I won’t supervise smoke breaks for minors, backing out of a chaotic freelance project, and more

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

1. My coworker won’t stop talking about a war that’s endangering my loved ones

I work for a medium-sized nonprofit with a diverse staff, including many recent immigrants to the country (we are in Europe). A colleague with whom I work closely in my team of six is a recent immigrant from a country that is currently at war with a country I have close ties to, including family and friends still living there. This would be fine, as I feel able to set this aside and work with her as normal, but for the fact that she Will. Not. Stop. Talking. About. The. War. In a one-to-one catch up to discuss a project she’s assisting me with? She wants to talk about the war. In a department or team meeting with a clear agenda? Somehow she brings the conversation back to the war.

From my name and what few personal details people at work know about me, you wouldn’t guess that I have ties to the country that hers is at war with, so I wonder if she just doesn’t realize when she’s saying these things that they’re directly impacting me (although, from what I know of this colleague, she can be pretty oblivious to how things come across regardless of who she’s talking to).

I am finding the constant discussion about the conflict triggering, but I also can’t find the words to say “please stop.” I’d prefer it if work was a place where I could (as much as possible) forget about what is happening to those I love and focus on, well, work. But she’s making it impossible. We have a very open, collegiate, and friendly workplace where it’s considered the norm to talk about family, where people come from, etc., so it feels difficult to challenge her when she’s basically just doing what others do — just with added war talk. But it’s so upsetting to me that I’ve started to avoid meetings where she’ll be present (we work remotely so I can mostly manage to have a schedule clash). How can I address this, either with her or our team manager?

Would you be comfortable saying, “I have family there, so this is a really distressing topic for me and I’d be grateful if you wouldn’t bring it up around around me”? And then if she brings it up after that: “Like I’ve told you, I can’t talk about this at work. Thank you for understanding.”

If that doesn’t solve it, it’s reasonable to say something to your manager like, “I have family living in (region) who I’m deeply worried about so the war is a very upsetting topic to me. I’ve asked Jane to keep that in mind and not bring it up with me, but she keeps talking about it regularly, and it’s distressing and distracting. Would you be able to intervene since my speaking with her directly hasn’t worked?”

2. Can I back out of a chaotic freelance project?

I’m a freelancer in a fairly small industry. Recently, I was invited to be part of a project with nine other, more established peers. They had someone back out and would I like to step in and participate? The project would involve all 10 of us doing approximately the same work and then bundling it all together. For example, say we’re all submitting a piece of art and putting together an art exhibit. How successful we are will determine how much business this drums up for each of us for the future and how much money we’ll make from our efforts.

Well, the art show was supposed to have happened this month, and … it didn’t. Half the artists chime in vaguely when directly asked to share ideas but didn’t actually start on their work until the last minute, and then the decision was made to push the project back several months, and two more people dropped out (in addition to the one I replaced). Now there’s talk of some people simply painting two pieces instead of continuing to recruit replacements. The organizer is still gung ho about how awesome the show will be and is sure it will be a huge success.

Everyone involved is a bigger name in the industry than I am, and I don’t want to cause problems for myself professionally in my small and often catty industry, but I think I want out! I’m not convinced this art show will happen at all, and right now it feels like I’m back in high school doing 90% of the group project while hoping that somebody notices how little the rest of the group is contributing. *If* the show happens, it would be a great way to get my name out there, but if it doesn’t — or if it flops because no one else makes an effort — I’ll be sinking a ton of time and work into it for nothing. Is there a professional way to back out of my commitment? (No paperwork was signed, it’s all an informal thing.) If they’re saying snarky things about the work ethic of the people who already backed out, I’m sure they’ll do the same for me, and I can’t afford that in a field where freelance jobs come by word of mouth … but I don’t particularly want to spend the next six months deferentially herding cats either!

You could take advantage of the fact that the timeline has changed and say, “I was able to participate when the show was slated for this month, but I won’t be able to be involved on the new timeline because of other commitments in the next few months.”

People who are determined to be snarky will always find something to snark about, but you wouldn’t be giving them ammunition; you committed to a specific scope of work in a specific time period, and you’re allowed to say that the new timeline clashes with other stuff you’ve already scheduled.

(That assumes that you’re sure you want to drop out. It certainly sounds reasonable to! But only you can balance that against whatever benefits could come from participating.)

3. I won’t supervise smoke breaks for minors

I won’t supervise smoke breaks, so I am the “bad shift leader” where I work. I work in a small restaurant doing fast food, often with only four staff on during dinner, and most of those are under 18. Problem is, some of them smoke or vape. Policy is that if they are under 18, they are not allowed to leave the building unsupervised except during their 30-minute break, even to take out trash! Their 15-minute breaks are expected to be taken in the break area inside the restaurant. So these employees need to convince another employee to stand outside and watch them smoke. This becomes a giggle chat time and leaves the other two employees swamped and unsupported, often for much longer than a single smoke. I don’t want to be the bad guy, but I don’t want to be understaffed or charged with supporting underage smoking!

(Technically them just having the smokes or vapes on their person under 21 is illegal. Our store often has police who patrol our location, so them out smoking and giggling while in work shirts could become an issue. Those between 18 and 21 can go outside alone, so a 10-minute “taking the trash out” smoke break is not as hard to deal with, but still allows illegal activity on our work premises.)

You need to talk to your store manager because they really need to be setting policy about this. But absent that, as a shift leader you should have the authority to tell people they can’t take another employee outside with them on their break since it’s leaving the store short-staffed. You also should have the authority to say that employees can’t break federal law on store property or while in their work uniform (although it will really help to have your store manager backing you up on that one). Talk to everyone and say, “I know we’ve allowed this in the past, but we’re not allowing it going forward because it’s leaving us short-staffed and it’s a violation of federal law.”

If that makes you the bad guy … well, that’s because you’re dealing with minors who don’t fully understand how work works yet, and it’s going to be part of the job. It’ll help, though, to have your manager backing you up because if you’ll get more pushback if you’re the only shift leader who enforces those rules — which is why they should be involved.

will smoking hurt my promotion chances?

4. My employee needs repeated reminders to get his work done

I run a team of project managers and technical consultants. I have someone on my team, Bob, who does an adequate job. He is the most junior on the team. I find myself having to remind him of tasks he said he’d do or follow-ups he needs to make with a customer. None of them are huge issues. I feel petty bringing them up individually but, I feel like if I don’t remind him, they won’t get done. Really, the impact is that everything takes longer with him. It gets done, but it’s dragged out. I have given him feedback that he needs to be more proactive to move his projects forward. This feedback didn’t change this behavior.

I don’t like it. I feel like I’m micromanaging his to-do list.

Yeah, that’s a really big deal! You need to be able to rely on him to track his own work and do what he says he’s going to do without someone hovering over him and monitoring him that closely. It’s time to treat this as a serious performance issue — meaning sitting down with him, naming the pattern and what needs to change, offering recent examples so you’re sure he’s clear on the problems, and then giving him some short amount of time (weeks, not months) to show he can meet the expectations of the job. You can offer coaching and support (for example, does he need help figuring out organizational systems?) but he’s got to demonstrate that he can do this piece of the job. If he can’t, treat it the way you would anything else where someone wasn’t meeting the requirements of the job after clear feedback and coaching. Here’s advice on doing that: 1, 2, 3

Also, this is a big deal for any job, but if Bob is one of your project managers, that adds additional urgency since these skills are so fundamental to that work.

5. Interviewing when I need time off for regular fertility appointments

I am currently job hunting and have found a job I am interested in. This is a great opportunity to jump into a new career and get started in something I am passionate about. There is just one thing that is holding me back: how do I talk about the fact that I am currently in fertility specialist appointments?

I currently go to the specialist twice to three times a month and make up the time with my current role. I am usually no more than one hour late to work for these appointments unless there is an exception. I want to bring this up in the hiring process (without mentioning that it is for fertility) so they do not feel like I have done a bait and switch on them.

Can you help me with what I should say or if I should bring this up to them at all? I am worried that they will make the connection if a few months in I announce I am pregnant and the appointments slow down.

It’s normal — and recommended — to wait until you have an offer and not bring it up before then. Medical appointments that make you late an hour late a few times a month are such an easily-accommodated thing that no reasonable employer will feel you baited and switched them by not raising it earlier (it’s not like you’re suddenly announcing, “By the way, I only work two days a month” or “I will need to work from Argentina”) and it’ll actually feel premature if you bring it up sooner.

Once you have an offer, say this: “I have medical appointments two to three mornings per month. Would it be possible for me to start work at 10 am on those days?” You don’t need to say what it’s for (and shouldn’t — it’s none of their business, and there’s no expectation that you’ll share details). If they make the connection once you announce you’re pregnant down the road, so be it; that’s not a big deal. (But also, people are remarkably oblivious and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t.)

{ 456 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Rules of engagement for letter #1: please no speculating on which countries/which war, or getting into your own opinions on said countries/said war. As the letter-writer rightly points out, people with connections to countries at war are exhausted, sad, and terrified and don’t need it debated here. Thank you.

  2. Jessica*

    Also it’s not like someone who might get pregnant couldn’t have any of a zillion other health problems at the same time, so I don’t think it will be at all obvious that the two things were connected. Yeah, the fertility appointments will suddenly stop, but presumably prenatal checkups will start, and if you just identify everything as “medical appointment” I would think it’ll all blur together.

    1. bamcheeks*

      and if it’s IVF, and the embryos are frozen, there could be months between your regular appointments and your pregnancy announcement.

      Although I very much enjoyed saying in April/May, “You know that time I called in late just before Christmas? That was this!”

    2. MC*

      Most people are also absolutely and completely clueless about infertility and fertility treatments. From thinking that infertility means “can never get pregnant” to thinking that treatment is quick and a guaranteed success, the average person who hasn’t dealt with this, or don’t have a loved one who has, just don’t have a clue. It’s very unlikely anyone will connect the dots unless they’re a fellow infertile.

      1. Sloanicota*

        The comment about being oblivious made me chuckle. I certainly work hard not to think about or connect people’s pregnancy choices to anything work related. I don’t consider it my business if someone was probably pregnant already when they interviewed versus deliberately or accidentally got pregnant shortly after starting a new job or whatever. I am very proud to be quite oblivious on this topic.

      2. Observer*

        It’s very unlikely anyone will connect the dots unless they’re a fellow infertile.

        This, a million times over. Even people with family who have been through the mill. For one thing, a lot of journeys look very different from each other. For another, a lot of people don’t share the details for a lot of reasons.

      3. Anon for this one*

        Yeah, I mean, even on this thread there are lots of people assuming fertility treatments will inevitably transform into prenatal appointments (and from there to a baby). I wish I didn’t know exactly how profoundly wrong they are.

      4. Sparkle Motion*

        No one’s fertility (other than mine) is any of my business, so I’d rather not “have a clue.”

    3. Goldie*

      Then you have kids and have a gazillion doctor appts, sick days… I have two teenagers and miss a lot of work.

    4. Annony*

      Yep. The appointments won’t suddenly slow down, they will just be with a different doctor. And then when the baby is born you have regular check ins with the pediatrician. At one point I was taking my daughter in once a week for weight checks. I wouldn’t worry too much about people making the connection.

      1. Seashell*

        I don’t think the average pregnant woman has 3 prenatal appointments a month in the earlier months unless there are related complications. I certainly didn’t.

          1. Hamster*

            Hey there fellow “geriatric!” Former (est 2020) geriatric pregers here!
            I began seeing a maternal fetal specialist as soon as the pregnancy was confirmed. After around 11-12 weeks, my appts increased to twice a month and at 28, they were once a week. At about 34 weeks, they were twice a week. I ended up delivering early at 36 weeks, and from then on the appts were every month for the baby.

            1. New Mom (of 1 5/9)*

              Once a week starting at 28 weeks! Wow! And I thought being on my 3rd growth ultrasound (every 4 weeks) was a lot.

            2. Geriatric Pregers*

              Yes! I had multiple ultrasounds in the first month, a few visits for blood work to check my levels, and then my doctor was out of network, so I had a couple consultation visits with doctors to chose a new one.
              Second trimester was just two visits a month, one at the midwife, and one at the ultrasound center.
              Then week 35 was 2 visits a week for 4 weeks.
              I was 42, with a few risk factors and a big fat baby, so they kept an eye on things.

          2. Selina Luna*

            I am currently in a geriatric pregnancy, and I’m otherwise high risk too, and they still only have me come in once or twice a month. Dunno.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          I had no complications with my actual first pregnancy (and I didn’t quite yet count as geriatric, albeit by months) but I did have two miscarriages before it, so they were monitoring a *lot* more closely.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right. When I was hired I had to adjust my schedule for grad school. I brought it up at hiring, nbd. Now I’ve had orthodonist appointments, and medical specialist appointments, and biweekly therapy, and a bunch of other things that I don’t even mention anymore, I just block the time on my calendar. It’s so normal.

  3. Educator*

    In the first letter, I am curious what “talking about the war” means. Because if she is sharing her personal experience as a refugee or living under an oppressive regime, that just might be the reality of her life recently. Most people talk about their recent experiences as they get to know new people, so I think there is less standing to shut that down. But if she is discussing military strategy, politics, or the kind of sensational stories that sometimes make their way into the media, then I agree that asking for a change of topic is fair.

    1. Cmdrshprd*

      “if she is sharing her personal experience as a refugee or living under an oppressive regime, that just might be the reality of her life recently. Most people talk about their recent experiences as they get to know new people, so I think there is less standing to shut that down.”

      I think even if it is that to a certain extent it is okay to ask for the talk to be cut back. In a similar way that someone that talks a lot about x topic (game of thrones, knitting/crotchet, video games, home brewing) at least with coworkers who have not 100% enthusiastically agreed/asked to talk about that.

      1. stokes*

        I understand the point you’re trying to make, but hobbies and experiences with violence and oppression are two very different things, and they need to be handled differently. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but I’d compare it more with someone battling cancer talking about that, or someone talking about experiences with police violence. (Also, nobody reasonable is going to ask a coworker to cut back on the knitting talk unless it’s truly overbearing or obsessive, which doesn’t sound like the case here.)

        OP#1 has a right to her feelings. I can imagine it’s incredibly painful for her, and that is really hard, but unless her coworker is saying untrue or racist or otherwise harmful things, I don’t think she has a lot of standing to ask the coworker to shut it down. People are allowed to talk—and keep talking—about the hard things in the world that are happening to them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          People are allowed to talk about things happening to them, and other people are allowed to ask them to stop if it’s upsetting. Considerate people take that into account.

          Keep in mind this isn’t a topic that’s just coming up in a casual lunchtime chat. The OP says, “In a one-to-one catch up to discuss a project she’s assisting me with? She wants to talk about the war. In a department or team meeting with a clear agenda? Somehow she brings the conversation back to the war.”

          Managers also have the standing to say, “This is making it hard for people to focus on work and is divisive and we need to scale it back” (just as they could if someone were always talking about Trump or immigration or guns or anything else divisive).

          1. UKDancer*

            This so much. In a previous company I had a colleague who lost a friend in the 7 July attack. She asked if we’d mind not discussing it when she was there because it hurt her.

            We could have ignored her wishes. She had no power to stop us speaking. But we were fairly considerate people so we didn’t talk about it in front of her. I mean that’s just good manners.

            1. Keymaster in absentia*

              As one who worked for the railway that day and lost colleagues – thank you.

              It IS just good manners when someone asks you to not talk about an upsetting thing to just not mention it in their presence. That’s just being polite.

          2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            Yeah. I think the response is different if the LW was saying “I don’t want to hear these conversations in the lunchroom/elevator/halls”–then it is probably on the LW to avoid engaging in conversation with that coworker in those locations. But I think it is perfectly reasonable in vast majority of situations to say “When in a meeting about Q2 Widget Production, we don’t want to detrail on topics”…it would be the same if a person kept bringing up their thoughts/feels on The Golden Bachelor and it was throwing off the abilities of others to actually do their work.

            The exception to this, however, would be if the LW organization is somehow connected to the war or something adjacent to it. If LW and their coworker work at a newspaper, I think then it would be much less reasonable for LW to tell their colleague to not talk about a major world event ever in their presence–but unless LW and the colleague work the Middle East/Asia/Other Region correspondence desk together, it would be reasonable for LW to say to the colleague “Hey, we are the fashion section, so can we stick to what exactly was up with Aubrey Plaza’s Golden Globes dress?”

          3. Elizabeth West*

            I agree; it doesn’t matter what the actual content is — the OP doesn’t want to hear it.

            This seems like a case of someone who is trauma dumping but doing it in the wrong direction. Fergusina needs to find someone else with whom to process her feelings.

        2. Elsewise*

          Recently, a colleague of mine was in a serious car accident. She’s a verbal processor and we’re all very close so she’s talked about it a few times. Another coworker has severe trauma around car accidents and he can’t handle conversations about car accidents. Jane simply doesn’t talk about it around Wakeen. I think OP is well within her rights to say “hey, coworker, I know you’re dealing with a lot around [war]. I have a lot of personal connections with [the other side]. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk about your experiences with your coworkers, but it’s really upsetting for me to hear about this topic at work. Going forward, I’m going to remove myself from conversations around this, and I’d appreciate it if you try to limit war talk around me.”

          (Of course, if the coworker is being racist or xenophobic and not just processing their feelings, that’s a very different conversation, as you point out.)

          1. bamcheeks*

            I was going to say that I wouldn’t mention that it’s [the other side]. I think that inevitably invites assumptions if not discussions about your personal politics or status, which is really unhelpful. “I also have close family in *region* and I find it hard to be reminded of the war when I’m at work” is enough information.

            1. Erin*

              Even just “I’m affected by a family history of trauma from war. I hope you get all the support you need, but conversations about war make it really hard for me to think about anything else, and then focus back on work.”

              It doesn’t have to be *that* war; I think it’s reasonable that people find the very idea of war (let alone that that’s a thing that humans are still doing??? – https://www.egscomics.com/comic/2008-01-18) pretty deeply distressing, even those theoretically insulated from the actual consequences (though that insulation is a privilege, so OP should lampshade that she’s actually not 100% insulated).

              1. Chinookwind*

                I like that wording and have seen it used by a high school student back when I was teaching. In Canada, Remembrance Day is a big deal and we always bring in vets to talk about their experiences (often these are family members of students). I noticed at one assembly that a couple of high school students left near the beginning and I went to check on them. Turns out that one of the girls was from Bosnia and had always had permission in the school to leave if these assemblies if/when they were too much (and to bring a friend with her to help process/pass the time).
                I hadn’t made the connection that this 16 year old girl was a war refugee and just asked if she needed anything (she didn’t) and left her with her friend.
                To a decent person, saying “I have a family history of the trauma of war and don’t want to talk about it” should be enough to shut down the conversation.
                But, if the OP’s coworker is like a former colleague of mine who had connections to one of the current wars but never made the connection that he was currently living in a region full of 1st and 2nd generation descendants of the “other side” and would go on and on about how he supported “his” side, I don’t leave much hope. The only way that was solved is he was let go due to not enough work. (Which was good, because I was very close to snapping and telling him that, if that was such a good and proper place, then maybe he should go back and join them in the fight. It would have not been professional or nice).

            2. Silver Robin*

              agreed. If, for example, as others have speculated, the coworker is talking about their own recent experiences, OP saying that they have connections with the other side while asking for war talk to subside has a really strong chance of being interpreted as, “OP is uncomfortable hearing about my experiences because they think the ones who hurt me are right”.

              Now, the issue is that when OP says at all that they have connections to the folks impacted, there is also a high chance that coworker asks about the nature of that connection. I am not sure how OP can handle that gracefully except to reiterate, “I asked not to talk about it because all of this is really upsetting. again, please stop”

              1. Silver Robin*

                op clarified below that this is not what is happening and is actually the coworker definitely being a jerk

            3. Stay-at-homesteader*

              Agreed. As someone with a two family members who have been in many warzones, it really doesn’t necessarily matter which side… unexpected news/discussion about that conflict can be extremely difficult no matter what.

            4. Observer*

              “I also have close family in *region* and I find it hard to be reminded of the war when I’m at work” is enough information.

              I think this is a good point. Especially since it does happen that different people handle this stuff differently. Like it happens that one person on Side X wants to talk about this all, the. time. But another person on the same side finds it so stressful that they want work to be an oasis.

              The bottom line is that this is a legitimately stressful issue for people and it’s legitimate for people to not want to talk about it at work, even if you are on the “right” side (as perceived by the speaker.)

          2. Ron McDon*

            I work with a very chatty woman, whose partner recently died, very shortly after receiving a terminal diagnosis.

            She wanted to come along to our works Christmas meal at a local pub, and 4 of us car-shared there.

            She went into graphic, upsetting detail about how he died, efforts made to save him by her and the paramedics – it was very upsetting to listen to as my own Dad was going through cancer treatment at the time.

            However, none of us felt comfortable saying anything as it was so raw for her, and it was the first time we’d seen her since it had happened.

            I can imagine her wanting to talk about it a lot when she returns to work (she is very much a verbal processor), so the script Alison suggested might prove useful for me.

            It’s very difficult – you don’t want to prevent people talking about something important to them, but it can be distressing to hear, and they may not realise why unless you say something.

          3. Keymaster in absentia*

            Thank you. I escaped with my life (but not all of my spine) after a serious traffic accident and I really cannot deal with people discussing traffic accidents near me. But all it took was a simple ‘eh, please none of that topic near me thanks’ and people at work and home don’t discuss it.

        3. WS*

          It’s not a perfect metaphor, but I’d compare it more with someone battling cancer talking about that, or someone talking about experiences with police violence.

          Which can also be inappropriate topics when you’re at work, particularly when you’re meant to be discussing work. I say this as a cancer survivor – nobody wants to hear about your cancer all day every day even when it’s a huge thing in your own life. Especially as other people are likely to have their own experiences with cancer (whether their own or a family member or friend) that they’re bringing to the table, and you don’t know who is dealing with what.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yep. I had an employer battling cancer while my mom was simultaneously battling cancer. Once in awhile, it was super great for us to talk. Most of the time, even though she is a sharer, she kept it light around me. You can be considerate of other people even if you’re going through something traumatic.

          2. Willow Pillow*

            It doesn’t even have to be negative topics… My boss’ daughter got married just after the first anniversary of my mother’s sudden death. He was talking about how much it cost with my work neighbours a couple of days before said anniversary, and then they started talking about funerals – I couldn’t handle it. Everyone understood when I asked them to not have that conversation beside my desk, though.

          3. Observer*

            <i.nobody wants to hear about your cancer all day every day even when it’s a huge thing in your own life. Especially as other people are likely to have their own experiences with cancer

            Yes, as a cancer survivor and someone who lost close beloved family to cancer, I agree 100%.

            No one is saying to never bring it up or to keep it a secret. But it’s reasonable to ask people to keep a lid on discussions.

        4. Allonge*

          People are allowed to talk—and keep talking—about the hard things in the world that are happening to them.

          The government (in the countries that have free speech) cannot stop them, but the rest of humanity is not your trauma counselor, so practically everyone else gets to opt out. Even very close friends or relatives don’t have the obligation to listen to everything. At work, it’s absolutely reasonable to ask someone to leave you out of their conversations on whatever topic.

          1. Polly*

            This. Your coworkers are not your therapists. And even non-work friends can get tired if you talk about your traumatic experience non-stop. I am saying it as a refugee who still has family in war-torn country. Most of my coworkers in are aware of my background, but there is no need to bring it up at every meeting.

          2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            Especially if it is derailing work conversations. If it was casual chitchat around the office, well, you could politiely excuse yourself with an excuse of needing to complete something. But this person is taking over work meetings. The person leading the meetings needs to redirect rather than let it keep happening. In one on ones OP nees to say, I’m sorry this must be tough for you but I really need to focus on this project right now. Without even getting into why she wants the topic stop which could lead to more debate about the war.

            Anyone hearing this person drag everything at work back to the war can do this. It must be exhausting. I know I would not want to hear about it constantly even if not personally affected.

          3. Nonanon*

            Boom. Your coworkers are not your therapists, and they do not owe you emotional labor. Yes, your coworker can talk about being a refugee/immigration/politics/animal welfare volunteering/their childbirth experience… but your coworkers often do not have the emotional bandwith to deal with your trauma.
            (LW said no racism/xenophobia/etc so I will take them at their word, but of course that would drive the conversation rather than emotional fatigue)

          4. Prof*

            THIS. I absolutely do NOT want to know about my co-workers traumas. It’s none of my business and I don’t want to do that emotional labor at work. Talk to your family, friends, or therapist and I’ll do the same.

          5. ccsquared*

            Yeah… I can get behind this statement if it means “people are allowed to admit what they are going through to others or say that they’re not feeling awesome because of hard thing” but not if it means “people are allowed to talk to anyone in any manner for any length of time or frequency in any setting about the hard things they are going through.” We can break down harmful social norms and stigmas without throwing out the idea of having social norms at all.

            1. Observer*

              That’s such a good differentiation!

              I totally agree with you. Let’s get rid of the idea that we need to pretend that things outside of work are not happening and have zero effect on one’s work day. But let’s not instead invite in the idea that it’s ok to constantly trauma dump on everyone around you.

            2. Allonge*

              Oh, totally, good point. There is a lot of middle ground between ‘pretend you are a robot’ and ‘by all means share without limits’. And not just at work.

          6. Stuckinacrazyjob*

            During work meetings I tend to keep it light so people don’t feel stress. Stress and trauma reduce executive function.

        5. birch*

          Hobbies isn’t the best example–something else that is traumatic, triggering or upsetting is. People are allowed to have different experiences with traumatic content and ask someone not to talk about it around them, even if it’s something the talker has personal experience with and wants to talk about. Coworkers do not owe you an audience for your trauma dumping.

          1. Cmdrshprd*

            My point was that even benign topics like hobbies can get to be too much and it is okay to ask people to cut back on talk about that. in a way that if you can ask. a coworker to cut back the talk on minor topic, of course you can ask people to cut back on major/traumatic topics.

        6. anon with personal connection to Anna Wintour**

          Hobbies and war don’t need to be equivalent severity for what the coworker is doing to be inappropriate. She’s bringing up the war during project check-ins. Whether these derails are about a specific war or a specific sporting event (or yes, knitting), it’s off-topic and reasonable for any coworker to say “hey we need to stick the project updates in the Project Update Meeting”.

        7. Observer*

          but unless her coworker is saying untrue or racist or otherwise harmful things, I don’t think she has a lot of standing to ask the coworker to shut it down.

          And that’s true even if she’s actually talking about her personal experience. Sure, if she’s talking about her personal experience, you need to give her more leeway. But there is still a limit.

          Just because something is true, does not mean it needs to be said. War is *HELL*. And that’s true whether you are on the “right” or “wrong” side. And the family members are going to have a hard time, regardless.

          This is especially true in a case like this where both have family at stake. The OP’s sensitivity in this respect are no less valid than those of the other person.

        8. Anon for this*

          My husband may have a genetic condition causing him to slowly die in his forties, leaving me a widow in my forties. It is equally true that a) it is my lived experience if I choose to talk about how it affects me and b) it may be triggering and upsetting to other people. I certainly wouldn’t want to talk about it unprovoked, and I avoid talking to people about it at work when they cannot escape. All of us are dealing with something, and it’s reasonable that we avoid painful conversations at work.

        9. Laura*

          But they don’t have the right to talk to just anyway about it. OP is allowed to say she doesn’t want to talk about it and she’s allowed to remove herself when the talking goes that way. This isn’t a one-way street here. Nobody is owed an audience.

        10. Lux*

          I agree with all of this. I’m sure this has been mentioned elsewhere, but I don’t feel it was clear from the letter whether OP’s family reside in a country currently under threat, or are antagonists in a conflict with their coworker’s country of origin. A different approach is required for each of these situations, I feel.

        11. OMG, Bees!*

          I assume they are talking about the war in a news/political sense. And plenty of people don’t want to discuss news or politics at work.

          I personally had to leave a friend Discord server because I asked them to keep news/politics to a separate channel from general, which was refused, but instead they moved all other non-news/politics topics to other channels.

    2. What Is It Good For?*

      Yeah I don’t see why the OP has to say anything about having family there or whatever, unless they work somewhere it would naturally come up it seems like a reasonable ask to say you don’t want to be stressed and anxious at work so can the war talk be reduced?

      1. Lime green Pacer*

        Exactly what I was thinking. My husband has anxiety disorder, and finds he has to limit his news intake and that is especially true of news about some current conflicts. No personal ties to any conflict, not a veteran of any kind, just someone who gets stressed out by thinking about it.

    3. MK*

      Eh, I hardly think it’s common to share these kind of stories with coworkers you don’t know well. People usually don’t share trauma as part of idle office chit-chat.

      1. Orv*

        Especially since in the workplace you can’t just walk away from someone if they make you uncomfortable. Coworkers should not be pressed into duty as therapists or receptacles for trauma dumping.

    4. OP letter 1*

      Hi, OP here! So I almost put this in my original letter but didn’t want it to run too long- she is not a refugee (she left her country to be with her partner, who lives in my home country) and her home and family are all many many miles away from any war zone so are minimally impacted in a practical sense. The country my family is in is significantly affected by the war basically everywhere. Her ‘war talk’ involves wanting to talk about recent battles and events, how great the leaders of her country are for doing x and y, and about how scared she is of anyone from the country my family are in. This latter is mostly why I have avoided using anything like Alison’s script yet- I have reason to believe it will impact how she works with me.

      1. Myrin*

        Ooof, the point about the leaders and her prejudice towards people from your family’s country certainly complicates things.

        Do you by any chance have a friend/confidant/approachable person in your workplace who doesn’t have personal ties to this war either way and who might be willing to be the “fall guy” for you?
        I’ve gladly taken on this role several times in the last ten years and as far as I can remember, it’s always been a success (sometimes with some grumbling by the other party feeling horribly offended by my request to not harp so much on X but I’ll absolutely take that if it means my work buddy gets a reprieve).

      2. NforKnowledge*

        “how scared she is of anyone from the country my family are in”

        So she is being openly xenophobic?! That is absolutely something your manager should shut down, but I think you also have standing to ask her to stop talking about the topic in general (around you), with or without saying you have family in the region.

          1. Presea*

            I agree that this needs to be shut down, but depending on the details of the situation, it’s not impossible that OP might run into further xenophobia with their HR department or whoever else they need to report it to. I am hoping beyond hope that this isn’t the case and any xenophobia will be addressed swiftly and stamped out thoroughly, but it’s something OP should keep in mind for their own safety.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              You can report racism/sexism/xenophobia/etc at work even if you are not the one personally being harmed. They don’t need to escalate anything, but if they wanted to it is certainly possible to report it to HR without saying anything about how it impacts them personally.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          YES. Shut that down right now. YOU have a right to be free from prejudice in the workplace. You are so busy trying to manage your coworker’s emotions about how she will react to being told to knock it off that you are ignoring your rights here.

        2. Observer*

          That is absolutely something your manager should shut down,

          Good point.

          but I think you also have standing to ask her to stop talking about the topic in general (around you), with or without saying you have family in the region

          Yes. It’s much like the discussions about political rants in the office, in general. We’ve had at least one letter when someone wrote saying that they actually *agreed* with the ranter, but it was just too much.

        3. Boof*

          Oh yuck; i’m not sure where my earlier comments threaded but I hadn’t seen this. This sounds more like something you should bring up with your manager and then hr (if they are any good) if that doesn’t stop it.

      3. Elsa*

        I agree that you should not out yourself in this case. I think your best choices are either to just go with a general “talk of this war is distressing to me”, or to speak to your manager or HR and have them tell this person to be aware that there are people in this office whose families are personally affected on both sides, and she needs to stop talking about it.

        1. Your Former Password Resetter*

          I agree that a general opting out of war talk is probably the best approach.
          You can always share more information later on, but given the coworkers comments you’d probably get more traction if you don’t mention you have family in that country.

          1. Lady Lessa*

            I’m thinking that shutting down ALL war talk, and have this coming from the managers. (I would hope that LW1’s coworkers would also try to shut it down.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              If your office has a stated policy against racist/sexist/relig-ist/anything-else-ist language in the workplace, anyone can use it to shut that down.

              1. Michelle Smith*

                Even absent any explicit policies, there may be anti-discrimination laws that would allow for the company to act to reduce their liability for supporting a hostile work environment.

      4. Releeh*

        Oh my sympathies letter 1 OP! The prejudicial element is a whole extra level of stress for you (and sounds worth discussing with HR even in a general ‘my colleague is making prejudiced comments in the workplace’ way). I don’t know how common discussion of other military conflicts are at your workplace, but I think you could definitely adopt a blanket ‘there are so many awful conflicts in the world right now, can we please not talk about them at work’ attitude without going into specifics that could render you vulnerable- mention your stress about war talk to other colleagues and see if you can develop a more collective attempt to shut this down. Good luck!

      5. bamcheeks*

        I think in this case I would discuss it with your manager first. It may be something that your manager is willing to handle themselves–especially if they also have concerns about the amount of War Talk going on, or they’ve heard complaints from other people– but you can also frame it as, “I am going to have to ask Rowena to talk about the war less, because I’m finding it really upsetting for personal reasons. I just wanted to give you a heads-up because I don’t know how she’s going to take it.”

        I also think it’s totally reasonable to go with either, “I find talk about war really upsetting, please don’t talk about it in front of me” or “I have close connections in the areas which are experiencing active combat right now, and I find this really upsetting” without being more specific about which party your connections are associated with or what your position on the war is.

        (off the top of my head, I know two people who are nationals of countries which are at war at the moment who disagree strongly with their governments AND who are terrified for their families, and it’s a particularly isolating position because so many people expect them to be all one or all the other and don’t comprehend that “scared for my loved ones in X” doesn’t necessarily mean “supporter of X”. I don’t know your position LW but I think it’s completely fair enough to say that’s not a conversation for work.)

        1. Longtime reader, rare commenter*

          +1 to this approach of raising it to your manager first – I really like this framing: “I am going to have to ask Rowena to talk about the war less, because I’m finding it really upsetting for personal reasons. I just wanted to give you a heads-up because I don’t know how she’s going to take it.”

          It implies that OP is going to talk to the coworker first, which is sometimes what a manager wants you to do before raising an interpersonal issue. But it also gives the manager an opportunity to intervene, if they feel like this is an “exception to the rule” and something they want to handle from the manager or HR level instead. And even if the manager decides not to intervene, it puts the issue on the manager’s radar before tensions possibly escalate between OP and coworker, so that if tensions do in fact escalate, at least the first conversation about this issue isn’t happening in that environment.

          OP, so sorry you are dealing with all this, and thanks for trusting this community with your question.

          1. Miette*

            Excellent point–you don’t need to also be dealing with a she said/she said battle on top of all this. Clue your manager in if you feel safe doing so.

      6. Keymaster in absentia*

        Eek, I can’t imagine how upsetting this is to you! Hearing all that would make one very disinclined to say anything.

        Still, ai would at least try a ‘please can you avoid talking about war around me? I’m really *not* the right audience for this’ or maybe even a ‘for mental health reasons I can’t hear so much about war, can we change the subject please?’.

        Keep it vague and don’t reply if she asks for specifics. You are NOT hired to be her personal therapist. If she persists have a private meeting with your boss and lay out how effing awkward this all is and ask how they will prefer it’s dealt with.

        Reminder: regardless of whatever side someone’s family is, or what country they’re from, or what war it is, we’re all entitled to a certain amount of civility in the office. Hearing that all your people are untrustworthy is not acceptable workplace chatter.

      7. Katie A*

        The fact that she isn’t really talking about being worried for her loved ones makes this much simpler. If she were, then you’d want to tread gently because you wouldn’t want to be insensitive. It’s reasonable to make some space in the workplace for people to talk about those things (although not as much as she’s doing it), so you might feel like you have to have a “good” reason to avoid talking about it, like your loved ones being in danger.

        In this case, it sounds like she’s following it like an election or sporting event, celebrating wartime acts by leaders, and being bigoted. It’s very reasonable (and wouldn’t out you as someone she’s prejudiced against) to say something simple and straightforward like, “Hey, would you mind not bringing up war during our meetings? It’s distracting and I don’t want to think about it at work.” No need to mention your connection to justify it.

        I do think you should say something to her yourself before going to a manager/HR, since that’s usually a good first step, but if you really feel like you can’t, you can just use a similar script to talk to your manager or HR about it.

      8. xylocopa*

        You have a reasonable concern that this will impact how she works with you, so it sounds to me like it’s fair to ask a manager to handle this in a somewhat anonymized way, instead of going into it directly yourself. Perhaps the manager can say something like “You know, since we have a very diverse workplace, we have people with different ties to this war and it’s a stressful subject, please cut down on the war conversations.” This is maybe vaguer than it should be, but given a goal of everyone getting their work done in good health I’d think a gentle approach would be the best start?

        (Someone who’s grinding on so extensively to begin with may miss or ignore or take offense at a mild hint, but it’s a first step?)

        1. xylocopa*

          (And hopefully this hypothetical manager will be ready to follow through more firmly if she does miss the hint.)

      9. duinath*

        tbh i think i would just say something like “let’s get back on track” in the moment, and maybe something like “i’d prefer if we could focus on work”. that may feel unsociable, but idk. kinda seems like it’s okay not to be too social in this instance.

      10. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        A possible script for your consideration:

        “Can I ask you a favour? Could we stop talking about the war during work hours? Please don’t take this as me not caring about it – it’s the opposite, my heart goes out to the people suffering, and I’m finding it puts me off balance when I’m trying to focus on work.”

        I.e. I’d reveal that it was affecting me emotionally, while staying off any details of the war itself.

        I don’t think the revelation of feelings is necessarily going to “out you”, because anyone who pays attention to the news can be upset about death/ famine/ destruction/ injustice etc even if they don’t have family involved.

        Then next time if there was a next time, I would put up my hand in a “let me stop you there” gesture, let the distress show on my face, and remind “Please no, I need to focus on work”. Or some similar phrase.

        I’m assuming with that script that you’re not going to be spending time with her outside work – drawing on the “not compatible with work” framing does leave an avenue for her to reopen the topic in a social space, so that’s a limitation of it.

        The “favour” bit is one of those phrasings some people would object to, because it shouldn’t have to be “a favour” – so that’s optional, but it probably is what I would do if in a similar situation. It’s a generous framing.

        (In case of escalation I would still have in reserve the more-blunt options like a cross-toned “can you give it a rest, some people are actually dying in this war, it’s not helping anyone to have you rubbernecking from x,000 miles away”.)

        1. Silver Robin*

          oooh I really like this script! nicely done highlighting the emotional/mental impact, which is the thing that ultimately matters, without divulging anything

          1. Betsy*

            And other people (who were afraid to say something to your colleague) will likely chime in and agree with you.

      11. Eldritch Office Worker*

        You don’t have to give any more information than you’re comfortable giving. “I have family impacted by the war,” “I am personally impacted by the war” would send the same message without going into details. She is not entitled to evaluate how valid your trauma is.

      12. Prof*

        Yikes! I’d be going straight to HR and using the term hostile work environment. cause holy cow, that’s xenophobic and offensive.

      13. lyonite*

        I was afraid it would be something like this, and I agree that “outing” yourself is not likely to improve things. She might feel embarrassed and stop, but there’s a good chance she will see this as an opening to “debate” the war with you, or bring up anything she thinks/reads that “proves” her country is in the right. A general, “let’s can the war talk” is the best you can do, and if that doesn’t work, bring in management. (Does your boss know about your connection to the war?)

      14. Observer*

        she left her country to be with her partner, who lives in my home country


        and about how scared she is of anyone from the country my family are in

        Yeah, this is not war talk per se. Or, to put it a different way, her “war talk” is actually a symptom of a different problem.

        She an idiot and a bigot. And she’s apparently stupid enough to be looking for an excuse to parade her stupidity.

      15. e271828*

        The bias your coworker expresses makes this a “take it to manager and HR, not manage it yourself” problem. You shouldn’t have to manage her workplace behavior, which is probably affecting other people as well, and you certainly shouldn’t have to make yourself a potential focus or target for her biases.

      16. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        I am usually the first person to advocate for talking to other adults first, but I think you need to go to your manager. If your co-worker is saying she “scared” of anyone from the country your family is in you have no reason to think this won’t end badly.

        Even if you approach it as “I don’t really like talking about the war, it is upsetting” at best she will ignore this because, to her, this is much more important than your desire not to be “bummed out.” At worst, you risk her leveling accusations of bigotry at you. It is very easy for someone to turn that request into “Your desire to ignore that people from my country are in danger stems from bias against my people.” You likely could only get her to stop if you told her you had family in the region and it is hard, but the second she realizes your family is in the country that is on “the other side” she will ABSOLUTELY see you in a negative light.

        I REALLY advise against being coy about which “side” your family is on–because even if she assumes you are on “her” side, it will probably mean she will still vent her general feels about how good it is that her country is doing something that is actively putting your family in danger. And if she “figures out” your family is actually on the “other side” of the conflict, I suspect she will think you were being deliberately deceptive.

        I suspect also, OP1, that the reason you wrote in to Alison is because this is one of those conflicts where people (who are from neither of countries involved) have very strong feelings about those who support one side or the other, and that there is a chance your other coworkers and your manager may also harbor non-neutral opinions.

        Thus, the concern that if you go to your manager, will they a) for sure shut this down or be too concerned about looking biased against your coworker’s home country? (regardless of their own feelings, it is normal to want to hide behind “this seems like a personal issue you both should work out” rather than step into managing strong feelings about an international conflict)or b) potentially harbor the same sentiments as the coworker about which side is “right” and which side is a “threat” and thus see you differently if you disclose your family connection to the “other side”.

        If I am off base there, my apologies, but given your update here, as well as your explanation that your name and information don’t make it seem like you would be from one of the countries at issue, it seems like a reasonable conclusion as to why you have heard your colleague make such blatantly xenophobic remarks about the country your family lives in and didn’t simply talk to your manager.

      17. Isabel*

        Yeah – people have been occasionally talking to me about a war at work (I can’t tell how they perceive me in relation to it, but I’m pretty sure they think of me as more involved in the war than other people at work, due to my demographics), and I really favour the approach of “Oh my God, it’s so awful, I’ve just had to stop reading the news – I can’t think about it at all.” and then a segue into e.g. limiting social media use in general, or really any other swift topic change (an invaluable Alison tip!)

    5. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      She can and probably should be shut down in any work meeting, especially the 1-1 the OP mentions.
      However watercooler talk depends on give-and-take and people being considerate of each other. If someone finds talk about war, cancer, childbirth distressing, then it’s reasonable to request such talk stop unless with specifically consenting coworkers in their breaks.

    6. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      In my first-hand experience of living with refugees, they mostly say nothing about the horrifying experiences they have been through. They want to put it behind them, talking about it can trigger them, and we cosseted ones in the west have no frame of reference to grasp how horrific it was. So I doubt that’s what’s happening here.
      Even if it were, work is not the appropriate place to work through such stuff. You’re being paid to work, and you’re better off talking to a therapist who has been trained to listen to terrible stuff.

    7. Rose*

      Hard disagree. Work is not the place to talk about the trauma in your life. It would be totally appropriate to politely shut down a coworker who was bringing up their pregnancy loss, SA, domestic abuse, eating disorder, etc etc. Unless you’re a therapist, it’s completely fine to not want to hear about someone else’s trauma at work. Getting to talk about all aspects of your life at work is not a reasonable expectation.

    8. LWH*

      LW1 definitely doesn’t have to deal with distressing conversation all day, but I don’t really agree with Allison’s script as written. I think saying “I have family there” by itself is going to come off incredibly self centered and dismissive, because the person who keeps talking about war clearly does too. You need to acknowledge that when speaking to them, or else it comes off as “my experience matters and yours doesn’t”, and the first thing they will reply with is “I have family there too!” You need to directly acknowledge it’s a shared stress you both have before asking the conversation to stop.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        LW included an addendum in the comments that indicates the other person *doesn’t* have any people directly in the line of fire, even though they live in one of the countries, while LW has family right there.

  4. reg*

    i’m sorry but the policy that no one under 18 is allowed to step outside alone is bonkers. they’re teens not toddlers.

    1. Elsa*

      And it’s weird that they are a-ok with the kids smoking, which is illegal, but not OK with them being alone, which is perfectly legal!

      1. John Smith*

        It may not be that they’re OK with kids smoking, but I very much doubt it’s illegal (if not immoral). In the UK for example we have laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco, vapes etc to under 18s but none (that I know of) that prohibit anyone under 18 to actually smoke cigarettes. illegal for me to buy a pack of cigs for a minor but totally legally fine for me to give the kid a light and join them on a cig break.

            1. AnonInCanada*

              I wish we had that law here as well. Because some laws around here are totally absurd when it comes to underage tobacco use. Example: in Ontario, you can’t smoke in your own car if someone under 19 is in it. However, if caught, while the cop was writing the ticket, the kid got out of the car and started smoking a cigarette, that cop couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

                1. AnonInCanada*

                  You are right about the age being 16 (been awhile since I last seen this law) but the absurdity remains.

          1. doreen*

            It might be most but it’s definitely not all. Some states have laws such as John Smith described, where it’s legal for minors to possess tobacco or smoke at least under some circumstances (maybe it’s only illegal on school grounds or public property ) but it’s not legal to sell tobacco to those under a certain age.

        1. IT Relationship Manager*

          Yeah in my state they moved the cigarette/vape age up from 18 to 21. It’s so odd seeing kids smoking/vaping since most of my generation doesn’t.

          If I was in this position I’d be saying I won’t supervise illegal activity. If they “need” to vape, it sounds like they are using nicotine and that’s not allowed for under 21s in my state but I know it’s not allowed for under 18s elsewhere in the country.

          I kinda understand needing to supervise minors if this is a place like a food joint that hires high schoolers. (A lot of health code violations happen when minors are not treated as such.)

          1. anywhere but here*

            There was a federal law several years back (Dec. 2019) that seems to have sneaked under everyone’s radar (or at least, under mine) and it’s no longer legal anywhere in the US to buy tobacco at 18. Federal minimum age is 21.

            1. ScruffyInternHerder*

              Is this the one where there might be an exception if you’re active military? (Live near a military installation…which is why that is tweaking to the conscious part of my brain)

              It was very quiet. And when you look at the timeline in the US of when Covid 19 hit, it probably stayed pretty quiet in the overall.

              1. Hlao-roo*

                I found this on the CDC website:

                On December 20, 2019, Congress raised the federal MLSA for tobacco products from 18 to 21 years. This legislation, known as Tobacco 21 or T21, became effective immediately, and it is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product – including cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes – to anyone younger than 21 years. The new federal MLSA applies to all retail establishments and people with no exceptions; it applies to retailers in all states, DC, all US territories, and on tribal lands. There is no exemption for active duty military personnel or military veterans between the ages of 18 and 20 years, as had previously existed in some states.

                Looks like there used to be exemptions in state level laws that were around before T21 passed. The webpage is titled “STATE System Minimum Legal Sales Age (MLSA) Laws for Tobacco Products Fact Sheet” if you’re interested in reading more.

            2. Annie*

              yeah, I didn’t know that.

              It is bizarre that someone under 18 can’t go outside. I wonder if that is a company rule or what, because I definitely was able to go outside on work breaks when I was only 16 and working, but that was a long time ago.

      2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        The not outside alone is a red herring. A company can set that policy if they want. Apparently the only way its a problem is because the company is allowing illegal activity on the premises. Which is a huge deal. I don’t know if there is a liquor license involved, but allowed the smoking could very well endanger it. Then there is the publicity if the police do bust someone there. The owners, if they are aware of the activity occuring, could be liable too.

        The business needs to ban tobacco use by the under 18s. Period full stop. Then there is no one complaining about needing a supervisor outside.

        1. ecnaseener*

          That’s not the only reason it’s a problem. If non-smoking minor employees wanted to take their break outside just for the sake of getting some fresh air, they would also need to pull an extra employee away from work, leaving the rest shorthanded as LW mentioned.

          1. Clare*

            It sounds like the non-smoking teens don’t get to go outside for their 15 min break for a giggle and a chat at all. If that is the case, current policy is rewarding the smoking teens with extra time outside and giving the non-smokers a reason to start.

            1. Dek*

              I mean. That just sounds like restaurant culture in a nutshell. I considered picking up the habit just for a chance to sit down for a few minutes outside of breaks, because smokers were allowed to go out for a quick smoke break, but non-smokers weren’t allowed to go out for a quick “off-my-feet and fresh air” break.

            2. no smoking*

              This is very standard for food service to accidentally incentivize smoking. Every place I’ve worked involving food, smokers got extra breaks. Obviously that’s not how it’s supposed to go but it’s super common.

              1. BaffledBystander*

                Huh, is this why every chef I know smokes? I always thought it was odd, surely it affects your sense of taste.

                1. no smoking*

                  It’s probably part of it! It’s easy for people to pick up the habit accidentally working in restaurants.

                2. SW*

                  Yeah, that and the restaurant business is so intense and grinding that people need all the stimulants(legal and illegal) they can to keep going. It definitely affects chefs’ sense of taste but that doesn’t eat into a restaurant’s bottom line like hiring an extra person so everyone can have their legally-required breaks.

            3. Lenora Rose*

              I knew someone who borrowed a cigarette one day, and would go outside with that cigarette on hand and just “forget” to smoke it on break “Oh, crap, I gotta get inside and I didn’t even light up!” – until it got a bit battered and she traded the cigarette to a coworker who did smoke, then had to acquire another one…

              On reflection, I doubt the actual smokers were a bit fooled, but it worked as a brief blind.

      3. anon with personal connection to Anna Wintour**

        It wasn’t clear to me from the letter whether the “not alone outside” thing was employer-specific-policy are a location-specific labor law for minors? Or possibly an employer’s-insurance-requirement or something like that.

      4. Antilles*

        I doubt that they’re really “a-ok” with it. I suspect the reality is either:
        1.) The smoking is handled on such a small scale informal basis that nobody in management actually knows it’s happening. The management *would* have a problem with it, they’re just unaware.
        2.) Management is aware of it and pretending to not notice as long as it’s not a problem. The instant something goes wrong? Officer, I am shocked and stunned to learn that one of our employees was smoking underage on our property, this is a clear violation of our written policy, and we will be firing the offending employee and the shift leader in charge immediately.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It could be state law. Some states require that an adult employee have constant sight supervision of minor employees (not just be present somewhere else on the premises at the same time). Or it could be a corporate policy for legal liability.

      1. Ich ben nur ne kölsche Jung*

        If you’re that worried about liability, how about just not using teen labour to begin with?

        1. Beacon of Nope*

          Sounds like a good idea in theory. In practice, it’s hard enough to find people who are willing to do the unglamorous work involved, that if you find someone who shows up reliably, does their job and behaves themself, you count your blessings.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            And yet again, if it’s that hard to find good workers, you need to pay people more and the good workers will start applying.

            1. Colette*

              That’s not really how it works. I don’t think there’s a reasonable amount of money that would get me to quit my office job to work fast food – it’s difficult, sometimes unpleasant work.

                1. Colette*

                  But it’s a limited pool made up of people who are making less money or otherwise have less desirable jobs – and then the jobs they leave would have to do the same thing.

              1. doreen*

                Nobody is going to quit a decently-paying office job to work in fast food but they might quit a minimum wage retail job to get a dollar or two more an hour at a fast food restaurant.

        2. Quantum Possum*

          I agree that employers should not exploit minors for their labor. However, teenagers should have the right and the ability to work and earn their own money, while still being protected. It’s a sad fact, but some teenagers have to support themselves (or even their whole families) on their own. And if they plan to go to college…woof, that’s potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.

          1. Boof*

            Plus for those who are really longsighted (or have parents/guardians who are) it lets them contribute to certain retirement accounts (like a roth ira) – plus teaches some life skills

        3. Colette*

          I don’t think banning teen labour entirely is beneficial to anyone, including teens. It’s good for teens to get work experience – it’ll help them as adults, and it helps them pay for things they want/need as teens.

          1. ferrina*

            I worked when I was a teen (seasonally part-time job at 14, working full-time in the summers and part-time in the school year from 16 onward). It was a great experience for me. I hated school but loved working (even my unglamorous fast food job), and it was great to have some money that was mine. My bosses gave me reasonable hours, no drama, just a boring, low-paying job (which was exactly what I wanted).

            When done with reasonable protections, teen labor can be a win-win.

            1. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Yeah, my first job at 16 was incredibly beneficial to me. I was extremely shy when I was young, and having a job that required constant, low stakes interaction with the public helped immeasurably. My job was also unbelievably accommodating when I first started. A typical evening shift was 6 PM to 10 PM (when the store closed), and they let me work 6:30 to 9:30.

          2. Antilles*

            It also seems like a pretty wild over-reaction. During the employees’ paid shifts, satisfying the oversight requirement is completely trivial. The actual work is almost all located within the restaurant so you’re good there. For the handful of times per shift you need to have an employee take out the trash, the manager or another overage employee handles that 5-minute task instead, no big deal. The only time this is a problem is during the requested smoke breaks where OP could just refuse.

            Saying “just don’t use teen labor” is incredible overkill in this situation.

          3. Hamster*

            I definitely think working as a teenager would’ve helped me become more mature, basically all the stupid mistakes I made as an adult get them out of the way as a kid? But I can’t imagine I’d want my daughter to work when she’s a teenager just for fear of…the world. In theory I’m in favor of teenagers working.

            1. WheresMyPen*

              Depending on where you work, it can actually really help teens deal with fear of the world. I worked in a supermarket and a department store in my early twenties and we had kids there who were 16, and I think them getting to interact with and learn from other staff members right up into their 70s was really valuable for them. It’s challenging enough that they learn lots about dealing with people, solving problems, handling responsibility etc. but they’ve got more experienced people not far away who can keep an eye on them. Saying that, I don’t think I’d want a kid working late shifts in a secluded place or quiet store where anyone can walk in and cause trouble. Safety in numbers and all that. I used to work in the petrol station of a supermarket occasionally (there would be two of us) and always felt a bit vulnerable.

        4. Lucia Pacciola*

          What if you’re not worried about liability, it’s just a thing your insurance policy requires, and otherwise it’s a viable hiring/staffing practice for your business?

          1. The stranger*

            Well… yes, why not, after all ? They can’t vote, they can’t drink, because the law judge them not mature or capable enough, so why should they be able to work ?
            The answer isn’t so clearcut.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Drinking is a recreational activity involving an altered state and a strong potential for self-harm. Comparing this to working in a reasonable locale like a fast food place or retail outlet or recreation centre under adult supervision seems a bit off.

              I mean, I have strong opinions about minor students working serious factory/warehouse jobs with high safety needs and high injury rates, and why these should be illegal for under 18, but those don’t apply to the common sorts of jobs that youth get.

              Voting is a more complicated matter; it theoretically requires one of a basic level of education or a basic amount of life experience to do in a moderately informed way, and for the time being, we have decided that 18 is a reasonable minimum – and opting for a minimum age limit is massively better in any respect than any other kind of limit we could place.

        5. anneshirley*

          A shift supervisor likely has zero input into whether or not their company uses teen labor, so I’m not seeing how this is a helpful or actionable suggestion for the LW.

        6. Double A*

          Because it’s totally reasonable for 16 and 17 year olds to have jobs?? Like, what even is this comment, teenagers are not toddlers. I teach teenagers and the infantilization of them is hurting them. They are completely reasonably able to work, generally. Yes, some of them HAVE to work because their families can’t make ends meet otherwise and that is unfortunate, but others of them WANT to work for lots of benign reasons and it’s good for them and for society for them to get experience with the workplace, money, and all the things that come with having a job. In fact, I would say it’s much better to start with working part time for low stakes before suddenly you have to work 40 hours a week with the stakes of having to support yourself.

    3. nnn*

      What I’m wondering is whether there’s a general law in OP’s jurisdiction that minors aren’t allowed to be out and about without an adult? Or is there some consideration peculiar to this workplace that makes it risky for minors to be outside in this particular location?

      I’m struggling to imagine a situation where either “this person is too immature to be trusted outside alone, but they’re mature enough to do this job” or “this environment is not safe for this person to be in without supervision, but it’s safe for them to do this job”

      1. Quantum Possum*

        Certain states (including Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) require that minor employees be directly, line-of-sight supervised by an employee who is at least 25 years old.

        The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) website has a lot of information on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), federal child labor laws, and state child labor laws.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Does that include for breaks? It totally makes sense to me that you’d have a law that says, eg. a minor can’t work in a kitchen without being in line of sight of a manager at all times, but surely the point of being supervised is because to prevent minors doing risky things in dangerous places. Seems wild if the company’s position is that they can’t break the law about supervising minors but they can “supervise” minors whilst minors break the law on their own time! (though I realise that *plenty* of ridiculous situations like that come up!)

          1. Also-ADHD*

            I think this is it, and it includes the breaks that are on the clock in some states (those 15 minute breaks vs the 30), though it could also be policy because the business operates in those states. When I was in HR for a business that operated in multiple states, we based our operations rules for all locations in d states on the “strictest” possible interpretation based on all the states we were in.

            1. bamcheeks*

              Ahh, OK, that makes sense. From what I’ve learned on here, UK employment law is much less strict than US employment law about on the clock / off the clock time, so similar legislation here would be more focussed on the activities you were doing rather than whether you’re on/off the clock.

          2. AngryOctopus*

            I believe that 15 minute breaks are “on” for paid time, therefore the supervision aspect applies, as they are being paid. 30 minute breaks are “clocked out”, therefore the minor can go off and do whatever they want to do in that time, no supervision required.

        2. ecnaseener*

          The MA version at least just says the supervisor has to be in the workplace and reasonably accessible. Not in constant line of sight.

        3. Gray Lady*

          I’m going to have to ask my son about that. He was working fast food under 18 just a few years ago (he’s 23 now) and he took out the trash regularly. It was a well run establishment with better management than you usually hear about connected with fast food. I have a hard time believing someone stood at the door and watched him.

          1. steliafidelis*

            Some restaurants require supervision of trash runs for loss prevention and security purposes, regardless of if the employee doing the trash run is a minor or not. Where I used to work, someone had to stand in the doorway the whole time because you couldn’t leave the backdoor unlocked and unattended.

      2. John Smith*

        There’s plenty of situations where “old enough to do X but not old enough to do Y” exists. E.g., being in the military but unable to consume alcohol (16 years old and 18 (with a couple of exceptions) respectively in the UK) – not that there’s any correlation between the two and its the same in LWs scenario – a correlation is being drawn between the legal age for smoking and not being allowed to be unaccompanied (I’m guessing a policy rather than a law) and there may well be a legitimate though unknown-to-us reason for it.

        When I work with minors (13-17 years), they are literally not allowed to be out of line-of-sight of a (adult) staff member at any time whatsoever from the moment they are picked up from home to when they step back into their house.

        1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

          Re the UK: to be exact, kids can drink alcohol with their parents at home from 5 years onwards.

          From age 15 they can drink alcohol in a pub with a meal, but are not allowed to buy alcohol until they are 18.

          1. John Smith*

            Well, not quite right, but I didn’t really see a need to go into the nitty gritty of the Licensing Act as its not relevant here.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          yeah, and you can get married at 16 but can’t see an X-rated film at the cinema till you’re 18.

      3. WS*

        In my jurisdiction you can hire children aged 13-15 under stricter supervision laws (and strict time limits), and all adults working with them have to have police checks or be family members. Direct adult supervision is required. Children 15-18 have less strict laws and less strict supervision requirements, but still can’t do things like sell cigarettes or alcohol or drive a forklift or work overnight shifts.

      4. My Useless 2 Cents*

        I can totally imagine several situations that could lead to rules/laws like this (not that I think this a well thought out rule/law).
        My first thought was one news story about a teen getting hurt or assaulted while in the back of the restaurant while “on break” or “taking out the trash”. Yeah, it could happen to someone over 18 as well but that wouldn’t be as sensationalized.

        Whatever led to rules/laws like this, and regardless on if OP personally agrees with it, as a supervisor, it is up to OP to enforce it.

      5. Lenora Rose*

        I think it’s because anything illegal or inappropriate an employee does on break while in uniform could become something the company is seen as liable for. If an 18+ year old employee does something utterly bonkers on break, the business has a good chance that they can shove the liability onto the legal adult even if the adult is in uniform. But 16 year olds can’t be held personally liable instead because they’re underage, so they have to treat the 15 minute break time as work time from a legal CYA perspective.

    4. John Smith*

      I worked in a nightclub (aged 19 and oh so many years ago) and we weren’t allowed out on our 10 minute break (for a cig) without a bouncer being present. Entirely for our own safety and it turns out part of the licence agreement.

    5. Takki*

      I agree if someone’s old enough to enter the workforce, they’re old enough to be outside alone if they choose to be. At the same time, OP is talking about the dinner shift, so presumably, it’s after dark; many fast food restaurants limit employees in general being outside after dark alone to help minimize risk of robberies – especially if it’s drive thru only.

    6. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      That floored me, too! Where I live, teens routinely get their drivers’ licenses at age 16 and/or commute by public transportation, go shopping, to the movies, to sports matches, etc. alone or with friends their own age. Why ever should employees under age 18 be confined to their workplace?! That job should worry less about keeping their younger employees on “house arrest” and more about stopping the underage smoking on their premises.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        These policies are usually put in place by the state, as part of child labor laws. Federal child labor laws are not so restrictive; however, state laws are allowed to be more restrictive than federal laws (but never less).

        Individual employers don’t have a choice about whether or not to obey labor laws, even if they find them ridiculous.

    7. iglwif*

      Seriously, this is a bananapants policy.

      Does an adult have to drop them off at work, like 4-5 yos arriving for kindergarten?

      Are they required to take a buddy with them to the washroom?

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I think “bananpants” is a bit far. If you think it’s that absurd (and are in the US) write to your governor and indicate you hope your state doesn’t have such policies. Other than that, the beef is probably with an actuary somewhere.

        1. iglwif*

          I do think it’s absurd, but I’m not in the US. (You’re probably right about the actuary.)

          If the policy were “minors must be supervised while using potentially dangerous machinery on the job,” I’d be 100% behind it. Requiring them to be supervised while they’re standing around outside the door giggling just seems silly to me, that’s all.

    8. Binging Bates Motel for the 2nd Time*

      I wonder – can non-smokers get non-smoking breaks, too? Seems unfair that getting extra task-free break time is only for employees addicted to nicotine.

      That said, age aside, I wouldn’t object to an employee smoking a cig while taking out the trash or sweeping the parking lot. Might help with retention.

    9. Binging Bates Motel for the 2nd Time*

      My apartment complex prohibits smoking anywhere on the property. I love that the management takes second-hand smoke, and the possibility of smoking-caused-fire, very seriously.

      Progress is awesome.

    10. PleaseNo*

      it really isn’t. perhaps you might need to sit and think about it a bit, but it isn’t a “bonkers” law

    11. K*

      As a teacher, I get it. Kids be messing around. If I owned a business no way in hell would I employ teenagers if I could help it.

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

      “Policy is that if they are under 18, they are not allowed to leave the building unsupervised except during their 30-minute break, even to take out trash!”

      This is illogical, infantalizing, and frankly silly.

      1. Binging Bates Motel for the 2nd Time*

        Is it, though? I mean, 13-year-olds can work, but they aren’t adults, and they certainly are different from 17-year-olds. Besides, the policy presumably is based on law. Is the restaurant company to ignore those laws and openly invite potential liability?

        If so, I have additional questions.

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

          Is there a law anywhere in the world that says that people under 18 aren’t allowed outdoors without adult escort? Is it just while working? Because if so, they wouldn’t be allowed out during their 30 minute lunch break either, right? Make it make sense.

    13. Chinookwind*

      It may actually be a legit safety policy. I have worked in fast food places with this rule for all employees after it got dark because there had been an incident where someone throwing out the garbage was grabbed and killed while doing just that. If you wanted to leave for your half hour break, they assumed you were leaving the premises (and often out the front door), but a short smoke break or garbage run meant you were at physical risk.

      Add to that the fact that those under 18 are not legally adults, there may also be a either a legal or implied obligation for the workplace to act as guardians for their safety, requiring more restrictions. This would fall in the same category as shorter allowed work hours or a limitations on the types of duties they can perform.

      Which all means that OP gets to be the “bad guy” and put their foot down about not supervising illegal behaviour. It isn’t always fun to be the responsible adult in the room

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

        Nah. If they cared about safety, then no one would be allowed to go out alone, regardless of age. If it were about liability, then they wouldn’t be allowed out for their lunch break.

        The letter writer is in an untenable situation and I agree with the advice to talk to their management. But that doesn’t mean the corporate rule isn’t illogical, inconsistent, and silly.

  5. Elsa*

    For LW1, if you are hesitant to reveal your connection to the country at war, I think Alison’s script works fine without it: “This war is a very distressing topic for me so I’d be grateful if you didn’t bring it up around me.”

    1. Throwaway Account*

      I agreed, this was mentioned in a thread above where the OP added more info including that the coworker is making xenophobic comments.

      Tell the coworker that any talk of was is distressing (not just this war) and please don’t do it in front of OP.

      But also, talk to your boss and/or HR about the prejudiced comments without mentioning that they are about your family

      1. boof*

        I am wondering if their families are on opposite “sides” – xenophobic comments aren’t great but I’m not sure they rise to the level of going to HR, depending on the context*. It seems better off just to ask the whole topic be avoided, or to reveal that “actually I identify as ____” if it feels safe to do so. The later can provided the needed reality check for many folks.
        *if the comments are against the group the “other side” belongs to; it’s extremely hard for humans to mentally separate the group from the individuals from the rhetoric that surrounds people and places in these situations.

          1. Throwaway Account*

            100%! Xenophobic comments always rise to the level of going to HR (if you trust them) or to someone you trust above you. What if they are saying that in a public way – if nothing else (like morality) it can open the employer up to legal and financial problems!

            1. boof*

              I just don’t know what “Xenophobic” means to OP; in my mind tons of things fall under potentially xenophobic that might be better off starting with a manager or directly addressed – but I suppose it also really depends how involved and competent HR is as well as how severe and pervasive the comments are. It’s very different in my mind to say “sometimes i just want to [violence] everyone from [x group]” (yes HR right away!) vs “I feel so nervous when I see [y flag]” (maybe better off addressing the big picture of just not getting into it so much at work). That’s about all I was getting at.

                1. boof*

                  Yep; I’m not saying they are / agree all of the above shouldn’t be at work. I’m only saying maybe jumping straight to HR for some types of inappropriate comments probably won’t be productive / can try to be addressed lower on the chain of command first.

        1. Willow*

          OP says that the coworker has said she is scared of everyone from OP’s country. This is a pretty severe xenophobic comment that definitely rises to the level of HR. Although I do think all xenophobia is HR worthy.

        2. Observer*

          am wondering if their families are on opposite “sides”

          In this context, what difference does it make? I mean, it does sound like they are. But that doesn’t change the fundamentals here – the CW is talking about this non-stop in season and out, and it’s stressing out the LW.

          xenophobic comments aren’t great but I’m not sure they rise to the level of going to HR, depending on the context

          I looked at your star. And I still don’t see any context that would make these kinds of comments ok.

          or to reveal that “actually I identify as ____” if it feels safe to do so

          Why would it feel safe? Even absent the later clarification of the LW, the CW has made it clear that they are not all that reasonable about this. Revealing that they have family on “the other side” is more likely to set off their CW than not.

          1. boof*

            I’m not sure where “maybe HR isn’t the first stop for some sorts of inappropriate comments” becomes “so those comments are ok at work and please continue” but that’s really not what I’m saying or thinking – I’m just commenting on how it might be best to handle them. And I think OP is the best judge of how their colleague might react to any disclosures on their part, so I differ to their judgement on that.
            Full disclosure: I identify as half ukranian, and while I try to keep my thoughts mostly to myself at work I would be mortified if I realized some of my comments that have sometimes slipped out made someone else feel worse about a situation I know they have no control over. I truly don’t know the LWs situation and am not trying to speculate just saying where I am coming from on this. I do hope LW’s colleague is actually reasonable and will realize work is not an appropriate place to vent etc etc.

        3. Boof*

          I didn’t see OPs remarks clarifying what sort of remarks they were talking about; i agree it’s in go to manager and/or hr territory

    2. Beth*

      Really key line here: “I also can’t find the words to say “please stop.””

      The LW MUST find the words. They can go on from there, but “Please stop” HAS to be said in some form. This is a completely reasonable boundary to have, but a boundary can’t be held unless we tell people that it’s there.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yeah, that’s probably why they wrote in to an advice blogger who routinely provides scripts for people who can’t find the words?

        1. Dawn*

          I mean, I think “please stop” kinda nailed it without them needing any further advice but that they need to actually say it.

          “Please stop” is a complete sentence.

      2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        But when it comes to situations that are a powder keg, HOW you say something is crucial in actually getting meaningful change. Or, more precisely, getting meaningful change without negative consequences that outweigh the positive change.

        Like, for real, it doesn’t help the OP if they get their coworker to stop talking about the war around them if the fallout is the coworker being actively hostile to the OP because they view the OP as “the enemy.”

    3. AnonInCanada*

      Or maybe even leaving out the word “this,” and state the discomfort being about hearing about war in general, not this one in particular. Speaking in general terms hopefully will not make this war-obsessed colleague connect the dots between OP’s reason for the discomfort. If that doesn’t work, then OP needs to get her direct supervisor involved to get her to stop.

  6. Cmdrshprd*

    OP1 I wonder if the country you have ties to/family is the country that is widely seen as the aggressor, and that is part of your hesitancy to say anything/speak up because it feels like burying your head in the sand.

    If so I don’t think it should be. People deal with stuff like that in lots of different ways. some people really need to talk about it, others need to shut it. At work and even in personal relationships it is okay to set boundaries on how much/when you can talk about bad/distressing topics.

    Not saying people should completely ignore them, but it is okay to say you need work to be a 100% war free talk zone, or 80/90% war free talk zone.

    1. Ich ben nur ne kölsche Jung*

      Yeah, sorry, but if you’re Russian living in Germany, you can’t expect a recent Ukrainian immigrant to clam up about the war. You shouldn’t be held to account for what Russia is doing, but the war is a big deal to Europe and affects a lot of people there personally.

      Plus, in Europe we don’t have the bias against talking politics that Americans do, which is why when Americans talk politics they can’t find a way to disagree civilly.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        in Europe we don’t have the bias against talking politics that Americans do, which is why when Americans talk politics they can’t find a way to disagree civilly

        Americans don’t have a bias against talking politics in general (that’s literally all that some people do). More accurately it’s an American corporate cultural norm – in the U.S., it’s generally expected that subjects like politics and religion will not be discussed at any length in the workplace.

        But I would imagine that, even in Europe, corporate norms vary by country and region.

        1. UKDancer*

          I would say it’s also a British cultural norm that you don’t talk about politics at work. I will very happily discuss things with friends in the pub or over dinner but like to keep work chat to non controversial subjects.

          1. RowanUK*

            Oh God, how I wish this was the case at my (small) company! I have a coworker (who has no connection to any of the places at war) who will call me during my lunch hour and want to go over all of the latest news and social posts they’ve seen about it.

            I feel like there’s no escape from seeing and hearing about these traumas (and I already struggle with PTSD myself), and I feel like I can’t ask her to stop because that makes me the “person who doesn’t care about people who are suffering”.

            But I think, like the LW, I’ll need to say something because how will the person know otherwise? I agree that this sort of topic is best for a non-work setting.

            1. Seashell*

              I would think saying something like, “Can we switch to a happier topic?” might give the person the idea that you don’t enjoy these conversations.

            2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              This is a very much use your words thing. Ask to stop. Or hey, its your lunch hour, you just missed the call darn hate when that happens.

              You are allowed to set your own boundaries, regardless of what someone else may say about you. In fact, that’s the first sign of a boundary stomper — make you out to the bad guy to justify their own behavior.

            3. RVA Cat*

              I hate that “you don’t care” guilt trip!. Often it’s that we care too much and have to set boundaries for our mental health. As a parent it is especially hard to hear about children suffering. Plus in the US, war and terrorism is going to bring up memories of the 9/11 era.

            4. Zombeyonce*

              You can tell them you’d rather not talk about those things. If they imply you don’t care, tell them that it’s really the opposite, that you care so much that it’s distressing and you’d rather not put yourself in that mindset, especially during a work day!

        2. Abundant Shrimp*

          Agree, and as someone who had coworkers in the past that trampled all over that corporate cultural norm, I am glad that it exists. I cannot leave because I have to be at my desk, or in the meeting, to do my work. That makes me the captive audience of the coworker who decided to talk politics. And if it is my manager (which happened to me in the past), then there’s the power differential added into the mix. I am now having flashbacks to the one year when I’d wake up every day and dread coming into work, knowing that I’d have to sit through my entire day listening to my grandboss, whose office was directly behind my cube, talk to their work friend about how their presidential candidate was a great guy and mine was the evil incarnate. Every. damn. day. But I had to come in and I had to sit in the spot right outside his office – and I couldn’t say anything because it was my grandboss. You can imagine how that made me feel about getting out of bed every morning. I had enjoyed working for that person before, but by the time the election season was over, I lost all respect I used to have for them. I don’t know how I’d manage coming into work every morning knowing I’d get another earful about how my coworker is afraid of everyone from the country where my friends and family live. In 1:1s, no less! Sounds like perfect hell to me.

      2. Cmdrshprd*

        Not saying they can’t talk about it ever, just that the workplace is not the best place for it.

        “You shouldn’t be held to account for what Russia is doing, but the war is a big deal to Europe and affects a lot of people there personally.”

        I am not even sure the OP is directly recently from that country but more like a 2nd gen kid.

        It might affect a lot of people but it does not mean it needs to be talked about repeatedly.

        It would get exhausting hearing someone talk about the same topic all the time even when if I was going through something similar and/or agreed with it.

        Like a person who recently became a parent always/only about the kid, or the new dog/puppy they got.

        it is not so much the topic but the frequency that is the issue.

        if the person need to discuss that frequently private social groups would be a better fit.

        1. Fine Nance*

          I agree.

          This reminds me of an old AAM piece, talking about whether you need to suppress your expression of emotion at work.

          Alison said that because colleagues*have* to spend time together – they don’t have a choice, like you do with friends – they should try to guage their moods and chat so as not to make other unnecessarily uncomfortable. (Obviously sometimes you do have to make others uncomfortable at work, like if you have to give unwelcome feedback, but this is about unnecessary discomfort.)

          I have a particular traumatic challenge and I sometimes encounter others with the same challenge. Different people talk about it in different ways. Some people regularly express the visceral difficulties and anguish of it, while others find that unhelpful to their mental health. Lots of us avoid contexts where the style of conversation is going to upset us. (I mean, we’re going through trauma, we need to take care.) If I had a work context where I regularly couldn’t avoid it, my hard-won mental health efforts would be upended.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            Yes, Alison has discussed the concept of a “captive audience” at work and the resulting need to keep divisive, annoying, traumatizing, sexual, etc. topics out of the workplace — especially if a colleague asks you to do so. If you’re at a bar with friends, you can leave. If you’re in a cubicle farm from 8-5, you can’t. It really is that simple.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes I can leave a bar, change the subject when my uncle starts ranting over Sunday lunch about Brexit (we disagree strongly) or take other action. At work it’s a lot harder because of the captive audience issue which is a good reason to avoid controversial topics.

        2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Also the person is not just chatting about it, but hijacking work discussions to talk about it. You do not have to put off work to chat about a topic no matter how important. Especially all. the. time.

          Anyone has standing to shut it down and drag things back to the work topic.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Yeah, this. You’re at work! It is always reasonable to request that your time be spent on work! Never mind the other extremely valid and reasonable parts of this (1- it is an upsetting topic, 2 – it is personally upsetting to the OP for specific reasons, 3 – the coworker is making xenophobic comments that aren’t appropriate anywhere).

      3. MK*

        You can expect that they not talk about it to you, though. OP isn’t asking that her coworker never mention the war again in the office.

      4. Ruby Sunday*

        Please stop speculating about which war it is, and also please stop making it sound like people in Europe can’t comprehend this letter.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Yes, I’m in Ireland and at least in my workplace, it’s normal to talk about politics, but…there is a big difference between talking about how our taoiseach (prime minister) is out of touch and seems completely unaware poor people exist and talking about a war. One of my colleagues has a partner who experienced a war and all she has ever said at work is that his family had a dreadful time during it.

          I’m not saying it is never appropriate to discuss a war but if there is a reasonable chance of having people around who have connections to both sides, it’s definitely something to be careful of. Discussion of war is something that is likely to get fraught.

          And it doesn’t really sound like the LW wasn’t criticising her colleague for discussing her experiences at work. It sounds like she would just prefer not to hear them, which is reasonable.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          Agreed. And in my workplaces in Europe, there wasn’t much talk about politics in my experience (maybe sometimes an allusion, but that already feels risky). We did discuss the plague, and the wars, since those loomed inescapably large. Tried to stay with facts over opinions as much as possible, though.

          So one should really avoid generalizing about “Europe” for this. I’d think it also depends on how relevant it is to one’s profession (I’d expect journalists to discuss politics amongst themselves, for example).

          I do think the fact that this can be a pandoras box is fairly universal. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to know if one of my colleagues voted AfD for example, because it would make me lose all respect and make working together professionally (which I would still have to do!) quite difficult.

          1. amoeba*

            OT, but I’m seriously so happy I work in a team where I actually know the political opinion of my close colleagues (the ones I’m going to lunch with and chatting regularly) and we’re all pretty much in agreement, at least for the broader issues. Like, my colleague was asking around who wanted to join her for the anti-Nazi-march on the weekend. Really feels like a safe space where you can complain about bad politics happening without worry.
            I’d probably get fired for yelling at people if I had to work with AfD voters, honestly… happened to me once during a training and I have to admit, I did not stay as calm as I should have. Probably because it was such a shock to encounter that kind of position in real life, although of course I’m aware it’s unfortunately not rare…

            1. Quantum Possum*

              I get that. But I also think it’s important to learn how to work with people who don’t share your views, even though it can be very difficult and uncomfortable. Humanity is vast.

              1. Irish Teacher.*

                I think there is a difference between people who don’t share your views and people who actively want to harm you, though. I don’t think most people find it “difficult and uncomfortable” to interact with people who don’t share their views; most of us do that on a daily basis, at work, at home, throughout our school years. But people who want you or your friends thrown out of the country you or they live in or who think you or those you care about are child abusers and try to convince others of that in order to have those others become aggressive and hostile towards you or in the case of a war, somebody who may be cheering for their country bombing your homeland…I don’t think anybody should have to learn to work with people making those kind of comments. They need to be shut down.

                1. Emmy Noether*

                  I’d add this applies not just to people who want to harm me, personally, but to people who want to do harm, period. I’m a citizen (and so were >=3 generations of ancestors), and white, and straight, so I’m not a direct target to those people. I’m not ok with them though. I’d have trouble adressing them civilly.

                2. Quantum Possum*

                  I think there is a difference between people who don’t share your views and people who actively want to harm you, though

                  Having a certain political or personal belief is not the same thing as an individual person actively wanting to cause harm to another person.

                  Politics should just not be discussed in the workplace, period. That’s a perfectly reasonable boundary to have and enforce. It’s perfectly reasonable to end a conversation or walk away or report something to HR if a person acts in a certain way or says a certain thing.

                  But it’s neither realistic nor healthy to say that people don’t have to be civil to others based upon a belief or political affiliation.

                3. Dek*

                  “Having a certain political or personal belief is not the same thing as an individual person actively wanting to cause harm to another person.”

                  I mean…it feels like a distinction without a difference. If someone is nice to me personally, but still wants to enact legislation that hurts me and those I care about, it doesn’t really matter if they don’t specifically want to harm me as an individual person.

                4. Quantum Possum*

                  @ Dek

                  If someone is nice to me personally, but still wants to enact legislation that hurts me and those I care about, it doesn’t really matter if they don’t specifically want to harm me as an individual person.

                  It does matter, actually.

                  As a personal example, I work with plenty of people who are staunchly opposed to women’s reproductive rights, and they vote accordingly. I believe that these laws actively hurt people. But if I refused to be civil to my coworkers who held these political views, I would not be able to do my job.

                5. amoeba*

                  @Quantum Possum but they do indeed want to hurt me. Now, sure, there are times when it’s necessary to work with them regardless, but still, I’m not going to forget that they don’t consider my health important and are happy to sacrifice it for their political motives.
                  The AfD we talked about here as an example was recently on the media because it came out that they are making plans deport anybody they deem a “foreigner”, including people with a German passport. And anybody who opposes them politically, as well. They are colluding with actual neonazis. They are actively working on destroying democracy. That is not a difference of opinion I have to tolerate and I consider anybody who gives them their vote as actually harming me and my loved ones, yes.

                6. Quantum Possum*


                  That is not a difference of opinion I have to tolerate and I consider anybody who gives them their vote as actually harming me and my loved ones, yes.

                  I’m sorry, but someone casting a vote in an election is not the same thing as a person who is actively harming you.

                  I say this kindly, as someone who works in an incredibly diverse organization. If someone truly have such difficulty interacting with people whose political beliefs are diametrically opposed to theirs, then I recommend only working at places where the company culture is not so diverse. Otherwise, they are setting themselves up for perpetual outrage and frustration.

                7. amoeba*

                  @Quantum Possum as people are indeed actively harmed by the results of elections, I guess I just don’t understand how the act of voting can be interpreted in any other way (unless you don’t believe in the power of elections, which I don’t think is the case?) I’m from the country that elected the NSDAP, so I’m very aware of the harm that can come from people’s votes.

                  Fascism is just not the same as “diversity of opinion” and while I’m very OK with diverse orgs, “working with fascists” should not be a part of that.

                8. Lenora Rose*

                  Quantum Possum: I will not work with Nazis.

                  I have bitten my tongue at coworkers who made, say, remarks about the “liberal universities silencing conservative voices” type rhetoric, or dissing the educational system as trying to teach kids left wing ideas, because yes, that’s the sort of thing where I could leave it be and just fetch them the equipment maintenance files. These are conservative concepts but they’re also opinions held by folks who have knee-jerk reactions to hearing stuff on the news and aren’t thinking about it real hard. They’re not trying to hurt people, and will often also have the same knee-jerk instinct to appear welcoming to actual diverse work-mates. I will not trust them with my life, or my friends, or my real opinions, but I can draft a business contract for them.

                  But it crosses a line when the opinion is actual fascism, actual bigotry, and openly stated. And Dek and amoeba are talking about that.

              2. Michelle Smith*

                I work with and associate with people who disagree with my political, religious, etc. beliefs all the time. In fact, my beliefs are very different from most people in my workplace (I’m more conservative than most of them) and in my family (I’m way, way more liberal than most of them). That doesn’t mean I jump at the opportunity to discuss politics at work or the Thanksgiving dinner table. You can work with people with whom you don’t agree without discussing controversial topics at the watercooler. Time and place.

                1. Quantum Possum*

                  That doesn’t mean I jump at the opportunity to discuss politics at work or the Thanksgiving dinner table. You can work with people with whom you don’t agree without discussing controversial topics at the watercooler.

                  I certainly wasn’t saying anything different. I believe that controversial topics like politics and religion don’t really belong in the workplace, period. And for the LW, the “talk” is more like “harassment,” so it certainly has no place!

                  What I was saying is that you have to accept that you’re going to be interacting and working with people who share different opinions. I don’t advocate discussing such opinions at work.

              3. desdemona*

                I think a key point here is that amoeba is referring to people who voted for a party filled with neo-nazis.
                There’s differences in opinion on nuanced situations, yes, and having to learn to live & work with people you disagree with.
                Nazism and supporting nazis is not one of those situations. Especially in Germany!

            2. Emmy Noether*

              I *think* I have a pretty good idea of most close colleagues’ politics based on discussions around sustainability and feminism (ok, I guess we do discuss some politics in the abstract, hah). Also, scientists skew progressive and green in general. But one isn’t safe from nasty surprises.

            3. Zombeyonce*

              Even in an office of like-minded people, I recommend being more circumspect. My team generally has the same politics but that doesn’t mean I’m not annoyed by the colleague who constantly brings up political issues that cause a lot of feelings. I’m at work, I just want to get work done and go home; I don’t want to be reminded of all the current issues in my country even if I agree with their opinion. A little political venting once in a while (like once a month, max) for a short time is fine, but I don’t want to hear about it daily or even weekly.

        3. amoeba*

          Yeah… I mean, I’m in a country and environment where discussing politics at work is pretty normal, but this coworker seems like a lot, even without any additional connection to the war. Wouldn’t be surprised if others were also fed up by this.
          And yeah, it would be slightly different (although still a lot) if the colleagues was actually a refugee whose country was recently invaded, but the LW has clarified that it’s quite far from that (while colleague’s country is, in fact, actually currently suffering).

      5. Keymaster in absentia*

        Bullshit. You only need to look at the number of wars we’ve had in Europe or the UK to know we’re not as good as civility as we like to make out. Don’t make us out to be superior to the US – we have many and varied faults too.

        And someone, regardless of what war (and seriously people read Alison’s pinned post), should not be expected to endure xenophobic comments all day. End of discussion.

      6. boof*

        IDK, it could be russia-ukraine, it could be israel-gaza, maybe even something else; I absolutely do think it is ok for someone else effected by the same war (even in a different way) to ask someone at work to take it down a notch.

      7. Dek*

        “Plus, in Europe we don’t have the bias against talking politics that Americans do, which is why when Americans talk politics they can’t find a way to disagree civilly”

        …oh, that’s just funny in so many ways.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          I know! My only thought is “Why would they think this? Oh, right. They have probably never been to an American Thanksgiving.”

          My dude, most of America has no problem wearing their politics LITERALLY on a t-shirt, you think we have a bias AGAINST talking about them? We freaking LOVE to tell you our opinions on EVERYTHING.

          And, as a nation, we can’t discuss Taylor Swift’s impact of the NFL without becoming deeply invested to the point of raised voices and table flipping. Why would we express our views about gender affirming care or the right to bear arms with less fervor, conviction, and rending of garments?

      8. Alice in Spreadsheetland*

        I wonder if Germany or Germans have ever participated in any global conflict that they might find distressing to hear someone talk about all day ad nauseum in the office.

        Individuals are not responsible for the actions of governments, even if they happen to be from countries whose governments you find morally reprehensible. There are so many other places to talk about deeply distressing and traumatic topics other than the office, where people are trying to work and are not able to leave or opt out of communicating entirely with their colleagues like you can at a social occasion.

        Forcing someone to listen to something they find deeply distressing and possibly traumatic just because their family is “on the wrong side” IS ‘holding them to account’.

      9. fhqwhgads*

        Pretty sure neither the OP nor their coworker is a recent immigrant from wherever the war in question is taking place.

      10. Observer*

        but if you’re Russian living in Germany, you can’t expect a recent Ukrainian immigrant to clam up about the war.

        I have a LOT of sympathy for that. But that’s not really what the LW is asking for. They are asking for their CW to not *constantly* talk about it in. every. meeting.

        Also, there could be recent Ukranian immigrants (to continue your example) who might also want this to get dialed down. Because sometimes you just need some space from this really, really bad and traumatic thing that is consuming the rest of your life.

        1. UKDancer*

          Can confirm I’ve one Ukrainian colleague who has family there. She really prefers not to talk about it during the day because its upsetting and makes it harder to focus on work.

        2. sparkle emoji*

          Yes, I have a close friend who is half Ukranian half Russian, and has Ukrainian refugee relatives living with her family. That war is understandably a source of many tough emotions for her. She chooses to be mindful about when she discusses it because if she let it be a constant conversation it would wreck her mental health. She wouldn’t appreciate a coworker inserting it constantly into work.

      11. Laura*

        Based on what the OP said about how the war is affecting their country pretty much everywhere and the coworker is from somewhere miles away from the war, if this is Russia/Ukraine, then the OP has family in Ukraine, not in Russia.

        But also, yeah, you can tell them to stop. This is the workplace and the coworker is being xenophobic.

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

        True, but maybe work is not the place to keep bringing it up. It sounds like the employee is talking about it non-stop, when it is not relevant to the work meetings, and doesn’t seem able to stop. Yes, you can’t expect someone to not talk about it at all, but there is a time and place.

  7. anony*

    OP #1, I think this is one of those situations where outing yourself will help immensely.

    I have family in a country that’s at war right now. It has been SO helpful just to be able to say that to people. Sometimes I say more, sometimes I leave it at that. But it tempers the conversation when people know, kinda regardless of their politics. It’s very different than just saying, “I’d rather not hear about the war.”

    1. Awkwardness*

      If so, OPs colleague will have OP as the personified opponent. I am not sure what this might to the office dynamics. There’s a 50/50 chance it could go good or bad.
      Why not keep it as simple as possible:
      “I have family that is affected by the war too. This is a distressing topic and I would like to keep the office free from discussions about the war. ”
      Repeat as needed and do not give further information.

      But OP needs to understand that this topic will bleed intro every interaction nonetheless. Everything the colleague is/has was thrown upside down due to the war and their immigation. It is a thing for them besides all the political talk.
      I do wonder if OP unsuccessfully tries to distance/shield themself from this fact.

      1. Mister_L*

        I think OP shouldn’t even mention a personal connection, just insist that the topic is distressing for her and direct the conversation back to work.

        1. musical chairs*

          I fully agree, this person has been described as oblivious, I just don’t think they’ll see the personal connection as a reason to stop talking about it. War is not an easy topic at most places of work, due to the extreme political and personal sensitivities and the fact that you’re all part of a captive audience. You can shut it down from that standpoint alone.

          You should not have to cut your own arm open and bleed to prove you’re a person that deserves that kind of basic consideration.

      2. Polly*

        “ I do wonder if OP unsuccessfully tries to distance/shield themself from this fact.”
        What do you mean by that? OP it trying to shield themselves from the fact that it is their country/government that caused their colleague to suffer and they should feel guilty about it?
        OP has to worry daily about their family and friends who can die as a result of shelling, get conscripted to army or get jailed for criticising the government. They are also probably traumatised and should not be forced to relive this trauma at every work meeting. It is as simple as that.

        1. Enai*

          Don’t you know feeling guilty is the best and only morally pure action you can, nay must! take about any of the various problems the world faces? Actual action risks doing The Wrong Thing, and just carrying on with one’s life demonstrates Not Caring, so you should Take Responsibility by feeling vaguely but pervasively guilty. Nevermind the fact that you’re not actually responsible for the actions $country takes, since presumably you’re not its supreme ruler. It’s “Thoughts and prayers” for leftists.

        2. Awkwardness*

          All we know from this letter is that OP1 has family in a country that is at war with the country that OPs coworker is coming from. And we know that they worry for their family.

          This offers enough potential for conflict. Some could be:
          OP is feeling guilty that they are not there, but their family is.
          OP being against the motives of the war, but their family is supporting it.
          OP supporting it, the coworker being against the motives.
          OP is frustrated because people always assume they have a political position that they do not have.
          OP is frustrated because they are being held accountable for the country.
          Maybe OP does not want to be reminded of the situation at all, and the problem is not necessarily only war talk.
          This does not change the suggestion as mentioned above, but was intended as a reminder to check their expectations.

          1. GythaOgden*

            No, they don’t have to do any of that to prove their worthiness to have their boundaries respected. This is not somewhere where they have self-criticism sessions or need to be humiliated for the background that they cannot help having.

            Let them who is without sin throw the first stone. Until then, no-one owes you anything in order to be treated with respect at work, and that includes someone making provocative comments (maybe they even know OP’s background and are trying to bait them into blowing up and ‘proving’ that those Xes are all the same) and derailing legitimate work meetings about it.

            1. Awkwardness*

              “self-criticism sessions” or “need to be humiliated”: you are reading quite a lot into my letter.

          2. Polly*

            Ok, even if (big if) your assumptions are true, what is wrong with not wanting to be reminded of the situation? Especially at work meetings?

            1. Awkwardness*

              My first answer did have a suggestion for OP how to word that they want to keep the war away from work.
              Maybe you missed this.

        3. mmmmmmary*

          That is reading a lot into the letter that’s not actually there. OP does not specify which war or which side. Please stick to the facts given.

      3. MK*

        OP doesn’t need to distance herself, because she is distant from this fact; she isn’t even a citizen of the opposing side’s country. And even she had, I don’t know, voted for the government who is the aggressor, she still shouldn’t be made to do penance in her workplace by listening to how much the war affected people.

      4. DJ Abbott*

        Agree. OP1’s colleague is already saying xenophobic things. If OP tells her she has family in the opposite side of the war, colleague might focus all her Feelings on OP1.
        I would find another way to deal with this.

      5. Jackalope*

        The OP posted above, and the colleague a) moved to this country for reasons unrelated to the war, and b) is from (and her family is from) parts of the country that are not directly involved in the conflict. She is largely talking about it like an interesting sports drama, not like personal trauma. I think this is important to know since it sounds like OP is actually much more directly affected than the coworker, unless there’s something the coworker isn’t saying.

        1. Awkwardness*

          Oh, I did not see this. Thanks for this information!
          I did assume the colleague was immigrating due to the war. If there is no personal involvement like this, it should be a lot easier for OP to stop this.

    2. TechWorker*

      I do agree having a personal connection is more likely to get people to stop talking than saying something vague about being anxious about war talk. Does front here’s a reasonable chance the coworker will assume they both have family from the same country and might push for *more* details, or try to bond over that instead, which might also be distressing. I think it’s a rough situation to be in :(

      1. amoeba*

        I fear that depending on the war and how upset people in general are about it, it might actually lead to much, much more, confrontation to admit a personal connection. Not to speculate, but I guess OP is taking into account that people connected to some groups are pretty harshly attacked just for being from where they’re from – at least in my country, unfortunately. And nope, not just Putin supporters.

        1. Anon a Bit*

          Yeah. This is where I am at.

          I am in a major lefty US city and tensions are pretty high around some situations. If someone said “my family lives in X” (pick a location for either side of the conflict), no nuance they could provide would stop certain people on the other side of the conflict from assuming that individual’s entire ideological identity and vehemently declaring that they MUST be in support of the murder of innocent women and children. This is a bad enough state of affairs when this whole exchange transpires at some weird 40th birthday party a friend of a friend throws, but when where your family lives can make your workplace completely untenable, thus risking your livelihood, it makes sense to me that the OP might keep it close to the vest.

          And I want to STRESS, this happens from supporters on both sides of most conflicts. Hell, even stressing that would lead some people on either side to view me as “with” the other side. At various places and times, certain issues are full on third rails, and unfortunately it seems like it is unavoidable for the OP.

    3. Throwaway Account*

      OP said upthread that the coworker is on the opposite side of OPs family and the coworker is making disparaging comments about people from the country OPs family is from and she is worried that sharing her family’s country could make the coworker treat her differently.

    4. Alice in Spreadsheetland*

      I think this depends entirely on where exactly LW’s family is from. Personally I would NOT out myself at all or even mention family if I were in LW1’s place. The careful language makes me suspect that their family may not be on the “right side”- I happen to have family/friends on the “wrong side” of two wars going on right now and I find discussing either one deeply distressing and would not be able to handle it at work at all. And the idea that no, I have to be a captive audience to subjects that are traumatic and distress me deeply because someone else’s trauma is more ‘justified’ is awful to read in this comment section (not this post but some others). So asking people to not talk about it means being as vague as possible because someone who’s already emotionally invested in discussing the war at length will not react well if they find out where my family live. There’s a definite possibility LW could be subject to more war discussion, or outright hate/discrimination if they out themselves.

      Saying you overall find the subject distressing and don’t want to talk about it is much safer and equally deserving of consideration and respect by your colleagues.

      1. Observer*

        Saying you overall find the subject distressing and don’t want to talk about it is much safer and equally deserving of consideration and respect by your colleagues.

        I agree. Because there are so many ways that this could play out. And most of them are things that reasonable people can reasonably not want to discuss at work. Whether it’s a personal history, specifics of the situation, just differences in how people approach a similar issue, or any combination thereof, it’s reasonable to respect someone’s request to dial down the discussion.

      2. amoeba*

        For certain current conflicts, there are only “wrong sides”, as in, you’ll get attacked by some people no matter what. And if somebody says something nuanced, they’ll get attacked from both sides.

    5. Not my name*

      I’ll say that knowing that people in my community have family in countries on both sides of the current wars has made me be much more careful about how I talk about those wars in public.

  8. Quantum Possum*

    OP #4

    Bob is, I assume, a grownass adult?

    I know that sounds harsh, but you’re having to “micromanage the to-do list” (it feels like you’re doing that because you are doing that) for an adult human working at the level of consultant or PM. That’s past ridiculous. Bob can learn how to prioritize and manage his time; he can learn how to set up reminders in Outlook; he can learn how to write notes for himself in cuneiform on clay tablets and bake them…the options for Bob are vast.

    But what has Bob learned instead? To keep blowing things off because he knows someone else will eventually do the work for him.

    Spoiler alert: He will keep doing this until his hand is forced.

    I wouldn’t recommend putting him on a PIP without sitting down and talking frankly with him, as Alison suggested. But if you don’t see clear improvement and motivation, then a PIP would be my recommended next step.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I had someone a bit like Bob as a direct report. I felt like 20 times a day (it wasn’t, but started to feel like it) I’d be saying “have you scheduled that meeting?” or “can we go back to person x about that question as it’s been sitting for a week now”. Sometimes I made the management mistake of eventually doing the thing myself. I think with my “Bob”, it wasn’t really that they were disorganised or unmotivated, as much as they were putting off things they didn’t want to do, or perceived as unimportant or less interesting than some other shiny new thing that just came into their inbox. I had to have a conversation about to-do lists etc (which is a bit hypocritical of me as I work in quite an unstructured way, but also I don’t sit on requests for a week…) and being more systematic.

      I do think you’re on to something, Bob is getting his job done for him so why would he bother. Don’t (OP) make the mistake I did and continue to do it just for an easy life!

      1. Quantum Possum*

        it wasn’t really that they were disorganised or unmotivated, as much as they were putting off things they didn’t want to do, or perceived as unimportant or less interesting

        Oh, how I sympathize with that, lol. I had to unlearn some similar habits early in my career. This is where technology really comes in handy – we have so many tools to help us manage chaos. Bobs in the 21st century have a lot of options for support.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        This! I was your Bob! My supervisor and I have a great relationship and early on I kind of fell into the role of “just following orders” for my job. Thus, she would take notes on all of our meetings (with each other and with other people) and I just did whatever I was told. When I asked questions or pointed out issues involving other teams I would let her take the initiative in contacting the other teams. I was very much siloed into my role and I was fine with it. Then at some point she asked me to take over leading our regular meetings with an outside consultant and I was like, Oh, yeah, I guess I can do that. And then when she went out on maternity leave last year I ended up doing all of the communication with other teams and it occurred to me that I can definitely do that too, no need to wait for her to initiate everything. I mentioned all this in my annual review after she returned to work, that I would love to be more connected with other teams and I think she was thrilled. It didn’t occur to me before she left how much hand-holding she was doing and also how completely unnecessary it was. I was just being lazy; it was so much easier on me for her to take notes and contact other people but honestly, it really makes a lot more sense in almost every case for me to do it myself so why the heck was I so resistant to it?

        Anyway, not saying this is what’s happening in OP’s case, but it’s worth looking into as a possible reason for what’s happening. It might help if you are very concrete with Bob about what you expect from him. I’ve had a couple other supervisors tell me that I should be more proactive (the exact phrasing they’ve all used is that I should “take initiative”) but that kind of feedback isn’t always very helpful if, like me, you need more concrete examples of what you should do. How soon do you want him to follow up with customers? Do you want him to follow up two days later and you remind him on day three because he hasn’t done it yet? Does he *know* that he should follow up two days later? (I’m guessing you’ve already told him this but if you haven’t you should tell him.) Suggest that he set a reminder in his calendar, directly on the email thread with the customer, or a task in your customer database to follow up. I use all of these systems to remind me of tasks because for me if something is not top of mind it disappears into cyberworld.

        Another suggestion: since you are all project managers I assume you have very specific ways of keeping track of all the projects. Is it an online platform like Asana or Slack or something like that? Is he in charge of tracking his projects in the platform or do you do all of that? If you do it all, can you transfer that responsibility to him? If he should be tracking the projects and he isn’t, explain to him exactly what you are looking for him to do in the tracking platform. And maybe ask him if the way the platform is used works well for him; if it doesn’t and there’s a way that it would work better for him and still works for you, maybe you could let him do it that way. It will likely be useful to him for you to tell him very specifically how you need for him to improve, but also to ask him to figure out very specifically how he thinks he could improve. If he feels responsible for solving the issue himself that might work a lot better than just telling him what you want and leaving it at that.

        1. Ann W*

          OP here: Yes, I think I’ve been too vague. I will talk to him about with specific examples of items I’ve reminded him on. I will set the expectation that he is responsible for following up on these things and organizing himself. He is responsible for keeping track of his projects and does so.

    2. Also-ADHD*

      Project managers often exist partially to deal with the Bobs of the world—that is possibly one of the weirdest and worst jobs for this issue! My job involves project/product management (though that’s not my title) and I have to deal with loads of Bobs, but they’re usually in roles where their skills in that role outshines the frustration of needing to prod them (and sometimes sincerely stretched thin in other work that makes me sympathetic that I have to prod, as long as they’re reasonable). The notion of someone having to prod the project manager though makes me wonder what use the PM is?

      1. Quantum Possum*

        The notion of someone having to prod the project manager though makes me wonder what use the PM is?

        This is what really stuck in my craw. If Bob was, like, a journeyman analyst or something, it would be different – he would still need to work on this issue, but my mind wouldn’t be so boggled.

        1. Observer*

          Exactly what I was thinking.

          OP, you would have standing to have the kinds of conversations and follow on that Alison recommends, anyway. But this is *especially* true, in the case of someone who is in a PM type role.

      2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        For real. I recently had some work done on my house, and I had to manage the project manager–literally had to call or text every morning if the workers were coming, when they were coming…only for half the time to find out after waiting 2+ hours that even though I was told before that they would definitely be there that day, nevermind, they wouldn’t. It apparently never occurred to this dude to tell me when plans changed, even though I needed to be home when they were working. A 5 day job took 6 days (reasonable) over the course of an entire month (not reasonable, at least not when there were zero rain delays). I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t been prodding him, it would’ve taken 10 days and at least a month and a half. The workers themselves did great work. The PM just sucked at managing. He forgot to tell them things, so some work had to be undone and redone, and twice they didn’t have enough materials on hand to finish parts of the job so they had to go home early.

        I grew up with a parent in the construction industry, so I know I didn’t have crazy expectations for this job. I would probably use the company again–(all costs were agreed to ahead of time, and it was pay as you go, so their delays cost them, not me, and everyone else delivered their parts of the process on time or early)–but I’ll specifically ask to NOT have the same PM. He’s *got* to be costing them money when we had that many delays for a very, very simple project, but it’s not my company, so not my problem anymore.

    3. Keymaster in absentia*

      Very much agree. I’ve fired a Bob in the past who, even after multiple warnings, refused to accept that he simply couldn’t do the technical thinking required. You have to be able to think independently in this role and manage your own time without your boss hovering behind you. He was shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear that he simply couldn’t be a technician at this level.

      Yeah he knew code all right, but couldn’t apply it to problems coming in every day. And his interpersonal skills were darn near non existent (‘arrogant little ****’ was how another department boss described him).

      Put him on a performance improvement plan that clearly sets out how he must improve in areas XYZ without constant supervision. If he asks for specific technical tools to help then look into those. I but work on the basis that he’s not going to improve.

      Definitely stop assisting him. People like Bob genuinely need the ‘sink or swim’ moment.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        Your Bob sounds like my Bob(s)!

        Definitely stop assisting him. People like Bob genuinely need the ‘sink or swim’ moment.


        Now, LW, your Bob might be a different breed of Bob from ours – maybe he really will improve! – but it’s best not to get your hopes up. Expectations are just disappointments waiting to happen.

      2. Ann W*

        OP here: I’m not sure if he’s not capable of thinking independently in the context of this role or if I’ve held his hand too much. His interpersonal skills are pretty good actually, but seems to be lacking the skills to follow through on things.

    4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      I agree. OP you told Bob he has to be more proactive with his projects. What does that even mean? Its kinda vague. Then you keep reminding Bob so he never learns that proactive means complete things in a timely manner.

      You need to sit down with Bob and spell out exactly what you mean. X project is due on Y date. That means he needs to plan on having it completed, reviewed and approved before that date. Help him specifically lay out a timeline so he sees what planning out your work looks like. Explain you expect him to do his job without you reminding him. Then don’t keep reminding him. Have regular check ins to see where he is on the list, but don’t remind him before the check in that he needs to be at T point on the list. Then at the check in find out where he is and why, if he is not where he needs to be, he is not. Keep explaining that its his responsibility not yours to get things done. Make it clear if he cannot show sustained improvement, you will have to transition him out.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        Great advice!

        Then you keep reminding Bob so he never learns that proactive means complete things in a timely manner.

        Bingo. Bob has little incentive to do this on his own. I hate the word “incentivize,” but….let’s incentivize Bob.

        1. Ann W*

          Bob comes from a technical background. He knows a piece of technology we frequently work with very well. His perspective and experience is definitely a good addition to the team. He’s spent most of his career doing very transactional work (responding to tickets). He’s not used to doing things without being prompted by a ticket or being directly asked.

          I’m going to have have a direct conversation with him: bring examples of when I’ve had to remind him and let him know the expectation is that he maintains his own list of tasks and updates them before our 1:1’s. I don’t think he’s all to blame though. I have a part to play in this too. I thought I was helping him transition into the role, but realize I might be holding him back.

      2. Kara*

        I like this, but if i might add one tiny piece? In addition to “he needs to be at T point on the list” at the check-in, if he is not he needs to have already given the LW a heads up.

    5. Sloanicota*

      Wow, I had the opposite reaction. If Bob is new (entry level?) OP needs to show Bob *how* to organize his work better. Have Bob create a list of his tasks with deadlines and bring them to each weekly check-in so you/he can chart progress and keep track. (I will add that when I do this, my boss invariably says “wow, did I really ask you to do all that this week??”). If you ask him to do something, say “please add this to your list of action items” – and if that doesn’t happen, call that out, of course. If he doesn’t realize on his own to review the list *before* the check-in and clean it up, prompt him to do that. This is no more work for you as a manager, but it’s more structure for Bob. And if he can’t do this after a few check ins, and maintain the system on his own going forward, then you will have no guilt deciding he’s not right for the role.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        Wow, I had the opposite reaction. If Bob is new (entry level?) OP needs to show Bob *how* to organize his work better.

        Per the LW, Bob is either a technical consultant or a project manager. There is no excuse for someone at that level in those career fields not already knowing how to do basic tasks.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Fair, I suppose, I’m just assuming Bob must be bringing something good to the table, and this process is actually making it easier to identify or document the problem and/or get rid of Bob if it’s not working out.

          1. Quantum Possum*

            this process is actually making it easier to identify or document the problem and/or get rid of Bob if it’s not working out

            100%. It sounds like the LW has been too vague with Bob.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            The letter describes his work as “adequate” so it sounds like he’s not bringing much good to the table. Hence the desire to change the process so Bob does things without the constant reminders.

        2. Michelle Smith*

          I’m really confused by this take. You don’t know what “level” Bob is at in his career based on the limited information we have. In fact, the only information we have suggests that Bob is relatively low level (described as the most junior on the team, and not the manager). You also don’t know that Bob doesn’t know how to do basic tasks. The issue is that he has to be reminded to do them, not that he doesn’t know how or is incapable of doing them.

          I’m happy to provide you with some valid potential “excuses” for Bob’s performance since you were unable to think of any on your own: ADHD. Depression. Traumatic Brain Injury. Multiple sclerosis. Any other of NUMEROUS medical and mental health conditions that impact executive functioning.

          Is the issue frustrating for the LW? Yes. Should the LW have to micromanage Bob? No. Should Bob learn some skills or coping mechanisms to compensate for his forgetfulness? Absolutely. I am Bob without my elaborate reminder system that spans multiple platforms/devices (e.g., Outlook, Slack, AND cell phone reminders are needed to get me to meetings on time and even then I still struggle and sometimes need additional lead up alarms). But does Bob deserve to be talked about like he is just lazy or incompetent because he’s struggling with a necessary skill when you don’t even know the cause? NO. So let’s be kind to him too.

          1. Quantum Possum*

            I’m really confused by this take. You don’t know what “level” Bob is at in his career based on the limited information we have.

            I have a reasonable assumption based on global corporate norms. Entry-level and journeyman employees are not PMs or technical consultants.

            Now, it is certainly possible that the LW is using the terms in a different way – maybe “technical consultant” actually means “customer service” (which is a totally different thing entirely). But, taking LW at their literal word, it’s logical to assume a certain level of expertise and fundamental skillset for both jobs.

            I’m happy to provide you with some valid potential “excuses” for Bob’s performance since you were unable to think of any on your own: ADHD. Depression. Traumatic Brain Injury. Multiple sclerosis. Any other of NUMEROUS medical and mental health conditions that impact executive functioning.

            Thanks?? It’s really not applicable. If Bob needs an accommodation for a disability, that’s an entirely different conversation. And the onus is on Bob to disclose that and request accommodation. A supervisor cannot make such assumptions about an employee or bring it up.

            1. Keymaster the absent*

              I’m getting a little tired of the ‘but he might have XYZ condition!’ or ‘he has XYZ condition therefore you have to accept that!’ thing being brought up over and over here recently.

              It’s NOT our job, as managers, to investigate whether or not someone has a mental or physical condition impacting upon someone’s work. Nor is it our job to just accept that someone cannot do job A so we need to just move on or provide extra special training. If the staff member brings it up and asks for reasonable accomodations that’s different.

              And I’m getting really tired, as someone with multiple mental issues (some serious), of being used as an ‘example’ of people who can’t do their damn jobs.

              1. Quantum Possum*

                It gets frustrating.

                I think some people don’t realize how shockingly inappropriate it would be for a supervisor to speculate on or probe into an employee’s mental or physical health.

                I’m getting really tired, as someone with multiple mental issues (some serious), of being used as an ‘example’ of people who can’t do their damn jobs


                I also have a few mental and neurological disorders, plus fun “brain fog” effects from meds. It sucks! And sometimes everyone needs help, regardless of health issues. But it’s on me, as an employee, to advocate for myself and to ask for support or accommodations if necessary.

  9. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (constant talk of the war) – even if she can be a little oblivious to how things come off to other people, I expect she’d be mortified to know that she’s been upsetting you with this constant war talk – I really think a direct conversation with her will solve it (perhaps in your next 1 to 1 if that’s a thing that happens regularly). If she reacts strangely or continues to go on and on about the war, you’d escalate to your manager, but I don’t think you will need to.

    1. Florp*

      Yes, Jane sounds like my elderly mother in law, who is the nicest person on the planet (really!) but processes her anxiety by ruminating out loud a LOT, sometimes about the same little thing for years. This is fine in a personal relationship, but it’s not fair to ask your coworkers to be your sounding board. I give Jane the benefit of the doubt and assume she would not want to cause anyone distress. You are not being unkind by asking for this clear and reasonable boundary, and you really don’t have to justify it with an explanation.

      If a simple “I can’t be in conversations about the war, it’s too distressing,” doesn’t work, it’s OK to escalate to her manager. If your company has any kind of employee assistance program, maybe her manager can steer her in that direction help her find a more appropriate outlet?

  10. Brain the Brian*

    LW1: Right there with you. I have family, friends, and colleagues who live on both sides of the line in a current war. They have all lost someone close to them. It’s literally impossible for me to avoid it at work because of the kind of work I do; it’s also impossible to avoid in life right now because it’s pervasive in the news. Most of my coworkers know people on one side of things and don’t realize I also know people on the other side. So… just a big virtual hug to you and a prayer for peace. I hope you’re able to professionally and kindly shut down talk of the war in question at your workplace.

    LW3: Remember that just plain being an adult around teenagers will make you “the bad guy” at some point anyway. Have it be about something like this and not, say, the placement of silverware on tables. They’ll look back on it ten years from now and wonder what on *earth* they were thinking asking you to *watch them smoke*. Hah!

  11. Orv*

    I think “this is making me uncomfortable, can we talk about something else?” should always be acceptable in the workplace. Whether it’s acceptable in LW #1’s workplace is, of course, impossible to say for sure.

    1. Throwaway Account*

      This is off-topic, but I bristle at using the word uncomfortable though I know it is used a lot in this kind of context. It makes me uncomfortable!

      1. if the person’s goal is to make you uncomfortable, then you just told them it worked
      2. if people already don’t care about making others uncomfortable, as evidenced by regularly saying something that makes others uncomfortable, then this won’t work, they don’t care if you are uncomfortable
      3. The only time the other person might care about making others uncomfortable is if they are a bit clueless about what they are doing.

      I’d rather find another word or phrasing that works for all three situations. Like, I don’t want to talk about war, can we talk about something else?

      1. Orv*

        Those are fair points. I think I put it that way because I’ve found the vast majority of people who do this kind of thing are #3. #1 and #2 are forms of bullying and it’s usually obvious if you’re dealing with a bully.

  12. Irish Teacher.*

    It’s occurred to me that LW1 might well not be comfortable saying she has family in the country at war with her coworker’s, especially if her family’s country is seen as being the one more at fault for the war or if her coworker has had negative experiences as a result of actions by the country her family is in.

    I do think, in that case, it would be reasonable to keep it a bit vaguer, like “I find talk of war very upsetting” or “due to some experiences my family have had, I find talk of war upsetting.” The last could be family members who were veterans, if the country the LW is in has been at war itself in the last 50 years or so or if could be that somebody was caught up in a terrorist attack or married to a refugee from any country at war. Just in case the LW doesn’t want to say, “I have ties to the country yours is at war with.”

    1. HannahS*

      Yeah, I agree with that. I think some of the folks suggesting that the OP sharing her experience is going to engender sympathy are perhaps not paying attention to what happens to people who are deemed to be on the “wrong” side of a conflict by whatever group they are in at that moment. It’s not necessarily a safe position to be in (either emotionally or physically, though I don’t think the OP is going to be assaulted at work.)

      I’ve had similar conversations over time (though my real name and appearance are pretty identifying, so my vagueness was a bit of a smokescreen.) I found something like this helpful:
      “Carol, I’m sorry to interrupt you. You know, as a result of my own experiences with international conflict, I find XYZ topic difficult to hear about at work. Talking about this means makes it really hard for me to focus on ABC, which is what we’re here to discuss. Could we keep our conversations more work-focused from now on?”

    2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      I think this is because we skew very American where wars are things that happen “in other places”–so we have opinions and often very strong ones, but there are only a small percentage of Americans with strong ties (geographic, cultural, or familial) to nations in active conflict. The closest thing a majority of us have experienced is the political divide and, while that has gotten heated and occasionally violent, the news isn’t reporting a daily body count of Democrats and Republicans who were killed in partisan attacks. Regardless of the rhetoric, the goal of either political party is to win elections, win power, not to conquer or kill everyone in the other party. Mitch McConnell doesn’t care if Chuck Schumer is a senator–he just doesn’t want him to be in the majority party. It is the stated aim of armed to conflicts to achieve power and control through the threat and application of violence rather than some rare and unfortunate occurrence. Or, to put it another way, SNL skewers both political parties with wild abandon–would anyone find comedic sketches about the war in Ukraine funny? Probably not, because despite people being killed over politics, one of these is an ACTUAL war. So I think a lot of the commenters are just not fully understanding the risks involved in “outing” yourself as affiliated with one side of an armed conflict.

  13. Anonymous cat*

    For #1, do they need to “out” themselves just to say war talk is extremely upsetting and they’d prefer to focus on work?

    There are many reasons it could be upsetting besides family. Maybe stories of violence affect them too much and they avoid all true crime shows. Maybe something awful happened in their own past and the war stories hit too close to home. Maybe they have family in another war altogether and war talk makes them worry obsessively and focus on work helps their brain settle down.

    I just wonder if they really need to give any details, especially as their main ask is to focus on work during work time.

    And I’m sympathetic to the coworker. I would think the war occupies most of her thoughts and her brain is trying to cope by talking. But this isn’t working for the LW.

    1. GythaOgden*

      OP is probably not the only one who’s experiencing the compassion fatigue. If the colleague is bringing it up even when it’s not relevant in work meetings, that’s crossing the line and probably making people far less sympathetic than they were when she arrived.

      I know some people who are beginning to put down roots from the same conflict and they want to share their heritage (and in a church context faith; my church has devised a wording before the Lord’s Prayer that invites people to say it in the language in which they know it best), but are fairly exhausted at the thought of what’s going on. This level of fixation isn’t a norm even among survivors and refugees, just like I as neurodivergent don’t talk about being autistic all day to my colleagues. From other perspectives I know it’s hard to compartmentalise (autism obliterated that ability in me and it’s taken medication to solve some of the lingering anxiety about it), but it may well be harming her ability to interact with her colleagues on a professional basis and she probably needs help of a different kind to be able to leave this at the office door a bit more.

      1. Keymaster in absentia*

        This is a fair point too – I’m willing to be OP isn’t the only one starting to get a bit burnt out with all this at least on a less serious level and it could affect the professional standing of their coworker.

        However, after reading OP’s comments upthread I think this has hit way above their pay grade. It’s turned to outright xenophobia and that really is when you have to bring in the management. Because someone being bigoted (even if it’s for what they see as a reason) isn’t going to listen to a target of their hatred saying cut it out. Based on experience anyway.

    2. Luna*

      Even without having direct or indirect ties to the war going on, or having traumatic issues with excessive violence talk, I’m pretty sure the war in question is being discussed on the news all day, every day. Perhaps not the main focus, but it will be mentioned, discussed, and talked about the latest attack, what other measures are being taken, etc.

      And hearing it every day on the news can already be bad enough. Some people even don’t watch the news or don’t watch them every day, because there is so much negative stuff going on there. And you just don’t want to ‘borrow negativity’.
      Sometimes, hearing about it on the news after work when watching TV is enough.

      And constantly talking about something like war, politics, and similar at work is just not a good idea, in my opinion. It’s not necessary for work (unless you work in a place where such topics *are* vital, like journalism), it’s not really productive or ‘good’ to hear a lot about, and it can be, quite frankly, depressing to people.

      Put your foot down, request that such talk stop in your vicinity or be heavily minimalized (only talk about it during lunch break).

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I don’t have any connection to the current wars, but I can’t watch the violence on the news every day because it’s depressing snd triggering. Then my immune system goes down and I get sick. I tried again recently, because I do want to know what’s going on, and I’m currently at urgent care after being sick for 3 weeks.
        When I start watching again I’ll have to go back to fast-forwarding through the violence. I wish they would just report the latest developments without the sensationalizing and wallowing in tragedy.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah I don’t have any connection to a war at all but I also don’t want to hear stories about destruction and death, so while the family connection definitely makes it more real for OP I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to just not want to hear that much about it while they’re trying to fill out TPS reports or whatever.

    4. Observer*

      I just wonder if they really need to give any details, especially as their main ask is to focus on work during work time.

      No. They don’t. At least in my opinion.

      And I’m sympathetic to the coworker. I would think the war occupies most of her thoughts and her brain is trying to cope by talking.

      Nope. In general, adults need to be aware that not everything in their heads needs to come out of their mouths at all time. That’s a basic skill. So regardless of where this person comes from (even without the OP’s further comments), it’s not reasonable to behave in this way. And the OP is on very solid ground in asking that it gets dialed waaay back.

  14. Green great dragon*

    LW2, there’s space between feeling you need to do 90% and backing out. Can you do your bit, and mentally wash your hands of everything else? I realise that’s still some work for something that might not pay off.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I think this is a good idea and was going to suggest something similar. I mean, I get it, I’m also the type of person who has this urge that I can’t let things I’m involved in flounder or fail, so I pick up other people’s slack. If there’s any way to (mentally) separate out your part and wash your hands of the rest, that’s probably the healthiest option. Using your example, just do your own work of art (maybe you already finished anyway?), and if there are blank spaces on the wall, or it gets pushed back again, do your best to shrug and not let it affect you. Don’t withdraw, but don’t do other people’s work, don’t volunteer for anything, be too busy to take on extra if you are asked, wait it out.

      This really depends on how independent the pieces are, however. If your reputation (and not just your own sense of pride) would suffer from being involved if it flops, that changes things.

    2. Jaydee*

      That was my thought too. If the main task the freelancers are doing is each creating a work of art, can LW deliver that to whoever is in charge and say “Here’s what I’ve prepared for the art show. Unfortunately with the change in timeframe I’m not going to be able to participate in the planning meetings (or whatever else) because I have some other commitments ramping up the next few weeks/months. But once you have a new date for the show scheduled, please let me know as I’d of course love to attend.”

    3. LCH*

      my thoughts too. presumably you completed your art piece already so that’s done. now you just need to participate 10% in all the other parts of the planning or whatever. it sounds like you are taking on a large mental load, but you don’t need to!

      1. OP2*

        I’m about half done, which represents about a month’s worth of work. I slowed down a lot on my contribution when it became apparent that nobody else was going to be ready in time. It won’t professionally hurt me if the art show flops, but it will mean that I get no benefit from it if everyone else doesn’t put in the effort for their individual parts and also for the cooperative things like planning, marketing, etc.

  15. bamcheeks*

    LW3, I think you should talk to your manager to ask them how they’d like you to handle this. However, unless things have changed dramatically since I was a teenager, I think there’s a reasonable chance the answer will be, “if we stopped all the 17yos from smoking, they’ll all go and work for Dairy Queen up the road and we’ll have no staff.” You might need to figure out what you’re going to do if your “u18s should be smoking” stance isn’t supported by management.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Good point. You need to find out your the real policy – not just the public one – of your manager and employer, or you could get into trouble yourself.

    2. boof*

      Uhg. I’m sure all teenagers do not smoke.
      IDK just depressing I’m all for enforcing a no minors smoking on our property/time rule. I suspect overall it will be better for business too, even if you lose a few smoker employees over it.

      1. Dek*

        All teenagers don’t smoke, but LOTS of restaurant workers do. I’m allergic, and I still considered picking up the habit when I was a dishwasher, because it was the only way to be able to sit down for a few minutes during a shift.

        To me, this is a dilemma because on one hand, yeah, you don’t really want to feel responsible for minors doing something harmful (and tbh, part of me still boggles that people my age and younger smoke because, like. We grew up knowing how bad it was). But it’s also potentially butting up against restaurant worker culture where…lots of people smoke.

        1. bamcheeks*

          LOTS of restaurant workers do. I’m allergic, and I still considered picking up the habit when I was a dishwasher, because it was the only way to be able to sit down for a few minutes during a shift

          yep, exactly the same time in the UK in the 90s! Everyone sat around having a fag before the shift started, back when you could still smoke inside. So yeah, I’d not be surprised if management was quite knowingly turning a blind eye to it.

      2. Quantum Possum*

        Smoking is tangled up with classism in the U.S., and unfortunately rules against smoking usually disproportionately affect the lower classes. This is precisely the class in which teenagers are most likely to need to earn money.

        It’s just a bad situation with no easy answers.

        1. Prismatic Garnet*

          But rules that make it inconvenient to smoke/ start smoking , and protect spaces where people aren’t exposed to or surrounded by smoking, would therefore benefit the lower class staff more too. Even if the deterrent effect is small, it would have more effect where people actually are in danger of starting.

          Growing up middle class, I knew zero my-age smokers in high school and two in college. (Though with vaping I’m sure those numbers would be different now.) 99% of my peers would never have started smoking, regardless of laws.

          If someone is growing up in a less affluent area, that’s who is vulnerable to trying out smoking, so those laws affect them more for good AND ill.

          1. Quantum Possum*

            It would be nice if things correlated so neatly, but they rarely do.

            I grew up in a very impoverished area. Poverty is as different from middle class as the middle class is from the super-wealthy.

            People often tend to assume that certain infrastructure and resources are in place that, in reality, just don’t exist. Enacting laws without considering the infrastructure usually hurts the most vulnerable populations.

        2. boof*

          I have to ask, is the “disproportionate effect” a NEGATIVE effect? Genuine question here; is there some downside to smoking less at work I’m unaware of? Especially for teenagers? It seems like it would be both good for overall health and for saving money, maybe at the cost of some cravings (if we are talking tobacco products), but are teenagers so addicted they have nicotine cravings at work they are so bad they won’t be able to work??? What are they doing at school???

            1. boof*

              Well, I guess nicotine patches or gum etc can be offered if folks really need something THAT BAD (it’s better than smoking, though I think the long term effects of even just pure nicotine are probably still bad for the cardiovascular system; at least pure nicotine has a lot less of the carcinogens etc used in most products designed for maximal addiction

          1. Quantum Possum*

            If a kid starts smoking at 12 years old (not uncommon in some areas), then by the time they’re 16 and can work, they’re addicted.

            I’m not saying “let our children smoke!” I’m just saying that such a restrictive law has a trickle-down effect, and it’s important to think about how that plays out in reality.

            1. boof*

              … i’d still like to see evidence that banning minors from smoking at school/work actually is worse than allowing it

              1. Quantum Possum*

                No one said it was worse. It’s probably a wash, overall. That’s the whole thing about “disproportionate effects” – something can be overall positive or neutral, but negatively impact discrete segments within the system.

                These trickle-down effects can be effectively mitigated by proper planning and infrastructure development before implementing policy. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. It’s easier to just pass a law.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      The fact that the teenagers are actually engaging in something illegal makes this a bit more cut and dry. The restaurant could get in legal trouble by allowing this to continue. They shouldn’t risk that just because the teens may go work at Dairy Queen instead. Let Dairy Queen shoulder that burden.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Also chain stores are more likely to have more definite rules around this kind of thing than smaller operations. I’d be VERY surprised if DQ was ok with them smoking. And not a bit uncomfortable as well.

    4. HonorBox*

      I noted below that the LW should focus the conversation on the work problem versus the smoking concern. If the issue is several people are going out to smoke and need to be supervised, leaving the restaurant shorthanded, that’s a problem that can be more easily addressed and will be less likely to end up with people just walking to DQ to get a job instead. The smoking thing is a thing… but not necessarily something the LW can fix easily…or without some potential backlash. The real issue is that the supervision and the multiple people going out for a smoke at the same time is leaving others in the lurch, which is bad for business.

      1. boof*

        Yes I agree, though it doesn’t hurt in my mind that the thing they are pushing back against is both pretty much universally accepted as a bad for the health AND technically illegal, it sounds like. There really seems no reason to let it slide beyond “but it’s convenient to allow it right now” which is seldom an excellent reason, even if it’s sometimes a tempting one.
        It’s also true that if LW doesn’t have backup on this though the consequences to their job may outweigh enforcing it alone; but maybe LWs ok with making this their line in the sand, especially if there are other places they could work that will better enforce the policy.

  16. Keymaster in absentia*

    OP1: for triggering conversations at work I’ve found using ‘I’m not the right audience for this’ seems to get the point across around seventy percent of the time, especially if you put it on repeat. If they continue then get up and leave – in most cases you only have to do that once.

    Don’t get into why you don’t want to hear it. That generally opens up another hour of talking about the very thing you’re trying to avoid.

    Your reasons are your own. And after all that the conversations continue then you complain up the chain (as I had to with one guy who refused to stop lecturing me on a very personal subject)

  17. Cstar*

    I’m living in a war zone and personally if there was someone with ties to “the other side” at work I’d appreciate a heads up so I don’t put my foot in my mouth.

  18. Luna*

    LW1 – Oh, dear lord, I know it’s a big thing to her, and maybe constant talking about it is a way for her to cope, but I would want her to shut up. “Jane, I know it’s a tough situation. But I do hear enough about the war every day on the news, so would you please try to ease up on the war-talk?”
    And even in work-related meetings? It might be a sensitive topic, but I’m surprised the managers and bosses haven’t told her to stop derailing meetings about something not-work-related already.

  19. Grilledcheeser*

    LW4: does your employee truly have all the tools & resources & training required to do their job?

    1. Cat Tree*

      It sounds like all the other employees are successful, so presumably yes. In any case, managers really really shouldn’t need to tell a grown adult that they need to find a way to do the things they need to do. Checklists and reminder systems abound, and plenty are free.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        And if his problem is related to a medical issue that impacts his executive functioning, the fact that these tools exist is not particularly helpful. He may need assistance in naming the problem and figuring out how to use these tools. Grown adults can need extra support, it’s not just children…

        I really don’t understand why there is so much hostility towards Bob in this comment section. I hope it’s not ableism but it sure is hard not to read it that way.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          I don’t see any hostility, more like a lack of patience. People’s expectations differ based on what the job is.

          I hope it’s not ableism but it sure is hard not to read it that way.


          I don’t know. I’m disabled, and I don’t read it that way.

        2. Observer*

          Grown adults can need extra support, it’s not just children…

          Yes, but grown adults should be able to name their needs. Even if they don’t yet know that the exact solution is, they should be able to communicate that they have an issue and how they are approaching it.

          It’s not on the boss to figure out whether there is a medical problem and find a solution.

        3. Keymaster the absent*

          Hang on. It’s NOT ableism to say that someone needs to their job.

          It IS ableism to assume that everyone who can’t do their job must have a disability.

        4. Prismatic Garnet*

          This idea is way more ableist than assuming an adult project manager needs to do his job without constant babying and hand holding.

          He needs to request an accommodation, try different strategies to stay on top of his work, or enter a different field.

        5. Cat Tree*

          Why are we jumping towards a medical condition when there’s zero indication of that in the letter?

    2. Also-ADHD*

      In the serious discussion, that’s something to ask, but the skills that seem to be missing are so fundamental to the job, it really makes me wonder if he’s meant to be a PM. PMs are usually naturally (or already) organized people who can create their own tools and systems. Now, sometimes particular tech makes things harder or easier, but most of the systems PMs use for driving their work and addressing these details can be individual and applied across situations.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        it really makes me wonder if he’s meant to be a PM

        Some people are not meant to be PMs. There’s nothing wrong with that! But it’s important to recognize when a certain job may not align with one’s personal skill set.

        And sometimes what a person is good at is very surprising. For instance, I’m a chaos gremlin who is somehow a great PM. I have a very organized, diligent coworker who seems like he would excel as a PM…but he wasn’t, and he hated the job, and he was very excited to move on from it.

        Personally I believe there are very, very few employees who are true under-performers. I think under-performance is often a sign of a skillset mismatch.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        The letter does not state Bob’s title and I don’t know why everyone has been assuming he’s the PM. Is there a comment from that LW that I missed? Because the letter states that LW manages both PMs and technical consultants, and then says Bob is on the team. It never states which of those roles Bob has.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          Technical consultants should be even more capable of sending follow-up emails to clients without being reminded.

          I agree, the overall work is very different. It’s just that it doesn’t sound like Bob’s issues are appropriate ones for a person in either position.

  20. LifeBeforeCorona*

    LW1 This reminds me of the LW who had difficulty hearing about mass shootings all the time or the co-workers who discussed murder podcasts. It’s reasonable to say that with all the war and violence going on right you need a break from constant war news. Your other co-workers may also appreciate the break from doom and gloom. You can frame it as work being a refuge from the real world.

    1. Observer*

      LW1 This reminds me of the LW who had difficulty hearing about mass shootings all the time or the co-workers who discussed murder podcasts.

      Or the ones from people who don’t want to hear about someone’s political rants – even when hearing it from people they essentially agree with.

  21. Holly.*

    re 4, I’ve had good results with showing junior team members how I and others plan work, and asking them to investigate what works best for them.
    And for next check-in, get them to show me how they’ve planned work.

    One colleague uses a diary, another post-its on a calender, I prefer colour-coded appointments on my email calender.

    So I’ve literally sat the trainee down and gone, ok, we know Project deadline is 30th, so I put that date in Red on my calendar.
    We know Boss Fred likes a review a week before, so I send Fred a meeting request for the 23rd, date in Orange.
    We know client Jess takes a week to do their section, so let’s put in an action in Yellow to remind Jess on 12th.

    For your trainee, every time he says he’ll do a task, tell him to put it on his planner NOW.
    And next check-in, ask to see his planner.

    1. DawnShadow*

      I really like this! I’ve never thought out step by step how to show someone else how to be organized. The details are very helpful.

    2. One HR Opinion*

      Great comment – so many people are quick to knock the employee assuming that they have the same exposure to tools and the same skillset as others. This is fabulous leadership – not just management :)

      1. Quantum Possum*

        I think commenters are judging Bob more “harshly” because a project manager should already have a certain skillset.

        If Bob were entry-level or journeyman, it would be a different conversation.

        A PM should not need to be babysat or micromanaged.

        1. Dinwar*

          This attitude is why I struggled for a long time in a PM role.

          The attitude “I shouldn’t have to hold your hand” usually translates to “I’m not going to tell you what you need to know to do your job, until you screw up and I come down hard.” Like, they flat-out didn’t tell me about certain documents I was supposed to be keeping tack of. It was a change in procedure from what I had been previously doing, which got rolled out to PMs just before I moved into the role–but because I was a PM and was supposed to not need hand-holding no one told me until the conversation became “Where is this document?”

          It’s not just me, either. A lot of PM work is accounting. I’m a geologist; I do rocks and dead things. I don’t know accruals from actuarial tables. It took someone doing a survey of PMs to figure out what accounting info they had and what they didn’t to convince upper management that expecting people to know information they were never provided was a bad thing for the business, and to get us some actual info on what we were supposed to be doing.

          Yes, a PM is supposed to have initiative and be organized and understand certain things. BUT if you’re using this as an excuse to forego training YOU have failed, not the PM. As I say elsewhere, you are in fact setting the PMs up for failure. Some PMs will struggle through it, like I did, but you’re going to get some pretty weird results (I’ve seen some ways to track payable line items that look more like circuit diagrams than anything dealing with money).

          1. Quantum Possum*

            The attitude “I shouldn’t have to hold your hand” usually translates to “I’m not going to tell you what you need to know to do your job, until you screw up and I come down hard.”

            That hasn’t been my experience. I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with that.

            Bob is doing things like not sending follow-up emails to clients. That’s a world apart from what you’re describing.

            1. Dinwar*

              Does he know the norms around following up with clients? I’ve worked with some that want to be involved in everything, and I’ve worked with others that don’t want to be involved in anything they can avoid being involved in. I’ve worked with others where following up with the client doesn’t do jack, you need to reach out to some other person, often in another company entirely.

              If he’s new, he may not be comfortable in the role of “harass the people who pay your bills”, despite that being something PMs do pretty regularly (only we term it “developing relationships with clients”).

              Honestly, the two things mentioned (not finishing tasks and not following up on emails) seem like the sort of things that tend to fall by the wayside when you’re overwhelmed and have too much going on. And this speaks to the need to direct Bob towards the proper priorities. I don’t care that PMs generally tend to be this or that type of person; some guidance in the role is absolutely required when you take on a new role. As a manager your first question should always be “What did I do to create this situation?” That’s not to say that it’s always your fault, but you should always start with the assumption that the other person is doing the best they can and acting in good faith.

              1. Quantum Possum*

                I understand what you’re saying, but nothing in LW’s letter suggests that LW has not given Bob any guidance for the role.

                The LW has been too vague and therefore hasn’t yet impressed upon Bob the importance of the issues. The LW certainly needs to correct that and give clear, precise expectations. But that doesn’t mean that Bob has not received guidance or training.

                1. Quantum Possum*

                  I’ve made it an iron-clad rule that when something goes sideways my first question is what I did wrong.

                  Exactly. Bob should be asking himself this, and then taking action accordingly.

                  There’s no indication that Bob is doing this. Rather, it appears that Bob is just straight-up ignoring LW’s feedback.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            I think you’re projecting quite a bit here, what you are describing is nothing like what the letter is describing.

            1. Dinwar*

              Look at the context of my comment, please. I was specifically responding to the idea that a PM shouldn’t need to be trained because the nature of the job is such that those hiring a PM should be allowed to assume the PM knows it all. That attitude is deeply problematic; replace “PM” with “Manager” and look up how much is written on this blog about why this view is problematic.

              Further, I’m projecting no more than those who assume that Bob is just a rotten employee. The same information we are given can support both conclusions. All I’m doing is projecting from a different direction. If you object to my projection (which really amounts to “First thing to do is make sure the situation isn’t the problem, rather than the employee”), you must necessarily object to those who are projecting negative perspectives on Bob (the actual content about Bob in that letter amounts to a few words, less than the average background character in a novel gets). If you don’t, you’re at minimum being logically inconsistent.

              1. Quantum Possum*

                I was specifically responding to the idea that a PM shouldn’t need to be trained because the nature of the job is such that those hiring a PM should be allowed to assume the PM knows it all.

                I don’t think anyone has suggested such a thing?

                PMs definitely need and deserve good, robust training and mentorship. But a PM shouldn’t require training on fundamental skills like managing their to-do list. They also shouldn’t require training on how to come to their boss and ask for help, further guidance, etc.

    3. Relentlessly Socratic*

      This is very helpful advice–I do something similar with my hard deadlines–plan back from the date, and putting reminders on people’s calendars, etc.

      I just went over my method of prioritizing things that need to be included in reports (Excel, colors, sorting, etc) and my colleague who does the same work said it never occurred to her to do it that way, she uses pen and paper for her process. Light-bulb moment for us both while we train new team members in how to approach prioritization!

  22. Morning Reading*

    For LW3, I wonder where this establishment is that teenagers are smoking tobacco. I don’t know any teenagers stupid enough to take up tobacco, I didn’t know it was a thing. (It was a thing when I was a teenagers but I would have thought young people disdain cigarettes as kind of a disgusting boomer habit.) Could you just not hire children who smoke? Or make it clear that smoking at work is not allowed, when they are hired?

    1. Prismatic Garnet*

      Thanks to relentless advertising by JUUL and other bad actors, targeted directly towards children (which is and was a legal, but still went on unchecked for many years), Gen Z and younger have a much higher incidence of smoking than millennials did. Still not as much as older generations, obviously, but the brief hope that we had solved that problem is kind of stymied by vaping. The graph trending downward for so many years ticked up.

      Plus, in more rural or disenfranchised areas with a higher proportion of low income people, smoking remained proportionally, much higher than everywhere else.

    2. Maggie*

      Vaping is incredibly popular … it’s talked about all the time in the news and you can also just see people doing on the street.

    3. sparkle emoji*

      As others have said, vaping has become more common in gen z. People who vape IME also are more willing to mix in the occasional cigarette because it’s all nicotine to them. Add in the prevalence of smoking and other types of drug use in restaurant culture, cigarettes will be available from coworkers. With all those factors it’s not surprising that the teens willing to work for LW are more likely to smoke than the general population.

    4. Quantum Possum*

      Smoking rates are highest in the lowest classes, which is (unfortunately) the classes containing teenagers who most need to work.

    5. New Jack Karyn*

      I’m smart as hell, and I smoked tobacco for a while. It’s not always about ‘stupid’.

  23. Lucia Pacciola*

    #2 seemsreally industry-specific. Honestly if LW2 is worried about making a bad impression with bigger names in their industry, I don’t think they’re going to get much protection from how they word it. The others are going to notice they quit. They’re not going to examine the justification and say, “yeah, that makes sense.” Either they already think it’s a lost cause, and won’t hold a grudge, or they’ll think the other thing. Tell the event organizer (or whoever), “the timing really sucks for me now, sorry” and hope for the best. Whether that’s a risk for LW’s career or professional standing is something really only an industry insider can say. Maybe it’s fine. Maybe there’s professional capital here that others can afford to lose, but LW can’t, or professional capital LW would really benefit from growing, rather than not.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Eh, I think there could be a difference in getting the others to perceive it as “LW is no longer available with the new timeline” rather than “LW isn’t interested anymore.”

      1. Lucia Pacciola*

        Yes, I agree. My thinking is, “getting others to perceive” is gonna be industry-specific. What LW tells the event organizer and what the organizer passes along to others may not be the same thing. It doesn’t sound like a cookie-cutter situation where any reasonable script is guaranteed to clear the air. There might be something specific that needs to be done to clear the air with a specific participant or sponsor, that we don’t know about. That LW might not know about, even! I think LW might need to seek advice from someone closer to the industry and the personalities involved.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I had a different take on #2. Artists are flakey but this kind of thing can be great. I would say OP needs to care about this probably 80% less – but *do your own art pieces and submit them on time.* Decline to be part of the organizing committee, but demonstrate that at least you can kick ass and meet deadlines in your art. People may take notice, and you’ll only have done what you were willing to do.

        1. OP2*

          Yes, it’s a different industry but it’s small and I didn’t want anyone to connect the dots to realize it was me :-) I’m about half done with my portion of the project, which represents a month or so of work. The next closest are two or three people who kind of have sketches. I’m not actually doing that much of the planning/marketing/etc. load, it’s just *not getting done* and I don’t want to sink another month of effort into something that won’t happen!

          1. Sorrischian*

            Is it possible that, if it does fall apart, you’d be able to repurpose the work you’ve done for it for something else in the future? Because if so, I’d say finish your stuff assuming you’re setting it aside for later and then be pleasantly surprised if this project goes live as planned, but if it’s going to be time and effort totally lost if this doesn’t go through, that’s a very different calculation and I’d be more inclined to find a way out.

  24. John*

    LW1: typically, you shouldn’t bring your manager in to intervene on non-work-related stuff, but I’d like to think most managers would be thrilled to help put a stop to this (assuming you’ve already asked the co-worker to stop).

    1. Lily Potter*

      This. The first thing that a manager or HR (rightfully so) is going to ask you is “what have you done thus far to solve the problem?” A good manager or HR rep will intervene on this but it’s reasonable to expect the employee to try to address the issue in their own first.

      1. Kara*

        LW commented above and it turns out that the coworker is making xenophobic comments as part of the constant war talk. I think that escalates it to ‘straight to HR’ territory, even if it’s just a heads up before attempting to talk to the coworker.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yep, I would never ask an employee to handle this kind of thing themselves unless that’s how they preferred to do it, and I’d still want to be extremely looped in. That’s “do not pass go, straight to HR” behavior

  25. Rondeaux*

    For #3, depending on the hiring/staffing situation is like where you are, trying to enforce this policy might backfire.. “Wendy’s down the street doesn’t care what we do on our breaks – let’s go work there instead”.

    So I’d definitely clarify with your bosses how they want you to handle this

    1. GythaOgden*

      Every time I’ve been in the single Wendy’s operating in my town I can see my face in the floors and everything is spotless. I’ve eaten breakfast there a few times and it’s busier in the evenings, but they seem to be attracting enough people to stay open. Given the attention to cleanliness they have, which tops that of other places, even UK chains, I’m sure Wendy’s corporate would have even less patience than the OP for kids smoking on their property.

      1. Rondeaux*

        You mean they put photos of their customers on the floor of the restaurant? There was one local diner near me that used to put photos on the wall of all the customers who finished their five egg omelettes so it might be similar

  26. Delta Delta*

    #1 feels a lot like many other letters we see where co-worker goes on and on and on and on about a subject and for specific reasons the letter writer has just about had it with the co-worker. They always remind me of the song lyric that goes, “she said I’m so obsessed that I’m becoming a bore, oh no” (and now you’re all singing it if you know it). Because that’s pretty much always what it boils down to: co-worker with lacking boundaries, common sense, or self-awareness monopolizes conversations with unrelated talk of war/babies/sports/Game of Thrones to the point LW is losing their patience and writes a letter. As in all these situations, LW’s best action is to tell co-worker to stop discussing and stick to work. Politely and firmly, LW can make a boundary and enforce it without revealing information she doesn’t want to share.

  27. Catwhisperer*

    OP1, I’m also in Europe working at a company with people from both sides of multiple wars going on right now. Our company has instituted a no-politics policy and sent out messaging reminding people to be sensitive and not bring the wars up unless it’s directly related to work, so I wonder if it would be worth suggesting your HR do something similar. Given the number of conflicts currently going on, I’m sure you’re not the only person who would benefit from a policy like that.

    1. Catwhisperer*

      I also want to note that while that sort of policy would likely be seen as overreaching in the US, it’s very much necessary in multi-national companies with very diverse staff in other countries. The goal is not to suppress people’s freedom of expression, it’s to ensure everyone feels safe in their work environment and can be successful in their day-to-day job.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        I don’t think that policy would be seen as overreaching.

        For example, I work for the U.S. Department of Defense, and we have a strict no-politics policy. (Of course, we don’t get to avoid war talk, unfortunately.)

        Freedom of speech is the right to express your opinions without the Government interfering. Companies are allowed to enact their own policy about what can and cannot be discussed.

        1. Katie A*

          Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are not that narrow. The first amendment is solely about the government, but freedom of expression is a broader idea than just “the government can’t interfere.”

          Private organizations and individuals can suppress freedom of expression with both rules and norms in ways that are objectionable, but aren’t violations of the first amendment because they aren’t the government. If a company banned all conversations about friends outside of work, we would consider that rule an overreach, even though it isn’t the government. If coworkers shunned anyone who talked about their family, we would consider that norm to be objectionable even though it isn’t the government.

          I do think “no politics of any kind even if people want to talk about it” would be seen as overreach in a lot of workplaces, especially in the US. I do agree that “No talk about the wars affecting people in this company even if people want to talk about it” wouldn’t be as likely to be viewed as overreach, though.

          1. Quantum Possum*

            Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are not that narrow. The first amendment is solely about the government

            Right, that’s what I said?

        2. Dinwar*

          “Companies are allowed to enact their own policy about what can and cannot be discussed.”

          Yes. Technically politics was not allowed to be discussed in the last company I worked for (international company, but I’ve only worked in the US), and the norms have continued after the buy-out. I mean, if you’re on a drill rig 30 miles from the nearest other human being no one’s going to know until/unless you complain, but if they did you could get in trouble. I don’t recall that ever being a legal concern.

          Some people will of course view it as over-reach. There are 350 million plus people in the USA; literally any generalization will have exceptions. But it wouldn’t be outside the norms of workplaces in the USA.

          Now if they told you you couldn’t contribute to a campaign, or run for office, or write an editorial, THAT would be over-reach. And even then, maybe not. For example, if I were to run for office in the jurisdiction where I work I’d have to discuss it with HR first, because being an elected official is a clear conflict of interest when my job involves government contracts. It’s not that I can’t run for office, just that I can’t do that AND submit bids to myself. But if I were to run for school board or some other position that had no bearing on my job, no one would (officially) care.

    2. sofar*

      I came here to say exactly this. As LW has clarified, they have concerns about “outing” themselves and their personal connection to the war. So HR needs an anonymized policy of “No more discussions of this topic at work or on our company channels, due to our diverse workplace and folks among us who are personally affected by this conflict.” That’s essentially what our company did about a month ago, via companywide email. I’ve seen only one person bring it up since, and people were pretty quick with, “Oh hey, did you see the email from leadership? Yeah … I want to respect that, thank you.”

      At my company, discussion about The Conflict Getting the Most Media coverage was taking over certain Slack channels, our company’s Workplace, etc. In our all-hands, someone even raised their hand and asked if the company was going to make a “public statement” about where it stood.

      Personally, I have opinions of said conflict that I know don’t match those of many of my colleagues’. I’m relieved to avoid it at a place where I’m required to be to earn a livelihood (aka my work) and continue my activism on my own time.

  28. Dinwar*

    #4: What’s the junior PM’s workload? I am a junior PM, and to be blunt a lot of stuff gets put on my plate because no one wants it. No individual thing would be too bad, but put 16 of them together and suddenly you have a chaotic mess that no one could possibly keep track of. To be clear, I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing. It’s normal human behavior to give the new guy the crap jobs and annoying tasks, and sometimes is better for the organization (if an audit or something is going to go sideways it’s better for the junior person to have the audit, because junior folks get more leeway by virtue of being junior). But if you’re doing this to this PM and punishing them for being scattered, you’re setting him up for failure.

    The second workload issue is, how much of his workload is actual PM work? In my experience people tend to treat junior PMs as not really PMs–they expect the junior PMs to work on lower-tier tasks as well as doing their PM work. Unfortunately in a lot of cases lower-tier tasks tend to be the sort that need to be addressed right now, which means they serve as constant interruptions to the workflow. One or two isn’t bad, but again, you put over a dozen of these together and suddenly your entire day is putting out minor fires and you have zero time to do PM-y things. And again, telling someone in this situation to be more organized isn’t going to work (a lot of lower-tier stuff is unpredictable, which is why there’s usually someone between the PM and the folks doing the actual labor). Again, this is normal, and something the PM really needs to figure out; however, if you’re not helping this process, again, you’re setting him up for failure.

    Basically, what I’m saying is, before coming down on this as a “serious performance issue”, take some time to figure out if this person is adequately supported, both in terms of junior staff and in terms of the work being done. If the person is, then yeah, this is a performance issue. If they’re not, it’s not a performance issue, it’s a management issue.

  29. Yup*

    Slightly off topic to #1, but also wanting to be careful and compassionate about my words, I wonder sometimes how we are supposed to shut ourselves off at work when we are experiencing the effects of trauma–firsthand or otherwise. There is a longstanding understanding that the office is not our personal lives and we need to leave our issues at the door, but as humans we are one complex entity and all spheres overlap.

    Of course we shouldn’t talk to someone about a topic that re-traumatizes them, but then where do we put trauma for 8-10 or whatever hours a day? I think shutting down conversations between co-workers when feelings/implication/exhaustion/etc. is high is necessary, but not the whole solution. I wonder how to humanize the workplace so we stop burning people out with overwork, underpay, endless thousand-cut frustrations, swallowing our pain, and having little to no flexibility about people’s different daily realities.

    All to say, I think letter writer #1 is right to ask it to stop, but the other person is also legitimately hurting (and trying to vent it the wrong way), so the situation needs more.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I’m not quite sure what your comment is suggesting? No matter the issues one sees with current workplaces, one’s day-to-day workplace should never be where they turn to heal trauma (unless we’re talking about situations where simply going to work as normal is helpful to an individual).

      Many companies have EAPs available – is this what you mean?

    2. ecnaseener*

      The solution is probably allowing lots of breaks during the day, and other flexibility.

      But there’s also a past letter about this called “how do I hold it together at work during a personal crisis” that might help.

    3. Keymaster in absentia*

      It’s a balancing act, like most kinds of social interaction really. Is it a good thing to be able to vent about distressing things? Yes, if it helps you. Is it a good thing to be able to say you don’t want to have someone else’s trauma unloaded on you? Also yes, if it helps you.

      A lot of it is down to the appropriate audience. Would I love to vent about a very serious medical issue right now? Heck yeah. Would I do it to my coworker? Heck no. Wrong audience. If you can observe people you can (generally) work out how they react to bad news – are they happy being a listener? Do they immediately try to suggest fixes? Or do they shut down?

      Best to precede a vent with a ‘I need to get something off my chest, I’m not looking for solutions, would you be okay with that?’ for social interaction. Not so much with the workplace. There is a higher level of subtlety needed there where there’s more unpleasant consequences for picking the wrong people to vent to.

      It’s good to be able to feel accepted at a workplace, it’s not required for it to sub as a therapy office.

    4. Colette*

      You deal with trauma with support from people who have opted in to helping you with it – family, friends, therapists. That does not include coworkers, who cannot consent to helping (because their livelihood depends on being at work.)

      1. UKDancer*

        This so much. Most people aren’t good at counselling others and don’t have the skills to help. Many others don’t want to have to listen to emotional stuff at work and shouldnt have to unless its a part of their job. There is a reason therapists and counsellors get training and supervision.

        I think companies can and should provide access to EAPs, give people time for therapy appointments and wellbeing support. It’s better for people to be given access and support to get professional help

    5. Sloanicota*

      I think I had a bit of a similar take, if this coworker’s family is the victim or war right now, it’s probably kindest for the HR or management to offer that person some bereavement leave or whatever the equivalent of EAP is over there, or something. I can’t imagine this conversation between OP and this colleague going terribly well.

    6. Eldritch Office Worker*

      If the coworker needs support, that is for the coworker to bring to their manager and/or HR. There are many ways that can be handled, but it requires a conversation. Everyone grieves differently and everyone processes trauma differently. HR (good HR, which I understand isn’t a given) will have compassionate ways to approach the situation.

      That advice does not apply to the LW, who is under no obligation to manage this person’s feelings or shelve their OWN trauma to accommodate someone else’s desire to process out loud.

      1. Yup*

        Yup, that’s why I stated it was not the right way to handle this.

        But it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t *be* handled as well, because obviously co-worker is having a hard time and it’s affecting them and the workplace. It’s not enough to just have them stop talking if their trauma is too much to hold in for 8 hours.

    7. Observer*

      I wonder sometimes how we are supposed to shut ourselves off at work when we are experiencing the effects of trauma

      That’s not what anyone is suggesting. It’s a red herring.

      I wonder how to humanize the workplace so we stop burning people out with overwork, underpay, endless thousand-cut frustrations, swallowing our pain, and having little to no flexibility about people’s different daily realities.

      That’s a good and important question. But utterly irrelevant to the issue at hand. Forcing people to just accept an ongoing flow of someone else’s trauma dump (and that’s more generous that this particular CW deserves) does absolutely nothing to humanize the workplace. And not only is it not going to make problems like burn out better, it will probably make them worse.

      All to say, I think letter writer #1 is right to ask it to stop, but the other person is also legitimately hurting (and trying to vent it the wrong way), so the situation needs more.

      No. The fact that the other person could be legitimately hurting does not change the fact that her behavior is out of line. And the issue here has nothing to do with the problems of the modern workplace.

    8. Diatryma*

      My workplace is one large room with subsections, and it’s still possible to find a place to discuss and process traumatic or upsetting news without including people who do not want to be included. I’ve had to prompt people to have their extremely difficult discussions of politics away from my assigned area, but, “Hey, I don’t want to stop you talking about this, but I cannot handle listening to it at all. Please talk about it somewhere else,” was perfectly fine. I used the term ‘safeword’ in the moment.

      I’ve also dealt with significant personal trauma while going to work and crying in the bathroom every hour or so. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    9. I Have RBF*

      So, my spouse was recently diagnosed with cancer. I have let my teammates know, and keep them posted on the highlights, because I need to be out of office to drive to medical appointments.

      But I do try to be considerate with how much stress dumping I do, because I don’t really know what their experiences are in that area, and I don’t want to reignite someone else’s trauma about it.

      It’s front and center in my world, because it has to be, but I have no right trying to make it that way for the people I work with. If someone said to me “Can we curb the cancer discussion, I can’t deal with it at work.”, I’d cut it out completely, and just leave it as vague “medical” stuff.

      The real irony? The company I work for does cancer drug research, albeit for a different type of cancer than my spouse has.

  30. EA*

    OP1, skip trying to talk to her yourself and go straight to your manager. You don’t feel comfortable saying something, and with good reason. She could react negatively to finding out you have family in the country at war with her country, and I could also see her getting defensive and saying something to the tune of, it’s my reality and since I just moved here, I’m closer to the situation, or something like that. Also relevant that you work remotely, because this is the exact kind of conversation better had in person.

    I think it would be worth telling your manager about your ties to the country, if you feel comfortable doing so, and that you are feeling stressed and upset by your colleague’s talk about the war – specifically the war, and not just her country of origin in general. Then ask your manager to help you address the situation. A decent manager will be able to intervene, and you might not be the only one in the office who doesn’t want constant war talk.

  31. Leah K*

    I really understand LW1. I also come from a country that is fighting a war. My parents are now refugees, and my hometown is being slowly destroyed by daily bombings. Initially, I had to deal with a lot of people around me treating this as a sports event. Or worse, playing the devils advocate and trying to discuss the merits of the war. My response to this was to become really aggressive in showing my allegiance to my home country. My office has my country’s flag sitting on the shelf. I have various other items throughout my office (like a wall calendar) that show support for that country. My badge holder is a heart with the flag of my home country. My phone case has the country’s crest and has the colors of the flag. My ringtone is a well-known song from my country… That has significantly cut down on the number of people who want to use my family’s personal tragedy as entertainment or an intellectual exercise.

    1. Casey*

      Wow, good for you. I’m sorry you have to deal with this!
      Have you gotten any hate/negative reaction from people who support the other side from being so open?

  32. Kate*

    LW #2, I’m just guessing, but if you are a contingent academic and this is an edited volume, it won’t help your career as much as you think, and you should definitely take your good work elsewhere. With this level of dysfunction, that thing won’t be published for eons. Try a peer-reviewed journal instead.

    1. OP2*

      Not an academic, and unfortunately my work would take a lot of extra effort to re-use elsewhere. (Possible, but time-consuming to tweak it to a more general cause.) “Eons” is probably right, though :-\

  33. Area Woman*

    LW #5 you almost sound like you feel like being a human being, and not a robot, would be a bait and switch! I know this isn’t the case everywhere, but I don’t even require special accommodation request for weekly schedule changes for medical appts for my team. It is just not a big deal. I had 2 babies while working, and the first was incredibly complicated with 2×2.5 hour appts each week! Most managers know people have things going on, and they will not blink if you even tell them that after you are hired. It is not a “bait and switch” to need flexibility for federally protected activities like medical appointments or caring for dependents. I would give a heads up at the offer stage if maybe you had some sort of very strict schedule because the role requires coverage of life and death things. For a normal office job I would just talk about it when I started, honestly.

  34. Lark*

    Re 4 and Bob: This may be more of a technical fix when the problem is personal, but does Bob have and use the “snooze” feature on his email?

    I used to be terrible at remembering things and following up. It was a real problem for me and my then-manager did need to remind me of things frequently. Calendars and trello boards and so on required me to remember to enter things and check them, and also a lot of what I needed to remember was very fine grained.

    In my current role, I have and use an email snooze feature and now I’m a follow-up fiend. If I need a reminder of something that isn’t in email, I send myself an email and snooze it; I add notes to draft email replies and snooze those; I snooze things for a few days at a time so that they stay fresh in my memory when the time for action arrives. If a reminder pops up but the item isn’t yet actionable, I just re-snooze. And it’s all in my email, so I don’t need to remember to add anything anywhere else, or set fifty million calendar reminders. I am not kidding when I say that it has transformed my quality of work.

    If Bob means well but has trouble with calendars and boards and general remembering, this really could help him.

  35. Ink*

    I don’t think #1 HAS to disclose their personal connection. It’s a bit stronger and changes the approach, but if the coworker were talking incessantly about a natural disaster I think it would be reasonable to ask for a huge reduction, possibly mentioning that LW finds it vaguely, generically triggering. The fact that it’s more complicated than a natural disaster doesn’t change the fact that, while the coworker is reasonable to be upset and even to talk about it *a LITTLE bit*, it’s a workplace. LW (and others) should be able to work without the coworker making this a constant presence in their minds. It’s awful, I don’t blame the coworker for being consumed by it, but they’re still her coworkers, not her therapist.

    (Also, how much time is she devoting to this? It sounds like enough for it to impact others who rely on her work, which LW could also mention if they go to their manager.)

  36. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    #2 – Instead of formally dropping out, can you just say something like “I’ve submitted my ideas, and my piece is ready to go. Let me know when the show is and I will be there with my part. I don’t have anything further to contribute.”? Leave it to the rest of the group to get it together. You might even tie this to the changed timeline statement Alison suggested. If the show is a go, you might still get some benefit from it. If not, you haven’t spent any more energy on it.

    1. OP2*

      At this point, I’ve put about a month’s worth of effort in and I’m half done with my portion. I’m trying to decide whether to cut my losses or invest another month in finishing. I’m not actually doing all the shared organization part, it’s just going undone and soft deadlines fly by and the lady managing it is like “oops, maybe we can meet next week?”

      1. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

        If the finished work is something you think you might be able to use to your benefit in some other way if this event falls through, it may be worth going to completion on it, but at more of a “back burner” pace so it consumes less of your current time.

  37. You want stories, I got stories*

    LW4. I’m reading your e-mail slightly differently than other people, so maybe I am in the wrong. But this is how I am reading it.

    Manager on Monday: Bob, I need this piece of work done by Friday.
    Bob: It will be done by Friday
    Manager on Tuesday: Bob, how is that work coming?
    Bob: I haven’t started it yet.
    Manager on Wednesday: Bob, how is that working coming along?
    Bob: I haven’t started it yet
    Manager on Thursday: Bob how is that working coming along?
    Bob: I haven’t started it yet
    Manager now annoyed since this work would only take a few minutes to do and why hasn’t Bob simply done the work to get it completed and I’m going to send an e-mail to Ask a Manager to see what I can do about Bob.

    Are you setting the proper expectations for when you want something completed by? For many people, by Friday does mean Friday 5 pm and the work will be completed. But do you actually mean you want it done by Tuesday, but you said, “by Friday is fine.” But then you are annoyed that he didn’t finish it by Tuesday, even though Friday was agreed upon.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      This is a fully imagined, completely speculative, fanfiction script that you have created. There is absolutely nothing in the letter to indicate that OP is giving a deadline but then expecting the work to be completed sooner.

      1. You want stories, I got stories*

        Yes, but nothing indicates in his letter that the person is missing deadlines either. I was simply giving a different viewpoint, since we do not have all of the information.

        The OP’s comment, “It gets done, but it is drawn out” made me think that. This would be an example of Parkinson’s Law, where if you give yourself a two week time to get something done, but it should only take you a few hours, but because you have two weeks, it takes you two weeks.

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

          I see where you are coming from. I wish we had a bit more information. I wonder, has the OP NOT reminded Bob of these tasks to see if they don’t get done? Have they been clear with Bob that these tasks should be done sooner rather than later? Or is this the OP just being anxious that tasks aren’t going to be done, without any evidence.

          1. Ann W*

            OP here: No he isn’t missing deadlines. It’s the gray areas he’s struggling with. For example: We need to update a piece of software installed at a customer. We want to update it because it has a feature that will make our work a bit easier. The customer asked to wait until January. I set the expectation that he should follow up and plan with the customer in Jan. I asked him about it last week and hadn’t reached back out to the customer. He said they were still ramping up from the holidays and hadn’t followed up. There wasn’t a specific date associated with the task but I don’t want to pester him to do it.

  38. HonorBox*

    OP3 – I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments yet, so apologies if this is redundant. But I think I’d lean more on the staffing issue the smoke breaks cause than the law breaking part of it. While that is a big deal and the optics could be awful if someone gets in trouble with the law on premises while in uniform, it isn’t probably as easy to resolve as going to your manager and saying that the need for supervision for minors during breaks is causing others challenges as they cover for those breaks. It seems like the smoke breaks are the issue, but if it is presented as simply as “the team members who are underage and going out to have a cigarette/vape need to be supervised, per our company rules, and that’s pulling someone else from the line to stand there with them, leaving us shorthanded” you’re less likely to seem that you’re judging the activity and more that you’re pointing out a legitimate issue that is affecting the performance of the restaurant. While it doesn’t cure the “activity” part of the breaks, perhaps there’s an adjustment that needs to be made that only one person can step out for a break at any time. That might limit the time spent and the horsing around, too.

    If your manager wants to go deeper, you could mention that it would be problematic if an underage employee got in trouble, but that’s only if the conversation goes farther. I’d hope that your boss would see the problem. Maybe there’s an adjustment that goes the other way – underage employees don’t need supervision. Maybe that’s OK for things like taking out the trash (!!) too. But I say that in recognizing that you saying something may go the other way related to the activity.

  39. Leah K*

    I have not. Although I certainly have the privilege of being on the side of the war that has a much greater degree of support and sympathy in general, and within my company specifically. So, for someone to say something hateful or negative to me would mean taking a big risk that their reputation among the coworkers might take a hit.
    As for me making someone uncomfortable, well, I do not skirt into the deliberately offensive territory with my displays of support. And if they are uncomfortable just being reminded that my country exists and that we are proud, that’s a “them” problem, not a “me” problem.

  40. Hey Ms!*

    LW 4 –

    As a teacher, I am so worried about this type of person being the future of the workforce. I teach at a regular school and I have a mostly typical population, outside of the normal classroom accommodations that include some levels of SPED, ELL, GT, etc. I see this behavior in a significant amount of my students.

    I lay out my expectations. I teach them as a group. They then need to have some sort of independent practice, so I give directions. I break down directions into steps. I show the an example of 100% A+ work. I check for understanding each step of the way. They have a personal paper copy, a large version on the board, and I say it out loud so that people can get the information in multiple ways.*

    And yet after all of that, I still have to go to kids and say “Ok, open your laptop and get to work.” “Ok, pick up your pencil to write down these definitions.” “Ok, read and complete step 1.” It’s like they cannot think for themselves, they cannot remember simple directions, they cannot figure out how to figure it out, even after me giving them so many tools to get them there. I give them everything except the answers. Heck, I even let them use google and AI and work with each other, just like they would be able to do in the real world. I give them so many resources they can use, and yet some will still choose to sit there and do nothing until I come over to them individually to get them going on step 1. It’s maddeningly common.

    I do what I can in my classroom, but the whole system is so broken. I can only do so much to try to change this trajectory when I can only influence these kids for 45 minutes a day.

    I’m nervous about our future workforce if this is the norm.

    *This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything I do in the classroom, but I didn’t want to get into the minutiae of everything. But trust that I am a good teacher and I do all of the things, mandated and otherwise, to make sure my students are getting the material.

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

      Maybe it’s because we apparently don’t even trust teens enough to take out the trash unsupervised at their jobs.

      All credit to you for teaching the skills, but society-wide we treat young people like babies and then are shocked when they act that way.

  41. I'm on Team Rita*

    Talk about any of the many current wars is triggering and exhausting for me as a human who cares about others, and my relatives aren’t in any of the wars.
    I think OP1 doesn’t need to disclose their connection. Surely anyone saying “please stop the talk about war” is enough.
    Lasting peace and good health to you and yours, OP.

  42. Pikachu*

    #3 – Smokers that work at restaurants might be the most entitled group of people I have ever had the misfortune to work with in my life. The need for excessive breaks and expectation that others, including (and ESPECIALLY) nonsmokers, will support their habit and happily pick up their slack is disruptive and disrespectful.

    I hope LW can work with the store manager on implementing some kind of policy and enforcing it because that whole scenario sucks. It’s gonna require being the bad guy but that’s how children learn.

    1. Orv*

      Heh, I remember when Washington passed its indoor smoking ban. It was impossible to get service in restaurants for a while after because the staff was always outside smoking.

  43. MCMonkeyBean*

    I have ADHD and definitely struggle with managing task lists so I have some sympathy for Bob… but if that’s something he struggles with then project management is probably not the right field for him!

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

    #5 once you get hired, can you use dental work as a reason for the multiple appointments. I didn’t have good dental coverage until I got hired where I am now, and so I have had multiple days of work. Because I didn’t want to do it all at once I was having dental work along with my normal cleanings every couple of months. So it’s always an option. You could even say that its recommended that you come in for extra cleanings (which is what i do.)

  45. Ftwdhh*

    Bob comes from a technical background. He knows a piece of technology we frequently work with very well. His perspective and experience is definitely a good addition to the team. He’s spent most of his career doing very transactional work (responding to tickets). He’s not used to doing things without being prompted by a ticket or being directly asked.

    I’m going to have have a direct conversation with him: bring examples of when I’ve had to remind him and let him know the expectation is that he maintains his own list of tasks and updates them before our 1:1’s. I don’t think he’s all to blame though. I have a part to play in this too. I thought I was helping him transition into the role, but realize I might be holding him back.

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