic, but I would definitely say that this is where the motivation comes from.

      I’m sorry you had a crisis at work like that – I can only imagine how incredibly stressful that must have felt for you. I’m glad to hear that you have found help.

      1. Eviltwinjen*

        Of course diplomacy is a huge strength, even when it comes from an unhealthy source! I’m still learning how to tolerate people being mad at me…I know I’ll get there someday! :)

    2. Anxious OP*

      OP here – I’m so sorry you experienced this. It must have been incredibly stressful to you. I’m really glad to hear that you have found some relief through therapy.

  36. saminrva*

    #3 – just want to share how mad I am that we have to make these types of maneuvers around paid parental leave in this country (assuming you’re in the U.S., since you probably wouldn’t be in this situation in most other countries). It is not fair that you were forced to pick between a job you were psyched about and guaranteed parental leave, and I’m sorry you had to do it. A total lose-lose situation since the company lost out on someone awesome too.

    1. Abby*

      Strongly agree. LW3: in case you need any validation that this sucks, Yes! This sucks. Women should not have to alter career decisions just because they are pregnant!

    2. fgcommenter*

      Have you seen the Facebook page? There is even support, and no criticism as of this time, for a comment calling Letter Writer #3 “entitled”. It’s absolutely disgusting how the U.S. business culture treats workers who ask for even mere scrapings of decent treatment.

    3. PhD survivor*

      Agree, this letter made me so angry. The OP made a reasonable request (12 weeks with only 8 paid is not a long maternity leave at all, most high income countries ensure at least 6 months to a year of paid leave). It’s also short sighted of the company, they lost out on their top candidate because they weren’t willing to provide 8 weeks of paid maternity leave. Totally ridiculous. How much longer will women and birthing individuals in the US continue to put up with this poor treatment before we make parental leave an election issue?

  37. Lady_Lessa*

    LW #2,
    I’ve been on the Teapot Nerd team for my whole career, in a variety of teapot materials, and have found the lack of respect to be common, by the Evangelists and Sales. I’ve worked with one salesman whose default assumption was to “Blame the Nerds” before investigation and those who wanted a large project done for a very small 1 time order, etc.

    I like the idea of a non-photo picture, which has been suggested earlier and also deeper investigation into the causes.

    1. should be doing laundry*


      I once worked with someone who asked me how long it would take to do X project. I said, hmm, 2-3 weeks, depending. She then picked a date and emailed someone about the project, saying it would be done by that date. That person took 10 days to respond to her email and said, sure, do the project. She then turned around to me and wanted the project done by that date she’d picked and promised in that email to leadership. Which was that Friday.

      She did not get it by Friday and of course it was my fault, not hers.

      1. Lacey*

        Yes! I work in a different field, but one that gets a similar lack of respect.

        Other departments are constantly making our jobs harder and then it’s on us to cheerfully tell them it’s no problem and fix all their mistakes. Because we do, it’s never an issue for them and they just keep doing things wrong, knowing we’ll fix it.

        It’s infuriating and it makes me hate a job I otherwise adore.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I once worked at a place where the “superstar” on the sales team had no concept of the ins and outs of what he was selling and constantly promised unreasonable things in unreasonable timelines, which, of course, was always the fault of the “technical people” for not being able to deliver on. It was demoralizing that we were always expected to work miracles while he was not expected to learn the first thing about what was and was not feasible within the space-time continuum and resources we had, and I ultimately left the job (along with nearly every other competent person) over having to repeatedly work miracles to fulfill promises he made with zero appreciation for it or change in his behavior. And management just loved him because he could sell, sell sell!

  38. It Takes T to Tango*

    OP 5: It’s pretty common for private events to be catered and the catering staff is paid a lump sum to be there the entire time rather than being paid per hour. While it’s possible that it might be “under the table” it’s more likely that they don’t want the event pay getting mixed in with normal staffing pay, risking people getting paid for both catering and normal business hours at the same time or getting paid normal hours instead of for the event. (Catering pay tends to be more than regular hours because there’s no tipping.)

    1. doreen*

      This is what I was thinking also – the letter says compensation will be provided so it doesn’t seem to be “volunteering” in the “working for free” sense. Typically , when I have an event at a restaurant , they collect the gratuity in advance (like any other venue ) and distribute the gratuity to the staff, which effectively means the catering pay is higher than the same number of normal hours.

  39. should be doing laundry*

    #2: requiring pictures is not a solution to the problem you have.

    Furthermore, people know about profile pictures! They know other people have their faces there. And so by choosing not to do it, they are choosing not to do it. Taking away that decision they’ve made, for no good reason, is not being helpful.

    If other people are being rude, giving them a picture to be rude to is not gonna solve this.

    1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Well, when a whole group of people don’t do something common, probably part of the reason that individuals aren’t doing it is because the whole group aren’t doing it! I find it unlikely that a whole department’s worth of people have a strong personal aversion to headshots. Even if they are nerds. If half of them had photos and the other half didn’t, you could assume that the no-photo people actually dislike them (or possibly don’t wanna bother). But everybody? They are participating in group culture, which is fine but it’s also totally fine to change that culture.

      1. Colette*

        And it sounds like the headshots take action (find picture you like, send it to work, upload it in the system). People might be willing to do it if there is a reason, but they don’t care enough to make the effort if there isn’t a reason.

        1. WellRed*

          I agree. A lot of people are reading aversion toward headshots when apathy might play a large role too.

        2. Elsajeni*

          Yeah, I just uploaded a picture for my Teams profile this week in spite of having had, and used, Teams for almost two years — the amount that I’m using it has been creeping up, and so has the number of people with a picture uploaded, and it finally hit a sort of critical mass where I started to feel like I was the weirdo appearing in meetings as a circle with my initials in it. (And it was a bit of a pain! It didn’t save my picture the first time for some reason, and it cropped weirdly and wouldn’t let me adjust it so I had to edit the actual image file in a separate program — if I were one of the LW’s team I can see myself thinking “eh, no one else on the team has a profile picture and this is more annoying than I expected, forget it.”)

      2. Violet Rutherford*

        The reason I wouldn’t have a picture if I were on that team would probably be because no one else did and I’d feel weird drawing attention to myself that way! I agree with everyone else who has said that it doesn’t have to be a headshot, it can be anything so long as it gives other people something to connect to.

  40. Delta Delta*

    #2 – I’m not sure how big the Teapot Nerds team is, or how big the company is, or how big they are in relation to each other. But if the whole company generally has headshots as part of their internal IM/email communications and only Teapot Nerds doesn’t, it seems a little out of balance. While there may be rudeness flowing TO Teapot Nerds, there may be some strong signals flowing FROM the Teapot Nerds, as well. Being out of step with the company norm feels like self-othering, where that may not be the intention of the TN team. That’s not to say it should be required, but think through all the signals everyone is sending. Also, if it’s a company of 30 people regularly ganging up on 4 IT folks, this isn’t something that’ll be solved by headshots; it can only be solved by higher leadership

  41. Cabubbles*

    Unfortunately, an us vs them mindset happens quite easily in companies that have departments that effect each other’s workloads but have very little interaction. I’m currently a swing manager that floats daily between two of these types of departments. In an attempt to get the departments to stop shit talking the other every time something happened, I created a progress board that showed achievements and small ways that specific members were helping to reach goals. I was also very quick to point out why something happened (i.e. staffing, late shipments etc.) and point out that it could happen to anyone. It seemed to help. I would try to partner with other department leads to sniff out the issue and maybe plan a solution.

  42. cubby*

    #1 — this kind of reactivity in situations that don’t warrant it can be linked to post-traumatic stress, for sure. if you find it’s a persistent issue even after taking alison’s advice, i can recommend a book called ‘widen the window’ by elizabeth stanley. sometimes we keep reacting even when the danger is past because we froze or shut down our natural reactions to stress, and our nervous system is still trying to complete that cycle. understanding how that all works did a lot for me in being able to recalibrate :) good luck!

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thank you for the recommendation. I haven’t experienced trauma in my life, but the reactivity I experience is definitely disproportionate to the issue. I’ll look into this, thanks.

  43. Boolie*

    Honestly as a remote worker I am all for headshots, because you know it’s another reason for pro-back-to-office executives to push for back to-office. Total cop-out reason, but if it helps legitimately bolster the idea that WFH can still have an air of professionalism, I’m pro-headshot.

  44. NB*

    “…it’s helpful to ask if you ever were in a situation where that reaction did make sense … and then you can often trace it from there.”

    Alison, thank you for this sentence. I am going to reframe my ever present anxiety in this way- I have the same issue as OP. A light bulb went off!

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – I am now thinking back to a few things from when I was much younger, and I am seeing connections that I hadn’t made before. I hope this is going to be helpful for both of us to think about!

  45. Kaboobie*

    The feelings LW#1 expresses are very familiar to me, and I’m in my early 50s! I realized about 5 years ago that I have a great deal of anxiety around the thought of disappointing anyone. I hold myself to much higher standards than anyone else ever has. I have since learned that I am neurodivergent, and I think what I experience falls under the umbrella of rejection-sensitive dysphoria. I’m not suggesting a diagnosis, just expressing solidarity and a possible subject to explore in therapy.

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thank you for sharing your story. I’m not sure if I am neurodivergent or not (I don’t really know what it would involve in this case), but I am certainly very sensitive to rejection (or, in turn, rejecting others.) I’m married now, but I wasn’t really able to be assertive in asking men out while dating, and I think the same would hold true if I found myself single in the future, because the thought of being rejected – normal! it happens to everyone, I know! – is just unbearable to me.

    2. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thank you for the reply. I’m not sure of any neurodivergence in my case, but I am definitely very, very sensitive to rejection (and, actually, rejecting others, because I am so sensitive to it.) I’m married now, but when single, I would never, ever ask a man out because of the fear of being rejected – and I feel like it would be the same if I found myself single in the future. Interesting to consider, thank you.

  46. Yes And*

    I’d love to hear some advice re the LW1 situation from the boss’s perspective. One of my direct reports could practically have written that letter: high performer, deeply trusted by me and everybody else at the company, yet presents as constantly anxious about everything. It’s not my job to be anybody’s psychologist, but I do worry about burnout and losing an essential member of my team.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I think all you can really do is consistently be safe and supportive (not as in “safe from all criticism and supportive like a friend or therapist” of course – I mean safe from beratement/unfair pressure and supportive as a manager who gives good feedback). The employee has to do the heavy lifting themself or with their personal support system, but you can make it as easy as possible for them to see the gap between what their anxiety-jerkbrain predicts and what actually happens.

    2. SansaStark*

      I also tend to give some context when I message one of my direct reports and need them to call or message me. Something like “Hey, Vanessa, I had a question about whether the client ever followed up about the chocolate teapot idea. Can you give me a call when you get a sec so we can chat about next steps?” as opposed to “Hey Vanessa, please give me a call.”

      1. Totally Minnie*

        This is the thing that really sets my mind at ease. When my boss asks to see me for a specific reason, it lets me know this meeting isn’t something to be afraid of, and it also gives me an opportunity to review and look things up so I can make sure I’m ready to talk about the topic. And it doesn’t set my heart racing the same way a meeting invite with no subject line does.

        1. SansaStark*

          You make a good point about being ready to talk about the topic, too. Let’s both be prepared to have the conversation so we’re not wasting time! It’s one of those small things that I really appreciate from my own managers and wanted to implement when I became one, too.

      2. I have RBF*

        This is a really good idea.

        I have some serious history with the “manager meeting without a reason” – it always ends up being something that blindsides me and is negative, to the point I get pretty anxious about any such meeting.

        With context, it works, I can be prepared, and everybody wins.

        1. New Day*

          I like this idea a lot, and would use it myself. When I have been blind sided by the vague, ‘can you come and see me?’ It has definitely sometimes been intentional to not give away details. That’s the difference between a healthy environment, and a very toxic one. What are the intentions of the person asking for the meeting. Some people definitely like to increase your stress level and throw you off your confidence.

          Once you’ve been burned by the hidden agenda supervisors, it can be really hard to believe that most meeting requests are going to be benign. That’s where empathy for others comes in, and (hopefully) people give you some upfront info so you’re not stewing and thinking ‘am I getting fired?/in trouble/whatever.’ That’s the best outcome, I think, for creating positive work environments.

    3. Willow Pillow*

      Job Accommodation Network is great for specific ideas. Anything you do needs to meet your employee’s actual needs and not what you perceive, though – they need to be able to give informed consent.

    4. Allonge*

      I have heard that actually addressing when there is a mistake can help. It’s part of builidng trust: you can demonstrate that if there is a problem, you will let them know and also the how. It stuck with me as something to try (obviously don’t invent mistakes just to be able to).

    5. Anxious OP*

      OP here (so not my boss!) – one thing I’ll flag is that this might be invisible to you by some, though obviously not with this current anxious high performer of yours. It is definitely not your job to be a psychologist, and honestly, other than what others have said (being clear about why meetings are being called, open with feedback, building trust, etc.) I don’t think there’s much you can do. It is so deeply ingrained within the person that it doesn’t really matter how clear and positive you are – the reactivity is basically Pavlovian. The anxious employee has to find the tools on their own to manage it, because I can tell you that even after working in a generally positive environment for literally a decade, it’s still the same issue. But I do think it’s really awesome that you’re conscious of this, and wanting to be supportive. (And this comment is actually why I work very, very hard to keep that anxiety quiet from managers, because I prefer that they don’t realize it.)

  47. RVA Cat*

    I’m working on family of origin issues in my 40s (they like to come bite you twice in the sandwich generation!) and find Patrick Teahan’s YouTube channel and podcast very helpful. Yes following an online therapist isn’t a replacement for actual therapy but it helps to know we aren’t alone. Plus he’s our age and somehow the message comes through easier when he’s referencing Nirvana etc.

  48. Kay*

    I’m sure there were legit letters asking for much-needed advice that would be beneficial to a wider audience, but I guess a Lord Farquaad joke is good, too.

    1. nnn*

      What a strange thing to say. Alison isn’t under a quota where she’s obligated to answer a certain number of letters per day. She can do as few or as many as she feels like and she can choose whatever comic relief she wants.

    2. Reba*

      I find it hilarious that on this site of all sites this person feels entitled to demand Alison produce the exact quantity of work they want from her and customize it to their specifications.

    3. Observer*

      Are you this unreasonable at work too?

      I get it, you don’t like jokes. That doesn’t mean that people who find them to be a relief are terrible people who don’t care about helping others out. Nor are people who make / post the occasional light joke (whether you think it funny or not) terrible people who don’t care about others and would rather be air heads than help people. Considering the amount of help Allison provides on this site – and in letters that we don’t see! this particular implication is pretty entitled and very off bade.

    4. Don't Call Me Shirley*

      Unpopular opinion – but I don’t like the joke letter either. We have a letter where the common opinion is don’t require photos because people judge based on them, and then a letter where the joke is that we’re all making fun of someone’s haircut. A man is growing his hair out, it will necessarily have a bob/page boy length along the way. Lots of men I work with went through that length during the barbers closed stage of covid.

      It’s a mean spirited joke at minimum, mocking someone’s appearance.

      1. Observer*

        The pushback is not because this poster didn’t like the joke. But because they felt entitled to kick up a fuss over the fact that Allison posted *a* joke. In a very “how dare she post a joke!!!” way.

      2. STG*

        I agree. Maybe let’s just not joke about our coworker’s appearances?

        If you have to explain that it’s a joke, then it’s not a good one.

    5. WellRed*

      I guess I prefer joke letters where I get the joke. I get it now but I don’t think it’s so obvious that it didn’t need an identitifier.

      1. WellRed*

        By which I mean, I eventually suspected a joke as I read, but had no idea who lord fart fart was though I’ve seen the movie. It is why I try to hold off on response until I’m sure.

  49. Deidre Barlow*

    LW1- wow! Are you me?? I am in almost exactly the same position. I had a horrible childhood and have worked in some seriously screwy organisations so my normal-meter doesn’t always work very well… It’s a daily struggle, and I really feel for you.

    One thing I’ve found very helpful is realising that not only do I struggle with this stuff professionally but also in my personal life. This has led to me getting some help from a mental health professional, and a couple of diagnoses (OCD, ADHD) which have massively helped me understand the way my brain works. You might benefit from some support from a professional who can help you work through why such ‘minor in the grand scheme of things’ situations send you into a tailspin. Good luck!

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – I’m sorry to hear that you had such a difficult childhood, and awful work experiences. What a perfect storm for anxiety like this!

      It’s interesting you’ve mentioned ADHD, which a few others have mentioned. I don’t know that it resonates with me, although I don’t actually know much about it, and I know it presents differently in women than what we stereotypically imagine. I’ll look into this a little more, thank you.

  50. AnonToday*

    LW1, I wish I had some good advice. I came from a bad work situation into a better (but not perfect) one. I def. have baggage from my formative years as well. But after three years I slowly began to convince myself that this place wasn’t going to spring bad news on us or automatically take a punitive attitude toward employees. Mostly this was accomplished by having stern talks with myself before meetings or in the type of situation you describe where I get a request from higher up, and explaining to myself that there was no reason to believe things would go badly. If you talk yourself down enough times, it gets easier.

    (A couple months later, the pandemic happened and things did go badly, they did the exact kind of “we have stopped using logic and facts and don’t care about your well being” things that ensure I will never not feel anxious… oh well.)

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thank you for the insight. Something I have started doing, which may be helpful to you, is thinking, what if things go well? or what if things are great? instead of WHAT IF YOU DID SOMETHING AWFUL AND EVERYONE HATES YOU? I do find it somewhat helpful to reframe those What Ifs a bit – and the actual reality is that the positive What Ifs are more likely.

  51. Sara without an H*

    OP#1, I totally get what you’re saying, and I second Alison’s recommendation of therapy. I did it myself, it does NOT need to take years and years, and the process may be smoothed by appropriate medication.

    Once I got onto the right combination of meds and therapy, I was able to see how my previous history at toxic jobs played into my reactions at my current job. I also realized that everybody in my family of origin suffered from untreated anxiety. I hadn’t noticed — as a child, I thought everybody was like that.

    It sounds as though you’re very successful in your current role. I know it can be hard to find a therapist who’s taking new patients, but please start looking. You deserve to enjoy your own success.

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – were you described as “a worrier” by well meaning but clueless family members as a kid? As I get older, I realize that there were a lot of things related to anxiety I experienced as a kid that were waved away as being “a worrier” when, actually, it’s kind of a bigger deal!

      And thank you for your kind words – it’s probably true, and I am very successful in my role. I know intellectually that I am, and that my work is valued by the organization – I just have this primitive sense that it isn’t.

      1. TomatoSoup*

        Anxious OP, I feel ya. I went from a deeply dysfunctional office to one that was a bit chaotic (and therefore unpredictable) but supportive and kind. It was very hard for my brain to separate the chaos from the dysfunction I’d experienced. In the chaotic job, I could literally see in numerical terms that I was doing well and people senior to me said the same. I was constantly afraid of getting screamed at (this was not a thing in the chaotic office) or fired for at least a year. You have lots of company in trying to make this change.

        Does your new employer have an EAP? Mine covered 6 sessions with a therapist who helped me reframe things and also manage how my body responds to stress.

  52. Student*

    #2: Do you have a firm grasp on what your Nerd department’s role is vis-a-vis the Evangelists and Sales department? I ask because it sounds like you want Nerds to be supporters of the work that Evangelists and Sales do, but the words you’ve chosen to use and the existing power dynamics you’ve described do not necessarily match that.

    Is the fundamental role of the Nerds department to provide support to these other departments, or are you possibly in more of a checks-and-balances role against them?

    If Sales and Evangelists are the “fun” people promising the moon and the stars to clients, and Nerds are the technical check-and-balance that reign that in, or the people who need to actually deliver the technical solution that the other departments promised, then you are never going to get the dynamic out of this that you currently want. In order to make an arrangement work when your department is a checks-and-balance on other departments, you generally need to expect the departments that you check to not “like” yours.

    You can demand they treat your team with professional courtesy and respect, which sounds like a necessary step right now. Otherwise, you need to mostly go over their heads to whomever manages all three departments to make sure your department has enough influence and input to fully perform your department’s role, and reign in the others when and as needed.

  53. OP 2*

    Headshot OP here… some very interesting perspectives here, which was just what I was hoping for. Especially those from non-binary/non-gender-conforming folks. To clarify, yes this is just a small part of my plan to address the issues I mentioned, and far from the most important, but the only one I’m not sure about. And I’m still not sure! Icons/avatars would be wildly out of step with our corporate culture, unfortunately.

    1. Qwerty*

      Some programs default the icon to a colored bubble with the person’s initials – would that be an acceptable alternate if someone doesn’t want to upload a picture? It would be a step above the gray dot to indicate the Sales person is talking to an individual person.

      Slack, Google, Jira are all programs where I never changed my profile from the purple circle or square with a ‘Q’.

    2. WellRed*

      I’m wildly late to this but I find it interesting that avatrars etc are out but gray boxes of generic are okay, what happens I’d love an update!

    3. Hananobira*

      We just had to have a discussion at our team meeting last week giving employees permission not to use their headshots in emails, because the female employees were on average receiving one creepy comment a week from male customers. Stuff like “You look really nice holding that [teapot]”, barf.

      PLEASE don’t require employees to attach their photos to anything public-facing. And considering how discrimination on the basis of appearance is such a huge problem in today’s society, anyone who doesn’t want to attach their photo to something internal-only probably has a valid point.

  54. LawBee*

    #2 – I loathe having my picture taken and the last thing I want to see every time I open up teams is my picture. I would deeply resent this. My firm “requires” it, as did the last one, and I never did it.

    Pictures aren’t your problem. Putting faces to names isn’t the big solution.

  55. JS*

    #1 I worked for in a very toxic workplace for 15 years which I only realized was bad after I left. In the day-to-day it was normalized. When I left and got a new job at my current (wonderful) job it took 2-3 years for me to really feel like I was doing well and accept the praise I was given because I was so used to having previous praise yanked out from under me (it was a tool of previous owner’s “management style.”) Even now I sometimes doubt myself or feel anxious when I have no reason to. This is not your fault, it’s learned behavior.

    My best advice is to trust in yourself and your managers (and maybe do a daily affirmation like Stuart Smalley taught us to.)

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – 15 years is such a long time to be in a toxic workplace. That must have been incredibly difficult (and, honestly, I’m impressed that it “only” took 2-3 years for you to feel better about it. It really does a number on our heads, doesn’t it?)

      I appreciate the SNL reference :)

  56. Shandra*

    #4 reminds me of an executive in a big firm in my industry, who was a rock singer wannabe. His singing was OK, but his showmanship was the absolute pits.

    I was glad I didn’t work for that outfit, because I don’t think I could’ve kept a straight face around him. :)

  57. Aggretsuko*

    My job gets stalkers, and also what Alison said about women getting more harassment. I will never voluntarily put my photo up at work and so far they haven’t made us, though I’m sure someday someone will force us to anyway.

  58. Yorkshire Tea Pot*

    LW1 – I’ve always had this kind of anxiety, even at school, and even though my teachers and parents were encouraging – pushing for me to do my best, but approval was never withheld.

    It’s taken a lot of time, and some counselling, but I’m comfortable now with where and who I am. I get anxious enough to drive a project, and to reach high standards, but not so anxious that it’s detrimental to my mental health, or affects other people. And – according to a psych friend – that means I’m making my personality type work for me, rather than it ruling and ruining my life.

    I was recently trolled, because I do have a high profile now in our organisation. And – with my bosses – I was able to laugh at what this man said about me and my work. But the lightbulb moment was that this troll said (rather more crudely) some things my internal voice used to say to me. Internal voice has been pretty quiet since!

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – interesting that a negative experience turned into a positive for you (also, wtf with the trolling?!) I relate to what you said here about approval never being withheld. My parents weren’t harsh or anything, and were quite loving and supportive… but it just isnt.good.enough. in my mind. I’m really happy to hear that you have found some more peace around this – and this sounds like a very reasonable, and professional, balance.

      1. JessicaTate*

        Yeah, I found Alison’s list of causes kind of funny because… No parent, teacher, or job broke me. No one traumatized me. (Well, the patriarchy tries to, but I’ll get to that.) To a large degree, I was just born this way. It’s a matter of accepting and coping.

        I was an overachieving, perfectionist, slightly compulsive, female, only child. My parents saw it early on. They quickly took an “As long as you tried your best” stance, to dial down my self-recrimination. There was no withholding of approval or love or support from anyone in school or work. There were no unachievable expectations. The person who was brutally hard on me was… ME.

        But let’s call a spade a spade. The culture quietly taught me that I was supposed to be good, perfect, pretty, a people-pleaser, deferential but assertive, strong but sweet, successful but humble, smart but don’t make others feel dumb, basically don’t be TOO anything. I think my perfectionism + the patriarchy combine to create this voice in my head that second-guesses, berates, and is WAY harder on me than anyone else in the world.

        Anxious OP, I suspect you have this reasonably well managed. You know that the feelings aren’t rational. You’re not letting it control your choices — you’re still assertive, and strong, and do what needs to be done. You’re not outwardly showing the anxiety (everyone would be surprised to know this about you) — so it’s not undermining your career. You’re not being a miserable boss, pushing your anxiety off on others.

        In fact, you seem mainly upset that the anxiety is an imperfection. “I feel like this is ridiculous at this stage in my career.” Right? The “should” is the bigger mind-f*** than the anxiety — you are literally beating yourself up FOR beating yourself up, am I right?

        My biggest move has been to accept that this is how I work, and say, “It’s OK.” I’m not broken. It’s NOT ridiculous. It’s just me. I’m pretty badass and successful. And frankly, I’ve leveraged this trait to propel my career and the respect I’ve earned. So, when the perfectionist tirade starts, I try to accept it for what it is. I have coping mechanisms for the self-talk — I suspect you do too, or you wouldn’t be as accomplished as you are.

        But a key has been to stop treating the trait and feelings like a flaw. The coping is smoother if I’m not ALSO berating myself for feeling what I feel. Good luck, friend!

  59. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    Sending good vibes to LW1. This letter really resonated with me! Something that helped was to think about the people at work I most admired and ask whether it was because they never made mistakes. Sure, my work role models are people who are very competent, but they’re not perfect. They’re reliable but sometimes they have real life stuff come up or they need a reminder about a task. They give me grace and they accept it. My mantra is “would I be really upset if $Coworker made this mistake, or would I want us to work together to solve the problem and then never think about it again?”. It took me at least 5 years to get good at this (I had the fun dysfunctional family life + toxic boss combo) but it does help.

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – thanks for the insight! It’s funny you say this – I have a pretty big imagination, and a fair bit of empathy, and I can very easily imagine this, and being totally chill with a high performer’s mistake. It wouldn’t make me think less of someone I respected for an instant, because they’re human! This is normal, and they’ll make mistakes – and it probably wouldn’t really even register as being an issue for me once it was solved.

      I do, of course, need to be super human, and this generosity of spirit would not apply to me.

  60. Zee*

    LW1: How stable is your life outside of work? I (mid-30’s, female) am always anxious about mistakes and terrified I’m going to get fired any time I make a mistake or get the slightest (constructive!) criticism, despite the fact that I also am very very good at my job and get glowing reviews. But I think a large part of it is due to the fact that I’d be homeless pretty quickly if I lost my job. I don’t have a partner to fall back on or really any kind of local support network.

    But now at my current job, I’ve been a lot less anxious than at previous jobs, because I work for the government and it’s a) harder to get fired (not impossible – a coworker got fired shortly after I started – but it takes a loooong time with loads of documentation), and b) I’m less likely to be laid off or have hours reduced due to budget issues like I could have been at the non-profits I used to work for.

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – my work is relatively stable, and I am married. I work in higher ed in a unionized position, and I work in an area that is of institutional importance and which will probably grow in the coming years. But I realize that on an emotional level, losing my job would be a huge deal for me, because I genuinely really, really like it, and care about my work a lot. I have a lot of ownership over what I do, and take a lot of pride in my work. So even though logistically, losing my job would be okay, it would personally have a huge emotional impact on me, because I care about it so much.

  61. Chick (on laptop)*

    OP2 – What industry are you in? I can’t quite suss it out from your letter. In finance and gov’t (just off the top of my head), you really do need to have a headshot, for legitimate security reasons.

    1. AnonToday*

      not OP, but I can vouch for the fact that this gets required in situations where there’s no security reason to do so. (They wanted to take my picture when I was a paraprofessional who sat at a desk in the basement all day every day in a public, non secure building. I flat out told them no.)

        1. Observer*

          First of all, if it actually IS a requirement, then the LW would know about that. And I’ve never encountered a workplace where there is an actual security requirement and a whole department gets to just not comply.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          But from the letter it sounds like right now no one is required to have a headshot. So it really looks like a misread of the question to approach it from the angle you’re suggesting. If it were a requirement, OP wouldn’t have said it was her idea to require it, or frame it as a business norm to have one. If they were holdouts against an existing requirement it’s a completely different letter.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      I work in government. There’s no requirement to have a headshot of any kind.

      We have id badges with a photo. That’s it. It’s not linked to any software like email and its not shared with the entire county.

      I’m not sure what you mean by having a headshot for security reasons beyond an id badge?

        1. Dahlia*

          I think you’re confused about the context here, then. This is talking about online avatars, not security badges.

  62. KW*

    #1, I could write that same letter and it helps to see I’m not alone as I read the comments here. I’m a woman in my 50s working as an IT manager at the same company for almost 25 years. I had always had extremely positive feedback about my work but then I got a new manager at the start of the pandemic. He seemed to truly take pleasure from being cruel to both his employees and our external vendors/contractors. I managed to transfer to a new department about two weeks before I’m pretty sure I was slated to be fired for my “poor performance”.

    My confidence crashed during that time and even though my current manager is the kindest and most supportive person I’ve ever worked for, I can’t entirely shake the feelings of inadequacy from that one manager in that miserable year. I’m in the situation where I have a small consulting business in addition to my day job. Even reminding myself that other companies enthusiastically pay hundreds of dollars an hour for my advice didn’t reduce the constant anxiety that I felt.

    I think it’s pretty normal how anxious I felt then considering the manager situation and the pandemic but the feelings still linger today but to a lesser degree. Now it’s around making mistakes whereas during and just after that manager the anxiety was constant.

    No real advice for you, just letting you know you’re not alone. Medication does help though. It took a year to get my medication right so if what you are taking isn’t helping, keep letting your doctor know. Therapy was useful too; mindfulness exercises were especially helpful.

    1. Anxious OP*

      OP here – I am so sorry to hear that you experienced all of this. I cannot imagine how stressful this must have felt for you, and I am so glad that you were able to be transferred. This would have had a really big impact on me, too. I’m hopeful for you that you continue to make improvements.

  63. SOUPervisor*

    I’m quite surprised by the number of comments on #2 suggesting animals/memes/sports teams/pop culture characters for icons. That would be seen as unprofessional at any place I’ve worked.

    1. yes and*

      And where I work, it’s fine. So people are offering it because it does fly where they work.

    2. I have RBF*

      Whereas it has been fine at anywhere that I have worked. The more geeky the environment, the more acceptable it seems to be.

  64. Coco*

    LW 5: This is extremely common in high end food service/hospitality. They are not asking for “unpaid volunteers”, but rather they are asking if anyone is willing to work this event instead of (or along with) their regular work for the week. The hours or location differ from their regular work, so they are asking if anyone is willing to participate. Ideally, you get paid via your regular paycheck and the income goes on your w2. But a lot of these events are paid via cash under the table. If someone is opposed to that for any reason, they should decline.

  65. TomatoSoup*

    OP 4, maybe leave a gingerbread man and a glass of milk at his desk and see what he does? I would suggest breaking the legs off and leaving them there but that might come off as threatening to someone who doesn’t know the joke.

  66. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    Snort #4 made me laugh because my first post quarantine haircut was horrible and I described it exactly as making me look like Lord Farquaad. I went around in a ponytail for a few days before I took the scissors to it myself to tide me over until I could get an appointment with a different stylist.

  67. Me*

    I know the cutesy “teapot” thing is reference to some older posts, but it really makes letter #2 hard to understand. Are the “teapot nerds” IT or are they something like HR? I think the answer to that question will give us some insight into why others might not like them very much.

    1. I have RBF*

      IME, many technical vendors have a sales team, and then a “sales support” team of “sales engineers” who have to make what the sales people promised materialize. The support engineers are technical, the sales people commonly aren’t, or aren’t as much so. What happens is the sales team makes the sale, then turns it over to the sales engineers to fit the product to the client’s needs.

      If the sales team and the sales engineers don’t communicate well the sales engineers often are left holding a bag of crap that they have to deliver on. When it isn’t possible to actually do they get flack from both the customer and the sales team, who blames the technical team for not being able to deliver on their non-technical understanding of the product.

      Essentially, the “teapot nerds” can get left with the expectation of delivering a product that doesn’t exist, and then get blamed for the failure.

      IME, YMMV

  68. ijustworkhere*


    I identify with this and I am a lot older than you are. I just remind myself that these types of feelings started in a galaxy long ago and far away and usually have little to do with what is actually happening RIGHT NOW. They will pass, and no one knows how I am feeling unless I act out on it–which I usually don’t.

    There is a “mean girl” and a “scared girl” in my head, both who vie for attention at times, and I let my grown-up-woman-self tell them that I’ve got this handled and I don’t need their help.

    Works for me.

  69. not a hippo*

    LW 2 TBH I’m not reading 400+ comments to see if this was already mentioned but: could the avatars be of a family pet? Their car? A cool tree they like? Something personal but not necessarily a photo of themselves?

    The employee with the photo of of their dog as their Gmail icon

  70. Ferret*

    I’m wondering what everyone who objects very strongly to having photos displayed would do at any of the places I have worked where you need to have a photo for your building pass and that gets used automatically on internal comms systems

    1. AnonORama*

      Cringe and try to avoid looking at it! At least, that was what I’ve done at jobs that had this requirement. It would’ve been pointless to push back, but at least everyone had a similiar blurry, deer-in-the-headlights quality to their photo, most of which were taken about 30 minutes into the first day at work where people hadn’t even figured out where the restroom was yet!

  71. SuzyQueue*

    LW1 – there is a third possibility for anxiety. It is very common (especially for women) to experience anxiety as a result of Hashimoto’s thyroid disease or just being hypothyroid. In my case, like you, I was only anxious when something triggered it – an email/call from boss, etc. Once I was on thyroid meds, this feeling completely went away and I went more than a decade without experiencing any (unexplainable) anxiety…until last summer when my thyroid meds were recalled after I’d been taking that batch for 6 weeks. I’ve seen published articles recently claiming that thyroid meds could fix anxiety in about 60% of people taking anti-anxiety meds.

  72. Fish*

    OP1, I totally understand.

    After 10+ years, I ended up leaving the large firm I had expected to retire from. During that time, I got out of practice in a key skill I knew similar firms wouldn’t compromise on in my position. I know that eliminated me at one prospective employer, but they had bigger issues anyway like understaffing.

    Eventually I joined a smaller company where the skill is needed, but on a smaller scale. So I’m refreshing my memory in a much lower-pressure setting.

  73. Jane*

    5. I wonder how paying their employees in “cash or tips” affects taxes and the like. Seems scammy.

  74. yirna*

    OMG, #1 could be me. It’s as if someone else wrote out my unarticulated thoughts. (Though, I’m a little bit earlier in my career).

    I burned out hard in my last two jobs, and I’m doing therapy to talk through my workplace boundry issues, burnout, and recently diagnosed ADHD/anxiety. It’s really helpful when she calls me out for setting a boundry and then justifying to myself that I can break it.

  75. River*

    #1. This totally screams Imposter Syndrome to me.

    I found a definition online that I think best explains what it is:
    “Imposter syndrome is the condition of feeling anxious and not experiencing success internally, despite being high-performing in external, objective ways. This condition often results in people feeling like “a fraud” or “a phony” and doubting their abilities.”

    Related to what was said, this could stem from coming from a high achieving family, being in perfectionist/competitive environments, etc. It also seems like your past work environments created this situation. No, imposter syndrome is not a diagnosis however someone in these situations may struggle with other things such as anxiety or depression. Re-framing one’s own mindset I think will be a huge benefit. Easier said than done though, right? Other things that I think would help is to stop comparing yourself to others and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It’s better to make mistakes and learn than to try and say or do the “perfect” thing in every situation. Overall, with time and some fine adjustments in reframing your mind will help.
    Good luck!!

    1. Mimmy*

      I’m not the OP but this absolutely resonates with me!! I’ve seen Imposter Syndrome discussed here before and I always forget that this is a common thing. Honestly, I think this is something more workplaces should be aware of. I don’t mean heaping excessive praise, but just being aware that it’s common. This is where quality management / supervision can play a role.

  76. Mimmy*

    #1 – Super late in replying so the OP may not see this, but I wanted to join in the commiseration. I know my work is well received and that I have the ability to connect with the variety of students I’ve worked with in the last 6 years at my job. However, I still get very anxious at times for several reasons (too much to get into here), which make me concerned about my future prospects at my agency or elsewhere. My supervisor has been very supportive, but probably wishes I could be more confident in my judgment. When something triggers my anxiety, I tend to spiral; it takes me a day or so to recover afterwards.

    What is starting to help me is a conversation I had with my VR counselor earlier this year. I’m learning that there are always going to be fluctuations in my confidence. I’m starting to recognize that the anxiety always goes away, even if it takes a little time.

    Also, when an anxious thought pops up, she suggested not evaluating that thought in the moment as this can cause you to spiral, as I noted above. Once you feel better, you can evaluate it later. A lot of times, it’s the anxiety that’s talking and the thought isn’t valid.

    I’ve been this way my entire career (I’ll be 50 in October), so I am with you all the way.

  77. Dawn*

    LW2: I’m a trans woman working remotely and while many of my colleagues are aware of it and have seen my face, I don’t let the company post my photo on my profile, and I stand firm on that. Part of having a comfortable work environment for me is not worrying that a new coworker or manager will come in with a chip on their shoulder and decide to make life difficult for me.

    For lots of us one of the benefits of working remotely is that we don’t have to deal with anyone’s prejudices based on our appearance.

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