letting a man open a door at an interview, Icy Hot at work, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I’m afraid that a manager will see me trash-talking her in my former coworker’s emails

A coworker was let go as part of a large layoff at the Fortune 500 company where I work. I recently found out that when people are let go, the employee’s manager receives access to the terminated employee’s email account.

I went back and read some of my email exchanges with this employee over the past year or two, and there is a definite pattern of us complaining about his manager (who I also work with but don’t directly report to). This manager tends to call in sick a lot (especially on Mondays and Fridays), attends many off-site meetings and conferences, “works from home” but doesn’t appear to be really working, and we regularly emailed back and forth about how unprofessional this is and what a slacker the manager seems to be.

Yes, I know I should NOT have been using my work email to write this kind of thing (and this is the reason why!), but what, if anything, should I do now? Just assume that the manager isn’t going to go that deep into “Sent Mail” and find this stuff? Or pre-emptively apologize or somehow do some damage control? Our director loves this manager (despite the chronic malingering) and if it gets back to him that I have been complaining like this, he’s not going to be happy. Am I just screwed?

Ugh. This is not a great spot to be in. If you preemptively apologize, you’ll draw attention to something that might never have been spotted otherwise, so I think your best bet is to leave it alone and hope nothing is noticed or said.

The good news here is that (a) this isn’t your manager (this would potentially be a lot worse if it were), (b) your complaints probably aren’t ones the manager wants to bring to anyone’s attention (if indeed she’s a slacker, she likely doesn’t want to highlight that fact for anyone she could complain to), and (c) if she’s that much of a slacker, she’s not likely to spend a lot of time digging around in your former coworker’s email anyway. So basically, sit tight and hope this doesn’t go anywhere, and resolve never to risk it in the future.

If it does get brought up, apologize and say that you realize you handled your concerns unprofessionally and won’t repeat it again.


2. The event I volunteered for wants too much of my time

I was asked to volunteer at a gala for an organization that has nothing to do with my day-to-day work or employer, by a slightly senior coworker who is involved with the organization. I, along with two of my coworkers, agreed to volunteer at the event. When I agreed to help, I was agreeing to a single week night, from 4 pm – 9 pm to assist.

A week before the event, the coordinator, “Pam,” emailed all the volunteers and requested a meeting in the middle of the work day. Pam wanted to give us instruction for the event and said it would take, at most, 30 minutes. It ended up lasting over an hour, and was clearly more of a planning session than instruction. I was annoyed to spend my lunch hour helping plan an event that should have already been hammered out weeks prior. But the event went smoothly and I was happy to help out. I pretty much forgot about it as the weeks passed.

Now, a month and a half later, Pam has reached out to schedule a debriefing on the event. She wants to block out a lunch hour to discuss how everything went. She’s framing it like, “I know we promised you all a follow up meeting.” I don’t remember talking about this at all, and I’m not sure why any of the volunteers would have wanted this either. At this point, I really feel like the importance they see in this event is getting a little ridiculous. The tasks we had were things like set up and take down, handing people brochures, and hanging up coats. It was very simple and I’m not sure what we would have to debrief on.

I really don’t want to do this. I have no feedback to give. I have had an extremely busy month and can barely remember specific details about the event. And I really don’t care to give up another lunch hour for this. I was happy to help, but the event is over and I want to be done with my obligations to them. It would be different if I felt passionately about their mission, but I don’t. Am I ridiculous for feeling strongly about not wanting to do this? If it is reasonable for me to not go, how should I word that to Pam?

You’re not being unreasonable at all. Your obligation ended when you finished the work you agreed to do a month and a half ago, and Pam doesn’t have ongoing claims on your time! It should be okay to respond back with, “I won’t be able to make this because my schedule is really crunched right now, but I wish you all the best in your work.” You don’t need her permission to excuse yourself; you’re just letting her know you won’t be there.


3. I waited for a man to chivalrously open a door for me while I was interviewing

I have been a stay-at-home mom for about 16 years, but have been working part-time jobs and most recently have been running my own cooking business. I am trying to get back into a professional, corporate position. I had an interview with the VP of HR in his office. When the interview was over and we went to leave, I walked to the closed office door and he was right behind me. I hesitated when we got to the door so that he could open the door for me. Which he then did.

I have no problem opening my own doors, so I don’t know why I didn’t just open the door myself!?! I know it’s not a big deal at all, but do you think this looked bad like I’m some sort of passive, old-fashioned, out of touch woman?! I expect my husband to open doors for me if we’re out and about, but I think men and women are equal!! I’m still waiting to hear if I got the job … it’s between me and one other candidate. She probably opened the door herself.

It’s true that it wasn’t ideal and in general you don’t want to wait for men to open doors for you in a professional context, but I wouldn’t worry a ton about it. There are other explanations for why you could have paused there — like that you were letting him take the lead because he was the “host” of your visit, not because he was a man, etc.

It is true that I’d be concerned if I saw a lot of indications from a candidate that they expected gender-based chivalry in the workplace, but one pause at a door probably wouldn’t add up to that. Give yourself permission not to worry about it!


4. Icy Hot at work

I work in an office setting and there is an employee that has been using Icy Hot religiously lately. The smell and fumes are making myself and coworkers experience breathing issues and eye irritation. Upon telling the bosses, we were met with “we will move her” but it is not helping. Now they want to move us. I have all but begged for them to have the employee get a non-scented version, but nothing is being done.

I have asthma and it is so pungent that it is irritating my lungs and I have had to go get another inhaler. I am not sure what can be done at this point, but it is affecting our production due to the discomfort we are experiencing. Is there anything we can do to take a next step in resolving this issue?

Oh, how I love Icy Hot!

But yeah, it’s generally not cool (ha ha ha) to use it around other people who are captive in the same space at you, particularly if it’s causing them actual physical discomfort.

Have you talked to the coworker directly and explained the situation? You don’t mention having done that, and if you haven’t, that really should have been the first step and you should do it now.

But if that doesn’t produce any changes, then you handle this like you would any other health issue at work: explain the impact on you and explain that you need an accommodation, suggesting a specific one if you can. In this case, that might sound like this: “As you know, Jane’s Icy-Hot is making it difficult for me to breathe. I’ve already had to get an inhaler because of this, and I can no longer stay in the same enclosed area that she’s in, due to the physical effects it’s causing. Given that I can’t continue to be in close proximity to her while she’s using that, what makes sense from here?” But if their solution is to move you, you might have to accept that. You and your coworkers could point that it doesn’t make sense to move all of you rather than one of her, but they might have legit reasons for needing to keep her where she is (for example, if she supports an executive and needs to be near that person).

You could also just ask point-blank, “Can I ask why the solution isn’t just to ask Jane to use a different product?” But I suspect you’ll hear that they (wrongly) think they can’t do that, or possibly that they already have and she’s said she’s unable to use a substitute.


{ 151 comments… read them below }

  1. John Smith*

    Public Service Announcement: For anyone wondering what Icy Hot is, Ive Googled it so you dont have to and it’s a pain relief cream. I’m imagining it’s similar to Deep Heat in the UK.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Deep Heat isn’t that pungent! I kept some in my drawer because my glasses were pinching my ears and the way I got pain relief was to apply it. (Then I wrapped a few sticking plasters around my glasses arm and it actually helped.) I really hope I wasn’t fumigating reception in the process.

      1. Goody*

        I haven’t experienced Deep Heat, but Icy Hot is definitely a significant irritant for my asthma and scent sensitivities. It’s worse when I have to use it myself, there’s REALLY no escape then!

      2. londonedit*

        Deep Heat is only really pungent when you’ve got a whole group of runners or footballers all rubbing it liberally into their limbs! Definitely wouldn’t say it would cause issues in the office beyond ‘Ooh, can I smell Deep Heat?’ I’ve never heard of Icy Hot but it sounds like it’s way more smelly.

      3. Mongrel*

        It’s main ingredient is Wintergreen so it’ll smell like Germolene, the rest seem to be menthols and camphors so I’m thinking Germolene crossed with Tiger Balm

        1. Sharpie*

          Well, that makes it sound like Deep Heat crossed with Vicks VapoRub. Vicks has menthol and eucalyptus in it, and is mainly used (at least in my experience) to help people with colds to breathe easier). Slathering too much of that around is absolutely going to be noticeable.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Yeah, I have to wash my hands at least four times after I put it on or else I WILL regret touching my eyes or nose.

            2. Waste not*

              Love the phrase “painfully mentholated” I work in a field like llama waste disposal, and some people use icy hot under their noses to help with the smell, but I personally find it almost unbearable, and frankly prefer just the plain smell of llama waste to ‘ burning minty’ llama waste. I find any menthol extremely uncomfortable, even on regular skin and have to be careful about anything like “mint” chapstick or *shudders* personal lubricants.

          1. FreelanceLatte*

            Yeah, it smells a lot like Vicks, and it’s about equally strong. It would definitely bug me to smell that all day, every day.

      4. Clara*

        I’m assuming you mean a balm rather than the aerosol? The spray is so pungent! I always walk through a cloud of it at my gym and it makes my face so red.

    2. Awkwardness*

      Hahaha. I only skimmed this letter because I thought it was about the thermostat and temperature at offices.
      Thanks for the announcement and giving me a good laugh!

    3. Redundant Department of Redundancy*

      I think they’re used for similar purposes, but Icy hot is more menthol based – I’d describe it as being closer to Vicks VapoRub.

      Deep Heat is allegedly peppermint scented (although one of it’s key ingredients is Capsicum), but honestly I don’t think anything smells like deep heat than than deep heat.
      Having said that they do ‘Low Odour’ versions of Deep Heat – could you try asking your co-worker to swap to a low odour version of Icy Hot (Assuming such a thing exists).

      1. This Daydreamer*

        I was going to suggest Salonpas pads – the main active ingredient is the same, but behind a cloth bandage that lessens the air pollution.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Yeah I noticed no scent when I used the patches — even icy hot patches, over the roll on or cream icy hot. Plus the pads last longer.

          Not sure they make a non-scented icy hot. i know they have a lavendar scent that is quite soft, but if you have scent allergies, that probably won’t help.

        2. Purpleshark*

          I was going to suggest this too. However, the LR was unclear about if they were able to suggest something different or if they did and the individual said no. I guess they don’t know the Icy Hot person well because I would be the person who says something. Especially if the area is a closed space. I used to have a coworker who used essential oils and they were so pungent that you could still smell them for a good while after they vacated the area. They were told that they could not wear that (I work in education). I think the general understanding is that people need to stay away from very strong scents because you never know who you might encounter and how that could affect someone (migraines – lung irritants- etc.).

        3. Risky Biscuits*

          I literally came in here freaking out because I use Salonpas patches liberally to cope with constant joint and muscle pain, especially on a work injury that is healing very slowly. I wouldn’t be able to function nearly as well without them. No one has ever commented on them (well, aside from the person I live with, who might hug me and then recoil with a cry of “wintergreen!”), so I hope they’re not a problem…

        4. Lady Aberlin*

          I also came here to suggest Salonpas patches! I’ve never had anyone complain about an odor from those, even when I was wearing six at a time (muscle spasms, I loathe you), and there are also larger ones with lidocaine if you need to step up the pain relief.

    4. This Daydreamer*

      Honestly, I’m glad this is an old letter, so I know it’s not complaining about me. These days I switch between Neptune Ice and Voltaren to treat my De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis/arthritis in my poor thumbs. Diagnosis depends on which doctor to believe, but both are treated with smelly goos. Luckily, I don’t have anyone spending hours next to me.

      But this is a rough situation to deal with. I like being able to write and do other things with my hands without serious pain, and other people like being able to breathe.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Interesting. I’ve not noticed that Voltaren has any kind of odor. Icy Hot definitely does and that’s part of why I like it (because I like the smell) but as others have mentioned here menthol is a main ingredient and menthol definitely has a pervasive quality that many other scented products don’t have. I don’t know why the coworkers themselves haven’t asked Jane to stop using Icy Hot at the office. I don’t use the stuff too often but have had a lot of shoulder pain recently and started up using it again, but I only use it when I’m at home and if I knew it was bothering my coworkers I definitely wouldn’t use it at the office.

        And I feel uniquely qualified to speak to the other side of this too, as an asthmatic who recently had to switch medications as my asthma has become more severe as of late. I’m glad my Icy Hot use doesn’t exacerbate my own asthma but I definitely wouldn’t use it if I were affecting others’ asthma/breathing.

        1. Seashell*

          I use Voltaren gel on my shoulder, and it smells like rubbing alcohol when I first put it on, but it doesn’t last.

      2. Sally Rhubarb*

        My mom uses Voltaren and she jokes that it’s cat bane because her cats will sprint out of the room the second she reaches for it.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Lol, I hadn’t noticed that with my cats but next time I use it I will check to see if they like me better than usual.

      3. br_612*

        I have De Quervain’s. There is a noticeable POP when the tendon catches. Like someone plucked a guitar string in my wrist.

        2 rounds of steroid shots and it keeps coming back. It’s clearly on it’s way back now . . . not catching yet but it’s just a matter of time. My hand specialist is gonna make me get surgery this time I think (not truly make lol . . . just strongly suggest surgery instead of repeating steroid shots).

        It’s the pits.

    5. Jackalope*

      One of the important things about Icy Hot, though, that sounds like it may be different than the other pain relief rubs that everyone is mentioning: it is an aerosol spray instead of a cream. So it’s not just having the smell around you, it’s having a fine mist of Icy Hot flying around everywhere.

      1. Be Gneiss*

        Icy hot does come in an aerosol spray, but also a cream and a balm. IME (using all 3 and living with someone with some chronic and acute pain issues), the aerosol is strong but dissipates quickly, and the odor of the balm hangs around.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Also a roll on which I prefer. Less mess, more likely to hit the area you need. But they also make a patch.

          1. ThatGirl*

            Yeah, I mostly use the roll on and I don’t think the smell is very strong – but then again I’m not using it in a small space near a lot of people.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Oh, interesting, I didn’t know that it came in a spray format. That actually might exacerbate my asthma, so maybe that’s what the OP was referring to. I’ve only ever used it in cream format and I was wondering how pervasive the cream could possibly be, though of course I know that some people do have high sensitivity to all kinds of scents. If Jane were using a spray, that is definitely problematic and maybe her switching to a cream would actually solve the problem. (Though honestly if her coworkers are having problems with the scent at all she should just switch to a non-smelly pain reliever.)

      3. run mad; don't faint*

        Actually it comes in a cream, a roll-on and also a patch as well as a spray. I don’t know which varieties were available when this letter was first written, but it does sound as if the coworker may have been using the spray or cream. I can’t imagine the patch being as odoriferous.

    6. WillowSunstar*

      Yes, I’ve used it myself but I work from home. I would not subject it to coworkers.

      They do sell unscented Aspercreme in the US, so unless someone has allergies or something, they don’t have to buy Icy Hot. I would think Icy Hot would be worse for allergies. The plain Aspercreme is comparable in cost also.

  2. Myrin*

    For what it’s worth, OP #3, when someone visits me at work and we walk to the door together, I (a young woman) generally actively open the door for them whereas when I’m the one visiting someone and we’re at the door at the same time, I mostly at least hesitate and wait for the host’s clue (are they already reaching for the handle or just standing there passively?) – I don’t know why but it feels weirdly… presumptuous (? maybe??) to me to just grip the handle march right out. I can’t tell if I’m having some strange hospitality expectations but thinking about it, that doesn’t seem particularly uncommon to me and something I just do automatically (the key is whether the host – be that myself or the other person – is actually about as close to the door as the guest; I definitely wouldn’t expect someone to sprint across the room to open a door I’m standing right next to).

    All that is to say, OP, that your interviewer quite possibly didn’t even notice what was happening on your end.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Same. I don’t follow any ideas of “male chivalry” etc but would wait for the interviewer to open the door in that situation, whatever gender they are. I can’t exactly articulate why but it’s like they are the host, they are the one “controlling” the meeting, etc. Similarly when I’m interviewing it comes naturally to open the door myself and ‘see them out’.

      1. Dinwar*

        I’m a guy and I feel that way. I’m in THEIR space. Plus, if I open the door I’ll just have to stand aside once we’re through the door, because unless it’s to a conference room or something odds are very good that I don’t know where I’m going. If I let them open the door I can just follow them.

        On the flip side, if it’s my space I want to open the door. I don’t want you wandering around my area, after all–there are some things that are dangerous if you’re not trained to use them, there are some areas that are dangerous even if you’re trained, and frankly there’s some stuff I don’t want you seeing (not that I’m hiding stuff, it’s just that any active remedial site has some messy areas). Let me open the door and lead the way.

    2. Mo*

      I’m old enough to remember getting nearly knocked down by men pushing me aside to get to a door I was about to arrive at first. It always amused me and I must confess I had some fun with it when I realized co-workers were going to be weird about needing to open doors for me, an able bodied human female.

      1. Janet Pinkerton*

        I mean I’m old enough too and I’m 35. The joys of working with some veterans. Finally I decided that I would let them do it as a kindness for them, since they cared about it way more than I did.

      2. Distracted Procrastinator*

        I haven’t been knocked down yet, but I have had men take the door (not roughly) and gesture for me to go first. I moved from the Rockies where door holding is about who gets there first to the South. It has been a bit of a culture change for me. And yes, in a professional setting, men expect me to wait for them to open the door. It’s a weird thing to get used to after all these decades of opening the door myself. (Sometimes I let them, but most of the time I just open the door and take a small amount of pleasure in screwing with their expectations.)

      3. Emily Byrd Starr*

        “I’m old enough to remember getting nearly knocked down by men pushing me aside to get to a door I was about to arrive at first”

        Which, when you think about it, pretty much defeats the purpose.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Yeah, it’s “I’m so chivalrous and respectful to women that I will completely ignore their wishes and behave aggressively towards them because looking ‘chivalrous’ matters more to me than actually being respectful.”

          It reminds me a little of the people who will insist in using terminology that was marketed as PC but that the people in the group being spoken about actually often dislike (like differently abled) and who will then talk down to those in the group about how they are supposed to prefer it.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I think of this as what objectification actually means– it’s often used purely to mean, “I am viewing you sexually”, but for me it’s much more about, “I don’t see you as a person, but as a prop to my own self-image.”

      4. LAM*

        Majority of the places I’ve worked have a security protocol for employees and non-employees. Waiting for your escort to open the door shows that you are mindful of that possibility even if you don’t know their exact procedure.

        Some had doors where you had to badge to have it open without the fire alarm going off (admittedly those were museums and it was specific doors and/or when the museum was closed to the public).

        I guess that could fall under being hosted, however, I see that as a more granular explanation on why LW waited. And maybe an explanation that might not bring as much pause as being hosted.

    3. londonedit*

      Yes – I think for me it wouldn’t matter whether the interviewer was a woman or a man, but as the interviewer/host/person running the meeting I think I would expect them to open the door and usher me through before them. Just because I’m a guest in their office, and it’s polite to open doors for guests. I’m a woman and I’d definitely open the door for any guest that came for a meeting with me.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes same. I think it’s a thing I’d do as the host and expect someone to do for me as the guest. If I’m a guest in your office then it’s your job to do the doors and vice versa. Although that’s a fairly minor point and the odds are I probably wouldn’t notice on the ground if someone did the door for me in my office.

        I think it’s a host thing rather than a gendered thing.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Same. It’s a politeness thing overall. I’m grateful that people take the time to notice I need the door held for me, and do the same for others.

    4. Ink*

      Yep- too much rsk of misreading the situation and haring off down a random hallway, or jiggling a locked doorknob, or so on. Slightly weirder to pause if you’re somewhere you’re familiar with, or you’ve been to the interviewer’s office before, but even then they might have changed offices, or etc, so it’s not likely to stand out unless you also waited for him to pull your chair out or something

    5. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah for me it’s also just a signal from them that the interview is definitely 100% over and they’re ready to usher me out the door so they can debrief or move on to their next meetings, etc. Sometimes you stand up and more small talk keeps happening, etc. whereas the opening of the door by them is them signalling “We’re done now.”

    6. Sweet Summer Child*

      I just experienced this on the elevator yesterday. A 20 something man and a significantly older me. He was was at the elevator as the door opened, he got in and I followed. I stood on the other side. It reached our floor. Do I move and risk walking into him as we both exit? Do I wait for him since he’s in front? Is he waiting for me? Do I tell him to go, like he doesn’t know how an elevator works?
      He turned and nodded and I thanked him and walked first.
      Yeah, lots of early morning pressure!

    7. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

      I get furious if men hold doors for me randomly, particularly if they get in my way while they’re doing it, but my assumption is always that if I’m hosting/guiding someone, I handle the door, and if someone is hosting/guiding me, they handle the door. The person who’s taking the lead is the one who knows if the door is locked, if someone might be in there and we should knock, if we’ve paused in front of a different door than our final destination, etc. It’s just practical.

      1. Misty_Meaner*

        I think “furious” is a bit of a stretch, but I DO get slightly exasperated when someone will hold a door for me when I’m still 30 feet away, and now I feel I have to fast walk to the door. Unless I’m directly behind you … NO NEED TO HOLD THE DOOR FOR ME, man OR woman.

    8. Alan*

      Yep, she’s overthinking this. I’m a large white male and I’d likely wait for someone else to open the door in their own space.

  3. Daisy*

    On number 1 – I’m a manager who gets assigned email inboxes when someone leaves as I’m very firmly in the company circle of trust. I am not a gossip but I am a nosey parker by nature, which I constantly work at squashing as that’s not a trait I like. Still, I have clear access and no-one would know what I looked at and even I don’t bother to hunt around for anything personal. It’s just not worth the time it would take. I stick to searching for specific things if I or a colleague need some history on something. I really wouldn’t worry.

      1. ferrina*

        Agree. I’ve inherited inboxes from colleagues who left, and I only went in there to find specific emails. I certainly didn’t read every email.
        Sure, there’s some people that might scour every email looking for dirt (I’ve worked with a couple of these people). But if this manager likes to avoid work in the first place, it’s very unlikely they’ll invest that time in scouring an inbox.

    1. geek5508*

      I once had to check out the mailbox of a departed admin at a non-profit, to look for anything related to the projects she was involved with. Her Inbox had been cleaned out of personal stuff, but her Sent folder still had emails she had sent/replied to one of the VPs of the org. Apparently they had been having an affair for some months! I quietly deleted these messages and said nothing…

    2. OrangeCup*

      Once I got assigned an inbox for a departed colleague in a 2 person department and I was scrolling through looking for something business related about an account she had handled and stumbled on a million emails to her husband! She was emailing lovey dovey emails to her husband from her company email account, to his company email account (at a different company) all day long. It was mind boggling.

    3. Snow Globe*

      I would guess that the only reason the manager might look at an email is if they were looking up some specifics on a project that the coworker was involved in. The question is – what is the subject line of those emails? If it started out as an email about a project, then several replies later it turned to a discussion of the manager, then the manager might open the email, thinking they’d be getting project information.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yes, there’s certainly a chance these emails could turn up at any time – I find the weirdest things in our drives and archives when I’m searching for something else. I doubt the manager will deliberately to back and read a bunch of stuff but it may float up … But it doesn’t change my advice to OP, which is lay low and hope it doesn’t happen.

    4. Ama*

      Yeah I have been given access to my report’s email when they leave, and once, my boss’s email (she went on medical leave and the people covering for her were worried I might need to hunt up previous correspondence on various issues/projects). I only ever look in them for two reasons: 1) checking for new messages sent to them after they left that I might need to respond to and 2) I need to find correspondence for a specific situation that I wasn’t on the email chain for. I suppose it’s possible I could accidentally stumble onto something in that process but it’s unlikely.

    5. Elves Have Left the Building*

      Not gonna lie; if I had to go thru a departed employee’s email, I’d *probably* do a keyword search for my name just to see what/if anything has been said about me. I confess, I’d be curious.

      1. Maggie Simpson*

        Ha – I did this when I took over for my former intern supervisor, mainly out of curiosity of what I was like as a young intern. We both were in different roles since then and had been with the company for awhile. I found nothing major but did find that she helped our other colleague’s now husband pick out her engagement ring!

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

      Well, that is typically the case. However, I once lost a job (the only attempted firing of my life) in part because I emailed a coworker going out on a medical leave USING HIS PERSONAL EMAIL that I would go to bat for him if he chose to pursue a ADA discrimination lawsuit. He was downloading his personal email to his work outlook and after he got fired our terrible, terrible manager went through his emails and found the things I said and used that to get me out. I say attempted firing because I threatened to sue them if they didn’t give me severance and agree not to contest my unemployment and so it wasn’t technically a firing. I am now very cautious about what I write in email to colleagues.

    7. Sleeve McQueen*

      Me too – I get a lot of former employees inbox and rarely look in them. The main time I snooped was job-related – eg I had to let someone go for performance reasons, they were a good bullshitter and I was interested if there was any truth to their claim that the reason they no-showed an event we’d sent them to was that they were working at the hotel (but along with the absence of any evidence of work, they somehow did not send one email for the duration of the event that they were not at).
      Oh, and the times I’ve discovered conversations where people are slagging each other off it’s when I’ve had to search emails to find a needed document that was not saved where it should have been and the search terms I used were somewhere in the emails. So let that be a lesson in saving files properly.

  4. Phryne*

    No 2, you do not have to spend any more time on something like this, and it seems to me that you are spending way too much time worrying about it, probably because you are already stretched and small things can suddenly become huge when you are stressed. This is a minor thing and it does not need the amount of energy you are putting into it. Just say you can’t make it, and if it really bothers you to blow her off, put some feedback in the mail for her (‘the coat check system could use streamlining’, ‘the napkins arrived late, but we got them to the plates on time’). And then let it go.
    (yes I know this is an old letter)

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I coordinate a large annual event which has volunteer support from our staff
      (It’s totally optional, in the same city that we’re based, during our regular work hours, nobody has to work more than a 4-hour shift, everyone gets food and has breaks and people can watch the presentations if they’re not busy.)
      We don’t ask our staff volunteers to help with planning, but they do get information (including an optional half-hour event briefing) in advance, since that makes things easier on the day.

      I only ask for post-event feedback by email. In my experience, post-event debriefings generally don’t yield useful information unless those attending the meeting were directly involved in planning the event. Debriefings also should take place soon after the event (no more than 10 days after), as memories fade very quickly. So yeah, this OP is fine to send generic feedback by email, since this meeting is probably going to be useless anyway.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        It seems like the meeting miiiiiight be useful for the event organizers because perhaps they prefer to get their information verbally rather than in email format, but it definitely isn’t a useful meeting for the people giving the feedback. Similar to how my nonprofit keeps holding all-staff brainstorming sessions that I know are for senior staff to hear how us lower-level employees feel about things but honestly are so tiring for me because I don’t much care about any of that, I just want to know what tasks you need me to do and maybe also why so I can suggest better ways to implement processes that you hadn’t thought of. Similarly, if I were a volunteer who was doing coat check, I definitely wouldn’t need to attend a meeting just to hear that the napkins arrived late.

        1. MassMatt*

          The wording of the event organizer’s email “I know we promised you a meeting…” suggests to me that the organizer 1)has too much time on her hands and not enough actual work to do, and 2)regards these meetings as something the employees will enjoy and are clamoring for. This is the kind of person that perpetuates the endless proliferation of meetings we see in so many organizations. Maybe to increase her sense of self-importance?

          How many hours of staff time are being wasted in these multiple meetings where a couple of emails would have been more than sufficient? No one regards meetings as a reward or inducement of volunteering, and handing out brochures and hanging up coats really does not require “debriefing”.

          IMO this is an illustration why many cynics advise never volunteering for anything.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            This is the kind of person that perpetuates the endless proliferation of meetings we see in so many organizations. Maybe to increase her sense of self-importance?

            This is *exactly* what is happening with the new dev director I mentioned in my comment lower down this thread. I’m trying to give her the benefit of the doubt but I really just see her as trying to increase her self-importance given that she’s been here for three months and as far as I can tell, has done almost nothing. (Seriously, how does a person with lots of alleged development experience not know, after – I repeat – three months, where we keep track in our database of THE DATE WE RECEIVED A DONATION????)

      2. ferrina*

        Exactly- post event follow up is almost always by email and right away.
        The ask from Pam is way beyond the norm.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Honestly, after the first meeting was described as “instruction for the event” and turned out to be a planning meeting, I would have immediately said no to the “debrief” even if I was free. I’ve been through a phase where I overextended myself volunteering, and I have no hesitation now in declining requests for more of my time.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yeah, that’s the beauty of being a volunteer (as opposed to an employee): you can just say NO whenever you want. What are they going to do, dock your pay? It’s similar to the outgoing employees in their last few weeks on the job when the boss suddenly becomes even more tyrannical than they already had been; the employee holds all the power in the relationship.

        1. Phryne*

          ‘If you don’t come, I’ll never ask you again to help putting out chairs for this event you don’t really care about for free’
          Oh, no. What ever will I do… :D

    3. Sloanicota*

      Ha this letter reminded me of my org – this is exactly the kind of bananas thing our events person would do around our events. Partly it’s just a mis-match of priorities; it’s extremely important to her and she forgets nobody else cares as much; she also isn’t thoughtful about who would/wouldn’t be interested in the debrief and as she is a consultant, may not be clear on everyone’s roles and relationships anyway; and finally, my boss probably does see volunteers as somewhere in the line of potential donors so would want to “engage” them excessively through some misguided sense of best practices. I hope OP sent the email just as scripted, although they could throw a bone and add something like “I’m not involved in the org so I don’t really have any meaningful feedback; the event went fine from my perspective.”

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Our new development director keeps doing this, scheduling meetings for things that are very important for her but none of the rest of us care very much. It would be much less annoying if she didn’t talk so much…the last mtg I had with her went almost two hours when it was scheduled for one. I’m beginning to suspect that part of the issue is that she really likes to talk things over with other people and since I am a “needs to ponder the issue before discussing with others” type person, our communication styles are really different. Probably the event organizer also prefers to communicate and discuss things verbally rather than seeing it all in writing.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      But I still think OP will like to know that even after all this time, the majority of the commentariat think that the woman who asked her to volunteer can be as invested in this project as she wants to be, but OP does not have to follow along.
      OP was a warm body doing specific tasks not related to the mission/purpose of the event.
      If OP had anything to offer about this, “we ran out of brochures/space for coats/seats” OK, useful information. If there were no problems with any of these things, then OP has nothing to add to the meeting.
      And if event coordinator wants OP to confirm there were no problems, that is what email is for.

    5. 653-CXK*

      I think Pam wants a lot more out of this than “OK, what worked, what didn’t, what can we do to improve?” To me, she wants control from beginning to end, and to heck with the fallout. The boundary-busting meeting during lunchtime doesn’t help matters any.

      OP#2 is free to say, “I have other pressing duties…I can’t attend the meeting, but best of luck in future endeavors.”

  5. Mimi*

    #1 My first thought was whether the manager called in sick mondays and fridays 40 % of the time? (You know, 2/5 of the work week.)
    But I’d just assume the manager’s boss was aware of it already and that the absences may or may not be a health issue you don’t need to know about. No need to get involved beyond if it’s affecting your own work,

    1. Yet Another Traffic Engineer*

      That reminds me a few years ago my grandboss told me my sick leave had been audited by my great-grandboss and it had been flagged that I tended to be sick on before/after weekends or may day off (Thursdays)… I fortunately had the presence of mind to say “what, so the only day I’m allowed to be sick is Tuesday?”

    2. Catwhisperer*

      There’s also a possibility that the manager has an accommodation for medical appointments that are scheduled on those days, which they wouldn’t be obligated to disclose to their own reports let alone someone on a different team.

    3. Colonel Gateway*

      Yeah, the “malingering” line in #1 felt weird to me. Is this a known fact or unnecessary judgement?

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Especially coupled with has offsite meetings. Unless they know for sure its not part of the boss’ job, then they really should not be commenting on where the meetings are. That’s not malingering, that’s the job.

        Sounds like they were at the BEC stage with this boss and just looking for things to complain about. Which is a sign to get out, not send emails to colleagues on work mail.

    4. Lola*

      I worked with someone who was an alcoholic. We were friendly outside of work and it became apparent that she would drink a ton on Sundays and then call in sick Mondays. She was told she was no longer allowed to take off Mondays. Sadly, she did and was fired. (friends tried an intervention that sadly went nowwhere and she cut us all off.)

  6. Queer Earthling*

    #3 reminds me of this thing in college…okay, so. I went to an extremely conservative Christian university (feel free to look at my username and laugh for a while) and I…didn’t fit in especially well even before I left that religion, as a budding feminist, gay ally (…and closeted gay person but never mind), and so on, but even once I realized it wasn’t the place for me, I’d invested a lot of non-transferable credits and wound up sticking it out.

    So, because of the super Christian environment, the expectation that everyone was looking for a future spouse, and several other super weird factors, there was a definite culture of Men Always Open Doors For Women. 20-year-old guys would very nearly shove a woman out of the way rather than allow her to so much as touch a doorknob with her delicate feminine hands. I was perceived as a woman at the time, and so if there were men around, doors would be opened upon my approach, and for the most part I just rolled with it because they were usually there first anyway.

    One time, probably junior year when I was well and thoroughly sick of everything, I reached the door first, and opened it, because it turns out that people assigned female at birth can actually grasp a door handle and pull open a door without suffering spontaneous uterine prolapse. And since it was a cold day and there were a few people behind me, I held the door.

    However, these people behind me…were men. And they couldn’t just let a woman hold the door for them! It’s one thing if they sort of failed and this woman-shaped individual went through by herself, but they couldn’t go through a door that was being actively held open by a fragile female limb, could they? Their marriage prospects would be in shambles! Jesus would seek them out specifically to give them disapproving looks! They’d be emasculated! They might as well start voting Democrat at that point! But they also couldn’t reach past me and grab the door, because then their arm might brush against mine through our coats and in early 2000s purity culture, that’s basically third base and you can’t do that unless you’re married, or at least have gone to Bible Study together.

    So…we stand there. I hold the door. They stare at me. Minnesotan winter breathes through the foyer to the academic building we’re all trying to enter. My roommate, who has already gone through the door without mishap and is waiting for me, is trying very hard not to laugh. This is an actual stand-off.

    “Go ahead,” I say, in case they just don’t realize, somehow, that the door is open and they may walk through it at any point.

    They just stand there. Time ticks by. Empires rise and fall. I’m freezing. The door is actually getting heavy by now, which is probably less because of my helpless “feminine” anatomy and more because I’m a 20-year-old LiveJournal-obsessed nerd who doesn’t exercise, and also because this building is from the 1920s and the doors are solid as hell and I’ve been holding it anywhere between five seconds and seven years.

    Finally, I cave. Sort of. “Fine,” I say, and walk through the door. And I let the heavy door fall closed behind me, in their faces.

    The world lets out the breath it’s been holding. I catch up to my roommate, and we continue with our day.

    Anyway, OP, it could have been worse, is what I’m saying. Or at least, a lot weirder.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Oh, lord, the mental image is hilarious. You holding the door politely and them staring at you, because if they walk through a door held by a female-presenting person their corndog and hushpuppies with shrivel up and fall off or something.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      One of my coworkers has a bad back and there are days when you can see the scent trail he leaves behind, like Pepe le Pew, and he does share an office with two others. Hmmm…

    2. I'm A Little Teapot*

      To be blunt: door or not, please figure out a different solution than Icy Hot when you’re not in the privacy of your home. No one wants an asthma attack because they walked past you in the hallway, or walked into the bathroom after you.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I have asthma and I use Icy Hot. Not everyone is the same and it’s really unfair to make such categorical declarations when plenty of people use the product without issue and actually find it relieves otherwise debilitating pain. It is up to the person who is having an issue to use their words, as the advice states, and say “hey this is a problem for me, how can we solve it.”

        1. Magpie*

          Icy Hot is pungent enough that it really falls in the same category as microwaving fish or using essential oils in an office. There might be plenty of people who are fine with it, but it’s very likely that at least one person will be bothered. There are other less intrusive alternatives to Icy Hot that would be better suited for an office environment.

  7. Bast*

    As a manager who received access to former employee’s emails after they left… I did not have the time to sift through years and years worth of emails to look for something that might be juicy. The only times I went through it, I was usually looking for something specific: ie: a client calls and said, I emailed that document to Sam on November 1, but it isn’t saved in so now I have to go through all emails from Said Client on or around November 1 to look for the document they stated they had emailed. The other situation would be current emails for people who didn’t know Sam had left, and were still emailing him, although usually those just got forwarded. The only ONLY time I may have opened something else is if something obviously stood out — ie: I was looking for the November 1 email, but then ran across an email entitled something like I HATE MY BOSS or something that stands out as not fitting in. Would I open that? Perhaps. Would I go out of my way to look for that? No.

    1. kiki*

      I also think LW is kind of safe because I imagine there are a million emails in their former colleague’s inbox with their manager’s name in them. Searching for their own name in their former employee’s email inbox is likely to return mostly work-related results and they won’t bother scouting out mean ones.

    2. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Same here! I don’t really care what someone may have written about me or any other person at work. I’m WAAAYYY too busy to sift through former emails and have only used the access to search for something particular regarding work stuff. Maybe there are those out there that would read through all the emails, but I would think that’s rare. The only other reason that maybe someone would actually look for emails like that would be if they were told there was some issue. But then, I would hand that over to HR to investigate, not do it myself.

  8. Lisa*

    I forget where I originally read this:

    Dance as if no-one is watching, email as if it will be read in court someday.

  9. Justathought*

    #4 – I had a similar situation with someone in the cubicle next to mine used something with (I think) eucalyptus. It was very strong and burned my eyes and lungs – even with a fan blowing in their direction. I complained to my manager and their solution was to move me. Of course I was irritated but when I found out where my new seating location would be I was pleasantly surprised. (think corner cubicle with neighbors who were out regularly on telework) It just might turn out better than you think.

  10. kiki*

    Number 2: I wonder if there are informally different tiers of volunteers for this organization. Perhaps there are the one-off and occasional volunteers as well as a handful of very committed volunteers who want to be more involved. I can imagine a few of the latter requesting debriefs and opportunities to provide feedback and improve future volunteer events, which Pam followed through on. She probably assumed those who are one-off volunteers or otherwise disinterested in a feedback session would opt out.

  11. Juicebox Hero*

    I feel for the people in #4 because it’s never good to be trapped in a small space with an odor you can’t tolerate.

    However, I wish “nuking stinky food and trying to cover up the smell with a vanilla candle” was punishable by federal law. One of my coworkers loves her garlic and cruciferous vegetables, and the reek of garlic, cauliflower, and fake vanilla makes me grateful for an office with a door that closes and window that opens even in the middle of December :X

    The limit was when she microwaved a concoction of garlic, imitation crab, garlic, garlic, garlic, and garlic, then fired up her candle. The boss came steaming out of his office at the other end of the building and told her never to bring that again.

    1. Angstrom*

      Agreed. I like to use a *lot* of garlic and enjoy fishy foods, but I’m well aware that those smells are not popular in an office setting, and make my work lunches accordingly It’s not hard to be considerate for five meals a week.
      Trying to covering strong odors with other strong odors rarely works, and usually makes things worde.

      1. My Useless 2 Cents*

        Strongly agree, using an odor to try and cover another odor doesn’t work and makes things worse. I can deal with the smell of garlic but the cheap scents put in air fresheners and candles will send me home sick.

        I have a lot of scent sensitivities and I know this is an old letter (and I hope it resolved well) but I’ve found sometimes when the smell issue isn’t taken seriously going home sick and specifically calling out the smell as what is making you sick will get the ball going in the right direction to resolving the situation. Use judiciously and only on re-occurring problem smells/scents. It highlights to management that this isn’t just an annoyance but a true problem. However, used too much and you will be seen as the problem :(

    2. Cyndi*

      As a lover of both garlic and imitation crab, I would love to know what the concoction was. And then never ever bring it to work.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I’d bring it, I just wouldn’t microwave it. Leftover crab cakes are really good cold. I fully admit I’m weird, but I will never understand why someone would microwave leftover fish or shellfish rather than eating it cold as every salade Nicoise or cold poached salmon intended.

      2. Juicebox Hero*

        As far as I could tell, it was chunks of imitation crab and a lot of chopped garlic briefly, if at all, cooked in what, knowing this coworker, was probably a squirt of butter-flavored spray. It definitely had that raw garlic funk, not the nice aroma it gets when you cook it out.

        She’s a sweet person and great at her job, but she’s not a really great cook. Remind me to tell you about the time she tried to make brownies with olive oil because it’s the only kind she keeps in the house, and the liquid egg whites that come in a carton.

    3. kiki*

      I do think the food issue is sensitive because while a lot of Western society is in agreement on certain foods/ingredients not being office-friendly, sometimes those food are staples of another culture’s cuisine so people of that culture wouldn’t think about the smell irritating anyone.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        It is very sensitive and I’m glad you brought it up. It’s really, really infuriating to me the way people are treated over food smells. It’s a different issue if it’s causing you physical problems and then it can be a (respectful!!!!!) conversation about how to accommodate both people, but my goodness so many cultures have foods with smells and this kind of attitude starts with kids bringing them to the cafeteria at lunch and being bullied over it. This conversation right here is why so many people say that remote work is a DEI issue – we don’t really want to be bullied, shamed, and ridiculed for bringing our food to the office for lunch.

        I had a coworker once who typically brought a breakfast that had a strong smell I could not stand. We shared an office with two other people, so I couldn’t close the door and avoid her (we were both on the same side of that door lol). What did I do about it? Since it was just a smell and did not cause any physical distress (vomiting, eyes watering, etc.), I lived with it and never said a thing about it to her. It is what it is when you live in a society with other human beings with different preferences and whatnot.

    4. I Have RBF*

      I love garlic. But my roomie who wants even more garlic regular stinks up the house with frying garlic and weird vegetables. Fortunately the kitchen door opens.

      I would never try to cover up garlic with a cheesy fake vanilla candle. That would have me gagging, with or without garlic.

  12. MicroManagered*

    For #3, I wouldn’t worry about the door thing. I’d be more inclined to think someone who did this had a split-second of hesitation about how to open the door (like a push-or-pull brain fart) than a wildly old-fashioned expectation to have the door opened for you.

      1. bamcheeks*

        The weird one is when there’s a pull-shaped handle and a sign saying “push”, and your brain processes the shape of the handle before it reads the sign, and then you can’t work out why you are pulling instead of pushing.

        1. jtr*

          Google “Norman doors” – this is a known problem, and why building designers keep doing it at this point … maybe they’re practical jokers.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          There’s a restaurant we frequent with this exact setup, and I’ve pulled that damn handle soooo many times! Finally someone took pity on all us Midvale School for the Gifted alumni and put a sign up reading PUSH.

  13. RagingADHD*

    TIL there is in fact a “vanishing scent” version of Icy Hot.

    Downside: you don’t get the sinus-opening, Vick’s Vapo-rub type effect. Upside: you don’t bother other people.

  14. CorporateDrone*

    I really hope someday we will get to the point of checking with coworkers prior to using scented products.

    My cousin has ended up taking an epipen and ambulance ride from work three times in the last six months because people insist on using their products that “aren’t that scented”, despite training about the need to avoid for medical accommodation reasons. It’s pretty awful.

    Hopefully running out of coworkers who think the policy doesn’t apply to them.

    1. Silver Robin*

      That is really horrible. I was gifted lavender scented lotion by my manager last year in a lovely little mini spa day kit. Looks like great lotion! I took it straight home (with the intent to use it there, but I promptly forgot where I put it). I continue to use fragrance free stuff at work. Nobody needs a random headache because I decided I needed lavender, much less a ride to the hospital!

    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      I agree about things that are scented for pleasure, but in this case it’s Icy Hot, which is a pain treatment.

    3. RagingADHD*

      I think people often interpret “scented” to mean “fragrance added.” In the case of pain rubs like Tiger Balm or Icy Hot, the active ingredients inherently have a strong smell, and the manufacturer has to do extra stuff (including adding fragrance) to reduce the odor. So people don’t automatically think of it as a scented product.

  15. BellyButton*

    I am sure this has already been mentioned #3 reminds me of when Rachel, on Friends, kissed the hiring manager at the end of a job interview. LOL OP- it could always be worse!

  16. Observer*

    For all the people telling the OP #1 (complaining email), that they are OK because their boss surely has no time to go through the emails, not so fast.

    Yes, it’s true that effective managers don’t spend time trawling these email boxes for anything “juicy”. But here is the thing, the OP doesn’t think that their manager is a good and effective manager. *If* they are right about that, all bets are off. On the other hand, if they are wrong, which is a definitely possibility, then if those emails come to light they are going to look *really* bad.

    And the thing is that this stuff CAN come up in a lot of ways. I’m not saying that it *will* come up, which is why Allison is right that they should not proactively bring it up. But they *do* need to think about this and have a plan in place if it *does* come up *and* they are told about it.

    1. LAM*

      The manager could search for her name and skim from there.

      I suspect an old manager did that when she fired someone who wouldn’t grovel. That manager went on a mission to find who engaged with fired coworker to bash her and then pulled strings to get them on probation. Even some people who had gotten promotions in other departments after working in ours.

      Everyone thought something felt funny when someone was put on probation for being on Facebook (social media was part of their job), but someone was told being on YouTube watching cat videos was fine. The latter definitely complained about manager, as we vented in person, but she wasn’t the type to engage in writing.

      This manager was inefficient and called in at suspicious times. Mostly canceling meetings that probably were going to be uncomfortable, like going over employee survey results. She didn’t call in on Fridays, so it’s probably not the same manager as LW.

  17. Texan In Exile*

    I had to read all the emails of terminated employees but it was for a company that had federal contracts and they had to retain five years of records (or something like that). At the time, email storage space cost $$, so the company wanted me to delete any irrelevant emails.

    I discovered that one employee was running her realtor business from her day job, using her work email.

    Another was getting every junk email you could ever get, including porn.

    And another had gone through an engagement, a breakup that involved cheating and naming names, and a drug addiction – all on his company email.

    But even as nosy as I am, I read these emails only because I was being paid by the hour to do so.

  18. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #1 – I’ve received access to colleague’s inboxes before and honestly, it’s a lot to look at. Unless LW was emailing this colleague at such a high frequency, it’s likely the manager won’t see it. But this is a friendly reminder to keep those types of chats out of any corporate instant messaging or email. If you have to talk about your colleagues, get your colleague’s personal phone number and put it there.

    #3 – I wouldn’t worry about the door thing but I find it a little old fashioned that LW mentioned that they expected their husband to open doors for them. I hold doors open for my husband and vice versa.

  19. Sssssssssssssss*

    Doesn’t anyone ever delete emails from time to time? If I were using my work email – or Skype, or Teams, or Slack – for random complaints, I would periodically (or daily!) delete them. Maybe the coworker was doing so and there’s actually nothing for the manager to find.

  20. Insert Pun Here*

    When I started my job I got access to my predecessor’s emails — both saved emails as well as new emails incoming to her email address, which was set up to forward to me. We work on projects that stretch over years if not decades, so I did have to read/sort/otherwise deal with a lot of it, and I definitely Found Some Things. So it’s worth considering the nature of the work you do before assuming “no one will ever see it.”

  21. Bruce*

    I’ve not had to lay anyone off, but based on my experience with recent retirements and a couple of departures I’d say that digging through emails to hunt for negative comments about myself was not a priority. I don’t think I even opened the email files that were available to me… instead I made sure to archive the working directories in case we needed to recreate some of the projects the departing people worked on…

    1. Bruce*

      To be clear, it is not a good idea to be snarky about coworkers or customers in email or messages. They may never come to light, but a lawsuit or an internal audit can be very awkward…

  22. No Yelling on the Bus*

    “She probably opened the door herself” is one of the more hilarious Monday-morning quarterbacking interview comments I’ve ever heard. We’re all guilty of it, but you’re overthinking.

  23. Semi-retired admin*

    LW #2, it sounds like the organizers were not differentiating between their actual planning committee and “nuts and bolts” type volunteers. As someone who ran a fairly large event for several years, we had our core committee, who attended and contributed to planning and debrief meetings. We had a separate set of volunteers who helped on the actual day of the event.

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