employee gave me a scathing letter when he resigned

A reader writes:

For the last three years, I have been running a consulting company which grew off the back of a long career in my industry. Last September, I hired an account manager to free up my time for business development. He is new to my industry but has relevant experience in another field and was full of ideas which I loved.

He recently handed in his notice, along with a scathing personal breakdown of everything he feels I do wrong with the business. Things that I’ve included him in and we’ve actively discussed together at length — project management, workloads, outsourcing, etc. The catalyst was that we’re advertising for a part-timer to help reduce burnout and it’s made him feel undermined as he feels he can take on that work. This decision was discussed before advertising the role and no concerns were raised. The tasks that role will cover are very junior and I want his focus elsewhere. He is my only full-time employee (there are four of us).

I don’t want to end our relationship negatively, but his response was so unexpected and rude that I’m truly taken aback. I’m by no means perfect but I felt like we’ve had a great working relationship up to this point. How do I acknowledge his feedback while also letting him know that the personal criticism is totally unfair and uncalled for? Ultimately he’s leaving and this response feels very emotional so I’m not sure if I should respond to this at all.

I answer this question — and two others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • employee chats on the phone with a coworker under guise of work
  • why aren’t shorts considered business wear?

{ 217 comments… read them below }

  1. T.N.H.*

    I want to point out that it depends on the style and cut of the dress as well. A longer but very beachy dress would be inappropriate in a business casual office. I’m more inclined to think that’s why – we’ve created biz cas dresses but no one has pulled it off for shorts. Yet.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      I think there’s also a historic association of shorts with children – “he was barely out of short pants” etc – that there isn’t with dresses. It’s also why you occasionally see fashion-forward businesswear for women that includes things like pinstripe knee-length shorts or culottes, but still not for men.

      1. Zephy*

        I have trouble believing anyone has ever worn “business shorts” in a real office. I’ve seen the spreads in fashion magazines, I know they exist, I just think the only people who have ever worn business shorts to work are the fashion models posing for said magazines.

        1. TechWorker*

          Er, I have a pair of just above knee light brown tailored shorts that I’ve had for a good 10 years and worn both to internships (where dress code was business casual but temperature was HOT) and my current job (where the dress code is admittedly minimal). Would I wear them to an interview? Probably not, but I don’t think they stand out as ‘weird’ as much as you seem to think they do…

          1. Random Dice*

            I agree with Zephy. Shorts only work in “casual-casual” dress codes.

            Except apparently in Bermuda and other tropical islands, at least according to BBC murder mysteries.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              Although even the Japanese thought the Bermuda Olympic team was insane when they showed up for the Winter Olympics in their traditional colors of pink (shorts) and ice blue (it was really cold).

            2. Mojo*

              I work in an LGBTQ+ friendly health clinic in the UK (think Planned Parenthood), which, compared to most NHS health settings, has a very casual dress code. But we still have this issue of the binary double-standard of skirts for femmes but no shorts for mascs during hot weather.
              So my queer masc colleague’s ingenious solution- a kilt! And they look great in it too <3

        2. SpaceySteph*

          My senior year in college (in Florida, which I think is probably relevant) I had a suit jacket and a matching pair of bermuda shorts. I wore them to presentations and career fairs all the time, then also a few times after I started working (as an engineer in a business casual office), but our office was well air-conditioned so even though it was 90 degrees outside, I got cold inside so I switched to wearing pants for my own comfort.

          I was 21 at the time though, as a now-mid-30s person I wouldn’t buy a bermuda shorts suit again.

        3. Thunderingly*

          I worked at a school where the secretary wore those. I thought it was not quite appropriate, though.

          1. Phryne*

            I work in a college, and literally no one would stand out in a short, unless it was clearly a beach outfit or something. But we are not business casual, just casual.
            Sweatpants would stand out. Shorts in summer? No-one bats an eye.
            I mean, we have students in the hallways in hotpants and crop-tops… the bar for employees is obviously higher, but you would stand out more in a suit than in a flowery summer dress.

        4. Al*

          “Business shorts” makes me think of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “the commander of the Vl’hurgs, resplendent in his black jeweled battle shorts”

        5. Higgs Bison*

          I’ve seen fancier work shorts being worn in Bermuda, but they’re known in part for shorts.

          1. Anon for this*

            Having lived and worked in Bermuda, I can confirm that Bermuda shorts and knee socks are standard for men in offices – sometimes with shirts and ties, sometimes with golf shirts. There is a whole code of what colour shorts and socks to wear (Bermudians born can wear pink shorts with pink socks without a blush but expats should wear dark blue socks with their pink shorts etc), and the most formal was red shorts, navy blazer and socks, black or dark brown shoes. Men generally stayed away from navy or black shorts as that had the connotation of a school uniform; bright and pastel shorts of all colours were de rigeur.

            1. Phryne*

              I just googled Bermuda business attire, and this is absolutely delightful, and more places should do this :D

            2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              If it’s warm enough to wear shorts, it’s warm enough not to need socks surely?

              I mean, people get roasted for wearing socks with sandals, but socks with shorts is surely far more ridiculous?

              Or is it the socks that raise the outfit to professional appropriateness?

        6. Sasha*

          I remember “city shorts” having a moment around 2010. Knee-length, made out of suit material, worn with opaque tights. I sadly cannot find any photos online, but they were everywhere that summer.

          They were never entirely professional (I am a doctor, and one of our interns was sent home to change when she turned up in a pair). But lots of people wore them in more casual offices.

          1. DivineMissL*

            City shorts for women were also “in” in the mid-90’s. Suit jacket with matching tailored shorts, cuffed just above the knee, with tights and flat shoes. They were appropriate for offices that were below “extremely conservative” and above “business casual”. They were very comfortable and kind of fun, but had a short run.

            1. Anon for This*

              Yep we had them too. The problem was that the boss wore her tailored suit that featured shorts, looked appropriate for the office. Lower level employees saw the shorts and took that as permission to wear to work what were essentially playsuits and beachwear. The result, shorts were banned in the office and have never returned.

          2. RN*

            I’m not in the US but I’m a registered nurse in a warm country. Before scrubs (ugh) became mandatory, male presenting nurses were allowed to wear knee length, cuffed shorts with a shirt or nursing top. Female presenting nurses had to wear long pants, shirt dresses, cullottes or skirts, with pantyhose.

            1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              A nursing top? what on earth is that?
              I mean, for me it would be a top with discreet slits so you can feed your baby without revealing anything but if it’s for male presenting nurses I can’t imagine it would be all that useful?

          1. Wilbur*

            Seems like you’re either going to look ridiculous, or you’re going to look like a frat boy.

            1. Sally*

              “Ridiculous” varies greatly with different cultural norms, it seems a little provincial to apply one’s own local dress standards to every other country in the world.

        7. PhyllisB*

          When I visited San Francisco in the late 70’s I saw men wearing suits that had short trousers. They were regular business suits. jacket, tie, ect. but the pants were…shorts. It looked odd to me, but whatever. I don’t know if this is still a trend; I think not because I never saw it anywhere else.
          In the 80’s city shorts were a theme for women. I had a set that was a fitted top and shorts, and I wore it to work and church. I didn’t wear it much because it just didn’t feel right wearing shorts in that context, but it did look professional, and I got lots of compliments.

        8. cosmicgorilla*

          Zephy, business shorts in a casual office were a thing back in the 90’s, but to Alison’s call-out, legs were covered. For women at least. Long-sleeved shirt, generally a turtleneck, shorts, tights, and a pair of ballet flats.

          1. Lurker Cat*

            In the early 2010’s, when I was looking for my 1st interview suit, they were everywhere. I had a lot of trouble finding a suit with long pants. So it may be a reoccurring but short lived trend.

        9. Jennifer C.*

          I’m a lawyer and at a past job, I sometimes wore dressy shorts with heels and a dressy shirt on days where I wasn’t going to court and didn’t have any meetings. My secretary was horrified but no one else cared. :-)

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Hey, if you weren’t going to court and didn’t have any meetings, no one should care, imo! (Sorry about your secretary, lol.)

        10. time_ebbs*

          The first summer I worked in a really warm climate, I bought these amazing linen shorts (& a matching blouse) from Ann Taylor which were advertised as casual office work shorts. They were about the length of many skirts I had worn (just above knee with or without tights) in the office.

          The office had causal Fridays which mostly meant people wore jeans with their normal shirt choice (polos or blouses); the rest of the week people wearing pants trended towards khaki so it wasn’t a very formal office to begin with. The first and only time I wore the shorts to work, I definitely went more business than casual with the rest of the outfit (nice shoes, pearls, etc) because I wasn’t entirely sure. The office manager I reported to was super surprised and was like “those look appropriate (in terms of material & the length) and I like them but they’re still shorts”. The manager spent all day trying to figure out if they were appropriate and if so, should she update the dress code which did not say anything about shorts; I might have also sent her the link to the Ann Taylor website to see how they were styled & advertised. She spent a bunch of time trying to figure out if this was a generational shift in office norms & I was just leading the charge (I was definitely the youngest person in the office by a lot). She basically couldn’t decide on what the policy should be and while she didn’t say I couldn’t wear them again, I went with skirts the rest of the summer because that office was super hot (making jeans not a great choice) and I didn’t want my manager to continue to have an existential crisis.

        11. Kindred Spirit*

          I did! It was decades ago when office dress was more conservative. We could wear nice slacks, but only wear jeans on “dress-down Fridays,” and even then were expected to wear something nicer than a t-shirt with them. I had a couple of pairs of silk shorts that were mid-thigh length and not form-fitting, which I wore with a blouse tucked in, heels, and pantyhose. I don’t remember anyone ever giving those outfits a second look. Close enough to a skirt, I guess ‍♀️

        12. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          once I saw a doctor in formal shorts and she became Dr formal shorts for years

        13. LK*

          A previous department head wore a pair into my office once. If I recall, they were faily short too, but matched the material of her blazer, so dressy. Granted, we’re fairly casual in our office and the nature of our work means that we don’t always operate along the lines of business norms, but theoretically shorts were against the dress code, even though I don’t think anyone said anything to her.

        14. Jen*

          I don’t know if it’s still a thing, but at Disney in Florida, the office staff and park management routinely wore tailored Bermuda shorts, even the men. I believe they had to wear dress knee socks (which were often argyle) with the shorts. I’d never seen it before and I haven’t seen it since.

      2. Aelfwynn*

        I think that might be more specific to the UK, though, right? In the US, we don’t associate shorts with children.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          We used to, yes. “Short pants” were standard wear for boys in the US until well into the 20th century.

          1. Aelfwynn*

            Sure, I just don’t think it’s necessarily in the public consciousness here as it still is in the UK, since it isn’t really a ‘thing’ here anymore.

            1. yala*

              I think it’s maybe not such a conscious thing, but still a factor.

              The idea of someone wearing shorts in an office setting feels…odd. There’s really no reason it should, except that it’s Not What Business People Wear. And our ideas of What Business People Wear is influenced by precedent. And precedent is that shorts are for kids.

              I think there’s also something to be said for their association with sports and leisure. Basically, I think it’s all a factor, because technically there shouldn’t be a problem with shorts in the office. But it’s not the Done Thing.

            2. Ellis Bell*

              I can’t speak for us all, but is for me. In my region lots of primary school kids wear shorts for their uniforms, and shorts are pretty typical kid wear in summer. More so for boys since the comfort pants du jour of little girls seem to be leggings.

              1. doreen*

                It’s not that children don’t wear shorts in the US but that there was a time when young boys only wore shorts until they were eight or so leading to expressions like “I’ve known him when he was in short pants” . It’s apparently still a thing among at least some classes in the UK to not allow a boy to wear long pants until he is seven or eight but I don’t think that’s common anywhere in the US.

                1. lucanus cervus*

                  I think that would be an extremely specific class – I mean, the royals and the Rees-Moggs, maybe? But for anyone with any claim to be an ordinary person, long trousers are very much the norm on young boys in the UK too. Shorts are a summer option, not an age thing.

          2. Happy meal with extra happy*

            We also used to associate light blue with girls and pink with boys, but I agree with Aelfwynn that shorts = children’s wear is no longer as common an association in the US compared to the UK.

        2. SpaceySteph*

          I think this might be climate-related? UK definitely has more temperate summers than large swaths of the US.

      3. lounger*

        Interesting, I hadn’t thought of that. My assumption is that we associate shorts with lounging, exercising, or physical labor, whereas we don’t have that association for skirts and dresses (although I own some “lounge dresses” that I wear exclusively at home).

      4. Bagpuss*

        I think even in the UK, the association with children is historic, not current. I think it’s more that shorts are generally holiday / leisurewear .
        (That said, when I was at University I had a friend who always wore shorts, including a beautifully tailored paid which he wore with black tie and dinner jacket for formal events. I don’t know whether he managed to get his employers to accept shorts as workwear once he was employed in an office, though!)

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I’m not sure I agree with you.

          If I look into an English primary (ie elementary) school playground this week I will see dozens of little boys wearing tailored shorts. If I glance into an English secondary (ie junior high/ high) school all the boys will be wearing trousers.

          As a nation we pretend that school uniform is preparation for business attire, so I think the “shorts are for kids” thing relates to smart/fancy or business dress rather than everyday clothing.

          1. Holly*

            When my brother was young (UK), he wore shorts to school, as many of the boys did, because they’d fall over and break through the fabric knees on trousers really quickly. Shorts meant less mending of fabric. So although it’s an age thing, it’s also just for practical reasons. :-)

            1. Artemesia*

              This and also of course little boys grow like crazy and shorts mean not having to buy so many long pants.

      5. The Prettiest Curse*

        I’m wondering if the US equivalent of this is that people associate shorts with UPS or Post Office employee uniforms and therefore don’t think of them as being suitable for office wear.

        1. Pugetkayak*

          I have never ever thought about this and I doubt most americans have either. Mostly, shorts are worn for sports or the beach or lounging. That’s where I see the distinction. Also, men’s legs and feet generally not considered professional and womens’ I guess only due to dresses/skirts and pretty sandals.

          1. BethDH*

            Women’s legs are only seen as professional due to things like shaving, from what I can tell. We don’t require pantyhose anymore but we basically want the appearance of it.

      6. Falling Diphthong*

        I have seen men in pinstripe knee-length shorts with ties, button downs, and matching suit jackets!

        But the context was a wedding on the shore. I didn’t think to ask any of them if they had worn this to work. (Most or all worked in NYC.) If so, I imagine it would be a similar iconoclastic move to the engineer wearing cargo shorts in a blizzard because by god that is his work uniform and a nor’easter isn’t changing that–something that reads as eccentric in an office that’s okay with that, rather than as acceptable because it’s pinstripes.

    2. Gherkin*

      A colleague decided he was going to start wearing shorts and see what happened. To me, he wears business casual shorts. Here me out–they are just above the knee, about the same length as the skirts that one of the women sometimes wears. They are made of woven fabric. They are structured, with pockets and a fly. They are cuffed. In other words, they look just like trousers, but shorter. If he were wearing basketball shorts or jean cut-offs, that would be different, but I think the shorts he wore fit in with a business casual office (also, we live in a super casual city).

      This was weeks ago, and his clothing has not registered in my consciousness since. I don’t know if he still wears shorts.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        This backfired spectaculary with a co-worker of mine about 10 or so years ago…he should have done it the way your colleague did!

        I worked at the beach and in the summer we had a business casual dress code. City shorts were in style on summer and several women wore them with their sandals (no flip flops) and they were tailored and the same material as slacks.

        Guy in our department decides its not fair and just starts wearing khaki cargo shorts and his Reef sandals. Because our boss at the time couldn’t think of a good reason why women could wear shorts and men could wear none we lost the priviledge all together (skirts/dresses still allowed). I got what he was getting at…I would have hated khakis and slacks with closed toed shoes in some of those heat waves!

      2. Momma Bear*

        I think this is the way it needs to be done – if you work somewhere very casual or in a warm climate, make sure you’re not portraying “slovenly” just “short.” A former coworker wore shorts in the summer. I didn’t care when we didn’t face customers. I *did* care/think his beachy flip flops were a tad too far. Even fisherman sandals or boat shoes would have been better.

      3. Shan*

        Yeah, I’ve seen men wear similar here (Calgary, business sector). I think they look perfectly fine and appropriately professional, especially given the fact dress codes here have really loosened up over the last decade.

    3. NeedRain47*

      what’s really weird to me is that no one here seems to be associating shorts with temperature. I don’t know how anyone who works in an office enviornment could wear them, it’s so cold in here (here being everyplace I’ve ever worked)! I essentially wear the same clothes summer and winter b/c in the summer it’s Very Cold in the office, and in the winter it’s Inhumanely Cold OMG in the office. My nose is cold right now, even tho it’s 90 degrees out. At old job there was no dress code and still no one wore shorts, too cold.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I agree.

        It is very hot where I live 9 months out of the year. I wear shorts during those 9 months unless I’m going to something formal and business-y. I would not wear shorts to work (when I used to go into the office) because 1) not appropriate for work and 2) too cold in the office. I kept a sweater in the office because between the A/C and sitting all day I felt cold.

        I rarely wear pants for warmth casually, though, because I still got to get indoors and it’s hot and sweaty doing so, and I don’t ever spend 9 hours indoors in the A/C anywhere but my house or the office. I do bring a sweater, though. Shorts and a sweater if you’re going to be in a chilly place in the doubt in the summer.

      2. Kacihall*

        I work in an office in a downtown building from the late 19th century. we technically have air conditioning. just not reliably, or very cool :)

        we also have very relaxed dress code – last week I got away with wearing a summer dress that had a shelf bra and didn’t wear a real bra. it was about 80 in the office that day, and over 90 outside. (I am not someone who can wear no bra. My mother is horrified when I don’t wear a bra under pjs for Christmas morning, among just family. I felt very rebellious going bra-less but the office dress code has gotten so lax.)

      3. amoeba*

        Well, we don’t generally have air conditioning in most offices in my European country, so dressing for warm temperatures in the office is probably more of a thing! (It can easily go up to 30 °C during the summer inside, and even if there is some air conditioning, it’s usually only set to something like 25 °C, not to “arctic”…)

        1. Phryne*

          Yup, this. No aircon. Summers here are not always very hot (though more and more often they are) and if it is 35C (95F) in the shade outside, it is 28C (84F) on the top floor where I work. Fortunately we are casual in clothing, so I can wear summer dresses whenever I like. I mean, if it is that hot, even men in shorts don’t stand out here.

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      But women can wear capris as part of business casual, too. It’s kind of not fair that women have so much more options under ‘business casual’.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        If only men, the sole arbiters of business norms for centuries until relatively recently, had the power to change that.

        1. Chirpy*


          I say bring back the knee breeches.
          Also, men do wear capris in the Middle East because showing your knees is considered improper for both men and women there. There’s also kilts, sarongs, dishdashas…..plenty of menswear choices that could be business casual.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        It’s not, but the flip side to having options is how people lose their minds if a woman wants to wear the same plain black dress every day.

      3. Generic Name*

        I’ll gladly give up wearing capris or skirts in the office the instant the gender pay gap closes.

      4. T.N.H.*

        Actually I think a man could wear capris in a biz cas environment provided they were made of the right material (and long enough).

      5. Gumby*

        The flip side is that men can wear khakis and a button down shirt to the beach or an event with a semi-formal dress code and it’s seen as appropriate either place.

    5. learnedthehardway*

      I think whether ANY garment can be suitable for an office-environment depends on whether you can realistically wear a suit jacket with it, if you needed to (say if a client showed up).

      Skirt – sure. Shorts – probably not. Sundress – probably not. Kilt – definitely.

      Men should wear kilts.

      1. Beth*

        I knew a guy in the USPS who was trying to get kilts accepted as an option for men’s uniforms. I wish he’d succeeded! Most men look better in kilts than they do in shorts, imo.

  2. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    “Thanks for the feedback. Best of luck in your future endeavors.” He doesn’t care if you find any of his statements rude or unfair, otherwise he presumably would have kept it to himself.

    I’m sorry this happened. It always hurts to find out that someone feels negatively about your relationship.

  3. learnedthehardway*

    I wouldn’t bother responding to the guy. He has his opinions, and it doesn’t really matter if you can change them or not, at this point. I mean, if you want to talk him out of leaving, you could try to address his concerns, but I probably wouldn’t, considering HOW he brought up the issues. A scathing letter – rather than scheduling a conversation to express concerns – is a fairly disrespectful way of initially bringing up a perceived (or real) grievance. Not to mention that you had solid business reasons for hiring a part-time, junior person to do the lower value work so that he could focus on work at his more senior level / pay-grade.

    I suspect the reason he felt threatened and why he says he wanted to take on the admin stuff is because he was doing a lot of “busy-work” but not achieving the high-value goals you had set, and he realized that a junior person is going to highlight that fact. Easier to hide it if he’s perpetually busy with admin work, kwim?

    I had someone recently send a scathing letter to me and my client about why they weren’t selected for a project and why they weren’t informed. I pointed out that they HAD been informed 2 months ago along with the reasons (the project went on hold). Their opinion of the process didn’t change, but they did stop cc’ing the client about their dissatisfaction. At this point, I don’t care to engage further. It’s a waste of my time and effort. I will simply make a note that this person does not respond well to rejection and will leave them off the list the next time I look for vendors.

  4. Peanut Hamper*

    #3 Always reminds me of businessmen in Bermuda: All business above the waist and below the knees, with tropical shorts in between.

    Business norms sometimes make no sense whatsoever, but here we are.

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      I was just thinking of that! But I wouldn’t quite characterize it that way: the shorts in that sort of outfit are as dressy, contextually, as a pair of long pants in the same fabric and cut would be.

      In Canada, at least, Bermuda shorts are also an optional part of the tropical naval uniform, which is startling for a minute but I wouldn’t say it looks informal.

      Given what climate change is doing to our summers, I wouldn’t be surprised if the business short became more widespread over the next twenty years.

      1. Imtheone*

        Postal carriers in the US have the option of shorts in summer, that match their grayish uniforms for the rest of the year.

        1. Pugetkayak*

          I worked for the Park Service and park service employees have shorts options as part of the uniform. I think a lot of uniforms for people that have to be outside a lot have shorts as part of them.

    2. Generic Username*

      But aren’t classic Bermuda shorts not just “tropical” shorts but a specific style of knee-length shorts in business/dressier fabrics worth with knee-high dress socks? You can’t just wear any long-inseam shorts with a dress shirt and a blazer and call them Bermuda shorts.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        When I was an early-teens in the 70’s and short-shorts were the norm for everyone (see: basketball players, runners, etc), old folks who were probably the age I am now always wore long shorts, and we kids called them Bermuda shorts. Was that correct? I don’t know. (My investigation into Wikipedialand just now (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bermuda_shorts) suggests that we were incorrect, and Generic Username is correct, but this is still a nice example of how language is shifty and words don’t like to get nailed down.)

  5. Peanut Hamper*

    #1: I’ve learned that people are like fruit. Sometimes they look great on the outside, but they’re not quite ripe on the inside. Sometimes they look terrible on the outside, but they’re perfectly ripe and delicious on the outside. Sometimes they look and smell perfect but you cut into them they’re full of bad spots.

    Assuming you’ve had good communication and a strong relationship with this person, you just have to accept that he was the last case. And there’s really no way to know that until you apply the knife, which in this case, was hiring a part-time person.

    Don’t let this bother you. It happens. Some people are just broken on the inside.

    1. Elsewise*

      I recommend against cutting into people in the workplace, personally. Unless you’re a surgeon, I suppose.

    2. MissMeghan*

      I kind of disagree here. Yes, don’t let it destroy you, but let it bother you a little. Re-read the letter after getting some space with a cooler head and take a hard look at what the letter says and how you managed that relationship before he left. With the benefit of hindsight, do a post-mortem on the way you interacted with this employee and consider what it means for how you work with his eventual replacement.

    3. Olive*

      It bothers me that someone who had negative feedback about a job he was leaving is being called full of bad spots and broken inside. Could he have handled it better? Perhaps. Was the letter unfair or overly personal? Perhaps. But it doesn’t mean that he’s broken if he wanted to share about the things that caused him to leave the job and only felt comfortable or safe doing so after he’d already resigned.

      When I left my last job, I did my best to make my exit interview professional and not use personal attacks, but I had some blunt things to say about issues I’d had that had led to me leaving. (I wasn’t staying in the industry, so burnt bridges were less of a concern, and again, I didn’t call my boss a B word or anything that would and should reflect badly on me in any circumstance.) Since I’m telling this, many people are probably sympathizing with me – yeah, that workplace and boss had issues and it was fair to be blunt about them. But if my former boss had written in, I’ll bet those same people would be saying about me – yeah, your employee was probably broken inside, a bitter and unfair person.

      A long way to say that the perspective of who’s telling the story changes our opinions here a lot.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Your situation is completely different, however, and it sounds like you handled it in a fairly professional way, though.

        Saying “Yeah, no, if you’re going to hire a part-time person to help me, then I’m out; here’s my letter of resignation and also a letter describing everything I don’t like about you but have never bothered to say directly to you” is a completely different matter.

        My thought is that if the relationship were truly as good as LW describes it, then for some reason this employee simply didn’t feel comfortable saying any of those things without also handing in a letter of resignation at the same time. And that’s not something that LW would have or could have known when they hired them.

        But again, this isn’t on LW. It’s unusual behavior; don’t let it bug you and move on with life.

        1. Olive*

          See, I’m not sure it is completely different. One of the reasons I left was because another employee was being brought on to “help me”. Only, I’d seen over and over again how younger, outgoing men were promoted over women who had been loyally hard working and experienced. Maybe I was completely wrong, but after being denied a promotion, seeing another woman denied a promotion, and then having a man coming on to “help me” but *not* be put in my chain of command, only given a vague promise that someday I might be a manager, I wasn’t going to wait around.

          But from my boss’ perspective, she could probably write the same letter as the OP where she thought that everything was going great between us and I just was insecure and impatient and unwilling to put in the work (nevermind the 4+ years I’d been working and watching women get passed over).

          1. Anon for this*

            Olive, I think you’re taking this too personally and applying your own experience in a way that does not help the LW. We’re supposed to take LWs at their word and this LW is saying they had a great relationship with this person and that this person had not reported any concerns previously, so it’s completely understandable that LW would be taken aback to receive a scathing letter. I think the best option is not to respond at all. I like Alison’s suggestions for bland responses, if LW feels the need to respond with something. I was on my church’s church council years ago when someone quit in a huff, including sending a scathing email to everyone on council, basically acting like they were the victim, when in reality they were a very difficult person who had bullied others. They described several situations in their email that I knew to be untrue because I had been present and had witnessed the interactions this person was describing. The president of the council made the decision we would not respond, and it was definitely the right decision. Getting involved in a back and forth with people who write scathing letters/emails is never a good idea. It’s why businesses are generally advised not to argue with people who leave bad reviews. It just draws more attention to it.

          2. Olive*

            I agree that the LW is sincerely taken aback and shouldn’t respond at all.

            What I’m reacting to isn’t Alison’s reply and suggestions, but about the comments that the employee must have been rotten and broken. I don’t think that kind of negative personal analysis is helpful to either the LW or the community.

  6. lost academic*

    I have had plenty of calls with IT that on their face looked the same as described. I am at times in calls while they are remotely fixing or updating my computer which takes a certain amount of their time (mostly the computer’s time) and not a lot of attention. We pass the time chatting about whatever – I can’t be doing any other work and it’s nice to get to know people. I assume that this is happening at the frequency that the LW does need to address it outside of typical situations but wanted to put this out there.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      I agree with this overall; but it sounds like this is the same person over and over? I could be reading that wrong, though.

    2. pally*

      Good point! Small talk is easier than many minutes of dead air waiting for the computer to complete its thing. Those dead air minutes can feel awkward after a while.

    3. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      The key is what LW means by “often”. If LW is the type of manager who thinks that a couple 15-minute calls every other week is often, then it seems they have no legitimate beef. If OTOH it’s an hour every day, that’s a very different story.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        also how do they know its the se person.on the other line every time?

  7. Mint Berry Crunch*

    I sometimes go for a pair of dress shorts with tights and a nice-ish shoe. I don’t think that’s any less professional than jeans which are generally ok in a business casual office (mine at least).

    1. NeedRain47*

      Hm, in my world “business casual” usually means “not jeans”. but it’s like….. I can wear dark blue trousers that are cotton but not denim, but I can’t wear denim ones? That doesn’t make much sense.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Virtually no clothing rules will make sense when you really deconstruct them, unless the clothing is solely performing it’s original role as a form of shelter and supposed to protect your legs from thorns, your hands from burns, your toes or head from falling hammers, etc.

        1. NeedRain47*

          Yep. I am bitter due to having to spend money on shoes & clothes that I only wear while sitting at my desk in a basement never seeing the public or even many coworkers.

          1. Milksnake*

            I relate to this comment so much I could have written it myself. Hundreds of dollars to see the same 2-12 people almost every day for years… foolishness.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Foolishness you could address with an inflatable T-rex costume, though.

              1. Random Dice*

                I love the mental image of this.

                But can you imagine the misophonia letter? “If that damn T-Rex makes that whirring blowing inflation sound in the office again, I swear I’m gonna stab its stupid puffy green skin with a pair of scissors.”

      2. Mint Berry Crunch*

        I guess my office is actually more on the casual side of the business casual, depending on if there are clients or c suites around.

  8. El l*

    Your employee is comfortable with ending the relationship negatively. That’s what a personal takedown means. Even if you only paid lip service to his opinions rather than actively listened to his concerns, staffing is absolutely your responsibility and your strategic prerogative.

    Can’t know whether he’s justified in doing this, but suspect no. And you’ll never know why he didn’t speak up. Either way, this guy is now a lost cause, and there’s nothing else to say to him except “hand in your keys.”

    The best you can do on this count is be sure that next time you’re properly soliciting employee feedback.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Depending on the matters he’s bringing up, there might be some actionable things, like maybe he would have liked more regular meetings with the boss, or maybe he felt his opinions weren’t being taken into consideration because the boss didn’t explain why she went for a different option.
      Other than that, yes, seeking employee feedback so that if it happens again, at least you can say “why didn’t you bring this up during our feedback meetings?”.

  9. Usagi*

    I think what gets lost sometimes in conversations about the fact that clothing is subject to convention and social norms is that… that fact is fine? Fashion, like other forms of arts and culture, is affected by its history because it’s human. I get that it’s frustrating sometimes to have to navigate norms and changes therein, but I feel like people sometimes get caught up in this mindset that it should be “consistent” in ways that a simple machine could decipher.

    Like, if length was the only filter we use, sure, shorts and skirt would be equally formal. But just like material, pattern, and color, “category of item” is a layer of input too. And shorts are a different item category than skirt, one with their own separate norms and history.

    Basically all I’m saying is, it’s not actually that weird that shorts read differently than skirt of the same length, because length is just one of many factors. The menswear guy from Twitter might know the history of why, but it’s not some illogical double standard that two items have two different vibes.

    1. Pescadero*

      …but “convention and social norms” are not based in logic.

      Pretty much all professional clothing standards are illogical – just because something is the “norm” doesn’t in any way imply it isn’t illogical.

      1. Crooked Bird*

        I’ve read this twice trying to understand what you mean. I understood the the comment you replied to as saying “it’s OK that it’s illogical, sometimes human cultural things just are.” I don’t understand the purpose of replying “but it’s illogical.” If what you mean is “no, logic is the highest value and illogic is not OK,” why not just say that?

    2. NeedRain47*

      I’m not sure anyone’s arguing it should be consistent. What I see (and argue for myself) is that if it’s already not consistent, then why do we have to try to interpret fashion trends that are (quite literally) because of something some king did in the 14th century? In many cases it’s required even when people aren’t seen by the public or clients. Why can’t I wear a tshirt to sit in a windowless basement at a desk all day? This is the lack of logic that people are talking about. I don’t need it to be consistent, I need it to not be both arbitrary and punitive.

    3. Melissa*

      You’re right. It’s like when students (I volunteer at a school) ask why they have to call teachers by their last names, rather than first names. Well, one response is “to show respect” but hopefully we are ALL showing respect to one another, no matter what we call each other. (And if first names are disrespectful, we shouldn’t be calling students that either.) Ultimately, the answer is “You just do” and “It’s more formal.” And that is fine, we don’t need to come up with a justification for it.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        At my school, some of the students have taken to calling the principal by his first name–even a diminutive of his first name. Like, if he went by Tim to adults, but some students call him ‘Timmy’. It’s wild to me! It is to him, too, drives him bonkers.

        I had to have the conversation with one kid. “Hey, even *I* don’t call him Tim–I call him Mr. Jones.” I don’t think it had a lasting effect.

      2. MissElizaTudor*

        Is it really difficult to explain why? As far as I can tell, it’s mainly done to place teachers above students in a hierarchy and create distance between teachers and students. Both of those are varying degrees of useful and definitely serve a purpose, so it seems like that should be fine to tell students.

      3. allathian*

        This is a cultural norm, common but far from universal. I’m in Finland, and I’ve called my teachers by their first names, sometimes by their nicknames (at their request) since daycare. I also called all of my friends’ parents by their first names if I knew them, or “friend’s Mom/Dad” if I didn’t.

        When we lived in the UK for a year, I called my teachers Mrs./Miss/Mr. Lastname or Sir/Miss (regardless of marital status) just like my English classmates did.

        When I went to France as an exchange student, students called their teachers title/last name and teachers used first names, but it was a mutual formal relationship between adults, everyone used vous except students to each other.

        That said, my Finnish teachers always kept better discipline in class than my English teachers ever did. My teachers in the UK spoke very loudly and shouted at the least provocation, which I found extremely unnerving until I got used to it, but my Finnish teachers always used their “indoor voices” and managed to make themselves heard in spite of that.

        In some cultures it’s possible to project authority while remaining at a more equal level with informal address and everyone using first names.

      4. Phryne*

        When I was in primary school in the 80ies, we called the teachers by their first name but with Meester or Juffrouw in front of it to indicate status. My friend at a different school called their teachers Meester or Juffrouw, but with a last name. There was no real reason for any of it, just convention, and we did not treat teachers with any more or less politeness, I’d say. I think as a kid, what you want is for it to be clear what is expected rather than for it to be logical. So yes, it might be about respect or formality, but also just about it being a clear rule to follow to forestall discussion.

    4. ButtonUp*

      I agree with you generally, but I think the issue is that currently part of the population gets to wear light, cool clothing in the summer and part of the population doesn’t.

  10. HearTwoFour*

    Alison, I wonder what you would recommend to the OP regarding future reference checks on this employee. This employee has shown poor judgement/skills in teamwork, receiving feedback, communications…all things that can fairly be discussed during a reference check. But because the letter and gripes weren’t delivered while the bulk of the employee’s work was performed, perhaps the letter should be put out of thought when providing a reference check.
    Your advice?

    1. NeedRain47*

      Do you think someone who writes a letter like this would then to use that employer as a reference? I do not.

      1. Seashell*

        Hopefully he realizes that he burned that bridge, but stranger things have happened.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        It’s not impossible that someone with such poor judgement would go on to show more poor judgement. Plus it’s not just the listed referees who get a call. It’s worth being prepared for the eventuality.

      3. Cat Tree*

        You’d be surprised. There’s all kinds of people out there. I recently fired someone for poor performance, which I made extremely clear, and he emailed me the next day asking if I had any open positions that I could recommend him for.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          This isn’t horribly out of line, to me. He could be terrible at the job he was in, but be much better suited to some other role in your organization.

    2. She of Many Hats*

      When I was tasked with reference checks, a question I had to ask was “What areas do they need improvement?” For this guy, I answer he needs to improve professional communication especially when asked for feedback.

  11. may spring rain*

    It sounds to me like you were making strategic and sensible decisions based on what the endeavor needs, and he took it personally. Employee had his chance to speak up and contribute, but didn’t until he left, which seems a bit cowardly. I wouldn’t give this an ounce of further thought, considering. I hope his replacement is mature and professional. Good luck!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      They appear to be a whole clothing category, which from the photos I would summarize as “shorts made out of non-stretchy fabric, with a zipper.”

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Think formal fabric, the kind that needs ironing to look nice, and lots of tailoring details like belt loops, cuffed hems, pleats and maybe a travelers crease pressed into the centre of each leg. They always remind me of the people who work on high end yachts or on golf courses; like they’re a step nicer than casual shorts so you’re not at your own leisure, but it’s still leisure-adjacent.

  12. NerdyKris*

    I just remembered how movies in the 80’s or 90’s would do “future” business styles, and it would be something like a double tie or just larger versions of then current trends. Little did they know we’d actually end up moving in the opposite direction and drop ties and suit jackets.

    1. SpaceySteph*

      An older, out of touch manager at work was recently heard lamenting that since covid the dress has gone down and “nobody wears ties anymore.” Whats worse is that most of his direct reports at this meeting are women, so they mostly weren’t wearing ties anyway.

      1. Miss Scarlett*

        The first job I had out of college (mid 80’s, front office to a manufacturing company), women were required to wear skirts and dresses. When I asked why I couldn’t wear nice pants, I was told men wore ties in order to “dress up” their shirt/pant combos. Cue a visit to the thrift to buy ties that matched all my pant outfits.

      2. amoeba*

        Ha. I’ve heard my boyfriend (jokingly) complain about the lack of ties, but that’s just because he actually likes wearing them and now never has an opportunity to use his collection! But actually being upset about that…

  13. Felix*

    reading all the comments about LW1 here I suspect you are all business people and think you’re perfect and all your employees love you. Sad to break it to you but most employers do a less than job and most likely this employee is right in his feedback

      1. goducks*

        I have received such a missive from a former employee, and that was my response, verbatim.

    1. Zap R.*

      First of all, RUDE.

      Second of all…Actually, there’s no second of all. The only thing I have to say to you is RUDE.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      I don’t think people are assuming that employers can’t be wrong. Of course they can and there are numerous possibilities here – the employee might be completely off-base, they might be completely correct or they might have a point somewhere along the line but be massively overreacting.

      However, no matter which of these is true, it sounds like they didn’t handle it in a good way. Sending a scathing letter when you resign, complaining about things that it sounds like he had the opportunity to raise previous really…isn’t the way to go about trying to enact change in your workplace, so it sounds more like he just wants to insult the LW than that he actually wants to give helpful advice. Especially as it sounds like he got personal.

      “I think you should rethink the policy on x because it’s likely to cause y problem” is reasonable. Something like “you’re an idiot for enacting the policy on x” is not. And it sounds like the letter was closer to the latter.

      I don’t think anybody is assuming the employer couldn’t have made mistakes. The LW themselves admitted that they are not perfect. But there are ways of raising concerns without being rude.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      It definitely could be, which is why Alison said the OP should mull it over. It’s a poor way of giving feedback though, so it’s hard to take the guy seriously.

    4. Cat Tree*

      Then why didn’t he give this feedback when the manager *explicitly asked for it* and could have actually done something about it?

    5. Unkempt Flatware*

      Oh it absolutely could be very true feedback. We can’t say for sure. What is also true is that this is never the way to go about this. I say this as someone who has to physically restrain myself from sending similar letters or emails to bad former bosses. And I actually have sent a letter to a particularly abusive boss to explain how her actions impacted me. I don’t regret it but it certainly didn’t produce any comforting result.

      I will say that “I’m sorry you didn’t bring this up sooner” wouldn’t be a good response as most of my bad bosses were not safe to talk to about issues.

      However, anyone who engages in these behaviors is not emotionally intelligent and I include myself in this assessment. If they actually cared about providing feedback critical to the performance of a business, this could be accomplished through a professionally worded narrative in an exit interview. This is how I overcame my desire to send scathing letters. It’s much more effective and allows my very real concerns to be documented appropriately.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        ‘I’m sorry you didn’t bring this up sooner” wouldn’t be a good response as most of my bad bosses were not safe to talk to about issues.’
        Yeah I totally get that, I have had bosses I would never have been able to say anything to. But sometimes the employee might think that there’s no point bringing something up because they’ve been told that by someone else, when that someone else only ever made completely unworkable suggestions.
        I think it’s worth saying, and observing the employee’s reaction very carefully.

        Just remembering when ToxicBoss1 found out his wife was planning to leave him and told him exactly why. He decided to go away for a week in their country house to think about the failings she had listed. He actually told us that, and said he wanted our opinions of him as a boss to think over at the same time. My colleague and I sat there, stony-faced, and refused to say anything because what was the point? Anything we said could then be held against us at a later date, and he was enough of a narcissist not to be able to take criticism, and however much we hated him neither of us wanted him to do anything drastic.

    6. Crooked Bird*

      Whenever someone frames the question as “who is always right, men or women? Employees or employers? Kids or parents?”… you know you’re in for a good time..

    7. Random Dice*

      Okey dokey

      I’m enjoying the bizarrely aggressive insults in response to this article. It’s fun.

  14. Zap R.*

    LW #1, this happened to me too. I’m so sorry you had to deal with it. My disgruntled letter writer was upset that I delegated tasks to her (!). Some people have a hard time with professional norms.

  15. SofiaDeo*

    RE #1, be glad you found out early on this person is the type to blow up instead of having a discussion. Even if they changed their mind about how they felt about the new hire, it could and should have been brought up. Instead of getting upset, finding a new job, then blasting you on the way out the door.

    You don’t need to “acknowledge his feedback”. I personally wouldn’t respond, lest you somehow set them off again, and get another hateful email/talking to. “Scathing personal breakdown of everything I am doing wrong in the business?” From someone new to the industry? Be glad you saw who they are before they managed to do damage. I could easily see them blowing up like this at an account. I am not a fan of firing people as soon as they turn in their notice (it’s happened to me) but if they are in a position to do damage before leaving, be very wary. If you “don’t respond the way they think you should”, I can easily see this person getting even more angry and doing deliberate damage. You are right, this is a business, and the personal attack is unwarranted/concerning. Please protect yourself/your business.

  16. Elizabeth West*

    I just cannot wear dresses or skirts without some kind of leg covering. I was socialized growing up to wear hose, and now, on the rare occasion when I do wear a dress, it’s always in autumn so I can wear tight and boots. Sandals are not my friend — they give me blisters, and the only ones I can wear are not work-appropriate. There’s also the whole chafing thing in hot weather. Maybe I could do it if I tried those leg band things, but I haven’t yet.

    No, tights are not more comfortable (unless it’s freezing out), but I’m used to them from skating. My brain just balks at bare legs, especially in a formal setting. Shorts, unless it’s a super casual workplace, would be out completely for me.

    1. Sister George Michael*

      I was socialized the same way, and I don’t like my legs because they are dead-fish white even at the height of summer. But I’ve always hated nylons. I do fine with bare legs by using an anti-chafing stick and wearing Rothy’s (our office is pretty casual).

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I’m with you – almost all of my skirts are ankle length, and on the very rare occasion I wear a dress or skirt that isn’t ankle length, I wear tights or hose with it. (I do wear the long skirts in summer with skimmies though.)

    3. Cat Tree*

      To me, the idea of covering my legs with a form-fitting piece of completely sheer fabric seems extremely pointless.

      I realize that all leg coverings aren’t sheer hosiery, but I’m also not interested in wearing thick tights in hot weather.

      1. Crooked Bird*

        And then never letting your legs touch anything for fear of getting a run! Yeah, not for me either. I’m lucky I have an outdoor job…

      1. pandop*

        Whereas the only shorts/tights combinations I am used to seeing are the casual wear of the early 90s – I think tights and city shorts look absurd.

        As to the chafing – Snag chub rub shorts! (although I also have a couple of pairs of cycling shorts too, from before I had any Snags)

  17. may spring rain*

    I’m in a white-hot-weather state, and my boss wears a professional shorts suit (with the shorts lightly pin-striped and just above her knees), with a lightweight blazer, nice blouse, and short heels. It’s as professional and put-together as any other business outfit.

    On that note, I’d like to see candidates interviewing in a location of similar weather be able to wear such things for the interview. Having to wear a regular blazer and pants, especially in the preferred dark colors, is just patently unfair to all interviewees.

  18. SpaceySteph*

    I, for one, hope that professional dress largely goes out the window in this generation. Covid proved that we could all do our jobs just fine in leggings and slippers or shorts and flip-flops, without makeup or elaborate hairstyling. Professional dress only serves to make people less comfortable, to require a large outlay of money to start a professional job. It is harder and more expensive for plus size/big & tall people, for women, for people with physical disabilities, for pregnant people, etc.

    Ever since covid I’ve seen my workplace become more casual. We’re not at shorts and tshirts yet, but jeans and flats are more commonplace and gone are suit jackets and ties. Thank goodness.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      I think you make a good point here – professional dress is designed to exclude. It excludes those who don’t have money for fancy clothes, and those who haven’t been raised into this paradigm. It sends signals about who is important and who is not. I feel sure that was the whole point, originally.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Well yes “dress for the position you are aiming for” and all that.

    2. Antigone Funn*

      Same. I hope Millennials kill professional dress like every other terrible thing we’ve allegedly destroyed. Or if not, maybe the Zoomers can take a crack at it.

  19. DJ Abbott*

    I think another reason is it’s more likely to be inappropriate with shorts. I see many people in short shorts, some Daisy Dukes, and occasionally a man in too-tight shorts.
    If shorts were allowed, enforcing a dress code of mid-thigh or longer and not too tight would be a significant increase in workload for someone.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Surely you realize that skirts also come in a variety of lengths and tightness. How would it be any harder to enforce for shorts than we already do with skirts?

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Tight skirts are not as revealing as tight shorts.
        Most people already understand not to wear very short skirts to work.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Yes, and most people understand that they can wear trousers but not leggings, so?

  20. Gondorff*

    It’s interesting because in my sphere, dress shorts for men have always been an accepted thing. Most men in summer wear what I would consider golf attire – khaki dress shorts and a polo shirt, or similar – especially when not interfacing with clients. Whereas while some women would wear shorts to golf, very few wear them to the office – but they’ll wear dress capris only a few inches longer. I have a pair of what I think were meant to be dress capris but ended up more as dress shorts on me (I have long legs and they hit just past the knee for me). I love them and wear them to work probably once a week in summer and have never had anyone say anything.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I’d still count those as capris even if they just hit below the knee. Longer capris are a little more formal, but even shorter capris of a comparable length to long shorts are still cut totally different to shorts. It’s not really about length.

    2. Random Dice*

      Oh that’s an interesting point!

      Shorts to me are right out at a business casual office… but I’m apparently ok with capris.

      This stuff is all so arbitrary.

    3. pandop*

      I’m the opposite – the trousers I am wearing to work today were advertised as ‘cropped’, but are the perfect length for me.

  21. introverted af*

    I’m trying to figure out a similar dilemma to #1 for myself right now (as a woman). I’m at a medium sized tech office which is on the casual end of business casual – I wear jeans most days, sometimes with a tshirt, sometimes with more of a top or a polo. Other women dress more formally and more casually – one woman is in a dress of some kind and often wears blazers or jackets with them. Other women in my business segment usually wear about the same as me, but often more casual into joggers and tshirts. I regularly see my manager in cargo shorts and a polo.

    Given all that – is there any women’s level equivalent of shorts that might match these vibes? I’m comfortable enough in the office in jeans, but roasting when I go outside, and just would like to be comfortable in both scenarios. My half a solution is a tanktop with a sweater/cardigan over it inside that I can take off when I go outside, but even with a thin cardigan that’s sometimes too hot inside.

    1. EMP*

      Do any men wear shorts in the summer in your office? (There are some who do in mine, who are VP level but not customer facing). If yes, I think any similar short or something capri length would be fine for women as well. Cooler than jeans but if anything more business-y would be a loose linen/cotton pant (although business dress impression may depend on the specific pant, if someone’s wearing joggers I think you’re fine in anything in this category).

    2. Sarah*

      Skorts! There are some ones that are nicely tailored to look “professional” while still keeping the shorts comfort underneath.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      When you ask for an equivalent to shorts, do you mean because you are looking for a non-shorts option? Because if not, I feel like women can absolutely wear shorts that match these vibes. If it’s an office where cargo shorts and joggers are fine, shorts on women seems like it should be fine.

      I think the main thing is length and material; I probably wouldn’t wear denim cut offs, but I’ve worn twill shorts to work with a 7-9″ inseam before and it’s been fine in my similarly casual office. I usually wear them with something other than a t-shirt through, so a patterned top or a shell (if you don’t mind being sleeveless).

      Alternatively: skirts. I’ve worn stretch knit pencil skirts in the past that have been both comfortable and easy to dress up (blazer) or down (graphic tee) depending on the occasion.

      1. Random Dice*

        I’m with you. If your manager is wearing not just shorts, but cargo shorts – the most casual shorts of all – you can wear whatever so long as it’s not too short or tight.

        1. amoeba*

          Yup, absolutely! If the men in my office were wearing shorts, I wouldn’t even think twice. Not hot pants, obviously, but longer, nicely tailored ones, maybe linen or even dressier material should be completely fine!

          In addition, I’d generally look into loose linen trousers, and/or maybe culottes? They’re a lot lighter and nicer to wear in the summer that jeans (probably even more comfy than some shorts!)

    4. Ellis Bell*

      I’d shop for capris, culottes, and crop pants if you specifically want short. I’d go for chinos and palazzos if you just want pants that are cooler.

    5. Help Desk Peon*

      I’m in a techy office and I routinely wear capris and skorts. Sometimes loose knit skirts. Other women in the office, including my boss, do the same. We go for the “golf outing” side of things more than the “beach” side when picking fabrics and patterns.

      I kinda miss broomstick skirts, I found those so comfy but also very covering.

    6. Camelid coordinator*

      This is awfully late, sorry, but my solution to this was a cute hiking skirt I had in a bunch of colors. Mine was from Royal Robbins. I also had some pants from Athleta.

  22. Qwerty*

    Shorts vs Skirts – Something I have observed/experienced is that shorts ride up when sitting and whereas my work skirts drape nicely (or even increase coverage). Obviously not all skirts do this, but coverage during various activities is something we tend to automatically consider more when determining if a skirt/dress is work appropriate.

    Seen way too much of my coworkers’ upper thighs at one job which kinda turned most people there against shorts in the office.

  23. L*

    I am so surprised no one mentioned Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman and the shorts suit she wore at the end of the movie! I would absolutely consider that outfit professional enough for many offices.

  24. Dr. Vibrissae*

    Everytime the shorts issue is raised here I think about my first llama grooming position. It was my first time in a professional role having previously worked as a sweeper in a llama grooming establishment. I worked in a hot area of the country back in the late 2000’s when the line between really long shorts and really short crop-length pants was blurry for a bit. I was apparently on the wrong side of the shorts divide line for the professional standards of the head groomer, and in order to make sure I didn’t make a similar mistake in the future I switched from wearing professional clothes under my smocks to scrubs. Why are neon colored scrubs more professional than long shorts and a blouse? Well, just because that’s the way it be sometimes :)

  25. Anne Wentworth*

    It boggles my mind that LW#1 doesn’t recognize that the relationship is already ending negatively. Though the inability to see that makes me wonder how long their employee’s hostility has been festering without them noticing.

    I know we’re supposed to accept the LW’s read on the situation according to the commenting rules, but it’s hard when the LW says “My ship went down and I’m currently floating on a door in the middle of the ocean. How should I move forward to make sure I don’t become shipwrecked?”

    1. Random Dice*

      What ship went down? They hired another person and their employee quit in an unprofessional way.

  26. AreYouBeingServed?*

    LOL. I got one of those scathing emails from a highly incompetent and rude employee when he handed in his notice. I skimmed it while he stood there waiting for some kind of response. It was terrible both in content and in style and was both personal and incorrect.

    After skimming it (for maybe 20 seconds, it was two pages long and obviously took a while to compose), I just wadded it up in a ball and tossed it in the trash with a very nonchalant “Yeah that was great. Grammar needs some work. Please make sure HR knows when your last day is. Anything else?”

    He was FURIOUS. LOL. His face got red, and he stomped out, and decided not to show up for his last two weeks, to everyone’s benefit.

  27. Sally Forth*

    We had a temp show up in fairly short shorts with a nice top covered by a suit jacket that matched the shorts. It was evident that she had bought this as a suit someplace and it was well accessorized. Our ED said all she cared about was that she was in closed toe shoes (a particular peeve of hers).

    After the temp left we had a great discussion about shorts in the office. If the shorts had been regular pants or even above- ankle length, she was actually more professionally dressed than all but one of us in the discussion. Since none of us were likely to wear shorts to work, we left it at that.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Ghosting a job is usually not a good idea. You will burn a bridge.

      But I agree that exit interviews are generally meaningless. They are done so that the company can tick a box and move on. I have only worked at one company that actually takes any of that feedback seriously.

  28. Bubbel*

    Do some soul searching here. People who do this are afraid to speak up. They don’t feel safe professionally. Why? Is he justified? I know I have felt this way. I know others in my location have felt this way. Analyze why he feels this way? Is this really rudeness? Or was it fear.

  29. Chrisssss*

    OP #3 (Shorts at work)
    I have no useful advice to add, but something funny: this reminds me on how Swedish drivers started wearing skirts because of the heat, because those where allowed, but short trouser weren’t.

    1. Chrisssss*

      Since I don’t seem to be able to post links. If you want to learn more, search for “Sweden: Male train drivers don skirts to beat the heat”

    2. Random Dice*

      I’ve seen that for school dress codes with rigid gender codes.

      I heartily support them pushing back on stupid antiquated gender norms. Any person should be able to wear any article of clothing in a uniform.

      1. londonedit*

        Most British schools have school uniforms, and most years there’ll be a lighthearted news story about a right-on group of lads pushing back against the uniform rules by wearing school skirts in the summer – because generally the uniform for girls will offer the option of a school skirt or trousers, so girls can just wear their school skirt without tights in summer to keep cool, whereas the uniform for boys is often trousers all year round.

  30. umami*

    The letter says more about the employee than the employer, so while I would reflect on the contents, I wouldn’t bother with a response. This is not something you need to close the loop on.

  31. Random Dice*

    Don’t try to protect your ex-employee’s bridge from his own blowtorch.

    He torched the bridge with you. It’s burned to cinders. Dumb move on his part, but hey, everybody gets to set their own life on fire if they decide to.

    1. Random Dice*

      I’ve stopped shaving since the pandemic. I wear dresses and skirts exclusively, with a very femme look – I recently started to wear jewel-toned sequin pencil skirts even though I’m on video calls all day. It makes me happy to dress up, and my husband likes it. But heck no to shaving, that’s some patriarchal BS and I’m not doing it any more.

  32. Siggie*

    With #1, I don’t really agree with Alison that Cecil’s choice to share negative feedback with LW1 in writing as he was leaving their employment “show[s] their judgment is … not great”. This is the only time the majority of people feel even remotely safe to share these types of thoughts, especially if they have attempted to raise them without success, or seen others do so.

    But I agree that LW1 should consider what’s said in the letter, and they need to do this objectively. I’ve seen many of these types of letters over the years, and every single one of them has had at least a few small things that are worthy of consideration, and most of them have led to some pretty serious contemplation and changes that were very much needed. Those outcomes have ranged from being as simple as streamlining some processes or ensuring that all communication and learning styles are taken into account, to very serious problems being exposed and dealt with properly after having been allowed to carry on for too long.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      It’s funny because I have had the opposite experience, with anything that anyone said as they’re on their way out being totally disregarded. In my experience anyone who raises a complaint like that is automatically in the wrong, proof being that they’re leaving. After all, it’s wonderful to blame someone who’s no longer there to give their own version of what happened. The one example that sticks in my mind is the guy hired to deal with sales for a small agency that our boss had bought out. The agency was a one-man operation, and the one man was kept on, but left in a huff shortly afterwards. Sales plummeted after he left, because he poached all the clients. But it was the sales guy who was blamed for not preventing the poaching that he didn’t know was even happening.

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