we have to give slide presentations about ourselves, should I have a no-weekend-work policy for my team, and more

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

1. We have to give very personal slide presentations about ourselves

My office is planning a morning of team-building exercises for the end of the month. We’re all supposed to prepare a Pecha Kucha slide presentation to share. The directions are to answer 20 questions/prompts with images only. The questions/prompts run from “You, as a baby” and “You, as a teenager” to “Your favorite animal” to “What is your actual challenge?” and “How do you live and show your values?”

I am not excited about this. I’m fine with light questions about childhood heroes, but I don’t want to explain my vision for my life and what helps me reach it. I might be overthinking this, I just have to put up an image and talk about it for a few seconds, but it feels invasive. I suspect the solution is to just address the questions as lightly as possible, but I’m wondering if I’m out of touch with sharing expectations?

I think it’s invasive and inappropriate for work, but these sorts of exercises have been getting more popular in recent years.

You’re right, though, that the way to handle it is to treat it as lightly as possible. You don’t have to reveal anything terribly personal about yourself. Stick up a photo of a goth for “teenage you,” pick a work challenge to use for “actual challenge,” and offer up something bland about kindness and compassion for how you live your values.

Really, though, at what point are workplaces going to learn to remember that not everyone had childhoods and adolescences that they care to discuss at work?

Related:
we have to make PowerPoints about our personal lives and present them to coworkers

2. Hiring more diverse candidates

I manage a team that is currently all female and the average age is late 40s. When hiring for an entry-level/new grad position, is it okay to favor non-female and/or younger candidates? We work with a diverse population so I would ideally like to have more of a balance of age ranges and genders. Where’s the line between valuing diversity and discriminating against a certain demographic?

Legally, you cannot give preference to candidates by sex or youth. You can do things to increase the diversity of your applicant pool like advertising the job in places where you think more diverse populations will see it, looking for ways to appeal to a wider range of applicants than you’ve traditionally had, etc., but when it comes to deciding who you hire, you can’t consider sex or youth. (The reason I’m saying “youth” and not “age” is because federal age discrimination laws protect people 40 and up so technically you could give preference to applicants 40 and older, but not younger ones.)

3. Should I have a no-weekend-work policy for my team?

I run a small consulting firm of about 20 staff, and we are mostly remote and spread around the country. This was true even before Covid, and we allow the majority of our team to WFH 100% of the time.

As a professional services firm, we operate on a pretty standard Monday-Friday schedule, but over the last year or so we have noticed quite a few people not being available during business hours and instead working across weekends to make up their time. While I get and can appreciate the flexibility this provides in accomplishing other activities not related to work, this “never unplugging” is resulting in some serious burnout which is showing up in a variety of ways, none of which is good for the company. It also means that our clients are having difficulty getting to team members during the business day, which is also a problem.

I am leaning towards a no-weekends policy and have been told by a staff person that people may leave because we would be limiting their flexibility. While I can understand this, it also just isn’t working for us as an organization. Am I wrong to want people to fully disconnect from their work on the weekends?

I think you’re focused on the wrong problem: the biggest issue is that your clients can’t reach people they need to reach during business hours. Focus there.

It’s entirely reasonable to expect people to work during core business hours, particularly when you have clients who expect to reach you then. Require people to work during business hours and then see if you still have an issue with weekend work burnout. (And if people leave over that, they weren’t a good match for your business needs. It’s more than okay to be up-front about what those fundamental needs are.)

4. Can my company deny me unpaid time off for surgery?

I am an hourly employee at a job that receives zero PTO (vacation or sick). Any time you take off is unpaid. Even though time off is unpaid, the company limits us to 40 hours per year of time off. Is this legal? I’m not saying you should take time off willy-nilly just because it’s unpaid, but can you be forced to come in if you’ve exceeded your unpaid time off “allowance” for the year?

I am having surgery soon and my doctor wrote a note saying I need two weeks off for recovery. But I was told I can only take two days off because that’s the amount of unpaid time off “allowance” I have left.

Yes, they can limit how much time off you’re allowed to take each year, even though it’s unpaid.

But it’s really ridiculous to do that in a situation like yours, where you need the time for medical reasons. Any chance you qualify for FMLA? To be eligible, you need to have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months and your company needs to have 50 or more employees … but if you are, it would get you the time you need while protecting your job. (And even if you don’t qualify, your state might have a similar program with a lower eligibility threshold. To check, try searching the name of your state plus “family medical leave” but without the quotation marks.)

Otherwise, you could try saying, “This surgery isn’t optional. It’s medically necessary and I have to get it. Are you saying I will lose my job afterwards, simply because of a short-term medical need?” and “How do I get an exception made?” Also, if the person who said you could only have two days is your manager, skip them and talk to HR instead.

{ 850 comments… read them below }

  1. Labrat*

    God, number one sounds like a nightmare. And I’m just private, not the product of a traumatic childhood.

    1. Clare*

      Is anybody being honest on these things, though? Despite the words used, what they’re asking for is “Please provide some light happy fluff vaguely related to this topic cue”. They don’t want the truth and they don’t realise they’re accidentally asking for it. Yeah, it is stupid, but I’ve got more important stupid to waste my time trying to solve.

      It’s a bit like a little kid asking “Why are you fat?”. They’re not trying to be rude or nosey, they’re just naive. One day the kids and bosses will grow up and learn, but until then I’ll just smile blandly and answer “I like chocolate” without getting too hung up on it.

      This theme keeps coming up and people keep getting distressed by it and that makes me sad. In the absolute nicest possible way, nobody cares that much about your life.

      I grant you all permission to simply chuckle smugly at the silly naive person who designed this, spend 2 seconds writing some vague fluff and forget about it. Revel in the opportunity to put in your worst on a required work task! Let out your inner chaos gremlin! Add a typo! Stick it to the man!

      (I herewith accept no liability for any damage caused by any person, legal or otherwise, inspired by the above comment to use blue text on a red background and/or spinning characters flying in from the side of the ppt to describe their Childhood(TM))

        1. Lea*

          We used to have to do a much less invasive one slide personal deal and it was all ‘here is the last vacation I took’ or pictures of family or pets.

          Sometimes it’s fun but 20 slides is too much. You could just put a bunch of memes honestly

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            Is it 20 slides though? I haven’t done one of these exercises myself, but it sounded like there were 20 prompts you needed to answer with photos – you could add all 20 to one slide assuming you did some photo collage style design and the images are small enough.

            1. Elitist Semicolon*

              For official Pecha Kucha, the format is is 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide.

              (And there are, like, competitions in this sort of style, so I’m not kidding by saying “official.”)

                1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                  I looked it up and saw how it works.
                  Holy, create a solution to a non-problem, Batman.
                  No disrespect to the creators of the program, and to the people who imagined “let’s make Powerpoint quicker,” I give you big ups. But if this becomes a professional norm, I will be very annoyed.

                2. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

                  @NTJP it doesn’t seem to have been invented for business purposes. If it becomes any kind of business norm, that would suck, sure. But I think the problem statement was more “how can we use powerpoint to make some fun, personal presentations”

        2. Czhorat*

          This is a bad idea, but there’s a part of me that would want to full-on trauma dump so I can watch everyone who came up with this asinine idea squirm. Maybe that would teach a lesson.

          The harm to myself or my reputation wouldn’t be nearly worth it, but there is a tiny voice whispering, “they think they want the truth? Let’s give them the truth”

            1. Selina Luna*

              Wednesday would totally do this. It would make everyone uncomfortable, which would thrill her. In addition to both of those things, depending on whether it’s old show Wednesday, comics Wednesday, cartoons Wednesday, 90s movie Wednesday (my personal favorite), modern movie Wednesday, or modern TV show Wednesday, she might also be confused because she didn’t think she had a traumatic childhood at all.

            1. WantonSeedStitch*

              …and that they’d then say “oh, this is a great way for us to bring our Whole Selves to work and really bond and understand one another better! Now EVERYONE needs to talk about, oh, let’s see: the most painful memory from childhood, their greatest embarrassment, their biggest fear…”

              1. Rex Libris*

                I’ve never understood these people. You don’t want to see my whole self at work, because 75% of my self doesn’t want to be at work in the first place.

                Whoever comes up with these sorts of exercises clearly has too much free time, and their work load should be increased accordingly.

                1. Czhorat*

                  I think I understand it. The management team has heard, or read, or observed that workplaces function better when people like each other and know each other on a personal level. One way to make this happen is to create fertile ground for it by minimizing internal competition for resources, make the job as stress free and pleasant as possible. That’s hard and takes time, so they look for shortcuts to artificially create camaraderie.

                2. Rex Libris*

                  Yep. It’s just as effective as all of those business theories about how to motivate people and make them feel valued without, you know, having to offer decent pay and benefits.

                3. Dennis Feinstein*

                  Ha! Same. We (teachers) were talking one day about winning Powerball. I said they’d never see me again if I won.
                  Someone said, “Really? You wouldn’t come to work?” (Some of them have a martyr complex/see teaching as a vocation and not a job etc).
                  I said, “Trust me. You don’t want me working here if I don’t need the money.”

          1. NoApologiesNeeded*

            exactly what I was thinking… for the “actual challenge” you put a current photo of yourself in front of slides and say, “my actual challenge is when my job tells me I’m required to share my extremely personal and not fun childhood trauma, so here goes!

            1. father physically, emotionally abusive to entire family
            2. father sexually abusive to me+siblings
            just give the whole traumatic story!!
            conclude with:
            So I hope that HR recognizes that this type of invasive and inappropriate “fun” “get to know you” assignment is also traumatic, rude and thoughtless.

            1. Peachtree*

              No, your work is not requiring you to share trauma. Your work is asking you to share work appropriate lighthearted anecdotes. If you manage to not completely breakdown every time someone asks you a question about your childhood, you can make an innocuous statement about loving Barbie or playing football or whatever average kids are into. Trauma dumping on your colleagues is not the answer.

              1. Nina*

                The prompts the LW shared were:
                “You, as a baby”. Okay, me as a baby was deathly ill for basically the entire time I was a baby, I have approximately zero baby photos taken outside of hospitals, it was an intensely stressful and unpleasant time for my entire extended family.
                “You, as a teenager”. Suicidal, incredibly depressed, and did you know that can cause amnesia? I had a few year window between constantly being about to die and constantly going ‘eh that wouldn’t be so bad actually’. Next?

                “Your favorite animal”. It’s a cuttlefish. I can bore anyone to tears about cuttlefish because nobody I’ve met finds them as interesting as I do, I have very limited ability to tell when people are getting bored, and a surprising number of people are actually full-on phobic about cuttlefish.

                “Your real challenges”. No longer suicidal fortunately but the hardest thing I do on a day-to-day basis is understand the difference between what people think they’re saying in their head and assuming everyone else understands, and what they’re actually saying with words.

                “Your values and how you live them out”. I’m vegetarian (boring and preachy, apparently), I try to minimize driving (boring and preachy, apparently), and I’m heavily involved in local queer activism (too controversial, we have to make the bigots comfortable).

                I don’t break down every time someone asks a question about my childhood, I just keep a handful of truthful but vague comments and redirects ready to deploy. If you explicitly ask me for a powerpoint presentation with even one slide about my childhood, you deserve everything you get.

                1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                  I read about cuttlefish and they are majorly amazing! Come over here and chat with me, I won’t mind a bit.

          2. JustaTech*

            I had a coworker who absolutely did this (not with a Pecha Kucha, just verbally). Some trainer asked what was supposed to be a really bland icebreaker “what’s the most interesting thing about you?” and she answered fully and honestly and frankly it’s pretty upsetting the first dozen or so times you hear it (after that you’re pretty inured).
            One of the consequences of her injury is not having a good read on a lot of social cues, including when to choose a really mundane “interesting” thing about yourself.

          3. Insert witty name here*

            I’m pretty open book about my childhood trauma. If I had an employer that did this, they probably wouldn’t enjoy a lot of my answers. it’s important to remember that a lot of kids were taught to hide what was going on and to always have some sort of acceptable public persona. Once I realized that what was going on in my house wasn’t my fault, I stopped protecting the people at fault.

          4. ZugTheMegasaurus*

            My partner does this; he has no hesitation in handing the awkwardness right back to whoever decided it was a good exercise. His childhood was, to put it lightly, horrific. The earliest photo of him in existence is *one that I took when we started dating*. If he’s trying to make nice, he’ll respond with something about himself that’s current, but woe betide the person who pushes for a childhood memory.

          5. Taketombo*

            That was my thought too, and I have am a member of a professional union (with no plans to advance in my career before my pension kicks in) so…

            Try me bro. Try me.

            (I am the person who pretty much single handedly shut down the forced education/mentorship program by trauma dumping on the feedback form to my boss: “Where do you want to be in five years?” “Stably employed with an insurance plan that confirms to #state law and covers my child’s disability” … and it got more specific from there with “how do you plan to accomplish this?” and so forth. I will do the continuing Ed required for my professional certifications, but your first day of 101 level class 90 minute webinar on communication styles is an insult.)

        3. goddessoftransitory*

          Me neither.

          And frankly, who actually wants to sit through these things, honest or not? I truly do not need to know my coworkers’ childhood heroes.

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            Make it 19 pictures of cats and then for the 20th picture – a dog or a sea monster. Lull them in with the cats, then hit them with an elephant….

            1. allathian*

              Nah, 19 pictures of cats and a last slide with a snake, a spider, a mouse, and a bat on it, and you’re almost guaranteed to make at least one person in the audience scream.

        1. Allonge*

          It’s exactly that – according to their website, The word “PechaKucha” is Japanese for “chit chat.”

          1. Wilbur*

            I wish I had the charisma to make a living off selling this kind of BS. Some of them can be helpful (5S, Kaizen, etc.) but so many of them seem like something basic (Icebreakers, clean your workspace, etc.) wrapped up in something foreign to make it seem exotic.

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This! This. This.
          This is what I meant when I wrote that this software created a problem and sold you the solution.
          People aren’t making small talk.
          OK, force them to make small talk.
          WITH PICTURES!

      1. Melissa*

        You’re right— they want and expect lighthearted stuff. I imagine that if somebody responded with “My real challenge: alcoholism”, they’d probably discontinue this exercise quickly!

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          They may expect light hearted stuff, but someone always takes these exercises literally.

          Even if they want and expect light hearted, even thinking about it can be rough for some people. As Alison noted, not everyone had a happy childhood that they are okay talking about. Even trying to come up with something llight instead would be a lot of stress and work for those folks. Why put someone through that for alleged team building. Knowing you were goth as a teenager is not going to help me work with you if you always miss deadlines, or even if you are a perfect colleague.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            This, times 1000.

            People who’ve been through traumas and childhood distress have probably already spent a good chunk of time weaving stories and distorting veils over their real experience. Having to come up with a fun, office ready slideshow version for no good reason is not going to be the “lighthearted” project management thinks it is.

            1. Rainy*

              Yeah. One of my strongest-held personal and professional values is authenticity, because I am absolutely done lying about stuff to protect other people’s comfort.

              1. coffee*

                I mean, I can be authentic without going into trauma. Like “teenage me” doing my teenage hobbies is just as authentic as “teenage me” being depressed.

      2. Easy Does It*

        Yeah I’d be like I’m spending 10 minutes on this and draw stick figures for the photos and stuff or use people from movies, I just wouldn’t really care enough to do more.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Yeah, I’m still stuck on the art theft aspect that makes the generator, but I think this is the last place I’d get too hung up on it.

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            This would actually be really fun. I just recently fell down the AI photo generator rabbit hole making headshots for work and my side business, so I could totally do this in this context with no problem. Coming up with fake stories for each of the images wouldn’t be too hard for me, either.

          1. The Provisional Republic of A Thousand Eggs*

            :-D

            I’d be sorely tempted to put pictures of Wanda from Corner Gas for any “Me as a …” prompt. Wouldn’t even be that far from the truth.

            Wall-to-wall capybaras for everything else, except for anything that might be harmful to capybaras (such as “what do you like to eat”).

      3. I Would Rather be Eating Dumplings*

        It’s a bit like a little kid asking “Why are you fat?”

        It’s a bit like that, except that workplaces aren’t run by innocent children, they’re run by people who really should know better.

        1. Allonge*

          They should know better, but they are also not the chronic overthinkers that we collectively on this board tend to be :)

          This particular exercise asks for some pictures (says nothing about it needs to be originals to the person’s childhood), not a therapy intake statement.

          If I am reading it correctly, we have an ‘office’ worth of people (5? 10? 50?) with 20 prompts each. I sincerely hope this is not the entirety of the exercise – most people cannot go through 20 slides of anything under 20 minutes, so if they need to present this one by one, that already is at well over an hour at minimum and could take the whole morning for a larger team. A looong, boring morning.

          Of course it’s a bad exercise. But that is one of the reasons it does not need to be taken that seriously.

          1. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            Yeah, I don’t disagree with your point, but I’m highlighting that what a lot of people find upsetting is the thoughtlessness of the request. That’s not unreasonable to bristle at, IMO

            I think most people understand that it’s not meant to be “deep” and that they can leave things out.

            1. Allonge*

              It’s totally reasonable to bristle at. I don’t like doing stupid tasks either, for one, and that is not even the worst, as you say.

          2. Angstrom*

            According to the PechaKucha site:
            “The PechaKucha 20×20 presentation format is a slide show of 20 images, each auto-advancing after 20 seconds. It’s non-stop and you’ve got 400 seconds to tell your story, with visuals guiding the way.”
            So not a huge amount of time.

            1. Allonge*

              That… makes things worse, actually. Thanks for looking it up, seriously, but it’s just bad.

              Sure, it’s ok, as far as everyone has time in their workday to prepare a 20-second/pic intervention. It takes some doing (400 seconds is both a looong time to talk and impossible to cover 20 separate topics in), even without an expectation that there is a coherent story behind (which then – why do we have 20 separate prompts? Why the exact same amount of time for all?).

              But let’s say this is a team who can do that. Then we have, best case scenario, a ~7 minute / person presentation that is basically an infodump, with some random pics. Arrrrrgh. I suppose this is one of those team building exercises where we bond based on a shared overcoming of a difficulty?

            2. Mockingjay*

              So it’s practice for office speed dating? “Here’s my history before we have to move on; are you still interested in having me as a coworker? Has our relationship progressed to sharing a cubicle?” /s

              Advice: same as Alison, pick a VERY bland moment or hobby (“pics of my dog”) and google a bunch of gifs to throw in the PowerPoint. OP1, don’t spend more than 15 minutes on this. (Personally, I’d show 20 slides of my dog napping, because he’s a lazy slug and nearly all my pics are of him sleeping or eating. He really doesn’t do much else. Except shed. He’s an exceptional shedder.)

            3. Lenora Rose*

              6 minutes and 40 seconds of each person presenting, and you think that’s not a lot of time? in a staff of ten, that’s an hour and 40 minutes. There are whole movies shorter than that.

              1. daffodil*

                Take it from me, a person who has taught college speech classes for 18 years. 6 minutes can be excruciatingly long.

                1. Lenora Rose*

                  Yeah. Six minutes each from a bunch of trained improv actors? Probably good. Average folks like me just talking about themselves – probably not.

                  Even toastmasters seems to prefer to keep it to 2 minutes.

            4. Observer*

              So not a huge amount of time.

              As the others have said, yes, it’s a lot of time if you have anything but the smallest staff. And the amount of time to prepare this absolutely a lot. Just getting all of the pictures in is going to take a fair amount of time – and that’s assuming that you literally go to a place like Getty images and pull the first remotely suitable image for each prompt. Adding the time it takes to come up with a script and you’ve just given people a fairly significant task.

              1. iglwif*

                And it’s not just a script, it’s a punishingly concise script.

                That’s much more work than a rambling not-time-limited presentation.

            5. Bear Expert*

              PechaKucha is also relatively renown for being a difficult talk structure – the extremely rigid timing makes it tough to put together even for really practiced public speakers.

              A good PechaKucha is truly awesome, but they take a lot of polishing and work to get there. Its like the haiku of talk formats.

              Its a bit long for a short talk, the auto advancing means you need to nail your timing with little chance for recovery, and that’s before we get to the inappropriateness of the “dig deep for a real answer” personal overstep of the subject matter. And that the 20 second per slide format is not supposed to handle 20 different topics.

              Hand out the 20 questions, tell people to bring 1-3 slides answering any of them, if you’re so intent on having a picture show.

            6. Rex Libris*

              I actually didn’t know this was a thing until today. It depresses me on an existential level that some people apparently find this a reasonable request or a meaningful way to interact.

          3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            I suspect the “actual challenge” is the problem for a lot of people. “Paying rent after my spouse lost their job?” “My kid’s being badly bullied at school?” “Creeping fascism?” “Hoping the cancer doesn’t come back?” So many people have real challenges that this question is particularly terrible.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              “getting my actual job done when I keep getting asked to do stupid things that don’t develop me at all”

            2. Antilles*

              That’s not really the purpose of the question though.

              This is a 20-slideshow photos-only team building exercise. They aren’t asking for a serious challenge of bullying or rent or cancer, nor do they even want that. What they’re really asking for is a short and simple challenge answer: My challenge is my cat Kitty sitting in my recliner as you can see right here because she somehow knows every single time I stand up and then gives me that same “my chair now buddy” look you see right there.

              It’s effectively the same as passing someone in the hall and they ask “how’s it going”. There’s implied context that should be guiding your response, not the literal wording of the question.

              1. Czhorat*

                Perhaps, but the literal wording of the question DOES exist.

                I’d also note that passing someone in the hallway and giving an anodyne greeting with a possible polite nod doesn’t require me to write a 20 page powerpoint presentation.

              2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

                What is the “implied context”? Because the way people are reading the question is a facially reasonable way to read the question. And anything with “implied context” is ND-unfriendly.

              3. metadata minion*

                “How’s it going?” is a well-established phatic statement in the US with a well-understood response in most contexts. This type of slideshow is not something that most people will have done before, and it’s not at all clear how you’re supposed to approach the questions.

                1. Czhorat*

                  Yeah. And what they really want is probably something between “funny cat meme” and “my struggles with alcohol addiction/an abusive partner/bullying/etc”.

                  If it’s all light, fluffy, “my challenge is that my cat is TOO ADORABLE! LOOK HOW CUTE!!!” then the exercise is pointless. If it veers into “my beloved parent has inoperable cancer and it’s changing everything about our lives” then it’s just painful for all involved.

                  There’s something between that works, but everyone has different threshholds of what they’re willing to share and willing to hear. Everyone also has a different life experience. If you were bullied as a child then sitting through slide after slide of “my most favoritest childhood memories” from people who DID have happy childhoods is just salt on the wound.

                  There’s no clever solution to this, no secret answer behind the curtain. It’s just a bad idea.

                2. Yorick*

                  Even if your presentation becomes all about how your cat is so cute, your coworkers might learn something about you they didn’t know before. It’s not necessarily MEANINGLESS just because it’s lighthearted and not too deep.

              4. MCMonkeyBean*

                Then they should use better literal wording of the question. Putting the word “real” in front of it 100% to me implies they want a serious answer.

              5. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

                Then they SHOULDN’T ASK FOR IT. It’s not reasonable to expect people to intuit that this time your boss isn’t actually being straightforward with their request and you aren’t expected to give them what they ask for.

                1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

                  That’s a very uncharitable interpretation. It’s reasonably well-known that many non-neurotypical people are very literal-minded, and have difficulty intuiting when it’s socially acceptable to lie. Generally they learn that canned phrases like “How are you” are just that, canned phrases, to respond appropriately, but this is entirely new and saying people are “unhinged” for assuming a work-related request is meant literally is not kind.

                  (I’m neurotypical so far as I know, but close enough to the spectrum in some ways I can see it from here. Being very literal-minded is one of those ways.)

                2. Humble Schoolmarm*

                  I don’t think I agree. I’m an open book sort of person and like to make work friends. I’m also neurotypical (as far as I know), but the “actual” is throwing me. Is actual supposed to be hyperbole (I fell in love with purple kernel popcorn, but now I can’t find it)? Work related (It’s extraordinarily stressful to be expected to do my job as outlined in “professional learning” with the time and resources available)? “Actual” meaning my real biggest challenge (one of my friends moved away and I’m grieving like a grade schooler, my mom is dying of a neurodegenerative illness)?
                  None of these are secrets and I’ve been open about them with work friends, but I also don’t want to talk about my mom’s illness (with pictures!) for 20 seconds.

                3. Sigh*

                  Do you work with OP? Was this presentation your idea or something? Why are you dying on this hill?

                  People are giving you lots of reasons why this isn’t appropriate. Not everyone is you. Maybe try listening to people.

            1. Allonge*

              It depends – if the slide is about my favorite animal, sure, that’s maybe one sentence, even allowing for audience reaction (Whales are great! Haha. Next slide).

              How I live and show my values… picture or not, that’s a longer one.

              1. tb3*

                When you get to the “how I live and show my values” slide. It should be simple: “My values are privacy and respect. I don’t believe in sharing random pictures with colleagues in a professional setting. That’s why every slide after this one is a blank screen. Good day.”
                Then sit down while the rest of the blank slides auto-forward.

          4. Observer*

            They should know better, but they are also not the chronic overthinkers that we collectively on this board tend to be :)

            Uh, no. You don’t need to be an “over thinker” to know that asking someone “why are you fat?” is rude. And you also don’t need to be an over thinker to recognize that pushing for highly personal and sensitive information can backfire.

            1. Allonge*

              Ok – the fat question was from a hypothetical kid in someone else’s post.

              Not everyone considers ‘show me a picture that shows you as a child / teenager’ highly personal or sensitive. Overthinking comes in when you take this question, ignore the entire context (they asked 19 other questions and I will have 20 seconds / slide to present, also everyone else will do the same and nobody cares that much) and say to yourself that you will be Failing at this Icebreaker if you don’t disclose your entire high school trauma instead of showing a stock photo of a teenager reading / playing music / playing computer games / playing sports / looking clueless.

              I agree it’s a bad exercise. It’s clueless to think that some of these questions don’t have the potential to bring up pain. I still say it’s overthinking it to go in the direction that this needs to be treated as a personal attack, or even as any kind of invitation to share deeply personal details.

              And I say this as an overthinker myself. Sometimes a bad idea is just a bad idea, not a crime.

              1. Gemstones*

                Agree. If I were a manager, it’s not something I’d want to assign, but I also don’t think it rises to the level of terrible that people are making it out to be. I’d be terrified to make any kind of small talk with a lot of the folks writing in here…just about anything could be the “wrong” thing.

                1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

                  Small talk is a different context from an Official Work Request, though – and at least for me it makes a big difference. Pushing back when your boss says “I need you to tell me about the biggest struggle in your life” is different from chatting with friends or even co-workers about your weekend when you’re having a hard time.

              2. Observer*

                Ok – the fat question was from a hypothetical kid in someone else’s post.

                But the point was that this is akin to asking that kind of question. And it’s not.

                Not everyone considers ‘show me a picture that shows you as a child / teenager’ highly personal or sensitive.

                True. But *20* questions that include “How do you live and show your values?” and “your actual challenge” goes way beyond that.

                Overthinking comes in when you take this question, ignore the entire context (they asked 19 other questions and I will have 20 seconds / slide to present, also everyone else will do the same and nobody cares that much) and say to yourself that you will be Failing at this Icebreaker if you don’t disclose your entire high school trauma instead of showing a stock photo of a teenager reading / playing music / playing computer games / playing sports / looking clueless.

                You’ve got it backwards. *Failure* to think sufficiently happens when you take that one question, ignore the other 19 questions and think that people are going to be able to easily navigate that.

                Sometimes a bad idea is just a bad idea, not a crime.

                *This* is over-thinking. No claims it’s a crime. But it’s a terrible idea. And that should be recognizable without deep rumination.

                1. Allonge*

                  Ok, so we are talking right past one another, and I will end it here, but: once again, I agree that this is a stupid exercise, for many reasons. If I was confronted by it in my life, I would think whoever came up with it is a clueless idiot.

                  This position can coexist with thinking that people who take it as an invitation / order to share any and all deep traumas are wrong, are ignoring or not noticing the context and insofar as they are catastrophisizing this, they are overthinking it.

          5. Laura*

            Even if they can do a slide in 20 seconds, that’s 400 seconds per person… Tech and people being what they are, I doubt you’ll manage 9 presentations in an hour. More like 6.
            Very much a long boring morning, overflowing with information snippets that no one really needs or enjoys.

            Also, how long will it take to produce those presentations? Not being a design professional, if I were doing this, I’d expect at least eight hours, not counting the back brain work that goes into a creative project, even a stupid one. Is that on the clock?

            And I’d lie like a rug to make my story fit the material I can dig up quickly.

        2. noncommittal pseudonym*

          This. It reminds me of a team-building exercise at a former job. The prompt was to describe the most humiliating experience you ever had, then they would be read aloud and everyone would try to guess the person for each humiliation.

          I got up and left. I spoke to my supervisor later that I thought this was inappropriate for work, and she agreed with me (she had another meeting that morning, and wasn’t present when this was happening.)

          When asked about it, the organizer was completely perplexed by anyone finding this exercise upsetting. She really, seriously couldn’t understand why this wasn’t just a fun, bonding moment for everyone. I’ve always suspected that me complaining about this was one of the reasons she left that position and transferred to a different part of the organization.

          1. metadata minion*

            OMG what. If you wanted to go that direction in a non-horrifying way, you could do “funniest mistake you’ve ever made” or something like that. Even then, not everyone is comfortable laughing at their own mistakes, and while that’s a useful skill to develop, an ostensibly-lighthearted icebreaker exercise at work is *not the place*.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              Yep. I really do not enjoy looking back on times when I was wrong, idiotic, mistaken in a publicly embarrassing way, and so on. I don’t care how much growth I’m hindering, I’m fine wallowing in the waters of Lethe, thanks.

          2. Pee Jay*

            Just reading that made me queasy. We had a similar one where we had to share what our first job was, the job was read out loud and we had to guess whose it was. My first job was in the adult entertainment business and duly reported it after asking if they were really sure they wanted me to respond (they were sure). They ended up just skipping me. Ditto the next team building where they wanted you to share your favorite movie quote. They insisted I give them a quote even though I repeatedly said I don’t watch movies and had no quote. I finally gave them “it puts the lotion on its skin or it get the hose again.”

            1. annabelle*

              “My first job was in the adult entertainment business and duly reported it after asking if they were really sure they wanted me to respond (they were sure). They ended up just skipping me. Ditto the next team building where they wanted you to share your favorite movie quote.”

              …You couldn’t have just gone with like, your second job or any movie quote? Like yeah, you personally don’t watch movies but you’ve never come across any movie quotes ever??? Do you watch TV or read books? Couldn’t have pulled a quote from there? Couldn’t have used a dream or imaginary job as an example for the first icebreaker??? You just HAD to be Edgy McEdgeLord???? A royal decree was issued commanding you to be super hardcore???

              Sure, Jan.

              1. Candy*

                Seriously. Just say “Luke I am your father” and that your first job was at McDonalds or something. No one is going to care if it’s true unless you make it weird

                1. Orv*

                  Yeah, but then you have to remember that you said your first job was McDonalds or be caught in a lie if someone brings it up later.

                2. Cabbagepants*

                  replying to orv

                  I highly doubt anyone would remember that you said your first job was at McDonald’s. this is just small talk filler stuff! either you already have a cover story for your first job, or you’re used to changing to topic.

              2. allathian*

                Nah, but it just goes to show that these things are stupid and if people can’t handle the truth they shouldn’t ask stupid questions.

            2. design ghost*

              I’m going assume you’re being genuine here and not that you were trying to be some sort of edgelord. So I say this with love and understanding as someone who’s been there before: the issue here is not with the questions they asked. The issue is with you not recognizing social cues.

              You are never going to live in a world where people will just never ask you questions. YOU need to learn how to answer them appropriately, especially in a work setting. If that’s something you struggle with (and it is something a lot of people struggle with, myself included!), you still need to recognize that it’s your responsibility to figure out how to navigate that, not that it’s everyone else’s responsibility to never ask you anything you might give an offputting or inappropriate answer to.

          3. rollyex*

            “I got up and left. I spoke to my supervisor later that I thought this was inappropriate for work”

            THIS THIS THIS.

            Don’t play games. Object if you can, clearly – this is a service to others at your job. If you cannot object, do the bare minimum.

            “When asked about it, the organizer was completely perplexed by anyone finding this exercise upsetting. ”

            If someone said this to me I’d tell my supervisor that this person should not be trusted on these kinds of events. I wouldn’t say they’re bad people, but “X not understanding why some people would find this upsetting, even after being told clearly, makes me concerned about her doing similar things in the future.”

            ” I’ve always suspected that me complaining about this was one of the reasons she left that position and transferred to a different part of the organization.”

            That’s good.

            1. Observer*

              If someone said this to me I’d tell my supervisor that this person should not be trusted on these kinds of events. I wouldn’t say they’re bad people, but “X not understanding why some people would find this upsetting, even after being told clearly, makes me concerned about her doing similar things in the future.”

              Totally! I would also question their judgement about ANY issue relating to people.

              1. Czhorat*

                I agree, but any pushback against something management cares about costs a measure of capital. I LOVE the idea of pushing back, but also one hundred percent understand wanting to keep ones powder dry in anticipation of a more serious issue you need to fight for.

            2. Rex Libris*

              If someone doesn’t understand why someone would find this upsetting, they really don’t have the emotional intelligence to plan workplace events. Or ever be a supervisor or manager, ever… Ever.

          4. Charlotte Lucas*

            As someone who can’t what TV scenes where someone gets humiliated (unless the character is so horrible that they absolutely deserve it), I would find this upsetting from multiple angles.

      4. Catherine*

        The problem for me isn’t the interpretation–I know they don’t want the truth! I understand that I’m being asked to produce fluff that obscures the total horrorshow that was my childhood!

        The problem is that producing the fluff now puts a responsibility on me to remember and maintain the lie going forward, because of how people take offense if I ever forget the fluff and the truth slips out. (And when my coworkers have felt Betrayed upon discovering that I fudged background details, they traditionally haven’t taken “I told some white lies about my family because you and I don’t know each other like that” very well.) Maintaining a long-term lie is way, WAY more effort than should be asked of me.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, I agree, even if I was lucky enough to have a pretty normal childhood that didn’t leave me traumatized.

          But I guess you just can’t win with some people, I doubt those who criticized you for not being fully honest would’ve been very happy with you if you actually had told them the whole awful truth.

          As much as I enjoy the fact that we’re informal at work and that I can call all my coworkers, up to and including the CEO, by their first name, or in some cases a nickname (at their request), some people have gone too far in the other direction. I really don’t understand those who treat everyone like their bestie and get offended when they don’t get a similar response from the other person. Life gets a lot simpler when you realize that it’s not normal to expect to be on terms of friendship with everyone, more distant and formal relationships are quite appropriate and necessary, especially at work.

        2. HowAbout*

          How about using a theme throughout? For example, dogs. Teenage me? Poodle. Biggest challenge? Squirrel. Vision for life? Dog toy or scene from The Puppy Bowl. No one would take any of the answers too seriously so no lie maintenance needed.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            And nearly 7 minutes per person of slides like that is still torture unless everyone is *really* witty.

        3. Annabelle*

          “ The problem is that producing the fluff now puts a responsibility on me to remember and maintain the lie going forward, because of how people take offense if I ever forget the fluff and the truth slips out”
          I get that but going back to what Clare wrote: no one cares that much about your life.

          1. Observer*

            I get that but going back to what Clare wrote: no one cares that much about your life.

            Yet people still got offended.

            The thing is that it does not MATTER whether people actually “care”. It’s still a difficult task for someone to pick through this, and it’s still true that these same people who truly don’t care will still have very weird reactions when faced with evidence that someone is not pretending like they are deeply invested in the other person’s life.

            1. zuzu*

              Look at how outraged people got at Hasan Minhaj when they found out he’d embellished details of his life for his comedy act. As if he’d betrayed them by not telling the absolute truth and laying his soul bare before millions of people instead of telling a version of the truth that suited his professional goals better.

              As if they were owed something by this person they don’t actually know and whose personal life they really know nothing about.

              1. Enai*

                My goodness, really? I always thought when a comedian says “I” they’re just telling a funny story in first person perspective like authors are wont to do, not giving evidence of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth like a witness in the courtroom.

                Do they also believe that Freddy Mercury killed a man, since he sang “Bohemian Rhapsody”? He sang it many times, on many different stages. Definitely proof he meant it, no?

                1. doreen*

                  Nobody thought he’d betrayed them by not telling the absolute truth. Some of it was because people have different expectations of different comedians because of their styles – there’s a type of news+ comedy where I don’t expect outright lies. But possibly more of it was because he wasn’t telling the truth about specific, sometimes identifiable people – like the white friend he said agreed to go to prom with him but then when he showed up to pick her she had another date because her parents didn’t want photos with Minhaj because of his race. He later acknowledged that she had never agreed to go with him to begin with, which means that whole humiliation of arriving to find her with another date never happened. But the situation was specific enough that she was identifiable and she came forward later and said that her family received death threats.

                2. Czhorat*

                  Hasan Minaj is an interesting case because his style is very much personal, with his act swinging between very funny moments and then equally serious, heartfelt reactions. While I don’t agree with the criticism, I do understand it in light of who he is as a comic.

                3. Enai*

                  Having read doreen’s reply, I think I understand the outrage better now. Using an identifiable real person as a prop in such a story is not okay, even if he never imagined someone would go to the lengths of a) finding her and b) sending death threats (!!).

                  Still, it’s a comedy act. “Act” is right there, as a hint, and an unsubtle one, too.

        4. infopubs*

          I agree this is one of the biggest burdens, maintaining the lie. If forced into this exercise, I think I would say up front, “Since this is a work exercise, I interpreted each question in a work context. So me as a baby llama groomer, blah blah blah…” Smile brightly, sit down. Tell no lies. Reveal nothing deep.

          If I had the capital, I’d say, “I’m opting out of this exercise,” then sit down with no further explanation. Actually, I’m old and cranky enough to do this without capital, but can’t recommend that as a general rule.

          1. New Mom (of 1 3/9)*

            The first one seems totally reasonable IMO. I was once naive enough to ask coworkers to submit photos of themselves as babies, etc. (We had two white women, two East Asian men, etc. so it kinda worked out.) One coworker submitted a photo of his kid. Nobody cared. (And I won’t do it again!)

        5. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Catherine, I am in the same situation as you, and I’ve worked hard to forget my childhood. In past team-building sessions, I could come up with *something* bland and innocuous about my childhood if pressed. Problem was, I had to sort through a lot of things I didn’t want to recall to do it. Recovering from that effort left me vulnerable and drained. Thankfully, it’s been years since I’ve been in team-building sessions that expect warm and fuzzy memories or such.

          People shouldn’t be treated like vending machines that produce content on demand.

          1. FromCanada*

            @SheLooksFamiliar “Problem was, I had to sort through a lot of things I didn’t want to recall to do it. Recovering from that effort left me vulnerable and drained.” THIS, THIS is why this sucks so much!

            Thank you for putting into word what I could not. It’s not that I don’t know not to share things – it’s the emotional effort of figuring out what to share!

          2. rollyex*

            “I’ve worked hard to forget my childhood. ”

            This would be a great answer that points out how reckless the exercise is.

            Either have a few blank slides or no slides for that part and just say it: “I’ve worked hard to forget my childhood.”

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              But that’s not a great answer. Even poorly managed team-building sessions are still about The Team.

              My colleagues could handle unpleasant things if I chose to share privately and individually – and I did with a couple who became close friends. But it would be pretty crappy to make all of them deal with my abusive past in a ‘team building’ meeting…and possibly brand myself forever as a victim, or someone to be pitied.

              There are better ways to push back on this kind of thing. Going to whoever coordinates those meetings would be my first choice.

              1. ampersand*

                But managers, et al, really shouldn’t be asking these types of personal questions at work. I’ve also worked hard to not have to think about large parts of my childhood; having to come up with something innocuous enough to be presentable and not traumatize anyone else would be exhausting and upsetting for me. People who have experienced trauma shouldn’t be forced into this kind of emotional labor in the name of team building.

                I agree there are other ways to push back, but I also think if the person or people who came up with this exercise couldn’t anticipate how it might go very wrong…well, maybe they need to experience why it’s a bad idea.

              2. zuzu*

                It’s a pretty crappy way to treat The Team as a manager if you’re going to enthusiastically bulldoze over people’s potential trauma to have a shiny happy Team Building Exercise, and you deserve to be reminded of how much something like that can be damaging.

                1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                  I agree that kind of team-building exercise is a bad one. But I didn’t need or want to share parts of my traumatic past with my colleagues to hammer the point as to why.

              3. goddessoftransitory*

                This is a great point: this kind of exercise not only could re-traumatize one person, but turn that person’s colleagues into a sudden support group for issues they don’t have any context for, or ability to deal with, especially out of nowhere! Even people who are well meaning and sympathetic would probably be nonplussed at suddenly having to process a co-worker’s terrible childhood, horrible war experience, or similar Big Issue.

            2. SarahKay*

              I think you are ignoring the fact that even saying that much is potentially a *lot* more than people are likely to want to – or to feel comfortable with.
              I like and, on the whole, trust my co-workers but I don’t know them *all* well enough to be confident that not a single one of them would come up afterwards asking for more details.

              1. rollyex*

                “I don’t know them *all* well enough to be confident that not a single one of them would come up afterwards asking for more details.”

                You don’t have to answer. Really. If someone came up asking for details I’d say “No.”

                1. SarahKay*

                  Of course I don’t have to answer. But that doesn’t alter the fact that I’ve now had to think about my theoretically crappy childhood significantly more than I want to.
                  Not to mention that I’ve probably gone right off whichever Nosy Nigel decided he was entitled to push for more information… which doesn’t exactly help with team building.

        6. rollyex*

          “The problem is that producing the fluff now puts a responsibility on me to remember and maintain the lie going forward,”

          Practice being evasive and vague rather than lying. Really – it’s a skill you can work on.

          1. Dahlia*

            I am sure they use that skill constantly in real life. But “being evasive” in a SLIDESHOW is a bit of a different thing.

          2. Observer*

            Practice being evasive and vague rather than lying.

            That’s *still* a huge amount of work. And it can be exhausting.

            1. rollyex*

              “That’s *still* a huge amount of work. And it can be exhausting.’

              Well, the initial practice is work, but once you learn it it’s easy and will be useful for years and years and years.

              1. Enai*

                Congratulations! You have hleped the person who complained about being handed a surfeit of lemons! They now know they should make lemonade which they neither want nor need and which takes them away from much more important errands! Go you.

        7. Observer*

          The problem is that producing the fluff now puts a responsibility on me to remember and maintain the lie going forward,

          That’s horrendous and no one should be put through that. But it’s not the only possible problem. Which should tell anyone who is reading this just how bad this idea is and why “They don’t REALLY want all the gory details!” is not a useful response.

          I’ve been fortunate in life – I had a good childhood, and my life has for the most part been good. But, still, I’ve had and still continue to have challenges and they are both painful and deeply personal. And for the most part *also* implicate the privacy of other people. I could probably come up with a fairly anodyne presentation without lying, but it would take some effort and it would be a surprisingly painful process. If that’s true for someone like me – like I said, I’m one of the fortunate ones! – what’s it going to be like for people like, say, my parent who was a war orphan and who suffered horrors that most people would prefer not to discuss at the dinner table?! Yes, they could do it but it would a hugely difficult and painful process, even though they were open to talking about *some* of this stuff in appropriate contexts.

          And then there are the people whose childhoods were not as bad as yours and my parent’s. But still, too much stuff to pick through to provide the “fluff.” There is just not enough benefit to make that kind of pain worth it!

      5. Your Mate in Oz*

        The one time I’ve had to do that was probably 20 years ago and my chosen “childhood experience that changed me” was a guy in my class who put his eye out playing stupid games with pointy objects, then hung himself a month later. There were other equally bad questions, but I just played it straight except for that one. I chose it because it’s something I’m comfortable talking about, and it really did affect me. But I also chose it because it’s a difficult and disturbing topic.

        I got to have a fun chat wth the company owner and the HR person the next day, and I got the impression that if they repeated the exercise they would be a lot more careful with their questions and how they framed the exercise. They didn’t want to be specific so it was a very silly conversation.

        1. Just Want A Nap*

          I did something similar early in my career and these kinds of activities tapered off really fast in mine.

          “oh I didn’t know you wanted me to lie to my coworkers and pretend everything was always sunshine and rainbows, I thought you wanted honesty.” Said with an innocent face.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            A long-ago colleague was evasive about sharing ‘happy’ childhood memories, but the facilitator was determined to get him to share details. He finally did…about his alcoholic father beating him so badly he went to the ER, the family being broke and hungry, and so on. It was brutal.

            I can’t recall if my colleague got called to HR, but the next team-building sessions were work-specific and, well, stupid: ‘Here’s a box of drinking straws and some paper clips. Break into groups of 4 and use them to build a 2-story house with at least 2 windows.’

      6. Corporate Goth*

        Us neurodivergent types don’t instinctively realize that an honest answer isn’t wanted, so thanks for this.

      7. JM60*

        They don’t want the truth and they don’t realise they’re accidentally asking for it.

        Sure, but then they shouldn’t be asking for it. If you want a lie, then you shouldn’t be making the request/inquiry.

        Personally, I get annoyed when someone asks a question that they want someone to lie in response to.

        1. Old and Don’t Care*

          There are many, many answers to any question that are not lies. Choosing an innocuous answer is not lying. I agree with the poster above who said that intensifiers such as “most”/“best”/ “actual”/etc. intensifiers can make it seem like there is only one correct, honest and true answer, but you could ask me the same such question on two different days and get two different answers and neither would be a lie.

          1. JM60*

            It depends on the question. Many questions actually do only have a limited set of answers that are honest. Technically, with a superlative such as “most” or “best”, there can only be one honest answer at a given time (unless there’s a tie for most/best). If you currently like B more than A, it would be a lie to say that you like A the most, even if you liked A the most yesterday.

            Technicalities aside, I think that if something requires creative thinking to convince yourself that something isn’t a lie, then it’s probably not really honest.

      8. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        It’s tough for a lot of non-neurotypical people to know when it’s socially acceptable to lie. Add the intensifiers we see in a lot of these – “biggest”, “worst”, “actual” – and people very understandably think they should be honest, as they otherwise are at work. I think you’re asking the questioners off too easy. They’re likely privileged insensitive jerks with no challenges worse than “finding time to see my friends” or “training for a marathon”.

      9. Falling Diphthong*

        I think one problem is that some earnest people who are reflexively honest treat it that way. And then are embarrassed when their guess at the correct amount of vulnerability to show here was more than other team members.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          ^ This!

          And if that workplace also has a bully or glassbowl in the mix, who will use the info or the mistake, that one misstep can lead to LT workplace discomfort.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Or on the other end of the “please, no” spectrum, that overly friendly, wannabe counselor coworker who thinks that because you brought up X you want to chat about it in the break room or go out to lunch with them to discuss it in detail.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          Yup. People who don’t necessarily want to share the truth but it literally doesn’t occur to them to do anything but.

      10. Also-ADHD*

        It doesn’t really matter if anyone “cares”. These exercises can still be traumatic (especially anything that evoked childhood or adolescence so intensely), problematic, more harmful to already marginalized individuals (especially those with invisible disabilities but I can also see them being culturally insensitive). Not everyone experiences enough privilege in life to laugh at this, frankly, and it’s not okay.

        1. Frieda*

          Someone I work with disclosed surviving genocide in a work setting where … people were open and compassionate and appropriate in their responses, but she should not have been placed in a situation where she (an otherwise extraordinarily private person) felt put on the spot to disclose this. The most benign part of the experience was a decade-long involuntary separation from her mother, for instance, which is bad enough.

      11. Andromeda*

        I am not that worried for people who say “actually no, I won’t partake” or get stressed out over it like OP — it’s more the weird dynamics that happen when someone DOES decide to overshare, and how that can lead to an overshare spiral across the room and/or expectations to be just as vulnerable in front of people you don’t know. The people who do expose deeply personal stuff end up in just as hard or a harder position than those who don’t, and that causes needless friction.

        This has been an issue often enough that workplaces should probably just be clearer that they want small talk-esque facts, if that’s what they want.

        1. alienor*

          Yeah, I was in a situation recently where everyone was supposed to share a cause that was important to them. I thought we were just going to say what the cause was, which sounded nice, but the first couple of people who shared went *deep* about the why, and then most others felt like they had to follow suit. (I wasn’t having that, and so when it was my turn I said “my cause is X and it’s important to me for personal reasons” and passed it on.)

          1. rollyex*

            I got this question in a meeting and just said “nothing” and left it there.

            We don’t have to play along.

      12. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I suspect the people who came up with this idea are probably narcissists who think that everyone should care about their own lives and will likely go way overboard in their presentations. Everyone else will be completely annoyed, bored, or angry about those presentations, and if OP does a 30-second presentation with only one or two slides, they will be the company hero.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          Can we please stop calling people narcissists? It’s dehumanizing and it stigmatizes people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              The exercise is tone-deaf and ignorant. The criteria for NPD are much, much higher. There’s plenty of information about it online.

              1. Andromeda*

                Took the words pretty much out of my mouth.

                Besides which, the point isn’t that the higher-ups who suggested these presentations are lacking in empathy — they probably would, in fact, be very genuinely empathetic to someone who shared something very personal. The issue is more that they’re too naive to realise why it is, actually, such a big deal to share those personal things for some, and the weird power imbalances that result from oversharing vs not sharing.

                Ironically, calling people narcissists and bullies who (probably innocently, if incompetently) set these exercises up to try and get people to bond… is probably much too personal an insult to whip out at work.

            2. 1LFTW*

              Gonna disagree with other commenters who’ve responded to this.

              It is true that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a clinical term, and requires professional diagnosis. However, “narcissist” and “narcissistic” are descriptive terms, not clinical terms, and all of us are entitled to use them as such.

              There are a variety of reasons NPD might go undiagnosed in a person, and those are too complicated to get into here. I will only say that narcissistic abuse is a very real thing, it is characterized by extreme gaslighting and sabotage, it is demeaning and dehumanizing, and it exists irrespective of whether the abuser has a formal diagnosis.

              Those of us who have survived narcissistic abuse have the right to name what happened to us without worrying about “stigmatizing” the people who dehumanized us.

      13. Kay*

        I had to do one of those – all of my photos were sourced from the internet. Thankfully my husband watches TV (I do not) and informed me I was about to make a claim that I was married to some actor. Oops! But – in my opinion – require ridiculous tasks get ridiculous results.

      14. Baunilha*

        I’ve shared this here before, but my employer is unfortunately very keen on team-building activities that “show vulnerability”. One time, we were asked to share one good thing and one bad thing that changed us. As a long time AAM reader, I managed to share things that were just honest enough without getting into the deep stuff, but a lot (and I mean A LOT) of people shared some very personal stories and there was crying and hugging… so even just listening to all those things was very uncomfortable.

      15. Dulcinea47*

        I think the way to get people to stop asking for this is to be brutally honest. You want to hear about my childhood? Here are my parents, who gave me zero emotional support ever! Here’s my brother, who was freely allowed to bully me! Let me tell you some fun stories and see if anyone still wants to do slides.

      16. rollyex*

        Just say “I’ve got nothing to share about this topic” for most of them and move on. Not chaos, just don’t waste time on it. Don’t put in typos – it’ll reflect badly on your competence. But saying you don’t have anything to share is the way to go. Five slides max instead of 20, skipping the other questions and saying “I don’t have anything to share for most of this.”

        I’d also write to the person arranging this ahead of time saying “I am not comfortable sharing about myself at work and would like to skip this exercise completely – let me know that’s OK. Otherwise I won’t be able to answer most of the questions.” This is to avoid blindsiding them.

        Don’t play games, don’t waste time, let them know it’s bad.

      17. Dasein9 (he/him)*

        I find the notion of my bosses being as naive as small children rather horrifying. No, I’m not inclined to give them a pass the way I would a child. Of all the people who should know better, bosses and HR are at the top of the list.

      18. But what to call me?*

        The problem with this kind of stuff, at least for me, is that it’s a lot of work to come up with the vague, fluffy answer. Especially if you’re in the kind of workplace where there’s a reasonable chance someone is going to try to be friendly by asking follow-up questions. I’ve always been terrible at any assignment that requires me to bs my answer. And that’s not even getting into the extra difficulty of an assignment like this that wants answers in picture form to questions that don’t necessarily lend themselves to being answered in picture form.

      19. Orv*

        I have a strong aversion to lying on stuff like this, because then I have to remember they lie forever or risk getting caught.

    2. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

      Yeah, I had a great childhood but presenting on it sounds like a real chore that I would not get any value out of. This whole trend is so dumb.

    3. Melissa*

      #4,
      Your work must have an unbelievable amount of turnover. I’ve heard of some crappy companies, but yours offers NO paid time off, AND limits unpaid time off as though it’s vacation leave?? I hope your surgery goes well, and I hope that you are able to leave that workplace as soon as humanly possible.

      1. lilsheba*

        I was thinking the same thing. We don’t know what other kinds of jobs are available for this person but DAMN I hope something else is out there! NO PTO ever? What kind of company does that? And make it super difficult to get SURGERY? Screw that.

        1. AT*

          I’m surprised people are this shocked honestly – this seems like a standard “overstepping management in retail/food service” situation. I’m just crossing my fingers that this isn’t a small family business situation and there actually is an HR to go to/something else preventing the company from just letting OP go. (Although when I worked at a small family business, I got as much unpaid PTO as I needed no questions asked! Small businesses have the opportunity to be really great…..or really terrible.)

          1. Melissa*

            Yeah this surprised me zero. I had to take unpaid time to recover from tonsil surgery when I worked at a national auto parts chain. Thankfully they were fine with how much time I needed, my bigger issue was covering for those missed hours on that paycheck…

    4. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Here is the only remaining baby picture of me. In a drunken rage my father trashed all the family photo albums. Here is the garbage can I was forced to eat from because I didn’t do the laundry properly….Oh, you want me to stop? What about the mugshot of the uncle who burned our house down?

      1. ferrina*

        I ended up accidentally teaching a seminar to my coworkers on signs of child abuse, starring my own childhood, because the trainer chose to ask a few too many personal questions and I chose to answer honestly.
        It worked out, since it was a group of teachers who were mandated reporters of child abuse and we were all there to get certified in the required training anyways. But yeah, not generally recommended.

    5. Annie*

      Yeah, I can’t stand this kind of thing, even though my own life has been happily boring, because I cannot bear to listen to other people tell traumatic and personal stories. I’m a teacher, and our “professional” days often start with — or sometimes only consist of! — this kind of weird sharing exercise. Even when the questions don’t explicitly ask for trauma, people somehow offer them up. I am senior enough to have simply told my principal that I will not be attending anything like that but will work in my classroom instead. I have no idea what people think these exercises accomplish.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        Former teacher here: the crap we were forced to do instead of working disturbed and angered me. Most of it was invasive and personal. I got two years in before dipping.

      2. Moo*

        It kind of reminds me what happens in interviews when you ask people how they handle conflict – often the worst thing they’ve experienced jumps to their mind and so they think you’re asking about that. (I now ask that question differently – something like: “bearing in mind there might be different expectations from stakeholders in a project you are working on, how do you manage those expectations and address any conflict that may arise?”)

        It probably takes a bit of distance and experience to avoid the direct questions these tasks seem to be asking for. Personally when I’m struggling with something it is the first thing that leaps to my mind and it takes a bit to realise that’s not what they’re looking for. So I’d imagine this is doubly difficult for people with more difficulties in their life.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yeah I started phrasing this question much more carefully after the time someone spent a long time telling me about her recent divorce and how evil her ex was. Now I make it clear that what I want to hear about is how someone handled a conflict or issue in the workplace to resolve it.

          I don’t want to know about your bad personal experiences, I want to know how you deal with difficult suppliers and how you resolve disagreements in a professional setting.

        2. Dulcinea47*

          This is shocking to me actually. I generally assume that my answers during interviews should be work relevant, not personal, because it’s a work interview, wth, people.

        3. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Yes, I phrase that one something like, “Thinking about a time you strongly disagreed with a work decision made by your boss or a coworker, how did you handle the disagreement and what was the outcome?”

          1. But what to call me?*

            I like that version! It clearly indicates exactly the kind of conflict you’re asking about, which would make it so much easier for me to provide a useful answer.

            I’m also going to remember that framing going forward as an interviewee. I always have trouble answering that question because I’m not sure what counts as a conflict, given that I usually don’t go around getting into fights with coworkers, and I don’t tend to classify anything less than a serious argument or someone behaving really badly as a conflict – and in that case it’s much too easy to fall into ‘here’s why my coworker/boss was terrible’ territory. But handling a disagreement about a work decision makes a lot more sense to me. I can even think of a good answer to that one right now.

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

        See here’s the thing, for the person having to relive trauma or negotiate possible bias to either submit to or adroitly dodge a completely inappropriate work exercise is bad enough (talk about emotional labor for no reason), but consider too the rest of the group. People shouldn’t have to be traumatized (or re-traumatized) by the sharing of others’ trauma. Or feel guilty about their own bland and anodyne presentations. Or feel awkward because they went for light humor and ended up going before or after the person who chose to share something personal and difficult, as if they were dismissing it.

        This is workplace global thermonuclear war — the only way to win is not to play.

    6. Very very anonymous*

      I’d resent the hell out of this question for CURRENT family issues: I don’t have baby pictures because my hoarder sibling has mom’s photo albums.

    7. Accidental Manager*

      The team needs to collectively ask the person/people making this request to present their presentation first, presumably for the team to make sure they understand what the leaders are looking for. If the leaders aren’t willing to do it, let’s make that the discussion.

      1. Grim*

        Not necessarily… they’re not asking for an actual photo of you as a child or teenager (a bad idea which has been discussed previously on this site iirc), just a photo that you feel *represents* you at those stages. As a trans person myself, I can think of a lot of ways to answer this prompt without outing myself. I’d just focus on some other, potentially extremely bland and superficial aspect of my life that didn’t involve my gender identity or private personal struggles. I have a lot of other problems with this exercise, but I don’t think outing trans people is automatically one of them.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          “…they’re not asking for an actual photo of you as a child or teenager (a bad idea which has been discussed previously on this site iirc), just a photo that you feel *represents* you at those stages.”

          Oh, dear. It would honestly never have entered my mind that they weren’t asking for an actual photo of me as a child. when someone asks me for X, how am I supposed to know they really mean Y?

          For the record, I’m not on the spectrum (that I know of), but I do tend to be literal minded about things like this. How DOES one know?

          Damn, sometimes trying to human is a freaking mindfield!

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            I meant minefield, not mindfield, of course. but what an interesting pun I managed to make!

    8. Aeryn Sun*

      Agreed. I think sharing personal things can be kind of nice but having a full on presentation goes too far. I had to do that at a previous workplace and it was just kind of uncomfortable.

      I think personal questions and sharing can help with camaraderie but there are so many things you can ask that are personal but also not TOO personal – things like favorite movie, favorite candy, hobbies, travels, etc. Being like “what was your childhood like?” is way too personal for the office.

    9. CanadianPublicServant*

      An absolute favorite boss of mine once had to publish his answers to five questions in a departmental newsletter, as a “get to know your leaders” exercise. While others wrote about their marriages, their pets, their kids, he answered every question with a variation on “my parent’s basement.” What do you do for fun in your spare time? Hang out in my parent’s basement. What’s one of your life goals? Move out of my parent’s basement. I wanted to slow clap upon reading it.

    10. WorkingRachel*

      I’m not even private–my default mode is “open book bordering on oversharing”–and this still sounds awful! I hate tasks that require me to thread the needle between “professional and relatively buttoned up” and “completely myself.” I can do both of those things, but the in between is difficult. Last week I had to do a PPT about a “positive wellness activity” during a meeting and it took more effort than anything else in my week to figure out something that fit the prompt, hadn’t been covered by others (we’d already done all the basics), and was interesting without being too weird.

    11. Freya*

      I would take the prompt of “my favourite animal” and do an entire hours worth of presentation on my dog. You don’t need to know anything about my personal life or opinions, imma show you a Very Good Boy.

  2. Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana*

    No. 1 – Not everyone has access to photos of themselves as a child or teen. And/or the type of photo often reveals a lot about socioeconomic class. Was it posed in a studio or on the floor with a dirty old carpet?

    1. Ginger Cat Lady*

      I didn’t read it as the pictures had to be photos of *them* just photos that represented them at those ages.
      So if you were a curious child, you could post a picture of a cat and talk about how you always wanted to know how everything worked when you were a kid.
      Or if you were obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid you could put up a picture of a dinosaur, etc.
      At least, that’s how I would choose to interpret it, and I wouldn’t be terribly concerned about it all being the truth, either.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this.

        I have photos of myself as a teen, but I see no reason to show them to my coworkers.

        Of course, all this is going away pretty quickly, given the way a large majority seems willing to post their whole lives on social media.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            Except for question 18, which should be a deeply evocative photo of an entirely different cat.

        1. allx*

          Haha, similar to my first thought which was OP should answer with the exact same single photo/visual for every slide, like maybe an “i don’t know” emoji. By the time they get to the fourth of fifth one, it would be funny–20 slides of one “question mark arms” image. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. I’d read it as pictures which represent you. So if I had this assignment I’d probably use pictures from the internet and keep it as surface level and lightly humorous as possible. So I’d probably use a picture of Peter Rabbit for my childhood pet for example and a picture of a child in a pile of books for my childhood.

        This is not because my childhood was bad. I had a good childhood. I’m just selective about what I want people to know about me and how much I want to share of my inner self.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Actually, this is random but you made me think that I would have to use the communion photo of me in my communion dress, kneeling on a chair with a book in my hand. Apparently, my mum was trying to get me to put the book away to take a photo but must have eventually given up and been satisfied with my turning my head around for a moment.

    2. Daria Grace*

      Both my parents are still living, I have a good relationship with them and they took lots of photos when I was a child which I’m fairly certain they still have. But still i don’t wanna waste their time digging through old albums and digitizing stuff for a weird work team building activity

      1. Anna*

        I wouldn’t want to impose any pointless work on anyone, let alone the parents of someone I don’t know, but I think my mom can’t be the only parent who would enjoy going through those old albums again and would welcome an excuse to do so.
        Of course this assumes a childhood that both parents and child experienced as overall happy, and the availability of photo albums, and parents who have time and energy, but given all that, it can be a nice thing.
        Not that this makes such work exercises a good idea, but not for this reason, I think.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        This. The family albums are literally across the country and my sister would have to FedEx them to me.

    3. Peachtree*

      I think people are missing that they only have to do one prompt. They don’t have to answer all of them – the OP says they have to create one slide. I think it’s okay to ask people to do one slide from 20

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, requiring an actual childhood photo would indeed be problematic for those reasons. If it’s just supposed to be any kind of silly internet photo that you feel “symbolises” you as a child, I don’t see a problem – maybe make that clear when you’re leading the activity to make sure everybody’s aware?

    4. The Person from the Resume*

      I am 100% reading these can be represenative photos because greatest challenge seems likely to be metaphorical. (Photo a huge mountain with climbers trudging to the peak.)

      Me as a teen – Photo of grunge rocker or a goth kid or Wednesday from Addams Family

      And apparently a Pecha Kucha presentation is a format that uses 20 slides or images that are displayed for 20 seconds each. The slides will move automatically as the presenter is speaking. This format ensures that the speaker is concise, keeps the presentation moving, and gets through all of their content. So they don’t have to speak on each topic at length.

      Not that I think this is a good idea, but I think this objection is irrelevent because photos of the briefer are not required.

      1. But what to call me?*

        The representational aspect seems hardest to me, possibly just because of neurodivergence, but I doubt that would be the only reason someone might struggle with it. Sure, some people can just put up some silly picture with some superficial explanation, but I’ve always got to worry about what secret message might be hidden in whatever silly thing I pick, because there’s a higher than usual chance of there being some implication to it that’s obvious to everyone but me. The same with those supposedly easy interview questions like ‘what animal would you be’. Even if 99% of the time it’s just as innocuous as I hope it is, the whole thing adds a completely unnecessary layer of stress.

        And I’m someone who is actually perfectly happy to share personal things, as long as I can be confident that everyone involved is on the same page about what we think I’m sharing.

  3. Daria Grace*

    #1, my sympathies on being forced into this. Apart from it being inappropriate to require even of people who haven’t had much life trauma, I genuinely don’t understand how it builds teams. Knowing that Mike played softball in college or that Lucinda lived in New Zealand as a child at most makes for a couple of minutes of watercooler conversation. It doesn’t teach me anything about how they work and how I can work well with them.

    1. allathian*

      Exactly. At most, it’s a nugget of information to file away about their background, but I don’t need to know about my coworkers’ childhoods to be able to work with them.

      1. Clare*

        What? Come on! Everybody knows that shared suffering is a great way to build team camaraderie, and what better way to suffer than listening to Wakeen tell everyone about his deeply held childhood dream to become deputy assistant leader of payroll?

        1. Jopestus*

          I think this gives an opportunity to give bingo-sheets to people so they can cross the cliches and faux-pases.

          There is some joy to get from this afterall.

    2. Katie A*

      I think the idea is that it will give you an idea of who someone is outside of your working relationship, and it can provide a potential point of connection to get to know each other better.

      Knowing Mike played softball in college might only give you a couple minutes of water cooler conversation, but someone else who played softball might find more connection there. Plus, a couple of minutes of conversation is valuable enough to some people.

      This is particular exercise is annoying because it involves too many questions, but a couple of vague questions about someone’s past that can be answered with images or a brief response is a lot like asking “how are you?” and the other person giving a socially appropriate answer even if they’re depressed. No, it’s not ideal for everyone all the time but it is essentially just part of living in a society and working with other human beings.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Yeah, that’s the sort of thing that happens organically among people who work together over time and it happens at the pace they choose. And if someone doesn’t want to share, they choose not to. This is trying to force an artificial connection on the assumption that everyone gets to know each other in the same way and at the same rate.

        Good teams are often friends or friendly and have developed an understanding with each other and trust each other. But the relationship aspect is an *effect* of being on a good team, not the *cause* of it.

        Companies that do this are confusing cause and effect. “Good teams have relationships with each other that allow for some personal vulnerability. So to get good teams, we’ll force everyone to be personally vulnerable with each other! What could go wrong?”

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I liked the far simpler single-question ice-breaker we got at a re-org meeting: tell us one thing about you that people here don’t necessarily know.

      Replies ran the gamut from hobbies to esoteric certifications.

      1. Kathy*

        I’m always terrible at answering that question, because the only things that come to mind are the things I haven’t shared for good reason.

        It’s not that there’s nothing benign I haven’t shared, just that I can’t think of them on command.

        1. Sorrischian*

          After I had that happen to me a couple of times, I now keep a note on my phone called “oh shit we’re doing icebreakers” with answers for that question, two truths and a lie, and a couple of the other common ones. I’d love to live in a world where I could just opt out and nobody would get weird about it, but the cheat sheet has worked well so far

      2. Loredena*

        That’s my favorite, especially the teams where we write it down and coworkers try to guess which goes with whom. I always use that I met my spouse playing an MMO (massively multiplayer online) game.

          1. Loredena*

            Oh funny! Which one? We were playing EverQuest and there was a couple in our guild who had met playing a MUD

    4. Dinwar*

      The idea likely is akin to the idea of “bringing your whole self to work”–attempting to view each other as people, rather than as coworkers. In theory this is okay, provided the environment is safe and that the goal is to support each other. But it’s poorly thought-out, poorly implemented, and has all the subtlety and nuance of using a 10 lb sledge hammer to build a picture frame. So, you know, normal for corporate attempts at dealing with people.

      That probably explains why we’re seeing more of this. Used to be people would connect organically, as they interacted on the job–water cooler conversations, that sort of thing. But with work from home becoming more and more common, people lack that. I don’t care what anyone says, Slack, Teams, and other electronic media are not capable of substituting for casual conversations (nothing that you have to schedule and which can be monitored can). So companies are trying to find ways to build those sorts of connections.

      I’m not endorsing this, if that’s not clear. I merely take the view that it’s best to understand the other side; if nothing else, it allows you to better target your arguments.

      1. Phyllis Refrigeration*

        The best part of WFH, you don’t have to have these conversations, and trying to develop them inorganically is super irritating. Yes, I work on a team and it is great, I know almost nothing about people’s personal lives, but that doesn’t stop our great relationship.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Trying to develop them inorganically is super irritating.

          Like trying to make fetch happen. Forcing something to happen tends to failure because people don’t have buy in. If something is going to happen, it has to be organic and build on what already exists.

        2. Kay*

          This. I have somehow managed to have great relationships with coworkers and partners around the globe (who I never once met) all my life – but WFH and suddenly no one can connect??

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I’ve wondered about the same thing. Back in the 80s, my mother worked with people all over the world, and due to a lack of access to the latest technology in some of their home countries, a lot of communication was done by letter and (less commonly) faxes and phone calls. Many of her contacts became her friends.

            Long distance relationships aren’t unique to the 21st century.

            1. Dinwar*

              Edward Pelew maintained extensive correspondence despite being in the navy in the 1700s/early 1800s, where “correspondence” meant “writing with a goose feather”.

              The issue is the nature of those communications. You have a lot more opportunities to interact with people if you’re in the same building. And you have a lot fewer opportunities for organic interactions when you have to schedule them and constantly ask yourself “How will this text look if it’s taken to HR?” And you absolutely cannot build these relationships if you’re actively hostile to any discussion that’s not 100% pure business, as some here apparently are.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                I don’t think people are hostile to personal conversations. They just don’t like relationships with their coworkers to be grown artificially. I agree, even though if you asked most of my coworkers, they would describe me as warm and open. But I am very reserved with new people or people who I don’t feel comfortable with. And that would translate for me into not doing this assignment, but it feels fake, weird, and invasive. And I am allowed to feel that way.

                1. Dinwar*

                  “And I am allowed to feel that way.”

                  I’m curious: Who’s arguing you’re not allowed? I certainly haven’t–all I’ve done is point out why other people (who, I presume, you would believe are allowed to feel the way they feel) find electronic means of communication a poor substitute for in-person interactions. Pointing out that humans have a tremendous degree of variability is the equivalent of stating that water is wet. This is where office culture comes into play–some offices want structured team-building activities, some want unstructured organic team building, some want a minimal level of interaction. None is objectively wrong; it’s a matter of personal preference and finding a good fit.

                2. Charlotte Lucas*

                  Sorry, I just read a certain amount of judgement into your comment. See how these things happen?

                  I think what most people dislike is the way some of these things coming down from management feel like when you were a kid and your parents had friends your age. Then you were told to go make friends with their kids, even if you had nothing in common. (It’s old enough to have been in a scene in Diary of a Provincial Lady.) It feels forced and artificial.

        3. Dinwar*

          Different people work differently. I prefer a team where we are friendly and take an interest in one another’s lives. If nothing else, external stresses can have a strong impact on performance–if I know someone’s going through a divorce, or has a new baby, or is caring for a sick mother, I can adjust the schedule and my expectations accordingly. Plus, I’ve found that these conversations serve real business purposes. Obviously the biggest connection I have with my coworkers is work, so any conversation I have with them is going to come around to work topics fairly quickly. Those random conversations often bring up connections we hadn’t seen before, in a way that I haven’t seen electronic communications mimic.

          Neither is right or wrong, merely right or wrong for the individual in question.

    5. Someday maybe*

      I worked someplace that did something similar (except it was suggested by staff and presenters had way more control over what to cover). I was a skeptic — I “forgot” to put my name in the bag where we’d draw the next month’s presenter and would have supported anyone doing the same — but ended up finding it a net positive. Knowing more about my colleagues as people made me think of them and treat them more like people (which I hadn’t been doing very well).

      I wouldn’t require this kind of activity (and I’d protest this version vigorously) but I also see value that my workplace seriously needed.

      1. Someday maybe*

        And this was in 2015 (roughly), with everyone working in the same building. We had a lot of cross-departmental tasks and almost no cross-departmental informal contacts.

  4. Pippa K*

    LW 1, might as well amuse yourself. Picture of you as a baby: the black and white Gerber baby food picture. Alison’s teenaged goth suggestion is great, or alternatively a “no image available” error icon. Living your values: image of Boy Scouts or Coast Guard (mottos: Be Prepared/Always Ready – hard to disagree with that in any context). The difficulty, of course, is that you probably don’t want to appear flippant or uncooperative, so maybe you can only get away with outright joking on the slides that are meant to be pictures of you, because it’s entirely plausible that you don’t have such photos readily available.

    1. Arthenonyma*

      I would 100% be picking something like the Simpsons or other iconic cartoony media and using screenshots/images taken from it.

    2. Baunilha*

      We were asked to change our Slack pictures for childhood pictures, but instead of my own photo, I used a picture of that ugly doll they used for Renesmee in the Twilight movies. It was A HIT.

  5. Sue*

    #3, I might wonder if staff are working second jobs if they aren’t available during normal work hours AND are suffering burnout. Flexibility shouldn’t result in burnout, it should actually help to prevent it. It sounds like something else is going on here.

    1. allathian*

      Nah, I figured that because they have so much flexibility, they schedule other stuff for the middle of the business day, like doctor’s appointments, figuring they can catch up on their work during the weekend.

      How much work do they have? I have very flexible working hours, and sometimes when we’re busy I have to schedule work off our core hours to be able to focus without constant interruptions. In extreme cases, I’ve worked on the weekend, but that’s really extreme for me. I’ve been able to WFH occasionally since early 2014 when I got my first laptop, and I can count on the fingers of one had the number of times I’ve worked on the weekend.

      1. GythaOgden*

        The key thing here is that they’re supposed to be available during the week. I’m in the same position at the moment while my new job gears up, but I work on the honour system — if I’m on the clock, I’m at my computer, even if it’s just monitoring it for emails. I’m within spitting distance of the kitchen and can take bathroom breaks and do other things that can be easily interrupted (like my cross-stitch, not like online gaming!) and no one is monitoring me, but if I needed to take an hour or two off for a dentist’s appointment (and one’s coming up fairly soon) I would tell someone and leave it up to my boss to decide whether I needed to take it as formal AL or not. (My dentist is actually still in the town I worked in previously, but since that’s still my base office I can go in for the day and not have to take the day off, but since it’s still a four hour round trip given the buses and trains involved, I’m either in or out, no just popping out for an hour and getting home quickly. Even if I drove it’d be a two hour round trip — but my dentist is also my coach as regards my teeth so it’s well worth it.)

        Sometimes work is just being available when things come in. I’m used to that as a former receptionist and my boss is trying to guide me in gently before she opens me up to people to assign me work and before I get the permissions and training to do the proactive parts of my job. At least I can sit there sewing because I’m at home, but I’m not, say, on the console playing an online game or working for someone else.

        It also sounds like from OP’s posts that they’re not responding when she needs them too, and that’s not her fault. (Let’s take her at her word. This kind of interrogation just means people won’t engage with the comments, and she’s the person responsible for ensuring the work gets done. As Alison says, maybe they should leave if they can’t adhere to her condition of being available, and that’s no bad thing from their end too.)

        Sometimes you have to compromise. You can’t always be totally flexible or totally occupied, but if you’re on the clock and need to be around during business hours, like most of the workforce, you need to be present or have given your employer a heads-up that you won’t be. Given that WFH is a massive perk and a privilege, the adult thing to do means working with your employer to make things happen, not taking advantage of it to vanish when you’re actually needed to be there.

        1. Cj*

          I’m probably posting this too late for you to see it, but I’m curious why you think sewing or doing cross stitch is better than playing a video game? as long as you’re not so involved in the video game that you don’t notice that you have an email you need to respond to or something, I don’t see any difference.

          I know there are times when a person doesn’t have any work to do, and you’ve taken all of the online training you can stand for a while, so I’m not saying you shouldn’t do personal things sometimes as long as you are available when somebody needs you.

      2. Other Alice*

        I work in professional services and I’m remote. I also schedule Dr’s appointments during weekdays (it’s so good to have the flexibility!) but they take a couple hours at most and I can always catch up by working late or shortening my lunch break. Very rarely have I needed to work weekends, it’s maybe once a year and it’s always because of something urgent, not because I needed to make up time. If I have something that would take me the entire workday, I take PTO and warn clients that I will not be available on that date. If clients can’t reach them during business hours, that’s bad. I would focus on that, and also on the hours worked. If they work 40 hrs/wk then it’s reasonable to expect them to work Mon-Fri. If they’re working significantly more, why? Is it a scheduling issue?

        1. Ozzac*

          Yes, I think the problem is that they can’t be reached during core hours and apparently nobody knews unless they try to reach for them

          1. I Have RBF*

            This.

            I work remotely, and a big part of my job is being available to answer questions or fix problems. I avoid working weekends, even though I do have to do “off hours” maintenance tasks.

            If I’m AFK mid-day, I let my coworkers know. If we need to work evenings, we shift around our hours a bit, and let people know what the change is. Once a month, one or two of us has to do weekend stuff, and will take off during the week after, letting the others know when.

            The key to all of this? Communication. The expectation is that we’ll be available during core hours, and will communicate specifically when we are not. If we’re not available, we also let people know if we’re hard unavailable, like a medical appointment, or soft unavailable, like just logging out for the day.

      3. Smithy*

        I agree that this can be the case, but then taken to extremes.

        So having essentially your entire staff doing a mix of school & activity drop off/pick up, doctor’s appointments, accountant/lawyer/other admin meetings, meal prep, laundry, lunchtime yoga/run, dog walk etc. but at such a high rate that they need to work a lot of weekends. My friends and I used to call things like paying bills while at work “homing at work”, and depending on the “home” workload someone has that they’re also juggling with their “work” workload – the burnout isn’t surprising.

        Whether the reason for this is other care duties at home or a newly diagnosed illness – this is why the feedback being received is that they’ll quit if these changes go into place. That they need to be able to do school drop offs and also see their lawyer regularly because of divorce proceedings – but they also need the job, so of course they’ll work nights/weekends as needed. Or whatever the exact combo of reasons is that’s causing so much work week absence.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Core hours is good because that’s a business need. But OP should also drill into why is this happening. Did daycare fall through (daycare is still a hot mess and is not projected to improve any time soon)? Partner’s hours changed so they have to cover more kid stuff? I’m not saying OP should not insist on business hours, but be flexible where you can.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            If clients can’t find employees when they need them, then employees are already using more flexibility than the business can spare. I know we’d like to think all jobs could be more flexible if they just tried a little harder but some of them can’t, and if your clients aren’t getting what they need then, no, the job cannot be that flexible.

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              I said core hours and some flexibility. Because maybe when you dig into the problem it might be something that can be worked out. Like, okay, Wakeen isn’t available from 2-3 because he is doing the school run, during that time, Thomasina is the back up. then Wakeen is her back up from 4-5 so she can get to her regular appointment.

              1. SpaceySteph*

                Yeah I think the tendency is to clamp down on all flexibility to overcompensate, as OP is saying “no weekend work” when she really means “be available during the workday.” If you establish core hours (ex 9-3 or whatever makes sense for the business) and then address conflicts on a case-by-case basis (like Wakeen in your example) and allow people some flexibility outside those core hours you’ll probably keep most people from jumping ship.

          2. Smithy*

            I absolutely agree with this, and also think that it allows for thinking through what exactly core business hours mean, and then ensuring coverage for that extra flexibility for situations like someone going through a divorce or extra healthcare needs, etc.

            Depending on the business, it may be that most of these calls are coming in from 1-5pm, so that’s really when core hours need to be and a lot more flexibility can live during the 9-12:59 period. Or if the business were to just say “client calls can be answered from 10-2pm” that would do it. But if the reality is that there needs to be availability closer to 10am-4pm, then it gives people who have either those regular flexibility needs (i.e. school runs) or longer periods of times when they need to be unavailable (i.e. doctor’s appointment) to be more upfront to ensure coverage.

            Essentially, this is aiming to capture that perhaps 50% of your staff is doing an afternoon pick-up, and then if other staff have an afternoon appointments, meetings or other PTO – then quickly there is no coverage for any client who calls for potentially 1-2 hours in the afternoon. And that’s a pragmatic enough reason to start being concerned about coverage.

          3. Jan Levinson Gould*

            A direct report of mine had childcare abruptly end and they only had patchwork family coverage for a few months. This person was noticeably, frequently unavailable during core hours and I had to have a talk with them. They used the ‘making up the time at night’ rationale, but that’s not sufficient when clients and colleague cannot reach them during core hours. They owned the situation and did not make excuses. I told them they need to take PTO even in increments of a few hours when needed (our employer is fairly generous with PTO and they still have plenty in the bank). I returned from maternity leave a few months ago and have been using my PTO in bite size chunks as I’ve been easing my way back to work. I told the direct report to follow my lead, which they have been doing to a certain extent.

            I hate micromanaging and I do like this person, but they are pushing the envelope with what is acceptable for flexibility. As of two weeks ago, they now have a stable childcare arrangement and hopefully their job performance will improve. My manager is a huge proponent of flexibility – his advice on the situation is to not keep tabs on people unless they are regularly taking flexibility too far.

      4. linger*

        It matters what kind of coverage is needed too.
        Does there just have to be at least one person available at all times during core business hours? Because that’s solvable in principle: just draw up a rota for who must be there each workday, consulting as necessary to allow everyone some degree of flexibility without it turning into a free-for-all as at present.
        But if each client has one named individual staff member as their point of contact, with clients distributed among staff, that’s a very different problem, where any flexibility is going to cause problems for some clients. That would necessitate, at minimum, giving each client at least one backup contact name; but then, in turn, there would need to be information exchange between staff concerning client status, which would probably force more overlap in staff availability than is presently the case.

    2. Flower*

      eh, I had too much flexibility in my last role and that definitely led to burnout. (maybe also because it was billable hours with an expectation of VERY low overhead charges.)

      I didn’t feel as pressed to get things done during a certain timeframe, so I had more trouble making my brain focus, so I had to come back to it later (or the weekend), so I was essentially always thinking about how I should to be working or needed to get back to work. it felt like /everything/ I was doing that wasnt actual work was procrastination. (that was even true when I was part time)

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, there can definitely be burnout if somebody is always sort of working, even if they’re not working that many hours overall. Honestly, one of the jobs I had the best work-life balance was one where I worked more hours than other jobs but could not take any of the work home. I could only work from the office, I couldn’t bring my computer home. I may not have left the office until 8 or 9pm occasionally, but outside of emergencies, my nights and weekends were 100% mine.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        Yes. This.

        This is my life right now. I have, like 10 hours a week where I have to be somewhere, but the other 30 are up to me just to get done when I can. This is wonderful for days like today when I have pups at the vet and need to be available to respond and get them when they’re ready, whenever that may be, but it also means I’m working later in the morning/into the evening to make up for what is flexible today. And if I don’t do it today, I have to do it one of my other more flexible days. Instead of 40 hours of intense work, it works out to something like 60 hours spread out over the whole week because when I need the flexibility, I’m having to shift from one thing to another and back and I lose so much momentum.

        So, today I love it. Sunday, I will be annoyed, but my pups will be fixed.

      3. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

        Same here. It’s also really kind of hard to know if I’ve worked my approximately 40 hours or not. And given that there’s unlimited work I could be doing, I never feel like I’ve done enough and always feel tempted to “catch up” on the weekends, whether I am behind or not.

      4. Avery*

        Oh, this hits home for me. Add in the chronic load of ADHD and then some flaring up of my depression/anxiety and… yeah, this is basically my current situation, flexible work leading to burnout despite not actually working consistently during core work hours. Luckily my boss is likely also neurodivergent and is very understanding of such things, but I’m always terrified that the other shoe will drop…

    3. Also-ADHD*

      The unavailability being from shifting hours makes sense to me, and is the problem to solve. It sounds like despite flexibility, it might be a job that creates burnout if they’re constantly at the beck and call of clients and doing other work, so the burnout may or may not be related to unplug time.

      1. Dinwar*

        Yes!! People forget that most of the time “flexible hours” isn’t a perk for the employee, it’s a perk for the employer and/or the client. Sure, I can in theory use time during the middle of the day to go to the doctor’s office or run errands or walk the dog, but it’s FAR more common for employers/clients to call after hours, on weekends, super early in the morning (I’ve gotten phone calls and texts at 4:30 am before), and the like.

        This creates a situation where you’re constantly on call. You can’t disconnect, because you never know when someone’s going to demand you respond to something at work. Even when you’re away from work, part of you is still there. Put another way: You’re constantly waiting for the next attack. Very few people can stand that long-term.

      2. baseballfan*

        If you’re “constantly at the beck and call of clients” during work hours, then that is completely fine assuming it is in fact your job to be responsive to clients.

        If this is outside work hours, that is another story. I agree it’s not normally reasonable to be accessible to clients in the evening or on the weekends, but it sounds like that is not the issue here.

        1. Also-ADHD*

          It depends if the job requires deep work and constant client contact, because those duties can be conflicting too. I don’t know what’s causing burnout, but LW posits a separate business problem and a reason they hypothesize with no connection, I guess is what I find odd.

        2. GythaOgden*

          I’d expect nothing else. The clients are generally paying my wages — even in the public sector when it’s one government agency buying services from another, that doesn’t mean I get to blow them off. There would be zero work without those clients on board so this just sounds like ‘it would be fun running a shop if it wasn’t for those pesky customers’. Which is fine to say occasionally but not something any business or their employees can afford to buy into wholesale.

          1. Cyrano*

            I worked in a book shop for many years and never had to open at 8pm because one of them fancied a browse or needed a birthday present in a hurry.

            We had opening hours at which time customers could expect to receive our undivided attention. Limited work hours outside opening times to cash up tidy and restock, and periods where we were closed so that we could recharge to do it again the. next day.

            There’s nothing wrong with agreed contact hours clients and consultants both agree to abide by. It means everyone gets better work done.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Aren’t you supposed to be pretty much at the beck and call of clients during business hours? Isn’t that pretty much what working is?

        I mean, I can’t just drop everything to wait on every single request I get because I’m probably still working on the last thing a patron asked me to do, but I keep working on as many requests as I get between 7:30 and 4:30, minus lunch, because that’s my workday. Even if I can’t complete the request right now I reply to let the patron know I’ve seen it and it’s in the queue.

        1. kiki*

          It depends on the type of jobs. Sometimes client requests are the whole job other times clients have one major request (build this tool in the next 3 months) but they’ll also call in with minor requests: questions relating to the major request, additional mock-ups, etc. It can be stressful to manage the client’s long-term need for you to focus and build the tool with the short-term requests that take you away from actually building the tool but are still necessary to the client.

    4. A Poster Has No Name*

      This was my thought. They’re burnt out because they’re working another job during your business hours.

    5. Snow*

      Burnout (IMO) happens when more work is expected without appropriate hours/support. If employees are burnt out is the work level appropriate? Are they flexing as to have quiet, uninterrupted time so they can actually get work done?

      If the problem is employees aren’t reachable by clients that is the problem to address. If employees are becoming burnt out the manager needs to become curious and ask what are the issues. If you want to have core work hours so employees are reachable, that is another discussion to have with your team. If you pay crap so employees can’t live working a full-time job for you that is a company issue.

      As a WFH employee, I find the automatic “they must be double dipping because they aren’t in the office” offensive. I’m not saying no one has ever done it, but a good manager knows if the employee is actually getting their job done in a timely and appropriate manner.

      It is often to the employer’s advantage to allow flexibility. It allows them to hire excellent employees who can be very efficient workers when allowed to flex. I have coworkers who put a premium on the ability to pick their children up from school every day, others who have long-standing volunteer gigs on weekdays, one with many doctor’s appointments to work around. These are highly educated, efficient employees who do an excellent job and knock their work goals out of the park on a regular basis. They are also being paid below market, IMO, but have chosen to stay because of the flexibility.

      There were a few weeks where I worked every day for shorter hours. I was battling a long-term disease and just didn’t have the energy to do an efficient job more than 6 hours a day. My supervisor mentioned she was concerned I hadn’t had a day off so I made sure to have at least one non-work day a week. I got a bit less done (because exhausted), but if that is the way they want it, then OK. I much prefer to work a 5 day/40 hour week when I can but my choice was to give them the very best hours out of my week because I pride myself on doing an excellent job.

      I guess what I’m saying is be very careful what you want their work hours to look like because not everyone is out to mess their employer over.

    6. Person from the Resume*

      I agree that flexibility so that someone doesn’t work for some time during the normal work week and working weekends to make up the time doesn’t have a straight line to being burned out or never disconnecting.

      I feel like there’s something different underlying the question.

      I guess it really depends on how the employee is spending their work week time off. If they’re doing errands/appointments so they don’t get a break at all that could be a problem. But why are they so reluctant to take PTO? Can they not risk falling behind at work even if they need to be OOO?

      1. Daisy*

        If there is a deadline coming up they may want to put in a full 40 hour workweek instead of running the chance of being late. They may be running short on PTO or sick leave, or out altogether.

  6. Don’t pay me less because of body parts*

    I did Pecha Kucha with my team last year and we loved it. The key though is that the pictures could be of anything you wanted to share – no prompts, nothing specific about childhoods. I had slides of me with animals, a slide with an Xbox on it, one of my college and grad school graduations, my family, etc. It was easy to only go as deep as you were comfortable. People mostly stuck to hobbies and important relationships.

    1. Sarah*

      Did everyone actually love it though?

      Or did no one feel comfortable enough to say “I don’t want to do this” so they faked it as Alison suggested?

      Based on Alison’s response and many commenters’ replies, I would be willing to bet that not everyone on your team “loved it.”

      1. Some people like talking to their coworkers*

        Not everyone is like this comment section. I’m willing to bet that this commenter and their coworkers DID enjoy this exercise, and that’s okay!

    2. Mjt*

      But why would people want to share any of that with coworkers and why do coworkers care about the hobbies and personal relationships of others? I have too much work to do and zero desire to get to know my coworkers outside of what’s necessary to perform my job duties. Making sideshows like that seems like a waste of work time.

      1. nic*

        I’m not defending this type of exercise, as there are clearly issues with it.

        But I don’t know about this point of view. Do I *care* about my coworkers’ lives? I suppose not in the same way I care about friends and family. Do I, on the other hand, want my work to be entirely transactional with no sense of my coworkers as people? No, that sounds dreadful. I think actually one of the things I don’t enjoy about the move to hybrid in my sector is that everything has become much more transactional.

        It can also be *helpful* to know things about your colleagues – some people react well to small talk and a sense of personal connection! Maybe you might need to have a good working relationship with those people?

        1. UKDancer*

          to make the school pick up don’t care about my staff and coworkers in the same way I do about my family but I want them to be happy and I want good things to happen when we collaborate.

          So I like to have some sense of people as individuals. So I know Priti has a new kitten, Jack is struggling with a major teapot distribution issue and worried about getting out of a meeting to pick up the kids , Fran is trying to find a present for his husbands 40th birthday but can’t think what.

          I’d agree this is a terrible idea by OPs company but wanting to get to know your colleagues as individuals isn’t a bad idea and lot of people like having a personal rapport.

          1. UKDancer*

            Sorry I have a sentence out of place so the first line above makes no sense. The first line should read ” don’t care about my staff and coworkers in the same way I do my family.”

            Apologies for weird wording

        2. londonedit*

          Yeah, definitely. I might not need to be best friends with the people I work with, but surely as human beings we work better together when we feel some sort of connection? Even if that’s just knowing that James always goes to the sandwich shop on the corner because he really likes their mozzarella and tomato panini, or Alice supports Everton and is furious about their points deduction, or Martine has a five-year-old who’s just started school? No one’s saying anyone has to spend vast chunks of their working day chatting, but just in the general rhythm of working with people, asking how their evening/weekend was, having a quick chat while the kettle boils, it’s nice to know a bit about the lives of the people you’re spending your working week with. And then it’s useful because if Martine says ‘So sorry, this report is going to take a bit longer than I thought – had to rush out to pick up Sally from school, she’s ill’ then you can feel empathy for Martine and you don’t mind as much about the report.

        3. Phyllis Refrigeration*

          You CAN have a great working relationship without all of that extra stuff. Because of the way you work together. I literally could not care less about my coworkers personal lives and don’t need them to know about mine but we have a great team, because we respect each other and are always there to help each other.
          Work IS transactional to me even though I work with a team – and a very great, efficient one at that with a great culture. But it’s built around the work, not knowing that someone likes softball. But just IMO – I realize not everyone is like that, but would be nice for people to realize that other people literally can have the very best teams without all that other stuff.

        4. Nico m*

          No, its helpful to know stuff about your colleagues that they cheerfully and willingly shared with you in the normal course of human interactions, not forced to divulge by some HR nincompoop in a nonsense cringecluster**** “team building exercise”

          I suggest LW1 just refuses to take part. If its clearly the work of some powerless minion, just say “oh, i havent done it”, if its the pet project of someone with clout, catch flu for a day or two.

      2. Katie A*

        Is this a parody of this comment section? If so, it’s very uncharitable.

        Sometimes people here take extreme stances on this, but it’s rare for people to literally say they don’t want to get to know their coworkers at all.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          That comment wasn’t for me, but it could have been from one of my coworkers. It could also have been from someone in the comments section here — it is a minority opinion but not unheard of.

        2. feline outerwear catalog*

          I have a couple of coworkers like that. It makes it very difficult to work with them. They always have an attitude, and without other information, I’m left to assume they’re just grumpy and rude. It makes it harder to work with them since I don’t have any entry point for empathy. I don’t like sharing information about myself, but don’t mind small talk in small doses, so it’s not like I’m trying to force them to share tons of info or anything like that.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Small talk = social lubricant. It makes things go more smoothly otherwise. It’s by no means my favourite thing, but it is useful. AND it has limits: I may know a bit about
            Daniel’s current family from weekend chit-chat, but I don’t need to know anything about his childhood.

            This sort of team-building is an attempt to manufacture social lubricant out of raw materials without the usual equipment.

        3. Pita Chips*

          It’s not so much getting to know their coworkers that people are objecting to, it’s being forced to socialize it in front of everyone. Bonds are more authentic when they’re created organically.

          1. Allonge*

            Of course it’s more authentic. But in some cases it does not work – I bet a lot of people commenting here are not sharing any of this kind of information organically. Or it feels like there is never enough time, or there seems to be a boss looking down on watercooler talk etc.

            Doing an exercise like this (well, not exactly like this, but similar), once in a while, can correct for that. So I get to know that Grumpy Tomas has a cycling thing, or I get to share that I am happier in my new WFH setup because I have an ergonomic chair.

            1. Pita Chips*

              It’s great for you that you can look upon this as you get to learn or get to share, but it is not needful to do so in order to have a workplace that functions well.

              A couple othere people have said this: you can be friendly without being friends. Personally, I think forcing it does more harm than good.

            2. Lenora Rose*

              If it’s not always shared organically, why does it need to be shared?

              My office knows I have a husband and kids and cats. They know I do pottery at a studio. And I would not be bothered if they learned my taste in music, obviously. But there are some details about my life that I absolutely have not shared out loud, and will not.

      3. JubJubTheIguana*

        Be soft soft skills and basic social skills are important in many jobs. I realise AAM thinks they’re not, and that we should just grunt at each other occasionally – which is fine if your job is work from home data entry. But most jobs require at least a modicum of social skills, and most people who aren’t Extremely Online want to be on friendly terms with colleagues.

        1. Phryne*

          ‘I realise AAM thinks they’re not’
          I have no idea how you came to that conclusion. Alison even did a count once, and it is an absolutely tiny number of commenters that are against social activities/teambuilding with co-workers. They just tend to generate al lot of post exactly because most people disagree so badly with them.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            I don’t know about the numbers, but having been a regular reader of this site for a few years, there are definitely lots of people who don’t like icebreakers, team building, team activities, potlucks, holiday parties, socialization, saying good morning, or talking about their weekend.

            I don’t always love these things either, but doing them once or twice a year is usually pretty harmless

            1. Lenora Rose*

              And you’re doing the thing where you’re conflating the people who don’t like the often badly designed icebreakers, of which there are MANY, with the smaller group who aren’t into potlucks, with the still smaller group who dislike work-related parties, with the even tinier group who don’t like small talk at all.

              These are NOT THE SAME THING.

        2. Lea*

          My job is wfh and we chat regularly about our lives? I at least know the basics of my close team!

          I think it’s weird when people don’t share anything at all like is it a secret? I had a coworker like that we thought it was strange

          1. Kelsey*

            “chat regularly about your lives” sounds a lot more organic than formal team building exercises.

            There are a lot of reasons people might not want to share information. Instead of thinking it strange maybe you could try reframing that to, “they must have a reason and deserve compassion.”

        3. Trawna*

          I use real soft skills everyday to get my work done and make the company money. There is zero need to torture me with pretend stuff.

          Managers who seem to have nothing better to do than make up additional work for their colleagues? Why? Why?!

        4. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          Yes, but “tell us the worst thing in your life right now” – which is how a lot of people will interpret “your actual challenge”, due to the “you can only have one” phrasing – is not required to be on friendly terms.

        5. RoboManager*

          But giving a 20 slide presentation All About Me is not what I think of as soft skills. It sounds like a robot’s idea of how to share personal information efficiently among the staff.

          This stuff has to be organic or it’s meaningless. Plus, I promise you I will not remember 99.9% of what gets presented in a 20 slide deck where I get to see each slide for 20 seconds – I’m not learning and retaining any of that.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            Exactly. I’m thinking now that exercises like this are done with the assumption that nobody at the job has any of the soft skills needed to form appropriate work relationships so they have to be forced to relate to each other as people.

            Because the managers assume they aren’t already exercising soft skills and relating to each other to the appropriate degree.

          2. Enai*

            But giving a 20 slide presentation All About Me is not what I think of as soft skills. It sounds like a robot’s idea of how to share personal information efficiently among the staff.

            This is the perfect way to express that. It’s not that I hate icebreakers – I hate when they’re badly done.

        6. Angstrom*

          I think the distinction here is between “sharing because you want to be friendly” and “forced to share personal information.” There’s nothing wrong with sharing because you *want* to.

          When pushed, the natural response is to push back.

        7. Turquoisecow*

          My job is work from home data entry but it still helps me immensely to be able to get along with my coworkers because when you need something from someone they’re more likely to help you out if they know you, can put a face to a name, and think of you as a human being rather than a cog in a machine.

        8. Also-ADHD*

          Forced to share personal information is bad, though, so it sort of depends. I don’t have any issue making small talk (don’t like it, but can do it) and even have some deeper chats with colleagues. I’m actually quite open. But these sort of icebreaker activities are notoriously not psychologically safe for neurodivergent people and the forced and sometimes fake nature is problematic. “My greatest challenge is that neurotypical people refuse to acknowledge they’re creating a world that disables me constantly and this activity stands as a clear example of that today” isn’t going to be a fun answer people want to hear but if I was given LW’s prompts, NOT saying that would have a psychological cost for me just as saying it would have a social cost.

        9. Sacred Ground*

          “I realise AAM thinks they’re not, and that we should just grunt at each other occasionally”

          (citation needed)

          Like, the necessity of soft skills in pretty much any profession is a constant subject here. Your comment couldn’t be more wrong.

          This has nothing to do with soft skills.

          1. Helewise*

            Giving how offended a vocal minority of the commentariat here becomes at the very thought of having to interact with their co-workers, it’s a little weird to go after this comment so aggressively. Even saying “good morning” has been controversial here.

            1. annonie*

              Except it hasn’t. It’s been shown over and over that that’s a tiny minority of commenters, not the prevailing sense. They’re just loud about it.

        10. Pizza Rat*

          Friendly terms is not the same as being friends and sharing personal things. No one is saying not be civil.

        11. blah*

          And look how people stumble over themselves to prove your point. “I use soft skills to make the company money and NOTHING ELSE,” these people sound miserable.

        12. Is it naptime?*

          I don’t think anyone wants to be hostile terms wtih their colleagues. You can be friendly and get along with people without spending time with small talk or gosspiing around the coffee pot, or going to pot lucks, or spending money on Secret Santa gifts or office parties. Some people prefer to keep their private lives private and there’s no reason that shouldn’t be okay. Nobody needs me to announce I have a pet chinchilla in a meeting in the name of “icebreaking.”

          The objections I hear from people is not so much they don’t like people (though we all dislike some), but they don’t want to be pushed into being friends when there’s no need for it. It can feel like kindergarten, “Now we’re all going to share.”

      4. Snow Globe*

        And sometimes you might discover that you have something in common with a coworker that you barely know, like you both love the same author or share a similar hobby. It gives you something to chit chat about, which can help build a comfortable relationship. When you have a comfortable relationship with coworkers, it may make it easier to reach out to them if you have questions about something or need assistance. If you don’t feel the need for that kind of thing, you can still participate and keep your responses vague.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. It’s just that forcing people to talk about their private lives in a way that makes them uncomfortable doesn’t help to maintain or create a collegial working community. That’s putting the cart before the horse, because some degree of psychological safety is necessary for people to open up. And even then, employees need to be able to choose how much and what to share.

          Most people I work with even fairly regularly know that I’m married with a kid, although sometimes people ask how old he is because time flies. Most people also know that reading my favorite way to relax and that I like cats and dogs because I ask them about their pets. But that’s about it.

          I realize that I’m very privileged because my life’s pretty average, and as a cishet married woman I don’t have to wonder if I can be “out” about all aspects of my life, at least not in this environment. I work for the government in Finland, and parenthood is a protected status here in the sense that employers aren’t allowed to discriminate against an employee for being a parent. This is definitely not the case for some of my coworkers, because my employer recently did a DEI survey of the whole organization (1,800 employees) and the results were depressing because a large number of LGBT+ employees felt that they couldn’t be out about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work. But oh well, at least by doing the survey they realize that we need to improve on this.

          Common icebreaker questions are easy because things like my favorite color, my favorite food, or my favorite song depend on my mood at the time of asking and that means that my answers are never consistent. But I can’t remember what my favorite color was as a kid, or what I wanted to be when I grew up. That said, I’m pretty comfortable answering that I have no idea.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          Yes this, sharing bland innocuous information with coworkers helps you to see each other as humans who need help rather than antagonists who bother you when you’re trying to get stuff done, and that helps you both get stuff done better, and maybe even be happier about it.

          You don’t have to tell your coworkers about your divorce or listen to their traumatic childhood stories, but chatting about your weekend and your shared interests can be pleasant rather than invasive and build camaraderie that makes it easier to work together even if your discussions have nothing to do with work itself.

        3. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Yup. I had a coworker who I realllly struggled with — they were combative and only gave me bare bones information. Then through a “tell us 1 interesting thing about you” type icebreaker, I found out we both were subscribers to our city’s Broadway tours. Being able to say “what did you think about ‘Come From Away’?” and have a few minutes of conversation legitimately has changed how they respond to me when I ask for the TPS report.

        4. Sacred Ground*

          And sometimes you discover the coworker with whom you got along great because you liked and respected one another actually wants to see your family members and other loved ones rounded up and put in camps before mass deportations and is horrified and disgusted by my close relationships.

          In that case, a solid working relationship was ruined by a red hat.

      5. Dinwar*

        Humans like to connect with each other as, well, people. It makes work more pleasant if you are at least on friendly terms with the people you’re working around.

        Plus, who’s going to get the promotion? The person who keeps their head down and does their work but doesn’t try to connect with anyone? Or the person who does good work AND is friendly and takes a reasonable interest in the lives of their coworkers? There’s a reason why excluding women from things like golf outings is problematic, and it’s not because getting 3 under par is a job requirement.

        1. Antilles*

          The last paragraph is really it. Those sorts of minor connections might feel meaningless, but at the end of the day, the honest reality is that people do business with people they like.

          1. Angstrom*

            Agreed. Working with people I know and like makes the workday much more pleasant.

            Forcing me to violate my boundaries is not a way to make me like someone.

            It’s a bit of a chicken/egg question: People will share personal information if they feel it is safe to do so. Forcing them to share personal information can make the environment feel unsafe. There are better ways to build a good work culture.

            1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

              This!

              Never – not ONCE in nearly three decades of my work history – has participating in a mandatory icebreaking exercise made me like anyone even a little bit more. It’s possible that maybe it made someone else like me more, but that seems pretty unlikely.

              More invasive versions of icebreaking have left me feeling isolated and like I didn’t share common ground with my team several times, and a few memorable questions resulted in me taking a few days off to look at job postings and consider whether I should be applying elsewhere.

              Just let the ice melt naturally.

            2. Dinwar*

              It’s more Cargo Cult. Management saw that many strong teams are composed of people who take an interest in each other’s lives, and concluded that sharing personal information is the cause of strong teams. So they’re forcing the teams to go through the motions of the behaviors of strong teams, without understanding what’s going on.

              In reality, sharing personal information is a consequence, not a cause. You have to feel safe around people in order to tell them personal information; you have to know you can trust them, that they have your best interests at heart (or at least aren’t looking for ways to backstab you). And you develop that trust by respecting, not violating, boundaries.

      6. rollyex*

        “But why would people want to share any of that with coworkers and why do coworkers care about the hobbies and personal relationships of others?”

        Building some connections with people at work and understanding what motivates each other can help organizational performance. People are not robots and work takes up a lot of our life.

        The thing is, it has to be done softway in ways that don’t pressure people.

        “I have too much work to do and zero desire to get to know my coworkers outside of what’s necessary to perform my job duties. ”

        It’s OK for you to feel that way for even for some people subset of people to feel that way. But if the whole organization was like that it’s not going to perform. Someone’s kid is sick or their parent died? We should know it. Someone cares about family in general – good to know. Someone is new in town and really doesn’t mind working nights? Good to know. Someone wants to learn a lot and get ahead at work? Good to know.

      7. Lenora Rose*

        I *do* want to know some stuff about my coworkers besides how efficiently they do their job, and I *do* want to share things in common, and I think this sort of slideshow is Not how to do it; it asks the wrong questions, the ones that don’t come out naturally in the course of the day, and frankly, 6 minutes and 40 seconds per person quickly becomes an agonizing duration. So yes, it is a waste of time.

        Still. Please don’t dump on humans for caring about other humans as something other than cogs, just because the activity in the letter does it all wrong. The reason everyone likes the spring rolls story that was shared last week is *exactly* due to the human connection.

      8. ClaireW*

        Lots of us do enjoy getting to know our coworkers outside of the strictly necessary work stuff. I like to know that my team member’s search to buy a house is going well (and actually gave her area info since she’s looking to move to my town), it’s nice to hear that someone got a new puppy (which might also explain why they have to run at short notice for ‘toilet training’), it’s fun to talk about someone’s crazy weekend or see their hobbies in their background and realise we have something in common.

        For many of us, it’s easier to have a comfortable working relationship with someone if you feel like you have some familiarity with them as an overall person and not just a task performer that you must contact.

    3. Varthema*

      One nice variant that my team does which DOES feel much more work-related is to take half an hour to write a “user manual.” The bulk of it are slides answering the question “how I like to work” (“I use the Pomodoro method, so I won’t respond to a Slack when I’m right in the middle of my focus time but will get back to you as soon as I’m done”) or “this is the best way to reach out to me” (“I respond quickly on Slack but don’t monitor my inbox”), etc. Then at the end were some optional “fun trivia” slides that tended to focus on the now and future rather than past (bucket list trip, favorite meme, comfort food) which invited people to share low-stakes personal tidbits, but no pressure.

      That’s how my coworker and I found out that we’re both really into board games, which makes for fun small talk. It’s nice to connect to coworkers on a personal level, but there are ways to do it that don’t feel invasive.

      1. HalJordan*

        Yes, my team did a similar slide show where the prompts were “how do I work throughout the day” “how to contact me” “what type of work energizes me” “what I don’t have patience for”

        and there was only one personal slide that was just headed “On a personal note” and you could say anything you wanted (including as little as you wanted)

        It was actually pretty helpful and about as non-invasive as such a thing could be.

      2. JustaTech*

        This sounds super useful!
        Years ago my work did the “DiSC” assessment about communication styles, and while it was generally kind of hokey (non-managers got a very bare-bones version), it was a great framework for my two coworkers and I to really hammer out some communication style issues we were having that really improved our overall work and work experience. (Cut way down on the amount of time I had to spend mediating the two of them.)

      3. iglwif*

        Oh wow, that is so smart!

        I generally don’t like icebreaker activities etc., and the activity OP1 describes sounds excruciating … but I do like to be friendly and authentic with my co-workers in organic ways. So I absolutely love the idea of, essentially, sharing ways of making working with me better for both of us, with the option to share low-stakes fun stuff for those who want to.

      1. Eliot Waugh*

        Okay? And if it wasn’t the favorite thing of some of them, they didn’t suffer horribly from an innocuous work activity.

        1. Queer Earthling*

          Seriously, there’s a huge difference between “is this activity harmful?” (as per, potentially, the original post’s iteration of the slide show thing) and “is this a mild annoyance or slightly unpleasant?” which sound like the worst case scenario for the latter one.

    4. Also-ADHD*

      I think it’s fine on some teams to do something like that (not the prompts though) but I think can be awkward if there’s any power dynamics or micro aggression not addressed, etc. Too often places try to “bond”’ employees in situations where there is not psychological safety, and frankly those prompts LW conveys show me right away they do not work in an environment that would prioritize psychological safety for all. It sounds like your team feels psychologically safe (at least to you, I hope to all) but also the no prompt aspect is important, as is maybe an opt out frankly.

    5. morethantired*

      My company for a year let anyone who wanted to do a Pecha Kucha about anything they wanted (that was also work-appropriate) and it was great to get to learn some fun facts about people or get a high level overview of someone’s interests like amateur bike racing or hiking the highest peaks in the country. But I think the key is that it’s entirely voluntary for both the presenter and the audience. We’re a 100% remote company so it’s nice to have these opportunities to get to know each other better if we want to so we can discover shared hobbies or just have better fodder for conversation beyond “how’s the weather where you are?” One woman did her presentation on her great grandmother who was the strong woman in a traveling circus for 20 years. It has no impact on our work but I was riveted and very happy to get paid to learn about her!

    6. Observer*

      I did Pecha Kucha with my team last year and we loved it.

      So, I’m going to echo the people who pointed out that a lot of people may not have loved it but would not say so. And that’s *your* version that pretty much allowed people huge latitude to choose what to present. For a lot of people, it’s still too much – even people who share stuff with coworkers etc.

      The OP’s version, with all those prompts? Terrible. I just don’t have any other words for it. And I’m someone who does share a fair amount about my life. But still…. Social lubricant is one thing. This is another.

    7. Chirpy*

      Still, even without a prompt beyond “something about yourself”, I would hesitate to answer about my favorite hobbies with some coworkers, because I’ve had a lot of people think they’re irredeemably weird. One of my hobbies is dressing up in screen accurate sci-fi costumes for charity. I could talk about it for hours (and avoid other more personal questions easily) but with the wrong people, it’s not a great conversation (even if they cosplay their favorite sports players at work…they don’t see it the same way.) It depends on the workplace.

  7. Eric*

    I feel like the answer to #3 missed the mark. they are worried that removing directly during the work week will make many staff leave. so while they need to balance flexibility with business needs, simply “Require people to work during business hour” sounds like it won’t work here.

    1. Viette*

      It sounds like they have a business need for people to work during business hours, though. Maybe the current staff wouldn’t want to work during business hours, but in that case the bosses need to either change whatever is making current staff not want to work during business hours (pay them better or whatever) or they need to hire staff who do want to work during business hours.

      You can’t just say the current staff don’t want to meet our business’s needs, so our business’s needs will not be met. Eventually there will be no business to have any staff with that approach.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this.

        The vast majority of office workers accept without question the need to be available during business hours, and most are grateful if they can occasionally schedule an appointment during the day without using PTO.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        It depends a lot on what the needs are. They could be flexible enough to allow some flexibility within business hours (a long lunch, a later start or earlier finish, time for doctor’s appointments) that’s balanced by working evening/weekends, as long as the response time is still reasonable. Or it could be a case where they need to coordinate working hours so that someone is responsive at all times, and it’s shared equitably, but not everyone needs to be available every day. And it may be a situation where people working whenever they want as long as the work gets done isn’t practical.

        The LW needs to figure out what level of flexibility they can offer and still meet business needs, and then communicate that clearly. If an employee isn’t willing to accept that, then moving on to a job that allows more extreme flexibility is reasonable. And the LW can evaluate exceptions on a case by case basis, depending on the details, and the general performance of the employee.

        1. Tired and confused*

          At my workplace we have core hours from 10:00-15:30 (with lunch break to be taken between 12:00-13:30). For the rest we are quite flexible. It depends on the nature of the job but maybe some agreed on core hours plus flexibility could be a win-win

        2. Zweisatz*

          Yeah, that’s a great level-headed approach. Find out which availability is needed and what “flexibility” could mean during the work week and then communicate that to the employees.

          If it makes sense, you could also have a discussion what’s driving the burnout/weekend work right now because if people cannot get their job done in a 40 hour work week you’d want to know, so you can hire more people/shift projects around etc.

          But if it’s a case of “I need Thursday and Friday off each week and will work on the weekend instead” and this cannot be squared with your coverage needs… there might not be a compromise in that case.

      3. Also-ADHD*

        It kind of depends on staffing requirements too. If they’re a consulting firm and some of their staff have an extremely rare skill set, there’s more to it. I think there wasn’t enough info in the letter to really know, but I think Alison was right that they focused on the wrong thing and a connection that may or may not matter (are people burned out by working weekends? Will reducing flexibility impact that anyway? No idea).

        1. Sacred Ground*

          A crucial piece of info that was left out is: how much are they working overall? If they’re routinely working 70+ hours a week then flexibility is helpful but they’re still going to burn out. Flexibility isn’t the problem, overwork is the problem. If they’re not being overworked AND they are paid appropriately, then LW is right to be concerned about the flexibility causing problems.

          If the people you need to keep will quit if they lose even a little of their current flexibility and are required to work during core business hours, I’m inclined to think they are already both overworked and underpaid to the point where this flexibility is the only thing keeping them in the job.

          LW, if people quit, they aren’t going to disappear. They will find other jobs, likely working for your competition, that either offer the flexibility they need or offer compensation to make up for the lack of it.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            I didn’t get this impression from the letter. I read it as they are not working during business hours and working on the weekends instead. She didn’t mention evenings, which would be necessary if they aren’t working M-F during standard business hours.

            I think we see an overabundance of work issues around hours due to this being an advice column, but I also didn’t get that here. And I think the commentariat jumps to it fairly quickly at times as a given without supporting information.

            You could be right, but I think the over-arching issue is they have to figure it out so they can be available so they don’t lose employees AND clients to the competition.

    2. Persephone Mulberry*

      It sounds like the LW is okay with people leaving, though, if weekday flexibility is that important to them.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      I think LW shouldn’t overcorrect (allowing some flexibility is a good thing, and the new rules will be better accepted if an actual business need can be shown). In my experience, most jobs require employees to be present for some kind of core hours and don’t let them just be randomly unreachable without notice. It’s not an onerous or unusual requirement, and it doesn’t sound like it should be unexpected in this workplace, so it’s not a bait-and-switch either.

      It’s always hard to rein in that sort of thing once it has taken hold (people are now used to arranging their lives like this), but that shouldn’t mean LW is now stuck with this forever. People may leave over it, but since they’ll have a hard time finding that amount of flexibility elsewhere, I don’t think they’ll leave quickly.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        I do think that a “I’ve had client complaints about you being unreachable for X time” is the place to start. And maybe if you have to take a doc/dentist/whatever app during the day, you have the staff be more diligent about an OOO message, so the client knows WHEN they can expect an answer (and they have to be held to that). It’s not unreasonable to say “I want you to have flexibility, but I also cannot be answering lots of client complaints about them not being able to reach you (and it’s not just NutJob McGee who gets angry when you don’t respond 2′ after his initial reaching out).” and then plan from there.

    4. GythaOgden*

      Surely that’s the minimum that most of the workforce adhere to in general though. If they want extreme flexibility, they need to start their own business.

    5. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Hmm. As a freelancer, I’m completely free to work when I want. I often take off to the pool or to see an art exhibition during the week, and have no problems working at the weekend when necessary. I make sure to not overwork and thus burnout is never an issue for me.
      However, when I’m at the pool, I’m only unreachable for the hour I’m actually in the water. I’ll check my phone as soon as I come out, and if necessary I’ll call to let the client know I’ll be dealing with their problem promptly. While at an art exhibition, I’ll similarly be reachable even if I can’t actually do any work until I’m home. There’s never a situation where the client can’t wait for me to get home, they just need reassurance that I’ve seen their message and will handle it asap.
      Employees definitely need to be reasonably available during business hours for their clients. Even if they are in an office there will be times they can’t respond, because they are humans and need to eat and go to the bathroom. Most employees will be in a certain number of meetings in the course of the week too. I would say if they are not working during business hours for whatever reason, they do need to be able to respond to clients and if the client requires something done that day, they need to be able to meet that need.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Good points! In reality, almost no-one working can really just drop off the radar entirely. There’s always someone that you’re beholden to, be it a boss or a customer/client. It took a worrying number of people by surprise when I hung around the eBay forums.

    6. Old Cornellian*

      “Core hours with defined flexibility” was the heart of what was recommended in the late 80s ILR class I took (College of Industrial and Labor Relations).

      So maybe the office is open from 9 to 2, with a max of 4 hours that can be pushed off to Saturday. No PTO paperwork for these:

      -Go ahead and start at 6am if you want to leave at 2.

      -Start at 9 if you have a morning dental appointment.

      -On the day your kid breaks his leg at recess, you started at 8am, signed out at noon, and work 4 hours Saturday.

      PTO for more than half a day or time that can’t be flexed within the same day.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Oh hey, this is a much more clearly defined version of what I was trying to get at below. I hope OP sees it!

      2. Change name for today*

        One added benefit about that approach is improved communication about expectations. I wonder if better communication about availability and response time could help OP with some of the current issues. Many times clients are less pushy if they know that will get a response with ‘x’ time during conventional business hours. If they normally get a response quickly and then have to unexpectedly wait, many will reach out again and again thinking someone missed their request.

      3. Jan Levinson Gould*

        I like those guidelines and I am saving it off should my organization ever institute a core hours policy. I suggested doing so pretty much everyone I manage justifies ducking out for a period of time by making up the hours at night or during the weekend, but for now upper management doesn’t want to set hard boundaries.

        Thanks!

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree it seems like that swigs too far in the opposite direction. They want to offer *some* flexibility but less than what people are currently taking.

      Any change is going to annoy people and if a few quit from losing 100% flexibility that’s not an entirely unexpected outcome, but they do it sounds like need to think of some way to limit it.

      My first two thoughts are either to implement “core” hours that people should be expected to be available every day, so if they want to schedule an appointment or something without taking PTO they can try to work around the core hours; or to limit like X number of flexible hours per week that people can take outside of regular office hours as needed and hopefully a limit like that would make it unlikely that a bunch of people are unavailable at the same time.

    8. fhqwhgads*

      I think the entire scenario in 3 is weird. I’ve been on (several) entirely remove teams for over 10 years, and we do have flexibility. It almost never results in someone working on the weekend. I’m not saying no one has ever burnt out, but if they did, it had nothing to do with flexibility. It had to do with work volume. If someone has an appointment during the week, it’s accepted they’ll put an away message up so others know they’ve not vanished. You need an hour or two here or there? Take it. It’s not “making up hours” in the sense of treating exempt people like they’re hourly. If the work is getting done, there’s nothing to make up. If it isn’t getting done, it wouldn’t have been anyway, even without the one-off appointment here or there. Some people, sometimes do work later in the evening if they were gone a chunk of normal business hours and they’re on deadline, but these aren’t frequent.
      In the letter it sounds like the issue is a lot of people, regularly, choosing to work on the weekend instead of during normal business hours. If they’re burnt out, that’s a completely separate issue from frequently being unavailable when others expect them to be working. If they were working the weekend AND the week, of course burn out makes sense. But if the weekend stuff is because they’re gone during the week…well they were gone during the week. Moving the time-on and time-off around is different than “never off”. If these employees life commitments make it so they regularly can’t work when work needs them to work, then it sounds like “they leave” is the right choice for all parties.

      1. JustaTech*

        Years ago my spouse had a report who somewhat regularly would work all weekend because they’d not really worked (or not gotten anything done) during the week because they were dealing with some mental health stuff, which was massively not helped by working all weekend.
        My husband tried to help them with it – concrete suggestions about scheduling stuff, using sick leave and the EAP, but it was really hard and the person ended up leaving (it was a pretty demanding job).

  8. coffee*

    Re LW4 – what does the company think its employees will do, just choose not to be sick??
    “Oh well I felt my leg break but I just reminded the bone that we don’t have any time off work anymore and it immediately unbroke itself”?
    “Good news, they’re turning Meeting Room 2 into an operating room and we’re pretty sure we’ll be able to get all the blood out of the carpet afterwards”?

    I mean I assume they are not thinking the whole thing through but you never quite know if they are aware and have decided to be assholes anyway.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Well said. This company appears to be managed by jerks. Providing employees with zero paid time off, and then allowing only a week of unpaid time? LW4, once your medical situation is behind you, I hope you cam land at better workplace that treats you like a valued employee instead of an indentured servant. I wish you a speedy recovery.

    2. Fikly*

      No, they – just like the many, many companies who do not give sick time, paid or unpaid -believe employees will come to work sick and it’s the employee’s problem, not theirs.

      And then add to that number of companies all the other companies that don’t allow sick time during the first 90 days, or other starting period. Remember, humans are resources, and it’s business, not personal!

      1. Your Mate in Oz*

        “When I grow up I want to be a human resource”

        The other one is “congratulate me, I just got promoted from resource to *human* resource”

    3. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

      Or they might be in retail or food or something with a ton of churn, in which case they do just expect to fire people and hire another just over a day’s absence. (Which, to be clear, is evil)

      1. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

        (When I was in a retail job there was zero pto or sick time, but at least unpaid time was fine to take! Limiting people to one week is inhumane!)

        1. Irish Teacher*

          It’s not even doable as a person could be in hospital longer than that. I was in hospital for a week when I got my thyroid out and while I probably could have gone back to work right after that, albeit with staples across my neck and only if I didn’t have to lift anything, that was a reasonably minor operation. And that would mean all my time off for the year was gone by the 12th of January.

          Limiting unpaid holiday time would be somewhat reasonable (though no paid holiday time is already ridiculous as is one week), but sick time is another matter. What is the LW were to get covid or the flu or something else contagious and potentially life-threatening? Are they supposed to come in and put their colleagues lives at risk? Or God forbid, they were hospitalised for weeks for a serious illness or injury? Heck, most surgeries require at least two week off after them and many require two or three times that.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            Yes they expect people to come to work sick. If they offer no sick time, they expect people to come in sick. Even if it then affects the whole company, they expect those people to come in sick. Then they complain about productivity being down. Or when people leave for jobs with paid time off, they complain no one wants to work anymore.

            It really is a stupid short sighted policy.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        This is how I took it. High churn is built into their business model. This is not to say that they don’t also complain about it, what with people just not wanting to work nowadays. But at the same time they don’t expect people to stick around and so it never occurs to them to give people any reason to.

      3. ferrina*

        This is where my mind went. Some industries are built on churn and burn. Part of the employer’s thinking is “we need warm bodies, the rest is irrelevant. If they aren’t working, they’re cutting into our profit margins.”

      4. Chirpy*

        Even in retail, I get 3 days of paid sick leave (new since the pandemic) and tons of unpaid time (which might require a doctor’s note past a certain point, but still. It’s exactly for things like this.)

        This place is horrible. I hope OP4 can find a better job once they’re feeling better.

    4. Roland*

      I don’t think they “aren’t thinking”. I imagine that what they’re thinking is, if you take off more time than that, then we are hiring someone to replace you.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        Even small companies not covered by FMLA usually have to pay into state unemployment with a claim, and LW would have one if released due to surgery, no matter what the manual says really. It would probably be cheaper to hold their job.

        1. Nico m*

          And given that the LWs response is writing in to AAM, rather than plotting revenge sabotage, they are probably a better worker than the random replacement

        2. Pescadero*

          Being terminated for missing work largely makes you ineligible for unemployment if the employer fights your claim.

          1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

            Yeah, this…either the org claims the employee’s attendance was poor and they were fired for cause, or they’ll call it job abandonment when the employee doesn’t show up as scheduled.

        1. ferrina*

          Childcare is a broken industry. I worked in childcare for a time, and staffing is a major issue. It’s a bigger problem than in other industries because 1) the child:teacher ratio is mandated by the state and 2) profit margins are thin. It’s a constant dance to schedule the fewest staff possible while maintaining mandated staffing (bear in mind, you need extra staff to cover lunch breaks and bathroom breaks). It can also be hard to hire for, since staff needs to get a background check.

          There can be an us vs them mentality in the administration. I’ve seen admins get mad that a staff member was sick or had time off scheduled when another staff member quit (“why are they taking vacation when we’re short staffed after Morgan left last week?” um, cuz they bought plane tickets months ago). I was interrogated by 3 staff members when I got sick at work and had to leave mid-day. No joke, they spent 45 minutes grilling me about how sick was I, really. So 3 hours of staff time, just trying to get me to power through my remaining 4 hours.
          Many admins are penny-wise, pound foolish. This letter doesn’t surprise me that it’s in childcare, but it does make me sad.

    5. Gyne*

      I’m wondering if it’s a shift job where people can “stack” their shifts for longer times off – this is common in for docs who work in the ED and hospitalist-type jobs. I know a lot of people that will work their 6 24 hour shifts every other day and then get two weeks “off” to travel or do whatever. Also no PTO is common in medicine (I also don’t have any as the part-owner of the practice- the tradeoff is I can take time off whenever I want as long as I cover my overhead.) Really any work that is in a fee-for-service model can work this way.

    6. Jay*

      This is fairly standard for lower to middle wage jobs in several parts of the country. I’ve mentioned on here before that I never had a single paid day off until I was 28 years old. It was part of the culture. Even asking about anything else got you labeled as “out of touch” or “greedy”.
      You are expected to work sick or hurt and there is usually an undercurrent of “Sickness is a moral failure. Getting sick means that you did something to deserve to be sick. If you were a truly good Christian person, God would not have made you sick.”
      Unfortunately, the only real thing you can do is leave, get out to someplace where employees are recognized, at least for now, as actual human beings.
      If you can’t do that, then you need to learn what game is being played and how to play it.
      Usually that means trying to join whatever church senior managers attend (somehow they always all seem to go to the exact same one), if you can, take up their hobbies, that sort of thing. It might get you promoted or, at least, better treatment and more understanding.

    7. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      More likely they treat employees as interchangeable, disposable parts. Anything more than a few standard preventive doctor visits a year means they’ll find someone else.

      1. A (Former) Library Person*

        Multiple preventative healthcare appointments per year is, I’m afraid, an unrealistic standard for many (most?) people in the US, let alone low-wage workers. In a lot of jobs like the one being described, I’d reckon you’d be lucky to get one.

        1. Bast*

          I went nearly 10 years without seeing a PCP because I could not afford to lose the time from work. PTO was less than generous, so I had to save it for when either I was at death’s door or one of the kids got sick.

    8. Observer*

      what does the company think its employees will do, just choose not to be sick??

      That seems to be the thinking. Either that or that if a person gets “that” sick, they are a terrible employee and should be fired because they are unfit to do the job.

    9. Lacey*

      It’s so weird, I’ve worked at small companies and the easiest, cheapest way for them to make up for all the other benefits they couldn’t afford (health insurance, 401K, etc.) was to give us ample vaca & sick time.

      And it’s such an easy way to help employees feel secure!

      But so many employers would rather be awful.

    10. BridgeofFire*

      I actually lost a job because I broke my arm. Granted, I had some health issues that caused me to miss work before that, and I was still a fairly new employee, so I didn’t have too much capital, but I didn’t qualify for FMLA as a part-time employee, and when they found out I’d need 6-8 weeks to let the arm heal enough to go back to work, they let me go. They did, however, assure me that they’d circumvent the usual 6 month blacklisting period and allow me to re-apply as soon as I was healed.

      Strangely, I did not take them up on that offer.

    11. Feotakahari*

      The expectation is “if continuing to work during your recovery will cause permanent injury, you permanently injure yourself.”

    12. Roadkill Zombie*

      I once got fired for getting hit by a tractor-trailer. The company felt I’d disrespected their religious beliefs by not healing after some HR bitch’s pastor allegedly “faith-healed” me without my knowledge or consent.
      I can understand how, since I was new, they couldn’t work with all the time off I’d need to get the medical care that kept me alive.
      But that wasn’t enough for them: They badmouthed me (lying and severely twisting the truth) all over town and not just to other employers. A year and a half later they were STILL calling my doctors and explaining to them why I didn’t deserve medical care. The surgery I was supposed to get that would have restored full use of my right arm (dominant hand), the surgery I was supposed to get to set my broken tailbone – those got cancelled because my former employer chose to be such assholes.
      I was an IT project manager.

    13. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I’ve worked a place like LW4’s place. I was salary, so I was treated better, but I worked an off-shift with all hourly employees that were treated like crap. We manufactured food packaging and the hourly employees (those that manufactured and packaged the food packaging) had zero sick time. IF you called out sick, you could choose either no pay or use a vacation day. However, the vacation policy stated you had to give 48 hours notices for vacation time off. So, if called off sick and used a vacation day, since it wasn’t the 48-hr notice, you got “points”. Then, during your annual review, any “points” would lower raise, if any raise at all. You also got points if you went unpaid for being sick, so either way you were screwed. If you accumulated a certain number of points in a 3-month period, you were put on probation and if you “earned” any more point during your probation, you were punished with either X-days off without pay or termination.

      During one company-wide meeting, one of the hourly employees brought this up as a complaint and the response by one of the owner’s was to not get sick. The complainer pointed out that we can’t control it, people get sick. The response to that, “If you get sick, then work somewhere else.” Unfortunately, a lot of the hourly employees were immigrants that knew little to no English, so finding work elsewhere wasn’t that easy. They were completely taken advantage of, one of the many reasons I didn’t stay at that place. I didn’t trust the owners who treated their most valuable employees that way.

      Oh, and yes, many employees came into work sick because of the strict policy. So yeah, sick employees were handling food packaging products.

      1. BridgeofFire*

        Oh, yes. My workplace had a points system as well, but it wasn’t for raises. If you got 4 points as a part-time employee, or 8 points full-time, you were up for termination. No-call no show was 2 points, unless the day you missed was a mandatory work day, in which case it was 4 points. Calling out too close to the start of your shift, being 2+ hours late outside of specific circumstances, or leaving 2+ hours early, another point, I believe.

        I am firmly of the opinion that once you are past middle school, there is no place for points systems.

  9. Free Meerkats*

    For #1:
    I was in some mandatory training where the trainer tried the, “Tell us something no one here knows about yourself.” icebreaker. It was annoying because it had nothing to do with the training subject (I think it was something like annual harassment training.) So I decided to tell them all a true story about the time when I was 16 and visiting my grandfather in the Black Hills of South Dakota a month after the big flood of ’72. We had moved away in ’68 and I lost a couple of grade school friends in it. But that wasn’t what the story was about, I told the story of the body I found in a car that was buried in mud and had been there since the flood. I went into detail that I won’t here, but when others in my workgroup went to it the following week, there wasn’t an icebreaker by the same trainer.
    Trainers can be trained.

    1. John Smith*

      I was going to suggest coming up with something horrifically true (or untrue) or so mundanley boring (“heres my collection of paperclips and belly button fluff colour chart”) that noone ever will want to ask again. The first option happened during a previous job when some “motivator” went round the room asking people about trauma and how it made them stronger. I was about the 6th out of 20 odd to be asked, and rather than the death of a pet or broken bone stories that were given, I retold the deaths of a couple of loved ones that I witnesed (I won’t go into the detail here, but it was very traumatic). Mr Motivator didn’t ask anyone else and swiftly move on.

      1. Generic Name*

        OMG, what do people expect when they ask about trauma? Like the toughest thing adults might have dealt with in their lives is a childhood pet dying?

        1. Sacred Ground*

          “Tell us something no one here knows about yourself” is not asking about trauma. It’s literally just, tell us something about yourself other than the work stuff we already know.

          Choosing to answer the question with a story about past trauma, just because the question annoys you, is choosing to disrupt the meeting over a totally innocuous icebreaker. I’d side-eye the hell out of someone who chose to disrupt and sidetrack a meeting that was mandatory training.

          1. Bast*

            I think I would be slightly amused, but don’t really get the need to “buck the system” so to speak for something so mundane. Something that “no one here knows” could be that I collect baseball cards, my favorite color is blue, or that I love my coffee black or any number of random, minor details about myself that aren’t super personal.

          2. New Mom (of 1 3/9)*

            ??? The comment upthread is literally about “asking people about trauma and how it made them stronger”

            1. Observer*

              Yes, but it was in response to a comment about dumping trauma in response to a question about “something no one knows about you.”

          3. John Smith*

            That wasn’t the question asked in my scenario which I was referring to – the question in my case was about trauma, not something someone doesn’t know about me.

    2. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

      That is annoying, but I think when your options range from the banal “I’m wearing white socks today” to “traumatise my coworkers to make a point”, it’s probably best to go with banal.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes I mean if I’m using that ice breaker I usually say “tell me / the person next to you/ your table an amusing fact about yourself people may not know” to ensure people are aware of the sort of thing I’m after.

        I think banal is better than traumatisingly deep in most situations in the workplace as that way you do it and the conversation moves on very quickly.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Personally, I have capital to burn and I’d *like* to think I would call out how utterly ridiculous that exercise is when it’s my turn. Or even before.

        “No, I am certainly not going to share my traumas and I encourage my colleagues to also pass. You aren’t my therapist and, if you had any training in therapy, you would know how dangerous that question is both for the speaker *and* everyone else in the room. If this exercise continues, I’m leaving, both in protest and to protect myself.”

        1. Sacred Ground*

          How do you go to that response when the question is literally just “tell us something about yourself?”

          In this case, nobody asked about trauma, let alone attempted to be anyone’s therapist.

        2. Heather*

          nobody asked about trauma though. you could say “I have very strong feelings about the correct way to make a cup of tea” and you’d be all set.

    3. bamcheeks*

      I don’t really get this? Like, it was obviously intended to be a quick icebreaker and it’s not an obviously intrusive question like “tell us about your childhood”, so I don’t get what you thought you were teaching the trainer by doing this?

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        In fairness, I think it really is an intrusive question – if you’ve got a group of people who have worked together for any length of time, asking to share something “no one here knows” is asking people to share something they have not been willing to share over the previous however-many years. So I can’t fault Meerkats for giving the trainer what they asked for.

        It’s not cool to involve everyone else in it, though. They’re not the ones asking invasive questions, and they’d probably all rather get the icebreaker over with and just get on with their day. I’d have gone for something completely inane, like “I saw a squirrel this morning.”

        The real question is, why do people keep insisting on icebreakers that can only be answered with trauma or inanity?

        1. the cat's pajamas*

          Exactly. I have 3 safe things I can say for things people don’t know about me. Once they’re used up, I’m done. If I’ve worked somewhere long enough, I run out of them. Possible backup options I’ve thought of but haven’t tried are things like “I’ve never climbed mount Everest” and “I hate sharing information about myself.” I will sometimes say I’m avoiding ID theft when people push about why I don’t share more.

          1. uncivil servant*

            They won’t come and arrest you if a co-worker does, in fact, remember that you mentioned having had a dachshund as a child.

              1. uncivil servant*

                If you have told your co-workers literally everything about you other than your banking security questions, I don’t think you’re the person these icebreakers are aimed at.

                If everything in your life other than your security questions is very, very traumatic or secret, maybe come up with some cover stories with your therapist or handler at the intelligence agency you work for.

          2. Amy*

            Go to Chat GPT if you want to expand that list to 10 and literally can’t think of 7 more things from your own life.

        2. amoeba*

          Huh? That’s a really weird take to me – like, there are so, so many things none of my coworkers know about me, and we’re generally really friendly and I’m quite open about my life. But I certainly haven’t told them all the funny little anecdotes or factoids about myself and have only things left that I haven’t been willing to share?

          I mean, I’d probably go with anything from “I sometimes wear two different socks” to “I taught myself to read runes as a child (and still can) to “I have a certificate for Grade 1 unicycle skills” or “I’ve been to Sweden every summer holiday for 10 years straight” or “my favourite dessert is tiramisu”. Or anything else, really, it can be super banal.

            1. Corporate Goth*

              Along with childhood pets, would you mind sharing your mother’s maiden name and the make of your first car?

              Kidding! Identity theft is a real issue, though, and there are plenty of other legitimate reasons to not want to share, including veterans with operational security training, those with stalkers or family tensions, down to “I don’t want to.”

              These sorts of events often result in follow up questions from coworkers; a little easily turns into a lot. Why invite such discomfort into the workplace now that you know others are uncomfortable with it?

              1. amoeba*

                Well, sure. But I mean, with one very open prompt like this one, everybody can really share whatever they feel comfortable with. And honestly, I have a really hard time imagining a situation where absolutely nothing would feel OK for sharing – not even, idk, you favourite sock brand or ice cream flavour.

                Obviously don’t have a catalogue of fixed questions for everybody.

              2. lilpinksock*

                Well, ok, but “I don’t want to” is still a far better answer than a long story involving (presumably pretty gruesome) details about a dead body.

              3. Pippa K*

                Well I have to hope anyone with actual opsec needs has also been trained to (a) tell the difference between icebreakers and interrogation and (b) have a good enough cover story to answer trivial conversations, questions.

              4. Peachtree*

                Haha what? you know most places allow you to choose your own questions? You know it’s not legally binding to give your pets name?

              5. ClaireW*

                But like, “I learned how to make [recipe] last week” or “I want to visit [country] some day” are still facts people might not that give away literally nothing ‘security’ related about a person. If you can’t come up with a single fact about yourself (or fake one) that doesn’t give away national security or put you at risk of identity theft then it’s probably time to make up some stories…

          1. doreen*

            Yes, there are loads of things that people don’t know about me – to talk about having only a limited number of things to share seems like people are restrictive in what they consider an answer to the question. Almost nobody except the people who were there know that I sang karaoke last summer , a few more people know I did a ropes course this past summer ( just after I turned 60 ), hardly anyone knows I am learning to bake beyond cookies and cakes. And then we can get into things that I want to do – not that I’ve never gone rock climbing , but that I would like to.

          2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            I’m not sure what to tell you – maybe you have a more varied and interesting life than I do? Maybe you have fewer things you Don’t Want to Talk About? Maybe your team is smaller or you haven’t worked with them as long? Maybe your office culture around small talk is different?

            My team is about 30 people, and I’ve worked with some of them for a decade or more. Our small talk topics are many and varied (Star Trek would’ve been exhaustively covered in my first two weeks on the job), but skew a little weirdly (I once got scolded for talking about composting “like it’s a thing normal people do”). We do a LOT of icebreakers, in my opinion. We also have Slack channels for most hobbies, so many of my teammates are aware of my crafts, my pets, my livestock, etc. I might have a longer list of things I avoid talking about than most (childhood pets is definitely a no-go for me), though I don’t think it’s an unusually long list.

            I probably ran out of “new” things to tell my team about myself a good seven years ago.

            1. bamcheeks*

              I just don’t think the stakes are that high– if you’ve got a not-terrible trainer, “the thing nobody knows about me is that… after ten years working together, there isn’t anything you don’t know about me!” said with a smile is probably going to be absolutely fine and they’ll move on to the next person. The point of an ice-breaker is literally to get you to speak to someone or speak in front of the group for the first time so you’re more comfortable speaking when the stakes are higher and you’re talking about real work stuff. A short non-answer does the job pretty much as well as a short real answer, and way, way better than a long, off-topic “real” answer.

              (FWIW, I think the ice-breaker question at the top of this thread is a totally different thing from the bigger pecha kucha exercise in LW1’s letter, which sounds terrible to me. I think they’re probably getting conflated here and that’s leading to some of the arguments.)

            2. amoeba*

              I mean, I don’t think the police will come and arrest you if you share a factoid that is not, in fact, new to everybody in the room… (Although yeah, that does seem like way too many icebreakers. Like, it’s can be a fun little game for the first time or two. If I had to “play” it regularly with the same round of people, it would obviously get old quickly.)
              I’d probably resort to ultra boring options in that case like “which series am I watching right now” (replace as appropriate by book/movie/knitting project/whatever changes regularly…)

        3. Phryne*

          ‘The real question is, why do people keep insisting on icebreakers that can only be answered with trauma or inanity?’

          What is wrong with a light hearted answer, and why do you think knowing a fun fact about your coworker is an inanity?
          The last time I did that exercise, the answers people came up with were ‘I was born in x country’; ‘I climbed a volcano once’; ‘I do glass art as a hobby’; and ‘I have 2 dogs’.

          Question answered. No one felt the need to trauma dump to teach someone a lesson. We all knew a tidbit about each other. There is such a thing as making yourself the drama.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            Why wouldn’t those have already come up in day-to-day small talk? They’re all pretty standard small talk fodder. With the possible exception of the volcano, I would expect most of that to be covered in a month or so of starting a new job.

            “Tell us something no one here knows about yourself” is explicitly looking for something beyond that, which is why it’s an intrusive question.

              1. amoeba*

                Indeed I mean, I tell my coworkers loads of things about my holidays or whatever but at 35, I’ve done many things in my (not particularly interesting) life and I certainly haven’t covered all of them, just because they haven’t come up! Like, what would you talk about as small talk today at coffee break? Probably something you haven’t discussed before? Use that.

                Also, I’d imagine icebreakers are mostly done with groups of people who don’t know each other well yet, because why would you need them for a group that already chats every day at lunch?

                1. doreen*

                  Yes, I’ve never had ice breakers done in a group of people who all work together every day. It’s always been at some training or meeting where people don’t know each other already. And not every detail comes up day-to-day – I had a high school friend who I didn’t know was born in another country until his obituary was published years later. I knew his parents were born there, I knew he was bilingual but the topic of where he was born just never came up.

                2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  This may be an office-culture difference, then? Our trainings are generally done with the whole team simultaneously, and I’ve generally encountered icebreakers at the start of larger team meetings – so quarterly-ish back in the pre-pandemic days and once or twice a month since the start of WFH. The vast, vast majority of icebreakers I’ve done at work have been with people I work (and talk) with on a daily basis.

              2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                I know the details they’ve been willing to share with me over the many years we’ve worked together. Not sure how that’s creepier than asking them to tell me something they’ve never shared with anyone before in a mandatory training?

                1. doreen*

                  Because the chances are excellent that you don’t know all the details that they are willing to share – you know the ones that they are willing to share that have also come up in day-to day conversation. The fact that it doesn’t come up in day to day conversation doesn’t automatically mean someone isn’t willing to share it. And it wasn’t “share something you’ve never shared with anybody before” – I can see why that would be intrusive. It was “Tell us something no one here knows about yourself.” Which I will do now- nobody here in the AAM comment section know I am studying Italian. I’m not unwilling to share that information but it simply has never come up before with this group of people.

                2. Sacred Ground*

                  Nobody was asked to “tell me something they’ve never shared with anyone before”.

                  “Tell me something about yourself that isn’t in your resume/job description” isn’t “Open up your deepest darkest secrets to a room full of strangers.”

            1. Daisy-dog*

              What about a “never” type answer? I’ve never had a cat or fish as a pet. I’ve never been to a state that borders the state that I’ve lived in my whole life. I’ve never driven a stick-shift.

            2. Bast*

              “Tell us something no one here knows about yourself” is explicitly looking for something beyond that, which is why it’s an intrusive question.

              I don’t necessarily agree with this. There are plenty of things that my colleagues don’t know, not because I hide them, but simply because they don’t come up in normal conversations. My least favorite color is orange, I don’t like bacon, I don’t know how to ice skate. None of these are too personal, delve too deeply into my psyche, or are things that my coworkers would known despite working together 6+ months because they don’t come up in conversation.

            3. Sacred Ground*

              You’re assuming the other participants in the meeting are already working closely together and are familiar with each other. I don’t get why you’d assume that.

              I guess it’s not possible that a mandatory training meeting might include people from different departments of the company who otherwise never interact with each other and equally impossible that there might be new people in the group who don’t know anybody.

              If ALL the participants in the training are already working together then, yes, an icebreaker is unnecessary, though it still might be helpful *for the trainer*. Since this meeting started with an icebreaker, I would assume the trainees don’t already know each other from working together.

              1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                If the question is “tell us something no one here knows about yourself”, that sort of implies that the people in the training are likely to already know something about each other, doesn’t it? Otherwise the trainer could go with the much simpler and more common “let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.”

                At any rate, yes – if the people in the room know almost nothing about each other, then this isn’t an intrusive question, just kind of a weirdly phrased one. In my experience these sorts of trainings and icebreakers have been done with people who all know each other really well already, in which case it would be a fairly intrusive question, but obviously YMMV.

                It’s maybe worth considering that there’s about a million other, less problematic questions that could be asked if the goal is really just getting people to start talking: “tell me something trivial about yourself”, “tell me something that isn’t true”, “tell me something that you found pleasantly surprising recently”, etc.

      2. Sacred Ground*

        What did the trainer learn?
        That when giving mandatory training there’s always at least one person who really doesn’t want to be there and will take out their resentment on you by hijacking the agenda.

        1. Heather*

          seriously. and everyone else got to deal with a really grisly story. this isn’t the win OP thinks it is.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            Including everyone here. Free Meercats could have related how they shared a traumatic experience from childhood without sharing that experience with *here*.

            Like, we all have traumas? If you don’t want to talk about them, don’t bring them up when nobody asked.

          2. Laura*

            I got the impression that it was quite a good grisly story. The kind to be told around a campfire. Of course, I might misinterpret the emotional relevance, and I agree it might not have been entirely appropiate in the context, but it’s less of a waste of air than the impersonal trivia one might come up with at that prompt.

        2. SnackAttack*

          Yeah, you can think what you’d like about the question, but I’m willing to bet that this reflected more poorly on the OP than it did on the trainer.

        3. FloralWraith*

          If I had a co-worker that answered that in an otherwise light-hearted training meeting, I would seriously think about telling their supervisor.

    4. vito*

      I have one of those stories if I n0eed it. Back in 82 just as I was starting high school, I was waking to the grocery store and saw a 9 year old hit by a car. Hit in the front, bounced over the VW Scirocco and landed on the ground. He didn’t survive.

      The next day I found out I knew the kid and his parents.
      The kid would have been 50 this year. Rest in Peace Matt.

      Even worse part was walking home from school and running into his dad at the scene of the accident and having him ask me questions about it.

      1. lilpinksock*

        Oh wow, that’s awful. I can’t imagine a workplace scenario in which a story like that would *need* to be told, especially if it’s just an icebreaker-type activity.

      2. ClaireW*

        For the sake of the other people in the room with you, please reconsider. Having “clever plan” to “get back at” the organiser is not a good reason to upset/trigger the other people in the room and you will more than likely come across like an asshole if the prompt wasn’t something like “what’s the most upsetting experience you’ve ever had”

    5. Katie A*

      This was an inappropriate and passive aggressive way to respond to a mild and inoffensive icebreaker and is not something the LW should emulate.

      Did you try talking to the trainer before trauma dumping and graphically describing a decaying body? Trainers aren’t dogs to be trained (not that negativity and passive aggression are appropriate for dogs). They’re people you can speak with.

      1. the cat's pajamas*

        Trainers often do these on the spot and you don’t have time to ask ahead of time. If you do, then you have to out yourself as having trauma. The activity is what’s passive aggressive, it only values extroverts and oversharers who never had trauma. Sheesh.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          But presumably you don’t know the detailed trauma background of every other person who’s in the training with you. Your desire to humiliate the trainer for a really thoughtless ice-breaker question shouldn’t trump the rights of your fellow trainees not to potentially be re-tramatised if they have something similar in their background. But hey, nothing feels as good as sticking it to the extroverts and that’s what really matters, right?

        2. Seashell*

          I’m neither an extrovert nor an oversharer who never had trauma, but I think I could easily come up with something that isn’t going to horrify people as an answer to this question. “I was in the chorus for the school musicals in high school” would be fine. No need to discuss that my dad died was I was a kid or where I was on 9/11. I don’t know why anyone would think revealing trauma was the only option or a wise option.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes I mean I can think of a couple offhand that aren’t oversharing such as “I do ballet and can do a double pirouette” or “my recipe for trifle is legendary” or even “I am learning Spanish so I can go to Argentina dancing”

            I mean it doesn’t matter if some people have heard it before, it’s an amusing factoid to fill 10 seconds.

        3. bamcheeks*

          I think that’s fair enough when the question is something like, “tell us about the worst day of your life” or “tell us about a stressful or difficult situation” or even the ones that ask about specific times like childhood, but if the prompt was literally just “tell us something that people don’t know”, then it’s an unreasonable response. If any ice-breaker activity that requires you to answer a question or speak to the group is going to trigger you, I think you’ve got to take some responsibility for managing that yourself and not make it everyone else’s problem.

        4. Katie A*

          There are a lot of options outside of saying you have trauma. Describing an upsetting experience and giving a detailed description of a dead body are not less revealing than, for example, saying “I can’t think of anything right now”. Later you could have a conversation with the trainer about how it is a bad question, if you really feel that way.

          Honestly, though, “Share something people here might not know” is not a prompt that only values extroverts and oversharers without trauma in any way. It’s a very broad and open question that can be answered a lot of different ways, so it can be tailored to one’s comfort level.

          Why do you think asking that question is passive aggressive?

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Yeah, if I say “I have hiked on two different volcanos”, I doubt Nat from Ops is going to stand up and say “I ALREADY KNEW YOU HIKED ON ONE, TELL ME SOMETHING ELSE”. They’re going to move on.

        5. Dinwar*

          “If you do, then you have to out yourself as having trauma.”

          How on Earth does “Tell us something no one knows about you” in any way making you “out yourself as having trauma”? It can easily be something positive. For example, I once used my hobby of jewelry making as something people didn’t know about me. My grand-boss used his religious affiliation (something that’s generally not discussed, and was genuinely surprising but not in the least traumatic). Another coworker discussed planting fruit trees along a certain hiking trail (with the approval of the owner). Another coworker talked about the time she got massive altitude sickness and had to be air-lifted off a mountain, but given the group we were in (all field geologists, most of whom could give Les Stroud a run for his money) it counted more as a funny story than trauma-dumping.

          Responding to “Tell us something folks don’t know about you” with a detailed description of a decaying body is uncalled for.

        6. Sacred Ground*

          Why does everyone leap from “tell us something about yourself” to “tell us your worst traumas?”

          Do you really think anyone who can comfortably say something like, “My name is Fergus and I play saxophone in a jazz combo” is an oversharer or extrovert?

          Once more for the people in the back: NOBODY WAS ASKED TO SHARE ABOUT TRAUMA.

        7. SnackAttack*

          Just because this seems to come up so often here – being an introvert does not necessarily mean you’re shy, socially anxious/antisocial, or hate talking to people. It just means you get tired out more quickly by social activity. Plenty of introverts don’t mind these kinds of activities, just like there are probably plenty of extroverts who hate them.

          Also, this is seeming to veer into the territory of thinking that the world is divided into introverted people with severe trauma vs. extroverted oversharers whose lives have been perfect. Especially if the crowd is a bit older, it’s very likely that everyone has experienced at least SOME amount of trauma, albeit to different degrees. I agree that the exercise that the OP describes is a bad idea, but this kind of question isn’t some targeted attack by perfect evil extroverts on shy people with trauma.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I wouldn’t recommend it, or do it myself, but I don’t think trainers have actually thought this question all the way through before they ask it. Asking for “something no one else knows” stands a good chance of being negative or problematic. If you haven’t shared it with everyone before then there’s probably a reason why! Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with directly saying “I actually think everyone knows most things about me; at least, anything that I would share”. I would make the trainer spell it out and ask a more specific question. But then, I haaaate doing the emotional labour of “ooh I wonder what they want, and what’s appropriate…. but not boring etc”

        1. amoeba*

          I really don’t get this take (as said above). I guess it would help if the trainer started themselves and set the tone with something very harmless like “my favourite cartoon is The Simpsons” or whatever? Just make it clear you’re not searching for any kind of deep insight, just, fun little factoids.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            Indeed, a good trainer will do just that, give their own example as a model. They can even be more specific: “Tell us something about yourself that isn’t on your resume.”

            I remember one such trainer actually said “Tell us something about yourself we wouldn’t already know. We’re not asking about your crappy childhood, just hobbies and the like.” There was some relieved nervous laughter in response to that (I think some folks were about to overshare and relieved to know it wasn’t required) then everyone shared a little innocuous tidbit (“I have 3 cats that I took in off the street”, “I collect Warhammer figures”, “I majored in dance”), the meeting continued in a much more relaxed fashion, and it took all of 5 minutes time if that. It was just an icebreaker and it worked.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, there are one million things that would easily fall into the “no one knows” category just because they’re not really interesting or common enough to come up organically. You could even just default to “I like X” where X is literally any movie, TV show, book, song, band, food, animal, plant, mineral or literally anything on the planet that has just not (to your knowledge) come up before.

        2. Glomarization, Esq.*

          Negative or problematic? But there are a million things about me that no one else knows! Like the color of my bedroom slippers. The fact that I eat the same exact breakfast every day. The age I was when I got my ears pierced. The age I was when I had to get a rabies shot because a bat got into my bedroom somehow. The make and model of the family car I learned to drive in. My household’s plans for our next vacation. The number of maple trees on my street. The number of times me and Mr. Glomarization have seen “Futurama” all the way through. My favorite type of candy bar. … It’s endless, really.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              It would apply to everybody. There is zero chance that there are zero casual facts about any person that they haven’t bothered sharing at work before just because there was never any reason to mention it.

        3. Katie A*

          It’s a bit of a stretch to call it “emotional labor” to figure out what is an appropriate thing to say at work in an icebreaker with your coworkers. It might be hard for some people (it is for me sometimes), but it’s also a basic part of interacting with others, not extra labor you do for your employer to manage your or other people’s emotions.

        4. Gemstones*

          “I would make the trainer spell it out and ask a more specific question.”

          For the love of god, no. An ice breaker is just a thing to do for the sake of doing it. It’s a little social dance, like saying how are you/how was your break when you come back from work and greet coworkers. It doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter. You’re just doing it to get through it. Don’t become the person who draws it out and makes the training/meeting hellish for your coworkers.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            This this this. Everyone at an icebreaker is an adult who can make their own choices about their own boundaries. No one is forcing you to say anything you aren’t comfortable with. Just say something surface and move on.

            Now I will certainly sometimes coach people outside of meetings about what appropriate icebreakers are or why certain things may be awkward for people. But in the moment, just get through it.

        5. Also-ADHD*

          I hate icebreakers and yet I’ve had to include them in onboarding (not my current role) when I’ve been a trainer in HR. You can do thoughtful ones. This one could be turned into “Share something you want people to know about you (if you’re interested)” which is much less sinister. Too many trainers don’t think through the psychological safety of these exercises. Too many teachers too, I imagine, in schools.

        6. Phryne*

          ‘I actually think everyone knows most things about me’.
          That sounds like main character syndrome actually. I can guarantee you, your coworkers are really not that invested in keeping notes on you.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Also if you say something that most people in the group already know, they’re not going to stand up and say they knew that and demand another fact. They’re just going to nod and smile and move to the next person.

          2. Ellis Bell*

            No not really! They just have fair memories and we talk a lot. I’m not for a moment suggesting this is true of every workplace, but it’s not always the question trainers think it is in *every* workplace and for*everyone*.

            1. Allonge*

              OK, but – what book you are reading right now. What episode of [series] you watched last week. Your latest culinary discovery. The dog you saw yesterday. It does not need to be a Big Life Fact, it can be something that happened to you recently.

              1. Ellis Bell*

                Absolutely. It can be those things! But people are ignoring that sometimes it can’t. If you’re going through something big and personal then you’re not reading a book, or cooking, or having similar experiences to others, you’re just surviving. Make room for people to share, sure, but don’t require it. And when people say things like “main character syndrome” just because someone doesn’t want to share (what?!) that’s exactly the sort of pressure people will feel is making them come up with something that “doesn’t have to be true” and will play along, not to connect but to hide.

      3. Pescadero*

        I’d say the argument being made here is that the icebreaker was NOT mild or inoffensive – that asking that type of question is inherently offensive in a work context.

        1. Observer*

          I’d say the argument being made here is that the icebreaker was NOT mild or inoffensive – that asking that type of question is inherently offensive in a work context.

          But WHY?!

          Icebreakers are for people who you don’t work with closely all the time. So almost anything that’s not in your “official” bio would work. Even “I (don’t) like cats.”

      4. Nico m*

        No, trainers definitely need training to be better trainers.

        Its a lovely gift for the trainer – now, when they are on training course to be a better trainer and the trainer trainer asks the icebreaker “tell us about a training that went wrong” they will have a just super example.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I can pretty much guarantee that the takeaway from this particular answer would be, “there’s always one” and not “here’s an actionable piece of feedback that you can use to improve”.

            1. hohundrum*

              yeah…these kinds of comments really help clarify who is actually the issue here, and it’s not the trainer

      5. Zombeyonce*

        It’s also not just the trainer that’s affected (or “trained”). They’re exposing coworkers to horrific information they didn’t need and likely don’t want; what did they do to Free Meerkats that would warrant that?

        If I were sitting in a meeting during this icebreaker and expected Free Meerkats to say something like “My socks are green today” and instead got this terrible story, it would tell me a lot more about their judgment than the trainer’s judgment. (I’d also nope out of there when I saw where it was going. I don’t need someone else’s trauma added to my own.) What the trainer probably learned from this wasn’t to stop asking the question, but to interrupt and redirect when someone gets a bee in their bonnet over a question that should have an innocuous answer.

    6. JubJubTheIguana*

      This really isn’t the “then everyone cheered” win you think it is.

      It’s honestly really cruel behaviour, and if I witnessed someone do that, I’d think they were not a nice person and would avoid them and avoid giving them responsibilities or promotions. It’s not okay to traumatise or trigger people to make a point, it’s just really nasty and cruel.

      This idea that work exists as a forum to “put people in their place” is just a really weird Extremely Online thing. In the real world, people would just assume that you have no social skills and would avoid you.

      1. the cat's pajamas*

        There’s a difference between putting people “in their place” and coping with being asked to share information you don’t want to. I’m not violating my own boundaries to make someone comfortable who is the one crossing the line by forcing this kind of activity in the first place.

        1. Seashell*

          Is there really zero banal information in your life that you would have been able to share in response to that sort of question? Revealing your favorite flavor of ice cream or which movie you’ve seen 10 times would violate your boundaries?

          1. Corporate Goth*

            But why is that info *anyone’s* business just because they asked? “No” is an acceptable answer.

            For those who think this is easy for everybody, I first encountered something I ran out of supposedly new options for – I think it was “why are you passionate about this mission”’ in a field where that answer is often highly personal – and just started blandly responding with, “that’s a wildly personal question.”

            I was several decades older than you’d expect, and it took seeing a dozen others to realize I could have made up an answer…in a field that valued honesty and integrity.

            Please believe those of us who say this isn’t easy for everyone.

            1. Gemstones*

              But I think a lot of people are looking for ways to make it as hard as it needs to be. If someone’s response to an ice breaker is telling the story of finding a dead body…then, c’mon. If that person put a fraction of the effort in, they could have easily come up with something nonoffensive like “No one knows that I’ve never seen [insert popular movie]” or “No one knows I secretly wish I could adopt a porcupine.”

              It’s true you can always say “no,” but…I dunno, it also seems like a pick-your-battles thing. Do you really want to be the difficult employee?

            2. Allonge*

              Just because the answer is often ‘this mission is very important to me for personal reasons’ this does not mean that the question ‘why are you passionate about this’ is wildly personal.

              It does (or should!) mean that an answer like the above should be accepted, no further questions asked. And it’s assuming I am passionate about the mission, so, you know, bad question, but not inappropriately personal.

            3. Amy*

              You choose what you share. If you are a pediatric oncologist because your sibling died of cancer at age 5, you don’t need to provide that information. A generic answer about your passion for helping children and families is fine.

              Many professional jobs require people to speak professionally about the job itself. It’s rarely “wildly personal” and choosing to view it that way may mark you as unsuited for that field, if talk about passion is common. It also makes you sound like you’re about to go to HR.

              If you really don’t want to answer, say “that’s a great question – I find new reasons to be passionate daily” and shuffle off to the charcuterie board. Rebuking the asker for asking about professional topics in a professional setting is unnecessary.

            1. Pippa K*

              Today is really something. If it had been like this the first time I read AAM, I’d never have come back.

              1. Thistle Pie*

                Seriously, I knew that this group leaned towards not liking icebreakers, but this thread is something else. It blows me away that people are actively antisocial to their coworkers because they don’t “need” to get to know them and that people don’t understand that they have the discretion to answer questions as surface level or in-depth as they wish.

                1. bamcheeks*

                  I think some people may be conflating this ice-breaker activity with the very extended version that LW1 described in their letter? Like I think there are very good reasons to object to the entire twenty-slide exercise, and I do also think that childhood / young adulthood, “worst experience”, “conflict”, “a time something went really badly wrong” are good things to avoid in broad general training sessions unless you’re very specific about it being about about professional / work experiences. If people are conflating this thread with that kind of more in-depth “we really want to get to know you, bring your whole self to work SMILEY FACE” culture, I can understand it.

                  But otherwise, I think it’s really important to realise that “ice-breakers” really are usually just about getting people to either talk for the first time in front of the group or talk to each other, and that what you actually say doesn’t really matter. Any competent trainer will totally accept “I had one of those instant-porridge pots for breakfast” or “I really hate this kind of thing, but actually everyone knows that haha!” The whole point of calling something “ice-breaker” is to signify that low-stakes and that the important thing is that you talk.

                2. Pescadero*

                  My experience is that they don’t work.

                  Teams that don’t need ice-breakers and team building do great at ice-breakers and team building. It’s taken care of organically.

                  Teams that need ice-breakers and team building? Ice-breakers and team building don’t work.

                  Basically – teams that already get along, continue to get along and teams that don’t have absolutely nothing solved by team building or ice-breakers. They’re just lipstick on the pig for management to avoid doing any of the things that would actually fix problems.

                3. Lenora Rose*

                  I do feel some of the anti-icebreaker comments don’t seem to realise that you can be social with coworkers and even like it and still agree that some icebreakers go too far. There seems to be an idea that if you say “Actually, I like talking to my coworkers sometimes” you must also be saying “a mandatory nearly seven minute talk about their personal lives with slides is just fine and dandy!”

                4. Ellis Bell*

                  I think you’re confusing being social with icebreakers, and all icebreakers with each other. I’ve seen good icebreakers and bad, and I can enjoy an icebreaker myself and still have sympathy for the fact it’s not tactful or appropriate for everyone. I’ve learned while teaching that there’s no good question for everyone and it’s a good idea to be thoughtful about letting people opt out, or even better opt in, sometimes.

              2. Eliot Waugh*

                I’ve been here on and off with various usernames, mostly as a lurker, for over a decade. The tone really has gotten increasingly anti-social and I wish something could be done about it.

                1. Zombeyonce*

                  I do think it’s the minority of commenters that are rabid misanthropists, but it’s easy for people to pile onto things like this when they feel even the remotest similar feelings. I do appreciate that people push back on this behavior.

                  (And I love your username! Now I need to do a reread and rewatch. Janet/Margo is my ultimate kindred spirit.)

                2. sarah the third*

                  AAM recently posted some numbers showing the majority aren’t antisocial but it’s just a small vocal few. Realistically what do you think can/should be done about it?

                3. Eliot Waugh*

                  Yay a fellow fan! My cats are named Eliot and Margo.

                  Re: Sarah on what could be done about it, a blue box at the top of such letters with a note that plenty of people DO enjoy being social at work and that’s okay might be helpful.

            2. ABC*

              I’m feeling a lot of pity for some of the people commenting today. I hope these are just online-only personas and they’re not actually trying to “score points” like this in real life.

              1. Zombeyonce*

                I have a feeling a lot of these “I did this terrible thing to get the better of a trainer once!” were actually scenarios played out in the shower after the fact.

          2. Baunilha*

            Eh, when I was asked this very same question (as I mentioned above, my employer just loves this kind of thing), my mind blanked. All I could think were things that my coworkers didn’t know because I didn’t want them to know.
            So yeah, it sorted of violated my boundaries.
            I do think that are ways to make things easier, like giving people a few minutes to think about what they want to share (I was put on the spot and had to listen to my coworkers complain I was taking too long while the trainer kept pushing me to answer something), explain that you’re not expecting deep answers, maybe give a few examples.

            1. Peachtree*

              It didn’t violate your boundaries. You were not forced to respond. Your boundary is that you don’t want to answer the question, unless the trainer held you down and literally forced you to answer …

            2. ClaireW*

              “I couldn’t think of a good reply” and “My boundaries were violated” are NEVER to to be the same thing! The trainer cannot control or predict what you will think of, and you cannot have ‘boundaries’ around what your own brain will think about. You just panicked and struggled to answer the question at short notice.

        2. Amy*

          You can’t come up with something like “I hate top sheets and I them out of the sheet set?”
          or “I think Lord Grantham was the villain of ‘Downton Abbey?”

          The idea that you can’t think of a simple mundane thing without it being a boundary violation is extreme.

          1. EM*

            Lord Grantham totally was the villain.

            Good icebreaker – now we have something to talk about in the break.

        3. Gemstones*

          You don’t have to violate boundaries, though. It’s pretty easy to come up with something lowkey or even made up; no one is going to fact-check if you say “No one knows I skipped breakfast today” or “No one knows I wanted to be an astronaut when I was six.” Really, no one cares what you say.

        4. Glomarization, Esq.*

          Perceiving the question itself as a boundary violation is definitely something. Is it also a boundary violation when people make small talk in social situations? I’m genuinely wondering if you’d think “What do you do when you’re not at Insert Name of Social Event, then?” would be a boundary violation.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            From my perspective, at least, they’re not really comparable situations at all.

            “What do you do when you’re not at Insert Name of Social Event, then?”, in a social situation – This is a softball question I can answer any number of ways! I can talk about work, or a hobby, or since it’s a 1:1 sort of question I can politely demur and toss it back to the asker (“Oh, the usual, I suppose – nothing particularly interesting! How about yourself? What do you do?”). We can run through a couple of topics until we find something of mutual interest. If I’m uncomfortable with the line of questioning, I can politely excuse myself, because we’re mingling in a more organic fashion.

            “Tell us something no one here knows about yourself.”, in a going-around-the-room icebreaker at a mandatory training – This is explicitly asking for something I haven’t previously shared with anyone else in the training before, which is pretty invasive if you already know many of the people in the training well. If I’ve been generally as open as I’m willing to be with the people I’m training with, then there really aren’t any good outs – I can’t toss the question back at the asker or change the topic or leave. I could choose not to participate (pivot and tell something that I know people already know, or share something transparently meaningless, or make some self-deprecating remark about being boring and having nothing to share, or make something up), or I could share something I wasn’t willing to share.

            In hosting terms, this is kind of the difference between a guest asking for something to drink, and a guest asking what booze you’re keeping in the cabinet because they don’t like any of the drink options on the table.

            1. amoeba*

              “or share something transparently meaningless”

              I mean, that’s kind of the point of the activity? I’d say that’s not even just acceptable, but probably preferred.

              1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                IS that the point of the activity? From my perspective, “I saw a squirrel this morning” or “I had cornflakes for breakfast” is entirely counter to the getting-to-know-you spirit of the thing and is a moderately flippant rebuff to the trainer asking the question. It’s a pretty clear “I don’t want to be here and I’m not going to participate.”

                1. Amy*

                  If you say it sarcastically, sure.

                  If you add 1-2 more detail and a neutral delivery, it’s fine. “I saw an epic squirrel fight this morning. A real battle royale – I’m still thinking about it” – this is 100% fine.

                2. MCMonkeyBean*

                  Yes, that truly is the point of the activity. Ice breakers are not meant for deep bonding. They are just to get the talking started.

              2. bamcheeks*

                No, the point of it is “make the first thing you say low-stakes and not relevant to the topic of the training, because if everyone had spoken once they’re more likely to participate once we get into the actual meet of the session”.

            2. bamcheeks*

              (pivot and tell something that I know people already know, or share something transparently meaningless, or make some self-deprecating remark about being boring and having nothing to share, or make something up)

              As a trainer, I’d consider all of these perfectly reasonable options and wouldn’t consider them “not participating”!

              1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                I’ll bow to your superior expertise, then, but… can you explain what the point of the question is? Because if all of those options are still considered participation, I’m missing something about the intention.

                1. Gemstones*

                  It’s just to loosen people up and get them a bit more relaxed before jumping in. For some people, it might feel a little abrupt to just into the training (or whatnot) when people don’t know each other. This is a low-stakes way to get a sense of the folks in the room. No one actually cares what you say, and they’re not going to push back if you say “the wrong” thing. It’s really just a way to transition people into the training/meeting/activity, and you don’t need to give it all that much thought.

                2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  I guess I’m going to have to go with this being a work-culture difference. Besides my initial onboarding at my current job, I don’t think I’ve been in a training (or had a meeting with an icebreaker) where most people didn’t already work with each other closely. So asking a question just for the sake of getting people to speak, rather than for getting a relevant answer, seems very odd to me. Why wouldn’t you stick to “Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves?”

                3. Sacred Ground*

                  Gemstones is right. People offended by this seem to have misconstrued the intent.

                  The purpose of the question isn’t to get information.

                  The purpose is to get people comfortable with participation in a conversation with people they don’t know well so the meeting isn’t dominated by a handful of talkers while everyone else sits quietly. That’s the point of all “icebreakers”, it’s not a serious question. The answer to the question is irrelevant, it’s just about getting people to speak at all. Or even just to gauge the relative comfort or discomfort people in the room have about speaking up.

                  It’s not an interrogation.

                4. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  Then I guess, for all the folks out there that lead icebreakers – can I suggest we drop the ones that sound like they might be actual questions? Because if the goal is essentially a verbal warmup to make sure we’re ready to participate in a meeting/training/whatever, it seems like we can get that just as easily from “Is a taco a sandwich, and why?”, and maybe avoid all the awfulness I associate with icebreakers.

                  And, if there are a few folks leading icebreakers for team-bonding reasons instead (hi, grandboss!), maybe that’s the wrong medium and we just don’t do that anymore?

              2. ABC*

                Yep. I can remember one training where someone literally gave the jokey “It turns out I’m a very boring person” response. The trainer didn’t burst into tears because their grand scheme had been foiled, and no one congratulated the guy on his sick burn. Instead, we all had a good chuckle and moved on. Who could have predicted that, right?

            3. Sacred Ground*

              “…which is pretty invasive if you already know many of the people in the training well.”
              Right. IF you already know them. All we know about this is it was a mandatory annual training, possibly about harassment. The kind of meeting that often includes people from various departments who DON’T work together and already know each other.

              And even if you do know each other, the trainer doesn’t know any of you.

              And it’s called an “icebreaker” for a reason. The purpose isn’t to gather information, it’s only to get people to relax about speaking around people they don’t know well. It doesn’t matter what you say, it matters that you’re willing to say something. That’s all the trainer is concerned with.

            4. Observer*

              This is explicitly asking for something I haven’t previously shared with anyone else in the training before, which is pretty invasive if you already know many of the people in the training well.

              Maybe, but in that case it makes sense not to worry about whether you fulfill the exact instructions, because obviously the person asking won’t know that others know about this. And the people sitting there won’t care.

              So say something some of the people know about. Really, no one cares.

              And if you do something like “No one knows I skipped breakfast this morning” you are really golden.

              I could choose not to participate (pivot and tell something that I know people already know, or share something transparently meaningless, or make some self-deprecating remark about being boring and having nothing to share, or make something up)

              And all of these are *perfectly* good options, although I’d probably skip the self-deprecating choice. I mean who really cares?

              And they are certainly a lot more reasonable that what Free Meerkats did.

        5. Dinwar*

          How is asking a question “violating your boundaries”? For one thing, the trainer doesn’t know your boundaries to begin with–they’ve known you for ten seconds at that point. For another, ice breakers are so common and mundane that the trainer can reasonably expect adults to respond in a mature way, either by saying “I can’t think of anything, I’ll pass” or by giving some generic non-answer.

          Further, this isn’t what boundaries are. Boundaries are what YOU do. How YOU respond to these sorts of questions. Making other people behave in ways you want them to isn’t a boundary, it’s controlling behavior. Using the term “boundary” to control other people’s behavior weaponizes and serves to invalidate an important psychological concept. This is often how people justify abuse.

          What does a healthy boundary look like? In this case, it’s responding to the (let’s be real, totally innocuous) question with either a standard banality (“I have a birthmark the shape of a carrot”), made-up (I don’t have such a birthmark), or with a polite statement declining to answer. Trauma-dumping is not among the available options.

        6. EventPlannerGal*

          What you are doing right now is using therapy-speak to justify a weird, nasty bit of cruelty. It is not a boundary violation to be asked to share a factoid and making your colleagues listen to a horrible, upsetting story about a decaying body is not a coping mechanism deserving of any kind of defence. The fact that you think it is, and that you are couching it in the language of therapy and victimhood to justify it, does not reflect well on you and you should think about why you are doing that.

      2. Bog Witch*

        This idea that work exists as a forum to “put people in their place” is just a really weird Extremely Online thing. In the real world, people would just assume that you have no social skills and would avoid you.

        I am so glad someone said this because it’s something a lot of regular commenters here really, really need to read and internalize.

    7. Dom*

      I had a mandatory corporate training event where we also had to share a personal story, and someone told a 200+ person call about the time he and his older brother went to a football (or soccer if you’re American) game, and then how things went wrong and they narrowly got out of the stadium before people were injured and dying. He’d been in the Hillsborough Disaster, the worst sporting event disaster in the UK’s history iirc.

    8. Nancy*

      So you punished everyone by making them listen to that to prove some ‘point.’ How horrible.

      ‘My hobby is X.’ ‘I like Y.’ Those are things people should he saying. And it can literally be anything, no one cares that much.

    9. Gemstones*

      Maybe next time just tell the story of the kid who set off a chain of vomiters at the pie-eating contest.

    10. Seeking Second Childhood*

      l It’s a shame that trainer made it exclusively personal. When we got re-org’d we were encouraged to mention training & certs that we don’t use in our current roles. At least one person uses her previously “unknown skill” in the job.she transferred to shortly after that meeting.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        I mean, I don’t love icebreakers (they just feel like they take forever and it’s really more about the trainer getting to know people a little), but that answer would have me internally rolling my eyes and thinking “sheesh read the room bozo. Just tell me that you dislike chocolate ice cream and move on”.

    11. Pippa K*

      I am truly dismayed at the number of people who seem to take pride in announcing that they responded to a question they didn’t like by deliberately horrifying or even traumatising everyone in the room. People, it is possible to duck a question gracefully, respond with light humour, quietly opt out, calmly state that you disagree with an exercise, supply a white lie in place of a difficult truth, or any number of other tactics. Not every mildly problematic workplace scenario needs a nuclear response.

    12. iglwif*

      I always have a bit of trouble with this one because unless I am brand new to a group, everybody already knows all the interesting but work-appropriate things about me.

      But I’m afraid it would never occur to me to go straight to my considerable stock of childhood traumas in response?? There are other ways to handle this actually not particularly invasive question.

      (That said, it’s a lot safer to phrase this question as “A fun fact about yourself that most people here might not know” — fun fact sets the expectation of “preferably not trauma or intimate details about your health or your sex life”, while most and might makes it okay to reuse facts that some people in the group do already know.)

  10. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (presentation about yourself) – agree with the answer and some of the the comments already that a non-commital, lightweight approach is best. I would be really tempted though (as someone with some traumatic stuff in the past, but now comfortable talking about it) to give some actual answers and send the discomfort back to the organiser! “What is your actual challenge?” – “I struggle with committing to anything or planning for the future because of a background sense of how precarious everything is and could change at any moment, so any thoughts of the future seem like hubris” etc etc.

    1. Meemur*

      I did this. I grew up in The Troubles, so my photos were things like that time the roof was blown off our house, and that time the army dug up our yard and set up camp. Told a story about our school being evacuated due to a bomb threat, only for them to realise an hour later that they misinterpreted the warning and actually herded us *towards* the bomb instead of away from it.

      I did it all in a breezy, matter-of-fact tone and they were all horrified. A manager commented that, “This really wasn’t the kind of thing they were looking for” and I said, “Then maybe you shouldn’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to”

      I know not everyone has got to a point in their life where they can talk about traumatic insidents without being reaffected but if you can, it’s very satisfying. And it takes the pressure off those not willing or able to share about themselves

      1. Ellis Bell*

        That’s a really brilliant answer you gave them. When people say that’s “not what they’re looking” for I have to wonder if they think everyone has the same upbringing, or they honestly think that everyone is supposed to pretend like they did.

      2. K8T*

        I had probably 5 bomb threats while in high school
        That being said – I never felt the need to try to make anyone uncomfortable to try to prove some odd point

        1. blah*

          Honestly, some of these responses where commenters think they taught people a lesson really make me question THEIR decision making skills, not whoever organized the stupid training in the first place.

          1. K8T*

            100%, all I would take away is that person is annoying and would probably do my best to avoid them. The dedication some people here have to being miserable is on another level.

            1. PowerPoint Overdose*

              The dedication some people here have to being miserable is on another level.

              How are they supposed to handle it when management forces them to do things that make them miserable? These activities are not the low-stakes lighthearted things many of the commenters seem to think they are.

              No manager is going to make an exception for an activity like this. Even if they did, there’s that lovely risk of being called “not a team player,” and being socialized right out of your job.

              1. uncivil servant*

                I’m just going to make my own judgement based on the fact that apparently giving a mundane fact about you makes you miserable. I’m not the icebreaker police, I’m not even a trainer who runs these things, I’m just going to say to myself “Okay, that person’s miserable and completely unapproachable, stay away.” Same as if someone actually talked about their baby pictures for several minutes, I’d decide that was someone best to be avoided unless I wanted a monologue on their life whenever I asked them about where the printer paper is.

                And from your perspective, that’s probably great! I will never ask you for your opinion on something I’m working on, and you don’t have to waste your precious time talking to a human at work.

          1. K8T*

            Well I could have told a much more gruesome story but I am an adult who understands social conventions and that doesn’t disprove my point :)

        1. Wintermute*

          the problem is “awlwardness return to sender” is a tactic for dealing with abusers and narcissists.

          Not to pick on you in particular, a LOT of people are doing that here but your specific naming of the tactic felt like a good place to step in to remind people that A LOT of those tactics are meant for abusers and unsafe people: grey rock, “no is a complete answer”, “you don’t owe people justifications”, awkwardness return to sender, etc. All of these are tactics for abusive people.

          If you use them in a less dire situation you are throwing a hand grenade into that relationship and there is a good liklihook you will look like a raging jerk to everyone that sees you.

          In fact even if it IS warranted you often have to explain yourself: “I know my response to Barb might have looked jarring but…” and explain very briefly to the horrified onlooker that, actually, you are the one in the right despite such apoplectic rudeness because the person you snubbed abused you in the past, or you’ve gone low-contact because they’re a malignant narcissist or whatever else.

          If you don’t explain engaging in such wanton rudeness results in you getting a very bad reputation, not having the desired effect.

      3. ClaireW*

        I mean, as someone else who also grew up at the tail end of the Troubles I would not appreciate you doing this. You think I want to be reminded about my own traumatic experiences so that you can feel like a super clever person who “taught a lesson” to the organiser? Absolutely not. Just talk about your favourite food or some ice cream you tried and didn’t like and let us move on, I don’t want or need to start a training session like that and I will NOT think positively of you for putting me through that.

  11. OP #4*

    Hi I’m OP #4. My surgery was last month and everything went well. I did not qualify for FMLA and was fired when I didn’t return after two days. I worked in early childhood education as a daycare teacher. Most centers treat their employees like this.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      And people wonder why there’s a shortage of daycare spots….

      I’m glad to hear the surgery went well, and I hope you find better employment soon.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Yeah. Its not like people are clamoring for these kinds of jobs, so the company just basically reduced the number of kids they can care for. Which has a ripple effect.

        I can kinda see the no sick leave policy. Kids are little germ factories and if daycare providers took off every time they caught something from a kid, they would never be there. Also if they let everyone take unpaid time willy nilly, same problem. But, it needs to be a sensible policy like a doctor’s note allows time off.

        Good luck OP in finding a reasonable job. Update us when you do.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I’ve had 2 kids in daycare and I still want the people watching them to be treated like human beings. Yes, getting exposed to illness is part of the job, but daycare workers (IMO) can generally tell if they’re well enough to work or need to stay home sick. I don’t think any of them would spend a sick day on a runny nose or small cough, but save them for days when you need to stay in bed and can’t really function.

          It is a really difficult topic, though, because the cost of running daycare facilities in the US is very, very high. It’s hard to afford to give PTO to daycare workers with the cost of insurance and keeping up with regulations. Some places find a way to do it, though they cost more. There’s really no winning for daycare workers and owners with the state of things.

          1. Observer*

            I’ve had 2 kids in daycare and I still want the people watching them to be treated like human beings

            Seriously!

            If for no other reason that people who are treated well are more likely to treat my kid well!

            I mean, even if decency doesn’t come into someone’s considerations, self interest should make them realize this.

            because the cost of running daycare facilities in the US is very, very high. It’s hard to afford to give PTO to daycare workers with the cost of insurance and keeping up with regulations.

            But this goes beyond that. And it does nothing to reduce costs.

          2. B*

            It is the epitome of a broken market that requires greater government support. Costs are too high for parents, wages are too low for workers, and margins are too slim for owners–for a service that is critical for social welfare. That it continues like this is a real indictment of our politics.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      I’m glad to hear you are healthy and sorry you lost your job. Daycare centers treat employees so horribly and pay them shamefully low wages for some of our society’s most important work. I hope you find a new position soon!

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        It’s so bizarre when there’s massive staff shortages in early years care to treat staff so badly. Like, where are you going to get a replacement from? They’re all working at Walmart because the pay is higher.

        1. Jolene*

          Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. My kid’s daycare cannot find qualified workers. Where does company think it is going to find a qualified replacement?

          Also, no way I’d send my kids to this daycare. Both my kids (ages 1 and 4) are in rooms with experienced “teachers.” We know their names, trust them specifically with our kids, etc. – if a new person was there today at drop off, and the explanation was “oh, Susie got sick so it’s Tina now.” No.

          1. Dahlia*

            Daycare providers still get seriously ill. Beyond covid, being a daycare worker doesn’t prevent you from getting appendicitis or something. No sick leave is a horrible policy for everyone.

            1. Jolene*

              To be clear, I meant if Susie got fired and so Tina was replacement.

              Obviously sometimes Suzie is out sick – which is to be expected! She’s a human!

          2. uncivil servant*

            Isn’t that kind of how a daycare centre operates, though? My daughter is in a home daycare and while I love that we both know every day who’s going to be caring for her, it means we have to take time off when the provider or one of her own kids is sick, and if she gets very sick herself we’ll be scrambling for new care in a place where the waitlists are 2-3 years. The benefit of a centre is that when Susie gets sick, Tina’s there and you’re not without care.

            1. Jolene*

              I meant if Susie was fired for being sick. Like what happened to OP.

              I was responding to the comment about low turnover being desirable as a parent. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

              1. uncivil servant*

                Oh yeah, for sure you want as little turnover as possible! Apart from missing my child’s regular daycare provider, I’d be so pissed if I was told my child’s daycare was understaffed and knew it was because they couldn’t show a bit of flexibility. It’s like the corporate people don’t want ECEs to start thinking they have power because of how in-demand they are, so any opportunity to cut them down to size. :/

        2. Mytummyhurtsbutimbeingbraveaboutit*

          My guess is to scare them into not taking pto. Doesn’t work if you physically can’t go in.

          So horrible and cruel

    3. Ellis Bell*

      That is a great question to ask daycare centers, actually. I’m sure most people don’t want a revolving door of replacement staff caring for their kid. I’m sorry that happened to you and that people keep underestimating early years education, or hell, education as a whole.

      1. Hekko*

        Or sick staff caring for their child. When their job is on the line, people will come with cold (or worse) as soon as they are able.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          And daycare staff are exposed to a ton of germs from the vectors, sorry I mean little children. Overstaffing in anticipation of sickness absence seems obvious – though where the money would come from I don’t know.

          1. Clisby*

            Oh, no, the child care workers can just come in sick and create *more* little disease vectors to send home. After all, you have to pay whether your kid’s at child care or sick at home.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            One of the things I liked about my child’s daycare center was that they had full-time staff as well as several part-timers who could
            be called in as substitutes.

          3. Wintermute*

            reminds me of the old joke: why can’t you teach little kids to climb mountains?

            Because you can’t cross a vector with a scalar.

        2. Jessica*

          of course they will. wasn’t there a post just in the weekend thread from some frazzled parent of two littles whose family is constantly sick? no wonder.

      2. Jay (no, the other one)*

        One of the things I liked about the daycare we chose was that they had very low turnover. The woman who was in charge of the baby room when my kid was there is still in charge of the baby room and my kid is now 23. At the time they didn’t offer medical insurance but they did give PTO and sick leave, at least. And they were the most expensive daycare in the area by far. I had a friend who had two kids there and was paying more a month than her mortgage. We were lucky to be able to afford it.

        The closer people work with kids – and the younger the kids – the lower the pay. It’s bonkers. And dangerous.

        1. Jolene*

          Same with our daycare re low turnover. Head person in infant room has been there for over 30 years. My kid is probably in better hands with her than with us. We’ve only been doing this for 4 years!

        2. JustaTech*

          This is also the thing I really like about my daycare – the infant teachers have been there for decades!
          It’s also *not* the most expensive daycare in our area (hello Bright Horizons, $4k a month) – but that’s because it’s a co-op non-profit where the parents do a lot of the maintenance and upkeep and improvements. But I do know that they have PTO, because one of my kiddo’s teachers went on vacation back in the summer for a couple of weeks.

      3. Zombeyonce*

        While I feel for LW and wish it could have been different, I also understand their former employers’s actions. Sure, there are daycare owners that don’t care and are very Capitalism, but in my experience (2 kids that did years of daycare), most care greatly. They want to pay daycare workers more and give them benefits and PTO, but they just can’t afford to. Insurance and keeping up with regulations is incredibly expensive and only the very expensive centers can afford to give benefits and still break even. (Even cheap daycare is expensive!) People are not becoming rich by running daycare centers.

        My guess is that they have the limit on PTO because they need coverage. Not just need, but certain adult-to-child ratios are required by law or they’ll get shut down. Because they can’t pay much more than minimum wage at most centers, there’s a huge shortage of daycare workers. That means there’s no pool of temps that can come in and cover for a few days; there just aren’t people available and you have to have special training/certifications (even just first aid) to do this work. If they can’t find a temp, they’re only likely to be able to find coverage if they can offer full-time work, so they can’t afford to let a person stay out for a long period of time and still have a job afterwards.

        It’s a terrible system and needs a massive overhaul, but that’s the current reality of it. (And these places never have enough employees to qualify them for FMLA.)

        1. Chirpy*

          But they’ve also just completely ruined their coverage, because unless they have applicants clamoring for jobs and ready to go (unlikely) they just traded 2 weeks of short staffed for an indefinite time, possibly months of short staffing, all because they didn’t want to do a tiny bit of flexibility (for surgery! it’s probably a one-time request!)

          1. Zombeyonce*

            Except that they literally can’t have kids there without coverage, so they have to hire someone immediately to cover the absence even if it’s a one-time request for a few days past the one-week limit. Since it’s basically impossible to get a temp childcare worker, they need to have a permanent position open and they can’t do that if the absent worker is coming back.

            “Short staffed” at daycares means “closed.”

            1. Chirpy*

              Even if they had to close, though – it’s two weeks with advance notice,
              for a surgery. Instead of “let’s wait until 2 days into this two weeks to fire OP4 so now we have to scramble to find someone new”, which assuming they hire someone already working, is probably going to be 2 weeks before they can start even if they hired someone on the spot that day.

              It still seems like the much better business decision would have been to let OP4 have the two weeks, because for those two weeks you can rearrange as necessary (by letting parents know, reducing hours, etc if you really can’t find a sub) instead of throwing everything up in the air for an indefinite amount of time.

              A shortage of childcare workers means it’s much better to keep the ones you already have! And if they don’t find another person immediately, yes that is going to cut down on the number of kids they can take, meaning parents are going to go elsewhere with more reliable openings. For two weeks, someone might be able to cut back, but not forever.

    4. John Smith*

      Glad you recovered, and while I’m not glad you got fired, I am glad you are no longer being abused by an employer who frankly does not deserve employees. Good luck with the future.

    5. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Good to hear your surgery was successful but I’m so sorry your callous employer fired you. I’m staggered that’s legal, even in the US. I do hope you find a new job very soon, with decent people.

    6. Irish Teacher*

      That is even more horrifying as small kids are at particular risk from many things. After my radio-iodine treatment for thyroid cancer, I had to stay away from small children for two weeks for their protection (that was actually an amusing one to explain to my boss, “I’m getting it done over the Easter holidays so might not need any time off but can’t say for sure yet as I have to avoid children for two weeks as I’ll be radioactive and not sure if that includes our 1st years”).

      I can only imagine what parents would think if they realised their daycare was putting their kids at risk of contracting contagious diseases by forcing staff to come in when ill. Particularly after our experiences of covid.

      1. bamcheeks*

        And because secure attachment is so important for young children! We would have weeks of, “I’m sad that Laura left, I liked Laura” whenever a nursery key worker left, and the children still talk about their favourite people years later.

        LW, I’m glad your surgery went well, and I’m so sorry and angry on your behalf and on behalf of the children you were looking after! You do a really important job and it should be so much more highly valued.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          And kids’ awareness, memories can be better than you think. One of my nephews chatting with my sister (his mom) and I and mentioned something about the ‘baby room’ he used to go to. It took a minute for my sister to realize he was talking about the daycare he went to for a while … before he was 2. He remembered there was one kid that cried a lot, one other kid he liked to be with and two different care providers, one nice and one mean with details of why he thought that. He didn’t remember any names but he remembered what the place and the caregivers looked like. And Sis said the memories tracked what she remembered about the place.

          You never know what experiences, emotions kids have filed away in their brains.

          1. Christmas Carol*

            At least they will have a good story for when they grow up and some trainer at work makes them till a story of a difficult time in their life.

        2. allhailtheboi*

          I can still name my reception (ages 4-5) teacher, but I can barely recall most of my current lecturers’ names! Shows how important staff working with very young children are to their development.

          1. bamcheeks*

            It’s probably about as “irreplaceable” as any job can get! Like, yes, sure, you can hire someone else who has the right certificates and can keep children safe and so on— but from the child’s point of view, it’s like hiring someone new to be their best friend. Obviously childcare workers are workers and have the right to resign, obviously the provider will sometimes have to fire people for cause or let people go if they don’t have enough business. But I would be *furious* to find out that an organisation that I trusted to look after my child was this cavalier about making sure children were able to have consistent and long term relationships with staff.

    7. LadyAmalthea*

      That is horrible especially as, with my kids in creche right now, we are al ALWAYS sick, and I would imagine it is even worse for teachers in their first few months.

    8. SarahKay*

      I’m so glad your surgery went well, but horrified at your workplace (and, from the sound of it, the whole childcare centre industry). Wishing you best of luck in finding a new job soon.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        The whole US childcare industry is in shambles with the costs of running these businesses and the impossibility of affording to pay people what the work is actually worth. Everyone from parents to daycare workers to center owners is in an absolutely untenable situation.

    9. CL*

      Best wishes for a full recovery and I’m sorry about your work situation. This is one more example of the mess of early childhood education in the US. My Thanksgiving dinner also included a conversation about FMLA, its limitations, and people’s lack of awareness. Perhaps it’s time for expanding FMLA.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Yes to expanding it. A lot of people don’t realize FMLA leave isn’t available to workplaces with fewer than 50 employees. Some states like Massachusetts have state level FML that would allow paid leave (MA even allows intermittent leave, so if, for example, you or a family member have a chronic illness, you can take days as needed for appointments, treatments, sickness, and get at least some portion of your normal wages).

        1. CL*

          More and more states and the District of Colombia are passing versions of FML that lowers the number of employees where leave it applies, requires paid leave, and even expands the list of family members who are covered under the definition of “family”. My soapbox: Research what is covered in your state. Don’t trust that HR actually knows for sure as this changes so frequently.

    10. AvaMonroe*

      OP, glad to hear your surgery and recovery went well. I’m sorry about the loss of your job though. Hoping you find a new one with benefits, great pay and respectful environment!

    11. Awkwardness*

      I am so sorry. This is such crappy behaviour.

      I am glad your surgery went well and wish speedy recovery and a better employer soon!

    12. allhailtheboi*

      I’m so glad your surgery went well, but I’m sorry you lost your job. I have so much respected for people who do jobs along the same lines as you, it’s your ex-employer’s loss. Best of luck with your continuing career.

    13. mb*

      I’m sorry you were fired. It sounds like the daycare isn’t properly run if it can’t accomodate a medical issue for an employee. The U.S. is so backwards when it comes to employement laws. Living in Canada, I’m so grateful that we have a minimum of 2 weeks paid vacation mandated by law – it’s not really enough but even a minimum wage employee gets that – you also can’t be fired for medical reasons – there are exceptions depending on if it’s a very small business and it causes “undue hardship” but otherwise we have a lot more protections.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        It’s not that they’re improperly run, it’s that they have to, by law, have coverage. There’s a dearth of childcare workers so they can’t find temps when people are out for extended periods of time. They have to be able to offer a replacement long-term hours (not just a few days of work) to get anyone to work there since they’ll be shut down if they don’t keep a strict adult-to-child ratio. Since they costs of running daycare centers are so high, they can’t afford to do anything differently than what LW’s employer did. It’s horrific but there’s no winning.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yes about ratios. My friend is a daycare director and she had a new employee who went on her lunch break and just never came back. So my friend was trying to simultaneously provide coverage in that person’s classroom while also trying to track her down (they were worried she’d gotten hit by a car).
          As the director she can do a couple hours of coverage here and there if someone gets sick during the day, but she has other stuff that has to get done (like payroll) that she can’t do in the classroom.

        2. Observer*

          it’s that they have to, by law, have coverage. There’s a dearth of childcare workers so they can’t find temps when people are out for extended periods of time.

          They don’t need to – they need to have “floaters”. Because it’s otherwise it’s just not possible to keep your staff ratios to the bare minimum required by law *and* avoid real coverage gaps.

          Every reasonably well run child care facility I’ve had experience had floaters. This way they always kept the number of adults in any one room to the minimum, but if someone was out they assigned a floater there and the situation was covered. Floaters wound up doing a lot of this kind one-two week coverage situations. Because hiring 2 floaters is easier, cheaper and safer (if you are worried about surprise inspections) than firing people and then filling their positions over this kind of issue.

    14. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      That’s messed up. even when I worked in fast food they just took me off the schedule for surgery and allowed me to return.

    15. NotARealManager*

      I worked for a place like this before (not daycare, but still kids). I and other co-workers had medical issues crop up since we’re human and we were told we couldn’t miss work to treat our illnesses or get a necessary surgery. Everyone remotely qualified (including me) never stayed more than a couple months.

      It’s a real problem around any kind of work with kids these days. I’d love to still work with kids, but the pay has been suppressed so much over the years it’s not viable for me anymore and I know I’m not the only one in that boat.

      I hope you have found better employment since!

    16. annabelle*

      Ugh that sucks. Just because it’s common in that field doesn’t make it okay :-( And on the one hand, you’d like to think that parents would be up in arms about how the field treats employees like this. But on the other hand, parents are up against the wall as far as finding reliable childcare that doesn’t bankrupt them and are willing to put up with a lot in return. And childcare center owners know that.
      So basically, we’re all getting screwed over :-(

    17. Observer*

      My surgery was last month and everything went well

      I’m glad to hear that.

      I worked in early childhood education as a daycare teacher. Most centers treat their employees like this

      Stupid beyond belief. I am SO glad that my children’s schools did not do this kind of nonsense- good staff are SO hard to keep! Why would you fire someone when you’re crying about how understaffed you are?!

      I hope you find a decent employer who has some more sense and decency.

    18. iglwif*

      OMG!!!

      I’m glad the surgery went well, and I’m sorry you and your co-workers are treated like this. You do important work, and you deserve better.

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (flexibility and weekend work) – you are being too soft. It’s your company and you get to state that they need to be available between hours x and y in order to be responsive to client needs. I assume what’s happened is there was a bit of flexibility at first like taking a couple of hours for an appointment and than making up those hours at the weekend – and over time it’s been a “slippery slope” (and more people have picked up on it) so that now it seems like they are functioning as independent contractors instead of employees…

    I do wonder why the burnout if they are doing the same amount of work, just distributed differently. Can you make a rule like work can be done on one weekend day but not both (if that works) perhaps as a compromise if you don’t want to shut it down altogether?

    Ultimately though I think this just needs to be another case of the “this is what the job is. Can you do that, if not we need to discuss what the future looks like” conversation.

    1. Storm in a teacup*

      I totally agree.
      However I do wonder why this is a new thing that has started happening?
      Is the workload the same? Are people changing to weekends as they need to focus and can no longer do so if on lots of calls in the week?
      Or is it that during the pandemic people were flexing hours or working more than before and those habits have stuck?

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      As to the burnout with some workers: Probably working another job during the week.
      I agree it makes sense to tell everyone they must be available Mon-Fri and accept that the OP may lose a few workers – or those employees may decide to prioritise the OP’s job if the other is pt.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        It hadn’t occurred to me that they could be working another job, but you may be right. Actually that makes me think, is it possible that the ones who are MIA at the same time (?) have another job “together”, perhaps consulting elsewhere? Consultant covers a broad range of things, so not sure if that would make sense.

      2. Still*

        I know we’ve been hearing about cases of people working two jobs so we know it does happen, but is it realistic to assume that it happens on such a scale that multiple employees at this small company would be doing it? People get burnout just from their normal, singular jobs. Even if they only work 40 hours – it’s not some magical number that ensures a perfect work-life balance.

        1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

          Maybe one employee starts a pt or even a parallel ft gig and tells some coworkers there how they can earn more money

        2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

          Also if anyone is burned out from just the 1 job, it makes sense to work only Mon-Fri, so they have Saturday+Sunday totally free from work to recharge.

          1. Still*

            Eh, I think the employer is within their rights to require Mon-Fri 9-5 if that’s what the business needs, but employees should be trusted to know what schedule works best for their lives when it comes to burnout and work-life balance.

            Having the whole weekend to recharge might not be all that refreshing if you haven’t been able to run important errands during the week, or go to your favourite gym class that starts on Thursday at 5pm, or pick up your kids from school when your partner is sick, or whatever.

            If I’m experiencing burnout, the last thing I need is for the employer to tell me that I need to work a stricter schedule for my own benefit. Require it if you must but don’t tell me it’s for my own good, and don’t tell me that I wouldn’t experience burnout if only I shuffled all my working hours around in a way that suits me less.

            1. ecnaseener*

              Great point with your last paragraph. The business need of availability during core hours is the thing to focus on. “Big boss thinks flexibility causes burnout so no more flexible hours” is patronizing and will go over way worse than just citing the business need.

            2. HonorBox*

              I wouldn’t even bring up the burnout part when rolling out a change to employees. It may or may not be for the employee’s own good in making a change, but asking people to be available to clients during clients’ normal hours isn’t unreasonable. I think the comment about working weekends and burnout is highlighting a symptom.

          2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

            I didn’t mean the employer knows what’s best for their employees’ health.
            I’m just doubtful that burnt-out employees in what should be Mon-Fri job would choose to work at the weekends instead, unless there is something else taking up a lot of their time during the week, probably a 2nd job or maybe prolonged very time-intensive caring responsibilities. So not just for a week covering for a sick partner.

            If customers/clients are complaining they often can’t reach particular employees during normal working hours, then that needs to be corrected, whether by employees agreeing to work the required hours, or by finding new employees who can.

            The customer complaints indicate this particular job needs at least core hours Mon-Fri, maybe even 8 hours during the workday, which is the norm in most workplaces.

            I know many posters here want to work whatever hours they chose Mon-Sun but that won’t work for jobs where they have to frequently interact with clients, coworkers or the outside world. Some jobs have some flexibility; very few have unlimited flexibility.

        3. kiki*

          Yeah, it is a possibility, I suppose, but so are really common, unexciting options like having a kid with a lot of medical appointments.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        The extra job thing makes loads of sense. I was scratching my head trying to figure out how more flexibility was creating burnout! If they were working through the week and also into the weekends, yeah, but taking time back during the week would offset burnout.

        1. Silence Will Fall*

          I think we’re looking for zebras here. It seems unlikely to me that multiple people at a small company are trying to juggle a second part-time or full-time job.

          As someone else in the thread noted, when I had a super flexible job, I struggled with burnout because I basically never turned off mentally. A lot of my coworkers were in the same boat. It was so easy to push work tasks off to handle personal items that were easier to handle during the work week, but they still lived in the back of my mind. I mentally worked on them all week and then actually worked on them after hours/on the weekend. I needed to self-impose a structure which helped significantly. Ultimately, we had a lot of turnover due to burnout. The solution that was put in place was core hours from 10-2pm + the explicitly stated expectation that communication be returned within 1 business day. Our turnover eased significantly because people still had flexibility, but also had a structure that allowed for the majority of work tasks to be resolved during the work week.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Eh, it’s perhaps more likely that the workload or something is unpleasant or unreasonable so that they’re feeling reluctant to be at work.

        (My own dirty lens— this is me, because ongoing project planning issues are giving me tedious re-work.)

    3. BW*

      In my country the law mandates at least a 35 hour work break once a week (so say from Saturday evening to Monday morning). That might be a good way to ensure they’re unplugging at least once a week.

  13. Alwaysb@work*

    I’m not in the US and my jaw hit the floor when I read Alison’s answer to OP4 (glad your surgery went well!). If an employer can limit unpaid leave, is there actually a minimum leave requirement or can employers legally refuse to give you any leave at all?

    1. Wren*

      No, there is no minimum leave requirement at all. Companies (in most states) can demand that you work 24/7, 365 days a year.

      1. JustaTech*

        There are some shift limitations by industry (think airline pilots, for example), but I remember looking up the labor laws in Georgia (state) and California and the differences are *wild*. Like, I think the limit in Georgia was that an employer can’t ask someone to work more than 36 hours straight without a break. (I hope I’m mis-remembering that. I really, really hope I’m mis-remembering that.)

  14. Sabine*

    OP2, I imagine this can be tough because if the whole team is already of a specific demographic, different demographics might self-select out. This happened when I interviewed for a job with over 30 men of the same race and approximate age (I’m female, different race, about same age – this was not the US). People seemed nice and I think they wanted diversity, but I just wasn’t comfortable with that situation.

    1. Kel*

      I have tried to explain this at some point to my male coworkers at a coffee shop; if I walked in and saw an entire store of only cis white dudes, I’m probably not even going to apply.

      1. Ganymede*

        There is some good advice out there on the interwebs about how to word your job adverts in a way that encourages diversity – I would encourage you to have a rummage!

        Do you have a website? What does the website say about your workforce, especially in the images? The visual first impression for a job candidate looking at your website can be the first thing to put them off – even if you all look lovely, they might feel they won’t fit in. Is your customer base more diverse than your staff, and are they shown on your site? Phrases in the job description such as “helping to reach/serve our diverse customer base” could tip the ad in the right direction.

        Definitely widen your net in terms of where you advertise – perhaps get some strategic retweets of your ad (by asking!).

        I’m not in the US so I don’t know the legal parameters, but I hope this helps.

      2. JustaTech*

        Yes, I remember explaining this to my husband when he worked at a small tech startup – if they didn’t get in some women engineers when they were small, it was going to be really, really hard to get in any women engineers when they got bigger because it’s really hard to be the only woman in a group of 30.
        “But they don’t apply!”
        “So go looking! You know a half dozen women in tech in this town, ask them!”
        (They did eventually find some really awesome women engineers.)

  15. Perplexed Pigeon*

    LW1- I’m glad others have suggested going whole hog in the other direction and that trainers can be trained. I’m a US military vet and for Vet’s Day one year I was asked to share my experience and why I’m proud to be a vet (side note: I’m not really). I declined but felt pressured so… So I shared about how my abusive relationship with a woman under Don’t Ask, Don’f Tell (DADT) led me to call the cops on her and then pretend we were just friends (boo), which ultimately led to my applying for and receiving a ROTC scholarship (yay) just to leave my duty station, but then led to my discharge under DADT at the end of my junior year of college when my command found out I was gay anyway (boo), a forced repayment of scholarship money (double boo), and a remaking of my life rather quickly (boo but also yay looking back).
    I’ve had lots of therapy so I was fine with sharing, I just don’t think the company really wanted the actual truth. We haven’t had a Vet Day celebration since bring just a bland acknowledgment (yay). I think some people should get exactly what they ask for.

      1. Perplexed Pigeon*

        Thanks. All good now. And I should have clarified that this all happened 2005-2008. Although I did finally pay off my scholarship “debt” just last month. To be right out to be happy – I chose happy.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      A lot of people have this idealized script in their heads about veterans, and don’t like it when the actual vet goes off script.

      1. Perplexed Pigeon*

        So much this! I love parking in the Vet parking spaces at places like Lowe’s and Cabela’s just to mess with people’s ideas of what a vet looks like too.

      2. Sacred Ground*

        I started responding to “Thank you for your service” with “Thank you for your tax dollars.” Eventually I got to saying, “You know I didn’t serve for YOU, right?”
        But I’m kind of a jerk. I just got so sick of the phoniness of it all. They aren’t the least bit grateful to me and if they are, so what? I served for my own reasons, patriotism was the least of it.
        IME, the people most likely to use that phrase reflexively are also the most likely to complain about their taxes and are the reason the VA is so grossly underfunded.
        You want to thank me? Pay your taxes and quit whining about it.

    2. Dontuforgetaboutme*

      This is one of the reasons I have never wanted to serve, since I am unwilling to live a lie. I hope marginalized people will continue to share their stories like this, however, I understand that this kind of decision is up to the individual.

      1. philmar*

        DADT has been repealed and gay people are allowed to serve openly, and their same-gender spouse can get dependent benefits.

        1. anonymous person*

          Being “allowed” to serve openly is not the same as being treated fairly, or not being abused, etc. unfortunately. Military culture tends to lean conservative in my experience.

          1. mlem*

            And just because people can (theoretically) serve openly *now* doesn’t mean the workplaces don’t have vets from the DADT era!

          2. philmar*

            In my experience military culture is a microcosm of american culture. But I’m in the Navy which may color my experience re: gay rights.

            1. Perplexed Pigeon*

              I think it depends on the branch. In the Air Force where I served 20 years ago it was much more conservative Christian religious than other branches. I joined the AF because I was promised a specific job and I did have some fun while I was in. But I also had a much fuller life outside of the service than I would have otherwise, so I’m glad things worked out the way they did.

      2. Le Anon*

        DADT was repealed in 2011. Not to say all problems of discrimination were magically solved, but my experience of the modern U.S. Navy at least is that LGB folks don’t have to hide their orientation and can have successful careers.

    3. nopetopus*

      Both my parents were in the military and people act so surprised when I say that I never wanted to join “since it runs in the family”. Nothing like a front row seat to the clusterfudge to make you think twice!

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I come from a military family and thought seriously about joining, but I don’t want to work in a culture where the risk of sexual assault is so disproportionately high. My parents even (gently) discouraged me because having both been in the military, they knew the same clusterfudge to which you refer.

  16. Jewelz*

    #2 state laws vary on age discrimination- for instance, my state does has protections for ANY age from being discriminated against, not just 40+. So if you say “technically” you can give preference for 40+, wouldn’t it be a moot point if you live in a state where the protection for all ages is in place?

    1. ecnaseener*

      Yes, I think it’s safe to say that whenever legalities are mentioned in the answer, you can mentally append “unless your jurisdiction has a stricter law, then follow the stricter one.”

  17. Dog momma*

    Re trainers can be trained. I’m A fairly private person so we would have to be close friends for me to open up and discuss my childhood. Unless it was the ,” we went to the zoo, the beach, picked berries etc” kind of thing. If my work place wants to know something personal about me “I” decide what and how much to tell. Not them. Not everyone had a ” Father knows Best ” childhood.

  18. Corporate Goth*

    Goth just means people enjoy a certain type of music, by the way…wearing awesome clothes and makeup is a mere side benefit.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      The fashion has taken on a life of its own, though. (I’m reminded of a friend from college who loved the clothing styles associated with Grateful Dead fans but disliked the Grateful Dead’s music!)

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Lol, reminds me of a coworker many years ago who went on an extended rant about how much he hated hippies. I pointed out that he, a man in his 40s, had long hair down past his shoulders, a full untrimmed beard, often wore tie-dye clothes, smoked weed daily, and drove an old, beat-up VW bus covered in Grateful Dead stickers. So, if you hate hippies so much, why do you look so much like one?
        I shouldn’t have asked. It wasn’t the music or the styles of hippiedom that bugged him, it was the politics. For all his crunchy appearance, he was as right-wing as anyone I’ve known.

  19. Madeleine Matilda*

    #3 – Alison mentioned core hours in her response. I think if you set core hours (9-3 or 10-3, or whatever works for your business) and let staff decide if they want to start early (ex 6:30-3) or later (ex 9-5:30) you will still give staff the flexibility for outside of work needs. I would also suggest letting them adjust their start time on an ad hoc basis as long as they are still working during your core hours. My office does this so even though I typically begin work early in the morning, I can chose to start later on any day if needed as long as I am working during core hours.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      Yep, core hours seems like the first thing to try here. And please, please, if at all possible – have those core hours start at 10, rather than 9! I’ve worked so many places that are all proud of their flexible hours, you can start any time you want – as long as you’re in your seat by exactly 9:00:00. So the flexibility only goes in one direction, and it does nothing at all for people who have time pressures in the morning rather than the afternoon.

      1. Avery*

        Yes this! As someone with a sleep disorder that means I require something like 10 hours of sleep on a regular basis, a previous employer’s requirement to start at 9 AM despite otherwise flexible hours for a part-time remote position was very much my pet peeve at the time. I needed that extra hour in the morning! And my reason may not be all that common, but parents of young kids, for instance, would thank you for it as well!

    2. Nessness*

      My last job required employees to set their work hours between 6a-6p, with a 30-60 minute lunch break. This resulted in “core hours” of 9:30-2:30 when everyone would be working. It worked pretty well.

      My job before that allowed people to work whatever hours they wanted “within reason”. This was great in theory, but my boss had a pretty lax definition of what was reasonable, and it made collaboration with certain coworkers pretty difficult.

      In the LW’s case, if the main issue is availability to clients, it would make sense to set rules around that, e.g. “all client requests received between 9-4, M-F, should be responded to within an hour. If you will be unavailable for more than an hour during that time frame, you must get prior approval and put up an out of office message that tells clients when you will be back and who to contact for immediate assistance. “

    3. Flying Fish*

      My workplace doesn’t explicitly state core hours, but it’s understood. Be reachable and respond promptly between specific hours (role dependent), meet patients needs and deadlines and no one will care whether you’re in early or late.

  20. DJ Abbott*

    Hoo, boy. There are other reasons not to go there in #1, as I learned when I was young.
    Whenever I mentioned something good at work, there was always someone who would get jealous and start trying to punish me.
    Now, my life was not great. I come from an abusive family which I had left, and came to the big city with no friends or relatives here. I felt bad and my life was mostly blah, but if I mentioned the one good thing going on, that would trigger some destructive person to come after me. I learned to keep quiet.
    Now decades later, I still keep quiet. The place I work in now has nice enough people that I can mention seeing friends, but don’t go into detail.
    Oversharing at work has other dangers too, like people responding in inappropriately intimate ways. I remain flummoxed at how clueless managers can be. Don’t they have any life experience of their own to tell them how stupid this is?

    1. rollyex*

      “Whenever I mentioned something good at work, there was always someone who would get jealous and start trying to punish me.”

      You are at a highly dysfunctional workplace. There are more general reasons #1 is bad, even at places not that dysfunctional.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        IME this happens in a lot of places. The way it manifests is different.
        Even where I am now, one of the managers has shared that she has no friends or social life outside of work. She’s moody and rude sometimes. Young me would have shared about a great time out dancing with my friends. Now I know better.
        She would try to be happy for me, but…

  21. r.*

    LW3,

    you need to clearly communicate and enforce when people will be available. This doesn’t mean they will have zero flexibility, just that certain assumptions about when they will be available need to hold.

    We offer a significant amount of flexibility to our workers, but we explicitly prohibit all work between 22:00-06:00 Monday-Friday and on Saturday/Sunday except under a direct, written and explicit directive of their manager. This is both because there are certain laws around minimum rest times we are obliged to uphold, and because all night-time work and weekend work requires us to pay more; in both cases employees cannot legally waive their right to the minimum rest times or increased pay.

    There are people who struggle with this, but usually you can either come to an accommodation, or they simply aren’t a good match for our business needs and we part ways.

  22. Nancy*

    LW1: wasn’t this a question already? You don’t have to make it deep or share personal photos. People don’t want to hear long stories or anything personal, they just want to hear that you had a cat growing up, or you like to read.

  23. RVA Cat*

    #1 – Have everybody conspire to do the childhood one as “my father took me into the city to see a marching band…”

      1. RVA Cat*

        I was thinking an epic sing-a-long of “Welcome to the Black Parade” because we know most of us working stiffs are “the broken, the beaten and the damned.”

    1. miss_chevious*

      That presentation would get weird real quick and I would love it. Imagine the trainer when the OP got to the part about the “decimated dreams”?

  24. FashionablyEvil*

    Re: LW1, the AAM commentariat is very far on the side of not liking ice breakers and other social activities at work. While they may be supportive of the LW, I think it’s worth noting that it tends to be more of a minority opinion than you might actually find in a workplace and that the LW could well be in a “not worth wasting the social capital to change this” situation.

    1. Anonymous 75*

      Agree. Of all the times I’ve had to do ice breakers at work the vast majority of people either have a neutral reaction or find them entertaining. It’s all well and good not to like them but sometimes you got to pick your battles (and I say this as someone who has blocked out most of their childhood due to trauma).

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        Or they mentally rolled their eyes, silently grumbled, and gave a bland nothing answer. That probably read to you as “neutral” even if they hated it – no way to tell short of doing a genuinely truly 100% anonymous survey (like actual pieces of paper in a box, or a Google poll they can do even from an incognito window). Or maybe you’re with a bunch of extroverts who genuinely love playing “Two Truths and a Lie” and exposing how boring their lives are to the entire department, in which case yay, you’re in the right place to do a bunch of icebreakers!

        I DETEST icebreakers, for the aforementioned “I am a boring nerd” reasons, but yeah, it’s not something I’m going to make a stink about.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      I think most people dislike ice-breakers though. It’s a joke on all teachers’ sites that all teachers hate ice-breakers (I doubt it’s literally all, but enough that it’s basically a meme).

      And ice-breakers aren’t exactly meant to be social activities. They are meant to break the ice between a group of strangers to start a conference or training with a number of teams who don’t know each other. If there is ice between people who work together regularly, there are bigger problems.

      In my experience, most people like social activities, but that means doing stuff together off the work premises and not organised by a speaker.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      The objection is to mandated social activities. I am happy to socialize with my coworkers, or at least those with whom I have something in common and whom I trust not to weaponize our conversation. Ice breakers are pretty much the opposite of this, as well as being pure time wastes.

      1. Heather*

        or maybe you could look at ice-breakers as an opportunity to identify more coworkers “with whom you have something in common”, instead of defaulting to making assumptions about people you don’t know and how they’re all probably looking to weaponize conversations…

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          “Who would have guessed that Bob in Accounting has a deep seated love of researching early baseball history!” Yes, it could happen. The odds, however, heavily favor “complete waste of time.”

        2. metadata minion*

          There are plenty of other ways to encourage socializing with coworkers — have Slack threads about favorite books, organize board games over lunch, have a bulletin board to pin up pet pictures… I genuinely enjoy hanging out with my coworkers, but I’ve discovered way more new work-friends in random lunch conversations or non-mandatory organized things than I have in icebreakers where I can’t even remember if it was John or Bob who’s into railroad history the next day.

    4. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      You have confused banal, trivial ice breakers with invasive, personally traumatic “ice breakers”. They are very different. I find the trivial ones mildly annoying. I’ve fortunately never been asked any of the traumatic, overly personal ones that have been shared here.

      “If you were an Olympic athlete, what would be your sport?” is very different from “Tell us something no one else knows about you, not even your real friends”.

      They’re also a crutch for poor trainers. They’re pointless if you’ve worked somewhere 5 years and know all your colleagues well, and yet, the trainer will trundle it right out as though we need their help getting to know each other. Then there’s trends – everybody do the raisin awareness ice breaker at *every* *single* *meeting* for 6 months straight. Ice breakers should have a purpose, not be a formulaic thing brought out no matter the circumstance.

      1. Peachtree*

        No one has asked “tell us a secret that not even your friends know”.

        This whole comments section is full of wild exaggeration to justify misanthropy.

      2. metadata minion*

        Is the first question supposed to be “what sport do you wish you could do to an Olympic standard?” or “what thing are you good at that you wish was in the Olympics?”?

    5. tinyhipsterboy*

      I’m guessing that the reality of the situation falls somewhere in the middle – the commentariat here dislikes them, but I doubt they’re widely loved/appreciated either (and in my experience, they’re usually either disliked or not really cared about). That being said, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea to see if they can find some alternate icebreakers that might be a little less fraught for people.

    6. Pescadero*

      Surveys show ice-breakers are pretty widely disliked.

      Multiple studies by psychologists also show most ice-breakers are counter productive, the anxiety involved actually makes people less likely to personally connect.

    7. Observer*

      LW1, the AAM commentariat is very far on the side of not liking ice breakers and other social activities at work

      The problem with #1 is not that it’s an ice breaker. Or even that it asks *a* personal question.

      It’s that it’s *20* questions, including a couple that are ~~really~~ personal if you take them the way that they are presented. And, yes, to the best of my knowledge I’m neurotypical, but I found all the “Of COURSE they are not asking you to ACTUALLY answer that question honestly, how could you even think that?!” astonishing and off putting. It’s not obvious at all – and I’m not sure it’s true. Of course they may not realize how fraught it could get, but that’s a different issue. And this is even for people who don’t have traumatic childhoods and disastrous lives.

      It’s that it’s lot of work. A 20 slide presentation with pictures is not getting done in 5 minutes. The format this is in, is even worse because you really need to think about what’s on each slide and make sure you time your patter exactly.

      It’s that it’s forced sharing of a substantial amount of information with a wider group, which makes it more tricky. One factoid with a large group? Easy enough to do without worrying about saying the wrong thing. 20 facts / comparisons? With a group of people who I may not really know and who don’t know me? It’s just too easy to say something that’s going to cause problems.

      It may not be something that the OP doesn’t want to / cannot spend the capital on. But it’s actually not such a small matter.

  25. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I mean, everything everyone already said, but also, 20 is a lot. It’s a lot to ask someone to make if they’ve already got lots of other work to do (and even if they don’t). It’s a lot to ask people in the group to sit through multiple 20-slide decks of unrelated presentation. I see someone says this takes 400 seconds, which means it takes each person 6-7 minutes to present. if you’ve got 10 people in your meeting, you’ve spent an entire hour on this nonsense. Not like anyone really wants to talk about budgets or planning or whatever your meeting is about anyway, but for heaven’s sake, now they have to wait longer to get to the point of the meeting so you can do these stupid presentations? This is bad.

    1. Atlas*

      This stood out to me too. Even if it’s a morning of team building, if you’ve got more than a couple people it’s a huge time suck with very little actual interaction. Realistically, by presentation 3 how many people are actually paying attention. I know after a bunch of unconnected, irrelevant presentations I’d be completely zoned out at best and actively upset I had to sit through it at worst.

  26. Slow Gin Lizz*

    OP3’s company should be aware that they will lose employees no matter what they do, as that’s the nature of business – employees come and go. If they have a business need to require core hours (and really, that’s so common in the business world that any employee who doesn’t like it will have a tough time finding a different company where they can work whenever they want to), losing employees shouldn’t be a reason for not instating that requirement.

  27. kiki*

    “It also means that our clients are having difficulty getting to team members during the business day, which is also a problem.”

    I think the main focus needs to be here and not on whether working weekends is leading to burnout. I’d also get a better sense of how much difficulty clients are having, how often, and with which employees. There’s a chance the clients are frustrated they can’t connect immediately but their contact, Sarah, is just at their biannual dentist appt that morning. It’d be silly to restrict Sarah on that. But if clients are always trying to get in touch with Ralph and he’s MIA without a trace randomly throughout the week, that is a real concern that needs to be addressed with Ralph.

  28. HonorBox*

    OP3 – I had Alison’s answer in my mind even before I read her answer. If you’re in a business where your clients are working relatively standard business hours (M-F, 9-5), they really need to be available so they can be in contact with your clients. While things come up from time to time and you’re open to a doctor’s appointment or attending a kid’s school program, it isn’t unreasonable at all to expect that your team is working core hours that match your clients’ core hours the majority of the time. If someone is still working over the weekends, you can touch base with them to find out about their work load and how you might need to adjust.

  29. Nope nope nope*

    As a woman in her 40s who has spent her life in startups and tech, who has been laid off ever other year since the pandemic, #2 makes my blood go cold at the idea of needing to find another job. Older women tend to get overlooked statistically as potential candidates. I understand what OP is trying to do, but ooof.

    1. Pita Chips*

      Over 55 here and I had a real rough time finding a job after I was laid off in 2022. Of course nobody said I was too old for the job, but when the interviewer was often 20 (or more) years younger, I can’t help but wonder.

      1. pally*

        Over 50 here.

        I get quite a bit of: “it was down to you and one other candidate. We choose the other candidate. Best of luck with your job search!”

        And other things too. Like, the interviewer asks about skills clearly not indicated on the job description. Essential, “must-have” skills. Oh, you don’t have these skills? I see. Well, thank you!”

        So after 8 years of this, I got the message. Give up.

        1. Pita Chips*

          the interviewer asks about skills clearly not indicated on the job description

          I’ve had the happen to me as well, leaving me bewildered. “Where the heck did that come from?”

      2. Enough Already*

        Oh yeah, over sixty here, got to interview stage for a couple of promotional opportunities where I was eminently qualified, no offers though. Guess I lok old on camera, LOL. Age discrimination is a thing.

    2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      You’re not responding to LW2 in any way. They are hiring for an *entry level* role. They have an *entire team* of women your age, so clearly do not overlook older women as candidates. It is the exact opposite of whatever horror story you are imagining in your head.

      Unless you are saying you want an entry level role after a lifetime in tech?

      1. Ginger Cat Lady*

        I’m in my 50s, went back to school and got my masters in a completely different field, and I absolutely AM looking for an entry level job in my new field. And I’m finding it impossible. Because everyone seems to think at my age I couldn’t possibly want an entry level job. I’ve been asked if I could “take orders from someone young enough to be my son”. I’ve been told I didn’t get a job because of “culture fit” – when the entire department was people in their 20s and 30s. And I met the person who did get that job at a local conference. Shocker, they’re in the same age range!
        If this job was one I was qualified for, and I wasn’t considered because of my gender and age, then that is absolutely a problem for me.
        Believe it or not, there are people in their 50s looking for entry level jobs. And attitudes like yours are part of the problem. Entry level employees don’t have to be people in their 20s!!

  30. Ex-prof*

    LW #1: I would think these presentations would be pretty boring to sit through, too. I think there’s a case here for malicious compliance. Be not just anodyne, but as boring as possible. If it’s enough of a yawnfest, maybe they won’t pull this again.

    LW #2, twice in my life I’ve been turned down for jobs specifically because “we want more men”. They actually said that. If only I were more litigious.

    My reaction is: Men dominate most fields.

    Do they wring their hands because there aren’t more women on their teams? Maybe. I haven’t seen them do it, but I’m willing to believe that some of them do.

    If women dominate in your field, taking comfort in knowing that 1) it’s a very rare field indeed 2) it probably pays less than fields dominated by men 3) it’s probably less prestigious than fields dominated by men.

    Although thanks to reading AMA, we all know that 4) it’s probably just as rife with bizarre co-worker behavior as fields dominated by men.

  31. ticktick*

    LW1 – don’t know if you think you can pull this off, but it would be hilarious if you had exactly the same picture for each prompt, didn’t acknowledge that it was the same picture, and simply made up an answer about it that was applicable to each question. Like Goku, from DragonBall Z – “This was me as a baby, strong and a real handful”, “I really grew larger as a teen”, “I aspire to hit power levels of over 9000 at work”, “I live my life happily but meeting every challenge”, etc.

  32. MsSolo (UK)*

    LW2; Some industries skew female (like historically underpaid and undervalued industries…), but if yours doesn’t, and you have a team of women over 40, consider two things:
    – is this role underpaid compared with others in the industry?
    – am I offering more flexibility compared with others in the industry?
    The first may be driving away candidates without a second income to rely on (and statistically, women are more likely to be underpaid than men, so you get a self-selecting thing going on where women who are used to being underpaid are over represented in interviews for underpaid jobs because it still represents a salary bump for them). The latter may be drawing in candidates who need flexibility, and your demographic is one more likely to be trying to navigate work around school pick up etc.

    Obviously, if it’s the former, do what you can to fix it, if it’s the latter, keep it!

    As Alison says, if you want a more diverse pool to interview from, look at where you’re advertising. A former employer always advertised on the charityjobs website, which is great if you know it exists, but completely passed by the vast majority of the population. You may have to pay more to advertise in more places, but it should bring in a wider range of applicants. If you’ve got a diverse application pool but not a diverse interview pool, switch to blind sifting, where identifying information such as name, age, college etc is removed from applications while choosing who to take through to interview and see if that helps. If you’ve got a diverse interview pool and not a diverse workforce, you’ve got more entrenched DEI issues, which you need to work on.

  33. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    LW1: Sigh…why do companies think that making their employees do/sit through this kind of “exercise” will actually build a strong working team? All it’s likely to build is resentment and demoralization – neither of which is especially conducive to team building!

  34. Daisy-dog*

    LW4 – If you don’t qualify for FMLA, you can try to approach it as an accommodation from the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

  35. Observer*

    Really, though, at what point are workplaces going to learn to remember that not everyone had childhoods and adolescences that they care to discuss at work?

    Never. Or rather, even if they realize it, it’s not going to matter. Because there are a TON of justifications for deciding that it’s really a good idea anyway. And it’s not only obviously clueless and self centered folks who do this stuff.

    There is a podcast Called No Stupid Questions hosted Angela Duckworth (author of Grit) and Mike Maughan (Executive at Qualtrics). It’s mostly a really interesting show, and Angela especially tends to be data driven. But they had a pair of episodes that . . . I almost stopped listening to the show because of them. The titles are “How do you connect with someone you just met?” and “How do you get closer to the people you care about?” And there was some good stuff. But also so real failure to understand the issues that some of their advice brought up. And Mike tells a story of a woman who shared something *really* personal and important in one of these company off-sites. It was emotional, there were tears and he thought the the whole thing as great.

    His thinking wasn’t *wrong* but it was dangerously incomplete. He said that it was a good reminder that people have stories and things going in their lives and backgrounds that you would never really think about. And also, a reminder to try to lead with kindness and empathy. And all this is true. But still…. I rarely talk back to the podcasts I listen to, but this time I did.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “a reminder to try to lead with kindness and empathy”
      Because you should.
      People should not have to prove they are deserving of kindness and empathy. How about putting the responsibility to be good coworkers on ourselves and not on others, like manners are earned like the brownie in Notting Hill.*
      “Oh, sorry I am always cutting you off and challenging your credentials. I wouldn’t do that if I’d known your house burned down when you were in grade school.”

      *what was the centerpiece of gloom story here that one time? Anyone remember?

  36. NotTheBaby*

    The age discrimination laws only favoring older people has always been infuriating to me. I’ve had more than one opportunity taken away from me because of this imbalance and have dealt with too many snide comments about how young I am. Being referred to as “the baby of the team” when I’m its lead gets tiring really quick.

    1. Sacred Ground*

      Discrimination in favor of experience can look like discrimination against youth when it’s not. If you have 5 years experience and someone else has 20 but will accept the same salary, they are the objectively better choice. It’s indirectly about your youth, but it’s directly about your lack of experience relative to someone older.

      Snide comments are of course tiresome whatever the reason behind them, age, gender, marital status, etc. It’s legit to be put out by that. That’s legitimately disrespectful.

      But these opportunities that were “taken” from you, were you actually entitled to them? Did you not find other opportunities available? Have you ever had the experience of finding NOBODY willing to hire you?

      Do you think this discrimination against your youth is going to get worse or better over time?

      The one-way nature of age discrimination laws are because your youth WILL go away. You WILL get older and no longer be subject to it. Discrimination against youth is a problem with a built-in solution: time. All you have to do is not die and that problem goes away.

      But once you’re old, you only get older. (If you’re lucky and don’t die.) The discrimination against your older age does not EVER go away, it only ever gets worse.

      I’m in my mid-50s now and currently unemployed. So I have zero sympathy for your resentment of the laws that try to protect me from something you don’t actually need protection from.

      Sorry, but this has a bit of “how come there’s no white history month?” to it. The laws are designed to protect other people from something that doesn’t affect you.

      The next time you start to feel resentment about some perceived advantage that older people get that you don’t, remember that you have something all the older people wish they still had. Your youth. Your health. Your future as yet undetermined. Your hopes and dreams not yet crushed.

      Like the saying goes, youth is wasted on the young.

  37. rollyex*

    “but I don’t want to explain my vision for my life and what helps me reach it”

    I have been asked questions like this in meetings and just say “I’ve got nothing to share about that” and then I move on. I probably wouldn’t make a slide saying that, but rather when it’s supposed to appear I’d say those words, then move on.

    Also, “I don’t know anything about myself as a baby – I have no memories of that time. I also don’t remember much about myself as a teenager”

    For me, both are true, though some people find the teenager part hard to believe. The baby part points out how stupid it is to ask people to talk about something most people probably cannot remember at all.

  38. el l*

    OP4:
    Requiring people to work and be available during standard business hours is low hanging fruit. Reasonable expectation, and can be solved with a commonsense rule. All you have to do is call a staff meeting, make it explicit, and then enforce it.

    Figuring out why people are getting burned out and working weekends? That can’t be solved with simple rules. You’re going to have to investigate that one. May involve business tweaks, may involve personnel tweaks, whatever, it’s all on the table right now, because there’s a billion reasons that situation could be arising. You just don’t know until you open-mindedly look into it.

  39. Some Dude*

    For #1, I’m reminded of a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse episode where they were doing an art project, and someone’s (maybe Pee-Wee himself) drawing was a blank piece of paper. They said it was “a polar bear in a snowstorm.”

    I’d say just do blank slides.

    Here’s me as a baby… in a snow storm.
    Here’s me as a teenager… in a snow storm.
    Here’s my favorite animal… in a snow storm.

    1. Sally Rhubarb*

      Take a bunch of photos with your thumb over the lens. “Here’s me at my first Christmas. Sorry, my mom isn’t good with a camera. Here’s me on my first day of school. Yep, sorry, Mom still hasn’t figured out the camera.”

  40. Crunchy Granola*

    #1 would be absolute torture for me. Because I had a trauma-inducing childhood, I am no longer in touch with my parents. I do not have a single picture of me as a child or a teen.

    In thinking on it, I’d so something like, “I’m from Nebraska, which is where the Wizard of Oz lived before he went over the rainbow (picture of Wizard). My favorite place to vist was Carhenge (picture).” Keep it general and hopefully interesting.

    The bit about living ones values bothers me. For one thing, it dances really close to talking about religious practice and I believe that shouldn’t be discussed at work. I’d probably talk about donating to charitable causes and the volunteer work I do. Really, this is too damn personal.

    1. iglwif*

      I agree that the exercise sounds obnoxious. It’s not clear to me whether the expectation is “show us photos of you as a child and a teen” (yuck, full of potential issues) or just “show us an image that has something vaguely to do with you as a child or a teen” (which could be like … here’s something purple, because that was my favourite colour as a kid, and here’s a Dire Straits album I was obsessed with in high school or whatever).

      But I’m not sure how you get from “living your values” to having to talk about religion at work? Personal values and religious beliefs are two separate concepts.

      1. Crunchy Granola*

        Personal values and religious beliefs are two separate concepts.

        I believe that as well, but many people do not and I’ve lived the experience. I was an agnostic in the Bible belt for many years and being out about it came with a cost. People who think you can’t have morals unless they are handed down from on high by a deity are pretty common outside of that area too.

  41. La Triviata*

    I think the thing about mandatory ice breakers, asking people about their lives, etc., is that they’re mandatory. That always puts me off. The office building I work in had a building-wide … not sure to call it a competition or what. They declared November gratitude month and distributed some gratitude coins/tokens. People were supposed to pass out their tokens and then pass them on to people they were grateful to. What I hated was that this was a competition – the person who originated the token with the most passes won a gift certificate – and that it was mandatory, with each day having a specific category of gratitude. I work in the office, mostly alone, so there weren’t that many people I could pass the token on to. I resented that it was so structured and