my office ignored my surgery, undergrad using ChatGPT to network badly, and more

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

1. My office ignored my surgery and medical leave

About six months ago, I announced to my office of 30+ staff that I would be on a medical leave following knee replacement surgery. I am the office manager for our regional branch, and have been with the company for six years. We have no HR in our branch—it’s located in our corporate office. Whenever anyone in our office is sick, experiences a death in the family, retires, or otherwise deserves to be acknowledged, that responsibility falls to me; I am the person who ensures that cards are passed, pizza is ordered, and the employee feels seen and supported.

In the weeks leading up to my absence, I had two meetings with leadership to review my temporary coverage; trained my replacement and created pages of documentation to help her navigate the tasks I handle; helped to plan the retirement party for my boss (he will go out on retirement while I’m on leave); and made sure that everyone knew who was responsible for specific facets of my job while I was gone.

My last day in the office was two weeks ago. My surgery was one week ago. I have not received a card, a bouquet of flowers or any acknowledgment of my absence. I am disgusted by the lack of humanity and compassion displayed by my officemates and leadership.

Is there an expectation that the person who cares for others in the office deserves some modicum of care themselves in situations like this? Is it the Oxycodone talking, or am I right to feel the way I do?

I cannot tell you how many letters I’ve received over the years from people in exactly your situation. When the person in charge of this kind of recognition/care is the one who is out, it’s really, really common for them to receive none of that care themselves. On a strictly logical level, you can probably see why — no one else has been assigned the responsibility. That doesn’t make it not sting — you have spent years ensuring others are cared for in this way, and now when it’s your turn you’re neglected — but it’s very likely that no one thought to handle it because it’s never been their responsibility before.

Now, should it occur to people that the person who normally handles this stuff is out and someone else will need to step in? Yes, of course (particularly your boss). But in reality, most people are focused on their own work, and it’s not an intentional slight.

If you want, you could point out that no one is covering this task during your leave and someone should be. Not only for your own card/flowers/etc., but for anyone else who has this kind of life event while you’re away — if Cordelia’s dad dies or Niles is hospitalized while you’re away, presumably they’re going to get ignored too. So if you want to, you could message your boss and your replacement with a note pointing out that’s a task someone needs to be handling while you’re out. You could add, “Receiving no acknowledgement of my surgery made me realize we have no one covering this in my absence” … and if they’re not entirely oblivious, that should jog them into realizing the oversight. (In the future, it’s a good thing to include in the training for your temp cover — not “send me flowers” but “send flowers to anyone who is out for XYZ reasons”).

2. My coworker isn’t following through on handing off a project to me

I am new to my firm, and we all work primarily remotely. One coworker, Jane, who is roughly lateral to me but has been with the company for a couple of years, seems very brusque when speaking with me. This may simply be a difference in style, and I’m willing to chalk it up to that. However, she was supposed to hand off a project of hers to me. She has an unbelievably full plate, and since I’m new, I believe the company is trying to ensure that I have enough work and the project is in my catchment area. When our boss (who is a very light touch with regards to management, and not very assertive) asked me if I’d take over the project, I told him that I’d be happy to, as long as Jane was okay with that transfer. Our boss reported back that yes, Jane was fine transitioning the project over to me. However, whenever we have a project call or follow-up, I ask if I might take that on, and Jane says no, she’ll handle it. She never seems to actually hand anything over, at all.

Perhaps the boss should have had the hand-off conversation with all three of us on the line at the same time, but that’s not what happened. Considering that Jane is so abrupt with me in general, I honestly want to avoid another unpleasant interaction. But I feel like I should be a big girl and say something directly, rather than going back to the boss and asking about the firm’s intentions with regards to this project assignment. What exactly should I say, and how should I go about it, given that we are remote, and it’s not so easy to just tap her on the shoulder and say “Do you have time for a quick chat?”

Be matter-of-fact about it! “Hi, Jane. Rupert asked me to to take on X. Can we set up a time this week to do the transition?” If she’s vague or blows you off, try asking, “Do you still think it makes sense to move X to me? If not, I need to go back to Rupert and let him know, since currently he’s expecting me to take it on.”

If that doesn’t solve it, go back to your boss and say, “I’ve asked Jane several times about when we can meet to transition X to me, but I haven’t been able to get time with her, and I think I’m at the limits of how much I can push her to do it. If if still makes sense for me to take it over, could you ask her to make time to meet with me so I can get started?”

3. Undergrad using ChatGPT to network (badly)

Last week I got a LinkedIn message from an undergrad at my alma mater, asking to connect and get advice on how to get started in my field. I’m always happy to help people who are getting started, so we’ve exchanged some messages, and… it’s become very clear that they’re using ChatGPT to write theirs. My field is in fact machine learning, specifically natural language processing — I know an LLM when I see one! I put genuine thought and effort into my advice, and I’m getting back businessy rephrasings of what I said and generic requests for more information.

Is this as rude as it feels? Should I say something to them about it? I get that networking is hard for students, but I really don’t like this!

This is an area that’s likely to evolve quite a bit in the coming years, but answering right now, with our current norms and expectations … I can certainly see why you see like it’s a one-sided conversation and that your levels of effort are not equivalent. That’s particularly galling when you’re offering up your time as a favor to this person. (And no one likes to receive back businessy rephrasings of what they just said, WTF.)

Just name it and ask about it! For example: “Since we’re talking about machine learning, can I ask — your responses sound very much like they’re being written by ChatGPT. Are they? If you’d like to continue corresponding, I’d ask that you not do that.”

If it continues after that, feel free to just discontinue the conversation … or offer a phone call, and only a phone call, instead.

4. Is my voicemail greeting inappropriate for job-hunting?

I’m about to start job-hunting soon and am wondering if my voicemail greeting would be considered unprofessional, as it is intented to be funny. My last name rhymes with “phone.” So my greeting is, in my best imitation of a recording, “FirstName LastName cannot answer the phone. Please leave a message after the tone.” It’s my normal voice, but very much monotone. I wanted to avoid accidentally adopting a sing-song tone (the whole recording is iambic, after all), so I tried to speak very flatly. Think 1990s robocalls that had a bunch of phrases recorded from someone’s voice rather than synthesized.

Should I change it to “you’ve reached FirstName LastName; please leave a message,” or just my name with the generic recording instead?

If you were using a jokey robotic-sounding voice, I’d definitely suggest changing it while you’re job-searching. But if it’s just your normal voice speaking a normal outgoing message that happens to rhyme, that’s not a big deal.

That said, I haven’t heard the message (I always wish for sound files with letters like this one!) and you’re always safer with a blandly professional greeting, so the more cautious approach would be to change it.

5. I don’t want to manage anyone

I don’t want to manage anyone, ever. Is that ever okay, or am I being naive?

Most people in the world go their whole lives without ever managing anyone, so it’s not at all naive to expect you could do that. However, it depends heavily on your field, as well as your income expectations. In some fields, you’d need to stay at a fairly junior level your whole career to avoid managing people, and that would mean accepting a correspondingly junior salary. You might be fine with that! Lots of people are fine with that. On the other hand, in other fields you can still advance without managing people (becoming a more and more senior version of whatever it is that you do). To really know what it’ll mean for you, you’d need to look at what career paths exist in the fields you’re interested in.

But for the record, it would be a major improvement if people who didn’t want to manage didn’t get pushed into management roles, where they are often too passive and shy away from using their authority, in an effort to avoid the hard and even sometimes painful parts of managing (On the flip side of that, there are also people who are too interested in being in a position of authority.)

{ 478 comments… read them below }

  1. CoinPurse*

    Re: not managing people….I was once cornered into accepting a management role with the threat that if I didn’t take it, they would give it to the office incompetent. It was a horrible experience. My team became filled with the workers no other manager wanted and I ended up firing 4 people in 12 months. I also ended up working 7 days a week.

    I left that job for a clinical specialist role and spent the rest of my career far happier.

    1. SarahKay*

      I willingly went into a management role about twenty years ago. Did it for three years, worked very, very hard to be merely okay at the people management part and did not enjoy that aspect at all.
      Having left that job, I knew management wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t take a similar role again.
      The last ten years or so I’ve had explicit conversations with my managers that I do not want to be a people-manager, at all, ever, and that getting direct reports would have me looking for a new role or job. I’ve also been clear that I accept this means I won’t ever rise above a certain level in the company, and I’m very happy with that. I like my current job and I’m paid enough; I have no desire to climb further if managing people is the cost of doing so.

      1. SansSerif*

        Very similar to my path. I’m a copywriter and I don’t want to manage. I was a copy manager about 20 years ago. I did fine, but I wasn’t happy. Since then I’ve been a writer and am always very clear about my intention to stay a writer. I’m happy to train new writers, take the lead on major projects, etc – all the things a senior writer does. Just don’t ask me to be a manager. Don’t ask me to hire, fire, deal with a budget, or make PowerPoint presentations. I’m going to retire soon, so I’ve been able to make this approach work for my whole career. I make a good salary and am happy I’ve stayed an individual contributor for 95% of my working life.

        1. ThatGirl*

          I am also a copywriter, and I’m with you – I don’t want to manage. You want me to take on some leadership things, sure – I’ll train, mentor, lead projects, absolutely. I don’t want to deal with mid-level-management meetings or budgets or any of that.

    2. Disarticulate*

      The reminds me, a few years ago, the old boss retired, in a consultancy that’s mostly about doing work _and_ managing people. There’s never been a part that’s not doing work. Basically, engineering & managing.

      Anyway, the two VP & Owner approach me, and tell me they want someone to “grow” the business. They then mention that if I say no, they’ll approach our new project engineer and then, if she says no, they’ll talk to our technician.

      That alone made it supremely evident that they had no idea how the business should function. I said no, and years later, the newly hired project engineer quit. …and then they ask me the same question.

    3. Recently Retired*

      In my 37 years of employment in government contracting, I think I had 35 different managers (admitting that my first 10 years out of college with a BS in Computer Science, I worked for 10 different companies in 6 different locations; but the last company prior to retirement was for 14 years with only 2 locations).
      When I had my annual performance review from the really good managers, the recommendation was for future growth to include management training. Unfortunately, we were usually really busy and there was no follow-up.
      With performance reviews from “not-so-good-managers”, there were comments of one or two specific minor failings during the year and “doesn’t work well with others”. With no follow-up to improve, and definitely no management training.

    4. Allornone*

      I have no desire to manage people, which is okay in my current role, not so okay if i plan to grow. But I did manage people when I was still in retail and….I sucked at it. I had my employees’ backs against snotty customers and spinless corporate, but ultimately I was too nice and let them get away with a lot more than I should. Granted, I was the only closing manager five nights a week, including weekends, and slightly resentful of that. But still. I know my strengths. I may just have to stay where I am for awhile.

    5. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

      Yeah, I’m happy being a worker bee and just making my hive the best possible. I happen to be very… expressive with my face. And have a low tolerance for excuses. But at least I’m aware I’m not management material. A few of my prior managers should have perhaps engaged in similar self-reflection.

  2. Chairman of the Bored*

    For #3, I would keep responding but let ChatGPT write all my emails to this person from now on.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      Came here to say this is the obvious solution. I would be highly tempted to do this. And very curious to see where the AI to AI conversaion would go. Not a productive or professional solution, but fun.

      1. OP3*

        It was my very first thought too! I wouldn’t actually do it, because as you noted it’s not productive or professional, but it’s absolutely tempting.

        1. Artemesia*

          I’d not engage with those who do that. You can tell them that, or just stop responding.

    2. Thomas*

      I reckon #3 WANTS to see if the letter writer can spot it. They’re writing to an AI expert after all. It’s the sort of silly “can you tell” thing I can imagine myself doing as an undergrad student.

      1. Myrin*

        That was my thought as well. I don’t know how likely it really is but it’s where my mind went to immediately.

        1. Artemesia*

          I can imagine someone writing a shlocky article about how they fooled 20 noted AI experts who didn’t even notice they were use chapbots to correspond with them. I’d just call them out and then not respond further. Maybe you will be the one example of someone who caught on.

      2. Expiring Cat Memes*

        My first thought was spear phishing. I hope OP has some way to verify that the person behind the chat is actually who they say they are.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I don’t know if spear phishing quite, but my first thought was there is no undergrad and it’s someone just seeing what they can get away with for whatever reason. Possibly just the lulz without any other goal.

          1. Ama*

            Years ago I ran an online fiction journal and one of my co-editors caught someone submitting to us, word for word, a piece we had published about two years earlier. When she called him on it, he gave some mealy-mouthed excuse about how he was doing an experiment to prove that fiction journals all publish pieces that sound exactly the same (which just raised more questions). This kind of seems like a very similarly naive and not well thought out plan to prove some kind of point that is only apparent to one person.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I think the young person’s framing is “When they realize how I have used the AI for this, they will be incredibly impressed by my deep knowledge of AI!” Which…. no.

        1. NeedRain47*

          that’s what I thought too. If they truly knew anything about AI they would *not* be doing this.

        2. OP3*

          Yeah, I’m seeing this suggested a lot, and… I sure hope this isn’t it! If you do this, all you’ve demonstrated is that you’ve heard of ChatGPT (and at this point, who hasn’t?) and that you know how to use a website. It doesn’t indicate that you know a single thing about how the model works under the hood, or even that you’re good enough at prompt engineering to get something useful out of it!
          But really I don’t think there’s any element of “wow, they’ll be so impressed when they realize” because I didn’t get the feeling I’m supposed to realize at all.

      4. BethDH*

        Other possibility is they think it shows skill — look, I’ll prove I know the field! — without realizing it’s like sending a composed a recording of you playing Happy Birthday on the kazoo. I see a lot of that kind of misguided showing off from students, usually well-intended but egotistical.

      5. Rapunzel Ryder*

        I have been a college APA writing tutor for 13 years (I swear I use more formality in academic writing lol) and can say, sadly, that while it could be the kind of silly thing to see if they would catch it, kids are starting to use AI generated tools, excessive templates and voice to text, rather than writing themselves due to the availability of technology and the holes in their education from the pandemic (got away with less formal writing and did not have as much feedback/extra help outside parents who may not have been strong writers).
        It would be just as likely that, for the current generation of students, that is what they know for writing with more formality than a Snap or text, especially if they are in a major that does not write much. CS you write a lot of code, but not as many papers (my CS degree compared to my Psychology degree) and in my experience at multiple universities, faculty are very informal in emails with students so when they have to write professional emails/messages, students do not have experience and worry about being perceived as “kids these days…”.

        1. Observer*

          ids are starting to use AI generated tools, excessive templates and voice to text, rather than writing themselves due to the availability of technology

          You would get a lot further in pushing back on misuse, and inappropriate use if you didn’t just mash everything together.

          There are several different problems you note, and some of them have absolutely nothing to do with some of the technologies you mention. For instance, excessive use of templates has nothing to with lack or appropriate formality for a given context. I’m not saying that over use of templates is not a problem, but differentiation is probably a good idea here.

          And voice to text has nothing to do with almost any of the problems you mention. There is nothing about essentially dictating your writing that makes it less formal, appropriately structured etc.

          1. SpaceySteph*

            Also voice to text can help even the playing field for people with some disabilities. As long as they’re proofreading afterwards, I see nothing wrong with using voice to text.

          2. Rapunzel Ryder*

            Sorry, on reflection I agree they would have been better served broken out. My original intent was just to give a passing list of ways writing has changed since a lot of us were UG students (and not meaning to imply all use of them is negative). One of my favorite quotes to use when tutoring kids (usually as I am pulling out my print copy of the manual, that I totally do not have multiple copies of… or talking about how things were in an older addition) is doing the stereotypical older voice while shaking my fists “Back when I was a student…”

            Just to expand on why I included the other two in relation to professional writing:

            For template use, if someone uses/refers to multiple templates and does not know how/take the time to blend them well, it can come off clunky/jargony. I am sure for OP, since that is their area of expertise, they would know the difference. But as a general trend, I have noticed that shift. My day job is in Graduate Admissions so I tend to get more emails where I see this compared to reviewing papers where if it was that obvious, we might be getting into plagiarism territory. Again, not condemning template use since I am no stranger to calling out to the Great God Google for how to say something.

            As SpaceySteph mentioned, voice to text is also an amazing tool, especially for those with disabilities (one of my favorite kids has dyslexia and swore by it since he could tell a wrong word in checking it transcribed correctly but trying to type each one out was a nightmare for him). It helps people get ideas down quickly so can also be an amazing tool for brainstorming and first drafts. But one downside to it because the person is talking and if they are not thinking about their tone and language use, the result can be more colloquial than formal. As long as they go back and make any needed corrections, it is an amazing tool. But I have seen so many papers/emails that were not gone back through so has that more informal tone (especially funny when they have the censorship turned off and told their roommate to F*** off, B****).

            1. Nina*

              My dad hasn’t been able to type in… decades now and uses Dragon voice-to-text software. He’s an engineer and mostly writing very dry, very formal documents (letters to government agencies, expert evidence for court cases). He has a ‘Dragon voice’ that he can use for several hours at a time, and a ‘normal voice’, and the software has only been trained to listen to the ‘Dragon voice’ and almost entirely misses any asides.
              Takes incredible self-control, and he’s not doing it because it’s easier, he’s doing it because he physically cannot type.

              1. allathian*

                I’m so glad that voice-to-text software exists for people like your father and others who need it.

                I also admire his ability to draft a formal text in his head so that it’s ready to dictate, because I’m useless at that. When I speak without a script or notes, it’s more or less a stream of consciousness thing, and I can’t reliably string more than about 4 or 5 coherent sentences together. Not a problem in casual conversation, but…

                I guess I’ve fully embraced the ability to edit text when you use a computer, and I’m old enough that I had to write everything in longhand at school. As a college student, I wrote reports and papers using a computer but supervised exams were written by hand.

        2. Potatogrip*

          Honestly, though, I have been a teacher for HS through college, and kids not doing their work is as old as education. They just used to use a legacy language model called “parents” to get the incorrectly done and obviously plagiarized work together.

          1. Observer*

            Or they were using a paper their older sibling, or someone’s friend “lent” them.

          2. Rapunzel Ryder*

            Agreed. I always love when you get something that they obviously did not write and make them talk you through it so you can give the plagiarism talk. My favorite was an older student coming back to school who told me it was not plagiarism because she did not copy and paste – and that is how the instructor explained what plagiarism is according to her. ‘See (shows me notebook of handwritten notes) I wrote it in my notes and then typed it into the computer so it is not plagiarism.’

            1. Rapunzel Ryder*

              And I forgot to add that of course there were no citations because she manually typed it in, those were her words now. Once we got a better definition of plagiarism, her next draft and future papers were much better.

          3. Artemesia*

            I have taught HS and college through grad school since the 60s — and yeah this is all true. One of the things I was mindful of even before the internet was structuring assignments so they were not easily plagiarized. But AI tools make this so much harder just as the internet itself did when trying to teach students to support assertions with competent evidence. It was easy to show them how to use govt docs, how to use scientific validated sources etc than to sift through information available on the internet.

            I suspect the use of AI to fake work so that little passes through the actual brain is going to move many classrooms in the direction of supervised in class exams. Especially for grad work these are not as desirable as well crafted projects and papers developed over time — but at least you can test that the student can think and express themselves.

            It isn’t easy as a teacher to adapt with these changes and we need lots more resources to help students evaluate what they discover this way.

      6. Katy*

        I doubt it. When ChatGPT comes up and I go on my rant about having to deal with it as an English teacher, I hear a lot of people saying, “Well, it’s a useful tool. I myself use it for writing emails. That’s what it’s best for!” I think this person has probably just absorbed the idea that AI is a useful tool for tedious tasks writing emails, and since this is their first experience actually writing work emails, they don’t know enough about how to write a good one to tell that ChatGPT is doing a bad job. And they haven’t absorbed enough workplace norms to understand that if you ask someone to do you a favor, you have to put equal effort into your email to them, so a generic response wouldn’t cut it even if you didn’t use ChatGPT.

        Which is why all this “It’s a useful tool” stuff is really harmful imo. Maybe it’s useful for someone who’s 35 and has written a million work emails and knows what one looks like. It’s not useful for anyone trying to learn anything.

        1. br_612*

          I’m a medical writer and I SWEAR the type of contract research organizations that do the nonclinical studies for drug development are using ChatGPT or something to write their summaries.

          Some of these reports can be 1000+ pages long, several hundred of those pages just tables. So I use the 2-3 page summary to get the information I need and only dig further when needed. And these summaries . . . . they’re bad. The ideal for certain documents is to just copy/paste that summary in. I couldn’t do that with about 80% of the last set I worked with because they were so poorly written. And these are American companies where there are surely native English speakers who could give it a once over.

          1. Prospect Gone Bad*

            EXACTLY. I work in a regulated industry and this is why ChatGpt is horrible. It does not know how to look up laws about what you can say or not or need to write and those change often anyways.

            Seriously, my theory is that most people saying ChatGpt are great are selling something or pushing for “AI” stocks. There are many canned “I used ChatGpt to program away my job” comments online and they all seem sort of fake, like they weren’t written by people.

            Or maybe I am the ignorant one, and there are loads of jobs that involve writing lots of emails and walls of text that say nothing except regurgitate vague general phrases from one’s industry?

          2. Artemesia*

            I’ve noticed this failure in quality of the summary in scientific papers and didn’t realize why. It is critical that the summary net out the key questions, processes and findings — and frustrating when it is just garble.

        2. Double A*

          Yes, as a fellow English teachers I’m starting to tell kids “I can tell when you’re using AI. Do you know how? If not, that means you aren’t a strong enough reader or writer to be using it yet. It’s like using a calculator when you don’t understand order of operations. Write your own stuff.”

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            Yes, I’m a content strategist for my consulting company. Do I use ChatGPT and recommend it to SMEs as a starting point? Absolutely. It’s great for exploration when writing a piece. But if I can tell an article was written by ChatGPT – and I can – I send it back to the SME. We hired them for *their* POVs. That needs to be what we see, even if AI is rounding out the article.

            Someone called GenAI writing the “Boring Revolution,” and I think that’s spot on. Sometimes boring and fine is good enough. Often, it’s not.

        3. Observer*

          Which is why all this “It’s a useful tool” stuff is really harmful imo. Maybe it’s useful for someone who’s 35 and has written a million work emails and knows what one looks like. It’s not useful for anyone trying to learn anything.

          That doesn’t make it a problem to point out the it can be a useful tool. We would all be better off if we didn’t look at a thing and dismiss it because in SOME contexts it’s a problem.

          Yes, using generative AI that’s not all that good yet when you don’t have the knowledge base to recognize what decent writing in a given context looks like, is a really, really bad idea. But that doesn’t mean that we should pretend that it can’t be useful tool for people who have a clue.

          It DOES mean that we need to change how we teach this stuff. Not only should we give students exercises to do so they can develop the skill needed to do this stuff. But we should also teach them how to read this stuff and figure out what makes for good writing in different contexts.

          It’s much like the introduction of calculators for algebra. Or computers for accounting. The arguments I heard against both sound exactly like the comment I quoted.

          1. ShanShan*

            I’m an English teacher, and this is how I feel about it, too.

            Honestly, we’ve all gotten a little lazy and relied on looking at how students develop sentences and paragraphs as a shorthand for the quality of their ideas. We keep doing this even though study after study shows that it’s inherently biased and a somewhat arbitrary shibboleth to support existing systems of power. Everyone made feeble motions about evaluating students differently after the summer of 2020, but nobody actually put them into practice, because academia is the slowest-evolving field I’ve ever worked in.

            Well, now we don’t have a choice. Suddenly, there’s a program that can build paragraphs and sentences for you, but can’t create strong ideas. And that means that we’re going to actually have to start looking at and comparing students’ ideas instead of marking them down for every missed comma. We might even need to get rid of the essay as a form of evaluation, but honestly, I say good riddance. It was a lazy form of evaluation anyway.

            1. Nina*

              I’m a scientist who was raised by an English teacher… essays taught well are amazing training for what I do. It forces you to
              1) have an idea
              2) come up with 2-4 reasons why your idea is a good idea
              3) put them in order
              4) present them in that order in a manner likely to convince a reader
              which is basically all science communication ever and most engineering reports. I’m usually in aerospace. The divide between people who passed English Composition in high school or college and can thus write clearly and the people who didn’t and can’t is stark, visible, and has a lot to do with how seriously they’re taken as engineers.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      This would just reinforce that what the undergrad is doing is perfectly acceptable, which is exactly the opposite of what LW is trying to accomplish.

    4. RoseGarden*

      I had the same thought. What would anyone learn from that? And if ChatGPT could respond, then couldn’t the person seeking advice just ask ChatGPT for the advice to begin with? If you expect personalized advice, then you need to respond in kind. Oof.

    5. ferrina*

      I’d be tempted to keep writing semi-normal messages, but have 1-2 “typos” in it where a random word appears. Something that could be attributed to autocorrect.

      See if the AI starts incorporating the random word into its responses and see how badly you can get it off track.

  3. Jade*

    Believe it or not George isn’t at home, where could he be? Believe it or not, he’s not home!

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      LW4 can change their message for a few weeks while they search and then change it back. When in doubt, make the change; it doesn’t cost you anything.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I actually haven’t. I have a silly rambling message explaining that yes, it’s me, and this is the answering phone recording message but please don’t record a message because somehow I only ever see that there’s a message a few days later, so please, just send me a text like my teenage kids, and I promise I’ll get back to you.

        Has this been a problem? Well people do still leave messages, and very often I can hear that they are laughing at my message – even clients (who realise I have a sense of humour), even the police officer calling about an accident I witnessed who was presumably calling from a landline and couldn’t text me. But then mostly people will send a text or email.

        My latest new client got my voicemail message the very first time she reached out, and seconds later sent me an email. She either thinks I’m a bit of a doozy but at least I deliver, or she didn’t even listen to the message. The latter is more probable.

        I keep thinking I ought to change it, but I can’t remember how to do it and as I said, it doesn’t seem to be a problem.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          Years ago a work friend and I conspired to fill up each others voicemail boxes so that people couldn’t leave us new voicemails. This plus changing the answering message to ask for emails instead has worked pretty well for a long time.

          This was after I almost missed something important because the only contact I got about it was a voicemail- I’d been working at an alternate worksite for 2 weeks and would have seen an email almost immediately but didn’t get the voicemails until my return.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I haven’t changed mine, and it’s a silly rambling message telling people not to leave a message because I’ll only realise it’s there in a few days time, so please send a text like my teenage kids.
        People do still leave messages, often with laughter in their voice. They also then text or email me. I’m pretty sure most people don’t even bother to listen to the whole thing.
        I don’t remember how to change it but it doesn’t seem to be a problem anyway. If anything, people see that I have a sense of humour, and it’s not like I work in a funeral parlour.

        1. metadata minion*

          I spend a very odd day as the emergency temp receptionist for a medical examiner’s office, and I can confirm that funeral directors have an *amazing* sense of humor when they’re not talking to grieving families ;-)

          1. Kit*

            Ditto. My parents live a few doors down from a funeral parlor and we know a bunch of the staff pretty well – and they all have great senses of humor! You sort of have to, in a job like that. (It’s also one of the only funeral homes in town, so I see them ‘on the job’ fairly regularly too; the number of times I’ve caught up with the supervisor and his daughter while in the receiving line… well, small towns are like that, especially small towns with an aging population.)

    2. Totally Minnie*

      For #4, the wording most people use on their voicemail is my personal pet peeve. When a voicemail message says “you have reached (name)…” I always want to say back “I clearly have not reached (name), that’s the whole reason I’m listening to their voicemail message!”

      I think LW4’s current outgoing message is fine for all but the most stuffy jobs. When I was doing hiring, if I had called and heard that outgoing message I would have chuckled to myself and left my message. It wouldn’t be enough to make me rethink an offer or anything.

      1. Elsewise*

        At one point my voicemail greeting started with”Unfortunately, you have not reached Elsewise.” It was a very silly greeting and got some chuckles (although I did immediately change it the next time I started job hunting!)

    3. Fish*

      Some 35 years ago, a company offered a set of fun answering machine greetings sung to various popular songs.

      One was to the tune of “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company C.” Another was to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, in a deep male baritone voice.


      1. Roo*

        I remember something like those!

        A former boyfriend of mine, more than 25 years ago (so before mobiles and smartphones were really a thing), used to make up his own “novelty” answerphone greetings. He once recorded one based around “Police Squad!” that lasted the entire duration of the PS theme song (which played in the background). He was buying a house at the time and so the bank needed to speak to him a number of times concerning his mortgage, etc.

        One day he received a letter from the bank. It was an invoice for all the time spent by bank staff in listening to his answerphone message before they could leave him essential messages.. I can’t say I blamed them.

    4. Whoomp There It Is*

      I sang along to this comment, lol. I had a childhood friend whose family’s answering machine message was: “Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck. Except for now ’cause we’re not home, so leave a message at the tone!” It was apparently very memorable because this was 30 years ago and I can still hear it.

      1. Jenny Next*

        We once used one I found on the Internet:

        The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
        But I have promises to keep,
        And miles to go before I sleep.
        So leave a message at the beep!

  4. Zombeyonce*

    #5: I always say that I want to manage things, not people. It’s a helpful phrasing for my own manager to help them understand my career goals.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      For me, I like solving complex technical problems and implementing the solutions. I’m good at working with people, but wouldn’t be good at managing people or projects.

    2. Me (I think)*

      I like doing the [creative and technical thing] that I have spent my whole life and career doing. Managing other people doing that thing sounds like Hell.

    3. Sun in an Empty Room*

      The standard career path in my field involves doing technical work and then moving to managing people. When I started 8 years ago one person usually managed 2-3 others in the management role. Currently my manager supervises 10 people. I very purposefully avoided moving up to a management role and developed my technical skills. Next week I start a new technical role that I was selected for because many of the people with more years in the career moved into management and lost technical skills. I was very fortunate that timing worked out and committed to staying in my technical role if no technical path advancements came up. I am SO EXCITED that I will get to be a subject matter expert and not manage people! Living my dream!

    4. SansSerif*

      When people ask what my goals are for the future, I say I want to continue to develop within my role. Then I mention a few aspects I’m strong at, and maybe something new that I know I’ll need to be doing more of soon.

    5. NeedRain47*

      this is ideal. Too bad the only thing that’s valued with money in my field is supervising people.

    6. Choggy*

      This is 100% me, and I’ve said as much. I would make someone cry if I had to manage them, I’m very much a control freak and want things done my way. Computers don’t cry.

  5. Phil*

    #4 I mean, it’s a lot more professional than what I had in college. Hijacking Logan’s voicemail messages from Veronica Mars, I would offer up inspirational quotes whenever I wasn’t able to answer the phone. And, for a time, Andy’s voicemail message from Weeds (with my own name obviously):
    Hello phone caller, this Andrew, Andrew Botwin. It pains me we couldn’t make this instant human connection. Leave a message and while you do it, imagine me listening to it, where I might be at the time, what I might be wearing.

    1. bamcheeks*

      When I was a kid my piano teacher’s message was (imagine a very grumpy Australian accent): “Hello? I’m afraid you’re talking to one of those bloody machines again.”

    2. Irish Teacher*

      My sister had a message she bought that went “‘allo. This is Bob the burglar. You can leave a message if you like but she won’t hear it, because I’m going to steal the answering machine. And the telly” (and a whole load of other things I’ve forgotten). It was funny, but I presume she changed it when she started job searching.

    3. NotRealAnonForThis*

      College = the days when we changed the voicemail greeting on our phone weekly to whatever silly and edgy schlock caught us that day. I wince at some of the memories!

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Or (and maybe worse??) put half of our favorite song before the beep. And that was before you could skip the message!

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          A friend of mine in college had the Top Gun version of “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling.” It was kinda painful to live through every time I called her.

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      I once worked with an IT guy whose work v-mail message informed you that he “sincerely regretted missing your call.” My team found it delightful. (None of us ever regretted missing a call. Especially not from certain callers.)

    5. I'm a Computer*

      When I was in college, my voicemail message was me saying “Who wants a body massage?” a la the GI Joe parody video.

  6. Coffeeplease*

    I just quit my manager job since i was losing my health from the stress – I will try again in the future but not any time soon. I was peers with everyone I managed and had to PIP 3 people of an 8 person team, all with in my first 3 months of manager

    1. Shiba Dad*

      Many years ago I went from being a peer on another team to a manager. This team had thrown their previous managers under the bus and I started hearing from other people that my co-manager and I were being bus-chucked as well. It wasn’t pretty at first.

    2. Choggy*

      This is exactly the scenario I would have faced as a manger of my team, a thankless job and not worth the stress. Of course the previous managers did not do a thing to change the situation for the better, which is why we keep having a turnover of managers. Good for you for trying to make changes.

  7. Jade*

    I’ve been out on unexpected medical leave for months. I don’t want anyone acknowledging it. I just want to recover in peace and not hear from anyone from work.

      1. Jade*

        Many don’t. Her coworkers may think she doesn’t want any contact from work while she is at home. She needs to consider that angle, not that they’re just uncaring jerks.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s an office practice to do it for everyone, so it’s unlikely that applies here unless she has explicitly said that (which it doesn’t sound like she has).

        2. Snoozing not schmoozing*

          The LW states very clearly that it is the custom at that office to send flowers and cards for medical absences. LW has not mentioned general grousing from the staff about receiving said flowers and cards. They may not be uncaring jerks, but everyone could be assuming that someone else is taking care of those kinds of things.

  8. Usagi*

    OP1 one thing that’s come up for discussion before here is expecting some thing while you’re still on leave versus expecting something once you get back. What I would expect from my work would be may be a card sitting on my desk on the day I come back, not something to be sent out while I’m still away, with the exception of something like bereavement or childbirth.

    1. Pathfinder Ryder*

      If that was the custom at OP’s office, they would not be upset to not have received anything.

      1. Allonge*

        Yes, OP is the one organising these things, so they would know how they usually go! Obviously having a card or cake with welcome back could be a good face-saving measure for everyone else, but I really see why OP is not counting on that.

        1. Bored Lawyer*

          Is “how they usually go” a thing the office actually wants, or is it just something that OP does? This is a 30+ person office, is it possible that everyone there is kind of overwhelmed by the onslaught of cards, pizza, etc for every illness, extended family death, and kid graduating from 3rd grade?

          In my professional life, there’s been an inverse correlation between management that provides “support” in cards and pizza and management I like working for.

          1. MsSolo (UK)*

            I think in the spirit of taking OP at their word, and in the spirit of offering actionable advice, I don’t think its massively helpful to imply the reason OP hasn’t had any acknowledgement of their medical leave is because everyone secretly hates that OP does this for them. It’s clearly standard for their office (and from the way OP phrases it, is presumably an HR function in other offices within the org) and it’s not excessive or onerous to send or receive a card and token gift for significant life events.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              This! Also, it should be fairly obvious to any colleague who gives it some thought that the person who voluntarily and enthousiastically organizes theses things is usually a person who also enjoys receiving them (not always – there are people who prefer giving to receiving, but most likely). Sadly, this often means that the person who would appreciate these things the most is the least likely to get them.

              Occam’s razor days it’s most likely to be pure thoughtlessness, not some passive aggressive move to get LW to stop with the cards already.

          2. Red*

            Yeah, I hate to point it out but OP’s letter doesn’t say if this was actually a custom or something she started doing.

            It’s a lovely gesture, certainly, but if she’s the one who started doing it then I’m not surprised no one else may have thought of doing something.

            1. OP1*

              I’ve been doing my job for six years; even if I hadn’t started the practice (I didn’t—my predecessor did), it’s certainly become the norm and something the office staff has come to expect.

              1. Irish Teacher*

                If your predecessor did it before you, it’s very likely that it’s assumed to be a part of your role and your colleagues are quite likely assuming somebody has been assigned that part of your role and each of the people you have spoken to about covering part of your role probably assume that one of the others has been told to cover that part.

                1. londonedit*

                  Yeah; I don’t think there’s likely to be any malice in it. People probably just think ‘the company sends out flowers for people’ and they don’t connect in their minds the fact that ‘the company’ is actually the OP, because they’ve never had reason to think about where the flowers actually come from.

            2. Observer*

              It’s a lovely gesture, certainly, but if she’s the one who started doing it then I’m not surprised no one else may have thought of doing something.

              Yeah, but that’s because people are thoughtless and it’s always someone else’s job.

              As already pointed out, it’s clearly standard practice elsewhere in the office. *And* the idea that a person who started such a practice would not want it for themselves is so unlikely that it almost feels disingenuous to make this claim. Like who REALLY says something like “Oh, Chris always sends cards and flowers. Let’s not send them anything, because it must mean that they really hate the idea!”

          3. OP1*

            I think demonstrating empathy/compassion and celebrating important milestones is an important part of managing people—it shows that their personal lives are an essential part of who they are, and that they are valued beyond what their work product looks like. In a hiring economy like ours, that empathy can be the difference between keeping or losing an employee. We can’t give you a $10,000 retention bonus, but I can create an environment that provides another layer of support.

            1. Colette*

              I suspect that you’re overestimating how much this kind of thing matters. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s unlikely to be something that keeps someone in their job. For some people, it might be really important! But I suspect for the majority, it’s met with “that’s nice” and not much more.

              Having said that, it still would have been good for someone to send you a card, but I agree that the likely reason is simply that that’s not something they generally think of because you take care of it.

              1. MsM*

                I think it’s one of those things that might not register as strongly for some people beyond “oh, that’s nice,” but you definitely notice when it doesn’t happen. And if you’re already feeling unappreciated or out of step with office culture or otherwise unhappy…yeah, it could very well be the final straw that pushes you to start looking.

                1. Mm*

                  Exactly. The handling of medical leave has absolutely impacted my morale (both favorably and negatively) at jobs over the years.

                2. Lily Rowan*

                  It is nice! It’s not life-changing, but I always appreciate a card! (Although after my father died, my team passed around a card that everyone signed, birthday-style, and that felt a little off… I still appreciated the sentiments.)

                3. RussianInTexas*

                  My job does not do any of these things, and I don’t notice they don’t happen. They don’t matter at all to me.
                  Also, I would do anything not to be the person who is the organizer of such things. Once you take on that role, you can never drop it. No thank you.

              2. Heidi*

                Given how standard this practice is for OP1’s office, I wonder if the co-workers might consider the cards and such as more of a perfunctory office procedure, something that they do because they do it for everyone, like how I get a free drink from Starbucks on my birthday. If that is the case, they may not regard these activities as measure of their value as a person or the esteem the employer has for them, and not receiving them wouldn’t be taken personally either.

                1. Babanon5*

                  Hmm interesting point. I’ll never forget when I told my manager (at a 10,000 person company) that my mom passed and his response included “our policy is to send flowers or a $50 donation when an employee’s relatives passes. Can you let me know which one you want and send me and address?”

                  The use of “policy” from a manager who I worked under for 3.5 years at this point was upsetting at a time I was already upset.

                2. Spencer Hastings*

                  Well, also, if nobody has been actually tasked with doing this by management (and I agree that someone should have been!), then anyone sending LW something would be doing it on their own, not in their work capacity. I can absolutely see how people might be less comfortable doing that.

                3. Indigo a la mode*

                  @Babanon5, sheesh! How callous can you be?! I’m sorry that happened to you. Your company could clearly use an OP1.

              3. anon for this*

                Sometimes those flowers make all the difference in the world, though. They certainly did for me at one point.

            2. umami*

              Did you train something on what should be done when someone is out? It might come naturally to some, while others would only think to do it if they were actually assigned it as a task, and the process literally spelled out to them. I get what you are saying about what the practice demonstrates, but unless it is physically assigned to someone, please don’t be hurt that it wasn’t done for you.

              1. fhqwhgads*

                Yeah, I think it was worthwhile that people asked the question. Not saying it’s not an established practice or expectation in OP1’s office. I don’t doubt them that it is. But there is a difference between “this is our office policy” and “this is the thing the person in OP1’s role has historically done”. I’m talking about this from the perspective of the person covering the role/the person supervising that human. If it’s policy, then the covering-person should’ve been told to do it as part of the covering, by either OP or the supervisor. If they weren’t told to do cards/flowers/whatever for these types of absences, then it’s reasonable that they wouldn’t think they need to do it, even if they’re from this office where this commonly occurs. I hope that takes some of the sting out of it for OP1. It’s not personal, it’s not pointedly omitting OP1. If it’s a responsibility of the job and no one told the replacement to do it, they simply didn’t know to do it, and it’s unfair to expect them to intuit to do it. Treat the situation as “someone forgot to tell so-and-so to cover this part of the job.”

              2. My Useless 2 Cents*

                I also thinks it’s quite common for “Sally” to take over OM duties. Sally can handle the day to day but, but unlike OM, isn’t authorized to make company purchases, like flowers. So Sally could have thought about it but not have the actual authority to do it and assumed someone with authority will do it but they didn’t.

            3. Kelsbells22*

              This is spot on. The place that I worked would send flowers or plants to the funeral home when employees close family members pass away. My Mom died October 2021 from ALS. I received nothing. Not even a card or donation to the ALS association that we mentioned in the obituary. The following month a coworker’s father died and they made it a point to send a plant. It stung a bit. Needless to say a year later I quit. They weren’t happy that I was leaving but it was one of the many things that contributed to my leaving.

              1. saskia*

                This (and several other incidents displaying a shocking lack of basic human decency around deaths in the immediately family) also contributed to me leaving a job.

            4. AnonORama*

              I agree with this for you, and it sounds like it’s something your team appreciates. But, just a caveat (not for you personally, just in general) that this is only an important part of managing the people who *want* their personal milestones or health issues acknowledged. As someone who had to argue for years to get my employer to take my birthday (my most hated day of the year) off the calendar and not mention it, I can definitely speak for the “opt out” team here.

          4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Even if they are, it’s downright mean to not do for her what she has done for others. She does it, presumably because she thinks it’s the right thing to do, and since this is obviously something she cares about it’s only right that she should be treated at least the same.

            In my professional experience, the bosses that have acknowledged bereavement, sickness etc have been the more humane ones.

          5. Maggie*

            Where did OP say the send an “onslaught” for every possible thing including 3rd grade graduations? Maybe we should just go off of what OP actually wrote

          6. Allonge*

            That’s great. You are welcome to throw away any card / flowers you ever get and resign from jobs where you get them.

            Do you understand that some people work in places that have a reasonable culture and by-and-large like their coworkers, and where sending a card is a sign of goodwill / affection / compassion?

      2. learnedthehardway*

        I think the answer is for the OP to organize her own card/cake/party/whatever for when she gets back, and bill it as per usual to petty cash.

    2. OP1*

      OP1 here. After having been in my role for six years and managing the process of observing our office employees’ major events, there is definitely an expectation and understanding that this is SOP. We have some employees that are very shy and don’t want the attention of an office celebration; I confirm that with them privately and forego the public acknowledgment. Beyond that, the established office culture is to acknowledge things like new babies, weddings, retirements/employees leaving, personal losses and hospitalizations/LOAs.
      I am definitely one of the most “squishy” people in my office, but that makes me good at my job since caring for others’ needs and feelings is an element that our busy managers don’t always own, and our office is about 80% female, so the Estrogen Factor is high.
      Do I want to recover “in peace”? Sure, but being given a card before walking out the door for two months or getting a bouquet of flowers while planted on the couch is not an impediment to that process.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        OP I think it’s ridiculous that you’re in the position of justifying what the SOP is in your office; of course you know the culture of your workplace better than the internet. I’m also sorry you didn’t get to benefit from what has become such a standard expression of care! That said, I think it might be worth formalising the Observation of Milestones culture with lists/calendars/admin tools, rather than it relying on anyone’s feelings or empathy – this could prevent someone like yourself being overlooked because they are most thoughtful one. It might also prevent someone slipping down the cracks because so many occasions happened at once. You could arrange it so that more than one person is responsible for it, or build a culture were managers are more involved, or you could make it part of the HR process to add someone to the gifting list whenever sick leave or maternity happens etc. I don’t really agree that gift cultures are a pain or nuisance to people who are out of the office, but since other people disagree with me, it might be worth letting people opt out of the formal gifting list (or specify things like allergies to flowers or food intolerances) without even having to be sought out for a conversation. I know you do opt outs already, but if it’s just a box on a standard form they can check, it is even less of a big deal to do so.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Ok, but “disgusted by the lack of humanity” is a little excessive.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I don’t agree. Rightly or wrongly, this is what OP feels.

          Now, she might return to the office only to find that her desk is groaning under the cards flowers and thoughtful gifts that they didn’t want to send to her in order to let her recover in peace, and then she’ll take those words back.

          But you don’t get to tell her that what she is feeling is wrong. Her feelings are her feelings.

          We can criticise how she acts on those feelings (sending in a rant about her disgust at the lack of humanity or quietly reasoning with herself that it isn’t all about her and sucking it up or, as Alison suggests, tactfully pointing out that somebody should be covering this part of her role) but it’s not like you can actually help your feelings, they just happen and you have to deal with them.

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It is, but we can hold some room for the fact people are usually a little amped up when they write to an advice column.

          1. pope suburban*

            Also, surgery is hard! Even if you are prepared for it, even if it goes well, even if it is not super exotic or painful in the grand scheme, it is hard. You are tired. Your routine is thrown off, often for quite a while. Even when we are well-rested and have plans in place, surgery is a disruptive life event and it has an impact on our emotions and on our ability to weather adverse things. Something that would normally leave you unfazed might be a little more of a trial when you’re recuperating. That’s normal and fine, and I don’t hold with the idea that everyone can simply “walk it off.” As responses go, I think writing to someone for advice and listening to the input is pretty mild, really.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              OP also refers to themselves as drug-addled in a comment downthread – totally makes sense, and while I think the advice in the comments is pretty spot-on (make sure this is more explicit next time, don’t assume malice, etc), it might not be the time for OP to process it.

      3. Arthenonyma*

        As gently as possible: did you include those instructions (here’s the calendar of birthdays, we usually do flowers/cards, obviously other things may come up too) in your training/handover notes for the person covering your role? Because I 100% get the hurt feelings while also very much seeing the side where this is a job duty and therefore people will assume it has been assigned somehow.

        1. nona*

          +1 to this. *OP* is the one that does this in the office – and sure, everyone else appreciates it. But does anyone else know how it happens? Do they know all the work you do to make this stuff happen? Did this get doled out as a duty?

          It totally makes sense to me that it got dropped, because the person who normally does it is out of the office and everyone in the office probably assumed someone else did it.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Also wondering about this. My office is closer to 90% female and pretty much everyone expects work to be a professional space. An occasional card for a big-deal event, sure, but not getting one probably wouldn’t register to anyone.

          1. umami*

            Same, I was just realizing that my boss has been out on medical leave unexpectedly for the past three weeks, and I have no idea if we sent him anything. I remember one of my colleagues asking if we should, and I responded that I would be happy to contribute, but I honestly have no idea if it was done. And all but one of us is a woman, so …

            1. RussianInTexas*

              Woman here, would never even occur to me to organize a card or flowers or anything of the sort.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                A lot of female-oriented workplace advice would tell you not to. Not that it’s bad OP does, but I wouldn’t advise a woman to volunteer to do so unless they were specifically told to do so while (and only while) covering for the person who normally does.

                It’s a slippery slope to the “woman in the office who does all the emotional labor/clean up/personal tasks” pigeonhole.

        2. NYC Taxi*

          That stuck out to me too. My industry is very male-dominated but the team I run is about 50-50. I never volunteer for tasks like party planning or cards and keep an eye on the women on my team to make sure they’re not taking on emotional labor by default. Do we celebrate work-related milestones? Absolutely – project launched successfully? I’ll make sure the team gets recognition within the wider company. But birthdays or other events? No. We’re not 10-year-olds.

          In OP’s case she needs to temper her expectations. No one is slighting her on purpose. It sounds like she chose to continue to be the card/events person after the previous person left, and that her employer did not ask her to do it as part of her job. She can’t expect other people, especially women, to want to take on those tasks.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            This. I avoided any typical “female” duties all my entire work life. Instinctively and later on purpose.
            Once you become the “planner”, you are forever the “planner”.

        3. NeutralJanet*

          Yeah, like, speaking as a woman who actually has unusually high estrogen, I have absolutely no idea what my estrogen levels have to do with sending or receiving cards (or not, as in this case).

      4. GreenShoes*

        Can I ask a practical question. Does anyone in your office have access to your personal information? I ask this because I worked in a satellite office where without HR on site nobody (including managers) would have access to home addresses. And I can very easily see people not being keen to contact HR and ask for it.

      5. Potato*

        OP1, I wonder if the fact that so many of your colleagues are women is also a contributing factor here. As a (youngish) woman in the workplace, I often avoid taking on tasks like card organizing, party planning, etc., unless directly assigned, because I don’t want to fall into that particular trap that women often find themselves in.

        1. Colette*

          Yes, this is the kind of thing that I will intentionally not do as a woman in a technical field.

        2. SoloKid*

          Same. The times I did volunteer for a couple of big events, I always mentioned it in my standups and included it on performance reviews.

          My boss always came back with a “oh yeah, that was fun, thank you”, otherwise he and my team would have clearly forgot.

      6. umami*

        ‘there is definitely an expectation and understanding that this is SOP’

        So, I’m a bit stuck on this, because this still does not indicate that the expectation was explicitly spelled out and passed on to someone. Were instructions reviewed and left behind? Is there a calendar of birthdays so that their replacement can ensure cards are purchased, along with the process for purchasing and circulating? If not, then I can see being a bit discouraged that no one ‘thought’ to send you something because you feel you have made this an established practice, but without a job aid or some written instructions, it’s a bit unreasonable to expect that your replacement understands just what they were supposed to do and under what circumstances. It wasn’t done for you, and it likely isn’t getting done for anyone else, either, while you’re out.

        1. Dona Florinda*

          Right. The most likely explanation is that people see it as being “from the company”, not realising there’s an actual person behind making sure it all happens. And if OP didn’t specifically assigned that as a part of the job, it probably didn’t even occur to the coworkers/ boss/ replacement, since after all it’s “the company” that organizes those things.

        2. Allonge*

          Why does someone need a job aid or written instructions to send a card / flowers? I agree that it probably did not occur to anyone to do it but it’s not a task that needs a manual.

          1. umami*

            A job aid isn’t a manual, it is something as simple as a checklist for what to do under a specific set of circumstances. In this case, it would outline what to send and under what circumstances, i.e. birthday = card, illness = flowers + card, death = funeral spray + card, etc., along with instructions on the logistics of purchasing and sending said items. If you have an expectation that a task be done a certain way, it’s not reasonable to assume the person taking over the task has an understanding of what is to be done under every scenario.

          2. Clisby*

            It’s not that anyone would need instructions on how to carry that out. It’s that it needs to be explicitly assigned to someone if you want it to be carried out.

            If this had been my office, and no one had been explicitly assigned that task, it would never in a million years have occurred to me to take it on.

      7. Drago Cucina*

        OP1 I understand your frustration.

        When I’m sick I just want to be left alone. But, there are bigger events, such as surgery where an acknowledgement is nice. I remember the year my mother, my stepfather, and my sister died (not all at once, but spread out over the year). At no time did I even get a sympathy card. It was a very rough year and just an acknowledgment of that would have been helpful.

        It doesn’t matter that you didn’t specifically spell out, “Send me a card.” The thoughtful thing would be someone sending a card, flowers, something. I think Alison’s advice is good. You raise the issue of what happens when you’re out. Hopefully, it will ping in someone’s brain that they dropped the ball with you.

      8. Ash*

        I would avoid language relating to estrogen or testosterone as determining why people behave the way they do or why an office has the culture it does. It’s unnecessarily essentializing. 99.9999% of behavioral “differences” between men and women are learned through social norms and reinforcement, not through the dominance of any hormone in a person’s body.

    3. Also-ADHD*

      Many workplaces have a custom where you’d receive flowers or a card at home/the hospital (or they’d send a bouquet to the funeral if a death in your family etc). LW1 knows the customs at their own office—they carry them out regularly! Though if they didn’t explicitly train the replacement in them, it may be reasonable that person doesn’t (especially if they haven’t been on leave and received a card). The question isn’t about whether a card on leave or upon return is “better” etc but about no one appreciating LW and really no one appreciating this task in a way, not enough to ensure it’s done.

    4. OP1*

      As Pathfinder notes below, the custom is well-established in my office, with the goal to acknowledge things when they happen. I’m also a firm believer in allowing people their space to deal with trauma, so reintroducing those fraught emotions at work by having a bouquet of “Sorry Your Dad Died” flowers on a coworker’s desk when they return is not aligned with my SOP.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        But did you actually assign this task to anyone? Or did you feel weird about it because it seemed like asking for things for yourself? Everyone knows these things happen, but it’s not anyone else’s job (there’s not a committee, for instance, that covers this). So if you didn’t explicitly assign these duties to someone, it’s not going to get done. Everyone is already covering their own job as well as some of yours, and it doesn’t matter that they’re happy to do so–they’re not going to think too much about this because it’s not a duty that was given to them.

        1. OP1*

          Good question. It would feel slightly weird to train my temp on how we acknowledge important life events, and expect that I would be the first recipient of such an action—feels more than a little self-serving. That said, there is the potential for my coworkers to have something important happen during my leave, so it makes sense to include that in future temp trainings.
          Wanna know the funniest thing? I DID receive one “I hope your surgery goes smoothly and you recover quickly” card before I left.
          It was from my temp.

          1. Observer*

            It would feel slightly weird to train my temp on how we acknowledge important life events, and expect that I would be the first recipient of such an action—feels more than a little self-serving.

            Yes, but better that than how you are feeling now. And given that people really don’t realize that there are no house elves to do the job, it’s either accept that you won’t get the acknowledgement or do the training. That’s not a slam on people, it’s the reality of how people, even nice and caring people, operate.

            That said, there is the potential for my coworkers to have something important happen during my leave, so it makes sense to include that in future temp trainings.

            Yes. And I think that if you’re in contact with your boss and you are likely to be out more than another few days, it makes sense to use Alison’s language, because life does tend to happen in unexpected ways.

      2. learnedthehardway*

        YOU know the custom. But does the person(people) taking over your role for you know it – and do they have the bandwidth to do that part of your role, plus the rest of their role, plus all the other pieces of your role ? And do your colleagues really know the custom? I mean – it hits them individually when it happens, sometimes it is low key (if they don’t like a fuss), and it may just not be all that visible to them – eg. flowers sent to home, a card, etc.

        I would assume that it’s something that has just slipped through the cracks of your absence, not a lack of caring about you personally. Assume ignorance rather than indifference, in this case.

        1. OP1*

          “Assume ignorance rather than indifference.”
          Excellent point for my drug-addled brain. Thank you!

        2. AnonAnon*

          Agree. Not sure it’s fair to count on your colleagues to know the actual steps and logistics it take to send flowers, card, etc. It’s likely they wouldn’t know who pays for the flowers (is there an “approved” florist with a charge account, or need to use someone’s p-card, or need to collect donations from co-workers, etc), or count on them to have access to your address, etc. Often, one person has tacit knowledge of these things but everyone else in the office wouldn’t know.

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      I would encourage OP not to take it personally. Disappointed is understandable, especially when you’ve gone out of your way for others, but “disgusted by the lack of humanity and compassion” is a lot.

      Sounds like the card and flowers are customary, but there is a difference between office custom/norm/practice and an official duty that requires coverage. Those are the first things to fall through the cracks when the organizer is out, because everyone assumes someone else will take it on or is too focused on their own work to initiate it.

    6. Skippy*

      Especially if someone is taking a leave for medical reasons, I’d be very squeamish about contacting them on leave, and very squeamish about sending anything to an employee or colleague’s home address. For some people, sending well wishes can sound like fishing for an update, which might not be welcome, or an intrusion of work onto personal time. I would think only your manager or the HR equivalent would have “standing” to contact you on leave, and depending on your manager, it might just not be something they ever think of doing (or they wouldn’t want to intrude, either).

      This isn’t to say that OP doesn’t have the right expect otherwise, but another well-meaning person may think differently, and I just don’t think there’s a lot of mileage in assuming others are uncaring.

    7. Reluctant Mezzo*

      Caregivers never get the same care that they give. It’s just one of the rules.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this is sadly true. But if sending flowers and cards is an official policy, it becomes something that needs coverage. I understand that it might feel awkward to train your sub to do something you expect to benefit from yourself, but the alternative is to feel slighted when they don’t realize that something you haven’t mentioned at all is a part of their job.

  9. nnn*

    #3: If you want to bother, it could be fun to ask them follow-up questions that require their own knowledge and understanding of the situation. For example, in response to a generic request for more information: “Such as?” or “Which aspects aren’t clear to you?”

    If you have contacts at their university, you could mention to them that someone needs to teach their undergrads how to network rather than just telling them to network.

    1. happybat*

      I do wonder if some young people have picked up the impression (hello, Grammarly) that writing is incredibly difficult and have therefore decided it’s safer or even more correct to let the machine do it. I’m seeing a push on ‘teaching young people to use LLM’ in my HE context, and it worries me. I suspect that a lot of people who know and work with LLMs don’t particularly want to talk with them, and that young people are getting advice that might harm them in some contexts.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I also think it’s possible that if the field is machine learning, the applicants might either assume they would be expected to use AI or they might want to show off that they are familiar with it (or feel that not using it would indicate a lack of understanding of it).

        I think it’s more likely to be a lack of understanding of what they are supposed to do and/or poor advice than laziness or rudeness.

        While yeah, nobody likes to receive businessy rephrasings of what they just said, I wouldn’t expect a recent grad to realise that. I’d expect a recent grad to think anything “businessy” “sounds professional” and that that is exactly what “bosses” would like to hear. I know when I started applying for jobs, my thoughts were “does this make me look/sound like a teacher?” not, “does this sound like something another human being would like to read?” So it’s very likely the young people contacting the LW are thinking, “does this make me sound like somebody familiar with machine learning/sound businessy?”

        I think it would be helpful to them if somebody let them know this wasn’t what they were supposed to do.

        1. DataSci*

          Are you in machine learning? Because I am, though not in LLM, and I would find that cringey. You show familiarity with a tool by knowing when and when not to use it, not by using it all the time. (In my corner of the field we’re more trying to steer the execs who are all rah-rah about GLM into using it for something it’s good for, rather than random places.)

          1. Irish Teacher*

            No, I’m not, but I was not at all suggesting it was a good idea. My point was that graduates rarely know what will be considered cringey and often do things that are. Of course, that is not the way to show familiarity with anything and you and I know that because we are not 20 year old college students and we are have some understanding about how and when to use various tools, but I wouldn’t expect a college student to have that understanding. They may well think that using it all the time shows familiarity.

          2. BethDH*

            I am (peripherally) and also work with students and think Irish Teacher is probably spot on, in part because I’ve gotten this kind of thing from students who want to work with me.

        2. Zzz*

          I can see a newbie trying to do active listening over email and ending up with businessy rephrasing.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            Plus, most of the ChatGPT stuff I’ve read has sounded like “a bullshitting undergrad writing an essay” to my ear, so an actual bullshitting undergrad using it might create a vicious circle in that direction…

        3. br_612*

          Some people really are just . . . .lazy. Probably not the type of undergrad to reach out to network though.

          In a TikTok comment section recently, an academic paper was brought up based on self-report surveys. Those types of studies require a lot of complicated statistics to correct for certain biases in self-report surveys. Someone just proudly told the entire thread he asked ChatGPT to explain the stats to him. Didn’t even bother to look at the actual paper to see exactly what tests they ran and what corrections they attempted. Just asked ChatGPT a general question and used that to justify writing off the entire field of study. Obviously it’s a comment section so low stakes (and it was a paper about domestic workload), but that type of intellectual laziness has certainly contributed to a lot of misinformation spreading recently.

          1. Anon this time*

            I was really surprised when my daughter told me she suspected a young man she’d been texting with was using ChatGPT instead of actually responding to her messages himself. The idea that it was legitimately possible that this kid didn’t even write his own text messages (to someone he presumably likes and wants to get to know!) went past shocking and into bizarre for me. She said it’s not even that unusual among her classmates (college students). I very literally don’t understand what way of thinking would make that make sense, even just one generation up from them. I have to wonder what it means culturally that even the most low stakes forms of writing are being outsourced to technology. We’re drifting closer toward Wall-E world, folks.

        4. Observer*

          also think it’s possible that if the field is machine learning, the applicants might either assume they would be expected to use AI or they might want to show off that they are familiar with it (or feel that not using it would indicate a lack of understanding of it).

          In that case, the OP would do them a huge favor by teaching them a *really* important thing. That is, when to NOT use a tool, and how to use it when you decide to do so.

          A true professional knows when and how to use their tools. A really good AI professional really needs to have a good handle on the limitations of LLMs in general and the specifics of the current bots in particular. This kind of misuse says that, at best, the person is an unskilled newbie. NOT a good look, professionally speaking.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I am in the creative writing world and this is what I most commonly see: people framing the ChatGPT as a necessary accommodation, most commonly for ADHD or executive functioning issues, meaning anyone to criticize the use of it is being ableist and exclusionary. I’m not commenting on any of this, just reporting what I expect will be the next frontier of this discussion.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Huh, I would not have thought it would help people with those specific issues. I assumed it would be most helpful for people with a low level of written English literacy.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            It does. I’ve used it for the parts of creative writing where I get stuck (ADHD) to help get over a hump. Creative writing is an important hobby for me but if I get frustrated I have a tendency to put it down and not come back, so it’s definitely helping me with engagement.

            But nothing it writes is something I’d keep in a final draft (personally). It just gives me good placeholder text to come back to later so I can move on.

            1. I have RBF*


              Thank you. I’ve now finally found a use for ChatGPT.

              I often get “stuck” when writing, and have dozens of stuck fiction drafts all over the place. Yes, I have ADHD. Having some machine generated text to act as a placeholder and scaffolding had never occurred to me.

          2. Jaydee*

            I’m an ADHDer whose job is writing-heavy. I’m a good writer but I find content generation challenging sometimes. I have absolutely been tempted to try using ChatGPT to get over that initial hump (unfortunately, I usually can’t because of confidentiality reasons). Like, if it gives me a block of text based on my prompt, I can edit that as a way to get my own mental processes flowing. But if I have to come up with all the words myself, my brain spins itself in circles for a while before it settles on some words to start with.

  10. Rainbow*

    #4: You are hilarious and I want to work with you.

    #5: I’m “in management” but not managing anyone. I project manage a whole bunch of stuff, and it’s a great role. While I’d love to manage a student or two, I would never want a big team. My now-retired friend got pushed into a senior management role, thought she’d try it out despite her reluctance, and as suspected it really wasn’t for her so she came back to her former role and lived it out happily until retirement.

    1. Global Cat Herder*

      #5: I’m also “in management” but not supposed to be managing anyone. The role was sold as “content manager – think project manager but without start and end dates” and … I’m a people manager, only without being that on paperwork. I had to hire my “project” team – post listings, do interviews, onboard, train – but someone else is listed on the paperwork as the hiring manager. I approve time cards and expense reports. I write performance appraisals and PIPs that someone else signs.

      I’m actively job seeking because I don’t want to be a people manager.

  11. John P*

    My distaste for management has indeed held me back from full earning potential. But I can’t bring myself to drink the Kool-Ade.

    1. nodandsmile*

      #1 – your co-workers are thoughtless, and that sucks. Completely fair to be upset about that, and I’m sorry no-one has acknowledged your surgery. At my work, this is not a function that anyone needs to be assigned, they just do it because that’s how you treat fellow humans. Alison may be correct about why no-one has sent anything, but that still boils down to them not bothering to check or care or think about what you would like. So they still suck as humans, I agree.

    2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Yes I would be a terrible manager and the idea of causing problems for others is worse than having that extra cash

    3. MigraineMonth*

      My most stressful work days are when I have to deal with some office politics BS. I can’t imagine wanting to make that my full-time job.

    4. NYC Taxi*

      Being a good manager isn’t at all about “drinking the kool-ade”. I’ve been in management roles since my 20s and love working on behalf of my teams. I wish being a manager was as easy as “drinking the kool-ade”; it would be a way easier job.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        Thank you. They drank it at gunpoint and some of them watched their children die. It’s an awful phrase.

      2. Stuff*

        Wait, is that not common knowledge? I do use the phrase, and I’ve always known precisely what it refers to, as well as that technically, they drank a knockoff called Flavoraid.

        1. allathian*

          I just don’t think that referencing mass murder/coerced suicide in more trivial matters is the right thing to do because it trivializes the original incident. It’s a bit like if you work for a Fortune 500 company and the whole C-suite gets fired by the CEO, after which the board fires the CEO, and you compare the ensuing chaos to 9/11.

          1. Stuff*

            I mean, I don’t use that analogy at work, certainly not. Outside of work, though, I have a background rooted in military history, and, well, referencing mass death in casual academic conversation is just normalized when a lot of that conversation already involves mass death.

      3. Clisby*

        Why do you think they don’t know the origin of it? I thought it was pretty widely known. But I’m old enough to remember when it happened.

  12. Elle by the sea*

    As someone who is in NLP/Machine Learning as well, how do you identify if something has been written with chat GPT? (This isn’t only a question for OP – I’m throwing it out there for anyone.) I can’t and to be honest, all heuristics I’ve seen people claim to be sureshot signs of machine generated text are inaccurate and nonsensical. Also, I have often been accused of not having written my own original piece of writing myself, way before chat GPT existed – I was baffled. The only way I can tell that someone has used chat GPT is when I know their writing style intimately. For example, I could easily identify if a student of mine had generated their essay using chat GPT.

    On a different note, many people use chat GPT to review and proofread their writing. To refine it, especially when they are not experienced writers. They do so to produce higher quality text and they do put effort into it. I am not averse to that, nor would I consider it to be rude.

    1. nnn*

      I can’t articulate how very well, but it’s a general vibe that you come to recognize with familiarity. It’s comparable to how if you edit the same people’s writing on a regular basis, you can tell who wrote something.

      Part (but not all) of it is a weird kind of repetition and reiteration. Like a middle school student padding something out to make word count, but reaching further back than it would occur to a middle school student to do.

      Part (but not all) of it is if you’re reading for information (e.g. how do I fix this?) it keeps feeling like it’s about to give you the information you’re looking for, but never actually gives it, then acts like it has just given you the information. But it structures it in a way that elicits a response of “Wait, did I miss it?” – which makes it a real time-waster for the reader.

      Part (but not all) of it is the balance of given and new information, the way it presents things as given or new, where in the text it treats concepts like given or new, and the assumptions it appears to be making about the reader’s knowledge. They simply don’t align with how a human would do things.

      1. Arthenonyma*

        Its exactly this. I think of it as “SEO Speak”, because you do get it in human-written text as well – repeating specific words and phrases because they are the search strings and keywords the site wants google to pick up. I would be fascinated to know if it’s an inherent flaw in the language model or if it’s literally just that ChatGPT has been trained on internet content geared towards SEO!

      2. Teaching teacher*

        This is a wonderful explanation! I’ve been struggling to articulate this- so far the best I’ve been able to do is compare it to reading a wikiHow article. I’m totally using your explanation from now on.

        1. ursula*

          Same, I have been trying to explain this exact thing! Thanks nnn, you really explained that well.

      3. DataSci*

        This is a good summary. It reminds me of those clickbaity articles where they make people click through a dozen random paragraphs in no particular order, repeating bits of the same thing, to get to the point. Probably because it has a lot of them in it’s training set.

      4. Antilles*

        Really well said. That’s been my experience too. It’s less about some hard and fast rule* and more about just a vague feel. Similar to how older CGI would create the ‘uncanny valley’ feeling with human faces. Take one look and you immediately get a gut feel of “this isn’t it” even if you can’t quite explain why. Nothing is obviously wrong but everything is very subtly off just enough that it adds up.

      5. bamcheeks*

        I totally agree with this in an extended piece of writing. But in a networking / LinkedIn situation, I am surprised if the junior partner is writing much more than a few sentences, and I am quite intrigued to know what the tells are there.

        1. OP3*

          I’m LW #3 — the message that convinced me that ChatGPT was involved was in fact 5 paragraphs! Introduction, 2 paragraphs restating what I’d said, 2 conclusion paragraphs asking generic followup questions. I’ll try to come back to this thread with a specific example soon.

          1. Tafadhali*

            I work in a tech/library role in a high school and in playing around with ChatGPT to familiarize myself with it the thing that has struck me is how long its suggested emails, etc., are unless you are very explicit in your prompting. A 5-paragraph email, especially with the content you describe, would certainly jump out to me as being ChatGPT!

          2. Zarniwoop*

            Might be ChatGPT, might just be bad writing. Whether it’s machine-generated padded bullshit or human-generated padded bullshit is unimportant. What needs to be communicated is the fact that the padded bullshit is irritating you.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              I disagree, only because of OP’s field and area of expertise. I think that changes the calculus a little.

              1. Zarniwoop*

                Might tilt the probability in favor of machine generated tiresome bullshit, doesn’t change my view that the fundamental problem is the kid is sending him tiresome bullshit.

      6. metadata minion*

        I’ve also noticed a forumulaic-ness — explicit introductions and conclusions, transition words on nearly every sentence, that kind of thing. That could easily be a human student, especially one who isn’t a native speaker, copying advice from a writing teacher without realizing when it’s actually better to skip those things. But it’s often one of the first things that stands out to me and makes me re-read the passage to go “ohhh, that’s why this sounds so off; it’s AI”.

        I’ve been noticing more and more “live chat help” website features are actually AI chat help, and I’m baffled at why companies think people will be happier to be “helped” by something that appears to be an utterly incompetent and obstructionist human.

        1. nnn*

          The live chat help is particularly irritating since it would be faster and easier to just have searchable (or even browsable) help files!

        2. College Career Counselor*

          Two things:

          1. I think you’re on to something that perhaps the OP is corresponding with a non-native English speaker who has decided to take some short cuts and who may be dazzled by the apparent fluidity of the prose. I recently got an assignment back in one of my courses from an international student that seemed…”off” in that there was a lot of restating points throughout some of the responses. Based on previous work I’d received from this, it also seemed to be not in the usual “voice.” Then again, there were misspellings and odd diction in some of choices so the student may not have used it for every response. I will have to think about how I have to prompt students going forward in this (online, asynchronous) course.

          2. I had an “exchange” on Sunday with what I strongly suspect was an AI chatbot over an insurance matter. Took three times as long as a phone call would have (because the respondent spent a lot of time typing utterly banal and non-pertinent responses to my queries about why something hadn’t worked the first time I attempted it) and then fed me back confirmation of my own suspicions. The result? I’m not entirely sure that the matter has been resolved, so I will have to follow up YET AGAIN. Thanks, Allstate.

      7. OP3*

        Yes, this! And I think a specific example from my exchange with this student is helpful in illustrating why I was so sure ChatGPT was involved:

        In my message, I wrote a full paragraph saying that “machine learning engineer” as a job title can cover roles from data science to MLOps, so I think it’s important to dig into what you find interesting about “working in ML” so you don’t end up with day-to-day work you don’t like.
        The response I got included this paragraph:
        “You also mentioned that the job title “machine learning engineer” can encompass a wide range of responsibilities, from data science to infrastructure and operations. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of your specific interests within the field to align your career goals with the right job opportunities. It’s worth exploring various roles and talking to professionals in the industry to gain insights into the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities involved in different positions.”

        This is… not really a reasonable response to what I wrote? I’d expect an “ok thanks very interesting” or a “but how do you know which of those a role covers” followup question or really ANYTHING other than a wordy-but-shallow restatement of what I said. I’ve talked with students before, and this reiteration and repetition is just not at all similar to any response I’ve ever gotten from a human.

        1. nnn*

          Yeah, that’s definitely not a thing any human being would ever say at that point in the conversation! It sounds like they are trying to lecture you about how to get a job!

          My first, insufficiently-professional thought is “Kid, why are you suddenly lecturing me about this? I’m the one who already has an established career!”

          I’m wondering if a more professional response might be “I think you might have accidentally copy-pasted something into this email? Did you actually have a question for me at this point?”

          1. Zarniwoop*

            I’d go with the first. The kid sent something inappropriate, time-wasting, and arguably insulting. Whether a computer wrote it or he did, it went out under his name and is negatively affecting the recipient’s opinion of him. He needs to know that.

        2. Expelliarmus*

          Yeah, that definitely doesn’t seem like it can be explained by a non-native English speaker misunderstanding, as some people have commented above.

        3. Cat Tree*

          Super weird that they didn’t even change “align your career goals” to “align my career goals”. It could have been used as the generic-you, but in this case where they’re seeking advice for their own use, it would make more sense to say “my” to confirm that they’re applying what you told them. Seems like they didn’t even proofread what they got.

      8. Crooked Bird*

        I can’t judge how comprehensible this explanation would be to someone trying to understand the topic with fresh eyes, but this expresses VERY well my experience of reading AI text. And yes, you can (often) tell. It’s that vibe where the writer is more trying to “say something that sounds smart” than “communicate X clearly” which is, if I (as a total AI layperson) understand correctly, exactly the case.

        1. Crooked Bird*

          lol I should have refreshed the page. Clearly the explanation does communicate well to fresh eyes too!

    2. Mid*

      I think the responses to complex questions contained within larger paragraphs seems to get weird, robotic sounding responses. Things like it responding to very deep answers with really surface level questions. Things with specialized knowledge. Some phrases end up feeling off.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      I read an article recently about software that is supposed to be able to tell AI generated content from human (kinda meta, isn’t it?), and the rates of correct identification are apparently fairly bad, and lag behind AI versions.

      That said, up to now, everything AI generated I’ve seen in my field has been BAD. Like, complete and utter nonsene bad. A colleague suggested I use ChatGPT for a first draft of a thing, and it was 100% useless, mostly gibberish, and what was somewhat intelligible was wrong. So that’s how I’d be able to tell. Probably because there’s not a lot of input for the type of thing I wanted (the lack of free templates or examples was the reason for thinking of ChatGPT in the first place). So it’s probably highly dependent on the kind of text and subject area.

      1. nnn*

        I ran several comparable pieces of my own writing through that tool, and responses ranged 0% to 100% likelihood that they were AI-generated. They were all completely original, never posted online, never touched by AI.

      2. Ama*

        As a first draft I don’t find chatgpt usable without significant editing, but I have found it helpful for:

        1) Rewriting my first drafts to be more ___ (formal, friendly, age-appropriate, etc)
        2) Generating ideas from certain input that I can then rewrite in my own style

      3. Expelliarmus*

        Youtuber/Lawyer Devin Stone (aka LegalEagle) actually published a video this weekend about lawyers that used ChatGPT to do their research; it’s wild how blindly these professionals trusted the software and didn’t bother to cross-check. ChatGPT was straight up using completely fabricated cases as citations, among other issues.

        1. Jerusha*

          I’ve seen that one, and another lawyer on YouTube who analyzed the same event. For those who haven’t run across the case: One attorney working on a case asked ChatGPT for citations to support his brief. ChatGPT did what it’s prone to do when it doesn’t have any information and made up case citations. Then the second lawyer, who’s the attorney-of-record for the case, submitted the brief with fabricated case citations without checking them. And then, in the hearing on the show-cause order (“explain to me why I shouldn’t sanction you”), one of them ended up being forced to admit under oath that he had LIED TO THE JUDGE.

          Oh, honey. I hope you had a nice law career (in the past tense), because you’re not likely to have a law career in the future. Even if they manage to escape being disbarred, both attorneys are likely to end up without jobs, because the show-cause order also required them to show cause why their firm should not be sanctioned. Even if they manage to explain to the court that it was all their fault and their firm shouldn’t be sanctioned for leaving these two (highly experienced! Long-tenured!) attorneys inadequately supervised, and the court agrees, the firm management is likely to be Unamused.

      4. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Was it that article about TurnItIn? Because that software has been bad and I have a rant about it that I’ll save for another time.

        But yes, I think there are a few issues.
        1) the identification software will learn slower than the AI just by design so it’s going to be almost useless in like…a year.
        2) AI is a skill. That’s what I’m trying to hit home as I get my organization to try to pay for my AI training. The quality of prompts makes a huge difference.
        3) It’s going to vary a ton by both the complexity of subject matter and how often AI is used in a particular field. The more it’s used the more it will learn.

        We’re seeing the comically bad AI right now, but I think it’s going to improve faster than we’re prepared for in a lot of fields. In HR, I think it’s vital I keep up with it because it’s already being used a ton.

      5. Roland*

        I believe that detecting it with software is unreliable, but that doesn’t mean a human, especially an expert like OP, can’t detect it – the whole idea is telling humans apart from software pretending to be human, so it stands to reason that humans would do a better job.

        1. Crooked Bird*

          Yeah, I am totally unsurprised that software fails to detect the human touch. That’s the root of the issue in the first place!

          1. The New Wanderer*

            Right? The explanation that nnn gave above resonates with a lot of us, even though there are no hard and fast rules to apply. So how would software solve that problem?

      6. just some guy*

        I doubt we’ll ever have reliable software for distinguishing AI-generated content from human-generated. If you have software that does it, you can use it to teach an AI what that software thinks “human” looks like, and then the AI can fool that software.

    4. Cece*

      When my students use one of those tools to generate their essays, and if they hand in the results without editing, what I get is sentence after sentence of vague generalities – and no attempt to address the question they’re meant to be answering. (Plus, about a third of the academic citations will be fake.)

      So, in the end, I don’t need a heuristic, I just look at the poor work in front of me and grade what’s there.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I’m not an academic, but often find myself de facto academic-adjacent. The idea of using a LLM for my own writing is patently absurd, not on ethical grounds, but because the results are terrible. If someone uses a LLM as a writing tool, I honestly don’t care, any more than if they use a spelling and grammar checker. But if they have the LLM spit something out and then never look at it, hoo, boy will it be bad!

        I think a big part of the hand-wringing is for undergrad papers on topics that have been assigned a gazillion times in the past. For these, the LLM has ample training material to produce a decent result. So mix it up. Think of something new to assign. Take the LLM as given. Currently, if the paper is reasonably grammatical and coherent, this is enough for a gentleman’s B-. Teaching the student to write reasonably grammatically and coherently was much of the point, so this made sense. With LLM’s, this is no longer any more impressive than a student being able to do long division with a calculator. So adjust.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          Carefully adjudicated exams may become a bigger part of evaluation. In person oral exams are a good way of probing understanding in a more nuanced way, but they’re much more labour intensive.

        2. Charlotte Lucas*

          Back in another life when I taught Freshman Comp, my assignments were unique, & students had a list of off-limit topics (file papers were a problem back when AI was just a twinkle in Asimov’s eye). Not only did I get better, more interesting papers to read & grade, but I think my students actually learned things & liked their work.

        3. Cece*

          Exactly – I typically set assignments where the student devises their own question based on a topic they choose. The parameters are mine, but the contents will be unique to every submission. It’s great for inclusivity, and hard for students to repeat past work.

      2. Jackalope*

        Not sure if you saw the recent case of the lawyer who submitted an AI-generated… brief, I think? Several of the cases referred to in the brief were fake, and it was a huge issue. Clearly the lawyer submitting it hadn’t bothered to proofread it at all, or else was incredibly incompetent.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          He might have proofread it, in the spelling and grammar sense, but he obviously didn’t Sheperdize it.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Worse, when the judge sent them a message that was basically “WTF, these don’t exist”, the lawyers used ChatGPT to generate many of the cases. Which had minor issues such as having a judge on the 5th circuit judging a 4th circuit case and being way too short (because the free tier of ChatGPT has a word limit), and major issues such as the plaintiff’s name changing between the 3rd and 4th section and NOT ACTUALLY EXISTING.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            And I think one of them spontaneously changed partway through from a wrongful death suit to a guy missing a flight, or something. And still, somehow they didn’t notice!

            1. nnn*

              That one is another example of how AI-generated text wastes end-users’ time. It started out by saying it’s about a wrongful death, then switched to talking about missing a flight, and as you’re reading it you think they’re laying the groundwork for describing how the person died wrongfully.

              Then it never gets around to anyone dying.

              But you have to read the whole thing to realize that! And if you just skim it and miss the death, you might think “I have to read more carefully – I missed the death!”

              In a real court decision, an experienced user could skim it and get what they need, and a novice user could read it averagely or carefully to get what they need.

              In this fake text, the experienced user would have to skim it and then read it carefully to determine that it’s useless, and the novice user would, at a minimum, have to read it carefully twice to determine that it’s useless. (Or might read it carefully multiple, think “This law stuff is way too hard for me – I can’t figure out how this person died!” and abandon their endeavour.)

              It takes more work to determine that the AI text is useless than it does to actually make use of a real text.

              1. just some guy*

                THIS. So much this. So much GPT discourse feels like people trying to hype a magic 8-ball: “yes, sometimes it gives the wrong answer, but when that happens you just need to shake it again until it gives you the right answer!”

          2. Texan In Exile*

            Fifteen years ago, we had a lawyer draft our will. When it was ready, she asked us to come into her office to sign it. I had to convince her to email us a copy to check first. (She really really didn’t want to do that. I don’t know why.)

            Not only did she have the bequests wrong, she had our names wrong.

            Like – instead of say “Mary Jones and Ringo Smith” she had “Mary Poppins and Ringo Starr.”

            We fired her and got a new lawyer.

    5. bamcheeks*

      Having seen the way a lot of students and new graduates write in a “professional” register, I was wondering that too! A lot of the features I’d associate with AI writing (weird register, not quite getting to the point, awkward and overly signalled moves from one topic to another) are also fairly common for inexperienced writers trying to sound Grown-Up, or just cut and pasting a template without editing it to make it their own.

      I believe LW that it sounds “off”, but I’d be interested to hear what specific features make it sound off in an AI way rather than any of the other ways that inexperienced writers can go wrong!

      1. ecnaseener*

        +1 – certainly I believe you can tell in some cases, like if it’s being asked to display knowledge it obviously doesn’t have, but roleplaying an inexperienced networker seems squarely in its wheelhouse.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        One way to tell is that ChatGPT in particular is prone to “hallucinations” (a.k.a. making stuff up), particularly sources. If they currently work at [company that doesn’t exist] and were referred to you by [person you don’t know], that’s a clue.

        Chatbots also tend to contradict themselves over time; if the person you’re speaking with tells you they have two brothers and later claims not to have any brothers, that’s a sign that you’re dealing with a chatbot… or maybe a compulsive liar.

        1. Katy*

          Yeah, that’s the crazy thing about people using ChatGPT to generate anything that’s supposed to be factual: that’s not ChatGPT’s directive. It’s not supposed to be accurate; it’s supposed to be a plausible prediction of what a piece of writing might look like. You can’t use an AI to imitate a legal brief based on word prediction and then be shocked that what it produces is an imitation and not an actual usable legal brief.

          1. just some guy*

            But people do, and they are, and while those particular lawyers probably had it coming, it’s not as simple as “people should know it’s not supposed to be accurate”.

            GPT is being pushed hard for applications that are not at all compatible with “not supposed to be accurate”. For instance, Quora is a Q&A site where people post questions and others answer them – but recently it’s started prominently featuring GPT-generated answers. GPT has also been used to provide “counselling” for mental health services, and for a host of other purposes which only make sense if one accepts that it’s reasonably trustworthy. (Which one definitely shouldn’t do.)

            Yes, it has a disclaimer, but the message of that disclaimer is undermined by the marketing hype, and its makers would much rather sell product than caution people against putting too much faith in it.

    6. Heather*

      It’s the “bad toupee” problem. People spot the obvious ones and tell themselves that means all toupees are obvious.

    7. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Besides just the phrasing being off, the weird factual inaccuracies are a dead giveaway. I was reading an article online that felt awfully generated, and then I looked down and saw the section heading on “Side Part vs. Fishtail braid”. For starters, you don’t have to decide between the two-you can do both at the same time. And for 2nd, this was supposedly an article about Civil War general’s hair. I did get a good giggle envisioning Stonewall Jackson or Ambrose Burnside with a fishtail braid, but it’s total nonsense.

      1. nnn*

        This is an excellent example of how AI writing makes it harder for novices to becomes well-informed!

        Someone who doesn’t know enough about hairstyles to know what a fishtail braid is, or who doesn’t have the cultural information to realize that a fishtail braid is implausible for a Civil War general, would not be able to recognize that there’s something amiss there. They might even take it seriously and become misinformed.

        Or they might think “This is so complicated – I just don’t see how a side part and a fishtail braid are incompatible, but they’re writing as though it’s completely obvious! I guess this is just too hard for me to learn!”

        Especially since this kind of stuff is increasingly cluttering up Google results, it’s putting an additional obstacle between complete beginners and becoming informed.

      2. Some Dude*

        I indulged once and clicked one one of the ads, oops, I mean “sponsored content” about Netflix “cutting ties with a popular property” or something. It was an article jumping all over the place talking about cancelations that ranged from recent to four years ago.

        It claimed one show was canceled because of racist comments by its star, Jean-Ralphio Saperstein. That name sounded familiar to me. Yeah, that’s a fictional character from Parks and Rec. Ben Schwartz who played Jean-Ralphio was not even associated with the show.

        I’m going to assume the article was written by AI. But, I guess at least they said it was a fictional character who made racist remarks instead of calling out a real person, lol? AI seems like a potential legal minefield if you don’t proofread it (and I imagine clickbait writers don’t care).

      3. parrot*

        One time, I was trying to look up the history of clerical collars. I stumbled on an article that started off coherently, but then it mentioned that clerical collars are also known as “dog collars” and the rest of the article was dog training advice.

      4. sb51*

        Oh, man, I was looking for some medical information, and a site started out reasonable (it was all stuff I already knew, because it was successfully regurgitating other sites at that point). And then it included in a list of side effects “lights flashing on the front of the computer”. Uh. I don’t think a muscle strain would cause that.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          There is a company trying to use ChatGPT to automate the writing of doctor’s notes, and they’re apparently very good except when they mention symptoms that the patient doesn’t have:

          Oh, and there’s this gem:

          “When we said ‘White or Caucasian patient was belligerent or violent,’ the model filled in the blank [with] ‘Patient was sent to hospital,'” she says. “If we said ‘Black, African American, or African patient was belligerent or violent,’ the model completed the note [with] ‘Patient was sent to prison.'”

          1. I have RBF*

            IIRC, racism and sexism are pretty much built in to things like ChatGPT, primarily because the stuff it’s trained on is loaded with it. ChatGPT just isn’t subtle with it.

          2. Contrast*

            Welp, that’s the statistically most likely end to the note based on the data it was trained on! Yeah, AI reproduces the existing racism in society.

          1. Cat Tree*

            It does raise some interesting philosophical questions. It seems really quaint that in the 90’s, the android Data was shown to be not quite human by not using contractions in speech. But instead, he probably should have used overly flowery verbiage, unusual synonyms, and occasionally missing the point completely. That would have been a bit harder to write though (for the human writers at the time).

    8. Retail Not Retail*

      I don’t know what program is used at the animal shelter I volunteer at, it seems more like mad libs than anything else with attributes plugged in and certain sentences used.

      One thing that stands out is the use of unnecessary synonyms. It reminds me of something i saw in like 9th grade english “don’t use said, use descriptive verbs.” Well doing that too much pulls readers out of the story. Same with calling the same dog dog, pup, canine, and pooch in 3 paragraphs.

      Better than nothing! However, one foster’s write up included “her fat self set off the seatbelt alarm lol” and come on, isn’t that more attractive?

    9. M*

      The style of ChatGPT is excessively wordy and has kind of a “meaningless” vibe. It’s somewhere between “9th grader making sure to hit x words on this essay” and “corporate press release.” It is absolutely obvious when my co-workers use it (they do it for fun). Most people don’t use the 9th-grade-essay voice for personal conversations, I find it sticks out a lot of the time, it’s way more boring to read than even most bad writers.

  13. April*

    re: number four: I was several weeks into job-hunting years ago and realized my outgoing voicemail was still “you should probably hang up and text me.” Oops. I changed it something bland pretty quick.

    re: number five: You are not alone. I’ve made it really clear to my boss and coworkers that I do not want to be in the “lead” role, which does some management tasks. This has lead to a situation where I am, by far, the most senior person in my department; and I technically report to someone who’s only worked there a couple of years.

    I have never ever wanted to be management. Of anyone. Ever. I don’t want to be the person who has to come in when nobody else can, who has to answer their phone at three am when shit goes wrong, nope nope nope nope nOPE.

  14. Daria Grace*

    I’m genuinely fascinated by what ChatGPT student thinks they’re going to achieve. Everyone knows ChatGPT produces questionable responses but even it it manages passable ones its all going to fall apart if the the student ever interacts with anyone they’re reaching out to on the phone or in person and they sound nothing like that

    1. Irish Teacher*

      Given that the field the LW works in is machine learning and they are e-mailing about getting started in the field, I wouldn’t be surprised if they think this shows their familiarity with it or if they are just somebody who really loves the idea of AI and machine learning, which is why they are looking to get into that field and really enjoy using it and just got sort of carried away.

      Another possibility is just that they are really nervous about writing “business letters” and think this sounds more “businessy” than what they could write.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Exactly. I’m pretty sure that they think that if this contact goes somewhere, and they in future revealed the use of the chatbot, it would seem like an impressive feat only those deeply cognizant of chatbot’s nuances could have pulled off.

        But also that they are quite sure no one can tell it’s a chatbot, because of the smart and subtle way in which they are using it.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Given all the artificial gatekeeping employed to “make the numbers reasonable,” it doesn’t take too much cynicism to think you’re just trying to check the boxes to get past the firewall; then you can pitch your real self to a real person for a real job.

      I shudder to think where this arms race ends.

    3. EPLawyer*

      Sadly everyone does NOT know that ChatGPT produces questionable responses. A couple of attorneys are facing discipline (at the LEAST suspension, possibly disbarment) because they thought ChatGPT was just like a really great search engine. So they submitted a brief based on the cases it gave them. Dear Readers, the cases wer FAKE. ChatGPT made up fake cases with fake INTERNAL citations. The lawyers were all but we thought it could be trusted!!!!!

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, I feel like it has been widely publicized that the answers produced are not reliably based in fact, but maybe I’m just on the really skeptical/anti side of the internet? There are a lot of people who genuinely think ChatGPT is ready to replace writers and employees. Right now it’s a useful tool for brainstorming and getting things started, but you can’t actually just send ChatGPT results out without intensively reviewing and making edits

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep, and that’s just what’s getting media hype. I can only imagine how often people are getting into trouble right now.

        “Everyone knows” is a dangerous headspace to get into. Just because you’re getting shown a lot of news or examples about something doesn’t mean everyone is. The data you’re shown on a daily basis is much more personalized than some people realize.

      3. Double A*

        As an English teacher, I get papers turned in with entirely made up quotes from texts that don’t even exist, because AI doesn’t care about truth or accuracy. And since the students didn’t do the reading, they have no idea why it’s wrong.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          In its defense, many types of AI do care about reality and accuracy. ChatGPT, however, is a very clever parrot that doesn’t know what reality is.

          Though even with other types of AI, you have to be really careful to specify what you want because they’ll cheat if given any opportunity to do so.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I think making sure we’re distinguishing between “ChatGPT” and “AI in general” is important and I have not been as careful about that as I could be. Thank you, I’m going to keep that in mind.

      4. Observer*

        Sadly everyone does NOT know that ChatGPT produces questionable responses.

        That is true, and it’s too bad. But if someone *in that field* is unaware of this, then they don’t belong in the field. Because at this point, it’s still one of the most fundamental problems that exist for all of these models.

        A couple of attorneys are facing discipline (at the LEAST suspension, possibly disbarment) because they thought ChatGPT was just like a really great search engine

        They deserve anything the court throws at them. There is more than enough information out there, that they should have known better. If you have enough access to actually use this tool, you have enough access to find some basic information.

        The lawyers were all but we thought it could be trusted!!!!!

        LOL! That would be bad enough from any professional. From a lawyer?!? Even without the known problems with chatGPT, what lawyer in their right mind doesn’t double check anything that shows up in a search engine? You would think that lawyers would the the last people to not verify this kind of stuff.

  15. Chairman of the Bored*

    I don’t want to manage people, and only wound up managing a team because I was concerned that they’d otherwise give the job to an incompetent.

    I’m lukewarm on the actual managing part of my job, but have enjoyed being in a position to advocate for the working people and being the one in management meetings to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

  16. JM60*


    no one else has been assigned the responsibility

    If it was the OP’s assigned responsibility before, and there is an assigned replacement for the OP now, then it’s likely that people assumed that the replacement has been assigned the responsibility (without realizing that they’ve been assigned that responsibility).

    I’m also wondering, is it possible that the employer just hasn’t sent it yet because they intend to send it midway through the medical leave rather than at the start? I’ve never been at an employer that regularly sent out a “get well” package with cards when someone went on medical leave, so I’m not sure if those that do typically try to get it to people at the very beginning of leave or at another time. I could see some rationale to try to get it to the person more midway through leave (someone recovering from surgery might not benefit from some items earlier on due to medical reasons).

    1. JM60*

      For an example of how someone might benefit from a care package later during their medical leave, I’ve had multiple times when I could only consume liquid foods after surgery, so having tempting chocolate present nearby due to a well-intentioned person wouldn’t be ideal. I’ve also had one time where I (unexpectedly) couldn’t use either hand for a while after surgery.

      1. WellRed*

        But that is information that the office is unlikely to be privy to, or even remember. It’s oh. “She is out for surgery on this date, let’s make sure to send flowers then.” And that’s what OPs office has done, despite comments trying to twist that into every conceivable alternative explanation.

        1. JM60*

          But that is information that the office is unlikely to be privy to

          I agree. And the fact that the employer isn’t going to be privy to such information about someone’s medical leave might make those in charge of a “get well” package decide that a midpoint is someone’s medical leave would be a better time to send it.

    2. OP1*

      Again, as the person in the office who manages these tasks, I have established the culture as to how and when we acknowledge an important event. Receiving flowers weeks after surgery would automatically imply that it was a CYA move rather than a thoughtful act.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Why would you consider it a CYA move?

        If no one has been assigned this task, it will take some time for people to realize it hasn’t happened. How is sending something after that realization any less sincere?

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          I do mean this all gently, OP, but by dismissing getting flowers now as a CYA move, I am worried you’re creating a winless situation for your office and yourself. At this point, if they don’t send flowers, they lose; if they do send flowers, they lose, and either way you’re feeling stuck ruminating on the situation.

      2. JM60*

        You as the person in the office who manages these tasks – certainly know the timing of these things. But I wasn’t sure if the person covering you knew if there was a particular timing to send the package that was more specific than “sometime while they’re on medical leave.”

      3. Peanut Hamper*

        Seeing as how it’s not happening for you, I’m going to push back on the idea that this is part of the culture. Everybody obviously sees it as part of your job, which is why it isn’t getting done.

        If you want to make it part of the culture, you need to delegate and/or share these responsibilities going forward. That’s how you make it part of the culture.

      4. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Gently, I think you’re conflating “people know I personally do this and therefore expect it” with “culture”. Those aren’t the same thing.

      5. SoloKid*

        OP, I think you’ve established the culture as to YOU being the one to do these tasks. You can both feel very slighted, and understand that it isn’t important to others in the company to have these things done.

        Did anyone in your non-work life get these things for you? Focus your appreciation there, and just make a mental note that your coworkers aren’t going to be supportive in the ways that you want.

      6. Lucy P*

        I’m in a similar position to you. I make sure birthdays are celebrated, that milestone anniversaries are celebrated and that cards are sent out when someone is really sick or has had a death in the family. I had one other person in the office who would help with birthdays, but they’ve since left the company.

        On the other hand, no one remembers my work anniversaries at the right time (like remembering to celebrate the 21st anniversary after totally forgetting the 20th). When I was out sick for a week, all I got was a text message from my manager to check on me. No one else contacted me.

        What I realized, after a long time, is that it’s not a jab at me personally. The people I work with are just not wired to celebrate the good things and to look out for you if you’re not well. I know it stings and it may sting for a while. My best advice is to not focus on it, but rather focus on your recovery.

      7. Student*

        You have established a tradition that you particularly value.

        You just found out that the rest of your office does not value it as much as you do.

        It is your tradition/culture. It is not your office’s tradition/culture as a whole. You can certainly keep doing it, and it’s possible other members of your office will eventually adopt it. However, you just had a very clear experience that should show you that you have not established a culture at your office, so much as personally implemented and driven a specific office tradition.

        When you are not there, the tradition is not there – you are its only adherent.

        1. metadata minion*

          We really can’t draw that conclusion. Plenty of people are very enthusiastic about things so long as someone else organizes them. And plenty of people would even be happy to organize a card/flowers if someone asked them to, but because people are mostly focused on their own life nobody managed to see the disjoint between “Kate is having surgery and should get a card” and “Kate is the person who organizes the cards”.

          I agree with several other commenters that this should go into the usual transition/substitute planning procedures when the person in this role is leaving either temporarily or permanently, just like the more traditional business aspects of the role.

          I know this commentariat tends to slant introvert/business-only/etc., but is this sort of little gift that unusual or widely resented? There are an awful lot of people concluding that this clearly means everyone hates the tradition, or at least doesn’t really want it, rather than that those few people who are really good at remembering/organizing this sort of thing end up doing it, and then the system falls apart when they’re the one who needs the card.

          1. JM60*

            but is this sort of little gift that unusual or widely resented?

            It’s not usually resented. I think there are plenty of people like me who just see such “get well” packages as an employee carrying out a perfunctory job duty rather than an expression of emotional care akin to a friend/family member expressing care. That’s especially true if there is a specific person or department that regularly sends such packages to everyone. At least, that’s how I think I would view it if I did receive such a package. But that’s more like indifference.

            There are clearly some people for whom receiving (or not receiving) such a package does have an emotional impact. The fact that the OP sees this as a “lack of humanity and compassion” means that they are far on that end of the spectrum.

      8. fhqwhgads*

        You’re relying a lot on “imply”. Your replacement while you’re out needs to have been directly told, and should not be expected to infer. If they were told and didn’t, you have a beef. If they weren’t, it sucks it got overlooked – but it’s just that: overlooked.

      9. Teagan*

        OP, you sound like a wonderful person. But I am wondering if the reason you are so upset isn’t really that you didn’t get acknowledged, but what it means that you didn’t get acknowledged. You believed you’d established a culture of caring, and having that kind of positive impact on your workplace and the people in it is obviously important to you. But cultures aren’t dependent on one person. So now that you’re on leave and those practices aren’t continuing, maybe it’s feeling like you had less impact on the company culture than you’d believed or hoped.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I agree with this wholeheartedly and encourage OP to reflect on it away from the comment section, when they have bandwidth. Not that engaging here is bad but the discourse, and understandable defensiveness if you feel at all attacked, can make it hard to absorb the nuggets of truth.

      10. Qwerty*

        OP, you are starting to paint yourself into a corner. Is this about more than the flowers?

        From your various posts, it sounds like sending flowers was part of your job, one that you did well and reliably. These are the types of tasks that no one else thinks about – kinda like if the IT guy were to go on a leave of absence and suddenly a software license expired or a new hire started and couldn’t obtain a license on the corporate account. No one was thinking about software licenses or when they needed to be renewed because IT Guy had always handled it so seamlessly. The only difference here is that lack of licenses present a brick wall to someone’s work whereas you are the only one who knows that you didn’t get flowers.

        How much support have you been getting from friends and family during this time? Did you generally feel underappreciated at work prior to your surgery? I can’t help but wonder that if all else were going well, you wouldn’t be this upset by lack of flowers from the office.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes – most obvious explanation is that sending flowers etc is a job duty that OP normally carries out. That duty hasn’t been handed over to anyone (and I can see why, because even the most tactless person would probably stop short of “Jane, normally I do the flowers, so can you ensure flowers get sent to me in hospital”) – so – hasn’t happened. It probably isn’t the kind of thing that most people give much thought to or would notice it was ‘missing’ from being done for someone else, actually. It isn’t a personal slight at all.

      1. Rumcat*

        At my last job I was the one who sent flowers when people got sick. When I got suddenly became ill (and off for 2 weeks) nobody sent anything. There were other admins who handled that sort of thing but nobody asked them to. In fact, they told everyone that I was on vacation so when I came back everyone asked how my vacation was. I had to explain that I was in fact sick. My boss had me send flowers to my coworker’s son as a housewarming gift, so I feel like they handled my situation very badly, so yes I was hurt (and annoyed).

    4. EPLawyer*

      I think it is just a case of no one was specifically assigned. The rest of the office may not know who actually organizes these things, that they just are organized. Boss should know but Boss is getting ready for their retirement and probably plumb forgot. Leadership above Boss probably assumes Boss is handling it.

      Its just a matter of people not realizing it needs to be done or distracted. It’s not being done deliberately OP1. Its just people have other things on their minds and this is not part of their regular job so unless told directly to do it, they probably just don’t realize it needs to be done. They aren’t forgetting to be mean, etc. Or its that they don’t care. It’s just an oversight. You can complain about humanity but keep in mind they are human too and make mistakes.

  17. Holly*

    For Op1 – when I left my last role, I included in my handover notes ALL tasks I do, including those that are beyond my actual job scope.

    I took great joy in including:
    “- Leaving Cards – to date, all leaving cards have been bought by Holly.”

    Boss took the hint and organised a leaving card for me.
    (Admittedly after 10 years service I expected a little more than a card, but it’s better than nothing.)

    1. Angry socialist*

      OR, and hear me out here, people could stop hinting and actually say what they want, for the benefit of dorks like me who won’t ever get the hint? Look up “ask culture vs. guess culture”.

  18. SimpleAutie*

    I bet if the student is using ChatGPT or another LLM to write networking letters is because someone told them AI is the wave of the future and this is a Great Idea!

    It would be a kindness to assume that they, along with everyone else listening to a career advisor at a college, would benefit from real life instruction in how it’s reading, without assuming they’re being *intentionally* rude

  19. ComputerJanitor*

    Number 5 sounds like me 6 years ago. I didn’t want to manage anyone but my one-man department had collected too many responsibilities (sometimes I hate being competant) and nobody wanted to manage another highly technical person. Since then the department has grown with the business and I’ve had to hire people that are less independent. I still have all my duties from my solo years, manage a handful of people, and I’m on call 24/7. And since my job description doesn’t have managerial duties listed I’m not compensated for that work.

    Funny thing is, I don’t want the pay of a manager. I just don’t want to manage. My lack of time means I’m failing my employees and yet the destraction of managing constantly delays my actual work. I’m an introvert with Adhd and social anxiety and a knack for learning obscure computer systems. I’m the last person you want managing others.

    So after all these years I’ve finally hired a manager for myself and my team. Sure, they’re starting at 150% of my salary and I’ll need to train them, but I can already feel the stress lifting.

    It’s important to remember that the people who decide that non-managers can take on management duties are managers themselves. They’re biased. It’s also easier for them to throw the duties at an existing employee than hire and train another. Existing managers are expensive and non-managers are cheap.

    I honestly wish I left years ago. Now that things are improving I’m hoping that my job will be bearable again. I like what I do and my company really is great. I was just spread too thin.

  20. Les*

    “I am disgusted by the lack of humanity and compassion displayed by my officemates and leadership.”

    On the plus side, now you know how much your organization values these types of activities. It’s the rare venture that has “humanity and compassion” metrics on the annual goals spreadsheet. Look on this as a reminder that you’re there to earn the money you need to build relationships and enjoy life outside the office… and feel free to stop organizing the cards, parties, etc. Put that thought and effort into something that’ll benefit you and your friends or family.

    1. Cazaril*

      Your analysis of what this workplace values could be accurate. However, organizations that do value humanity and compassion are nicer places to work, and tend to have more employee loyalty and retention. It’s the sort of thing that is taken for granted until it’s missing. Acknowledging employees’ life events does tend to fall within an office manager role in the absence of HR. If OP has been doing this on her own, she could ask her boss whether she should continue these activities. I think that it’s most likely what Alison said, that the actions are appreciated, but no one else thought to step up in her absence.

    2. OP1*

      You know, that was my initial reaction—why should I continue to acknowledge or celebrate others when I return to my job if they don’t do the same for me?
      I immediately realized that I would be damaging the very culture I worked hard to create, and I erased the thought from my head. If it’s a component of my job that I value, why would I willingly stop doing it?

      1. Consider*

        Then embrace it with an open heart because it’s the DOING you value. If you enjoy giving, give, without expectations attached. If reciprocity in this setting matters to you, then it’s going to disappoint you and you should probably stop or adjust your expectations. Many people don’t look to their workplace to get these types of needs met.

      2. Workerbee*

        I mean, the culture you worked hard to create still doesn’t extend to encompass you, so…

        …I would consider quietly dropping out of those particular doings and find something else worthy and effective to take its place.

        Anecdotal: I once inherited a direct report who had taken it upon herself to organize birthday celebrations for her department – at her own expense. No one bothered to do the same for her birthday. Because her ultimate drive was to make people feel good, and she revealed to me that she liked to write, I stopped the birthday stuff and gave her the task of creating a department newsletter instead that celebrated our doings AND acknowledged birthdays and other celebrations. She loved it. So did the boss.

    3. bamcheeks*

      I mean, the company hired LW — maybe they DO value this stuff.

      LW, I think it’s fair enough that you feel slighted, and I also know how much worse these things always feel when you’re sore, fed up and you have little else to distract you. So right now, feel your feelings and try and let it go: don’t read any Big Things into this.

      When you’re back at work, though, I would think about a couple of things. There are two possibilities that I see here:

      1. your company does not value this stuff, and all the time and effort you put into it is time wasted– other people are looking at the cards, flowers, and positive care and thinking, “why does she do this, well, makes her happy I guess”. If that’s the case, this is not the environment for you, and you should look for another job.

      2. your company does value this stuff, and that’s why they hired you: you do this stuff really well and it makes a difference. Demonstrating that care and creating the culture is part of the unique skillset that YOU bring to this role, and you should be proud of that — and possibly work to make sure what you do is more visible and recognised as a critical part of your role.

      What’s very odd about this stuff is that it really falls right in the middle between “legitimate business time that creates value for the company by making it a Nice Place To Work” and “thing that colleagues do for each other that the company doesn’t actually stop but which isn’t regarded formally as a work task, and therefore wasn’t considered part of the handover”. And I really think it’s impossible to tell whether this is a, “OP is so good at this stuff, we’re lucky to have her OH NO things fell apart in her absence” or “nobody cares”.

      I think it’s worth looking at the real thanks and appreciation you get in your role in general– do you think your manager and your colleagues appreciate it? Do you want to raise it with your manager specifically and find out whether it’s valued?

      Like I said, I wouldn’t dwell too much on this stuff whilst you’re off work and ill, if you can help it, because you can’t DO anything except speculate and it’s so very easy for the negative ideas to squirrel around and around and for you to get angrier and angrier. But when you’re back at work and back in a work headspace, I do think it’s worth addressing and figuring out whether this is a valued part of your role or not.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I agree but one caveat I’ll say is that this isn’t usually the kind of thing people realize or screen for around hiring. I find it much more likely (and common) that someone is hired for adjacent skills and when in the role take this responsibility upon themselves, and people say “oh, huh, yeah that’s nice” and let them continue without much more thought.

        The thing is that OP thinks that means they built a culture, but a culture is something that exists whether or not one particular person is present. So to me, while I agree with your general breakdown, it can both be valued and be dispensable. It’s nice when someone does it, people appreciate it a bit, but the world won’t stop turning without it and it – very legitimately – might not be worth anyone else’s time.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I agree, but that’s kind of my point. I don’t think OP is clear on whether this is a valued part of her role or not, so it’s worth thinking about that and clarifying with the leadership when she returns.

    4. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I have to agree. OP, you sound like a wonderful, caring person. Maybe when you get back you can ask if coordinating the acknowledgements is a task they want you to continue doing. If they ask why, you can blandly state that it didn’t get done while you were out so you wondered if it was something management thought was important to do. But maybe that will be seen as too passive aggressive? (I have a hard time being assertive)

  21. nodandsmile*

    #1 – your co-workers are thoughtless, and that sucks. Completely fair to be upset about that, and I’m sorry no-one has acknowledged your surgery. At my work, this is not a function that anyone needs to be assigned, they just do it because that’s how you treat fellow humans. Alison may be correct about why no-one has sent anything, but that still boils down to them not bothering to check or care or think about what you would like. So they still suck as humans, I agree.

  22. Irish Teacher*

    LW1, as others have said, I really suspect everybody assumes somebody else is organising this or is supposed to organise this.

    I think it’s very understandable that you are hurt. I would be too. But I doubt it is in any way deliberate. If you always organised it, then it’s likely most people just got into the habit that “this just happened” and they never had to think about it so they aren’t thinking about it now. I doubt it means they don’t care and I certainly don’t think it shows a lack of humanity or compassion. It’s more likely just a version of the “bystander effect” where a large group of people tend not to do something obvious unless one specific person is assigned the role because otherwise everybody thinks it’s so obvious that of course somebody else is organising it.

    They may even assume somebody has been appointed to deputise for you and that they would be stepping on their toes/speaking out of turn by organising something themselves.

    I doubt anybody is assuming you don’t deserve sympathy or care. It’s far more likely they are all just waiting for “whoever is in charge of this” to come around and ask for their contribution. If the company traditionally paid and they weren’t asked for anything, then it’s even likely they are all assuming it’s been done.

    LW5, as Alison said, most people don’t manage other people. There are lots of jobs where the number of managers are fairly few.

    I am like you to a large extent, which is weird as I’m a teacher, but being in charge of teenagers is a lot different from management. I have twice turned down offers to be an Advising Examiner, which means basically managing a team of examiners when correcting the state exams, in…two weeks time. I think I would enjoy discussing the marking scheme and so on, but being responsible for ensuring everybody in my team meets the deadline and chasing people up who haven’t got their grades in and getting phone calls at all hours of the day asking for advice and having to tell people they are not marking according to the marking scheme (especially teachers who do tend to be fairly opinionated as a group of people)…no.

    I also tend to avoid roles that involve taking on significant responsibility for discipline or pastoral care or interaction with parents, which means I probably won’t apply for any of the “middle management roles” in schools. Apparently, in the UK, you apply for a particular role and if that were the case, I likely would because there are roles that would interest me, but her you just apply for an “AP post” and the school then tells you what you will be responsible for and I do not want to take on roles like that of year head. I’m also not sure I want the reduction in teaching time, because I really love teaching, so…there’s that too.

    I am lucky, in that schools involve a variety of roles (and to be honest, at least in Ireland, don’t even really have management in the traditional sense; even the principal has no responsibility for judging teachers’ teaching, can really only fire teachers when they are on temporary contracts, does not give feedback, etc) and I can take on a fair bit of responsibility without an official role.

    But I’m not sure I know many people in management roles. Admittedly a lot of my friends are teachers and while some have AP roles, that does not involve any management of people. My sister is a sort of designer. I think she might be the only designer in her company so there isn’t really anybody to manage. Another of my friends is a reporter and reasonably well-known.

  23. Melissa*


    The bottom line is that this is almost certainly an oversight, not a personal slight. That doesn’t make it better! But sometimes (especially with oxycodone) we get a little paranoid and think people are doing it on purpose.

    1. Melissa*

      Also, in the vein of “love languages”— some people just care much more about this than others, and that doesn’t mean one side is right. My office has someone who enthusiastically gets cards and takes them around to have everyone sign, on birthdays and such. It is very sweet of her, but I seriously do not care. It may be that there are a lot of people in your office who don’t care (about the cards! Not that they don’t care about you or each other!) and it’s slipped through the cracks. That doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about you and wishing you well.

      1. Consider*

        Yes!!! I think other commenters are also gently trying to suggest that it might matter more to OP than to others. That doesn’t make them bad people. Maybe they are being thoughtless, or not reciprocating in whatever way they should … but that doesn’t mean they lack humanity! I understand the reflex to take it so personally, or as a reflection of others’ character … but workplaces are melting pots, and not everyone’s looking to get their emotional needs met there (or tend to others).

      2. OP1*

        Appreciate the response. While I’ve been with the company for six years, I’m still the newbie—many of my colleagues have been there for 10-20 years. Several are friends outside of work, so most people do care about each other.

        1. L-squared*

          But caring about each other doesn’t necessarily look the same to everyone. They may genuinely care about you, but to them, caring about you means letting you recover in peace, but maybe they will take you to lunch when you return.

          1. Melissa*

            Exactly- caring just doesn’t always look the same for everyone. Try to avoid getting it into your head that because they didn’t get you a card, that means they don’t care about you.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yep, 100% this.

            I’m not a huge fan of the love languages theory, but in that framework you could say OP falls into “giving gifts” or perhaps “acts of service” – and maybe others do not.

          3. PNWorker*

            For me honestly if someone was recuperating at home, I would not want to bother them. They deserve to unplug, and personally I wouldn’t want to be bothered either.

          4. Willow Pillow*

            Agree. I did not get flowers or a card when my mother died, but I’ve had no difficulty getting time off for estate appointments and my boss has really gone to bat for me in other ways. I can buy my own flowers but I need my job to do so!

        2. lunchtime caller*

          Right, but caring (and “humanity and compassion” etc) can be demonstrated through acts that aren’t just giving someone physical objects, and I do think that’s been lost here. In life broadly it’s important to remember that tangible gifts are not the only way someone can demonstrate appreciation and care.

        3. Consider*

          Is it really about cards or flowers, then … or just that you’d like to be more bonded with your colleagues and have those types of outside-of-work relationships, too? If so, maybe you can focus your energy in more direct ways. Or, getting that outside of work if it’s not possible where you are.

      3. AnonORama*

        100% — some people really want this stuff, some are good either way, and some actively don’t want it. (I’m sorry, but getting another year older brings out all my self-hatred and really hurts my mental health, so “it’s just a birthday card” or “really, can’t you smile and have a cupcake” are super unhelpful.) It may not always be possible to track everyone’s preferences, but this is definitely a time for “treat others as they want to be treated” and not “treat others as you want to be treated.”

  24. Jeff*


    In your shoes, I’d go with “[Name that rhymes with tone] can’t answer the phone. Please leave your message after the… beep.”

  25. Ex-Manager*

    LW5: You’re not missing much by not being a manager. It might look pretty on some resumes but, ultimately, it is just another role with its own skillset. It is quite possible for a non-manager to build enough capital that they can be more respected than some managers.
    I was a manager once and was in the role long enough to enjoy some of the perks of being the boss (mentoring direct reports, putting an unpleasant client in their place etc.) Since leaving that role, though, I’ve worked in several different departments and have built my skills accordingly. Today, I’m earning about double I was as a manager and am respected for the diversity of my skillset. By contrast, a lot of our managers have little clue how the wider business functions let alone knowing what their own direct reports actually do.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      This varies widely by field, though. Some fields you can build a good career as an individual contributer or non people manager, others you hit a string ceiling in rank and earning potential.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. One stellar individual contributor is worth the weight of five mediocre managers. And many managers are mediocre. You just have to know what your own career path looks like.

  26. I should really pick a name*


    It could have very easily gone like this:
    You went on medical leave.
    People who don’t typically work with you probably read the email, and never gave it another thought afterward.
    People who do typically work with you probably assumed flowers have been sent because only the person sending them, and the person receiving them would know.
    Some people might have noticed that a card never went around for signing. By the time they realized this, they figured it was too late to do something about it.
    Or possibly, someone tried to make it happen, but couldn’t get a hold of your address.

    There are a lot of explanations that have a lot more to do with the fact that no one knows who should handle this more than it has to do with lack of humanity and compassion.

  27. Trout 'Waver*

    I have two thoughts on letter #1.

    The first is diffuse responsibility is no responsibility. If you want something done, assign it to one specific person and not a group a people. It’s like what they teach in first aid training: point at one specific person and tell them to call 911/emergency services. Don’t just yell “someone call 911”.

    Second, I don’t care for receiving cards and such from work. It feels like it kinda crosses a boundary to me. I’d rather convalesce in peace without nudges from work. It’s a personal preference that is actually rather common. I wouldn’t assume everyone is ignoring you because they have a disgusting lack of compassion and humanity. They could just as well be projecting their own preferences onto you, which is a near universal bias.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I don’t think this is diffuse responsibility, though. It’s more like if you expected the person having the emergency to also be the one to call 911.

      I see this as a failure of management. Whoever OP1 reports to should know she is the one who handles this. Then either take it on themselves or assign it to someone (most likely the OP’s temporary replacement or closest coworker).

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I think I wasn’t clear. If you say “Trout ‘Waver get a card for OP”, OP is much more likely to get a card than if you say “Someone should get a card of OP”.

        1. Heidi*

          Well, I suppose the OP could have told their boss, “I expect flowers to be sent to me in the hospital and I will be disgusted and deem you all to be compassionless and inhumane if I don’t receive them.” But instructing people to buy you flowers feels off to me.

  28. Choggy*

    Re: Managing people, I’ve been asked at least three separate times to manage my team when the former managers have moved on. Two of those former managers still work in the same department as I do, and one left the company. It’s the team “no one” wants to manage, which is probably why they try to find the path of least resistance, which I usually am, but not in this instance. I would get myself fired in about a week.

    I have worked for 40 years, and never managed anyone, still made great money (IT).

    Retirement is planned for May of 2025, can’t wait!

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      My retirement is planned for later that same year! Wishing us both a fabulous transition to the next chapter of our lives.

  29. L-squared*

    #1 I think your reaction, at least to your officemates, is a bit strong. I can understand you feeling this way towards your boss though.

    In my office we have someone who basically does what you do. All the milestones, cards, etc are organized by one person. i think she does a great job, and I also like her personally. But if she had to be out on leave or something, I can also say with certainty that I would not be the one to think about doing something for her. Her boss or other teammates maybe, but as I’m in a totally different role, that just would never even cross my mind. So to say “I am disgusted by the lack of humanity and compassion displayed by my officemates and leadership” seems a bit unfair to people who this is totally out of their role. Yes, your boss should have been more considerate, but being upset at Jim in accounting seems a bit much.

    1. doreen*

      Every office I ever worked in had one or two people who planned parties, collected money (government employers) , bought gifts , circulated cards and so on. And in every office, if those one or two people were not around – nothing happened. I don’t mean if card-circulator was out sick , they didn’t get a card. I mean if card-circulator was not around for any reason ( extended training, sick leave, vacation) nobody got a card. And it wasn’t due to a lack of humanity and compassion – I’m sure there were a number of factors involved , everything from cards and such not being important to people to people literally not thinking of getting a card because they’ve never had to think about it before.

      If it didn’t get assigned to someone else as part of coverage, it seems that it isn’t really considered “part of the job” but just a nice thing that OP does voluntarily. Much like if the person who runs the coffee club is out or resigns, no one is assigned to take it over.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “If it didn’t get assigned to someone else as part of coverage, it seems that it isn’t really considered “part of the job” but just a nice thing that OP does voluntarily.”

        Yes, and my experience mirrors yours. I’ll even go a step further to say in some cases people have been asked to take over those duties and sometimes outright refuse – because it takes time, and planning, and capacity, and not everyone has the ability to add that to their existing workload. And since a lot of people don’t really want cards or flowers (some people do, but some people really don’t) then they resent being asked to stretch themselves with additional work.

        It’s not that those people don’t care about their coworkers or lack any kind of humanity – it’s just not what they come to work to do and it can be a big ask.

      2. allathian*

        I work for the government, although not in the US, so the attitude to what people consider acceptable to do with taxpayer money is a lot more lenient.

        There’s an official policy for acknowledging 50th and 60th birthdays and retirements (we have a mandatory retirement age at 68 so 70th birthdays aren’t an issue). HR informs managers at the beginning of the year if any of their reports have either of those milestone birthdays that year (HR has that info because they have access to our personal identity codes/social security numbers, which include the birthdate). It’s up to the manager to ask if and how their report would like to celebrate their birthday. SOP is that the person gets to choose a present from a selection, where the value is about 100 euros, the maximum an employer is allowed to give as a gift untaxed, provided the selection is fairly limited, so Visa gift cards aren’t an option. If the birthday is on a weekday, the celebrant gets an extra day of PTO, like I did last year for my 50th.

        The tradition is a hangover from earlier times when senior civil servants were expected to have an open house on their 50th and 60th birthdays, I’m actually rather amazed that it’s held on for decades longer and even includes employees who aren’t civil servants, like me.

        I also got a “birthday diploma” signed by our President, by his own hand, apparently once a month his assistant gets a list from HR with the names of everyone whose events our President should acknowledge the following month, and they schedule 15 minutes for him to sign the printed cards. I don’t know what to call it except a diploma, because it looks like one.

        You have to apply for the PTO, though, so I assume that people who don’t celebrate their birthday or acknowledge other people’s birthdays simply don’t apply for the PTO that they’re entitled to.

        If someone dies while they’re in an employment relationship with us, condolence cards and flowers are usually sent (unless the family requests otherwise), and the manager and close coworkers sometimes attend the funeral if the family wishes it.

        Things get trickier with other birthdays and events like the birth of a child, and whether they’re celebrated or not depends somewhat on the manager and on teammates, and obviously on the person whose event it is.

        Anyway, we have procedures in place to ensure that everyone, including the people who normally deal with employee celebrations, get their events acknowledged just like everyone else.

  30. Falling Diphthong*

    On Dr Nerdlove this week, I learned that people are trying to use chatbots to handle dating apps for them. So that the chatbot deals with rejection, and with building a connection, and only hands over the match when a date has been agreed to.

    Obviously a film about two chatbots who fall in love and bypass the humans they are meant to save must be in the works. I’m just not sure if it’s comedy or horror.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      If Jordan Peele has taught us anything, it’s that something can be a comedy and a horror at the same time.

  31. Loose Socks*

    For the person with the rhyming voice mail, a large part of my job is to call back applicants. I get so many boring robotic voice mails, this would definitely cheer me up!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Same – my bar is really low – you haven’t said anything rude, lewd, or office inappropriate – it would be a nice pick me up from the routine.

      Yes, sadly I deal with a decent number of recent grads who have no clue what a professional voice mail message sounds like. It seems like the people who worry are generally the ones that don’t need to worry.

  32. Ally McBeal*

    LW#5 – I always feel in a similar boat. I never want to be anyone’s direct manager, but I’m at the point in my career where I’ll probably be asked to do so in the next few years. I’ve found that managing *projects* has given me some experience managing people for short periods of time, and I’m hoping to steer my career permanently in that direction. I don’t have the bandwidth to help someone grow in their career longterm, but I CAN offer my guidance and direction related to an event or project.

  33. cabbagepants*

    OP#1 — I think you’ve fallen for a bit of a double standard. You have treated sending out cards, etc as a part of your job, but you didn’t pass it down in your coverage notes like other parts of the job but, rather, are now seeing it as emotional labor that others should just pick up on. I think you’ve really sold yourself, and this aspect of your job, short. Treat it as important, necessary, and VISIBLE work, because it is!

    1. Ginger Baker*

      THIS! It’s an important and valuable aspect of your job, and should therefore be treated as such and covered in handover notes with a process outlined (checklist time!). The whole point is that these flower deliveries etc *shouldn’t* be reliant on the Empathy and Feelings Of A Person Randomly Remembering.

  34. Anonymousse*

    When I left my beloved job and coworkers, towards the end of my shift when it became clear no one was going to acknowledge it, I told my supervisor (RIP, my guy) I was a little disappointed! He immediately went into gear and got a cake and everyone to set up a little thing. At first I felt bad for speaking up, but at the little going away party, my coworker Beth remarked it was probably because the woman who took it upon herself to mark these things was out on maternity leave, and it all made sense.

    Chin up, they aren’t cretins, they are just used to you doing it all. Get better soon!

  35. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    It’s what OP feels, and she can’t help that.
    She can help what she does about those feelings, and she did the right thing writing in since Alison came up with a genius solution, but she can’t help her feelings.
    Telling people that their feelings are wrong or excessive, is just plain wrong, and doesn’t exactly help anyone.

  36. Bookworm*

    #5: I get you and was happy to see Alison’s answer. Way too many people get pushed into management and aren’t good managers, too many people are too interested in being managers and overall there are too many leaders and managers who actually can manage worth for spit.

  37. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    It’s…interesting…how many comments are defending LW1’s office. Women do a lot of devalued/invisible emotional labor, both in their places of employment and at home, and these comments seem to be reinforcing that status quo. Yes, this was not intentional or malicious, but it was thoughtless. “You’re invisible because you’re invisible” is actually pretty awful, not a defense.

    1. Aelfwynn*

      Thiiis!! LW1 reminded me of stories about women (usually mothers) who are the caretakers of their family — remembering all the birthdays and favorite foods, taking care of their people when they’re sick — then as soon as the mother themselves get sick no one lifts a finger to help her. No matter how you try to twist it that. is. horrible. That’s not to say that everyone has to meet the same level of care or go over the top, but do something to show that you’re a kind, thoughtful person who is thinking about someone who has been kind and thoughtful to you.

      1. kiki*

        I think it’s a bit different here because in a family dynamic, the family is likely seeing the mother be sick and not receive the care they need. There are a lot of opportunities, generally, for the family members to realize they should step up.

        In this situation, LW is not in the workplace right now. I’m guessing folks in the office assume LW’s replacement has sent her flowers and a card. They’re not getting any feedback that it hasn’t happened unless LW says something.

        1. Aelfwynn*

          That’s fair. It’s definitely more extreme when it’s part of a family dynamic as opposed to work. I think Radioactive Cyborg Llama’s point is still valid, though – oftentimes women do the invisible work both in the office and at home and don’t get appreciation for it or care shown back to them.

          1. kiki*

            I 100% agree that women often do invisible work that’s not appreciated or reciprocated both at home and the workplace. It just feels like LW feels extremely distraught over this oversight. Not that they’re wrong to feel how they feel, but it was probably a case of “we assumed replacement had that handled” rather than a lack of humanity or compassion on anyone’s part. Something even could have gone wrong with the delivery of flowers or something!

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Is it wrong to not value cards from work when you’re out sick? That piece of emotional labor might not be valued because some people just don’t value that kind of thing.

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        It’s not wrong to not personally value them. But sending cards is part of their culture as evidenced by the fact that cards have been sent reliably for the past 6 years that LW has been working there.

        Individuals may or may not individually care. But this is why when you’re in a leadership or admin role like this, where your actions affect everyone (unlike just being personal friends with someone without hierarchy or power dynamics present), you can’t just take one person out to eat for their birthday; you have to treat everyone the same, or you start getting people wondering why they’re being treated unequally. It’s weird when you’re the one doing this labor and then you’re being treated unequally, but it’s still present.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          But someone individually doing something consistently does not make it part of the culture. If it is that ingrained in culture, they company will be horrified when OP takes Alison’s advice and they see the oversight. If they’re not…well, then OP might reevaluate the amount of effort they’re putting into this.

        2. doreen*

          “But sending cards is part of their culture as evidenced by the fact that cards have been sent reliably for the past 6 years that LW has been working there.” The LW has been doing this for 6 years and the predecessor started the practice , but the fact that one or two people have done it doesn’t automatically make it part of the office’s culture rather than part of the LW’s culture. It’s entirely possible that no one else in the office cares about this sort of thing and would have been fine if LW didn’t continue it.

        3. Spencer Hastings*

          “Individuals may or may not individually care. But this is why when you’re in a leadership or admin role like this, where your actions affect everyone (unlike just being personal friends with someone without hierarchy or power dynamics present), you can’t just take one person out to eat for their birthday; you have to treat everyone the same, or you start getting people wondering why they’re being treated unequally.”

          That’s a great argument for why the LW should be doing this equally for everyone. But whatever poor schmuck is covering her other tasks doesn’t necessarily know about all this. If they weren’t informed that this is a task they also needed to be covering, well, they’re not psychic. Maybe they assumed the boss did it themself, or that it otherwise got taken care of.

      2. MsM*

        But as others have pointed out, OP obviously values that kind of thing, since this wasn’t originally part of her role and yet she’s taken it on voluntarily. I agree her colleagues are probably just not thinking about where the flowers are supposed to come from in her absence and not actively shunning her, but whether it’s important to them or not really shouldn’t be the deciding factor here.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I kinda disagree. It’s work. If its my job to get cards, I’ll get cards. If its not my job to get cards, I won’t. I have no personal stake in getting cards.

          If my coworker told me specifically they’d like a card, I’d probably get them one. If they didn’t I wouldn’t.

          If this made them view me as disgusting, inhumane, uncompassionate, thoughtless, or awful, I’d probably stick to my professional boundaries.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            This. Also, the question is not only “would she want this?”, but “would she want this *from me*?”

            There are people I work with who, if I took it upon myself to send them flowers or a card (i.e. not as part of an office-sanctioned thing), would probably appreciate it. There are also people I work with who would be like “that’s weird, we’re not that close…does she think we are?”

            If this made them view me as disgusting, inhumane, uncompassionate, thoughtless, or awful, I’d probably stick to my professional boundaries.

            Also this.

    3. Colette*

      I think there’s a few levels here.

      First of all, different people put different value on things like receiving a card from coworkers. Some people care deeply, some are ambivalent.

      Secondly, even people who care about that kind of thing don’t necessarily do a deep dive into who exactly made it happen. (The OP? HR? Management? The answer is not the same everywhere.)

      Thirdly, we don’t generally expect people covering for someone else to figure out on their own what that person does. Sometimes it happens if someone is unexpectedly off, but often the person who will be away trains their replacement.

      So unless the OP asked someone to cover that duty, it’s possible no one knows she takes care of it, and it’s not visible to people in the office that it didn’t happen for her, and that’s a case for making sure the duty is visible and handed off.

      1. umami*

        Yes, it’s important that there be a true handoff of this responsibility, because there is a distinct possibility that other people will either be out or have milestones to celebrate during OP’s absence. I would suggest OP let someone (and hopefully the best suited person at organization, in her estimation) know that they realized there was a gap on this task so that no one else misses out.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes. Absolutely, women take on more emotional labor at work and at home and we shouldn’t minimize that. But if you think your labor needs to be covered, you need to explicitly indicate that task to whoever is covering for you.

        For instance, I leave more instructions for the people taking care of my animals when I’m on vacation than the people covering my job. Part of that is an indication of which I’m more concerned about, but part of it is because I know that person is doing their own work and I’m only handing off the essentials, not things that can wait until I get back. If OP thinks this is essential then that needs to be handed to someone.

        1. umami*

          I do this for our pets, too. My spouse would assume they know what to do (feed them, walk them), while I make sure to leave explicit instructions on when to feed and how much, and when to walk and what route. You don’t leave to chance things that shouldn’t be left to chance!

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yes! And that’s your spouse! I’m leaving my dog and my exotic pets with my MIL in a few weeks….I have written quite a bit haha.

            1. umami*

              Right? The point being, if you want something done a certain way, the only way to ensure that is to provide detailed instructions (and hope they are followed). I learned early on from a great mentor of mine that you can’t expect someone to do things with your head when they are operating with their own.

        2. Daisy-dog*

          But that’s ultimately the issue with the “invisible” labor. It’s not just about doing the thing – it’s about planning, maintaining, and delegating it too. So 2/3 of the labor is still there. In fact, it may even be 3/4 if you need to check in that it was completed correctly.

          From a practical sense, yes OP1 should have written directions. Here’s the list of what gifts are sent for what life events. Here’s the preferences from different employees. Here’s where you place the order to get the company discount. But I think OP1 just wanted the acknowledgement of the whole task.

    4. AngryOctopus*

      I think it’s more like “you’re invisible because this is part of YOUR job, and you didn’t assign it to anyone else. Therefore it’s not getting done”.

    5. Irish Teacher*

      I think the alternative would be likely to mean another woman simply noticing and taking it over though. Of course, a man could do it too, but realistically, not assigning it to somebody specific means the odds are it would be a woman.

      I think expecting that somebody (most likely a woman) realise it is being done without being an actual part of somebody’s job and volunteer to take it over without any instructions to do so would also be kind of reinforcing the status quo.

      I think the gendered aspect to this, especially in a predominently female office is separate to the issue of the LW feeling that somebody should have thought of her.

      Nor do I think it’s about the LW being invisible. It’s more that in a large group of people, most people will assume that any job that hasn’t been specifically assigned to them is being dealt with by somebody else.

      Yeah, there may be an underlying problem in the level of value assigned to such work and yeah, the fact that the LW didn’t think to assign it to somebody else is probably a result of how society values it, but…it sounds like she didn’t and I don’t really think her coworkers are to blame for that. I don’t really think she is either, but given that it wasn’t assigned to anybody and that it seems to usually be done by people in her role, I think it is understandable that none of the other, mostly women, in the office would assume “oh, that must be my job now as I don’t know if it was assigned to anybody.”

      1. cabbagepants*

        Yep. I’m a woman in an office that is at least 85% men. I already fight stereotypes and non-promotable work constantly. If I noticed that our female office manager was out, sorry but I would NEVER organize the office card.

        I would probably send her a card just from me, though.

    6. HB*

      Ditto. I can only assume that a lot of commenters are putting themselves in LW’s coworkers shoes and thinking “Well, I wouldn’t have gotten her a card” and then feeling defensive.

      There are lots of things that get missed because the *specific* task wasn’t assigned to a specific person but I’m guessing that if the office suddenly ran out of copier paper then people would notice, comment, and get it fixed even if it wasn’t their job.

      And this isn’t a case where LW randomly decided to shower coworkers with acknowledgements on her own and is expecting the same in kind – this is a part of her job and the office. It’s equivalent to an office deciding that each employee gets a day off and a gift card to celebrate their birthday and then forgetting about LW completely because her birthday is the 29th and so it doesn’t come up on the calendars. Commenters here are super quick when there’s a true villain – a *decision* by someone not to recognize LW. Why the hell is everyone so mad at her for feeling a *general* sense of disgust because of the collective ‘meh’ her office is giving her.

      1. kiki*

        “There are lots of things that get missed because the *specific* task wasn’t assigned to a specific person but I’m guessing that if the office suddenly ran out of copier paper then people would notice, comment, and get it fixed even if it wasn’t their job.”

        But for those tasks, it takes the office running out of copier paper for someone to run out and buy more and the task to be properly assigned. It’s likely that if LW brought this up to her boss, they’d be horrified and do what they could to make it right.

        I’m not mad at LW at all– I’ve been in a similar boat. I think I understand her feelings pretty well as somebody who also felt something similar. It’s just on further reflection, I realized I was taking something very personally that was ultimately a delegation error. While there were definitely some failures (replacement should have sent the flowers, boss should have double checked to make sure flowers were sent, etc.), in my scenario, nobody thought, “kiki doesn’t deserve flowers.” Most people thought, “Replacement will send flowers, I hope kiki recovers soon!”

      2. Colette*

        There’s no way for the average person in the office to notice nothing was sent to the OP, who is not in the office. I completely understand why the OP is upset, but I think the only solution to prevent that is to make it an explicit job duty, and make sure it gets handed off when the person who normally does it is out.

    7. Justme, The OG*

      And completely ignoring her feelings. She’s allowed to feel angry at her office for ignoring her surgery. It’s a big deal! I helped my mom through two knee replacements, they were not easy.

    8. L-squared*

      Defending the office is a strong statement.

      I think most people are saying we understand why she is hurt, but at the same time, everyone has their own jobs to do, and if this wasn’t assigned to someone else, then its understandable.

      Every role has tasks where things happen in the background, and sometimes you don’t realize things aren’t getting done right away. It might be that X person is keeping a certain report up to date, or Y person is ordering toner. And sometimes unfortunately things fall through the cracks because of those background tasks that people don’t think about. That isn’t personal at all.

    9. Not that other person you didn't like*


      Also, the people saying “some people don’t like get well cards / I don’t like get well cards” are exceedingly annoying. I mean, bully for you, but these aren’t stripper – grams here. A get well card / bouquet / congratulation note / cake / etc. are extremely common in the world of humans interacting at large and, in a work context, are meant to denote the sentiment “you aren’t just a cog, but a person that we care about.”

      OP1, I get why this feels terrible and I would like to acknowledge that and send you my deepest heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery.

      I also don’t think it’s personal at all, but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels hurtful at a time when you are already hurt.

      I can imagine myself writing that email to my boss and saying “… Also, if I have to purchase my own get-well gift when I return, I can assure you it will be exceedingly expensive.” ;-)

      Again OP1, I wish you all good health and healing!

    10. bamcheeks*

      But the flipside of that is– if this is devalued/invisible emotional labour, why is LW doing it at her job? Is it something she does to create a pleasant atmosphere at work which has a tangible value to her employer, or is it a nice extra thing she does because she’s a nice person?

      If it is undervalued emotional labour, it’s not unreasonable for everyone else to choose not to do that. It’s completely fair for LW to feel miserable that it was undervalued, but “I did this undervalued emotional labour and I resent that you declined to do it” is not fair on colleagues either.

    11. fhqwhgads*

      If it’s a social nicety and not an office policy, then yeah, nobody did it means “you’re invisible because you’re invisible”.
      If it’s an office policy, which OP says it is and I believe it, then nobody did it means either “this is a job task that was assigned to nobody while you’re out, your beef is with the boss who didn’t reassign it” or “this is a job task assigned to the person covering while you were out, but they didn’t do it despite being told to, your beef is with that person”. It is not a case of “the entire office is unfeeling for not asking around and confirming somebody did this job task that is normally OP’s responsibility”.

  38. kiki*

    LW1: I’m wondering about your replacement– was sending out cards/flowers/etc. listed as one of their duties to take over? Because if it was, it sounds like your replacement likely forgot and everyone else in the office likely assumed it was done by the replacement. I’m sure if you mentioned it, folks in your office would be horrified to learn that you hadn’t received anything since being out. That doesn’t necessarily alleviate the pain of feeling forgotten, but it might help remove the disgust you feel about the lack of humanity and compassion of your coworkers. They probably aren’t lacking in compassion– it was an organizational failure.

  39. El l*

    I’m in a field with lots of technical skills (the power industry), but:

    The majority of people never have to manage anyone, or anything more intense than one project. If that’s what you want, there’s a place for you, and it’s not bad.

    1. Corporate Lawyer*

      Ditto for certain fields of law (like mine). What I do is pretty technical, and I have succeeded in remaining an individual contributor for almost 30 years (!!) with compensation I’m happy with. Would I be better compensated as a General Counsel of a publicly traded company instead of the Associate General Counsel position I hold? Sure, probably, but the added headache isn’t worth it to me.

  40. Risha*

    LW1, I have no advice, I just want to wish you a speedy recovery and say I’m sorry no one in your office sent you anything. Hopefully they’ll have a little something for you when you return. If not, I would probably pull way back on doing these things for them moving forward, but that’s just me. I’m not saying you should pull back if you want to keep doing this for the staff.

    LW5, I also don’t want to be a manager. Ever. You’re not alone in this! I have no patience for the complaining, whining, tattling, hand holding that I would be expected to do if I managed anyone at my job. I would be ok with managing projects or things, but never people.

  41. stitchinthyme*

    LW1: It actually kind of surprised me when my husband’s office sent him flowers after his surgery last year — I’ve had 3 surgeries in the last 4 years and never got any sort of gift from my own office…but then my company just doesn’t do that kind of thing for the most part. The only time I’ve ever known them to send someone a “get well soon” card and gift was when one of the VPs was out for an extended leave due to heart surgery — so it seems like they only do that for really major stuff. (All of mine were outpatient with really short recovery periods; I only took a few days off work for each.)

    LW5: I have also never wanted to be a manager, and I’ve always been up-front about this in interviews. But I’m a software developer, and while not every company has a technical career track, my salary has increased significantly over the years, way more than inflation, so I don’t have any complaints. I work to live, not the other way around.

  42. EPLawyer*

    #2 – Wanna bet that your manager never explicitly told your coworker to hand it off? I bet the conversation went something like – Feel free to hand over Project X to OP if you feel you have too much on your plate. Boss thinks he told OP to hand it over because OF COURSE coworker has too much work, or more likely doesn’t want to manage and told coworker one thing and you another to avoid any hassles. Neither one can complain because in his mind they each got what they wanted. Coworker gets to decide about the project, you get the project handed over. Of course, the end goal of actually being handed over is not accomplished.

    This is why coworker is not handing it over. She’s not been told to. You both need to compare what boss told you. Then go to boss to sort it out.

  43. Birthday Scrooge*

    For years at Old Toxic Workplace, I did all the birthday cards for everyone out of my own pocket. It was expensive and time consuming. When I went around the office to confirm birthdays one year, one person shouted “MY BIRTH DATE HASN’T CHANGED!” It was a thankless experience, totally unappreciated and not even remotely connected to my role. Did I ever get a card? Nope. Never again! (Rant over)

    1. metadata minion*

      I’m asking this out of genuine curiosity and not accusation — if it was expensive, time-consuming, thankless, and not part of your official job, why did you keep doing it?

  44. umami*

    OP1, this sounds like an important task, and one that you are exceptionally good at. Did you leave explicit instructions with a specific person on how and when to offer these acknowledgements? If not, then your colleagues might legitimately be clueless about how to go about doing this and whether a scheduled surgery even falls under the umbrella of ‘being out sick’. If you find value in doing these recognitions, I hope you will continue to see the value whether you are a recipient of the kindness yourself. Get better soon!

  45. Lily Potter*

    LW1: who pays for the cards, flowers, pizza, etc? Do you pass the hat around the office or do you put the cost on a corporate card? If the latter, people in the office may have figured that someone with a corporate card or someone higher in the hierarchy would need to take care of purchasing something for you.

    1. NeedRain47*

      I feel like LW1 should just buy themselves a gift commensurate with what they’d normally spend.

  46. negligent apparitions*

    When I was younger, I liked managing people and thought I was quite good at it. Then I got a job managing people who /needed/ a good manager and found out I’m actually just good at being a mentor to people who can manage themselves, and that, my friends, is a very different thing.

    My current job is slotted as a [people] management position, but my boss has never transferred supervision of his people to me on paper, so I’m just going to go as long as I can until someone notices that I don’t manage anyone.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “I’m actually just good at being a mentor to people who can manage themselves, and that, my friends, is a very different thing.”

      That’s such a good distinction to understand and call out.

  47. Michelle Smith*

    LW1: I left my last job within 2 weeks of another employee on my team who had the exact same role as me (although I had several years more experience on the team). She received flowers and recognition. I received absolutely nothing. Do some thinking while you’re out on leave about whether this is an issue of no one realizing this is their responsibility or whether this is about you and whether your company really sees your value. For me, it was because the new supervisor hated me and she took every opportunity to jab me on the way out. If your company treats everyone the same, I wouldn’t waste too much mental energy on this, but if you’re uniquely being singled out in some way, pay attention to that.

  48. Michelle Smith*

    LW3: Are you interacting with someone who is a LinkedIn Premium subscriber? If so, you should be aware that LinkedIn has a feature in their messaging that prompts you to use AI to complete your messages. I just found out about it from a post this morning which linked to a video demonstrating it. Maybe go easy on them given that this is quite baked into the website itself.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is my own ignorance, but are you able to tell from your own side of things who is a premium subscriber?

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      Ugh, that’s so annoying! I noticed Hotmail giving me auto-complete suggestions the other day* and my first thought was “HOW DO I TURN THIS OFF?!”

      *my Hotmail account is mostly for online shopping and mailing lists, so I almost never send messages from it, which is why this surprised me

  49. Punk*

    OP1: Who exactly is covering for you? Did your company fully hire a temp to cover all your duties or is someone being pulled in from another department to cover the bug admin duties? It’s possible that the person covering you (especially if it’s a woman) doesn’t want to appear too natural at admin work. Honestly, if I were tasked with covering admin/“housekeeping” duties during someone else’s leave, I would do a good job but I wouldn’t reach to do things that I maybe knew about but hadn’t been explicitly told to do.

    There’s a whole nasty side to women being asked/told to “pitch in” and cover this kind of stuff while men aren’t. It’s obviously lousy that the OP isn’t receiving treatment she grants to others, but it’s also a problem if we just assume that a woman covering the front desk should have a natural instinct for it. The OP might be on the surface of an issue she hasn’t been confronted with until now.

    1. Stacy’s Mom*

      This is an excellent point. I’m the only female in my office, and I am not the admin. I will always clean up after myself but I do not ever jump to be the person who makes coffee or orders pastries for meetings, or cleans up the conference room after. Women are often pidgeonholed into those tasks and it impacts how they are perceived.

  50. JustMe*

    LW 1 – When I was 16, my mom fell off a ladder and was out of the office/unable to work for several months. She was also VP of a nonprofit in our community (which, you know, would make you think that they would be sensitive to difficult life events). A day or so after my mom was released from the hospital after her first surgery, her boss called asking when she could stop by to bring my mom her work laptop. Mind you, my mom was high on Vicodin and in excruciating pain. I told her on no uncertain terms: “My mom can’t work.” The boss made this big show of saying that the laptop was ACTUALLY to HELP my mom by giving her entertainment while she was recovering…and then when I was out of the room, she told my mom she needed her to do help with a bunch of work stuff.

    All this is to say that bosses and workplaces can really suck and you have my sympathy. I hope YOU are getting to rest and that your recovery is going well. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder that your family, friends, pets, caretakers, etc. are all invaluable.

  51. Yes And*

    LW2: I’ve often observed that when people are at or over capacity, any change is just too much to handle – even one whose aim is to lighten their workload. If the short-term time commitment of handing off the project is greater than the short-term commitment of just doing it (for now), they may be too stressed to make the time for the handoff (even if it is to their advantage in the long run). That might also explain your coworker’s brusque tone.

    So it may not be the case that she’s deliberately clinging to the project or that there’s been a miscommunication. If you are still working up towards your own capacity and have some wiggle room in your own workload, a kinder approach might be to offer whatever you can to make the handoff as easy for your coworker as possible.

    1. allathian*

      This is so true!

      After a particularly stressful period at work a few years ago, the occupational therapist I saw through our EAP told me to watch out for when I get too busy to “stop and get on your bike and instead continue to lead it while running as fast as you can.”

  52. Tee*

    For the Chat GPT. Are you really sure that’s what is happening? At my company, customer service agents are encouraged to draft out a response and then run it through Chat GPT so it sounds more professional. I wonder if this young person might be running his own responses through Chat GPT so they can sound big and professional, especially to someone with more experience in the field.

    1. BurnOutCandidate*

      Vox had an article recently about writing cover letters with ChatGPT. I asked ChatGPT to write one for me, and it wasn’t significantly different than what I write for cover letters.

      I did find something useful in ChatGPT, though. I pasted in my resume and asked it to write a biography of me based on the resume. In the middle of a lot of nonsense, there was a one sentence summary of my career that was pretty sharp. I incorporated that sentence with some editing into my cover letter.

    2. SoloKid*

      Your company policy is misguided – I roll my eyes when I get one of those long winded “professional” emails. I’d rather an email that sounds human.

      1. M*

        What’s kind of funny is that they’re probably starting with something like bullet points and turning it into long-winded meandering sentences. Meanwhile, what everybody actually prefers to read is the concise and clearly outlined bullet points you began with.

  53. BurnOutCandidate*

    #2: Let me give an example of my experience with this, from Jane’s side.

    About six years ago, my department brought on a new person. She was to take on two projects that had been handed off to me from someone else about a year earlier when he took on someone else’s duties. I trained the person on one project. I did not train her on the other for two reasons. Primarily, the plug was going to be pulled on the project; it was a vestigal project that had long passed its usefulness (and been superceded in many respects by the first project, the one I handed off). Secondarily, completing the project meant navigating a lot of crap; the reports for the project didn’t produce quite the right data (and also produced far too much), there was no will to fix the process, and it was all around just an awful scene.

    Knowing then that the project was going to be killed and that the project was plain awful, I told my grandboss, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, I can’t dump this on someone new, especially when it’s pointless and we’re killing it. I’ll do it until we kill it.” It took another six months or so for Upper Management to finally pull the plug; it literally took another department to say, “Why are we wasting time on this?” for there to be sufficient political will to do it.

    tl;dr: I didn’t hand off a project to a new colleague because I knew the project was a zombie project that I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      But was someone under the impression that the project WAS being handed off to them?

      1. BurnOutCandidate*

        She was hired with the intention that she would receive the second project after I trained her on it, yes.

        She asked about it once, I think, because I remember telling her that she didn’t want it and I respected her too much to inflict it upon her, and the person I inherited the project from also told her she didn’t want it. Not handing it over wasn’t a reflection on her abilities–she’s a top performer in my department–it was, “This project sucks, it’s going away, it won’t be mourned when it’s gone, it’s effectively superceded by what you’re working on, work on the other things because they’re more important and impactful.” I guess I thought I was being kind.

        Things move slowly there. I am thankful we missed the whole “pivot to video” nonsense because of our inherent slowness.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          So the difference here is that you communicated to her that you weren’t handing it off. It doesn’t sound like that has happened with the LW.

        2. Observer*

          Well, that’s the thing. She felt like she could ask you about it and you gave her an honest answer. So, yes, you were being kind, imo.

          The OP is not getting that from her Jane though. She’s been trying to ask and is being brushed off. And she doesn’t feel like she can be really clear about it. I do think that Alison’s approach is good though. And if it turns out that something like this is at play, at least this should uncover that.

  54. saskia*

    Sending flowers and/or a card for a death, serious illness, surgery, etc., is normal in many offices and has been the custom in several that I’ve worked at — different settings too (hospital, small startup, giant multinational company…). It’s weird that people are saying “not every office does this, so OP shouldn’t expect it.” So what? When my father died, I definitely noticed that nobody from my hospital unit did anything for me, especially when I signed birthday/condolence/retirement/etc. cards for others during my tenure there. Sorry this happened, OP.

    1. Alanna*

      I’m actually curious how other commenters’ offices handle this given the wide range of preferences about personal and medical privacy at work. In the past year, I’ve had one direct report go out for surgery for a broken arm (physically very obvious, a story that the person told at team meetings) and another for uterine fibroids (invisible, and while some people at my office have talked about this kind of health issue openly, this person had not). Because Bob had talked about his broken arm in meetings, I said “Bob is out for surgery,” but as far as I know Jane had kept her fibroid surgery on a need-to-know basis, so I just said “Jane is out for a couple of weeks.”

      When Bob went out for arm surgery, I wanted to send around a card for the team to sign. But then I remembered I hadn’t done that for Jane, because I hadn’t wanted to share medical information she wasn’t comfortable with.

      In the future, I think I’ll just ask the person if they are OK with me sharing that they are on medical leave, but I’m curious how offices with a more standard policy handle the wide variation of preferences and realities that come into play when people are out of office for surgery or illness.

      1. saskia*

        It’s different everywhere, but a card doesn’t have to be signed by any employees. It can and often does come straight from HR with a short message and flowers.

      2. RussianInTexas*

        My office does not do anything at all. We don’t have any policy of culture of cards, flowers, cakes, or anything of the sort. No baby showers, or flowers for the funerals. When someone is out on a sick leave, we just leave them alone.
        When we were all in the office, you would get a cake in the break room for your birthday IF you wanted to. Many didn’t.
        I can’t say I missed it.

  55. BellyButton*

    #1 – I share a coordinator with another department. This coordinator is the one who organizes all of those things, and does an amazing job of it. When it was almost her birthday I asked her manager who orders her gift. Her manager replied “She just picks out what she wants and orders it herself” My eyes got wide and I said “that is unacceptable, you need to do that for her.” Its like it had never occurred to that manager how rude and thoughtless it is not to put in the effort for the coordinator she puts in for all of us. The manager did order her a lovely gift.

    1. Student*

      This is actually down to personal preference, though. I’d much prefer to have my own choice of gift within a reasonable budget than to have my manager (or anybody else, including my spouse) pick a gift out for me, even if they got me something “lovely”. I don’t want something “lovely”, personally. You would want someone else to pick out the gift. The OP would likely want someone else to pick out the gift. But in your situation, you and the manager should’ve asked the coordinator what she’d prefer for her birthday.

      1. Alanna*

        Yeah, I think two things are getting commingled here. If the company as a whole (or a specific department) has a policy of sending flowers or a card or a food delivery gift certificate or whatever for employee’s given life events, and there is a specific person who is officially in charge of that as part of their job, then when they send those things, they are doing their job, not spontaneously expressing emotional care. It’s not quite the same as you remembering all your friends’ birthdays and them forgetting yours. (I think for a birthday it’s fine to say “Pick out what you want from the website we always use, and expense it.” For a bereavement or an illness, it’s on the boss to make sure the company fulfills its usual policy.)

        If it’s organized on a quasi-voluntary basis, then yes, someone should notice and do the same when the person who does the organizing is the one in need, because that person is doing a favor for their colleagues.

        It’s the difference between Jane ordering lunch every week for the noon team meeting (because the meeting always has lunch and ordering the lunch is one of Jane’s responsibilities, for which Jane is compensated) and Jane saying “I thought it would be fun to grab lunch at this meeting; give me your orders and I can bring it back for everyone” (a very nice thing for Jane to do).

        This isn’t a moral judgment — lunch is lunch, and you’re fed either way!

      2. BellyButton*

        We have a questionnaire on our HRIS system for people to pick preferences. We usually send a cake/cookies/cupcakes with their preferred flavor choice and a gift card.

      3. RussianInTexas*

        Right, I would rather pick what I want.
        Hell, I give people wish lists for Christmas. I don’t really care about people lovingly thinking of me while picking out a perfect gift, because it’s never as perfect as something I get for myself.

        1. allathian*

          Yup, me too.

          A few years later, I rarely even remember who’s given me a particular gift, with very few exceptions, like our wedding gifts, but as we only celebrated with immediate family, we got a tea set for 16 people from my parents, my MIL and her then-fiance (now husband), my SIL and my sister, and a vase from my FIL.

          A former friend ended our friendship because I regifted to her something that she’d originally bought for me, and that she’d apparently spent months choosing as the perfect gift for me. Obviously I never would have given her something she gave me if I’d actually remembered that she gave it to me in the first place… She was otherwise a great person and I enjoyed her company a lot and thought she felt the same way about me, but because she treated my lack of interest in gifts in general as a personal betrayal, we weren’t compatible as close friends. I still run into her sometimes at events organized by our mutual friends, and we chat amicably enough, but we don’t invite

          Gifts simply aren’t that important to me and the anxiety I get from being forced to buy “the perfect gift” for someone else is always much stronger than the lukewarm pleasure at best that I get whenever people give me gifts. I vastly prefer gift lists and adore weddings where the couple either specifies no gifts or has a wedding registry.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Rude and thoughtless would be having the coordinator purchase gifts for everyone else and then ignoring her birthday. Essentially, you’ve projected your personal preference for gift-giving onto the coordinator, which doesn’t seem any more respectful. I’m sure you meant well, but asking the coordinator to see how she’s like to be celebrated probably would have been the best way to figure out what she’d prefer. She could just as likely have have decided what she was getting herself months in advance and then not had the opportunity.

  56. Ruby*

    LW1: I was the birthday lunch organizer at Old Job, until no one did anything for my birthday. So I stopped. Emotional labor is not worth it in the workplace.

    1. Stacy’s Mom*

      It’s not! And I would also argue that it doesn’t belong there. Workplaces don’t really need to help you celebrate your birthday or send card when something happens. it’s adding in an unnecessary emotional element that at best makes some people feel appreciated but at worst causes resentment or upset. Better to just skip it!

    2. Not Totally Subclinical*

      I am the birthday and other celebratory occasion organizer in my home, and it is easier to shove a lounging walrus off its rock than it is to get the rest of my family to do anything for my birthday or Christmas. I definitely wouldn’t take on this task for my workplace.

  57. Delphine*

    LW1, how did this task first fall to you? Was it assigned to you? Did you decide to take it on of your own accord? I think that’s an important factor to consider.

  58. The Rural Juror*

    Here to commiserate with OP#1. I worked for 7 years at a company where I was expected to do the too to recognize others’ birthdays and life celebrations, but my birthday was forgotten almost every year. I’d usually just buy myself some lunch on the company card (with my boss’s permission).

    At the company I work for now, I’ve again found myself being the person on our team to do birthday cards. I share my birthday with a colleague and she remembers to do one for me, which I appreciate. I’m not sure anyone would remember otherwise!

    It stinks to be the one forgotten after making everyone else feel appreciated. I’m so sorry that’s happened, and I wish you a speedy recovery. Sending love!

    1. RussianInTexas*

      My question is, how did you become the person to do the cards in the new job, if it’s not literally your job? Was no one doing it and you volunteered? No one ever assigned me anything of the sort nor expected me to do this.

  59. TootsNYC*

    #1: Do not let yourself become the only person who does this.
    Consider it to be just like a job task, and make sure you have backup, and put them through their paces every now and then. In fact, specifically ask someone to be your alternate.

  60. Duffie*

    Letter #1: “Receiving no acknowledgement of my surgery made me realize we have no one covering this in my absence” Alison always words things so graciously and pointedly! I’m in awe!

    I sympathize with the lack of acknowledgement you received after your surgery. It has happened twice to me (I was the planner for things like this) and it stings. Hope you are recovering smoothly and hope your office realizes the importance of what you do for others.

  61. Mimmy*

    #5 (not interested in managing people) – This has been my fear. The fields I’ve been pursuing over the years seem to have an expectation of eventually getting into management. I have always assumed this entails managing people and having authority, which I have zero interest in and, in fact, am quite fearful of. I believe this is part of why I am in a job that I am vastly overqualified for.

    I got a second master’s degree last year and am in the middle of a longer-than-expected job search. I am dreading having to explain my current and future career trajectory. I have definitely gotten myself into a pickle :(

  62. Cheesesteak in Paradise*


    I wonder if the nature of the medical leave (joint replacement surgery) is part of it? It’s neither as cute and exciting as something like a new baby nor is it something life threatening like cancer or heart surgery. It seems more like a routine, lifestyle surgery. I work in medicine and I think I’d be more likely to send a card for a new baby or someone I thought was possibly dying, less so for someone more likely to walk with less pain after doing orthopedic surgery and rehab.

    I dunno if my take is the minority though because I’m medical or what the norms of the particular office are.

    1. AnonRN*

      And also since OP spent the last two weeks preparing people to cover their work, presumably (hopefully?!) people expressed their well-wishes in person.

      I get that it still stings to feel forgotten, but I’m guessing it’s more oversight (as many others have commented) than malice. OP can decide what to do with this info in the future–deputize someone else to help with the project, stop doing it entirely and see what people say, keep doing it because they find it personally important (as they mention in another comment). OP, I’d recommend waiting on any decisions like this until you’re more recovered…there’s a point in time after most surgeries where it feels like everything is awful and it will always be awful forever (bodies and brains are our worst enemies sometimes!), but it does get better.

    2. umami*

      That was my thought – having specific job aids that describe circumstances under which cards/flowers are sent are helpful so it’s not left up to *someone’s* opinion on what signifies an acknowledgement-worthy event.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is how our HR does it. It can feel clinical when you read out the guidelines, but we’ve not had one complaint about someone’s milestone event or medical issue going unacknowledged by the organization. Also cuts down on the popularity contest aspect of celebration-worthiness.

  63. Falling Diphthong*

    My spouse offers the horrifying thought that #3 is a kid who was given “Network with someone in the field you want to enter!” as a class assignment, and set up Chat GPT to do it for them.

    I feel like the eventual outcome of chatbots is that they will so flood the field with nonsense that… something changes. A return to all new communication being in person or by physical letter?

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I almost wondered if it was a set-up of some kind and going to prompt a LinkedIn post (or whatever) about “I wrote to this AI expert with ChatGPT; they didn’t realise it wasn’t a human!”…

  64. Juicebox Hero*

    Much better the rhyming voicemail greeting in iambic pentameter than the answering machine message of horrible customer I had to deal with all the time back in my retail daze. I think everyone in our department called her answering machine in a row because no one could believe that this [censored] of a customer could have a message like that.

    (In a syrupy, fakey southern accent [this is Pennsylvania]):

    “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. Ah can’t come to the phone raht now, because in one hand Ah got a large DQ [Dairy Queen] and in the othah hand, hooooney, Ah got the spooooon. Now, if you want to leave yoah name and numbah, Ah’ll be happah to call y’all back aftah Ah take cay-uh of this DQ situation…”

    Yes, she WAS horrible. In fact, she was the sort of customer that makes working retail a living hell. She was rude, abrasive, critical, constantly wanting discounts that weren’t allowed, demanded that we special order products that didn’t exist, and set the clueless and heartless store management on us when dissatisfied, and she was never satisfied. Customers are not always right.

  65. Looper*

    LW1- you have my deepest sympathies, I’ve been in that place and it suuuuucks! I think you need to decide if performing these (thankless, invisible) tasks is worth it or if you feel you need to scale back for yourself. A couple options are to make cards/gifts smaller and personal and clearly coming from you alone and not your office. Another (and this was the path I took) is to redirect this energy into relationships in your personal life. Post birthday messages on your Facebook friend’s walls, send cards to friends and family, get cupcakes for your favorite neighbor. Your coworkers are not evil people who don’t care if you live or die, but they definitely are not going to appreciate it as much as a friend would or reciprocate your effort in any way. You get to decide what that means going forward.

  66. Mmm.*

    I feel #5 in my soul. When I’m asked in my reviews where I want to go, the ONLY options involve management. That means both being in charge of people’s futures and having to step away from the fun part of the job! I don’t want it, but I also don’t want to remain at my pay grade forever. I wish there was a better system.

  67. Matt*

    #4 what came to my mind immediately is Bruno Mars “The Lazy Song” – “Don’t feel like picking up the phone, just leave a message at the tone …” *singing* – now that would be great for job hunting …

  68. Courageous cat*

    I’m not sure if anyone’s said this but why not just leave it with the default greeting that the phone gives you? “[your number] is not available, please leave a message at the beep” – etc. I don’t know anyone who does a personalized greeting anymore, so this seems like a modern and easy way to handle it.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, that’s what I’ve always done with my v-mails, mainly because I can’t stand listening to my recorded voice…

  69. Firecat*

    #1 is the same reason that 100% remote work doesn’t work in most offices. Most people are just generally inconsiderate. Plus it’s human nature to not take responsibility for something in a crowd, it’s why first responders are trained to specify a person in the crowd do X and not yell “someone do X”.

    These human traits just tend to lead to people in special circumstances being overlooked or ignored unless you have that rare exceptional individual who goes above and beyond to plan ahead and be considerate of others.

    1. Parakeet*

      If most people are generally inconsiderate, isn’t that an argument for letting as many people as possible work in a space that’s physically apart from their coworkers, not against it? Look at how many letters this column has seen over the years about coworkers being inconsiderate regarding a letter-writer’s space in some way.

      I agree that the bystander effect is a real thing, but I’m with the people who say that if this is a job duty, someone should have been assigned to cover it while LW1 was out. LW1, I hope you have a smooth and speedy recovery! I think Alison had good advice, and I see your follow-up comments about your drug-addled brain so I’m not going to further restate the points that you already clearly took in.

  70. Amorette Allison*

    Re: LW. My MIL died several years ago. She was the church lady in charge of arranging funeral luncheons. The other ladies were in a dither because her death was unexpected and none of them were up to speed on how to arrange. The church ladies stumbled with several events for about a year after MIL died because there were no replacement plans.

  71. Millie*

    LW1: Is sending out cards, etc actually an official part of your job, or did you just decide on your own that an office that does that kind of stuff is the type of office you would prefer to work in and continue doing it? If it’s an official part of your job, then it should have been assigned to someone in your absence. If it’s something that you hoped would be perpetuated, that’s an understandable feeling but not necessarily one that is shared by everyone.

    I had a surgery similar to yours – not urgent, not something for a life-threatening disease, and not a Milestone Event in my life where I would look back on it and think about its anniversary with sadness or happiness. My workplace never acknowledged it in any formal way, although when I came back, people of course sincerely asked me how I was doing and if I needed help. Some co-workers did stuff on their own individually before I left and while I was gone, but there was no formal card or gift or event from the workplace. I certainly wouldn’t have frowned on getting flowers or something, but it sincerely never occurred to me that maybe my workplace should have made a formal acknowledgement for something that to me was a medium-sized event in my life and not a Major Event. The only events that there are organized things for are baby showers, pre-wedding lunch parties, and flowers for a death in the family.

    If I was at your workplace, I would think it was nice that someone else is organizing cards and flowers, but I wouldn’t personally be filling that gap if it wasn’t happening. Your colleagues may feel similarly, despite your best attempts to foster a different philosophy.

  72. Elizabeth West*

    #5–It would be just super if companies would actually offer to develop employees who don’t want to manage but do want to become more senior versions of themselves (or make a lateral move, perhaps). I’ve been in too many jobs where any attempt to learn anything was met with flippant dismissal or a piling on of extra duties with no advancement or salary increase.

    No wonder the young people job hop so much. Now get off my lawn!

  73. The Other Dawn*

    RE: 5. I don’t want to manage anyone

    It’s perfectly fine to not want to manage anyone. Some people love it and some people hate it. And there are some who are okayish with it. That’s where I land. I’m happy to report that after something like 20 years (with a 10 month break in between), I will FINALLY be moving back into an individual contributor role, with the added bonus of being a completely different department. I absoutely can’t wait.

    Speaking as a manager, not everyone can or should manage. I think it’s good to have people who don’t want to manage. It takes a mix of people to make up a good team.

  74. Stacy’s Mom*

    #1, it can definitely feel unfair that everyone else gets flowers and cards and you didn’t, but I also disagree that that’s “care” your workplace needs to provide or that anyone should be “covering” it in your absence. I couldn’t imagine being asked to pitch in for flowers anytime someone has a person pass away or a surgery or a baby, that would be really frequent. Care comes from other social relationships, what work should be providing is flexibility regarding workload and accommodations when these things happen, but work isn’t obligated to be your cards and flowers people.

  75. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Don’t worry about not wanting to manage anyone! The majority of my family and friends all have never managed, nor do they ever want to be a manager. Some of my employees over the years have been offered management positions but have said “thanks but not for me!”

    My dad is always amazed by my career path because it’s everything he had no interest in doing. He’s very proud and happy no matter what I choose to do but every so often “Wow I could never have done any of that, I don’t have the patience.” etc. You’re going to be fine!

  76. dryakumo*

    Anecdotal evidence for LW#5: My mom has been working for the same company as a computer programmer/analyst since the late 90s and is set to retire from it soonish. She has never been a manager and never desired to be, instead becoming an SME for them (and compensated accordingly).

    I’m in management now but trying to move back to a more individual contributor status. I’m a former military officer so I used that experience to move into a new field after I left the service, but I’m finding I really want to get back to more technical work like I used to do in grad school.

  77. Cranjis McBasketball*

    #1 – I’ve been there… it sucks. One solution that occurred to me after I left that job was to have two people splitting that task. Alphabetically, by birth month – what have you – but it should have both people covering each other. I know it’s too late now, but at least next time, someone is guaranteed to have your back.

  78. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

    On #2: I’m probably projecting here, but my first thought was that delegating or transitioning a project/task is HARD!

    I have an overfull plate and have been trying (with management blessings) to hand off a couple of things for a long time now, with little success. Sometimes it’s that the person taking it on turns out not to have the right skills, or they leave before it’s fully moved and it bounces back to me, or we’re behind on other things and there’s barely time to get the task done by the deadline (and not enough time to train)…. Sometimes it’s that I end up coming back in the middle anyway because even if I’ve handed over the procedures, I can’t convey the “tips and tricks” based on experience that make things run smoothly.

    I wouldn’t assume it’s that Jane is snubbing you or doesn’t want to hand over the project. She could be desperate for help and still not be able to give it up, because she worries if she’s not involved, the work won’t get done right and it’ll be twice as much work to fix it, and that means she’ll be even more overloaded in the short term.

    At least, that’s how I feel about ninety percent of the time.

  79. SB*

    I was the flower sender at my last workplace. When my late partner died, no one at work acknowledged the death, although my manager did take it up on herself to tell everyone what happened without checking with me first. At the time I really didn’t care as I had so much going on but once I got back to work & realised that I am the only one who bothers to make sure people feel supported when something awful happens I just stopped bothering. No one ever got flowers again for a death in the family or a new baby. No one got a get well card or a birthday card or a retirement card. People complained bitterly that this was no longer happening & demanded to know who is supposed to be taking care of this…it was never part of my PD, just something I picked up along the way when the previous caretaker of workplace trauma retired so I told them why I stopped doing it & suggested that if they are so concerned maybe one of them would like to volunteer. No one did, to absolutely no one’s surprise.

  80. Up or Out*

    My career field requires everyone to eventually be promoted to management, or else eventually leave. I’m ok with that (I’m moving up at an expected rate and doing ok at it), but it’s wild to me it’s the structure.

  81. Fiddlesticks*

    As an introvert who has worked remotely since the pandemic (yay!) in a well-paid non-managerial position, I’d be very interested if Allison ever wanted to ask people to give suggestions on satisfying, well-paying careers for individual contributors. I really like what I’m doing now, but it took me decades to find this niche.

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