employee is missing the mark with our dress code, manager keeps delaying our team off-site, and more

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

1. My employee is missing the mark with our dress code

My direct report has been very open about being on the autism spectrum and having some learning disabilities. I’ve been working with him closely to provide regular feedback and coaching on a few performance issues. He is eager to improve, and I want to provide as much support as is reasonable.

One area where I’m struggling is his appearance. We’re a professional service firm, so we regularly interact with clients. We’re not overly formal, but it’s important that we look put together. He’s come to client calls looking disheveled, with hair all over the place and a t-shirt with small holes in the neck. I’ve told him a few times that the expectation is business casual on calls, like a button-down or sweater.

The problem is he’s following that advice now, but the shirts are often wrinkly, or a bit too small, or he’s not wearing an undershirt and he’s showing a lot of chest hair. He’s technically following my recommendations, but still doesn’t look client-ready.

How direct should I be with feedback moving forward? I have no problem continuing to remind him that the expectation is a neat and clean appearance. However, it feels overly personal to spell out everything I’ve said above. Of course, I also want to be respectful of the fact that some of this might not be obvious to him. As his supervisor, how much coaching do I owe him on this?

Please be direct with him! I think your initial feedback — that the expectation is business casual — assumed he’d have access to a sort of cultural playbook about what that means, but a lot of people were never given that playbook and you’re more likely to get your message across if you spell out exactly what it means. (Notably, this is the case for most people, not just people with autism, and so many problems would get solved if managers would do more of it.)

So spell it out! “We’ve talked in the past about our dress code being business casual, and I’ve realized I should be clearer about what that means. Especially when you’re going to be interacting with clients, you should (fill in details of exactly what you want to see from him that you’re currently not).” I suspect you haven’t done that yet because you feel awkward about dictating this stuff at such a micro level — like it’s somehow insulting or overly micromanagery — but the reality is, you have expectations that he’s currently not meeting, he’d probably like to meet them, and you’ll be helping him out by telling him exactly what they are.

2. How to get coworkers to stop asking how I’m doing

For the first time in my life, I’m facing health issues that are impacting my work. I’m pregnant and this pregnancy is wreaking havoc on my body in myriad ways. My boss knows the full details and is incredibly respectful and supportive, and it’s getting to the point where my coworkers — and even coworkers I don’t know — can visibly tell that something is wrong. I can barely walk most days and am increasingly working from home in a very in-person office, so when I’m not there it’s noticed.

My coworkers are lovely and they mean well, but every day they ask how I’m doing. I just want to yell, how do you think I’m doing? I’m shuffling around the office like I’m 80 and am clearly in pain! I don’t like talking pregnancy in detail, both because it’s my private medical information and also out of sensitivity to a coworker experiencing infertility, so I usually just brush it off with a casual “oh, you know.” Because the truth is I’m NOT doing well and I’m not going to get better until I have the baby, five months from now.

Any tips for respectfully getting people to stop asking how I’m doing, even though I know they’re asking out of concern?

“You’re kind to ask, but it’s easier on me if we can skip talking about it until I’m through it. Ask me in five months!”

Or, “You’re kind to ask, but it’s been rough and it’s easier for me not to get that question at work. I’d be so grateful if no one asked me that for the next five months!”

3. Manager keeps delaying our team off-site and I’m frustrated

I’ve been working at my company for one year, and my manager started working here around the same time. We have a small team (two other coworkers) and are all remote, but all teams at this company are allocated a travel budget for multiple team off-sites per year. Our team has never had an off-site yet, despite repeated promises from our manager and constant pleas to him from our team.

When I first started, the plan was that we were going to meet in September, then that changed to October, then for sure December, then definitely January or February, then April or May (we even put together a google sheet with everyone’s availability so our manager could pick the week), then 100% June and now it’s certainly happening in July or over the summer. I can’t take this anymore! We’ve tried everything — we bring it up to him nearly every week and he acts like he’s taking it very seriously but then he’ll delay it again.

There’s never any good reason for his delays. He doesn’t claim to be too busy, and he wouldn’t have to plan any itinerary himself — he just needs to pick the date so we can be authorized to book plane tickets and hotel rooms, then we can take care of the rest. He does have a history of not really caring about things that we care about unless it’s something he’s personally invested in, so my guess is he just doesn’t care that much and therefore it’s not a priority to him.

There’s nothing work-related that isn’t happening because of this. It’s mainly about team connection and getting to spend time together in person. The company allocates every team a travel budget for a trip each quarter, to get to visit the offices and meet other colleagues but also to have fun team events. It’s been tough seeing everyone else get to experience this multiple times and we’ve never done it once.

I mentioned this issue in a “listening session” that our broader org was holding for smaller groups to discuss any problems they’re facing and everyone seemed horrified, but that didn’t result in any changes either. It seems too whiny and petty to mention to my skip level but I don’t know what else to do. I know this sounds like a very minor problem but seeing other teams have two or three off-sites over the last year while we have zero has been really demoralizing and upsetting. Any advice?

A lot of people hate off-sites, and your manager may be one of them. Or he might have things going on outside of work that make it hard for him to commit (caring for a family member, health issues of his own, or who knows what).

If you and your coworkers haven’t already told him very clearly that this is important to you, try that. Say it’s important to you for X reasons, you’re disappointed by the delays, and it’s frustrating watching other teams having off-sites while you don’t. Ask point-blank what needs to happen to commit to a date, or whether it’s not something you should plan on at all for the foreseeable future. But if you’ve already done that, or you do it and nothing changes … well, I think you’re not going to have an off-site anytime soon. It’s really his call to make, as the head of your team.

If your sense is that the organization is committed to these to such a degree that his boss would overrule him if she knew about it, then in theory you could raise it with someone above him … but I suspect there are things more worth saving your capital for (and realistically, forcing him to lead an off-site that he actively doesn’t want to do might not produce the type of event you see others having anyway).

4. My boss asked how things are going … and I didn’t tell him I’m planning to leave

I am the only full-time employee for a super small business. Everyone else is contracted workers or family members of my boss, the owner. I’m the executive assistant.

I don’t have horrible complaints, but I am currently looking for a new gig for more pay. He is also an older man, and he is often irritable and forgetful.

My boss really appreciates me and tells me so. He has given me a holiday bonus and a birthday bonus ($500 and $250). Just now he called me to say he realized he hasn’t asked me how I am in a bit and how I feel the work is going. I said, “Pretty good.” Then he asked, “What would make you feel great?”

I really didn’t know what to say. Obviously more pay would make me feel great, but I wasn’t ready to say that. So I just said, “I am great, no complaints.” He said that’s good and again he stated how much he appreciates me and how he couldn’t do everything without me.

I just worry that I will be blindsiding him if and when I get a new job and put in my notice. Is it right to say everything is going well, even though I am currently job searching?

You’re fine. You don’t owe your boss full transparency that you’re thinking about leaving just because he happened to ask how you’re doing. If you end up resigning soon and feel weird about the timing, you can say the new opportunity fell in your lap and was too good to pass up.

That said, for the rest of your career, a good answer to have ready to pull out in response to the question he asked is, “More money would always make me happier!”

5. Asking about AI in an interview

I have an interview coming up soon for a marketing position, and while I feel fairly prepared and confident I’m a good candidate for the job, I’m curious about bringing up something during the “what questions do you have for us” portion of the conversation.

Specifically, this position would require a bit of copywriting and promotion of the works they put out, and while I don’t believe this particular company would ever push someone out of a job just to use a trendy new technology, I would like to broach the topic of AI just out of curiosity and an abundance of caution. I’m thinking of framing it as “what conversations are you having as a company about the rise of AI use in writing, and do you have any screening tools in place to prevent AI-created pieces from being submitted?”

Is that an off-base thing to ask about in the interview process? Like I said, I’m not exactly worried about this company fully embracing AI like techbros, but I don’t think AI is going away anytime soon, and I’d like to know sooner rather than later if this is going to be something that will impact the job.

Totally reasonable, and your wording is great.

{ 597 comments… read them below }

  1. Heffalump*

    #1 reminded me of an experience I had some years ago as an office temp. I had two assignments in the space of a month where I was told that the client companies expected “professional dress.” In both cases I asked my contact at the temporary agency to elaborate. In one case professional dress meant dress slacks, dress shoes, and a dress shirt. In the other, it meant the above plus a sport coat and tie. If I’d been wired more like LW1’s report, I might have assumed that the former, less stringent, definition of professional dress applied to all offices.

    1. PinaColada*

      This is a great point. I also think it would be helpful to have a few recommendations for places that sell professional attire: “I’ve found the collared shirts at ____ to be really nice, and they typically have them on sale at 2 for $__.” Etc etc. If you need to get to the level of detail where you’re explaining to someone that they can have holes in their shirt, just pointing them to a few good options that DO work may be more effective.

      1. Salamander*

        The holes suggest to me that it’s a shirt this employee has had for a while (unless shirts with intentional holes are a thing), so it may be something he feels comfortable in. It is possible there’s something sensory going on here – for example not doing well with the way ironed shirts feel – so LW1, you may need to spend some time figuring out what he can wear that fits the dress code and any sensory issues he might have.

        This is speculation, but I think it’s worth considering. Definitely let him take the lead on that conversation though, don’t just assume he’d be uncomfortable in X or Y clothing.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          > It is possible there’s something sensory going on here

          Or financial. It wasn’t stated explicitly but I got the sense he is relatively ‘junior’ so perhaps his salary is in line with that.

          1. GythaOgden*

            You can get decent stuff from a charity shop even if you’re on a low wage. There are also charities (my church is closely involved in one in the Reading area) that help out people in need with basic items.

            As autistic, yup, it’s hard to get clothing right, but it’s not something that can really be handwaved away in the kind of job that this guy has. Chances are that if he can get an internet connection at home for a prestigious remote job he can get hold of a few £5 shirts of decent fit. With all those cheap ways of buying stuff out there and regular sales at places like supermarkets (which is generally where I’ve stocked my working wardrobe) there’s not much excuse here. OP might be able to help out with suggestions but she can’t say nothing at all because her company’s reputation is on the line here in front of clients who know nothing about this guy’s circumstances.

            In general though: all this handwringing ignores the very real fact that many people, poor or neurodivergent or whatever, do whatever it takes to paper over the cracks. NGL, it’s exhausting, particularly when pay for lower-paid workers gets held up due to strikes that involve higher-paid workers! The guy needs some advice — we all do — but having struggled with this myself and being autistic and (at times) broke, it’s a bit insulting and patronising to have others handwave away your situation.

            As discussed in a lot of similar threads, the really poor people put in a lot of effort to get by — too much effort at times, but they manage. Being poor (or autistic) is a lot of work (from personal experience in a sort of genteel way), but it’s not impossible to find resources and actually help yourself up, and millions of people do it every day and survive.

            1. Sheep Thrills*

              I worked at a thrift store as the clothes sorter years ago. Men’s clothing, especially professional clothing like collared button-downs is *absolutely* and constantly in short supply. Suits flew off the rack in a heartbeat when they showed up, and never made it to clearance sale. What men’s clothing did come into the store tended to be in poor condition, like badly yellowed collars and underarms, seams burst, or threadbare spots – as opposed to lots of fancy gear with the tags still on them for women. So please, if you’re in a position to help, donate!

              1. My Useless 2 Cents*

                Really? I had the opposite experience in the second hand store I worked in. There were tons of men’s professional wear including suits and they just sat there on the racks for months. However the women’s professional wear almost never came in and were gone almost immediately after being put out. Sounds like what is available will be very regional dependent.

                1. Lydia*

                  Sheep Thrills is correct. Men’s fashions don’t change that dramatically, so there tends to be a dearth of it in charity shops or donated to clothes closets, since men can wear those clothes for longer periods and still be fashionable, while women’s fashions change more quickly so for women who want to look professional and fashionable, their clothing turnover is higher.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  When I was a regular thrift shopper, I rarely saw much men’s professional wear except that which was *so* out of style that OP wouldn’t be happy with it either. Like obvious seventies suits etc.

              2. Heffalump*

                When I was decluttering some years ago, I had a number of men’s shirts that were in poor condition. I figured that if an item wasn’t good enough for me, then it wasn’t good enough for the thrift store.

                1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                  Check with your local thrift store! I’ve been listening to Dana K. White, a decluttering expert, and she’s mentioned in a few different podcasts that most of the thrift stores she’s talked to in the States WANT your holey and tattered clothes. They can sell the material to ragmakers and other fabric recycling outfits, which generates more money for them while reducing waste. :) I’ve been decluttering for YEARS and never knew this!

              3. Anon this time*

                My husband goes out of his way to donate his clothes for just this reason. When we were just starting out, he really had to stretch a couple of nice outfits because we couldn’t afford to replace them every time one got a stain or a snag. In my area, there are only a few options for professional wear for men over about a 2X, and they are not cheap. He knows first hand that finding a few nice button ups in good condition at the thrift shop can be a big thing when you’re trying to get started as a plus sized professional.

                1. Drago Cucina*

                  I’ve been working with our local community college’s career closet. “You” don’t need to be a student or recent graduate, but they specialize in interview and beginning work wardrobes. They don’t charge anything either.

                  So, if someone were to come in and say, “My workplace is business casual” they can outfit the person. The good thing is they know most of the area businesses and what that means for each of them. My husband’s big guy blazers, pants, and shirts have been put to good use.

            2. Smithy*

              When you’re thinking about donated clothing, the rough rule is that about 75% of what’s donated qualifies as “adult women”.

              If you’re an adult woman, and still feel like you can’t find anything – this percentage is a bit bloated because “adult women’s” clothes technically includes the sizes of clothing worn by teenage girls who’d be over 5 ft or so. But all to say, that calling out second hand clothing for men, children, or plus sized women – the options fall off rapidly. In the workplace, someone already struggling to get it right – second hand would likely open them up to far areas to struggle.

              1. Random Dice*

                Interesting. I buy mostly used clothes, for a variety of reasons, and I don’t have trouble finding professional used clothes. I’m a plus size woman, and my husband is pretty average sized. I buy online – eBay and ThredUp mostly.

                1. Young worker*

                  I would find it so hard to find professional clothes online. I’m 130 pounds, 5’2, but 9/10 clothes I try on in stores don’t fit me (baggy in some areas, too tight in others)

            3. Dahlia*

              Plus sized businesswear is almost impossible to find in thrift stores, in my opinion. Unless you really like polyesters and shoulder pads.

          2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            That’s a really good point. If you’re new to the workforce, your budget can be pretty tight for a while! Clothes with holes and shirts that are too small are both signs of trying to wear things bought a while ago, so think about how quickly the person can realistically afford to build an appropriate wardrobe (and buy an iron and ironing board) on the job’s salary. (It can also just be a sign that a person hates shopping or hates change – I can afford new clothes at this point but certainly wear some past-their-prime old favorites with small holes in them on weekends just because I still like them and my dog does not care what I wear.)

            Maybe emphasize that he can start with a single “client-ready” outfit and build from there? Men’s fashion expectations are particularly forgiving here, so he can probably re-wear a single blandly acceptable outfit in front of the same client quite a few times without them noticing that he’s wearing the same thing as long as it is clean and neatly pressed, and gradually add a week’s worth of such outfits as budget allows. (I think you can also kind of “iron dry” damp clothes, so even if he has to hand-wash his lone dress shirt in his apartment sink each evening he can probably pull this off as long as he can afford the iron and ironing board, but I haven’t actually tried that. If it’s clean, ironed, and a neutral color I can’t imagine that most people would notice that it was the same shirt he was wearing yesterday.)

            It’s also possible that, long-term, he’ll decide that the effort in his appearance just isn’t worth it to him and he’ll pursue a different line of work, but it’s definitely worth making sure he understands the expectations and has a chance to try and grow into them so he has the time and information to figure that out. I know I’d be miserable if I had to look “well groomed” every day, and have pursued assorted career paths where that’s not something I have to do as a result. Other people don’t mind or even enjoy it. It’s just like some people will avoid jobs where they have to do a lot of public speaking or a lot of driving – some people will get used to it, and other people will find something else to do that suits them better. Personally, I enjoy public speaking but do not want to have to brush my hair every morning and haven’t seen my iron in over a decade (I either forgot to pack it in a move and left it behind or haven’t unpacked that box in the last several moves). This definitely narrows down my opportunities to work in the field of public speaking, but I don’t enjoy it enough to do those things.

            1. misspiggy*

              My entire career path happened due to disability issues. I could not bear tights, so in those days anything corporate was completely out. I also couldn’t physically get up and to work by 9am, so that left arts organisations or social justice charities. Didn’t have a trust fund to cover unpaid arts internships, so social justice charities it was. Very easy decision making process.

            2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              You can totally “iron dry” provided your washing machine spins well. I iron anything that needs ironing straight out of the washing machine. Some thick items might still be a little damp at seams but if you leave it out on a hanger overnight it will be wearable come the morning.

              1. Random Dice*

                Me too. I don’t own an iron. The goal is not to have wrinkles. I use my dryer – the easiest and fastest option, though many folks don’t have laundry in-home.

                Or I hang my clothes on the shower curtain (I use hooks that are W-shaped for this reason, there’s a hook inside) and spray them with water, tug gently, and let them dry.

              2. Just Another Zebra*

                You can also buy a little hand steamer on Amazon for like $30 (I have one – it’s saved my wardrobe more times than I can count). You can also hang clothes in the bathroom and run the shower hot for about 40 minutes, and that sometimes works.

          3. Salamander*

            True! But other people had already mentioned finance being an issue so I didn’t want to bring it up again.

        2. Zzz*

          “so LW1, you may need to spend some time figuring out what he can wear that fits the dress code and any sensory issues he might have.”

          I don’t know about that. Possibly there could be some back-and-forth with the employee about finding something mutually acceptable, but it’s hardly LW’s issue to “figure out” – nor is LW best positioned to do so.

          1. Salamander*

            Well, yes, that’s what I meant with figure out. I wasn’t trying to imply LW should do that for the person – that would be very patronising – but it’s clear this employee needs some help figuring out what to wear so it can be good to get a second set of eyes who can help them get clothing that he finds comfortable (because he is the expert on that) and that fits the dresscode (which the LW is the expert on, in this situation).

        3. Carlie*

          The holes could be because of a fidgeting stim – he might either chew on his collars or tug on them. Or he simply might not notice that the holes are there or that they’re visible. More specific direction might be all he needs – you could even ask if he’d like a checklist he could use on the daily while he’s getting used to it (Am I wearing an x type of shirt? Can I see any wrinkles, holes, or stains? Do I have my belt? etc.)

        4. Observer*

          so LW1, you may need to spend some time figuring out what he can wear that fits the dress code and any sensory issues he might have.

          I wouldn’t go there, at least to start with. Just start with one or two options, at least one of which is reasonably priced.

          Then *be explicit* that your employee does not have to buy from those particular places, but that these are places that have good examples of what your dress code LOOKS like.

          But also be explicit about the other stuff eg well fitting, no holes, pressed/ not wrinkled, etc.

        5. fhqwhgads*

          Or it might be as simple as the dress code not only specifying what “business casual” means for this employer, but also explicitly saying “no holes, rips, wrinkles, undershirt if fabric is light enough to see through”.
          OP doesn’t need to figure out exactly which items the employee can wear, but needs to supply way more info about what constitutes a “don’t”.

        6. I have RBF*

          IME, business casual doesn’t want a button down shirt of the type that wrinkles when you look at it. A clean, well maintained cotton knit polo shirt in a plain color usually does the trick, possibly with a sweater over it in the winter.

          If I was dealing with someone who had a hard time with keeping clothing neat and pressed, I would advise a set of wrinkle resistant khakis/chinos paired with a cotton jersey knit polo shirt. That’s what I wear when I am not up to ironing stuff (which is most days).

          Polo shirts have buttons and a collar but are not as wrinkle prone as a dress shirt. They are also pretty cheap at places like JC Penney or Target.

        7. Lenora Rose*

          I wonder – IF is it sensory, can he use the shirt with holes as the comfortable *undershirt* to a dress shirt?

      2. DannyG*

        Perhaps a book like “Dress for Success” would help, especially if you sit down and go through it for examples of what you want.

        1. Sparkle Llama*

          When our dress code changed our HR put together a guide on how we were expected to dress and pictures and words explaining what clothing is and is not acceptable. It was super helpful for all involved.

          1. OyHiOh*

            I know an HR pro who conducted Dress for Success type workshops (separately for men and women) for the young/inexperienced entry level employees in their organization. It was the type of place where there’s traditionally a lot of focus on how the entry level, customer facing employees look, while also not paying those employees properly. HR made sure to account for budget in workshopping how to dress for the environment.

      3. nnn*

        This is what I was thinking. Especially when I was younger, I had people advising me to wear clothes that had certain characteristics, and, at the same time, couldn’t find clothes that met those characteristics.

        If you can provide examples of one or two things that meet standards and are available for purchase right this minute, you solve the “I don’t understand the nuance you’re trying to explain” problem and the “I can’t figure out where to acquire it” problem

        1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

          This is such an excellent point. and articulates so perfectly a lot of the problems I had figuring out dress codes throughout my working career.

          I want to add that the LW should be prepared to answer questions clarifying any subjective descriptors, like “too tight” or “well–fitted”. Most people who aren’t actually making clothes don’t think about how many inches of ease (a basic formula is [garment circumference] minus [your actual human body circumference]) is the correct amount for a garment to look neither too tight nor too loose, but having specific numbers like this on hand would have been so helpful to me, especially when I was starting out (and shopping at thrift shops where everything ran small), and genuinely couldn’t figure out the difference between “well-fitted”, “snug”, and “too tight”.

          And just to reassure the LW that I know for me and plenty of other ND folks, very clear, specific guidelines can feel like a relief from the anxiety of getting it wrong. Please try to think of it more as if someone asked for a cake recipe. It’s not kinder to be vague, and the asker doesn’t feel micromanaged by being told the exact ingredients and measurements they need.

    2. JSPA*

      It could be that he’s going to Youtube or lists for advice.

      Youtube videos and lists on business casual / building a wardrobe almost never even mention undershirts, nor do they mention proper care of shirts.

      As they also don’t mention socks or underwear or grooming tips, I’m assuming that they’re assuming people understand that people will just somehow just automatically grasp these aspects.

      One way to address it would be to call out these gaps! That way, you’re not calling out your report, but rather, calling out the inadequate information available.

      At the same time, just as people are allowed to have larger-than-average breasts, and there’s nothing intrinsically inappropriate about having them, the same is true for having lusher-than-average body hair.

      If a shirt (or shirt and undershirt) would be appropriate on someone with less (or paler) body hair, I’m thinking it’s not ideal to body shame someone for having a bit more body hair, or darker / coarser body hair, as that veers into “what’s normal for your ethnic background” territory.

      “Wear an unwrinkled shirt that doesn’t gape, plus an undershirt so chest hair doesn’t poke through” is reasonable.

      Beyond that,

      “Some people choose to trim their chest hair if it will be visible” strikes me also as reasonable information, but “having visible chest hair is unprofessional, so even though we say business casual, the fact that your chest hair grows high means that you actually need a tie if you don’t want to shave your chest” is (to me) multiple steps too far.

      1. Smithy*

        I actually think instead of thinking through why this young man is struggling – giving him concrete videos or images of what looks right and what looks wrong is going to be a better use of the OP’s time.

        So having images that perhaps reflect different parts of the “client facing dress code” – like say grooming. And then have four images, one that represents great interpretation of the dress code grooming (i.e. very important meeting, effort to put in for VIPs or a job interview), good interpretation for the dress code (i.e. what we try to do on a regular basis), adequate interpretation (i.e. we all have bad mornings when everything goes wrong and showing up on time is more important – we won’t get sent home looking like this, but this is not ideal), and a poor interpretation (i.e. at risk of being asked to change or canceling an external meeting).

        I think doing an exercise like this, may also help articulate more compassionate cases like having an accident at work that causes a visible stain on clothing and when it’s ok to go through the day (i.e. coffee) vs when it’s ok/necessary to talk to your supervisor about a possible immediate change (i.e. bodily fluids). The exercise might also make it clear what won’t be relevant for the images – like if make-up doesn’t reflect the dress code – then don’t have images that clarify use of full make-up for the great/good but then no make up for the adequate image.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      I worked for a company that had an extremely loose dress code for everyone who didn’t interact with clients; think people wandering around the office in pajamas and having to be reminded to put on shoes before entering the cafeteria.

      A couple of weeks in the year, though, clients visited the office, and the dress code changed completely. Every break room had an infographic posted on acceptable (and unacceptable) clothing items: collared shirt yes, blouse yes, t-shirt no. It didn’t work perfectly (lots of people in ill-fitting blazers, clothing with the vent still basted together), but at least we were in the right ballpark.

      OP can probably find an infographic to share with their employee, if ruling on whether or not each shirt is professional gets to be too much.

      1. Welp*

        I’m pretty indifferent towards barefootedness, but there is something gross about walking into a cafeteria with no shoes on, and at work no less. I’m laughing at the mental image of someone stopping a coworker and saying, “Bob, remember, we have to wear shoes in the cafeteria!”

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I’m the same way. If it’s an ice-cream stand, bare feet are OK, but in a cafeteria, ew. It also seems like it would be a hazard – Barefoot Bob could step on something and injure foot, or slip and fall.

      1. zaracat*

        I found many elements of that article confusing and unhelpful unless you already understand “the look” eg they conflate aspects of a choice which aren’t related (garment cut/style + fabric fibre/weave + patterned vs plain fabric) and there are tiny, irrelevant distinctions eg “oxford shoes” vs “lace up shoes” and poplin (supposedly less formal) vs broadcloth (supposedly more formal) shirts. The advice is also rather sexist eg according to pics and descriptions sleeveless shirts or shirts made from an unusual but not wildly patterned fabric + pants fitted close to legs + red high heels would all be acceptable elements of business casual for women but men are restricted to plain cotton long sleeve shirts, dark/dull coloured pants and black/brown/grey shoes. And some advice is kind of weird: a turtleneck sweater or a red or purple cotton shirt is formal enough for men’s business casual but a plain white linen or silk shirt is not.

  2. Viki*

    LW1, it’s one of those things you don’t want to say because it feels really obvious. I’ve had the conversations with co-op students, where I learn to be super detailed.

    Does it feel overkill? Yes.
    Do I like doing it? No.
    Is the two minute conversation of awkward (because their adults, and you’re telling them what to wear) worth it compared to having to field calls from Sr Management asking me why my coop is in a hoodie or pjs or a basket ball jersey on a call? Yes

    My sphiel is usually something like “On video calls, please make sure you have a collared shirt on. The laptop cameras are weird, so some things can look transparent or wrinkly, so make sure to double check before hand. If {vip} are on the call, have a blazer/suit jacket ready”

    That’s saved me a lot of grief.

    1. Earlk*

      I think as LW1 has specifically stated that the employee is autistic its better to be very specific about what’s expected instead of just telling them to double check it’s not wrinkly.

      It might even be better for the LW to check in with employee about how much detail they like on instructions like this e.g. would pictures help or just instructions on how to make sure a shirt fits professionally and the fact it needs ironing.

      1. Random Dice*

        I’m a mom (and sister and aunt and…) of an autistic kid. I have ADHD, which has a lot of social deficit overlap with autism, as does my kid and my husband.

        Generally speaking, one can just SAY what one means to someone with autism, kindly. If you’re relying on subtext or body language or hints, not gonna get it. I think of it as talking to Israelis – ya gotta say something, with words, that say exactly what you mean, or they miss it.

        You’re not embarrassing someone with autism when you tell them directly and clearly what to do. You’re doing them a great kindness. (As you can see by how quickly this person complied with your previous instruction.)

        Most people won’t tell him, they’ll just make unkind remarks to others, or decide he’s weird or unsettling* and avoid him.

        *Michelle Garcia Winner talks in Curiously Social, Socially Curious about how our behaviors can influence the thoughts of others. A key component is “expected or unexpected behavior”. If a person displays several unexpected behaviors, it creates a weird feeling inside others, which can influence their impression of one. She goes into what others expect of us in various settings, and Y’ALL if you have social awkwardness, this book is like the Holy Grail.

        1. That's Amore*

          The comparison to Israelis made me laugh but also it is the most useful guidance I have ever seen, thank you! The directness is often a way of showing care and concern, but it can come off so poorly if you’re from a different culture.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Another parent of a teen with autism (and ADHD and anxiety) here, and I fully concur that stating clearly and directly what needs to be done is a great kindness. One of the biggest issues we have with my kid is when people shame him for not knowing implicit “rules” or picking up on hinting – first, it makes him feel bad/stupid, and second, he *still* doesn’t know exactly what he’s supposed to do. Bad combo.

          Using a tone of voice that is just like you would for giving project instructions or sharing other helpful information is also a kindness. (I’ve had to tell more than one person that my child has autism not oblivion, and he hears it when you talk to him like he’s not intelligent.)

          One of the parents in my kid’s special needs school was a graphic designer and made the kids some awesome how-to graphics (a lot like WikiHow instructions). I have seriously considered seeing if I could commission a piece from her on professional dress/grooming.

    2. BethDH*

      I think OP can also frame it as explaining what business casual means for *this office.* That phrase has meant something somewhat different in every office I’ve worked in, and in most it changed depending on the day.

      1. Lexie*

        Yes, I used to be on the personnel committee at a former employer and there was some dress code conflict going on. I was tasked with researching “business casual”, what I discovered is pretty much every place with a business casual dress code sets their own standards. It can range from it’s okay to take your suit jacket off during the day to just no jeans and no t-shirts with logos.

        1. Pescadero*

          I’ve worked two places which called the dress code “business casual”.
          Both accepted jeans.

          So yeah – Business Casual is so nebulous as to be meaningless.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        It is my least favorite dress code terminology because it is so nebulous as to be nearly meaningless.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Agreed! Reading the letter, my thought was “polo/golf shirt and khakis” but OP is talking about button shirts. Never thought of button shirts as casual. Even without a jacket.

          1. Seashell*

            But the word business is modifying the casual. It’s something that’s casual for a business, as compared to a suit and tie or a dress and high heels, rather than something that’s casual for everyday life.

            1. Random Dice*

              Yeah. Business casual is very different from Casual.

              In business casual what I’ve seen across workplaces has been: button-downs, blouses, or sweaters, with trousers, no shorts or jeans unless dark and of a more formal cut.

              In casual I’d expect to see t-shirts and jeans, hoodies, but not PJs. Some places say no holes, others don’t care. Some places say no shorts, others don’t care.

              1. OfOtherWorlds*

                IME in places of employment where Tshirts are ok shorts vs. no shorts and sandals vs no sandals are generally dictated by safety concerns.

            2. Lenora Rose*

              To me, at least, Polo/golf shirts are *business* casual, not casual-casual, though it may slightly depend on the fabric they’re made of.

          2. I have RBF*

            Never thought of button shirts as casual. Even without a jacket.

            Me neither.

            He shouldn’t be wearing button down (wrinkle factory) shirts, he should be wearing wrinkle resistant polo shirts, IMO.

      3. Momma Bear*

        This. It’s so variable. I think especially since the employee has been open with OP they’ll be receptive to specific feedback. Give them clear and detailed examples so there’s no guesswork. I worked for a startup that had a lot of young guys out of college and the boss was really clear what he wanted when we went to the client site or other meeting. When boss says, “dark suit and tie with a button up shirt and dress shoes” that takes a lot of guesswork out of what to wear. I suspect it’s less about money and more about translating the gray zone of what is required. I know a lot of people who don’t wear undershirts with dress shirts so if that’s a thing you need, please just tell him. Same with it being ironed. It sounds like he’s trying so give him a chance to improve.

        My current office allows jeans and while nobody wears a suit unless there’s a client meeting, we run the gamut of jeans to slacks to nice dresses. Anytime there’s an event the dress code is specified to be sure that for that day everyone is on the same page.

      4. Mister Johnson*

        “This office” is definitely something I’ve ran into recently. I’ve been a project manager for a few different construction firms over the past 12 years. I’ve recently become a project manager at an architecture firm. At both careers we’ve had “business casual” M-Th and “casual” Fridays. At my new job I’ve been wearing clean jeans, a button down shirt, and some dress shoes M-Th and on Fridays I’d wear clean jeans again, a golf/polo shirt untucked, and some comfortable sneakers.

        I’ve recently been given a talking to because I was inappropriately dressed. First time in my career. I recently learned that “business casual” here means no jacket. We’re still expected to wear dress shoes, slacks, button down, and tie everyday. “Casual” means we don’t have to wear a tie and we can wear a golf/polo shirt. It still needs to be tucked in with slacks and dress shoes. Sneakers and jeans are 100% unacceptable even on casual Friday.

        If anything it illustrated how little I pay attention to how others dress. I never once noticed that everyone else was wearing a tie until my boss talked to me.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          Yeah, “business casual” has always meant (among other things) “no jeans” wherever I’ve worked, but I’ve discovered here on AAM that this is not a universal definition. It’s a common definition, certainly, but not universal.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            Forgot to say: The rest of your newly discovered definition is unusual, though. “No tie necessary” is an *extremely* common component of a business casual dress code. I would have said that it was universal, but it seems I would have been wrong!

          2. AlsoADHD*

            Everywhere I worked that was business casual, neat jeans looks were allowed. It usually meant more “no shorts, no T shirts”.

        2. I have RBF*

          I’ve never seen “business casual” as defined as essentially “business formal without the jacket”. A tie with business casual? That’s just weird.

          Golf/polo shirts are not casual. T-shirts are casual.

          1. Smith Masterson*

            It’s not weird. I’ve worked for several companies that expected a button-down and tie for a casual Friday. Especially for sales people.

          2. alienor*

            And polo shirts tucked into dress slacks are definitely not any flavor of casual. Unless the “dress slacks” are Dockers or some similar type of chinos/khakis, but I’m imagining the trousers from a suit with a tucked-in polo shirt, and it just sounds weird and mismatche.

    3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I can’t speak for all autistic people, but a lot of autistic people would be happy and relieved to get more instruction on this sort of thing. “Because they’re adults” hits me wrong, like autistic people aren’t adults if they don’t know the unwritten rules.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        “Because they’re adults” hits me wrong, like autistic people aren’t adults if they don’t know the unwritten rules.

        I agree with this so much. The teachers with whom we’ve had the most problems with IEP compliance are the ones that want to tell me what my child *should* know because they are X years old. (This is often underpinned with the attitude that my child is deliberately being defiant or lazy.) If they’re not doing it, they probably don’t know, so telling them exactly what is expected versus huffing about what they do not know is far more productive and less psychologically damaging.

        I also agree with Momma Bear that even NTs need some help on this front. Lack of clarity in instructions and assumption that one’s personal preferences are the “right way” to do something with multiple paths to success/results (and that the person not doing it the “right way” is bad at their job) is the #1 cause of office mishaps on my team.

    4. Captain Swan*

      For LW1, this is what I would do.

      Background: I am a mother of a 20 year old with autism that with many issues about clothes. I am also a manager at a company that sounds similar to LW1 and definitely has a similar dress code.

      I would state the issues around the dress code (fit, state of quality, etc) and then give some specific examples of what business casual means in your office. Then ask if the employee understood everything and if they have any questions.
      I would not give specific suggestions about where to go to buy anything. Here’s why. Style is a very personal thing, budget to spend on work attire varies depending on personal circumstances. Plus given that ASD and LD are in play, there are a whole host of other things that might be going in (sensory issues, executive functioning, etc [not diagnosing just using experience with my child to extrapolate]). Given all of that I would refer to the EAP, if you have one. This type of issue would be ideally handled by a vocational rehab job coach (they exist for professional jobs too). Hopefully the EAP can connect the employee with such resources. Then those resources can support in figuring this out or having the employee ask for accomodations.

  3. raincoaster*

    It’s critical to lay out what “business casual” or any dress code actually means, otherwise you’re systematically handicapping those who don’t come from a background where that dress code was a part of everyday life.

    Back in the day, some companies had image consultants on tap and could send the employee to a workshop or a one-on-one but I gather the employee is a bit too junior for that? If not, it’s worth doing, if only because you can outsource the awkwardness.

    1. Jackalope*

      This is such a good point. I still don’t have a good feel for what “business casual” means, and I’m in my 40s. I’m in a field where we have no official dress code and what I wear is about the middle of what my coworkers wear (some wear business clothes, others wear jeans, I do slacks and sweaters or nice sweatshirts), and that’s been fine. But I remember my first career job, being told that we needed to dress up for something, and having no clue what on earth I was supposed to wear; this was complicated by living in another country with slightly different dress styles that didn’t work as well for my body type, so trying to buy something for this event was a pain. If someone had laid it out a bit more that would have been so helpful.

      (Related: I’ve spent years taking dance lessons at a place that also regularly did events, and had such a hard time with the dress codes for that too. I eventually got better at figuring it out, but had a number of “cocktail” dress code events trying to piece out what would work – was it the length of dress? The formality? Could I wear something less formal for a holiday party if I wore a holiday-related sweater or t-shirt? One of my friends helped me out several times, and the internet as well, but it was a source of stress for a long time.)

      1. KateM*

        I am struggling with that myself. I did google pictures and all that stuff but if I get the type of clothes described, I don’t look anything as polished. Maybe I’m just too wrongly shaped or something.

        1. Lexie*

          Remember pictures lie. If they’re staged shots the clothes may be pinned and/or taped into place to look their best and there was probably professional hair and makeup and off course the editing process. If they are photos taken out in the world they probably combed through them to find the best ones. Ones that with people who had their clothes tailored to fit perfectly and are particularly skilled at hair an makeup. And of course there is that editing process.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yep. And the fabric is fresh, you aren’t seeing after you’ve been sitting in your car for your commute or on hour six of meetings. They could be more sheer than they appear, they could be itchy or uncomfortable and you’re going to look itchy and uncomfortable wearing them.

            Even if they look great in person on someone else, they could be tailored or have different proportions than you – a slightly bigger bust or a slightly leaner shoulder can make a huge difference in how clothes fit. It’s a lot of trial and error, in the end.

        2. Michelle Smith*

          There’s nothing wrong with your shape. Some industries, like fashion, are less accommodating of diversity than others. But that’s a them problem, not a you problem.

          1. KateM*

            Well, I look like being seven months pregnant except I’m not pregnant. What I feel in most comfortable looking-wise is to wear tops with busy pattern as solid colors leave figure much more prominent. And business casual seems to be all about solids. So I don’t think fashion is at fault here.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              It is! You just explained why it is. It’s not giving you the options you feel confident in.

              You can definitely do business casual with prints and patterns though. It might take a little more hunting, but I also feel less comfortable in solid colors and I have a very eclectic wardrobe at this point.

                1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                  I’m just an Internet rando… but I think a classically tailored black suit, in a cut and style you find flattering and comfortable, with a crazy patterned blouse looks striking! Or an eye-popping color that is flattering with some statement costume jewelry, if your office looks down on patterns. JCPenney has some great ones in their Worthington and Liz Claiborne lines nearly every season. :)

                  I feel your pain in the “doesn’t fit” category. I’m finally breaking down and learning how to sew so that I CAN wear jeans wide and long enough, figure out which silhouette dresses flatter me the best and keep reproducing them, etc. The Closet Historian on YouTube has become an excellent guide for me, especially as she chooses to make her own patterns off of one PITA block pattern. :) It helps that her era of vintage love mostly matches mine (In a little less 20s and a little more 50s), and she’s similar enough in shape that I can see what shapes I should consider pursuing. :)

          2. TeaCoziesRUs*

            Yes!!! One of my favorite YouTubers (Nicole Rudolph) has a glorious 40 minute video called The History of Standarized Sizes in Women’s Fashions and Why They FAILED aka “Sizes are Meant to Fail.” Once I figured that out, I started becoming less resitant to the idea of sewing my own clothes. After all, my body is beautiful but has never been used in standard sizing!

            Also, I love the idea of the CLOTHES or underpinnings creating a stylish figure, rather than the human body. Nicole, Bernadette Banner, Abby Cox, and most other sewists in the CosTube community have multiple videos on this. See Abby Cox’s “Are Corsets and the Body Positivity Movement Connected?”

        3. raincoaster*

          Those clothes are not just tailored for the model, they’re photoshopped. Your human body isn’t “wrong.”

      2. Random Dice*

        Ha! So much this.

        Those of us who are neurodiverse didn’t get the memo. Other people just kind of seem to have social norms seep into their pores, apparently. We have to 1) realize there’s a problem, 2) research, 3) experiment, 4) develop a checklist, 5) refine the checklist over time. It’s a lot more mental work than neurotypicals realize. (But also… it usually needs to be done, if working with neurotypical folks.)

    2. Aphrodite*

      When you do sit down with him, I would suggest you bring pictures for ideas of what you mean. For example, if he is expected to wear a jacket, bring a half dozen images spanning a range of types of jackets so he isn’t thinking that you mean a black suit jacket when a casual sports one would do too. Or if you say open-collared shirts, show different patterns, types. Pants? Do you mean khakis, black formal pants, in between? Shoes? What types are acceptable? Sports shoes, formal shoes, slip on shoes, shoes that lace up? Bring pictures of all types that work for your office. It is so much easier to understand business casual if you can actually see a range of items that fit the office dress code.

      I say this not just because he is autistic but because images, especially a range of them, speak so much more clearly that words when describing appropriate clothes (for any experience, really).

      1. LMHC*

        Yes! I was going to suggest visuals as well.
        Labeling pictures with how the photo meets the expectation is helpful too… “well fitting”, “crisp collar”, “undershirt”, etc.

        1. Baby Yoda*

          Great idea! And how about photos of “do’s” and “don’ts” — like the old Glamour magazine used to do.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            The dress code where I work includes a lot of pictures, of both do’s and don’ts, and it’s been extremely helpful.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        Yes, this is something I was coming to suggest! Both of my kids are in the spectrum and visuals would be really helpful for them in figuring out something as nebulous as “business casual.” Honestly, consider creating an image guide that can generally be provided to new staff, even if it’s been prompted by this particular employee. I suspect there are multiple new employees who will find it helpful.

        1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

          This. Whenever you put thought into making something more accessible, it almost always benefits more people than the specific person or group that you had in mind originally. (See also: wheelchair access that’s helpful for parents with pushchairs/buggies, etc.)

      3. birch*

        THIS. Everyone would be helped by this. How many times have you been invited to an event that’s labelled “business casual” or “cocktail” or “semi-formal” or whatever, and had to google what the ever-loving f&”%#¤ that means?! This goes for cultural expectations too. Early in my current workplace I wore what I thought was a nice plain navy blue outfit with brown boots for a fairly casual presentation. Only to find that literally everyone else in the room was dressed head to toe in black wool and I stuck out like a sore thumb. Give people clear examples with colors, fabrics, lengths, patterns, etc. And if you know someone who can give advice on where to get said types of clothes, especially affordably and especially in the wide variety of options nowadays that are much more comfortable but still look “professional”–have that person give some advice.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep. I go to an industry event once a year that’s technically ‘black tie’, but in reality you see a whole spectrum of outfits once you get there, and while most men probably would wear a white shirt and black bow tie, I don’t think I saw anyone there this year in a full dinner suit. The vast majority of women don’t wear evening dresses even though the dress code would technically dictate doing so. Most women wear a smart dress or a smart trouser suit. Luckily, because I’d been to the event before, I was able to help out my newer colleague who had never been – she asked me what sort of thing she should wear, as she didn’t have a clue! This week I’m going to a ‘business casual’ event and I’m pretty much planning to wear the same sort of level of formality as I wore to the ‘black tie’ do – I’ll probably just wear a slightly less casual dress and non-trainer flat shoes. But the idea of ‘this dress is casual, this dress is business casual’ is very nuanced!

          1. londonedit*

            I meant I’ll wear a slightly *more* casual dress to this week’s do, whoops!

        2. Deborah*

          I feel like there was a past AAM question about what to wear to a holiday party based on wording on the invitation, and the best advice was to find pictures of previous years’ parties and use that. Because literally no one knew what the invitation wording actually meant.

      4. Snooks*

        Aphrodite, you are so right about pictures! I’d add to print them out and not just depend on viewing on line. He needs a hard copy that he can go back to easily. If money is a concern, guide him toward Target or Walmart, both of which have acceptable attire at modest prices.

      5. El*

        I was coming here to say this! When I was on Jeopardy!, they sent us essentially a look book of wardrobe dos and don’ts and it was incredibly helpful.

      6. CommanderBanana*

        Pictures are a great idea. I had a similar issue with a coworker a few years ago. If you described what she was wearing, it sounded fine – i.e., a pencil skirt and a cardigan – but she wore clothes that were too tight and too short. Too short as in, her butt was visible because the walking slit of her skirt was always gaping, the gaps between her cardigan buttons were yanked open, etc.

        It was so bad that the CEO finally sent her to HR after multiple comments from members at conferences to show her clothing website and explain that if the lower part of your buttocks is exposed, or your bosom is literally falling out of your top, you can’t wear that outfit.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      I run a large networking event that has a business casual dress code and people interpret that in very different ways. I personally don’t care what people wear to this event (unless it was something truly inappropriate like a t-shirt with an offensive slogan), but it is attended by a lot of top execs, so those folks that are male-presenting tend to do a suit minus the tie (some lose the jacket too.) So even looking at photos of past events may just make people more confused.

    4. SarahKay*

      So true about business casual. In my early thirties I had a manager tell me that a group trip to visit one of our other sites up in London would be business casual and I fretted for the best part of a week over what to wear. The silly thing was that:
      (a) He told us business casual as a benefit for us so that we could be more relaxed than usual. It was intended to improve our day, not add stress.
      (b) He was actually very approachable and would absolutely have given me advice if I’d thought to ask – but I felt like this was something I ought to know.

      1. Allonge*

        Just to say that ‘business casual’ is a wide enough range that it really needs explanations for a lot of situations and a lot of people, so no need to feel weird about it.

        Mostly because, even though it does not look like it, it’s a negative definition – all it says with 100% certainty is ‘not business formal, but not completely casual either’.

        1. Allonge*

          Just looking at this and ‘no need to feel weird about it’ looks way more dismissive than I intended, sorry. My point is you are definitely not alone in having questions.

          1. SarahKay*

            Not to worry, your comment didn’t read as dismissive to me. And totally agree that it’s such a nebulous description that on its own, it’s just not enough.
            Back then I was fairly new in my role and, like I said, felt like it was something I ought to already know. These days I’d totally speak up and ask for clarification, not least because in the 15+ years since then I’ve discovered that every time I do ask there’s usually a relieved-and-agreeing murmur from others in the group who were also unsure.

        2. londonedit*

          Yep, my boss and I are currently having a discussion about whether ‘business casual’ needs to include a tie (for him) and whether clean, smartish white trainers would be acceptable (for me). In the end I think I’m going to wear a patterned dress and flat non-trainer shoes, which is one step up from what I’d usually wear to the office (i.e. same dress but not with trainers).

        3. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah my ‘business casual’ office is, for instance, pretty jeans-friendly especially now that more meetings are virtual. But you’re supposed to sort of know what your interactions are going to be and dress for those. This means that on any given day you might see four people wearing different levels of formal, and all are totally correct. It makes the “look around and see what others are wearing” advice pretty difficult to give.

          1. JustaTech*

            In my office we were reviewing some “about our office” documents and they said that we all wear “business casual”, so we looked up what that means (asked the internet) and boy howdy we don’t wear business casual!
            Like, no one is full sweatpants, but the only people who wear anything close to the usual description of business casual (even for our region, which is much more casual than the rest of the country) is our director. I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone in a tie. (It might have been me, wearing a bow tie with a pink plaid dress.)

            There’s just so much variation in what “business casual” can mean based on region, industry, office and job type. It’s basically the entire spectrum from “not a business suit” to “not a boiler suit”.

    5. Ellen*

      I have spent most of my work life in various food service and uniformed jobs. a week ago, I started a business casual job. going through my whole wardrobe, I have 7 pairs of black slacks, 3 mostly appropriate shirts and I had to buy shoes. My last job has tried messing with my last paycheck and a 150 hour payout of accumulated pto. no autism, but my first, larger, whole payperiod paycheck happens next Thursday, and I have accumulated bills to pay first. so it will be close to a month and a half before work is going to see anything other than those 3 slightly tired shirts, all of which date back at least 20 years.

    6. Snow Globe*

      It sounds like the LW has already had a discussion of what business casual means at their organization – they’ve discussed collared shirts and sweaters, etc., and the actual clothing styles aren’t the problem now. The issue is things like wrinkled shirts or holes, and that’s something that needs to be discussed explicitly. Pictures of business casual outfits likely won’t be enough to clue this person in to things like ironing shirts and combing hair.

    7. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Also, business casual can mean different things depending on the office. One place I almost worked at business casual was no jeans, sleeveless shirts had to have a covering like a jacket or sweater, no shorts (although that may have changed) and skirts had to be below the knee. The position was NOT customer-facing. My friend worked there and had started out in a similar role I was applying for so I knew what to expect. I actually turned that job offer down (for other reasons) and ended up working in the same office building for a different company. Their version of business casual was jeans or khakis as long as there were no rips/tears. Shirts didn’t need to have a collar. most wore nicer-looking T-shirts. Shorts were ok if they were knee-length. It was so odd to have 2 different cultures in the some building.

    8. higheredadmin*

      When I started two decades ago as a college graduate at a large, well-known professional services firm, one part of our orientation was someone who came in and gave a whole lecture on professional dress, and then showed examples (including pointing out folks in attendance who were hitting these examples.) Lessons for life – I still struggle with the idea that people wear open-toed shoes in an office! Also – I once sent an employee home because he had a lightbulb stain on his shirt – it literally looked burned. He seemed pretty surprised that this was not considered appropriate work wear. So being clear and direct is helpful in this situation, because you will discover that most people are just guessing at it.

  4. Pickle Pizza*

    As a former teacher, I have often found that folks with autism (and most people in general) do well with visual examples. Maybe print a sheet with pictures of examples of acceptable and unacceptable work attire (for instance, a picture with a man wearing a wrinkled button-down and another picture of a man wearing an ironed shirt). Try to use examples of what you’re actually seeing from him so they seem relevant (holes, chest hair, etc.), and you don’t need to use the language “acceptable” or “unacceptable”, you could use an X and a checkmark instead.

    1. KT*

      Yes, this! When I started my current job, part of onboarding was viewing a powerpoint loaded with pictures that were examples of outfits that fit the dress code. It included good examples and bad examples, and it also included the contact info of our HR department so that we could ask questions about dress standards if we ever weren’t sure. As an autistic person in my first ever “office” job, it was so helpful to SEE what it meant to dress professionally for my particular office.

    2. Dahlia*

      Personally I think an email would come across as less condescending, and the x and checkmark are a little much to me.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        If you’re neurotypical it’s going to sound like overkill. An autistic person has already said in the comments that this kind of thing worked for them.

        1. Dahlia*

          I’m autistic.

          I also suggested visuals in another comment. But printing them off only for this person seems like overkill to me, as an autistic adult.

          1. Dahlia*

            Also the idea that this person couldn’t handle the words “acceptable” and “unacceptable” and needed a checkmark and an x. It just comes off as condesecending and infantalizing.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Eh, I worked at a company that stuck an infographic in every breakroom before clients visited with all the acceptable clothing items on the left and the unacceptable ones on the right. It didn’t work 100% (it’s hard to explain “fits well”, even with pictures), but it got everyone close to the correct dress code.

    3. John Smith*

      I was going to suggest similar, but its important to point out that the images are examples of dress code. Some people, like me, think in concrete terms, will buy the exact clothes they’ve seen and worry to high heaven that the tie isn’t quite the same pattern or colour or the shoes don’t have the same heel.

      1. Avery*

        And on the flip side, make sure the images match dress code in every way, not just the way(s) you mean to highlight with that particular picture. I remember getting very irritated when working retail when I’d get talked to for wearing skirts that were “too short” when the images in the break room of model employees in uniform included skirts of similar length to my own.

    4. Shakti*

      Yes this! I’m not on the spectrum, but I’ve worked at a variety of jobs where they said business casual and one meant white jeans and blouse were good and the other I needed a blazer with a dress! Find pictures of what you’d prefer in what context and label them. This might be going too far, but recommending places in budget ranges they can go to get appropriate clothing is also very helpful as it can be really hard to figure out!

    5. MsJaytee*

      This is a dreadful idea, autistic adults are not children, we generally don’t appreciate being treated like we are.

      1. Jackalope*

        I guess I’m not seeing which part of this is treating autistic people like children? I read this idea and truly thought it sounded wonderful and like something I wish someone would have done for me.

        1. GythaOgden*

          “Try to use examples of what you’re actually seeing from him so they seem relevant (holes, chest hair, etc.), and you don’t need to use the language “acceptable” or “unacceptable”, you could use an X and a checkmark instead.”

          This bit.

          Autistic woman here (40s):

          A lot of campaigns that seek to raise awareness of neurodivergence in adults borrow their aesthetics heavily from work with autistic children. That is great in some ways — it means children are getting what they need in school. The problem is, autistic adults are just that — adults. Assuming that cute stuff like visual learning and check-marks and what have you are more useful than being told and/or helped to select proper clothing is actually treating us like kids. If this guy got through the process to be employed by this kind of organisation, he is a functioning adult, probably quite intelligent, and just needs to have it explained to him on an adult level what he needs to wear and when. I personally found it rather traumatic when it was suggested I was autistic and I went from university graduate and trainee accountant/wannabe graduate student struggling with practicalities to ‘omg the autistic girl are you ok sweetheart do you have a key worker maybe we should get you …’ and I resisted the diagnosis for the time it took to be able to meet other adults on their own terms.

          Support and awareness has increased exponentially since I was diagnosed about 20 years ago, and that’s one of the last barriers for me in terms of how people become aware. But the thing with autism is that often we’re a bit naive and otherworldly, kind of like the ‘absent minded professor’ type, and have issues with practical stuff such as clothing etc. In my case, autistic thought processes such as ruminating on a lot of stuff led to big problems with anxiety and depression, and even psychosis at one point, because I couldn’t let a particular but rather trivial issue lie.

          We’re not on the level of needing pictograms as a substitute for OP to Use Her Words. That’s the point at which the suggestion was actively offensive and assumed a level of cognitive function far below what the guy would have if he has this job.

          That’s why it was particularly offensive. It may help to defer to people who actually are autistic in this discussion rather than assume a level of cognitive function way below this guy’s obvious position in his company.

          1. ceiswyn*

            I’m confused by the idea that example images and checkmarks are infantalising autistic people.

            Simple examples with checkmarks are utterly standard in many kinds of corporate communication, such as brand guidelines and health-and-safety training.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Yeah, also one reason for green checks and red xs in stuff definitely directed at adults is so the company making the materials doesn’t have to translate it.

            2. Boggle*

              All this shows is that there is no pleasing everyone. some people love photos, others think they are infantilizing. What are you supposed to do?

              1. Random Dice*

                Use your words, respectfully.

                Neurodiverse people are just as variable as neurotypical people.

                My friend’s sons both have autism. For one, you can hand him a complex instruction book or blueprint and he’s off – but forget yacking at him, he doesn’t tune in verbally. For his twin, words are where it’s at – he wants to know what, why, how, and also to discuss the history and controversies. Same genetic pool and uterine environment, same upbringing, different people.

                1. I have RBF*

                  Some people understand best with text that they read, some do better with spoken words, other still do better with pictures, captioned or not. This applies to everyone, on the spectrum or not. It is not infantilizing to adapt your communication to what a person does best with.

          2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            Visual examples aren’t always about cognitive ability, though? Especially in a situation like this where it’s about wanting to achieve a specific “look” rather than as a literacy support. It’s not like they’re suggesting they make the employee a visual schedule with little stick figure pictures of a meeting room and a desk to keep track of their day or something, but rather a situation where words aren’t as good at capturing all the nuances that a picture would.

            I’m pretty good with literacy and figuring things out from written directions in general (been figuring out how to make computers do things by reading manuals since the DOS days). However, if I were trying to figure out nuances of something as visual and subjective as a dress code then pictures of what did and didn’t fit within it (with words below the examples explaining what specifically made them appropriate or not) would be very useful and something I’d love to see in a general employee onboarding manual. (I have no idea what “business casual” means in terms of which of my existing clothes I could plausibly wear and blend in. I’m at a point in my career and social life where I can be boldly wrong and have that be ok, so I just prioritize wearing something comfortable that’s hopefully vaguely close, but being able to look at a bunch of example photos and hold them up against items in my closet would be very useful if I suddenly needed to dress outside my usual norms in a way that others would perceive as “normal”.)

            1. bamcheeks*

              I agree that actual visual examples of what business casual looks like, like the Mormon “how to dress on mission” resource that someone linked on here, are useful for loads of people, autistic or not. Most people are working this stuff out visually, after all! But I think the suggestion to use crosses and ticks rather than the words acceptable and unacceptable seems OTT for a profession adult.

            2. I&I*

              As a starting point in an office environment, it’s probably better to assume that ‘visual’ can be served by a written checklist.

              Personal experience: my son is on the spectrum and has some language disorder – but a written list is fine for him. It’s still visual and lets him process the information at his own pace. I’m willing to be this guy has more language fluency than my lovely lad, so I doubt he’d have a problem with office-standard bullet points.

              If he wants pictures, sure, but starting out with them without any discussion risks humiliating him, which nobody wants to do.

              1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                As an adult not on the spectrum, a written list for a dress code is pretty close to incomprehensible for me! So much of a dress code is apparently undefinable categories, so I really need to see examples of what is ok and what is not ok. When is a shirt a “blouse”/acceptable? What’s a “dressy” fabric? What makes one pair of dark, solid twill pants “slacks” and another pair “jeans”? What constitutes a “dress shoe”? I’m legitimately still not clear on the difference between nice sneakers and, say, a pair of oxfords, but I can spot them as different things now.
                This drove me absolutely nuts as a young woman, because my experience of dressy clothing was “what you’d wear to a wedding” and formal was “what you’d wear to prom”, and it turns out “business casual” is on an entirely different axis from that.

                1. Biosecurity field*

                  Agreed. It reminds me of when I’ve started a new job and read dozens of SOPs without having any mental model of what they were referring to. That’s why things like on the job trainings, presentations, videos, and yes pictures to go alongside the descriptions are used when training, not just instructions written by someone who can do the job in their sleep.

                2. metadata minion*

                  Yes, thank you! If you’re not already keyed in to clothing vocabulary, it’s not at all intuitive. Does “collared shirt” include polo or golf shirts? Are aloha shirts acceptably formal button-downs? Does everything need to be in neutral earth tones/blacks/blues, or are colorful versions of formalwear acceptable? If I can wear slacks, or knee-length skirts, why can’t I wear knee-length shorts in the same fabric as the slacks?

                3. Punk*

                  But you’re not on the spectrum. Why are you arguing with people who are, when they’re expressing their own needs? They are giving the feedback that the LW is asking for.

                4. LtBarclay*

                  Yeah, to me this isn’t really about being on the spectrum or whether autistic adults need XYZ. There are a lot of people who would be well served by pictures and a LOT of people that need/want things spelled out clearly. I’m one of them.

                  I remember about 15-20 years ago, a big brouhaha at my employer about open toed shoes and what was allowable. At some point there WAS an email with pics of allowed/not allowed as examples, and it was great and very helpful!

                5. rayray*

                  I agree here. Dress codes can be hard to interpret sometimes.

                  My company has a more casual dress code but there are still certain that are against the dress code. They have a couple flyers up in different places that do show a more visual representation of the dress code, and this is something for everyone, not just being handed to specific people.

                6. Jackalope*

                  Yes, this is kind of what I was getting at. There are multiple threads above of people both autistic and not who are talking about how helpful it was to them to have actual pictures, or how they wished someone had shown them pictures of what was acceptable. I myself would have found such a guide super helpful in the past (I ultimately ended up in a job where there was no dress code and this is part of why). So it’s hard for me to see how that would be condescending. Maybe it was the red X and green checkmark? I can see how that might come across as condescending, but again, I’ve had multiple trainings as an adult that use those symbols because they are universally known in the culture I live in.

                  Maybe it would be a better idea (for multiple reasons, not just this specific situation) to come up with a small set of photographic examples that can be used with any new trainee to look at for dress code ideas. That way it can be available for all of the new employees, not just this one.

                7. bamcheeks*

                  I always love working graduations at my university, because there is no consensus on whether dressing up for a graduation means “dress up like you’d dress up to go to a job interview”, “dress up like you’d dress up for a wedding”, or “dress up like you’d dress up to go clubbing”, so it’s this completely wild mix of styles and I love it.

                8. I heart my NC headphones*

                  I mean, great?

                  But you’re not on the spectrum. The account you’re responding to is, and is positioned to say, hey, actually what is described –– not only the visuals, but the visuals instead of words like “acceptable” and “unacceptable” –– is infantilizing.

                  I am ND myself. Folks can use their words talking to us.

                9. WantonSeedStitch*

                  OMG, the whole “blouse” thing. I have a visceral reaction to that word because when I was a young professional, I drove myself almost to tears trying to find shirts that looked like something I would call a “blouse” that fit my very busty, broad-shouldered body without gapping or looking dumpy and poorly-fit. Now I’m in a place where I know that if it’s not a tee-shirt, it’s generally good enough. A knit top with some stretch and a black skirt and I’m looking absolutely professional enough for my office.

              2. Temperance*

                My office dress code has a written checklist AND images included of acceptable items. I think this should probably be the norm everywhere. It’s accessible for everyone, including people who didn’t grow up in a white-collar home and people with ASD.

                Admittedly, a lot of us eyerolled at the “no rumpled or dirty clothing” reminder, but apparently it’s needed by some people.

            3. MsJayTee*

              Yes, all of this. I was a bit sleepy when I wrote my comment and couldn’t quite articulate why I didn’t like the idea, it just felt like treating the autistic guy like a child.

          3. Earlk*

            Well that’s the thing with neurodiversity….peoples experiences are fairly diverse. I think LW1 should speak to the employee and find out how they like to have concepts like this explained to them- maybe they want pictures, maybe just more detailed instructions will be enough. For the ongoing efficacy of LWs management of this person it’s better to have a conversation about communication now when it’s about something like this as opposed to something more sensitive.

            1. Lana Kane*

              Thank you. Neurodiversity is very…diverse, so in the end the OP should ask her employee what will work best for him. Something like, “I’m a visual learner and find that seeing pictures of what’s ok and not ok is helpful, would that also be helpful for you?” If not, then discuss further until you have his buy in.

          4. Biosecurity field*

            My company has all sorts of trainings that include pictures and videos, some including pictures of good and bad examples. I find the visual aids really useful, if occasionally hokey (using turn of the millennium iMovie lightning effects while talking about electrical safety, for example).

            Of course, I’m in a field where it can be relevant to teach someone a systematic way to enter a location, what order to take off and put on clothes, and how to shower thoroughly, so maybe my calibration is off when it comes to detailing how to do fundamental things.

            1. Allonge*

              I work a lot with communications colleagues and they use pictures all the time, for everyone. Especially for something like dress code, showing good examples is a lot easier than typing up a 20-page rulebook. And having some imagery does not exclude explanations / discussions.

              Obviously using pics can be done in a condescending way but that is not the picture’s fault.

          5. Tex*

            Fashion is a visual medium, therefore a visual aid is going to be the best instead of paragraphs of elaborate dos and don’ts.

            It also sounds like this employee’s first job in a remote situation. It’s not as if he has people in neighboring cubicles to watch as an example.

          6. nikkole82*

            my colleagues do not have autism, but some could definitely use a pictogram or something to show them how to dress appropriately in patient facing roles since they seem to lack understanding of what is appropriate work attire by just verbal communication.

          7. I have RBF*

            I guess it depends on whether the person is a visual learner or not.

            I’m not autistic, but I am ADHD. If you said “wear a buttoned shirt”, I would not know whether it a) needed full buttons, or just top buttons, b) if it needed a collar, c) whether it had to be one of those stiff, starched cotton things that I’m never comfortable in, and/or d) whether I needed a tie, a sweater, a vest, a jacket or what with it. Why? I’m a visual learner when it comes to appearance!

            If it has to do with appearance, pictures, or pictures plus words, work better for me. Is this everyone? No. But if the person isn’t getting it from the LWs words, then maybe they would understand pictures of examples better.

            This is not “infantilization”, it is meeting the person with the learning mode that works best for them. If you learn/understand with words, good. If you need pictures plus words, good. If you need pictures with a clear “+” and “-” or “check” vs “X”, that works too.

            Ideally the LW knows hows their employee learns/gets information best. If they have doubts, they should just ask “Do you understand stuff about appearance better with just words, pictures plus words, or primarily pictures?”

            IOTW, ask the person how they want the data.

        2. DinoZebra*

          Autistic Adult here
          Just in these comments a lot of people (non-Autistic and Autistic) are saying visual examples would be useful for them and others are saying they would find them confusing (I’m on team confusing). The respectful thing to do would be to ask individual people whether a detailed verbal description or visual examples would work best for them. That’s true for everyone and particularly true for Autistic People/anyone with specific learning difficulties who have probably had a life time of being patronised and misunderstood.

          What is infantilising, patronising and disrespectful is the suggestion to use a visual list to avoid having an appropriate adult discussion and so as not to use words like “acceptable” and “unacceptable”. Please treat Autistic Adults like adults and as the people with the cognitive abilities that they obviously must have to be able to do the job. This kind of discussion needs to be mentoring not manipulation and assuming you know what the individual’s issues are better than the actual individual.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I think it’s really interesting how this conversation is proceeding as if the manager is perfectly capable of providing either a detailed verbal description or visual examples, and the main consideration is which the employee prefers. I think providing a detailed verbal description of appropriate dress *without* using examples is a pretty specialised skill that most people do not have! And LW hasn’t actually managed it here, because there’s plenty od confusion about what “he doesn’t wear an undershirt so chest hair is visible” means.

            For most people, it’s going to be easier to explain using pictures even if it’s a case of looking at them and going, “OK, so, here’s why this works…” Obviously LW’s employee’s preference for verbal or written description vs visual examples matters here, but the manager’s ability to convey the information is also a factor.

          2. Temperance*

            I think some of these things should have been taught by his parents, when he was a kid, so there’s no way to avoid what is likely an embarrassing talk. There’s a mix of work-appropriate clothing advice needed along with basic personal hygiene.

        3. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

          I think it’s the checkmarks idea that tips this comment over towards feeling overly child-associated. Example pictures make sense as a way to quickly describe clothes, but there’s no need to avoid the words “acceptable” and “unacceptable”.

          1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

            Or on second thoughts, maybe it’s not entirely that, but also the implication that he’d need special resources other people wouldn’t need. I see a few of us agreeing that anyone might find a picture set useful, not just “folks with autism”.

            1. Temperance*

              Arguably, though, he does need extra/special resources. Pictures are helpful for everyone, but most adults don’t need to be told that their clothing should be clean, free of holes, and not wrinkled or look disheveled.

        4. Punk*

          Take away autism. It’s nearly always infantilizing to treat grown working adults as if they’re children with disabilities or severe neurodivergency. “I was a teacher (for people under 18)” is unfortunately not good context for training adults with university educations, and this shouldn’t be a controversial statement.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I remember asking for this exact thing (images of dos and don’ts) when I was the young employee of a call center where the dress code was a confusing: “casual, but not too casual – okay we’ll just tell you when you get it wrong”. I don’t have autism, it just made sense to me.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          I got told off at a call-center job for “wearing shorts” when I was wearing an above-the-knee skirt (think non-dressy pencil skirt). I was confused, said it was a skirt, and dude-boss frowned and said “those are shorts”

          Okay….but I’m sitting in a cubicle making phone calls in a room of coworkers making phone calls, in the middle of summer with crappy A/C so???

          I quit after less than a week.

    6. Emmy Noether*

      I don’t know, this feels really infantilizing to me.

      Which I think gets at the root of the awkwardness in general: for those of us that were taught this stuff by our families, teaching “no holes, visible stains, gaps, wrinkles, or ill-fitting clothes when you’re trying to be presentable” feels like a parental kind of job. And being parental at work feels weird. (Giving the general definition of business casual clothes types feels less weird, because it can vary, and wasn’t necessary for school). Which of course doesn’t solve the problem for those who weren’t taught this, so it’s necessary to get over the awkwardness somehow.

      1. Rainbow*

        Just cos your parents taught you that doesn’t mean it’s a parental thing to do tbh. It’s just an informative thing to do. I’m autistic and I hate micromanagement and I left a job over being patronized all the time! However I’d love it if people just gave me clear information on a respectful way. This sounds like one of those times.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Well, for those of us who were taught by our parents (which is a lot of people), it is a parental thing to do, like tying one’s shoelaces, or table manners, or remembering to say thank you. I’m just explaining where the awkwardness comes from – I also said one should get over it, not to throw up one’s hands and blame the parents. And to be careful how it’s presented, because perceptions and sensitivity and levels of comfort obviously vary a lot.

        2. Temperance*

          Arguably, this is a parental task. Like when you teach kids not to chew with their mouth open, the importance of personal hygiene, etc.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        There’s a big difference between assuming someone doesn’t know something based purely on their background/nuerodiversity/another category prone to stereotypes and having real, solid information that someone clearly doesn’t know something. It’s also really respectful to realise our own gaps in understanding: “I realise I’ve been doing this dress code so long I’ve forgotten how to explain it to someone new. If I show you some pictures, would that be clearer than the way I’m describing it?”

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Sure, but it sounds like LW hasn’t said, in words, “no holes”, etc. yet. I think it’s fine showing visual examples of business casual if the verbal description isn’t cutting it (or maybe just point to a colleague doing it well?).

          What’s infantilizing is “this is a picture of a shirt with a hole. Holes not good, see, big red X! This is a picture of a shirt with no hole! Checkmark!” In all probability, the employee knows what a hole is without an illustration.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            I do agree somewhat, but the main point isn’t to do that specifically. The aim of using pictures isn’t to overly spell out one thing that is easy to understand. You can do that verbally, but you will also be doing it for every follow up mistake too. Pictures also spell out other things that it might not occur to you to specify and might not occur to the other person to ask about. So a picture will make it more obvious that you’re aiming for a very fine textured, smooth, fresh looking fabric of a certain type of fit without having to exhaustively spell out things like “no bobbled fabrics, no chunky, slouchy knits, no faded washed out colours.” I think the ‘positive’ pictures showing what to aim for are of more use than negative ones saying not to wear this, but since she already knows some of his mistake areas, it would certainly help to spell them out. I don’t think the check marks are as useful; I would probably just sit at a screen and have a conversation while looking up various google images with the employee, but if he indicated a need for a reference to look up on his own, why not indicate the acceptability of each image so they aren’t confused?

            1. Emmy Noether*

              Mh, I’m not sure pictures would necessarily do that – he’d have to know what characteristics to take away from the pictures. He already has visual clues in the form of his coworkers, and has trouble extracting that information! So I DO think it would have to come with specific instructions what to look for in the pictures.

              Or else he’d have to copy the pictures exactly. Which I guess would solve the problem, but be kind of hard to implement?

              1. Ellis Bell*

                Yeah, you’ve pretty much summed it up basically. When someone struggles with a concept it’s best to double up on message formats, because it reduces mental load to get the message in multiple ways. If you just tell me that X is a two diagonal lines crossing each other, I may remember that, but an additional visual makes the verbal instruction so much easier to recall. It’s also still subject to missed messages, so you have to follow up afterwards unless everything looks hunky dory. This is why teachers do visual and verbal (or audio, or kinesthetic) instruction, then independent practice to see who is still making mistakes, then corrections with more tweaked visuals and more detailed verbal instructions. Something I would also do is ask the employee to describe their impression of what the dress code is and some examples of what people commonly wear (they may not be picking up on that and you’re right, its a good source of information).

          2. Yorick*

            Agreed. It sounds like he’s now wearing clothes that are acceptable for the office, but not ironing them, making sure they don’t have holes, etc. This isn’t really about “business casual” being a vague descriptor anymore (I agree that it is, but that’s not OP’s or her employee’s problem at this point).

      3. Green Post-its*

        Thank you, yes. Start by explaining the problem, with examples, and asking the employee what they need or would be helpful. Explain the consequences of not complying (bad impression to clients; change in duties, demotion, etc).

        Be specific, don’t soften the message. People on the spectrum tend to struggle with ambiguity or hints.

        Sure you can move on to yes/no pictures if they ask, but please please talk to them as a fellow adult first.

        I know several people on the spectrum who struggle in vastly different ways. They would likely feel distinctly disrespected if given “yes/no” pictures.

      4. Snooks*

        Perhaps it would be helpful to move away from thinking about “parental” toward a manager coaching an employee on soft skills.

      5. Smithy*

        The call out of “being parental at work feels weird” is a really good identification of a tension in this.

        The boss who was 100% the meanest in calling me out for dressing poorly to work twice, did so in the most “angry grandmother” tone – which no doubt was not the most professional in style. However, I also credit her for being the person who did the most in helping me figure out business casual in a workplace where I was the only one who had to do switching between what I wore in the office and what I wore to external meetings.

        I think another part of this tension is that unless we’re in a workplace with incredibly strict dress code rules and/or a uniform (i.e. the military, hospitals) – most dress codes ultimately apply to people differently. Two women, not the same height, may not be able to wear the same skirts/dresses to work due to them being “too short” on the taller one. And more so, people who are viewed as younger, better looking and wealthier will be viewed as being on trend or fashionable at work in ways that will not apply to those who are less white, less young, less rich, etc.

        And therefore becasue there is this inherent “unfairness” and challenge, I think more often than not, supervisors and managers avoid these conversations entirely. Or only have them when it’s become a much bigger issue.

    7. I&I*

      Why not ask him directly what the best way of giving him the information would be? He’s clearly willing to do what’s asked and presumably a smart enough adult; just say to him, ‘I can see you’ve been making an effort to meet the dress code, which is great; we just need you to refine some details. What would be the most helpful way to share them with you?’ I’m sure he can tell you.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I think that’s the best way forward – you can even bring up the picture idea and ask if that would be helpful for him or not.
        For example, I’m not autistic but a very visual learner and seeing pictures of anything is going to help me retain it. On the other hand, he might be able to work much better with a verbal spelling-out – a picture of a man in a smart suit isn’t necessarily going to convey “no wrinkles” in the same way someone explicitly saying “no wrinkles” is.

      2. QuinFirefrorefiddle*

        Yes, this!

        Also if there are a couple of guys in the office who really have the dress code nailed, you could point him to them as a place to get ideas and set his norms.

        However, if you’re going to have and enforce a dress code, I really think it does need to be written down somewhere, if full and gender-inclusive language. Not having a written standard is only going to be trouble.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I really would be taken aback if I started working at a place and the dress code specified that shirts shouldn’t be wrinkled and shouldn’t have holes in them. Just because one person has trouble with figuring that out without being told doesn’t mean a whole new policy needs to be rolled out. I think she should just tell him the expectations and move on. It’s unlikely to come up again.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            I’ve worked at Fortune 100 companies that specifically say clothes should not be torn or have holes. All that tells me is that in the past there was someone who was not aware and it needed to be included. For me (a child of white collar workers whose mother took her shopping the week before starting her first office job) I didn’t need to know that part, but considering this comment section has multiple people saying they didn’t understand the nuances of a dress code either, it probably *will* come up again.

          2. Temperance*

            I’ve never seen a dress code that didn’t specify clean, unstained, no holes, etc.

          3. I have RBF*

            I’ve literally seen dress codes specify stuff like “Clothing should not be torn, worn, distressed, wrinkled or have holes in it.” It seems fairly common to me, and yes, explicitly stated.

            Now, my current job is much more vague:

            For normal days in the office, our standard dress is Business Causal. The proper attire is dependent on job duties and assignments. We expect our team to dress as appropriate for the circumstance. For example, if your role were to involve client site meetings, we would expect Business Dress.

            To me that’s very ambiguous.

            This example, https://resources.workable.com/dress-code-company-policy, includes the line “All clothes must be clean and in good shape. Discernible rips, tears or holes aren’t allowed.”

      3. Mom2ASD*

        I like this but would advise adding what the specific issues are.

        Eg. “I can see you’re making a real effort, but we need to refine some details. For example, a dress shirt needs to be wrinkle-free and tucked in. Your pants should be wrinkle-free as well. Obviously, wrinkles happen through the day, but your clothing should start out wrinkle free when you dress. You hair needs to be combed down neatly. Let me know if you need ideas on how to achieve this.” Etc.

        I can totally see my young adult ASD son needing this kind of advice. He DOES need it (he rarely wears his clothing inside out and backwards any more, but he doesn’t notice if there is a hole or if it is wrinkled.)

    8. RagingADHD*

      Were you teaching adult graduate students, or elementary schoolers?

      The point of giving direct, specific verbal feedback is that it is applicable to anyone who might not be conforming to dress code, for any reason.

      Doing arts and crafts to create a special “lesson plan” with checks and x’s based on a complete guess about his support needs would single him out in a very strange way.

      If you handed that to any other employee, they’d be insulted. He is a grownup working with clients in a professional services firm. That strongly implies that he has successfully completed at least a Bachelor’s degree, possibly more.

      If he needs visual materials as part of an accommodation, he can ask for them.

    9. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I worked for a large company in the late 80s that adopted a business casual dress code, which was a new thing at the time. In our quarterly town hall meetings HR talked about the new code, and someone came up with the idea of showing examples in a fashion show as part of these meetings. Casual dress meant one thing in a corporate office, another in a manufacturing facility, and still another in a sales office.

      Employee volunteers walked a runway in ensembles that met the code for their particular job family, while an announcer described the look and called out things like ‘notice his jeans have no stains or holes,’ or ‘her safety shoes and shop coat look good with her jeans’ or ‘he’s wearing a button-down shirt with a collar without a tie’ and so on. It was fun and very helpful to have actual examples.

    10. ItsTheFinalCountdown*

      Yes to visual examples in all situations!!! Not related to dress code, but my waste management company sent a flyer with real life product examples of compost/recycling/trash, and what would disqualify a compost/recycling item. It made me a better informed human and I refer back to the photos regularly!

  5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (coworkers asking how she is with pregnancy complications) – I wonder if there is some aspect of them thinking that you appear not well enough to be at work and that you “should” be off sick really but have to work.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      This was the case with my pregnancy…I was in pretty bad shape (perhaps not as bad as the OP, but not good!) for about 4 months. Sadly, I really couldn’t get more leave–OP may really have to be working; my org’s and state’s policies are generous but not as much for non-life-threatening pregnancy complications.

      OP, hang in there! FWIW after I gave birth, I felt super, and 99% of my physical issues disappeared within 48 hours (in a way that made me realize what rough shape I was really in while pregnant).

    2. Cathires*

      I was so sick for all 9 months. When it was winter the cold helped me and I went outside and LAID ON THE GROUND by the trees. It was kind of ridiculous, but there was no getting around it (Thank goodness WFH is an option for many people these days.) I also had to throw up doing an interview once. I simply got up and ran out and grabbed the garbage on my way out the door.

      This does not help the OP2, I’m just commiserating and saying you most likely have to keep working or you would use up all your leave. Sometimes I’m surprised I was even able to work at all. The best thing was knowing it would eventually end.

      1. Random Dice*

        I was so sick the whole time too. But in different ways each trimester, just to keep it all spicy.

    3. My Useless 2 Cents*

      Or, they know OP is going thru something, want to offer support, but also don’t want to pry and land on “How are you doing?” as the most generic, middle of the road thing they can think of to say.

      1. Feckless Rando*

        Yeah I’ve definitely asked people how they’re doing when what I really meant was “I’ve noticed you’re not doing well and I want to show you that I care”

    4. OP #2*

      I think that’s part of it. One of my colleagues tries to convince me every day to just work from home for the rest of the pregnancy, which while very sweet, is not what I want. I’m pretty new here and I don’t want to earn the reputation of “new girl who can’t keep up”. I know my boss wouldn’t see me like that but others might, and this office just isn’t set up to accommodate a full time remote worker so I’d miss out on information and relationships I need to do my job.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I’d tell that person that you’ve worked out a schedule that is good for both you and your boss and don’t want to discuss it further, an “I got this, thanks” type response.

        I’d redirect the health update questions. “I don’t want to talk about my health at work. So what about those reports?”

  6. Kella*

    I’d like to enthusiastically agree with Alison’s suggestion for LW1 about being specific and explicit about the dress code. I’m a person who was never taught even the most basic concepts around appropriate dress for different contexts and it’s always been a huge source of anxiety for me. I’ve picked up some of the general stuff on my own but many of the details like what you mentioned here, I wouldn’t know to do. It would’ve been incredibly helpful to have one of my early employers sit me down and spell out the expectations in a specific and literal way.

    I would even go so far as to ask your employee how specific he’d like you to get so you don’t fall into the trap of assuming what he does and doesn’t already know.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes — dressing appropriately to be “client-ready” is just another aspect of doing the job correctly, and one approach OP could take is reframing it in their mind as similar to any other situation where he needed ‘correction’ about some aspect of the job (filling time sheets out properly, proof reading emails sent to clients so that they aren’t full of errors, or whatever – obviously these are just generic examples).

      I think a lot of us have a sort of “costume” for being client-ready (for people who work internally most of the time but do sometimes have to talk with people outside the company). Could it be framed in those sort of terms?

      1. MsClaw*

        This sort of thing can be helpful even for people who aren’t neurodivergent. I had a younger colleague who went told we needed to dress a little more nicely for a client meeting showed up in an off-shoulder floral romper. This might be a nice dressed up look for a brunch, but not for a client meeting in my industry. Sometimes what we think is obvious isn’t, and you need to spell out things instead of ‘I need you to dress up on Thursday’ say ‘I know this usually a jeans and tees environment but I need everyone in slacks or pencil skirts and collared shirts or sweaters when the money comes to town Thursday’. Be explicit. The term ‘business casual’ is so broad as to be basically meaningless.

        1. Random Dice*

          Oh gosh. I wouldn’t even have thought to say not off-shoulder, but yeah that’s a great example.

        2. Jules*

          This. In my first “big girl job,” I was pulled aside by the office manager and told I was dressing too casually. I was confused because I wasn’t in jeans or sweats, and everything was covered. I thought that was business casual. Um, no. I didn’t have a frame of reference for “law firm business casual.” It definitely means something different than “temp job business casual.” I do credit that job with teaching me a lot, including how to dress professionally.

    2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      A company I used to work for provided is with a thick style look book of clothing possibilities including specific guidelines on assessing fit and how to know when clothes should be mended or tossed. It also provided tips on basic clothing care and “what not to wear” examples

  7. Happy meal with extra happy*

    It sucks for OP3. I feel like many in this comment section would disagree, but I fully get that many people would see a offsite, with the opportunity to meet your team in-person for the first time, would be a big perk. And, it sucks that they don’t get to have it.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. Especially if every other team is having them and (at least apparently) enjoying them.

      I must say that I slightly disagree with Alison here, if you feel as strongly about the offisites as you seem to, maybe talking to your grandboss wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Especially if all three of you do it together. For some totally remote companies, regular offsites are a part of the culture and meant to encourage a sense of community among employees. If this is the case at your company, your grandboss would probably agree that you’re missing out because your manager isn’t organizing any offsites for you. That said, if your manager really doesn’t want to do any offsites and is forced into organizing them against his will, he’ll at best be very half-hearted about it, or at worst he’ll be vindictive and make sure that your experience’s so bad that you’ll never ask for another offsite again…

        1. Well...*

          Not quite. I read her reply as a recommendation to not raise this with grandboss because it likely wouldn’t be worth LW’s capital.

          1. Cmdrshprd*

            At the end of the day it is up to OP to decide if it is worth spending their capital on it, and if they decide it is, Alison did suggest going to the grandboss with it.

            But what Alison was trying to caution was it is one thing to have an offsite (any offsite) if that is what OP wants then great they can go to grandboss. But if what OP wants is a well done offsite, if boss is not into, it might not go well and OP may not get what they really want out of it and have wasted their capital.

          2. The Rural Juror*

            Agreeing with allathian – If the other team members feel similarly, then going in as a group would feel less like expending the LW’s personal capital. There would be some safety in not only feeling more heard when multiple voices are raising the same complaint, but also making each person less likely to be singled out if the boss was likely going to retaliate.

      1. Jeanine*

        The fact that the company has a specific travel budget for multiple offsites per year says to me that they think they’re important. I think the LW should go to the grandboss too.

        1. Midpoint*

          Absolutely right. Companies don’t expressly budget for things that are unimportant.

        2. Phony Genius*

          Eventually, somebody in Accounting is going to notice that zero money of this budget has been spent, and they will ask why. If they ask Grandboss or higher, and this company thinks these events are important, the manager is going to have to answer to somebody. It’s one thing to not spend the entire pot of budgeted money, but it often raises a lot of eyebrows when zero is spent.

          1. MassMatt*

            I doubt that. I have never had nor heard of anyone in finance ever complaining about money not being spent.

            1. Cathires*

              Agree, although if you don’t spend it one year, you have trouble keeping it in future budgets.

            2. Critical Rolls*

              There are plenty of “use it or lose it and never get it back” environments out there, often attached to government funding.

            3. Lenora Rose*

              Complaining, no.

              Inquiring why, yes. If it turns out an earmarked fund is never touched, there are usually other places they might want to allocate it, and they’ll want to know the story behind it.

              And if the funds are in a place they can’t carry over, I have seen a budget manager all but beg people to spend their allocated money.

      2. JM60*

        I think that if the manager really doesn’t want the off-site get-together (I personally wouldn’t for a variety of reasons, including health issues that I otherwise wouldn’t disclose to my employer), then going to the grandboss would likely be a great way to make the manager hate the OP. Besides, there wouldn’t be as much benefit to meeting each other in that scenario. Would you really want to meet with your manager when he’s begrudgingly travelling, and is mad at you for it?

        1. allathian*

          I never claimed that would be without risk, if you read my last sentence. But there’s also the point that the manager may simply be a poor fit for the job, if the office culture expects quarterly offsites for its employees who are all remote.

          I still think that the LW’s team is being deprived of something that the organization as a whole, and they, consider a perk.

          Granted, fully remote employers may be the only option for some disabled employees, but we have no idea if this manager’s being affected by that. Even if he is disabled in a way that makes travel difficult, it should still be possible for the members of that team to meet somewhere in person on company time and company dime, if the organization in general values that as this one seems to.

        2. Daisy-dog*

          But would you handle it in this way? Continuously acting like you’ll do the offsite only to delay it another month until the end of time? Or would you just be real with your team: “Offsites aren’t going to happen with me. Here’s an alternative.”

          Because if this manager is going to be so pissy about traveling to the point of having a negative benefit to his direct report (rather than the company or his boss who made this happen), this is not the right job.

          1. Fish*

            In a separate post, I wondered if the manager simply doesn’t want to travel for any reason.

            If the manager knew about the offsites before being offered the job and didn’t want to travel, I agree they shouldn’t have taken the job.

            1. MassMatt*

              IMO the problem with the manager runs far deeper than whether he wants off site meetings or not.

              The manager is promising this will happen, repeatedly, and it never does. Whether that’s because he hates the meetings or something keeps coming up to interfere with them, he is promising something the employees want, and not delivering. He is undermining his credibility. I would certainly be skeptical of anything he says given his track record.

          2. JM60*

            No. I wouldn’t take this manager’s approach if I were in his shoes. I’d probably go to maybe one offsite a year (or however little I think I can get away with in that culture), but then approve other optional offsites (that I don’t attend) for others on the team that want it.

            But the manager isn’t the one who wrote in. It’s worth emphasizing to the OP that there is a high risk of angering their manager if they go over their head to drag them to an offsite. Instead, getting the manager to approve an offsite (that the manager doesn’t have to attend) would be a much better approach.

        3. That's Amore*

          But if these trips are an expectation of the company, and the manager is not able to lead an offsite for any sort of long-term reason (disability, care responsibilities, etc.), they should inform their supervisor of that. Not to disclose the exact reason, but to ask how to make a trip happen without Manager leading it. Rather than continually hearing the request from the team, discussing it, doing surveys about availability, promising it will happen, and then blowing the team off. That’s poor management and it has nothing to do with whether Manager attends the offsite or not.

          1. JM60*

            Sure, the manager isn’t handling it well. But the manager isn’t the one who wrote in. It’s worth emphasizing to the OP that there is a high risk of angering their manager if they go over their head to drag them to an offsite. Instead, getting the manager to approve an offsite (that the manager doesn’t have to attend) would be a much better approach.

            1. The Grandboss*

              This. And also that if grand boss actually cared, they’d be managing the boss on it. Suspect OP may get their offsite, then pay for it for a really long time in ways they are never quite aware of.

              1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                Most employees are acutely aware of punishment that’s meted out to them. A lot of letters here are about unfair treatment. The employee rarely understands why they are being treated unfairly, because after all they haven’t done anything wrong. Here, OP going to GrandBoss to get what they are entitled to, something that’s been promised over and over and has a budget allocated to, would not be wrong at all, and subtle punishment would be an abuse of power. As it very usually is in fact, nothing like a bit of power to bring out people’s abusive side.

        4. Lenora Rose*

          I think this whole thread is getting dangerously close to fanfic.

          I also think that if the manager keeps promising something and blowing it off, the manager has NO right to hate the person who makes them fulfill their promise.

          I’m not saying they won’t, people aren’t rational, but the manager very much did this to themselves. If their entire reason for making false promises to their team is just “I personally don’t want to go” they could have arranged that all along while letting the rest of the team go, or could have used their words to explain and let the team come up with their own options.

    2. JayNay*

      I think the problem with OP3 is less whether or not this manager likes offsite team events. It’s more that the manager keeps promising the team event will happen „definitely soon“ and then doesn’t follow through on that. That’s demoralizing especially for something this team seems to really want to do.
      I would spell that out – tell the manager that you’ve been discussing this potential team meeting for months now and ask what it would take for it to happen, or whether it’s not realistic to expect at this point.
      The work angle is twofold: you spent time getting together everyone’s ability (ie started working on planning a meeting when it’s unclear whether it will happen). And secondly, when your manager says something will happen you assume it will, so it has been confusing having this up in the air for so long.
      I would really try to get closure on this in your next conversation with your manager, either by him admitting it’s not going to happen, or by setting a date so you can move forward with the plans.

      1. Tau*

        Yeah. People are in the comments saying “it’s obvious your manager doesn’t want this to happen”, and at this point it probably is! But he’s never actually said that, and dragging this out with “oh yeah I will definitely plan this for next month! Uh… the month after. No, I meant the month after. Oh gosh look at the time I guess we’ll have to do it next month after all” is just terrible for everyone involved. Especially given that OP and colleagues might need to arrange their personal lives for travel so have basically been waiting to for boss to pick a date so they can do that for… eight or nine months now?!

        A conversation to try to get closure seems like the best option, even suggesting that boss doesn’t need to attend or someone else can take over the planning if those are feasible. If boss keeps pulling the “oh no I will set a date super soon I promise!” after that, I’d seriously consider going to grand-boss – not to twist boss’s arm into something he doesn’t want to do, but just so the team can stop being in limbo.

        1. Wintermute*

          I feel like this is an important data point on the manager, and you hit it on the head.

          Sure it’s just an offsite, some people may have been enthusiastic others… decidedly less so, but it says something about the boss’ conflict style that they don’t outright cancel it they keep kicking the can down the road over and over.

        2. Cathires*

          Yeah, this would make me so frustrated as a single mom who needs TIME to plan out of town trips.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I was actually wondering if the OP could change the dialogue a bit, so instead of asking “how soon?”, they might instead rephrase it as “how frequent?” The manager can always promise that a delayed thing will happen ‘soon’, but if the queries become more about frequency, then you can talk about the delays you’ve already had this year with more purpose, and without it sounding needless and whiny. The dialogue OP wants to avoid is Q: “When are we having an offsite?” A: “Oh, very soon”, Follow up Q that isn’t a Q: “Okay but you said that last time and it’s been a year.” I would instead suggest something like: “Given that we’ve had a delay of a year planning this offsite, is there a big picture reason for that? I know we are having our first one soon, but one a year isn’t all that frequent so I wanted to know if there’s anything we can do to have them more often in the future?” Any back up ideas you can bring to the discussion, like can colleagues can make their own arrangements for smaller meet ups or collaborations if it has been delayed for a while, will also make it clear what you’re asking for: frequent in-person connections. What you don’t want is you all getting one offsite that took a year of nagging to get, and I think it’s okay to talk about the issue with frequency; at the very least they can tell you if it’s actually never going to happen.

      3. My Useless 2 Cents*

        This, manager needs to set a date or say it’s not going to happen. I really wouldn’t care one way or another but the constant delay and pushing out the date would drive me up the wall. I am definitely the kind of person who would keep Sept open in case the offsite is scheduled, then I’d have to keep Oct. open, then Dec, then, then, then, so not only would the offsite never happen but I’d feel like I couldn’t schedule vacation time either just in case.

      4. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Not to mention, the continual delays could be making it a lot harder for people to plan non-work vacations.

        1. Cathires*

          employees should definitely plan their vacations and if a work event happens to fall at the same time, so be it. That should generally be the way to function at work.

          1. Victoria Everglot*

            I would normally agree, but these particular employees *want* to attend this function and it would suck to miss out on the perk you’ve been waiting for because you happened to choose the same week they finally did.

    3. Bowserkitty*

      I feel a little silly asking this, but Google wasn’t much help; what exactly is an “off-site?” Time for the remote team to convene in person, like for a meeting or a work day in a conference area or something? Or is it more like a retreat?

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        From the context here it seems more like team building or a retreat. My company does the same but specifically in the summer months so if you’ve already got vacation somewhere you’re excused which is nice because I can’t stand events like this myself (for some remote workers it’s a reason we are remote while others still need more connection, but I get enough when I see everyone at our conferences several times a year)

      2. TechWorker*

        At my company it mostly refers to the former, although it might include some non standard work activities like a guest speaker, ‘workshops’ on topics important to the business, team building/networking events. I guess it might also be used for retreat type things, but not sure!

      3. Thistle whistle*

        Different companies do them differently, but often it’s pulling the team out of their normal routine to meet up for a day or two away from the regular worksite to “strategise” on how the team works and work on how to improve how the team works. Then there is usually some sort of team bonding activity (shudder), which can range from a meal (ok), inside activity such as a locked room mystery or laser tag (slight shudder) to some sort of outside physical activity like camping, making rafts etc (mega shudder).

        All parts are intended to make the group artificially bond and work as one. And all at the same time as your usual work is still building up back at your workstation/desk/office (and so you need to work extra hours when you get back to make up).

        It can make some teams bond, but it can fracture others as different personalities rub each other the wrong way. I think the meeting parts with the strategy bit can work well, IF it’s managed properly otherwise the extroverts in the group can often just overwhelm the introverts into silence.

        The type of bonding activity can vary, and is usually picked depending on what the person who runs it likes (so often alcohol or physical activity related), and it pretty much never suits everyone. There will usually be some who love it and some who hate it. In my experience, even if all members work together to complete the task it’s often a “fake” bonding to get them through the task and doesn’t always last too long back in the real world.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah. For a team that already works reasonably well together, it can be fun to have a day or two like this. My team’s hybrid and distributed, so our offsite development days in spring and fall are the only times when all of us actually meet up. The vast majority of the time it’s been exclusively work-related. We usually go to lunch together, but you can opt out of it if you want to. Those who travel usually have dinner together on the first day, and those at the “home office” are welcome to join them.

          Team building can be fraught sometimes. If the team already works reasonably well together, it can be fun and spark creativity for a while, but if there are tensions or interpersonal conflicts in the team, no amount of team building will help.

        2. Midpoint*

          Introverts are not sacred cows of India who can never be asked to participate in a team building activity.

        3. AlsoADHD*

          Quarterly offsites sounds way too frequent to me! I like our annual one okay (it’s exhausting but parts are fun) but it’s more strategic meetings in an office than team building thankfully. There are usually some optional social events and dinners and maybe one team building event max but each smaller team picks their own.

          1. Cathires*

            Yes, I would HATE this. I work remote (and manage remote) for a reason and everyone works so well together and having to travel to do “team building” is something that makes me cringe.

          2. Alanna*

            I’m the kind of person who likes big gatherings and strategic planning and yes, offsites, and quarterly sounds like way too much. If you’re doing an offsite every 13 weeks, you probably haven’t even had time to execute on the stuff you planned at the last offsite — plus it’s time to start planning the next one almost as soon as you’re back.

          3. The Grandboss*

            Me too. Strong no on working for a company that did this if I had other reasonable options…

        4. Jukebox Hero*

          I lead a team that plans quarterly offsites for our executive and leadership teams (anywhere from five to 11 individuals). We start the day at the same time every morning (when our business day would normally start), meet on various planning topics until the end of the (business) day, with a slightly longer lunch so folks have time to check email, etc. We plan one “fun” activity during the day hours (a one-hour guided tour of the city we’re in, for example). A gap is provided before we all convene again for dinner, and are back in our respective rooms by 7:30-8:00 PM. If any individuals want to get together after dinner, that is there choice and there is no pressure to join in. It can be done where significant work gets done, it is not over scheduled, and and yet people have the flexibility to retire to their room at specific intervals and to turn in for the night.

          This works well because the expectation is set early and reinforced often that we have to balance “on” (work) time, “fun” (activity, meals) time, and “off” time.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Minus the mandatory dinner, this is the ideal schedule for me. And I’m only uninterested in the dinner being mandatory because sometimes I’m in too much pain or too fatigued by the end of the day to keep putting on a happy face and I just want to eat alone in my room.

        5. Richard Hershberger*

          It is an extreme example, but different only in degree from any of the mandatory fun activities companies often append to their executive self-congratulation sessions.

        6. Richard Hershberger*

          Also, my original comment was not to over-schedule. The observation that not every company over-schedules in not way contradicts that comment.

        7. Rosemary*

          Personally I enjoy our quarterly offsites and don’t consider them to be “artificially bonding” – you are generalizing here.

        8. Not A Girl Boss*

          Totally agree with your take on them, shudder.
          Most recently I was forced to ask my mom to take days off work to drive me to an offsite in a dangerous, cold, generally depressing city because I have a broken leg and can’t drive but was told it was “non negotiable”.
          The ‘team building’ activities included:
          -All having to call into an unrelated mandatory call smack in the middle of when we had to be driving to the offsite, so 15+ people on a 2 hour Zoom call over cell audio while navigating unfamiliar highway driving…
          -Golfing. Real fun on a broken leg.
          -Dinner, tolerable.
          -Strategizing sessions
          -Catered lunch that had no vegetarian option whatsoever
          -Driving the 4 hours home after an 8-5 strategy meeting because we only got to book one night in the hotel

        9. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          You obviously hate such things and there’s a lot of truth in what you said. However, OP’s team is fully remote. Meeting people, seeing them in the flesh and talking with them is often the best way to smooth out wrinkles. If you see that your colleague is much older than you thought from how she writes, you might forgive her for not knowing about some minor feature of some communication app. If you get a chance to chat with Annie from Accounts, you’ll see that she is a conscientious person, and you’ll understand that if she hasn’t got round to processing your expenses, it’s because she’s getting other work heaped on her that wasn’t in her job description and that she’s never had to deal with before. People might volunteer information more easily over beers.
          Remote work is great, but meeting people in the flesh is also important. A lot of people here get curmudgeonly at the thought of having to travel anywhere or talk to anyone, but it’s important to have regular reminders that we are all people working together, the AI-powered robots haven’t replaced us yet.

      4. Dubious*

        My company’s retreats have been pretty great. Yes there’s a couple of team/dept/company-wide meetings, but they are maybe only a couple hours long, perhaps 3 if there’s an activity element. We have a choice if activities that are anything from sit and enjoy the ride, to get muddy planting stuff if you want, to check out a local museum or cultural exhibit. There are group meals, sometimes mandatory, but other meals we can go wherever we want, whether with other coworkers or solo.

        It’s a great chance to get to know my team and my other colleagues (we’re all remote), and like the LW I would be really dispirited if I didn’t have the chance to do one of these.

        —That said, I’ve also worked in places where the off-site was one extended “strategy meeting,” multiple days of torture, or where we tried to do the team building stuff and didn’t get anywhere because the higher-ups didn’t like any hint at all that their management style could possibly be causing structural problems for their employees.

        Anyhow, there’s a range in what an off-site can be.

        1. Pugetkayak*

          But…you are with your coworkers. I REALLY love working with many of my coworkers, but honestly, do not care to socialize with them at all. I want to do fun things with me family and friends and having to travel to do something like this would be a huge turnoff for me.

      5. eisa*

        Thank you ! Came here to ask the very same thing.

        The wording was terribly confusing to me in a “all remote” context.
        I get it in regular circumstances : people work together at “the site” and then they meet up “off-site”.
        With an all-remote team, such a meetup would be the “site-iest” it ever gets for them, right ?

        1. Welp*

          My all-remote team has our “off-sites” in random places, since we don’t actually have a “site.” (There is no home office/HQ.) If it’s winter, we go somewhere warm. It’s more like a team retreat than an off-site, although at past job I once went to a “retreat” that was held in the office conference room. The terms are pretty malleable.

      6. Jackalope*

        In general response to the replies to your question, it’s true that some people can find this onerous. Given that the team has four people who have all been lobbying for this to happen, though, it seems like *this* team would all welcome it (besides the boss).

        1. The Grandboss*

          I do think the OP should consider whether all four are truly lobbying for this, or if it’s just easier to agree that yes, we should have an offsite! when OP brings it up, given that they assume nothing will happen anyway. If it’s the latter, they may have some irritated coworkers if they escalate. Not a reason not to, but something to think about.

    4. Well...*

      Yup. There’s a real lean on this site against this kind of thing, but for me this would be an important perk.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        In fairness most of the stories of off-sites we hear are of the disasters because the good ones aren’t as interesting!

    5. Person from the Resume*

      The LW’s situation would annoy me so much. I would probably my be unlikely to want to attend an offsite, but I would be frustrated, annoyed, and possibly eventually angry about the plans changing every month.

      I’m a planner.

      In the beginning at least when it looked like it might happen the first few times, I’d be watching my personal calendar and adjusting my personal plans so I could travel for work, and might actually go out and purchase work appropriate clothes that fit for the weather expected.

      Of course I’m not Charlie Brown and I’d stop believing my boss about it, after he pulled the football away 3 or 4 times.

      Basically sympathy, LW. Your boss sucks. If your company actually cares about this and you actually think it would be valuable, I would spend the capital by going over your boss’s head.

      If you don’t spend that capital, though, I’d assume your boss will never make it happen, ignore his tentative dates, and don’t expect it.

      1. Sean*

        100% this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rearranged my life for a meeting or event only to have it rescheduled at the last minute. Shit happens, of course, but when you’ve got kids and you’re trying to coordinate time off with a spouse, having this much uncertainty is a royal pain. Hell, it’s a pain regardless – people deserve to know what their schedule is going to be for something that is this much of a departure from the norm.

      2. My Useless 2 Cents*

        Yes, I would have been keeping the entire year “open” so that my schedule would be free for the soon-to-be offsite and feel like I couldn’t schedule a vacation. So in essence, I’d feel like I couldn’t take any PTO for a year, which would seriously piss me off.

      3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        yes I would have conserved energy for the off site and then feel bad that I could have done more stuff.

    6. ferrina*

      I’ve been remote for 7 years, and I love having annual offsites. For 3 days a year you get to meet all the people that you constantly Slack with. It’s lovely. If the manager can’t do it because Reasons, that’s something manager needs to bring up to his boss, not just kick the can down the road.

      If I were LW, I’d be a bit sneaky. LW says boss only cares if there’s something in it for him, so I’d imply that his reputation would take a hit (I also echo other commenters- a company that builds offsites into the budget wants the offsites to happen).
      “Hey boss, It looks like other teams are starting to lap us- [Department] has already had two offsites when we haven’t had any. I think they’re starting to notice that we aren’t doing offsites- we should really pick a date for that.”
      I’d also mention to the Grandboss, but in a casual way “I’m really looking forward to the offsite! Unfortunately Manger has had trouble picking a date so we haven’t done one in over a year- I wish there was a way I could help Manager!”

      If he doesn’t respond to this, I wouldn’t push it. If Manager is bound and determined not to have an off-site, it won’t happen.

    7. Mockingjay*

      Similar story to OP3, but we got the meeting at last.

      My team is scattered up and down the east coast with our supervisor on the west coast. We’re a mix of WFH and satellite offices. We had asked and asked for an off-site meeting (actually – on site at the company HQ); we hadn’t all been in one place since before the pandemic. The request got shot down. We were extremely disappointed, especially since other teams and the C-suite have these kinds of meetings ALL THE TIME; we felt overlooked because we are considered a technical support team, which apparently didn’t have the same importance as the engineering or management teams.

      Our supervisor conveyed our dismay to upper management. Management apologized; turns out what they wanted to justify the expense was a purpose other than “we haven’t seen each other in a long time.” So Supervisor found a training course in a software tool that some of the team uses and the rest of us are supposed to learn. We did 2 1/2 days of training and filled the rest of the time with a lot of personal one-on-ones and team meetings. The interaction was wonderful and did so much for our morale, and the training was very applicable.

      So long story short, add a “purpose” to the offsite. Draft an agenda, pencil in dates, then run it by your boss. Explain the value added by having the event. It might be enough to sway him.

      1. Clisby*

        And make the “value added” something work related. No escape rooms, no competitions, no hiking, no kayaking, nothing useless like that.

    8. Unpopular opinion*

      I am a grandboss (and a great grand boss, and a great great grand boss), and have been for about 15 years. I totally, totally get why you’re disappointed. It’s totally human, and it’s real, and my advice is that you do not escalate. If this is important to you, I’d suggest looking for a position in another team if that’s at all possible. I’m going to say the unpopular thing here, because it is what I’d be thinking if you approached me about this:

      1) If the offsites are truly expected, they are either something I don’t care about (because I would have had it as an objective for your manager, and I would have asked about it in the context of hearing what my other direct reports are doing with their teams) or I know something you don’t know (your boss has a serious personal situation that makes travel currently impossible, your team is getting laid off, so why spend the money, there’s an active investigation into one of your teammates and I cannot have them in an offsite location with other staff members, your boss is on a PIP, etc.)

      2) I’m not going to tell you any of this. I’m going to act concerned, and listen closely, and figure out a solution with your manager that works with the issues above, and then make sure I’m communicating back to you so that you feel heard.

      3) I’m going to ask your boss if you are a complainer, and take note of their answer.

      4) If I think your boss is generally really great, the fact that you escalated to me about something I think is non-serious and not super related to business results gives me pause about your judgment, especially if it not universally true that “every” team goes on quarterly offsites.

      5) Based on 3 & 4, if a position opens up reporting directly to me, I am really disinclined to consider you.

      This may not be fair, but your team’s offsite issue is taking me away from the other things that landed on my desk today, which are often things like: a failing partnership that we were depending on to meet our quarterly revenue targets; a dearly beloved employee who died suddenly and left young children and didn’t ever fill out the company paid life insurance enrollment form; a customer who slipped and broke a bone at our facility; a newly promoted first time manager who was in tears in my office when I arrived this morning, etc.

      Save it for the employee survey or find a different boss if you can – I think you’ll have better results in the long term.

      1. Lucky Meas*

        Sounds like you are so busy putting out high-priority fires that you never get to the lower-priority issues. How important to you is the morale of your indirect reports?

  8. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

    LW2. A manager at a former job had a difficult pregnancy and started using a cane midway through. She deputized a few people to spread the word that, while she understood that people care about her and want to be helpful, the most helpful thing would be to not ask questions and ignore the cane. It was very helpful to know how she wanted to handle it because my upbringing is to ask.

    1. Thistle whistle*

      Has the OP told them it’s pregnancy related? I understand you don’t want to hurt the feeling of anyone who is having infertility issures, but in general people are nice and enquire about people if they see someone they know in obvious distress. It’s not being nosey, its common decency.

      Iff people understood that your problem are caused by something with a hard end date and not just ‘unspecified issues causing problems and pain’ then they might stop asking you if you are OK. I know it’s not ideal, but once people know the problem in known (and so a treatment plan is in place) they often back off. If a coworker suddenly started obviously struggling and was in pain I would feel obliged to ask them if they were OK. if I knew it was being treated and under a doctors control then I would feel like it was OK to go on with my work without the societal requirement to talk about the pain.

      Plus, if you are 4 months pregnant, you will be showing soon and so be able to explain the pain and immobility then.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Really though, once you ask and are politely brushed off, you need to stop asking. She shouldn’t have to tell you that she’s under the care of a doctor, or pregnant. Basking and a few others have suggested enlisting the office gossip to help dissuade it, and that’s a great idea. And if that misses you and you still express concern, not the biggest faux pas in the world. But once you’ve asked and answered, you need to stop pushing unless it’s causing a work problem.

      2. OP #2*

        My team does know I’m pregnant and I’ve vaguely explained the condition I’m dealing with. They’re just asking because it’s clear I’m in a lot of pain and can’t do a lot of the things I usually do and everyone else does (I can’t even walk to get coffee across campus, for example). There are two very lovely older women who I think feel really really badly for me because they had difficult pregnancies many years ago and this is bringing up memories for them.

        As another commenter suggested, the comments might be coming from a place that they feel bad I have to be in the office and trying to encourage me to “take better care of myself”, even though I feel my career will suffer if I’m not here.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I’m sorry you’re in a situation where you feel like you have to choose between your health/comfort and your career. I fully trust your assessment of the situation, and it’s all too common – but it sucks, and I’m sorry.

        2. Anonym*

          Just want to share sympathy and wish you luck in recovering. I gave birth last year and had significant nausea and then severe joint issues during pregnancy that affected my ability to walk. I stopped going in to the office even though we were expected back and low key shared that I could get a doctor’s note if needed, but they didn’t push me (we were well set up for remote work). Those issues resolved after delivery. I wish you the same!

    2. EPLawyer*

      I was going to suggest this. Alison has recommended it before. Instead of explaining to everyone when you are already worn out and exhausted, deputize someone you trust to spread the word to not ask. You know politely explain. It won’t stop the people who don’t think you mean THEM, of course, becuase they care so much, but it will cut it down some.

    3. OP #2*

      This is a good suggestion. There’s a non zero change I’ll end up in a wheelchair before the end and I’m planning to send a text to my immediate team the night before letting them know so they aren’t shocked in the moment.

      My pregnancy isn’t a secret and my immediate team knows (vaguely) the condition I’m dealing with so the questions I’m getting usually intrusive, but I’d still rather not have to pretend I’m ok 5 times a day.

  9. Queenie*

    As a parent of a neurodivergent young adult, I’ve discovered that I need to be much more explicit when providing instruction or guidance. The same may be the case for the young man in LW1. “A button down or sweater” may still not be enough because, as LW has noted, the report still comes in with holes and wrinkles in his clothes. Perhaps providing a specific visual example, like pointing out a character in a TV show or movie that depicts the sort of look you want, would help him to understand. So, “Wil Wheaton, not Sheldon Cooper”, as an idea.

    And this is definitely going beyond the normal scope of manager-report relations and possibly might be questioned as a reasonable accommodation to his disability, but if there’s any way you can arrange to accompany him on a shopping trip so you can provide feedback, that would be a true kindness.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      I think it is less about purchasing and owning appropriate clothes, and more about caring for them correctly, washing them on the right temperature, taking them right of the dryer and hanging up so they don’t wrinkle, wearing the right under shirt and/or belt and shoes. for this the poor guy needs a friend in his room helping him get ready

      1. Ellen D*

        Second that about washing shirts at the right temperature. Years ago I knew a man, who couldn’t work out why his shirts were always rumpled despite ironing them. He washed white shirts on a hot whites-wash – but hadn’t realised that for poly-cotton shirts, this washed in creased. I had to explain that he needed to look at the washing instructions and use a cooler temperature and ‘whites’ in terms of washing machines meant white linen or cotton.

      2. WellRed*

        But this helpful for OP? It’s really not their business to teach the employee about laundry.

        1. Armchair Analyst*

          right. but I think that is the problem with why the employee doesn’t look client-ready

        2. Mothman*

          No, but they could keep some Febreeze and wrinkle releaser in the bathrooms for everyone to use. Same with other basic personal care stuff, like period care supplies and headache meds. The way that raises morale in general is reason enough to do it.

      3. Random Dice*

        “for this the poor guy needs a friend in his room helping him get ready”

        Um nope, we neurodiverse folks who are able to hold down corporate jobs don’t actually need someone to help us dress (!!!!!!!!!).

        We just need the metrics to be specified, so we can make our own checklists. We’re not Martians, or incapable – we just have brain wiring that means we don’t intuit complicated rules.

        1. I have RBF*


          I’m not autistic, I’m ADHD. I still struggled with dress codes for years until I started googling lots and lots of pictures, and I knew what I was comfortable wearing or not. But it took years, and google, to finally have that actual clue. I was raised in a professional household where for most of my childhood my father wore a suit and tie to work every day. It still didn’t tell me what to wear.

          The one time I had a job that wanted “business professional, with skirts and hose for women”, I was both miserable and going broke on buying the dressy clothes they wanted. Enby wasn’t a thing back in the 80s, so since I had boobs I had to wear a skirt. It sucked.

          This stuff isn’t obvious to a lot of people, not just autistic people.

          1. Mothman*

            I worked for *one year* at a job with a dress code like that. It was a teaching job, and they still wanted “feminine professional” for us, even though best practice is to dress comfortably. We needed doctor’s notes to wear comfortable shoes!! I’m glad things have gotten better since your experience, but oh my God, gendered clothing is just freaking ridiculous in both concept and, often, execution.

    2. bamcheeks*

      … the only clothing I associate with Wil Wheaton is a Star Fleet cadet uniform?

        1. metadata minion*

          A takeaway of this whole conversation I think is “make sure the person you are talking to is actually familiar with the pop culture example you are trying to give”. I too would be baffled by an instruction to dress like Wil Wheaton since he’s a real person who presumably wears many different things in different situations and I have no idea which version of him you’re referencing.

        2. Random Dice*

          Oh right, since Wil Wheaton and Sheldon Cooper are on Big Bang together. I’m caught up now on the shorthand. :)

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        He looks really good on the Ready Room, where he interviews various Star Trek cast members about current shows. Always in a really nice suit.

      2. Random Dice*

        Wil Wheaton in Star Trek wore loud 80s sweaters on the bridge, at least the episodes I recently rewatched.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      In the case of my thirteen year old on the spectrum, what she is interested in she is very very interested. What she is not interested in, she is very very not interested. Clothes are in the second category.

      1. Random Dice*

        Lol yes.

        I had to explain that we ask friends about their interests even if they’re not interesting to us (and ask 1-2 followup questions), to show them we love them. We practice on the drive over – what does X like that you can ask them about?

    4. Midpoint*

      Arg, do not cite those awful thick-soled tennis shoes that Wil Wheaton wears on THE READY ROOM as an example of anything that should appear Ina corporate office.

      Hollywood ain’t like most places.

    5. RagingADHD*

      No, a manager has no business taking their direct report on a shopping trip and telling them what clothes to buy.

      It’s not that it “might might be questioned as a reasonable accommodation”. And it’s not a kindness.

      It’s a completely inappropriate overstep of authority, micromanaging, and infantilizing an adult. A manager is not a substitute parent and should not presume to act like one.

      A manager clearly lays out work expectations and holds an employee accountable for meeting them. If the employee needs someone to take him clothes shopping, he can ask a friend, relative, or person on his support team.

  10. Dahlia*

    For LW1, if you’re willing to go a little above and beyond, it might be worthwhile to offer to find a handful of pictures – 5 or 6, I wouldn’t go more – of the type of outfit you are talking about.

    There’s a lot of variance in “sweater”, you know? Like “smart cashmere sweater” and “ugly holiday sweater” are both sweaters. Some people are better with visuals, and it may help.

  11. Jade*

    I was badly hurt in an accident. It has greatly affected my gait. My standard answer is “hanging in there”. It is grating but people mean well.

    1. Twix*

      I have a chronic pain condition; some days I’m more or less fine, others I can barely function. My standard answer is a wry “Not dead yet”. People usually take the hint.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        Wry is key! Even “I’m here!” can come off pretty warm and collegial with the right low-energy grin. “How ’bout you?” can help, too — establishing that these are just standard office pleasantries and you want to move on to work matters.

    2. Mothman*

      I go with “well, I’m here,” in kind of a lightly dramatic sigh. There’s usually a chuckle because I think, secretly, most people feel that way as well–even if everything is allegedly fine with them. It’s not even about liking or disliking a job; it feels like an acknowledgement that we’re all just doing what we can for now.

  12. Jade*

    How about a few photos of how you would like employee to dress? It may be easier for him to understand.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      Or colleagues who look smart? “Bob always looks professional; take some cues from him. And Fergus, he’s a mate of mine and I know he finds clothes really boring, so he gets three shirts from M&S and just rotates them”.
      I don’t know if it’s a thing male/male presenting people do (and if not maybe we should normalise it) but lightweight, complimentary water cooler chat about work clothes is common ime amongst female (presenting) colleagues in my world. “Oh that’s a nice top where is it from?* or “I had such trouble at the weekend trying to find some decent leather flat shoes; where do you go?”.

      1. MerciMe*

        I appreciate very much that this is generously meant, but please do not ask the neurodivergent person to:
        a) check out their colleagues’ outfits without coming off as creepy or inappropriate, and
        b) try to intuit the dress code from what their colleagues do, and
        c) try to navigate watercooler chat about something that is not their strength, which means
        d) trying to shift the watercooler topic towards clothes without coming off as creepy and awkward.

        Nightmare. If they could do this, they’d have done it.

        Give me a list or a picture or a website on your flavor of office-core fashion, then let me hyperfocus on it for a while and just… keep me updated on how well my cosplays are blending in. Just don’t make me social-solve the problem because I will absolutely fail to normalcy.

  13. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (offsite not happening) – I think it’s unlikely that this will ever happen, sorry. Asking about it weekly is kind of a lot though.

    (Perhaps he thinks he is doing a good thing by saving costs by keep stalling you on this?)

    I think the bigger concern here isn’t the offsite itself, disappointing though that is, but whether this is part of a “pattern” with this manager. Does he often waffle and procrastinate about things that need a decision or say “yes” when he really means “no” at other times (this can be really frustrating in a boss).

    I would let the offsite go for a couple of months at least. And think about whether this is part of a pattern. It does sound like there’s a bit of history there already with regard to his management style.

    1. eloquent badger*

      There’s no reason to let the offsite go for ANOTHER couple of months. Another option of OP3 – do that spreadsheet again. Pick a week. And just go.

      1. nnn*

        It’s not likely that they have the authority to do that on their own, that would not have flown on any team I’ve worked on.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        That would go down really badly with the boss, imo. Currently they are badgering him about it weekly (I know badgering is a strong word, but that’s what it feels like) and it seems like it needs his authorisation for booking flights etc so they can’t really “just go” unless they want to be potentially on the hook for travel costs (and for going AWOL). If this is to happen at all it has to be with manager approval.

        1. JM60*

          Perhaps they can ask the boss to approve of an offsite meeting without him joining. If he’s been putting it off is because he doesn’t want to go to an offsite meeting, that may be the best option. After all, would you really want to meet your boss in-person when your boss is mad at you for pushing them to come?

          1. Scouty*

            I agree. If the boss doesn’t want to go, it may be a relief to just let the team go by themselves.

          2. Tex*

            +1 – ask your boss or your grand boss if you three employees can have an off site without manager. Again, depending on how much capital you want to expend.

            As another commenter put it, you could also ask if you can join an adjacent team.

            I would also put it out there that having this potential yes/potential no is impacting your personal as you can’t do any long range planning.

        2. Antilles*

          They can’t “just go”, no. But I do think there’s probably a way that OP3 *can* volunteer to “help” the planning, then just do all the organization/planning. So you can just drop a fully-fledged plan on his desk to just sign off and thereby remove any chance for him to delay or forget or get busy or whatever is actually happening.

          1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

            It sounds like that’s what they are already doing. “he wouldn’t have to plan any itinerary himself — he just needs to pick the date so we can be authorized to book plane tickets and hotel rooms, then we can take care of the rest”

            So really I think this is a boss who doesn’t care. I would ask if they could join another team’s outing or if they could plan it with out him coming.

        3. another Hero*

          They could propose a date though. The part about finding out when everyone is available is fine; they could take that to the boss, say everyone could make it then, and ask the boss to set that as the date. I’m not saying he will! But if the LW and their colleagues haven’t tried it yet, eliminating the cognitive load might work (even if it’s really the boss’ job to do that part)

      3. Sssssssssssssssssssssss*

        If you work for a company where all travel must be approved by your director/manager/supervisor first (and in some offices of my company, your travel request is via a completed “travel request form”) you cannot “just go.” And then your expenses – the hotel, food, taxis – would then need to be approved by the same manager for reimbursement. If he didn’t approve the trip, you could be out a lot of $$.

        But I completely understand the urge to do so.

        I would reconsider talking to your skip boss about it.

    2. Allonge*

      Totally agree about your point on bigger concerns! As disappointing as the lack of an offsite may be, if that is the only or biggest issue with the manager, it’s very tolearable, whereas if it’s just the tip of the iceberg, it’s a different issue.

      I also agree on letting it go for a bit. If boss genuinely cannot go or hates the idea, reminding him weekly is not going to change his mind.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, bringing it up weekly seems way too much.
        The bigger issue here is that the manager can’t be upfront and communicate with their team about whether or not the off-site will ever actually happen – and if not, why not. (If it’s related to an issue in the manager’s personal life, that may explain the reluctance to give a simple “nope, not going to happen this year.)
        And if it’s not going to happen, the manager should at least explain what’s going to happen with the money for travel etc.

      2. Midpoint*

        It’s a big thing if you joined the company because you view the travel as a perk.

        1. Allonge*

          Sure, but then the situation is getting closer and closer to ‘your boss sucks and is not going to change, make your plans accordingly’.

          If teambuilding/travel is a priority for OP, maybe they can try to see if there is a place for them on another team in the same org?

    3. Irish Teacher*

      Yeah, I think the issue is less the off-site itself and more the lack of clarity. To be honest, this would probably upset me even MORE if the off-site was something I really didn’t want to do because now it’s being announced for every month and it’s constantly hanging over me.

      I agree there’s probably not much point in continuing to push it, especially as it could cause friction if the manager is the type to hold it against the LW but I do think there’s a red flag here, not in terms of “he won’t agree to an off-site,” but in terms of off-sites appear to be expected? And are budgeted for and he is repeatedly promising them and then reneging on that.

    4. TechWorker*

      I find this interesting because I have definitely worked for managers (and I think there’s more than one of these at my workplace) who could procrastinate on this sort of thing indefinitely despite having no real feeling against it. It just never quite makes it to the top of list and in some sense isn’t business critical. If the manager here like this then asking the skip level manager about it might cause it to actually happen without even having any negative consequence for OP. (Even better if it can be phrased as ‘someone on your team mentioned they’re missing out on the off sites when are you scheduling’ vs bringing OP into it).

      1. not a travel agent*

        I agree with this — it could be infinite procrastination of something that seems low-priority rather than hating the idea. Also, some people are not great at planning this sort of thing. Is it clear to the manager that he doesn’t have to do the planning? Could it be made explicit to him in a conversation that as long as he approves a date, someone else can take over the travel arrangements and planning? I think there could be some benefit to a more open and thorough conversation about what’s entailed.

      2. GreenShoes*

        Honestly, this is what I think is probably happening. As much fun as the fan fic is, chances are there are just bigger things going on and this has been shoved to the backburner.

        My team used to do these quarterly and it was a pain in the butt to plan and organize. Then it was 3-4 days out of a busy schedule for a 2 day event when you count travel time. If you have a small well functioning team then it really becomes a cost/benefit type of thing and even if you do enjoy these types of things it is still really easy to push them off for whatever the disaster of the day is.

        As for budgets… yeah I have budget for this too. Now the real question is if I’m allowed to spend it! Always fun to see that team building/travel line item in my budget while being told that only business critical travel will be approved. Not so much I can do about that.

    5. DJ*

      Could LW and her colleagues suggest an offsite activity dates and go without the manager who doesn’t seem to want to go. If they book a room or venue with good hybrid meeting facilities he could zoom/MS Teams in for the work related parts. They could also include some social ie morning/afternoon tea, drinks, a lunch etc

  14. Blue*

    LW#1: Please provide a variety of visual examples. Being neurodivergent myself, visuals make it very clear what is expected. Also, be sure that the suggestions are within some normal price range, e.g. Target is more affordable and somewhat easier to shop than Macys.

    1. Silver Robin*

      Agreed on affordable suggestions and also want to plug the Macy’s sales racks! I got so many of my professional pieces from there as a college student / recent grad. Sometimes the mark downs are quite extensive too!

      1. alldogsarepuppies*

        I once got a $350 ball gown for $7.32 (including tax)! Macy’s clearance is where it’s at

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I’ve always been amazed at the selection of nice blazers, collared shirts and pants at my local thrift stores. Many even have programs specifically to help low-income individuals get professional clothing for free.

  15. Jessica*

    LW3, I don’t know if this would make any sense at all in your situation, but could the team have an offsite without the manager there? Or maybe have him remote into it as needed? I mean, if you planned a normal offsite with him and then at the last minute he got sick and couldn’t come, you wouldn’t cancel the whole thing, would you? Or if he quit and the position was vacant. How much of it is his personal presence really essential for?

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Yeah, I was wondering if it could be done without the team lead, if he’s not up for it.

  16. Tinkerbell*

    OP5, this is a VERY important question. Unfortunately there are a lot of places right now where the management isn’t all on the same page re: AI writing – often the lower-level people have some experience with it so they know it can’t replace real writers, but the higher-level C-suite just hear about how awesome and cheap it is :-\ Personally, I feel like we’re at that point between “f around” and “find out,” where companies try to cut corners by doing the hot new cheaper thing (AI) but they haven’t yet had to face the backlash from their employees and customers about the loss in quality.

    I suspect your interviewer’s answer to your well-worded question will give you a lot of insight into how seriously you can take their promises going forward. “We absolutely don’t accept AI work” is very different from “well you can’t do ENTIRELY AI, but we may ask you to ‘edit’ some pieces…” (run far away from that one!)

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Awesome and cheap: This too shall pass. We are in the ascendant portion of the hype cycle, like driverless cars c. 2015. AI writing will a part of the tool box for certain sorts of writers engaged in certain sorts of writing. There will be wackiness while clueless C-suite types figure this out, but it will happen eventually.

      1. ferrina*

        I’m waiting for the artificial intelligence that can replace the C-Suite. All you need is some machine learning on market trends, global resources and policies, and set priorities to Stakeholder. Voila! Save the company a LOT of money

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I call the chat-GPT style AI “probability parrots”. They aren’t “intelligent”, they are regurgitating words that best match the writing samples. It’s as far from creative as you can get, except for how it fabricates sources, symptoms and events. Often it reads well, but doesn’t actually make sense.

        I’m sure it can speed up writing, but it’s still on the prompts/editing to make the writing “intelligent”.

        1. Wintermute*

          yup, you’re exactly right, they’re fundamentally markov chains, they have no understanding, no contextualzation capacity and no ability to actually understand.

          One researcher asked one of the leading models what the largest cheese-powered nuclear reactor was and how many men live in the current moon bases, being given confident but completely fictitious answers.

          If you just want to chat, they’re a great chatbot, but so was ELIZA, as long as they can be trivially tricked into declaring the existence of gruyere/heavy water reactors they’re not good for much more.

    2. EatMyShortsAI*

      The powers that be at my job are already banging on about how AI will make us proposal writers “more efficient.” Efficient meaning that after we invest hours training LLMs on our corpus of work, they’ll be able to spit out passable renditions and we’ll be on the bread line.

      1. Wintermute*

        That’s never going to happen, even if perpetually optimistic techno-utopians claim it’s just around the corner.

        The problem is not an implementation detail it’s fundamental to how these things work– they’re very sophisticated parrots but they do not comprehend anything, they will gladly repeat false information as readily as true, and cannot synthesize knowledge from parts.

        And that’s a fundamental part of how they operate, it can’t be easily worked around or programmed around, they can tell you “other people said this” they can’t tell you why or actually understand any of the information.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, it’s taking advantage of the human brain’s ability to assign meaning to grammatically correct phrases, which is mostly what the probability parrot is doing. The writing seems very convincing until you realize it doesn’t actually make sense. Sometimes you’ll be paragraphs in before you say, “wait a minute, didn’t they say earlier that their father was dead?”, “that event never actually happened”, “that citation is for a scientific paper that doesn’t exist” or “the patient never actually had a bumpy rash”.

          1. Wintermute*

            They’ve gotten a LITTLE better about fact-checking but it’s still trivial to get things that are just plain nonsensical, especially if you have a confident-sounding prompt.

            in one example from researcher Janelle Shane, when she asked what was the largest nuclear reactor to ever be powered by cheese, she was assured that there was a plant in France producing gigawatts of thermal energy from gruyere. It doesn’t know enough to say “wait your premise is faulty, that doesn’t exist” because at the end of the day the expert system doesn’t actually KNOW what a “nuclear reactor” or “cheese” **IS** it just knows the kinds of things people say about them.

            machine learning systems are especially poor at begged questions; “do you still hate your wife?” sorts where the question contains an implicit assumption– in that case, that at some point you did hate your wife, and in Janelle’s queries that cheese-based nuclear reactors exist, or that there are manned moon bases currently.

      2. ferrina*

        I worked with a linguist who was working with Ivy League professors to try to make AI that could read the human voice (sentiment anaylsis). She spent countless hours trying to train the AI. She was…..not amused.

    3. EPLawyer*

      Interviewing is a two way street. OP you may believe this company would NEVER mess with AI. Or take a more so called ethical approach to it. But you don’t really know what this company will do. So pay attention to the information you receive.

      Because as noted we are in the hype cycle of AI. Someone on twitter was bragging about how many books they “written” using AI. They were extolling the virtues of AI and how it made writing soooooo much easier. Turns out they published 25 books all based off Pride and Prejudice. Self-published, of course.

      1. Wintermute*

        I’ve read some “AI-generated” fiction, and man, they give intentionally bad books like Atlanta Nights a run for their money. Characters will die, and then appear in later scenes without explanation, they will change attributes randomly. Providing the neural network with more of a memory helps somewhat, though no system currently has ever been made with a memory buffer long enough to contain all the details of a novel and remain consistent, but the problem is then they often start regurgitating long strings copied directly from the training material, which can result in a book that starts with a unique premise and then has Pride and Prejudice start word-for-word in chapter 3, run for several verbatim pages, and then randomly stop again.

      2. The Grandboss*

        Honestly, at this point, most companies don’t know what they’re going to do with AI. It’s a good question to ask to see how it is received, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer isn’t super deep.

  17. MsJaytee*

    LW1 I think the suggestion of pictures from several people is incredibly bad. It’s highly likely to come over as condescending. Just say what you actually mean.

    People often say autistic people have problems with communication. Research actually shows that problems exist in communication between autistic people and non-autistic people. It’s not just our problem.

    1. Roland*

      Why are pictures condescending? Every time I’ve been invited to an event with a dress code, I’ve looked up pictures for examples. Written explanations too, but the good ones also have many pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words and all that. “Just say what you actually mean” is much easier with visual aids sometimes.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I think it depends how it’s done. I see a difference between “if you’d like to see some examples, google x” or even “I’ve some photos here if you’d like to see a couple of examples” and printing out a page of “these are what you should wear” and another of “these are what you should not wear.” The latter could come across as a bit like what teachers do for young children who are as yet unable to read well. I’m sure some people would be just fine with it, but others, especially if they have been patronised to or treated as incompetent in the past (which is possible in his case, given his neurodivergence and learning difficulties) might see it as another example of that, even though it obviously isn’t intended that way. So I’d be inclined to ask before bringing out photos.

      2. STAT!*

        At least two self-described neuro-spicy people in this thread have said they find the idea of pictures condescending/ infantilising. Meanwhile, another neurodivergent person has actually encouraged the OP to use pictures! What to do?

        FWIW, my suggestion is that the OP asks the employee whether he thinks he would find pictures helpful, both for what to wear & how not to dress. If so, the OP & employee could experiment together with that communication mode. If pictures don’t work out for the employee, then they can both move onto trying something else.

    2. allathian*

      Like everyone else, autistic people are individuals, and I say this as an NT person. Some would no doubt find the pictures condescending while others would find them extremely helpful. There’s no one size fits all, and IMO the best thing the LW could do would be to ask the employee if they need more specific information, such as photos.

      But the LW definitely needs to do something else to get the autistic employee to follow the dress code.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      It’s not just an issue for autistics; I agree that it’s a problem for everyone: that’s why people are saying visuals would have been a real help to everyone in this position! Accommodations are like that though; they usually help more than the people in most need. Ramps and elevators instead of steps and stairs help everyone, clear dyslexic friendly font helps everyone, organisational tools help everyone etc. The OP is trying not to be patronising, but all that is required there is to check with her report what level of detail they need, or which would be helpful before supplying it.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I don’t think it’s an issue for OP herself, who is the sort of boss I’d loved to have had when I first started working in a similar kind of firm, except it was 20 years ago and autism in working adults was something just beginning to be more understood. It’s just that the suggestion from someone who works with autistic kids might not actually know how to approach an autistic adult who has cleared several significant hurdles (school, university or college, quite a rigorous job search and recruitment process) to employment with a good firm on his own terms. I accomplished that, but what sunk me in my first job was not being able to articulate why my stamina was shot to pieces while others thrived, and not having the support I would definitely have now in OP’s employee’s situation.

        From experience like that if you’d come at me with pictures as if I was still 7, it would have felt a bit crappy — and even then as an actual 7 year old, my misinterpretation of the school uniform dress code lead to things being clarified significantly…and no pictures needed to be involved. My parents made sure I was correctly dressed and I never wore my pink bunny PJs outside the house again…(I’m not sure how that happened, but both my parents worked and I must have convinced our au pair that it was ok.)

        So that’s why some of us were rubbed up the wrong way by the suggestion of a visual learning process. Even as children we could be easily told what was ok and what wasn’t. There’s this pervasive perception here that all neurodivergent people are Special and Fragile and you need to be careful around us and use pictures so we can understand and can’t be asked to confirm and so on. We’re not. We’re really, really not. We’re functional adults who might need some understanding of a particular handicap we have in order to integrate us into the workplace better and be able to show our full potential. Things that were once rather daunting for me — moreso than for others — are second nature through having to engage with them as a reality. I don’t want it to be a ‘don’t mention the war’ situation where I’m unknowingly presenting badly, but I’m not averse to simply being told how things are and working with that situation, and I’m not, as I said, 6 and need to be shown pictures and check marks as if I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong.

        So that’s why people got a bit offended. We need more help, certainly, to understand and absorb some things that come easier to others, but I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of the bad and infantilising advice on this thread and all it did was hinder my ability to accept who I was and build my independent life. From stressful, exhausting experience, being treated as an adult is something I’ve had to earn the hard way, and so I’m just asking others not to make that kind of error for a person who has actually achieved an awful lot already and just needs a few direct signposts in the right direction.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Thank you. I agree that it could feel weird to be like, “Oh, Joe, I bet you need pictures to figure this out,” but it would be super helpful for a lot of new employees to see the dress code laid out visually!

        I have worked at at least one place where they did this, and it was helpful! Especially when it’s “business casual,” because that can mean basically anything.

    4. Higgs Bison*

      Take pictures. Place in employee handbook. Say “if you’d like examples, look in the employee handbook.” Then you have the resource available to anyone who wants it but you’re not condescending to anyone beyond the level that training videos on harassment or IT security do.

      1. Lana Kane*

        Exactly. Put it in the handbook and then it’s the same for everyone. It’s good for everyone, as we all learn differently.

        1. I have RBF*


          People learn differently. Text, audio, visual, or a combination of any of those.

          Providing information in multiple learning modes is helpful to lots of people.

    5. Delta Delta*

      I was thinking if there are other men working in the organization it would be easier to tell the employee to observe how they dress, and to pick outfits like that. And to be clear that professional dress means clean and not wrinkled and with no holes.

    6. Lab Boss*

      My first mental image was of OP showing the employee photos cut out from magazines and it did feel very kindergarten-ish and condescending. Then I saw another commenter mention the idea of it being part of a more standardized presentation and it clicked for me. I think the keys to not making it seem condescending are to 1) make it professional rather than silly (like a powerpoint or PDF with nice stock images), and 2) make it available to all employees, maybe even part of standard new hire training. I’m sure there’s plenty of people new to the company or industry who would love that level of specificity, regardless of their neurotypical/neurodivergent status.

    7. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I am neurotypical, and I LOOOOVE pictures. Pictures for EVERY DANG THING. Literally – I say at work: “Tell me what it looks like,” when someone gives me a new idea. There are no gray areas with pictures.

      Saying “what you actually mean” is nearly impossible because of the way language works. My version of not-wrinkled-enough-for-work and yours are probably different. My “undershirt” might be a bright pink graphic T where you mean a standard white Hanes T. Pictures are good.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I feel the same way about pictures not being inherently problematic, but I have read comments from autistic people on this comment section that disagree. And I think part of the reason might be that as someone who wasn’t diagnosed with autism, we haven’t had the same experiences of being condescended to with photo examples in the past. Given that people here have explained that pictures can have gray areas depending on how your brain processes the information and given that people like the one LW manages have experienced picture examples very differently, I think I would like to go back and say that I think LW should skip the pictures unless employee wants them.

    8. LB33*

      I could see it coming across as condescending if it’s presented in a “Goofus and Gallant” way, but on the other hand if the employee is having trouble understanding what’s required, photos in general seem like a good solution

    9. chocolate lover*

      I’m neurotypical, but I was also first generation college and my dad worked in manual labor. I would have LOVED photo examples as I adjusted to a professional work place. Especially since since at the time, the internet was still a new thing and wasn’t available on every computer at my new job. I had to reserve specific machines in our library if I wanted to search something.

    10. Some words*

      When we were all in the office we received the dress code as part of our onboarding. About once a year we’d get an email that included visual examples. Some people would push the envelope further and further until management had to remind staff what was, and wasn’t acceptable attire.

      There are always people who have to be reminded that fuzzy slippers, jogging suits or visible ass-crack/underwear were not acceptable in a corporate office in a conservative industry. Is this infantilizing? I can’t say, but I appreciated the results.

    11. AlsoADHD*

      It’s not that pictures in a dress code would be bad either (I’m fine with that and my company has those) but the way people are suggesting sharing and using pictures is infantalizing in many cases, and if LW isn’t even confident discussing this clearly, it would be bad to add that element as a just for them thing immediately. They could ask if it would be helpful maybe if the employee seems confused but it sounds like the expectation shirts be ironed and cover chest hair with techniques such as an undershirt hasn’t been explained and those don’t need pictures.

      1. Dahlia*

        Ngl I am finding it amusing that the neurotypicals are the ones struggling with the nuance between “Hey, Joe, if you want, I can email you a few example pictures to give you an idea of what we’re looking for,” and “Hey, Joe, I printed out pictures of shirts with holes with a big red X over them to say they’re not okay.”

        Usually we’re the ones who aren’t supposed to be able to read tone!

    12. Observer*

      LW1 I think the suggestion of pictures from several people is incredibly bad. It’s highly likely to come over as condescending. Just say what you actually mean.

      You may not find pictures useful, but I think you are an outlier. When you are talking about appearance, pictures will always trump words about the the subject for the vast majority of people, autistic or not.

      Keep in mind that a very wide spectrum of people, ranging from on the spectrum themselves, to living / working with people on the spectrum, through to people who have done this for *all* of their new employees, autistic or not. And in fact a number of people have actually suggested that this could be a good catalyst for creating something like this in the OP’s company for all new hires.

    13. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I need to make this point about literacy: lots of people can read “okay”, but people who are active in an internet community can usually read “well”. So, AAM commentors are highly literate and it’s really hard for highly literate people to realize that not everyone is the same. This has nothing to do with neurotypicality, I promise. But this is why “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

  18. ChrisZ*

    OP 3, what’s going on with the budget here? I am rather cynical about these things and perhaps tend to be far too suspicious, but if every team has a budget for these get-together things, and seemingly a pretty generous one that covers airfare and hotels for Three Times a Year (!) what is your manager doing with this money??? I would absolutely stop wasting any time asking Manager about this, and just “innocently” inquire of someone over Manager’s head if things aren’t going well in your section and should you be worried because your section has already missed out on two quarterly “treats” and that’s usually the type of stuff that gets canceled if there’s a budget problem… is everything OK? (And put your best worried face on during this convo)

    1. Varthema*

      In my company the managers don’t actually HAVE the money that’s in the budget? If budget goes unused it…just goes unused. Unless the manager is documenting expenses disguised as off-site, which would be weird because off-sites seem to be pretty publicly advertised.

      1. Madame Arcati*

        Indeed, and from what I know of budgets if it goes unused it might not be granted the following year. Even more impetus for OP to chase it up.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        This. It’s not as if the money were sitting in a cash box in the manager’s office.

    2. Truth Bomb*

      This is a ridiculous answer. For accounting and tax reasons managers have a budget with predetermined line items they can pull against – it’s not a pot of money they can randomly access. I’d be more concerned that if you don’t use it this year the fund earmarked for off-sites will be reduced or eliminated next year. Maybe that’s what the manager wants.

  19. Troi*

    I want to point out how kind it is for OP 2 to be also motivated to show consideration for her coworker going through infertility when limiting pregnancy talk in the office. From experience, I know how excruciating it is to be in a position where you are going through your own pain and grief on a topic only to not be able to escape it at work.

    I finally got pregnant after many years of trying, and I am so, so careful to be low key about it because I don’t know who is hurting right now in my work circle and I want to do my part to be respectful.

    1. allathian*

      Congrats on your pregnancy. I wish you a trouble-free pregnancy and birth, and I also hope that you have people in your social circle that you can celebrate your pregnancy with.

  20. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW1, in addition to the comments you’ve had about how to coach your employee, I’d love you to spend a moment noticing how well he appears to take feedback when it’s clear and direct. You told him to wear a collar/buttons shirt, and he wore one. I’m confident this is a pattern you’re seeing across his work.

    This is why it’s a kindness for you to speak to him when he does get stuff wrong.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I should add: if he gets it right, say so, and say why.

      “You came to the client meeting in a clean, ironed dress shirt with your hair neatly brushed. That was exactly right.”

      He might then mentally label that shirt as the client meeting shirt, and feel confident wearing it again, so you might see it a lot, but he’ll be right every time.

      I’m autistic (but no LDs) and this is how I keep myself sartorially safe.

    2. Zarniwoop*

      And it’s really pretty simple – just tell him right away whenever something isn’t right. Yes it feels weird to you, but it seems to work in this non typical case.

    3. Random Dice*

      Agreed! This guy is clearly very motivated to fit the brief. More details in the brief will get more compliance. Just be kind and respectfully matter-of-fact.

  21. Mangled metaphor*

    OP2, do you have a work bestie you can recruit, along with your manager, to make use of a unique factor in in-office working: the grapevine?
    “Ask me in 5 months”, “hanging in there”, “living the dream”, and all the other non-answers are both unsatisfying (not that you are under any obligation to satisfy!) and deeply grating to *say* 20-30 times a month/week/day (delete as applicable). You need a couple of people on your side – one could be your manager to handle the rest of your team, and someone else you trust who can run interference with external enquiries.
    Gossip is so often seen as a bad thing, but as long as they stick to the absolute facts (OP2 is doing as well as can be expected and is looking forward to spamming you with baby pictures in 5-6 months! – again delete as appropriate) it can be weaponised for good.

    Hang in there! (ugh, sorry!)

  22. Junior Dev*

    RE: OP 1, I’m neurodivergent and some of the suggestions people have to approach this that are being presented as “direct” are still too vague and indirect, in my opinion.

    I think I would find a bunch of pictures confusing if I were in this position; I would much rather have some clear guidance on the things I specifically needed to do differently. One of my biggest struggles early in my career was managers being very indirect when giving instructions on what I needed to change, so that I understood I was doing something wrong but could not get them to tell me what I needed to do differently.

    There are too many variables that you’d see in pictures and often the easiest ones to find will be of celebrities or models who are conventionally attractive, have very expensive clothes, have people doing their makeup and airbrushing them, etc. Instead of a sheet of pictures I think it would be kindest and most helpful to say “I am glad you’re wearing shirts with collars but I also need you to check that they don’t have any holes or stains, and either iron them or find some other way to avoid wrinkles.” I agree with the suggestion to recommend specific stores that sell the appropriate clothes.

    Pictures would be more helpful if they had the wrong *type* of clothing but it sounds like the clothes they’re wearing are the correct kinds, but they’re old and worn, or not properly maintained/washed/ironed.

    Basically it’s the same model as any other work feedback: name and give them credit for what they’re doing right, and lay out the specific actions they need to take to fix it.

    1. Zzz*

      I was about to reply something similar; the advice of “just use visuals” (and occasional “trust me I’m ND” – because every ND person is the same, apparently) in other replies won’t work well for the share of people who either don’t do well with visuals at all or can’t parse/synthesize the correct information without a lot of guidance. (If you show a wrinkled white shirt over pleated trousers and a crisp cream shirt over flat fronts, what should they pay attention to: the colour, ironing, pleats? all of the above? or something entirely different?) Or can’t generalise traits of those shirts to other shirts.

      Visuals may work for some. Other people may like explit verbal instructions (oral (with them taking notes?) or written) or a combination.

      I don’t mean this in a “not everyone can eat sandwiches” way – just that “using visuals for an autistic person because someone said that autistic people learn best like that” is not the best choice: use visuals if that works best for *this one specific (autistic) employee*. You can ask in advance, or have something prepared and be ready to adapt during the meeting.

      A lot of autistic, ABI and other ND people have been confused or harmed by an insistence on providing information mainly in a visual format. Thanks, Temple Grandin. I know you meant no harm…

      1. Random Dice*

        Thanks this is helpful! I’m taking mental notes.

        -ND mom raising an autistic kid

        1. Zzz*

          You’re welcome/thanks for wanting to learn!

          I’m born autistic and later got a brain injury – originally visual information was sometimes helpful (esp a combination with verbal, like diagrams and flowcharts) but often it mainly added superfluous information that confused the issue, and would simultaneously contain too little of the useful or necessary information. (I was very visual, though: if you showed me an outfit, I could likely pick it out at the store. )

          Since the ABI the only thing I can do with visuals is turn it into words, provided it’s reasonably easy to describe.

          Temple Grandin, an influential highly visual autistic person, thought that all autistics were similarly visually inclined and spread that message, which unfortunately a lot of people (parents, teachers, support workers) believed over the protests of people who were saying it didn’t work for them. She’s since come to believe differently – I’ll post a link below.

      2. Observer*

        the advice of “just use visuals”

        I don’t think that the advice was that. Most of the descriptions of what has been used in people’s workplaces seems to have been of pictures + text.

        Which makes sense. Because when dealing with discussion of appearance (which is primarily what dress code winds up being about), pure text rarely works. But, it’s also true that JUST pictures rarely work either.

        To be honest if someone told me that they were just going to give a bunch of pictures to someone without any text, then even if they were planning on giving it to someone who is known to be a very visual type, I would want to know why no text? Do they not know English? Then get someone to translate. Can they not read? Because JUST pictures just generally doesn’t work any more than just text.

        We have language and means to write words for a reason.

    2. misspiggy*

      Great comment. I wonder whether managers find it difficult to express what’s not right in this type of situation. If you’re… typical, you probably haven’t had to consciously think about this stuff much. You might be likely to automatically follow various social rules without necessarily being able to articulate what they are.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yes! In particular I think LW should tell him when he’s doing something right. “This outfit you have on is perfect for client meetings.” Some of us neurospicies would then reuse that outfit for EVERY client meeting, but also we would never be incorrectly dressed for a client meeting again.

      1. Jessen*

        I think a lot of neurotypical men do that anyway. Or at most have a couple of very slight variations on the same thing.

    4. Happy meal with extra happy*

      Yeah. I think this is why it comes down to naming the problem and asking if the employee thinks there would be anything particularly helpful in figuring out how to solve it.

  23. anon24*

    I’m in my 30s, not autistic, been reading this blog since 2016, and still have absolutely no clue what business casual is. Every job except my last one I’ve had a uniform, and my last one was a retail job where it was supposed to be business casual but I just wore black jeans and a black t shirt every day and I only stayed there a few months and the other employees dress varied wildly enough that I still don’t know what it is.

    I so appreciated when my one job asked for business casual dress during orientation week and specified what that meant for them down to requesting no jeans, no logoed t shirts, and a whole other list of do’s and don’ts. On the surface it could come across as over the top, but their audience was employees used to wearing a uniform and they knew it. Honestly just having it spelled out in detail what I could and couldn’t wear took so much stress out of my life. I know I’m in the minority, but I will always prefer a uniform. Give me a nice polo shirt and let me wear jeans or nice fitting pants and I am a happy employee.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Also, I feel like everyone who uses it means something different! I started a job after coming from two very formal workplaces. My new boss said the office was business casual, so I wore the same outfit I would have worn at my previous job, just without the suit jacket (skirt, blouse, hose, dress shoes).

      She was wearing a T-shirt, khaki capri pants with cargo pockets and Converse-style sneakers. Clearly her “business casual” definition and mine diverged wildly.

  24. Varthema*

    The only problem with OP5’s last question is that I’m not sure there are tools yet to screen AI-written submissions, and, absent more info about this submission process (are they talking about the other job candidates), I wonder why that would be necessary if the quality is good?

    Also, I know they included the caveat that “AI isn’t going anywhere” but…it’s really not, and it’s not just short-sighted CEOs and tech bros who are REALLY interested in exploring how to best harness it, right now, so avoiding companies who hedge on this front may unfortunately be a good way to end up turning away from a lot of jobs, only to find the job you do take starting to employ AI as well just a couple years (or months) down the road.

    I’d recommend asking more about HOW they plan to integrate AI (not if) and dig around in follow-up questions about efficiency metrics (since editing AI can be more efficient in some cases but much less in others) and quality controls, and how use of AI will make human work better rather than simply replace it. If they seem to wave that kind of thing off, THAT’S what I’d run away from.

    1. No name please*

      This was my thought, too. AI is the kind of technology that is controversial, so first, I really don’t see most companies being completely transparent about their plans to integrate AI with the OP that they probably wouldn’t want their regular employees to know yet, and second, the hiring manager may not be in the position to know what the C-suite has decided about AI.

      The best defense may be to master additional niche skills for the time being. None of us really can predict what will happen in regards to AI.

      1. Varthema*

        Yes. It feels a little bit like a newspaper artist in the 1800s wanting to stay away from newspapers that don’t use photography.

        1. BubbleTea*

          Except that photography was an improvement, in terms of being able to capture detail accurately, and AI writing is definitely worse.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        We are at the stage in the hype cycle where some people think you can type in a few words for a prompt and get a finished product back, no additional human interaction necessary. I eagerly await the stories of companies that do this, only to later discover that they sent out unvetted text that turns out to be legally binding. It will be hilarious!

        1. Riot Grrrl*

          This is right. I think people widely misunderstand and will therefore widely misuse these tools, undoubtedly to hilarious (or dangerous) results.

          However, I don’t think we can overlook that some companies will use the tools in more careful or more conscientious ways, so I think we should be cautious about rejecting the technologies out of hand.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            It clearly can be useful to some people for some sorts of writing. If you have trouble outlining how your writing will be organized, ChatGPT can give a solidly mediocre first go at it. Similarly with first drafts.

        2. Single Noun*

          There’s already been a headline about a college that sent out a nonsensical AI-written condolence email after a school shooting…

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Tools to detect AI exist, but it is not clear that they actually work. There was a story just a couple of days ago about a professor who failed his entire class, accusing them to turning in AI-written papers. Wackiness ensued.

      1. bamcheeks*

        There are some absolutely wild stories of academics and teachers putting the text into one of the AI tools, asking if the AI wrote it, and just — believing the answer? Honestly the most fascinating thing about AI is not what it actually can and can’t do but what people think it can do.

        1. triss merigold*

          Yeah, it makes me wonder if it would be worth pushing to stop calling it artificial intelligence, because it’s definitely not. It’s not even really a virtual intelligence by sci-fi standards–it’s a predictive text model! Maybe people would be less likely to think it can do things that it can’t if we called it that. Or maybe not, maybe the cat’s very much out of the bag.

        2. Tinkerbell*

          AI is great for confidently giving you a plausible answer to your question. It’s not necessarily the RIGHT answer, or even the best answer, but it looks like one if you don’t question it. That’s great for some questions – the “I need to know what other people have written about X” – but much less great for generating new content.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            This. I am taking a break from baseball history, instead currently writing a paper on an abstruse point of American Lutheran church history involving a guy who is well known in a slightly different context, arguing that he is important in this corner of history as well. On a lark, I ran the topic through an AI, giving a shorter word count because life is short, just to see what it would spit out. The outline of the paper is OK: not great, not terrible. The biographical facts of this guy are competently laid out, though without any context showing why they matter. Then it devolves into hand-waving BS, of the sort produced by a sleep-deprived undergrad the night before the paper is due. This did not surprise me, in that I have something new to say on the subject, but the AI failed to pick up on even straightforward material available on the internet. It tends to be in books and papers published as pdfs. I suspect the software can’t see that.

            I can see someone who is bad at outlining getting value from this, but that is about it.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Were you using chatgpt or bard or something else? gpt, unless you have the paid version, cannot access the internet at all. It only “knows” what was fed to it prior to Sept 2021. And the paid version only got web browsing a week ago, and some people haven’t received that update yet, as it’s automatically rolling out in a batches.

    3. OP5*

      I didn’t specify in the original email for reasons, but the position is with a small book publisher, and therefore use of AI in submissions and in marketing is an absolute deal breaker for me, because to me it undermines the work we’d be doing.

      I’m less concerned with them specifically screening out AI, and more “hey what policies are you putting in place for someone submitting a work that used it obviously,” because it’s starting to happen already.

      1. Tinkerbell*

        Short-length publishers (like poetry and SF magazines) have been hit first and hardest by this, since AI can’t carry a plot through a novel-length work well, but that doesn’t mean people don’t try. I’ve heard of some publishers blacklisting “authors” who submit AI-written work – I’m 100% behind that, because at the end of the day they’re the ones having to swear they own the copyright to their work and you’re the one having to waste your time wading through a bunch of middle-of-the-road drek to get to something worth publishing. The good side is, a publishing company is much less likely to expect YOU to use AI in your daily job!

      2. Delphine*

        I can tell you as someone who works at a small pub. company that our position is that we treat it like plagiarism in all instances when it’s obvious…but does that mean we can catch it as effectively? No. I can recognize when an author is likely supplementing their work with AI, but I can’t provide direct evidence. There’s no obvious copy/pasting. I can’t get ChatGPT to replicate the text I suspect is being copied.

  25. Gotta work*

    LW3 – what if you proposed to your boss as a team that all of you would get together without him, here’s your agenda and date, and just made it happen? That’s honestly what I would do in my workplace.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      I was coming to suggest this too. Would it be OK with your boss and company if your team went on the offsite without the boss? Maybe like someone else suggested, he could remote in, or maybe someone else could lead the activities.
      Since your company gives everyone a budget for these offsites, it must be important to them. So if necessary you could get their approval, even if the boss doesn’t want to do it.
      Also, since it’s apparently important to your company, your boss’ manager should be informed that he’s doing this.

    2. Looper*

      This was going to be my suggestion. Plan the whole thing without him, be clear about how disappointing it is to not have done an off-site, and then say “here’s what we have planned, can you approve us to do this even if you don’t attend?” and see what he says.

  26. Madame Arcati*

    I have to ask about undershirts (or vests as I’d call them). Are they a thing men are expected to wear in the US? Not thermals in very cold weather or winter sports, but in the professional context we are discussing. For me they fall squarely in the old man wardrobe – the only adult I can think of wearing a vest is my grandad, and he died twenty years ago. Up there with huge Y-fronts, Argyle sleeveless knitted sweaters, and grey slip-on shoes. Splash of Old Spice and a comb-over and we’re all set to play bowls!

    1. Timothy (TRiG)*

      A lot of people (here in Ireland) do seem to wear a t-shirt under a shirt. I could never: I’d melt. I don’t cope well with heat. (But then, I was wearing shorts and t-shirt to the office long before the pandemic. From the moment I found I could get away with it, I gave up on long trousers. These days, if I’m wearing anything that covers my knees, there must be ice on the ground.)

      1. The Rural Juror*

        A lot of folks where I live in the southern part of the US wear tshirts as undershirts because it helps them keep from sweating through a dress shirt. It’s hot and humid here, so having an absorbent layer underneath is a great first line of defense.

    2. TechWorker*

      Yea I was a bit confused by that detail too – like is he not buttoning his shirt up and you can see chest hair? Or is the complaint that his shirt is thin and you can see hair through it? (Which.. can’t say I’ve ever noticed on a man and I’m pretty sure no-one here wears undershirts..)

      1. Another Teacher*

        The question does say he’s showing a lot of chest hair — though it doesn’t specify whether it’s a buttoning issue or a see through issue. I have definitely noticed that there are particular types of button down shirts that in the right light/chest hair combo can become essentially see through. I have a friend who can’t wear white shirts for this reason — his dark chest hair shows up VERY visibly, and especially on zoom for some reason.

      2. Starbuck*

        I’ve definitely noticed it before; some of these button downs are clearly meant to have an undershirt worn beneath. It’s also a good way to protect your nicer shirts from pit/deodorant stains, which I am plagued by, and lengthen the time you can go between washes.

    3. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      Some shirts, especially white or light blue ones, and more so if they are of a thinner fabric, are basically see-through. Most men I know – not in the US – wear a vest underneath those. Or they avoid white/light blue shirts and go for dark blue, grey, …

    4. Drag0nfly*

      See, this is why pictures matter. I would never in a million years equate a vest to an undershirt, because vests are worn *over* one’s shirt, and are often formal. Over those a man would put a blazer or sport coat or tuxedo jacket; for men they’re a component of suits. Other times, they’re puffy outwear used in lieu of a jacket or coat. These are vests,


      An undershirt is a T-shirt, or a type of tank top referred to as “a wife-beater.” I had to have that last one explained to me in college; apparently it’s based on the tank tops worn by tv characters who beat their wives. Teenage girls wear them, too, so the name is not meant to be taken literally.

      1. BubbleTea*

        In British English, the word vest refers to a garment worn under the shirt. What you’re talking about is a waistcoat. (This is another example of why more detail is better in dress codes!)

    5. Lab Boss*

      I don’t know how universal in the US this is, but at least in my region it’s considered unusual for anyone of any gender to have visible nipples (either seeing the color through a light colored shirt, or seeing the shape through thin/tight fabric). An undershirt/vest adds a layer to limit that for those who don’t wear a bra.

      (And yes I know the body is natural and people can wear what they want, and yes I know that not everyone cares about nipples- it’s just a general regional cultural norm, not a cardinal sin or a universal moral standard).

    6. Lacey*

      My husband always wears an undershirt with button-up shirts. But, if it’s just a polo or t-shirt, no, that’s the shirt.

    7. Merrie*

      My husband said he thinks it depends on the climate and how likely the guy is to sweat, because nobody wants to visibly sweat through his shirt or stain it. Here in the American Midwest, I think undershirts are pretty common. You can get them in multipacks anywhere that sells men’s clothes.

    8. Generic Username*

      Gen-Xer here: I always wear undershirts with dress shirts and even casual button-front shirts – even in warm weather. Guess I picked up the habit from my father, a military officer where undershirts are part of the uniform requirements. (I can always tell when movie costumers mess up and have their actors in Class B uniform shirts with out a crew-neck -shirt underneath.) I like how the t-shirt soaks up the sweat and protects the armpit-area of the dress shirt from both underarm sweat and deodorant/anti-perspirant stains. I’m so used to it, that I’ll wear graphic t-shirts under dark-fabric button-up shirts if I’m behind in my laundry.

      1. bamcheeks*

        That’s absolutely fascinating– I’m not much of an expert on menswear but I don’t think that’s an expectation in either the armed forces or civilian dress in the UK. If anything, I think it’s the opposite– a tshirt collar visible under a shirt is a more casual look than an open neck. It’s something I’ve noticed my 78-year-old father has started to wear since he retired and got a bit more casual and a bit more bothered by the cold.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          UK, and agreed. It would be seen as hopelessly old-fashioned, or possibly childish (only little children and old men wear a vest under their shirt).

          But it’s very unusual here to expect to get sweaty whilst wearing a “dress” shirt so I can see why norms would have developed differently.

    9. Nonke John*

      Whether undershirts are expected depends on your US industry and region. But a lot of this is just the way the same things can look pleasantly mellow and easygoing on one person and blowsy or unkempt on another. I suspect that if the LW’s employee were keeping his hair trimmed and combed and wearing a clean, smooth shirt that fit, with only one or two buttons open, the chest hair wouldn’t be a problem.

      That said, I have heavy, dark chest hair and pale skin (a Carole Jackson high-contrast autumn), so if I’m wearing a light-colored shirt that’s at all translucent, I need something under it. I think an obvious undershirt looks dumb–as if I’d forgotten to put on my tie–so I either wear a colored crewneck or wear a deep V-neck that doesn’t show at all around the shirt opening. LW’s employee probably doesn’t want to think that hard about this stuff, though.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I don’t think I’ve seen a man’s chest hair in the office literally ever.

    10. Eldritch Office Worker*

      My husband and male coworkers typically wear tshirts under their button up shirts, but in the summer some people will wear a white tank top instead. Especially if the button up is short sleeved.

    11. TX_Trucker*

      I would say it’s very common in the USA for men to wear undershirts under button down shirts. Even my mechanics whose have a dark uniform with zero chance of visible chest hair or nipples still wear undershirts. If you work in a hot climate, it’s common for both men and women to wear undershirts – either to absorb sweat (cotton) or to wick it away (polyester).

    12. UKDancer*

      I think the last time this was discussed it was more common in the US and old fashioned in the UK.

      My grandfather always wore one but he lived in a non centrally heated house and worked in an open sided factory shed. My father ran warmer and worked in an office so he never wore one. None of the men I’ve dated wore them (mainly white collar or academia). So I definitely think they’re an older man thing in the UK.

      Obviously some of it may be a temperature thing and some a fashion thing.

      1. Starbuck*

        Such an interesting difference, I can’t really think of any other ways that we’re doing things in the US style-wise that are considered “old fashioned” in the UK! It seems our reputation as a country is very casual when it comes to dress, compared to most of Europe anyway.

    13. Critical Rolls*

      I’d think mostly with button-down shirts, for the reasons mentioned of sweat absorption and preventing a see-through effect on lighter colors, which can be quite thin.

  27. eisa*

    # LW3 :
    Has the manager been known to do any business travel at all ? Has he met anybody from your company in person ?
    Because it sort of sounds that he absolutely does not want to a) leave his current location or b) physically meet people, but neither does he want to disclose that.
    (like, can’t take the time off from his second full-time job; nifty alien technology can hide his four heads and green skin on video calls no prob, but isn’t advanced enough for in-person, .. or other, more plausible reasons.)

    I’d talk to grandboss if I were you. Your manager is dropping the ball and as Alison often says .. his manager will want to know that.

  28. SimpleAutie*

    LW1: I’m both autistic and used to spend my work life coaching people with disabilities to find and keep work. I promise its a far less awkward conversation on our side to be told clearly what the expectation is than to know its still wrong *somehow* even if we’re following the exact instructions we were given.

    Here is a script:

    While I appreciate that you’ve taken the feedback about what to wear, I realize I need to be more explicit in my instruction. A “business casual” appearance, for this office, means more on the business end of things. Your clothes should be neatly pressed. Your shirts should have a collar that lays flat and should be buttoned up to the top button. You should have about a fingers width of room between the collar and your neck. You can wear a solid colored sweater that fits closely over the shirt if you choose. Any shirt you wear should fit comfortably enough for you to stretch without it being baggy. They should be free of stains, wrinkles, tears, or holes. You should pair them with solid color slacks and those should also be neatly pressed and without holes, tears, or stains.

  29. Bunny*

    Hi, I am am neurodivergent. I am a woman. I was diagnosed well into my professional life. I did not understand why everyone else got a secret book about life and I did not.

    I wear black almost every day. It’s professional, it’s a signature, it MATCHES, it doesn’t show stains. I have learned it is okay to have a “uniform” for work, a few outfits I swap out. I find a black shirt I like, I buy 5 of them. I am the Johnny Cash of my circle.

    For a very long time, I had very little money. Cheap black t shirts can be very professional AND comfortable under a blazer from Goodwill.

    I am a woman, BTW, in my 40s, and VERY FUSSY about what I wear, likely due to sensory issues.

    Feel free to show this to your colleague, and tell him my heart is with him. Please tell him no one is making fun or shaming him. You neurotypicals are very hard to figure out. :)

    1. Random Dice*

      Choosing a color (or a few colors) is so freeing, and looks very intentional.

      I had a coworker who wore purple, almost exclusively. It was her thing. She was able to invest in some real quality pieces (I remember a killer pair of purple pumps) and because it was all purple she could wear the same things over and over without it seeming one-note.

      I don’t have that discipline, but I made a decision a long time ago only to buy/make clothes & accessories in shades that made me happy and flattered my coloring, and only in 4 colors. Having only a few colors (in specific shades, ie lemon yellow not mustard) makes it SO easy to be coordinated and pulled together, to a degree that looks like a lot of work (but isn’t). I buy belts from eBay and paint them in my colors, and shoes as well, so I don’t have to wait for my exact colors to show up, and be comfy etc.

      When I get dressed, I pull on a dress, choose accessories in one of my colors – belt, earrings, shoes – and I’m done. Super coordinated and easy, looks polished.

    2. I have RBF*

      I adopted a business casual uniform of purple or black polo and black pants. I also tend to buy 3 or 5 of a shirt that fits me well. My work clothes are all picked so I will never clash or look unkempt.

      I have ADHD and brain injury. Adopting a “uniform” takes so much stress off of me. While I will degrade to a t-shirt when working remotely, wearing a polo will remind me to be more business than casual.

  30. Pierrot*

    For LW1, I think that a direct conversation with a written list would be best as a next step. Not to discount the idea of showing him photos that some commenters suggested, but I do think that there is a risk of offending him or coming across as patronizing. Based on the letter, I would say something positive about how he’s shown improvement with his clothing, and then I’d say something like:
    “It’s important to look polished in this line of work since we interact with clients. Make sure that 1) your clothing does not have any holes or visible stains, 2) your clothing is not wrinkled {then talk about ironing or steaming}, 3) if you are wearing something semi transparent, wear an undershirt… do you have any questions?”
    Really any potential issue you think of should be included in your list, even if he has not made the mistake yet.

  31. JTA*

    LW1 — When addressing the clothing issue, please be aware of what items are quantifiable (i.e. shirts with collars) and what items are socially subjective (i.e. a little too small). The former can be standardized can often be relatively easy for a person with autism to adjust. The latter requires social clues and personal opinions that vary by audience and thereby especially challenging for those with autistic tendencies.

  32. Pocket Mouse*

    LW 2, what I notice with your breezy response of “oh, you know” is that so many people DON’T know—a lot of people don’t know what pregnancy is like in general, and no one will know what this one, specifically, is like for you, specifically, unless you’ve told them. As an example, the common narrative around morning sickness is that it happens pretty much only in the first trimester, and pretty much only in the morning—not true for a lot of pregnant people! You might be doing yourself and them a favor if you give the bare bones of what you’re going through, such as: “It’s been a rough time and I’m in a lot of pain [or whatever generalities apply and you feel comfortable sharing]. It’s to the point where I need to work from home most of the time, and it’s unlikely to improve over the next several months, so I’m grateful opportunities to focus on work topics to take my mind off it.”

    Especially if some people are wondering why you’re not in the office, indicating you do in fact have health reasons to work from home and a general timeline of when you expect (or don’t expect) to return to working in the office could have its own effect on cutting down the questions. The other thing is that some chunk of the population seem to believe pregnant people want to walk about their pregnancies, or that they should be asking about it. It’s fine to be clearer than you have been that you don’t want to talk about it, and that you don’t have a desire or expectation that they’ll ask.

    It’s kind of you to be sensitive to your coworker experiencing infertility! I do think there’s a balance to be struck there, and perhaps commenters here can provide insight on a level of detail/length for a script that is both effective for your purposes and considerate of their experiences.

    Wishing you the best!

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Oh you know” typically comes down to the tone. If it’s generally dismissive, shruggy, etc, that’s a pretty standard response from someone who doesn’t want to say they’re doing well but is also not going to elaborate. That doesn’t mean they specifically expect the coworker to know what’s going on with them, or pregnancy. It’s more of a “same shit different day” response.

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        Well, yeah. But it doesn’t reduce the likelihood the asker will ask again, and again, and again. Because with that answer they don’t know that the topic is unwelcome, or that how the LW is feeling will be pretty similar for the next few months, so it’s not helping the LW fully get what she wants out of the exchange.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I mean if you ask and someone blows you off, the question is unwelcome.

          1. Pocket Mouse*

            I suppose that’s how some people would understand it, but not everyone. I would understand it as ‘not going to talk about it right now’ rather than ‘would like to not discuss it at all’. Since the LW says coworkers are asking *every day* it’s clear they are not understanding it the way you would. If the LW’s coworkers had written in you could certainly enlighten them, but I’m not sure defending ‘oh, you know’ as a response is helpful to the person who did write in, because it certainly hasn’t been working for them.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I don’t agree, that is a very common non-answer way to tell someone you don’t actually want to answer their question.

          1. Zarniwoop*

            But for the clue-impaired you might need to come out and say “I don’t want to talk about it.”

            1. Pocket Mouse*

              While agree with the conclusion (clearly LW’s coworkers have not been taking it that way!) I want to gently push back on the ‘clue-impaired’ framing. This is a work setting—there are absolutely topics I would blow off if asked at the beginning of a meeting with several (or certain) people on the call, but would be happy to talk about one-on-one with someone I’m closer to. And I think it would be bad practice to take an ‘oh, you know’ as an implicit directive to never ask how someone is doing ever again. It makes sense that people would have different lengths of time they understand the blow-off to be a snooze button for, and there’s no need to disparage others for having a different understanding than yours.

              1. MCMonkeyBean*

                If someone gives you a blow off answer in a group but would like to talk about it with you one on one then they will bring it up with you one on one. It is absolutely NOT “bad practice” to NOT bug someone about something personal that they have already declined to answer once.

                Obviously some people won’t get the hint and then you have to be blunter. Such is life. But it’s very odd to me that you are insisting so strongly that this is NOT a hint and that you would somehow be wrong to drop the topic??

                1. Pocket Mouse*

                  When the question is “how are you doing” would you really never, ever ask them again? That’s very odd to me!

                  If we’re taking the LW at their word, as we are requested to do, that’s the exact question being asked. We have no indication of coworkers asking anything more personal or invasive than a pretty standard and ubiquitous conversational opener, nor doing it in a persistent or concerned way—just on multiple occasions. I would guess that’s because those coworkers have occasion to have multiple conversations with LW as the days go by. As the LW is experiencing, they will need to say something fairly clear to get people to understand that they know *right now* that they will not want to talk about how they’re doing *for months*. I don’t find that surprising at all. I do find it surprising that commenters on this thread seem to be defending a response that clearly isn’t working for the letter writer, yet not offering alternate advice.

                2. Eldritch Office Worker*

                  If we’re taking OP at their word, the coworkers are asking in a way that makes it clear that they are asking out of concern, not as a casual greeting. And that it’s coming from people who OP normally wouldn’t interact with.

                  A lot of the advice is around OP enlisting external help so they don’t have to have the same conversation over and over and over again. That doesn’t mean this response is incorrect for the in-the-moment brush off.

  33. Berens*

    For LW1 make sure you give positive feedback to them also ie “You’re doing what I’ve asked regarding the dress code, but I realize I wasn’t as specific as I should have been” then go on to give details and provide example pictures if you can. Multiple pictures is best as they will see one picture as *THE* example, and emulate it as precisely as possible.
    People with ASD can be extremely literal, and the assumptions and context filling that non-ASD people do to fill in the gaps on non-specific directions just isn’t there with ASD.

    1. Lacey*

      Yeah, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the previous info given wasn’t specific enough.

      I’ve been to work places where I had to drag out of them what they were expecting and when I couldn’t do that, I just had to go by snarky comments made about what I was wearing.

      But, there was one dress code for the entire company, with obviously different expectations on implementation for different departments. And it was hard to tell where my tiny department fell.

    2. Pocket Mouse*

      Yes to multiple pictures, especially giving different styles showing the range of acceptable options- don’t just show muted solid-color shirts, for example, if gingham or patterns or bold colors would be fine. Consider things that may not be obvious too, like sleeve length (rolled/unrolled), whether to tuck, whether to wear a belt, shoelaces, coat layers, etc. And tell him that you’re available if he is unsure about an outfit and wants to get feedback.

  34. Rachel*

    One thing that can be difficult in managing neurodivergent people is that so much of the messaging about neurodivergency is contradictory.

    Visual aids help very literal thinkers so be sure to use them. Oh, but don’t use pictures because that is treating them like children.

    Be direct and straightforward in communication, but also be aware of Rejection Sensitive Dysmorphia.

    Sometimes it feels like this is a very thin line to walk, like how much accommodation can I give before it shifts from helpful to condescending? These are vague concepts that are different dramatically from person to person.

    I wish there could be a little bit more of a two way street on this. Managers, teachers, etc should absolutely try to get through to neurodivergets. At the same time, it would really be wonderful if something neurodivergents could see neurotypicals are trying but might not get it perfect every time to every person.

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      We’re always giving a two way street irl because we’re adjusting to neurotypicals but online sometimes people with different issues of different severities say how they really feel. so irl I’d be sucking that ish up but online I’d be like if you guys make me do time wasting nonsense again so help me! lololol

    2. BubbleTea*

      That’s because there are multiple different ways to be neurodivergent and people need different things. It’s the same with physical disabilities: a ramp will help a wheelchair user access a building but make life much harder for a walking person with a balance issue.

      1. I have RBF*

        It’s the same with physical disabilities: a ramp will help a wheelchair user access a building but make life much harder for a walking person with a balance issue.

        This! I get sick of everyone think “disabled” is either blind or uses a wheelchair, as if those are the only physical disabilities out there.

        Same with ND folks. When in doubt, ask.

    3. Pierrot*

      I think that’s why it’s important to ask a person what helps them. I have pretty significant ADHD and it does affect my behavior in some noticeable ways, just mention this because I can only speak for myself but I’m speaking from some experience.

      Even if they haven’t disclosed that they are neurodivergent, it isn’t a bad idea to elicit that feedback. Of course, tone is important and you don’t want to sound frustrated (like “How can I get you to understand this?!?” isn’t great). But if a supervisor asked me, “Do you prefer written instructions or are you more verbal or visual?” I would not be offended, and I have learned to volunteer information like this. I also think it’s good to do this upfront instead of waiting for the employee to struggle.
      At a past job, I was asked to do some tasks and shown how to do them but that was basically the extent of the directions. My boss then pulled me aside the next day and told me that she had “serious concerns” about my ability to do the job and the past employees were “much faster than me. The thing was, I wasn’t told anything about how fast I should complete these tasks, so I was focused on being thorough. At that point, I told my boss that I appreciate the feedback and that I don’t need to be handheld but if something is time sensitive, please give me some parameters.

      Which brings me to my next point re: rejection sensitive dysphoria. This is absolutely something I’ve struggled with a lot in the past, and it’s still a challenge which is part of why I am in therapy! I think that a manager’s only responsibility in this regard when giving feedback is to be compassionate when you’re being direct/ keep it to feedback on the person’s performance rather than who they are as a person. I don’t mean sugar coating, but in the example of the feedback I got at a past job, being told that everyone was much faster than me on my first day doing the thing did hurt my feelings and lead to shame. I didn’t show it, but I think that “In the future, we would like you to complete X deliverable per afternoon” would have sufficed. Others might have taken the same comment in stride, but it was pretty harsh when I had only just started.
      After that, if you’re being direct without being insensitive, it is on the employee to accept the feedback and do their best to manage their feelings about it. I sometimes can’t stop myself from feeling bad about feedback, but I’ve trained myself to save those feelings for later. If someone is consistently crying or getting defensive about normal feedback, you can absolutely have a conversation with them about that. There have been letters about this in the past that talk about this.

      Anyways, I just wanted to share my thoughts. There is of course an unequal power dynamic between a supervisee and their manager and the risk of marginalization that comes with disclosing any sort of neurodivergence. I think the best thing a manager can do is normalize talking about different approaches to learning/working with employees and asking employees directly about what helps them.

    4. Parakeet*

      I think this is a combination of things. Most people (neurotypical and neurodivergent alike) overgeneralizing online from their own experiences (sometimes in a sincere attempt to be helpful, if something worked for them!) from time to time. And, to state the obvious, neurodivergent people are all different, just like anyone else. For me, I’m autistic and ADHD, but those manifest and interact in ways that might be different for me vs another person – because, and this part is more important, I also have a personality, both parts that are more intrinsic to me and parts that were shaped by life experiences, that are not solely the parts characteristic of autism, ADHD, and/or their interaction. There’s definitely a couple of bits of common advice regarding autistic people in particular, that REALLY do not work for me.

      And the other piece is, just like with any dynamic between people in a given dominant group and people in a given non-dominant group, you’re not going to please everyone all the time. It can be unpleasant on either end when the person in the dominant group, trying to get it right, gets a negative reaction from the person in the non-dominant group (and I’ve been on both ends, many times, in various situations), but it’s just going to happen and you’re unlikely to get praise when something lands badly just because you tried hard. That doesn’t mean that most people don’t realize when other people are trying in good faith (people who are not trying in good faith, or at all, are a distressing number, but that’s another issue).

  35. Despachito*

    OP1 – I think a lot of this problem stems from an assumption that it is somehow stupid/lacking if you do not inherently know the proper dress code.

    The truth is that a lot of us (neurodivergent or otherwise) have at least sometimes struggled with this (what to wear to a certain event not to stick out), and there should be absolutely no shame in not getting it always right.

    I have sometimes witnessed that the person (rightfully) policing the dress code were, to put it mildly, very awkward about it, and although they did have a point it came out as condescending. And I know I would be mortified if I were the direct target of this when I was fresh out of school. I would much more appreciate a factual approach clearly telling me what is requested and not being nasty or condescending because I did not know it by myself.

    If the company has a clear idea what they want their employees to wear, I like very much the idea of preparing an illustrated handbook with examples of what is acceptable and what isn’t, and make it available to every employee. It would help those who are not sure, and OP could refer the employee to it when explaining what is acceptable and what isn’t.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I think previously commenters have recommended looking at dress codes provided for missionaries. They specify for example what kind of trousers are considered smart enough, where they should fall on the shoe and how they should fit around the thigh; and how to choose a necktie. They also have many illustrative photos of cheerful young people in suitable outfits.

      Whatever we think about missionary work, the attention to detail in the guides is exemplary.

  36. Cœurki*

    The LW2 situation (being asked how you’re doing constantly) has been an ongoing issue for my work team.

    We are in a high stress environment and doing our best with an understaffed team, but this leads to us essentially gritting our teeth to get through it.

    My superior will see the stress and repeatedly ask “how are you doing?” and things like “yes, we really need to add more headcount to your team, don’t we?” Which then leads team members to anger/sadness/other negative feelings towards him.

    His questions aren’t leading to anything actionable but instead are just frustrating everyone. I think the advice on how to address it will be very helpful and I’ll pass it along to my team.

  37. Hornswoggler*

    LW 2: I’ve been going through something like this, having had a cancer diagnosis, chemo and surgery in the past 10 months. I have to step back from work but I still see or speak to a lot of people every day.

    I found that saying, as breezily as I could, “Soldiering on, thanks! How are you?” worked pretty well. It doesn’t deny that something’s wrong, but that you’re coping. It’s a kind of jolly grey-rocking which most people seem to respond well to.

    Good luck with it all.

    1. Anon (and on and on)*

      I like this a lot! I have anxiety and depression, so there are times when I’m not doing well but definitely don’t want to discuss details. My script to “how are you?” is a rueful “hanging in there.” It tells the truth but also signals that I don’t want to share further details.

    1. Lab Boss*

      There’s another comment thread going into more detail but generally it’s an event held somewhere other than your normal workplace. For a group of people who share an office it could be going to a different company-owned location, going on a retreat, etc. (as in, working off your normal site).

  38. Llama Lover*

    For LW 2: I’m dealing with chronic illness that will likely never go away but can be managed-ish. I’ve gotten so tired of the questions too that I’m really honest and blunt anymore.

    Them: How are you?
    Me in cheerful voice: Chronically ill, thanks. How are you?!

    Them: I hope you feel better.
    Me in sad voice: Thanks, but I won’t.

    It seems over the top rude, but those folks don’t ask twice. And while I’m trying to navigate a new normal (I HATE that term), it’s more important to me for people to back off than it is for me to manage them and their feelings.

    1. Samwise*

      Yeah, I’ve been going through a lot of stuff lately, most folks on staff know about it (some of it can’t be kept private), so some days that chirpy “Hey, did you have a GREAT weekend?” gets a very flat “No.”

      Deflates the chirper, but they should know better.

      The worst was the meeting with an ice-breaker: “everyone say one good thing about your life!” Instead of just pretending to notice I hadn’t volunteered anything, they kept coming back to me. “Samwise, how about you???” Ugh. I finally said, “I’m employed”. Everyone else in the room was embarrassed…

      1. chocolate lover*

        I would find it really intrusive/personal for someone to ask me “say one good thing about your life” in a work setting. I know it’s meant to be a positive thing but it can be so loaded for someone who may be struggling with things.

        In a zoom meeting with my whole group, our manager asked us a similar question. This was during the early stages of COVID, I don’t remember how early, but it was still 2020. It fell really flat, as everyone was silent and some people turned on their cameras, hoping they wouldn’t be called on. I sat there in panic, because some of us were more traumatized by the current situation than others, including me, which she knew. Manager meant well, but it did not achieve what she hoped for.

      2. HR Friend*

        Fwiw people are “deflated” and “embarrassed” because you’re making both of those conversations heavier than they need to be. Is it really so much work to say “fine thanks!” when someone asks how your weekend was? Or “I’m really enjoying the book I’m reading” when asked to share something positive?

        1. Observer*

          Well, it depends on what’s been going on. There was NO WAY I was going to be able to say “fine, thanks!” about my weekend, the week after I found out about my father’s diagnosis. Yes, there were good things in my life, but that weekend was NOT fine. Nowhere close to it! And when you demand or expect that kind of performance, it says says that the question is not asked in good faith as a form of human connection.

          Maybe @Samwise really did NOT have even something as lightweight as a book they were enjoying to share. What makes you think that people always have something good to say about their lives? Sometimes it really is a matte of hoping that you get to a point where you will have good things to say. Don’t push it and don’t assume.

          When it’s a situation where someone is not backing off, like the situation where the facilitator kept on coming back to Samwise, then it’s not the person ANSWERING that is making the conversation “heavier than it needs to be.” It’s the person that refuses to back off!

    2. OP #2*

      That’s pretty much where I’m headed. My coworkers are wonderful people who truly want me to feel better, and I think they’re hopeful one day I’ll come in and say my pain is gone and I feel right as rain. Maybe I just need to be more clear that this is going to be a condition I’ll deal with for the rest of my pregnancy and it’s only likely to get worse, not better.

      1. Observer*

        Maybe I just need to be more clear that this is going to be a condition I’ll deal with for the rest of my pregnancy and it’s only likely to get worse, not better.

        It’s probably a good idea. I don’t think you need to share a lot of details. But something general along the lines Alison suggested would be good.

    3. Random Dice*

      I handle my chronic illness in a different way. I see the intent to connect as humans, and that they’re using a common social script, but that it’s a script for a different situation (you’re sick > will soon feel better, as opposed to you’re chronically ill > this is it, some days better and others worse).

      I try to honor the intent, and make it clear that chronic illness is just a constant in my life, and it’s not a big deal. I have practice at this by now, don’t worry.

      Then I pivot to another topic.

  39. AlsoADHD*

    As an autistic person, a lot of the replies to LW here suggesting OP make sensory accommodations or give visual examples are overkill and kind of patronizing. The problem isn’t with the employee as Alison says—it’s with the unspoken expectation.

    There’s no evidence that the employee needs special sensory accommodations, they’re early career so regular mode direct advice is probably fine. The problem is LW1 feels awkward expressing their expectations but has them. That’s not good for any employees. I’m a lead in my division on a creative team and have to give feedback and even neurotypicals (especially entry level) benefit from direct, clear feedback and all expectations being made explicit.

    I think there’s this notion that if you don’t have to say it, it’s less awkward or less micromanaging. But the truth is, like Alison says, LW has the expectations. If those expectations are micromanaging or unreasonable (and I’m not saying they are, though I think in general we could all focus less on precise appearances and understand it’s all constructed societal expectations but that’s not going to change what is needed for client meetings in this case or anything, just saying) then they are micromanaging or unreasonable whether you explicitly say them or not. If they’re reasonable, then they’re reasonable to say. This is a problem I have with neurotypical communication sometimes (and I personally subscribe to social disability models and the double empathy problem style research so I don’t buy autistic communication is “deficient” —studies show autistic folks may be as effective at communicating with each other as neurotypicals are with each other, the issue is the difference and both autists and neurotypicals contribute to communication gaps). Neurotypicals somehow think having an expectation and saying it are “different” in terms of if the reasonableness of the expectation, like not saying something makes it more reasonable to expect when all it does is make it harder to meet unless the person shares your expectations and perspective or guesses.

    1. Random Dice*

      I had to look up “double empathy”, and THANK YOU!!!

      I knew that autistic folks can communicate and socialize just fine with other autistic folks – it’s not a coincidence that my autistic kid’s friend group is heavy on autistic and neurospicy folks. His autistic BFF says that my son is the only one who understands him.

      But I had never seen the research – until you mentioned it and I looked it up – that shows that neurotypical folks are JUST as blind to expressions on autistic faces as autistic folks are to NT faces. (Exploding head emoji) That’s so profound. That really bolsters the idea that communication between autistic / neurotypical folks is breaking down on both ends.

      Thank you, you really helped me by giving me a thread to pull.

      Also, while reading up on it, I found this in an ASHA article about the incredible empathy that autistic folks often feel – the quote brought me to tears:

      “In her autoethnography, Prince-Hughes writes of her autism: “My world is a place where people are too beautiful and too terrible to look at, where their mouths speak words that sometimes fall silent on my ears, while their hearts break audibly.”

  40. Lacey*

    #5 Absolutely ask about AI. I work in marketing and it’s a convo that is EVERYWHERE right now.

    If you were applying at my employer, my boss would shower you with a lot of unrealistic expectations for the future of AI and how we can incorporate it into our jobs, with no understanding of what it really is. And that would tell you a lot.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah for me this is no different than how everyone had to ask questions about how the office was handling COVID a year or two ago. It’s a huge deal thing going on that’s impacting a lot of people’s work, and how it’s being addressed can make a big difference in how happy you’re going to be in a role.

  41. Samwise*

    OP #2

    I say, “Thanks. Could you do something for me? Could you help spread the word that I really need work to be work. If everyone could just treat me like before, it would be so helpful for me. “

  42. Extra anony*

    Pregnant OP- the fastest way to solve this is for you to have a conversation with your chattiest office friend and enlist them to spread the news that you don’t want to be asked how you’re doing. Office gossip can be so effective, and you say your coworkers are lovely, so I think they will get it if told directly.

  43. Former Themed Employee*

    OP #2 – Are you able to tell if they’re specifically asking how you’re doing, related to your pregnancy? Or is it just the standard “Hi there, how are you?” type greeting where they’re asking how you’re doing, but don’t really expect an answer other than “Fine, and you?” (whether or not you’re actually fine is mostly irrelevant.)

    1. OP #2*

      Oh they are asking specifically how I’m feeling with my health condition/pain. My pregnancy isn’t a secret and my whole team (vaguely) knows the condition I’m dealing with, and they are lovely people who just want me to feel better.

  44. Fish*

    OP3 said their team is all remote. Maybe the manager doesn’t want to travel for work — for any reason — and so keeps postponing the offsite short of a marching order from above to do it.

  45. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    OP3 – Would it be easier if your very small team combined with another very small, and possibly adjacent in work function, team for your offsite?

    That could do a few really great things professionally, as well as finally get your team off-site. Collaboration, networking, a buffer of the three people end up not having a great time in person together. The other leader could take some of the weight of leading off your manager, etc.

  46. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    RE dressing at work – I’m almost 47, neurotypical, have been described as stylish in the past, and just bought a PDF of 40+ outfit combinations using a capsule wardrobe for spring. Some people just don’t know what to wear, and even those that do sometimes don’t want to put the mental effort in to figure it out.

    It’s a blessing to spell it out for this employee (and others, too). What you wear/How you present yourself is something that can truly hold someone back in their career and it’s a kindness to help them with it now.

    1. Lana Kane*

      That’s a great idea – I’ve been wanting to pare down to a capsule wardrobe for a while and it didn’t occur to me there would be PDF’s!

      1. Random Dice*

        Pinterest is where it’s at for capsule wardrobes.

        I also love YouTube videos about how to wear the same item multiple ways. I love My Green Closet on YouTube, and videos about packing light often have good info about rewearing pieces in different ways.

        1. STAT!*

          Hmm, My Green Closet you say … looks like there’s another evening gone & the dishes unwashed.

      2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        The one I finally purchased and have been following for years is Putting Me Together on Insta. She has a similar vibe to me and gets most of her clothing from Kohl’s, Target, and Old Navy — also same. She offers three options, too: work wear, elevated casual (actually what I wear to work), and athleisure.

        Truly, when I got the capsule though, I dressed with clothes that I already owned for the first two weeks – no need to purchase anything. I got compliments from people every single day and all I did was look at pictures an match my stuff up with them. IT WAS GLORIOUS.

  47. MCMonkeyBean*

    For letter 3–it almost sounds like these are really more “on-sites” in that they are bringing remote employees together to an office, am I understanding that right? If so I feel like if you and your teammates all feel strongly about doing it that you could maybe make it work by just taking the lead yourself?

    Instead of waiting for him to pick a date, can you guys pick one and just ask for confirmation. Something like “Hello, after looking at our upcoming assignments and availability we believe that July 14 is a good time for our team to get together in X city. If you could just confirm that you would approve we’ll go ahead and start booking flights and accommodations.”

    He might still hem and haw too much but it seems like he hasn’t been totally nonresponsive so far, he just keeps postponing. So maybe if you can just get one “ok” from him and then you go ahead and start booking things then he can’t really push it back any more at that point. And maybe he never gets around to booking things himself, but then you and your teammates can still go to the office together and maybe plan some small bonding things yourself after hours. Like just dinner or bowling or an escape room or whatever you and your teammates think sounds fun.

    1. Tirv*

      I agree. There’s only 3 people in this team and my guess is that the manager really does not want to plan and go away for a week with the group. (I’d rather poke my eye out than do so lol. ) OP has only been in the job for a year and as I read the question, they’ve pretty much been campaigning for the “off-site”since they started -with no success. If indeed the other two co-workers actually want to go visit another office to meet those employees, making the plans on their own and simply getting sign off from the manager makes the most sense.

  48. JustMe*

    LW 1 – I had a good friend like this who was also on the autism spectrum. The best you can do is be non-judgmental but clear and thorough in what you expect to see. Because there is some degree of nuance in professional dress, I recommend asking/observing how your report best learns information and giving them learning materials to refer to with that in mind. My particular friend was resistant to professional dress but eventually mastered it when she started to view it as a puzzle or a game, I think after reading a lot of professional dress blogs on Reddit.

  49. Extroverted Bean Counter*

    For LW3 – at my workplace (a big corporation) if a manager was holding their team back from accessing one of the company’s core values it would be a BIG deal.

    I know fear of souring the relationship with this manager is a genuine one, but if this was happening at my company that manager would be in so much hot water if the senior manager/controller/director/VP or whoever on else up the chain found out – especially if the direct reports want the off-site trips. The higher ups here would absolutely want to hear from LW and their team about this and would go to bat to get an off-site planned/coach the manager on how to prioritize and execute these team outings.

    What would advice be if LW decided to escalate? I’m personally just a first level manager, so my own insights aren’t terribly well formed yet.

    1. Just another manager*

      Every company a bit different on this kind of thing. At my work, yes, holding someone back from behaving in line with company values would be a big deal; not scheduling an offsite would not equate to that. Not even close. Especially if a new employee (I think the OP had been there about a year?) was bringing it over their bosses’ head. It would get you pegged as a whiner and a complainer, focused on the perceived perks of business travel rather than on learning and excelling at your newish job. I think it’s a risk to escalate, but that probably depends on the company culture.

  50. Dances with Light*

    LW1: It would be very helpful to recommend that the employee check for fiber content labels when buying clothes and to suggest easy-care fabrics vs. “high maintenance” ones. For example, an all-cotton or all-linen shirt or pair of slacks WILL wrinkle noticeably and WILL require regular ironing in order to stay “presentable”. A garment that’s 60% polyester and 40% cotton – or all polyester – will stay unwrinkled and will need very little upkeep (if any) besides regular laundering. Be as specific as possible and you’ll be doing that employee a very real favor!

    1. bamcheeks*

      I think this is great advice for a friend or consultant offering someone advice about dressing well, but this and the advice about laundry seems *wildly* over the line for a manager. I think the manager’s job is to set the expectation– specifically, if necessary– and then assume the employee has the resources to go and figure out how to reach them themselves. I mean, maybe point the employee in the direction of a couple of Reddit subs with advice on dressing professionally or something, but the fibre content of a shirt would be a wild boundary overstep to me.

      1. Mf*

        Agree. I will add: it’s not the manager’s job to educate the employee on the nature of textiles.

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      It’s possible that this employee has other reasons for selecting some types of fibers rather than others, though, so I’d recommend that you phrase it as “if you’re looking for lower-effort ways to meet the dress code, 100% polyester clothes usually don’t need as much ironing as 100% cotton ones do” and so on rather than “the way to look professional is to wear these fibers” – that way if it’s a no-go for him he can disregard that part of the advice and focus on more effort-intensive ways of solving the actual problem without agonizing over whether it’s truly needed to wear those fibers to look professional.

      In my case, for whatever personal body chemistry reason, polyester clothes amplify my body odors in such a way as to create an entirely different professionalism issue, so I have to go for natural ones instead. It does not seem to matter if they are the cheapest dress slacks from Dress Barn or expensive UV-protective sweat-wicking outdoor clothes from REI, if they are not 100% cotton I will be wafting extra smells if I wear them. I have no idea if this happens to lots of people or it’s just one of those weird problems that I get to deal with, but presenting switching fibers as a possible solution to the actual requirement rather than as the requirement itself would help in case he also has this or some other issue with artificial fibers. (I’m assuming here that it’s possible to look professional in natural fibers but that it’s just more work. It’s possible that I just have no idea how professional clothes work, though, since I decided a long time ago not to pursue a career where Id need to wear them.)

      1. Random Dice*

        Very good point! Plastic clothing is often smelly. I used to find that especially true with Umbra shorts.

        I’ve actually started to wear linen or cotton dresses under my professional dress (either dresses or skirt/shirt combos, what I personally prefer). I get them on eBay. It’s helps to reduce my laundry (along with spraying my lightly worn clothing with vodka for freshening), because I want to reduce my microplastic pollution, and natural breathable fabrics are much better with sweat and coolness. I imagine one could find linen shirt and short layers if one weren’t into dresses.

        I watched several historybounding YouTubers who talked about how historical dress was made to be layered, to increase breathability without A/C, and to reduce washing burden before machines. Linen shifts were just how people operated, because natural fibers are just better for some things than cheap plastic fibers.

  51. Relentlessly Socratic*

    OP1: I didn’t see this mentioned yet, but I’ve (she/her) adopted a “zoom uniform” of a nice, but non-descript, dark top that I know looks good on camera and is comfortable (I have fibro, so there are days when the idea of wearing clothes makes me want to cry, and clothing with tags is NOT ALLOWED in the house), and does not require ironing. It’s either a tunic top or a dark sweater, and I have several in the same color or subdued colors so no one can really tell on zoom that I’m recycling.

    I pass that tip along to my team when we talk about client-facing dress, so you could suggest to him that, once he lands on something that works, he could make a uniform for himself that, once settled, almost never needs thinking about.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      Adding: I noticed that one of our project directors (he/him), who always wore suit and tie in client meetings, moved to a nice plain black turtleneck when we moved to Zoom, and his client base included US Fed gov’t and clients across the globe. Granted, he was senior and had that related gravitas, but I don’t recall anyone blinking an eye that he wore, essentially, the same thing on calls.

  52. Be Honest!*

    LW4: I’d be pretty frustrated as your employer when you told me you were leaving in the near future and your reason was $ but you never broached the subject with me. If you have other reasons for leaving, then great. But, he specifically gave you an opening and you didn’t even bring it up!

    1. Scarlet Ribbons in Her Hair*

      Saying “I need more money” might not have worked. I once worked at a company where TPTB decided that there would be a committee to evaluate all of the employees at the same time to determine who got raises. For whatever reason, the committee never met. Dozens of people left the company, saying that they were tired of waiting for the committee to meet. When I eventually left, I also said that I was tired of waiting for the committee to meet. And many people left after I did. So TPTB knew (and should have suspected) that we wanted more money, and they did absolutely nothing about it.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      They said they don’t have “horrible” complaints but it sounds like money is not the *only* reason they are looking.

  53. Pretty as a Princess*

    OP5 it is good that you are thinking about this, and I would offer up one additional suggestion for your consideration:

    “Do you have a vision or strategy for how AI, and specifically LLM tools, might be leveraged ethically in the business?”

    Whether we like it or not, LLMs exist and like any tool they offer significant potential for misuse – but there are also, like with any automation technology, opportunities unfolding for ethical and trustworthy use of these tools by humans (who understand how to use them appropriately) to achieve goals. Writing a term paper? No. Misrepresenting AI-generated content as human-authored? No. Using to help with outline development/structure? Now maybe you’re in a situation where the AI tool can help the human focus time.

  54. Qwerty*

    OP3 – What if the team picked the date? “Hey boss, July X-Y works great for all of us. We’d like to book our tickets tomorrow. We’ve assigned out the planning tasks so that all we need from you is approval” Ask this as a group, don’t move on to the next topic until you have a concrete answer.

    If that fails, is there someone on the team who is on good terms with the boss? That person could privately ask the boss what is going on. For example, say he hates off-sites and doesn’t want to go – would he be open to the three of you doing the quarterly meet-up without him? Sometimes it is easier to get that info in a 1×1 conversation.

    1. Yellow Springs*

      I agree. I hadn’t seen your comment but I suggested something similar below re: the team picking the date and just asking for approval.

  55. Florp*

    Oh, OP2, I feel for you. My second child broke my sacroiliac and I winced with every step. When you’re in pain like that it’s hard just to have a conversation, never mind a conversation about the pain you’re in, and repeatedly. And most people throw out a little “hey how’s it going?” when they greet each other, which is fine. It was the addition of sad smile/pity eyebrows like I’m a five-year-old who dropped her ice cream cone. That drove me up the wall.

    I found that the rueful smile worked against me–people see it as an invitation for commiseration. Grey rock the hell out of this: small bland smile, quick answer, move on to a work subject. If you make it a boring subject, people will…get bored with asking you.

    People who keep asking because they genuinely mean well, or can empathize because of a similar experience, are sad to see you suffer. They would not want to add to your distress and actually want to be politely asked not to force you to dwell on it. People who don’t mean well are jerks and you can be rude to them. Gentle escalation worked for me:

    1. “My back hurts-good thing I mostly work with my brain!”
    2. “Same as I felt yesterday, Janet.” (Facial expression: bemused half smile but no sarcasm in voice.)
    3. “I appreciate your concern, but I won’t get relief until I give birth, so I’d rather talk about work to distract me.” (Factual, straightforward, look ’em in the eye delivery, as if of course they would do exactly what you want. Smile or don’t, you’re two totally rational people having a normal conversation.)
    4. “You know, I would literally rather talk about anything else than my constant source of pain and worry.” (Kindly Brontosaurus pose! Google the Slate article about this. I learned it from my FIL 20 years ago and it freakin’ works).
    5. “Funny how much time I spend updating people on my health! Maybe I should make a morning announcement over the PA.” (Full sarcasm mode)

    I did say one really shocking thing to our nosiest, meanest busy-body, but it would need trigger warnings and apologies to post here. Worked, though. I also had the political capital to expend on the fallout.

    1. OP #2*

      What is it with these second babies?? So rude.

      Exactly, I don’t mind the “hey how are you”-type greetings. It’s the earnest expression, raised eyebrows, meaningful eye contact, and expectation that I’ll have some profound update for them. The people asking me the most are absolutely coming from a place of concern and love, and a couple of them have been through something similar so I think they’re just really empathetic to me right now. Once in a while I’m in a place where I can talk honestly with my closest colleague (who had a difficult pregnancy many years ago), who is the one most often checking on me and suggesting I work from home. I finally just told her the other day that I’m concerned about the impact that would have on my career, so hopefully she’ll back off a little bit.

      There’s not one rude busy-body here so I really don’t want to be mean. I just want to not talk about it!

      1. Florp*

        HA! My first pregnancy was so easy, too. Thought the second one would be a cakewalk. Nope.

  56. Sarah Jane Smith*

    One thing that can help is presenting him with pictures of how you want him to look, then explain the details he’s currently missing the mark with. “Here’s someone in a business casual sweater. He doesn’t have any chest hair showing, and it’s probably because he’s wearing an undershirt, which is part of a business casual set of attire.” Let him have the pictures. Having an example I can look at, and match to myself, or what I’m doing, is very helpful. Then I know I’m doing it right, because it looks like X. I buy meal kits with pictures and I compare what I’m doing to the pictures even after I’ve followed the written directions, so I can see that what I’m doing is the same. YMMV, but I know this is helpful to others, too.

  57. Avyncentia*

    LW#1 – My company requires a nicer level of dress for certain events and I really like the way they handle it. They post friendly reminder signs in all the break rooms with simple clipart-style images of what is acceptable and what isn’t. It’s not gendered either, just a mixture of “dress,” “button down”, “sweater/jacket,” etc. And the “don’t” section is mostly about avoiding wrinkled/stained/holey clothing. I think this kind of thing could work really well in onboarding materials, or even as a permanent part of the break room.

  58. BellyButton*

    One of the great things about working with and managing people on the spectrum is that they appreciate and want direct instructions and feedback. One of my good friends is autistic and it is something I learned from her. It truly makes managing easier! Knowing that I can directly say “You have been doing a good job trying to meet the dress code, but you need to make sure your hair is combed and your shirt isn’t wrinkled” makes everyone feel better. No need to beat around the bush or try to hint. Just say what you want him to do.

  59. Yellow Springs*

    LW #3 (offsite meeting):
    I’m not sure if this would work at your company, so please feel free to ignore, but has your team tried floating prospective dates and just asking your lead to approve them?
    “Hi Lead, since you said we’d do an offsite in July, we checked with everyone upfront so you wouldn’t have to. The following dates work for everyone and the hotel looks like it’s available — does that work for you so we can lock it in?”
    Maybe the lead just doesn’t want to do the mental labor of deciding and committing, and just allowing them to say yes/no could get them to actually seal the deal.

  60. sofar*

    LW1, if you’re really hitting a wall and your employee keeps missing the mark, maybe ask him to specifically pull together three outfits, have him take pictures of them laid out, and then go from there. You could then say, “Yes – looks great. Please make sure you iron this shirt on the morning of.” Or “You can’t really wear a dark brown polo with black suit pants and then dark brown shoes. Swap in these other pants from the other option instead.”

    Now he’s got 3 outfits he needs to keep clean and ready for client-facing stuff.

    If he comes in one of said outfits with a huge stain on it, that’s something worth pointing out too.

    My husband (for various reasons) cannot put a cohesive outfit together. If you tell him he needs to wear business casual, he’ll pull a wrinkly black polo shirt with a stain and pair it with some formal suit pants and a mismatched pair of shoes. If you ask him what on earth he was thinking, he’ll explain that, in his mind, the formality of the pants + the polo shirt all balances out to “business casual.” Like, he took the “average formality” of the components of the outfit.

    He eventually talked to a stylist friend who took photos of his clothes and gave him formulas for various occasions: Job interview, day at work with client, day at work without client.

    I know that’s A Lot to do for an employee, but if it saves you some anxiety, maybe worth considering.

  61. STG*

    Is chest hair inherently unprofessional? This one caught me off guard.

    I’d understand if your shirt has 3+ top buttons undone and half your chest is showing. However, a typical button up or polo with the neck cuff button undone doesn’t seem inherently unprofessional. Then again, I’m a hairy guy so I’m a bit biased.

    If so, are bare hairy arms also unprofessional? I’d never be able to wear short sleeves if that was the case. Trying to figure out where the line is.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I’ve never worked in an office where I saw a man’s chest hair. I also don’t believe the men in the offices I worked in ever wore short sleeves. I’m in a conservative industry.

      1. STG*

        I’ve worked in banking and government. So, short sleeves are usually polos in the summer or rolled up sleeves from a button down. Closer to a business casual than conservative so maybe that’s why.

    2. Fuel Injector*

      I think this is one of those “body parts that are covered by fabric should not be visible at all” rules. With some body parts, this means no lumpy outlines, with others it means no pigmentation showing through, and with chest hair, it means no hair showing through a shirt.

      As with other parts that exist on the chest, that’s just your body, and you might not be able to keep every part of it out of direct sight. As with those other parts, if it would take a turtleneck to keep all of it covered, I guess just try to exist as best you can while still being comfortable. Sometimes the onus is on other people to keep their eyes on your face, you know?

    3. Random Dice*

      Yeah. My husband is hairy like a teddy bear.

      He has to wear undershirts, or he looks like a 70s pornography actor, or like an Italian grandfather at the beach.

  62. Andrea*

    I will chime in for OP1 — I don’t think the issue re. autism is words vs. pictures. I think some people will do better with pictures and some people will do better with words, and it’s not necessarily related to neurodiversity, just what type of learner the person is.

    But I am autistic, and it is such a kindness when people are specific. I’ve had people stop being friends with me, or refuse to work with me on projects, because they’re irritated that I so frequently don’t meet their unspoken expectations. As another commenter said, it feels like everyone else got an instruction manual that I didn’t get. If you said button-down shirt, it would not occur to me that I needed to iron it unless you specifically said so. If you said to arrive at 8:00, it would not occur to me that you really meant 7:45 unless you specifically said so. Etc.

    Neurotypicals tend to respond to this kind of thing with “you’re an ADULT, you should KNOW BETTER” but the thing is that I don’t.

    1. Temperance*

      Did your parents honestly never teach basic hygiene? “Clothes shouldn’t be wrinkled or have visible damage” seems like something that should have been brought up at home.

      1. Fuel Injector*

        Wrinkles are not dirt, and ironing isn’t hygiene. My mother taught me to iron, but I don’t bc removing wrinkles does not add value.

        And even basic hygiene is not as basic as it might seem to a person with high non-cognitive skills. Some people need a higher level of support than others do. I’m autistic, and I know I need clean clothes every time I go out. I know that clean means no visible stains and no odor. I know that I need to wash my clothes if they have either visible stains or odor. I have a friend who is also autistic, and I have to remind her every time we go out that she needs to shower beforehand and have clean clothes ready. I don’t think she really knows how to shower effectively, either, bc her hair never looks clean. She didn’t pick up that you have to wash clothes for them not to smell, you can’t just hang them up. A different friend of ours had to debug that problem. Yes, her mother taught her all these things, but with some people need more support.

        1. Andrea*

          Thank you for this detailed explanation. The comment you are replying to is a perfect example of the types of things neurodivergent people hear on a regular basis, and I really appreciate your empathy.

      2. Observer*

        Those two sentences don’t really have anything to do with each other.

        Sure, one would hope that parents teach their kids that in most public contexts you shouldn’t wear clothes with visible damage or wrinkles. But that is NOT the same are “basic hygiene”. And there are enough parents who are not terrible who don’t manage to teach their children about the “no wrinkles” types of things, even though they do manage to teach their kids about basic hygiene.

        1. Victoria Everglot*

          I can imagine in larger families the nuances of proper dress probably get lost because the parents consider it a minor miracle when all 5 kids are wearing seasonally appropriate clothes that cover their bathing suit areas before leaving the house. I’m an only child, so there was plenty of time and energy for my mother to explain that swishy sparkly dresses aren’t always appropriate and that wrinkly stained clothes are for in the house only. Had there been 5 of me, we might have ended up leaving the house all in a row looking like the evening wear portion of the Miss America pageant.

      3. Stuff*

        Thing is, no wrinkles usually isn’t actually a rule for clothing. A t-shirt and jeans is standard American clothing, and wrinkles in either are irrelevant. I would never think to check a t-shirt for wrinkles, why would you? Unless it’s, like, a suit shirt, you just put it on and tuck it in if necessary, don’t you?

  63. Kylie*

    I think the advice for LW3 is extremely misguided. The fact that these funds are set aside for this specifically means this is a company value/priority, and not a “nice to have” or for managerial discretion. The horrified response by others makes that clear.
    And the manager potentially not liking to travel is irrelevant—any manager who puts their personal preferences above their team’s success and growth is not a good one!
    I think LW and her colleagues should co-sign an email one final time that says if dates are not booked for their off-site by EOW, they’ll go to grand boss to schedule.

    1. Victoria Everglot*

      Yeah, this dude is pretty much refusing to do part of his job. I don’t care why (caregiving duties? disability? just an introvert who hates being around other people? who knows!) all I know is he’s not doing something he is explicitly supposed to be doing and is jerking around the people under him. That’s really unfair. If he can’t do PART OF HIS JOB then he needs to be honest and see if someone else can do it. These offsites are apparently a major perk and it’s not fair that they can’t have them because one guy can’t get his shit together. Who knows how much team building etc they’ve already missed out on that could be holding them back compared to the rest of the company.

      It’s not that there aren’t legitimate reasons to dislike or refuse to attend offsites! And I’m sure there are many jobs where they’re pointless or awful. But offsites are part of *this* job and if he doesn’t want to or can’t do them, then he needs to reconsider this position.

  64. Jayri*

    LW1: People who have Autism often struggle with concepts and need clear definitions. With my nephew, we have to be very specific and very direct on what he needs to do. I would be very literal on what you expect for the dress code and, as others have said, include photos of proper attire. Include proper hygiene as well – such as combed hair. And if he is younger I am betting undershirts have never even been mentioned! I rarely see individuals in the younger generations wearing them (I an GenX). I have a better grasp on it myself now but it also took me a lot of years of practice to learn. I still need specifics but know when I need to question it more as well.

  65. Johannes Bols*

    “My boss asked how things are going … and I didn’t tell him I’m planning to leave…”

    We so often hear of terrible bosses, now we have one that really is human. I’m glad the advice was that you don’t owe your boss 100% transparency. But I’d be feeling quietly rotten if I was looking for another position and keeping it from the boss.
    But it comes down to taking care of yourself. And, if your boss is really a great guy, he’ll understand. Good luck finding your new position!

  66. RVA Cat*

    I guess it’s the “crush” letter right after that put this in mind, but LW1 could check the male dress code for implicit bias by thinking, “would this outfit still be unprofessional on Henry Cavill, Jon Hamm or George Clooney?”

    1. Random Dice*

      I don’t get that. Are you saying that pretty men can wear wrinkled shirts and still abide by the dress code?

      Also, as an aside, the 30 Rock episode with Jon Hamm, where he’s dumb as a box of rocks but women give him a pass, until his face gets bruised and everyone suddenly turns on him… I was SO confused about the joke, until I suddenly realize that he’s apparently very handsome to most people. I don’t get it, but the joke finally landed.

      Intern George, though…

      1. STAT!*

        I think the Cat asking the opposite. If those fellows were showing chest hair under their business shirts (for example), would you think they were dressed unprofessionally?

  67. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    #1 – ugh, if there is a dress code I detest it is “business casual” with no further explanation. I have worked for companies where business casual meant you could wear a suit without the jacket and matching pocket square, and on Friday’s maybe you could take off your tie or wear flat dress shoes. I’ve worked for companies where it just meant not athletic-wear or torn.

    This can be a difficult area for a lot of people who just don’t have a good fashion sense, neurotypical or not.

    Be specific as to what you need to see different.

  68. Nomic*

    Maybe find out when another team is doing an off-site and see if you can join them (with your boss’s approval). This would mean he can take even less responsibility and let y’all do you thing (regardless of whether you interact much with the other team once at the off-site).

  69. Mothman*

    LW1 may also benefit from example photos.

    It is worth mentioning, though, that he could be wearing what he can afford. Disabilities sometimes come with challenges with finances, especially with a credit card rather than cash. He also could have been raised to only shop sales or thrift stores, and it’s hard to shake that even if you’re neurotypical!

    1. STAT!*

      Personally, I prefer thrift shopping. There’s usually a better range of clothing, and that sweet, sweet endorphin hit of snagging a bargain.

      1. Mothman*

        I LOVE thrift shopping and would do it more if they tended to have plus size options that didn’t have Looney Toons characters and pit stains. (Just where I live? Lol). Thankfully, I was recently reminded that eBay exists, so my wardrobe is getting a e-thrifted makeover. (Someone found NWT jeans from the 70s in their attic, and I am losing my marbles over them!)

        But, I also have maaaaajor poverty brain, and the very idea of spending more than $15 on a single shirt makes me start to panic. And $50 for just one pair of pants? Are people nuts?? I’ll tell ya, money absolutely CAN buy happiness, but it can’t buy a fast unlearning of a lifetime of financial fear!

  70. Hermione Danger*

    #1 Can you provide him with visuals of what things should look like? You can tell him that shirts can vary in color and patter, but that in terms of appearance, they should look like this [insert image of person dressed exactly like you want your employee to dress, with callouts about ironed shirts, no holes, type of fabric, etc.]

  71. Managers Are People Too*

    In a past professional life I could see myself being similar to LW 3’s manager. To be clear the way the manager is approaching this is far from ideal and they shouldn’t ignore something that’s obviously important to their staff! There’s definitely room for improvement.

    Still it’s pretty easy to see how planning for such an event could slip, even if the manager is well intentioned. Sometimes people are not aware of an organization’s culture and expectations until after they take a position. I once took a job that had way, way more travel than expected and it took me a while to assert myself about why that didn’t work for me. It sounds like the manager is also fairly new to this job, and a year isn’t all that long to acclimate, learn the work, the politics, the expectations, and the team dynamics. It’s quite believable that through some combination of cluelessness and inattention they kept pushing it out and now it’s awkward and they don’t know how to course correct. Again, not an excuse, but Alison’s script for being direct and stressing that this is important to the team is spot on.

    I’ll be entirely honest, I would hate if my staff pushed for something like this – I’d do it, but it would be like pulling teeth.

  72. TheLovelyLibrarian*

    to LW #1: As someone who is autistic, please be explicit in what you are looking for! It’s not micromanaging and is in fact, very helpful! Many autistic people, like myself, find terms like “business casual” or “smart casual” to be vague and unhelpful. I find myself having to scour Pinterest and google to find out what it actually means and sometimes I still miss the mark. If you have a certain look in mind, just kindly say that! I really like Allison’s phrasing about clarifying because that phrasing is going to shoulder a little of the responsibility and make it sound less confrontational and more helpful.

    1. Mothman*

      Not autistic (though not atypical in other ways), and I need this, too. I think it’s really unfair to expect everyone to perfectly meet a vague dress code. At least give firm examples.

      I am still humiliated by the two times in my life I have been “dress coded,” once as a kid and once as an adult. I didn’t know I was out of code because the rules weren’t explicit enough.

      It’s not why I’m vehemently anti-dress code, but the childhood humiliation definitely sent me down that road. (I mean, it was also evidence that an old man was comparing young children’s butts, but that’s a whoooole other issue.)

  73. An older man*

    “He is also an older man, and he is often irritable and forgetful”

    Just a reminder that people of any age can be irritable and forgetful, and that some men my age have a good memory and a pleasant disposition.

  74. Julie Smith*

    As a mom to two young 20-somethings on the ASD, I’d recommend that you literally show photos of the type of clothes. As in, “Any of these types of pants are good in solid colors, like navy blue, black, or khaki [insert screenshots.] As for shirts, look for short or long-sleeve shirts with collars, buttons down the front, and in solid colors [insert photos,]” etc. I know it’s extra work for the manager, but it’s work that could be saved as a PDF and reused with each new hire. My own young adults would be grateful for such specifics. “Casual, professional” are not helpful adjectives for literal thinkers.

    P.S. Include something like, “If you shop in a department store, a salesperson can help you find the size that will fit you best, just ask.”

  75. SleeplessKJ*

    For #1, what about showing him photo examples of the kind of attire you’re talking about? I myself find visuals very helpful.

  76. It's Me*

    LW#2: Often “How are you doing?” is how people express “Is there anything I can do to make how you’re doing better?” So Alison’s script is wonderful, but also if there are specific things that *could* help you (other than a time machine to jump to week 42), please tell them! It’s hard to see an acquaintance in visible pain and having an outlet to help in any way would likely be a relief—one that may bring some benefit to you in the longterm as well.

  77. BeSpecificAboutDressCodes*

    LW1, every company has it’s own definition of business casual. Most companies I’ve worked/interviewed at will have a specific dress code if they care to the extent you seem to care.

    If your goal is “look put together” that’s incredibly subjective – and somewhat variable by person. What I mean by that is some people will look totally put together with little or no effort while others won’t even with extreme effort and even if wearing exactly the same clothes as someone else who looks totally put together. I’m not suggesting that’s what’s happening here, but as someone who can look like she’s never brushed her hair 5 minutes after brushing her hair and who never looks as polished as some people do no matter what she does, I prefer dress codes that amount to “you have to get dressed” but I would find a vague, subjective dress code untenable because experience tells me what’s okay is subjective. Have specific rules for everyone and manage to those rules.

  78. Boof*

    Lw1; I f el like this may be a lot to take on; not that you can’t continue to try to give specific pointers as best you can, but you can’t/shouldn’t literally be there when he tries on clothes; checking the label for maintenance instructions etc, which it sorta sounds like he needs? It seems far better for everyone if he can have a trusted friend/family, or maybe there is some kind of autism resource group, or maybe he can hire a personal shopper, or ask the store assistants to help him pick out (3-5) outfits that work and he can wear over and over, reassess for replacement once a year
    I don’t lnow what resources they have so don’t know what’s the most feasible but at the least i’d think the retailer would be willing to help pick out a few outfits

  79. CanadaGal*

    The last letter writer about AI, when I read the question you suggested using, if I was on the interview panel I would wonder if you were intending on using AI for your job and was wondering if the company had any policies against it or any way of catching people who were using AI to do their work. I may caution you against that wording.

  80. Owl*

    LW1 can you just tell him what you said in your letter? Sounds like he’s actually got the idea right about what style of clothing to wear already but missing details.

    I had someone pull me aside early in my career to tell me jeans are not allowed one time and I have no worn jeans to work since. I wear pantyhose every day, I do not own a single pair without holes in them. No one has ever said anything about this, and now I am going to buy some new ones tonight because now I know. Why is it so easy for people to tell me I can’t wear jeans but so hard to tell me I can’t have holes in my clothes?

    Honestly I observed people’s dress all my working life and worked out what to wear. I worked out that if I wear a button up short I can wear a shorter skirt without looking too casual. If I wear a more loose top and not tuck it in, I can wear a long pencil skirt and not look too stiff. Never in a million years has it occurred to me that no one at work has holes in their pantyhose. We all see and process different things.

    1. Fuel Injector*

      “Why is it so easy for people to tell me I can’t wear jeans but so hard to tell me I can’t have holes in my clothes?”

      That was probably a rhetorical question, but here’s my attempt at an explanation:

      Some things are outside the norm enough that it makes people uncomfortable to bring them up, and some people are just not good at giving even mild feedback. Wearing jeans vs not wearing jeans is workplace dependent, so wearing jeans in a non-jeans friendly place is an understandable mistake. Most people would feel comfortable correcting an understandable mistake. Wearing clothes with no holes is a fundamental rule, even though it is typically unwritten and unspoken, to the point that wearing clothes with holes is sufficiently outside the norm that someone might feel uncomfortable bringing it up–case in point, the letter writer.

      Hose specifically are another category. First, they are basically undergarments, even though they are visible. So people might feel uncomfortable talking to you about your undergarments. But also with hose, they run so easily that having a hole in them is not as unexpected as having a hole in a t-shirt. People probably assume that you got the hole that day and that you are going to throw them away at the end of the day. The next time you wear that pair, anyone who notices a hole probably assumes it’s a different pair and that you got a hole in them again.

  81. linda*

    Photos might be helpful – with notes like, ironed shirt, undershirt, combed hair. etc.

  82. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    When I first joined CurrentJob, as part of my induction pack I was given a short animated video which explained the dress code policy, with pictures.

    Apparently some people hated this and it had been really controversial when introduced. My boss apologised for it! But it was a lifesaver for me. I was joining from a very different culture, and joining remotely, with occasional office days, for which the office was often very quiet. I find it hard to get a read on these things at the best of times.

    It was clear, specific, factual with visual examples.

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