my new hire’s office looks like a dark, flickering bat cave … and is scaring off patrons

A reader writes:

I’m the manager of a public-facing team where each of us has a private office with windows looking out onto a forest and meadow. The offices surround a work area for the general public. There is a break room on a different floor for meals and breaks.

The direction I’ve provided to team members is that the default is to leave their doors open most of the time, except when meeting with patrons either in person or via Zoom, or when on the phone. The idea is for our offices to feel welcoming to patrons whether or not they have appointments. The nature of our work is to prioritize serving people over other assigned work, so deadlines are flexible.

We recently hired a new team member, John, and I shared these general office guidelines. He went into his office and immediately turned off all the overhead lights and closed all the blinds on the windows. The only source of faint illumination was his computer, which he had set to dark mode. He did leave his door open, but he was not visible in the darkness. I told him he needed to have more light in his office so that patrons could see him, and he reluctantly agreed to turn on the overhead lights.

Later in the week, I came in to work and saw that John’s office was again pitch black, but this time with what looked like flickering candlelight. Yes, he had lit candles, and I patiently explained all the safety issues involved with live flame. He asked if he could bring in lamps from home for illumination, and I said yes, so long as he also kept the blinds open for natural light. He complied for a bit, but relapsed by closing all the blinds and just having dim lamps on. I noticed that he would barely crack open one set of blinds whenever he had an in-person appointment.

Needless to say, the number of drop-ins he receives is significantly lower than his peers. Recently I fielded a complaint from a patron who balked at making an appointment with “that guy in the creepy dark office.”

I met one-to-one with John and outlined my expectations for maintaining a well-lit, professional office space that is welcoming to patrons. I emphasized the public service nature of our work. He argued with me and said that it was none of my business how he worked in his office, so now things have escalated to a written notice. [That’s the step before formally starting a corrective action process. The notice outlines the expectations and the reasons for those expectations (serving the public), records the dates when we discussed the matter, provides examples of non-compliance, and repeats the request for compliance.]

The sad part is that he’s a really smart and talented worker, and outside of the dark bat cave office that makes patrons reluctant to approach him, his work is generally good. I’ve asked him to help me understand why he feels he needs to work in darkness, and he says he doesn’t know, he just that he prefers it that way.

I’m at a loss. If fielding drop-in patron questions wasn’t a part of his job, I probably could figure out a way to accommodate him, but right now, his pitch-black office really stands out, and not in a good way. I really don’t want to have to pursue corrective action because this is his first job out of college and I want to help him be successful. Thoughts?

This is his first job out of college, you’ve told him repeatedly that his office needs to be sufficiently well-lit so patrons will approach him, and he’s flatly refusing anyway and arguing that it’s none of your business? That … doesn’t bode well.

It would be different if John had a need for a medical accommodation, but you’ve given him the opportunity to say he needs that, and he hasn’t. If his only reason is “I just prefer it that way” … well, there are lots of things people prefer that they still can’t do at many jobs, from spending the day in pajamas to blasting death metal while working.

To be clear, good managers do try to accommodate employees’ personal preferences when they can do it without significantly affecting the work, clients, or other employees. But in this case, you have evidence that patrons are reluctant to approach John when his office is dark — their direct complaints, as well as hard numbers showing he’s receiving fewer visits than his colleagues do.

It’s great that you want to help John be successful, but the best way to do that is to be really, really clear with him that this isn’t optional and why. Go back to him and say this: “I need to be really clear with you. Keeping your office well-lit so patrons are comfortable approaching you is not optional. It’s a requirement of your job because it directly impacts our patron service and it causes your coworkers to have to take on more than their fair share of work. If there’s a medical condition affecting your ability to follow this rule, we can talk about how to proceed, but otherwise I do need you to follow our lighting requirements consistently. If you don’t, the next step would be starting formal disciplinary action, the consequences of which could include firing you. I don’t want to go down that path if we can avoid it, so can you affirm for me that you understand this requirement and will follow it?”

Hopefully he’ll get the message. But if he doesn’t, keep in mind that “helping him be successful” includes “providing clear and unequivocal information about the requirements of his job and holding him accountable to meeting those.” You’re doing him no favors if you let him go to his next job thinking there are no consequences to just declining anything he doesn’t want to do.

{ 696 comments… read them below }

  1. Keyboard Cowboy*

    I feel like it seems worth emphasizing to him that if this weren’t a public-facing office, it probably wouldn’t be an issue. It could be that this is a big enough deal to him that he wants to re-think having a public-facing role. I dunno.

    1. Kai*

      This is a really great point.
      Sometimes the job you think you want/get isn’t actually the one you meant to apply to/start working at.
      Sometimes you just don’t know you actually hate public facing jobs until you are there.

    2. Quantum Possum*

      Very good point.

      At one of my organizations, we had a team of artists. They had their own little office suite that they kept dimly lit and beautifully decorated. (It was like a serene oasis amidst the chaos.) They weren’t front-facing, so they had a lot of freedom.

      My bigger issue would be how he’s responding to feedback. Also, the candles. Workplace fires are no joke.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          Very true.

          I guess where I was coming from was that people can be less aware of safety concerns at work than at home, or they can be aware but not feel as much responsibility to follow common-sense guidelines.

          1. Dulcinea47*

            I think in most people who feel free to light candles at home but would NOT feel free to do so at work…. with the exception of this guy.

            1. Ellen N.*

              I’ve had coworkers light scented candles in offices with paper everywhere.

              There are also many people who don’t turn off the space heaters under their desks when they leave.

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                Had a coworker who insisted on leaving her space heater on all day until she almost set the place on fire and it got taken away.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        The responding to feedback gave me a huge concern. Even more than the dark office. Like the office could be a personal preference, which fine. Right up there with the pillow fort. But when your boss gives you a directive, you don’t get to snap back its their business. What you do at work, how you carry out an essential function of your job is very much the boss’ business. You can fix the dark cave easily, it takes a lot more work to fix someone’s attitude. Quite frankly this guy might not be worth the effort.

        1. PB Bunny Watson*

          This! And I can’t help but wonder if the issue is that he doesn’t want to be bothered with the public–it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that he’s making his office unwelcoming (especially without a real reason like light sensitivity or migraines). I’ve known a few people fresh out of library school who thought that their new degree meant that they could have an office and do what they want without having to be bothered by the public. But serving the public is always a priority.

      2. Gingerbread Angel*

        It’s really one of those things where to each her own. At my workplace we are allowed to burn incense, for example, I have a small alter where I set fire to various herbs to heal out the evil spirits. I also have a lot of candles. My boss loves it because she wants our office not to have The Curse.

          1. Gingerbread Angel*

            One of our clients got really mad at us and told us that she was going to curse us. We were like yeah sure. Then lights started going out… people started getting small injuries… things started getting lost… it was scary. So me and my coworker and our boss started researching counter curses, and the things stopped happening. So I apply regular counter curse measures to our office to keep everyone safe :)

        1. LarryFromOregon*

          LW made it very clear that this is NOT to each their own. This employee is FAILING: scaring off patrons, creating safety hazards, and disrespecting their manager.

          There is an art to expressing oneself in the workplace, but it requires devoting time and attention to formal and informal feedback from those being served, as well as from peers and managers.

          Instead, the employee is being a bull in a china shop.

          Alison’s script is excellent. The employee needs to fix this NOW, or start experiencing the natural consequence—disciplinary action, up to and including firing—by next week.

          1. Gingerbread Angel*

            You are right, in this situation it is not okay of the employee to be rude. I just meant that there are some situations when you can have open flames at work. :)

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes I think this is an important point. In a non-public role it would be a mostly harmless quirk, but when dealing with the public you have to present a customer-friendly persona. I won’t pretend it’s fun to have to do that all day but it comes with the territory, and if John can’t or won’t then this unfortunately is not the role for him, no matter how smart or talented he is.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Though there are a lot of non-public-facing roles where you can’t just turn off all the lights, close the blinds and work in the dark without explanation, even if you have your own office. It’s one of those things that can be really out of step in a culture that prizes drop-by collaboration or professional optics.

        1. JustaTech*

          I had a professor in undergrad who never used her overhead lights, just some lamps (but she also kept the shades mostly open). Even so, it was *much* darker in her office than in the other professors’. This would have just been a minor quirk, but then she and another professor started dating and I was always very hesitant going to her office because I (and many other students) felt like we could be walking in on some hanky-panky in a semi-darkened office. (Unlike the other professor’s office, where the lights were on and there wasn’t a couch.)

          Both professor were very good teachers and well liked, so no one complained to the administration, but looking back I wish I could have told them “hey, your advisees are afraid they’re going to walk in on the two of you and they’re missing out on important conversations with you, please turn up the lights and turn down the PDA.”

        2. Nicole Maria*

          You’re so right about this not being an option even if you don’t see people in your office – I don’t have my own office but I share one with two people who I’m very friendly with.

          Like I said, we’re admin and we don’t see any clients/patients in here but one day we decided to leave the lights off because I had a bit of a headache, and so many people who don’t share our office were appalled. I even overheard one of the doctors complaining to her patients about it when they were walking by! (The stereotype that MDs are not always the most tactful has proven very true here.)

    4. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      And it isn’t merely the fact that he has to change something he likes to have a public-facing role.

      It’s also that, in a public-facing role, he’s prioritizing is own preferences over the demonstrated needs of the people he’s supposed to support.

      Methinks there’s an empathy deficiency here.

      1. empathy*

        I think it’s an unfair leap to say there’s an empathy deficiency. There are a lot of other less harsh and equally (or more) probable explanations, the biggest of which is simple inexperience.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          He doesn’t come off as good person in this, but I am with you. It is not about lacking emotional awareness, it is about emotional immaturity.
          He is being pretty damned contrary because (I think) he cares too much about what people are thinking of him.
          Is he the coolest kid on the playground? Does everyone recognize that he is the edgy, dark Wunderkind?

          1. empathy*

            That’s fanfiction. We have no way of knowing that he’s thinking those things. I agree that immaturity and inexperience probably play a role, but the way you’ve portrayed it paints both a highly specific and very harsh and derogatory picture that extrapolates reallllllly far from the facts we know.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              We are all speculating. Some people think he does it to avoid dealing with clients. I think he does it to push boundaries. I am speculating, I admit that. But the letter states he told OP she can’t tell him what to do. He is trying to set boundaries FOR the OP.
              So yes, my reasons are theoretical, but the person he is presenting to his workplace is not.

          2. Em*

            or maybe he’s very light sensitive and prone to migraines, or maybe he finds the overhead lighting harsh and unpleasant, or maybe the view out his window is of a massive intersection, or a parking lot, or a bunch of dumpsters, and he prefers not to look at it? He’s absolutely not dealing with the feedback well, but preferring cozy lighting and candles isn’t exactly edgy or dark.

            1. Scarlet2*

              Yeah, I can sympathize with him to a certain extent because I too am migraine-prone and have issues with harsh overhead lighting, but his attitude needs some adjustement (agreed that it’s probably due to immaturity) and that problem would be solved by the OP’s suggestion of bringing lamps to the office

              1. Observer*

                that problem would be solved by the OP’s suggestion of bringing lamps to the office

                No it wouldn’t. The OP already *gave him permission to bring lamps to the office*! He responded by bringing lamps that are so dim that people don’t want to go to his office.

                The problem only has a chance of being solved if John starts to behave like and adult in the workplace.

            2. Mongrel*

              The letter stated that all offices look out onto forests or meadows and, as Alison said, he’s had ample opportunity to say if there are medical conditions.

              And the “no lights except for a computer screen” doesn’t say cozy to me, that still involves light just dimmer and warmer, and that goes double if the public are calling it the creepy office.

            3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              In a previous role, we had overhead neon lighting which gave my colleague a headache. So the boss bought desk lamps and a halogen lamp and we stopped using the neon lights. Easy.
              The worker didn’t say anything about migraines, he said he didn’t know why he preferred it. Of course that probably means he doesn’t want to admit to wanting to scare off customers, or being the cool edgelord. But that was the perfect opportunity to say that too much light will trigger a migraine and he didn’t say it. Maybe being told that he’s risking a firing will make him finally admit that he gets migraines, if that is indeed the case.

              1. Jaina Solo*

                This!! I hate those overhead lights! I cannot tell you how many coworkers over the years have insisted on all the overhead lights being on, sometimes in an office they didn’t even work in but just passed through, when it would give some of us a headache/migraine. While some bosses will not understand that, enough will accommodate if you’re willing to work on it with them. Which it sounds like he was with the lamps and candles but they weren’t right/enough.

                The only thing I could see being reasonable here is if he’s not aware he should communicate an issue (health, sensitivity, or otherwise) to his manager. Early career people are still learning how to communicate in the workplace so if OP feels like giving another chance, they could ask what’s going on and if there’s a health/sensitivity/vision issue.

                1. JustaTech*

                  My office-mate used to be very bothered by the fluorescent lights in our office, so she bought this leaf-canopy thing from Ikea (she got the idea from a building across the street that had one over every cube) that did a great job of modulating the light so it wasn’t so irritating. Kind of like the green visors old-time accountants wore.

                  (Offered as an option for commentors who can’t turn off the overheads.)

            4. watermelon fruitcake*

              I was only diagnosed with a migraine disorder somewhat recently, and the flickering of fluorescent (and unfortunately some cheaper LED) bulbs does not trigger them per se but what it will do is aggravate an active migraine when I’m in the midst of it. Bright daylight may do the same, but I suspect something about the flickering of artificial light is actually nauseating. I was always a bit, I don’t know quite how to phrase it, but “worn down” by fluorescent lighting, and I wonder if it was some sort of precursor to what would eventually become full-blown migraines. I also was a person who “lived in the dark” with my shades drawn all day (at home, no such option at work) until I got my diagnosis and am on a preventative that, placebo or not, is reducing the number of headache days and the abortives are helping me manage. I finally enjoy light again!

              I don’t necessarily agree with the Dark Lord in the OP; he should at least have the good sense not to use open flame at work (if he insists on the “ambiance” of candles, there are flameless ones!). But I can’t help but wonder if he is like I was, not knowing he is prone to migraines, frequently being in a “pro-drome” state, noticing that bright lights are associated with feeling off or unwell but not having the self awareness to recognize why. Either way he is behaving childishly when receiving feedback.

            5. aebhel*

              I can’t stand overhead lighting and generally leave the lights off in my office unless it’s actually dark outside, but OP has provided him with several options to mitigate this while making it clear that he needs to have a better-lit office, and he’s taking none of them.

            6. Observer*

              but preferring cozy lighting and candles isn’t exactly edgy or dark.

              This is not the most important point here, but in fact is that he’s not looking for “cozy”. The LW says that his office is *dark* – so dark sometimes that people can’t even see that he’s there.

    5. Observer*

      I feel like it seems worth emphasizing to him that if this weren’t a public-facing office, it probably wouldn’t be an issue

      Very much this. I mean my eyebrows nearly flew off my head when I read the he claimed that it’s not your business. Of COURSE it’s your business! It directly affects clients, and that is the *completely* your business.

      It reminds me a bit of the letter writer who was indignant that her boss “interfered” with her work, and she sternly told her boss that it was “none of her business”. (That LW wrote to Allison because she got fired and was having a hard time getting a new job.)

      1. Czhorat*

        In general most of your activity at work is your boss’s business. That’s why they’re your boss, and that’s their job.

        Is there a case that they should be flexible and hands-off if your way of working gets the job done even if it doesn’t match their preference? Of course. They should still know, however.

        If you want to work in the dark, the boss should know that so they know that “lights off” doesn’t mean you’ve left the building. If you get one remote day and want to work remotely on Tuesday rather than Friday they should be aware so they know not to look for you in person, or schedule in-person activities that day. Etc, etc.

        “None of your business” is not only oddly hostile, it’s *wrong*

      2. Cj*

        my first thought was that he doesn’t because it gets migraines, until I got to the part about the candles and flickering lights, which would probably make a migraine worse.

        then I got to the part about it’s none of your business and I’m like wtf?

        1. DrD*

          Migraines was my first thought, and if I were a patron, I would totally go to the Dark Office! But not a flickery office. Given the entire letter, I am thinking it’s a possible unrecognized and undiagnosed sensory issue. OP gave the employee an opening to disclose, but the employee may not know what’s going on but just recognize discomfort and overwhelm with the lights on. Bright lights can be adjusted with stick on covers or a lamp could be used. Bright overhead lighting as a “professional norm” needs to go, but this guy clearly has other issues with professional norms.

          1. plumerai*

            This was my thought too. I don’t think I have a clinical sensory issue, but I hate hate HATE certain kinds of light. I could see someone who shared my hatred of certain types of light, or who had a diagnosable sensory issue, letting that overrun his good sense. I’m wondering what other types of solutions there could be – but that’s on him to figure out.

            (My former office was divided into “cave people” and “people of the light,” and while we all joked about it, the fact was I cringed whenever the leader of “the people of the light” entered the office because it ruined my soft lighting.)

          2. Audrey Puffins*

            There are probably ways to decrease the light in a room that make it look cosy rather than sinister, but really this is about his response to managerial instruction and impact on his and his colleagues’ workflow than the lights themselves.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              This. If his reaction had been to try to collaboratively problem-solve, this would be a very different issue. OP gave him an opportunity to explain the issue, allowed him to bring in his own lights, would probably allow the blinds closed if the lights were on or vice-versa, etc. In contrast, he’s just… refusing to follow instructions and thereby avoiding doing a fundamental part of his job.

          3. Autumn*

            I bet there are sensory issues but he’s never addressed them, and perhaps he has absorbed some other attitudes around them, like you can’t complain about anything. Which could lead to him not recognizing why he likes to work in the dark. I have some issues with fluorescent lighting, especially if it’s malfunctioning, when the bulb is dying or the ballast is messed up. This doesn’t affect candle light, and it usually feels like motion sickness. It also will turn into a migraine if I can’t get away from it.

            It’s his first job out of college and if he never had an office based internship he has, perhaps, no clue what these norms are and is perhaps thinking “my office, my rules.” He’s about to get introduced to the real world.

            Now that I think about it, my dad was a professor, I can only think of two instances where he had his overhead lights on in his office, one was when he was temporarily stuck in an internal office without a window, and the other when he was department chair. If he had a window that was how he lit the office. He had a desk lamp too.

            However he didn’t close his blinds!

            1. La Triviata*

              It’s possibly a sensory issue, but his attitude is a problem. If he likes candles, you can get LED candles (no fire hazard) or lamps. It’s something that CAN be addressed, if he’d be willing to comply. IF.

              On the lighter side, I saw an article about a man who, given free rein, fixed up his large cube to look like a cabin in the woods – wood paneling, picture of the woods and even a rustic chandelier. His boss was startled, but didn’t have a problem with it

          4. Rex Libris*

            Occam’s Razor… I’m still thinking the guy just doesn’t want to be bothered with, you know, people, and this seems more subtle than a “Go Away” sign on the door.

          5. iglwif*

            Same, I would go to the dark office! But run in the opposite direction from the flickery one!

            When I worked in an office I asked for the overhead fluorescent tubes to be taken out of my ceiling because they flickered and hummed and gave me a headache AND my office had a big window so they weren’t needed very much.*

            Buddy in the letter may very well have some unrecognized sensory issues … but currently he is behaving as though this is just a preference of his that isn’t any of OP’s business to comment on, and that is what’s so out of bounds here. If your job is to talk to customers/patrons and they are too weirded out to talk to you, that is you not doing your job, and that IS your manager’s business, and maybe this is just not the job for you.

            *I couldn’t just turn them off because lights for that whole section of the building were controlled by the same breaker box. A number of people asked the physical plant guy to remove theirs, and at one point we ordered everyone their choice of reasonably priced desk lamps from IKEA, but we couldn’t actually not turn on the lights, because nobody wants to go to the washroom or the warehouse or the cafeteria in pitch darkness.

        2. zuzu*

          Yeeeeaaahhh, I have a public-facing role in a library, and get migraines from the overhead fluorescents, but the fix for that is lamps. There are plenty of ways to make an office migraine-free but also welcoming.

          And while I had plenty of missteps in my early career, I’m not sure I would have had the brass ones to tell my boss that what I did at work was not their business.

        3. Ticotac*

          I was actually kinda surprised that the person would work in the dark with the computer on. Obviously everybody’s body is the same, but for me, personally, staring at a screen in complete darkness is a one way ticket to migraine city.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Yeah, me too. It’s the difference between the screen and ambient light that hurts me, so I spend all day fiddling with the brightness settings on my computers.

        4. amoeba*

          I mean, apparently the larger problem is that he insists on closing the blinds – the office would actually have natural light otherwise, no overhead fluorescent lights involved! (I’m sure people can have sensitivities to that as well, but blaming harsh artificial lighting really doesn’t apply in this case?)

      3. Nicole Maria*

        Could you direct me to that letter you mentioned at the end of your comment? I don’t thin I’ve read that one and I’m very curious

    6. el l*

      There are plenty of jobs where none of this would matter. But this job is public facing and the office setup has been deliberately chosen to be a particular way for reasons of strategy.

      So John has to decide whether this is the right place for him. Perhaps he will be successful elsewhere, but as far as OP’s concerned, all that she can worry about is whether he can make it here.

      (And make no mistake – his attitude and behavior has made this fireable)

      1. Artemesia*

        The OP has been more than flexible. I would not bring up medical issues because that just invites rule lawyering — if he had a medical issue he could would. have brought it up. It is also reasonable to not have flourescents on because those are headache inducing but instead use lamps and natural light. The problem is he wants the bat cave look.

        Time to put him on a PIP and then fire him if he can’t do something so simple.

        1. oranges*

          My instinct was to leave the “medical” issue out of it too. Anyone can find a doctor to agree that office lighting and screen time can lead to eye strain and potential problems. Now you’re litigating coulds and potentials.

          Having appropriate lighting for the work he was hired to do isn’t an option.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Given the liability issues it is prudent to document that you gave him every opportunity to request an accommodation and he declined. Even if it does lead to gamesmanship. Better to deal with it head on than after the fact.

          2. sparkle emoji*

            And even if he finds a doctor to sign off on that, LW would need to find a reasonable accommodation. The Batcave has proven to be unreasonable because it prevents the public from approaching him. Even if we assume the Batcave is a medical need, having it contradicts the needs of the role enough that it would be difficult to accommodate without fundamentally changing the role.

            1. Sacred Ground*

              IF there is a legit medical problem such that normal light levels are difficult for him, the reasonable accommodation would be dark glasses along with turning the light *down* but not *off*.

              Expecting clients to meet with him in a dark and uncomfortable office, when the organization’s mandate is to provide comfortable and welcoming environment for clients, is an undue hardship on the organization. They’ve already got one client refusing to meet with him over this so his preference is already seriously interfering with his ability to do the job.

              So, maybe there’s a non-public role he could do elsewhere that would allow him to work in his preferred dark room, but this isn’t it.

              The insubordination is more serious. Refusing to follow directives and telling his supervisor that how he works is not their business? This guy fundamentally misunderstands the nature of work. That’s going to be a problem no matter where he goes.

              I’m guessing he’s one of those rare birds who went all the way through school and university without ever working at any kind of paying job. Probably did great in school but never learned that organizational hierarchies exist, they exist for a reason, and you ignore them at your own peril.

              1. Freya*

                Absolutely – there still needs to be enough light for clients to be safe navigating into the room. Lights off means the whole room is a trip hazard and an OH&S liability.

              2. sparkle emoji*

                Yeah, I should have been more clear. There are possible accommodations if this stems from a medical issue, but keeping the dark “batcave” setup and staying in this public-facing, walk-in-based role doesn’t sound likely to be one of them.

          3. Yikes Stripes*

            I mean, I agree that given that the OP asked if there was a medical issue and was told no that it should be left out of the conversation at this point.

            But please do consider that some of us have legitimate medical reasons to avoid harsh or overly bright lighting. My best friend gets severe migraines that are made significantly worse by fluorescent lights and I’m on two different medications that cause photophobia and experience significant pain if I’m in bright light without sunglasses. None of that is particularly relevant in this particular case, but your use of “medical” and flippancy about anyone can find a doctor to agree… is kind of crappy.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              I don’t see where he was asked if there was a medical issue. All OP said was “I’ve asked him to help me understand why he feels he needs to work in darkness”. That’s not exactly “do you need a medical accommodation?”.

                1. watermelon fruitcake*

                  Not to say his response is appropriate, but he may be worried about discrimination on the basis of disability or perceived disability. While this would place him in a protected class, and therefore offer him more protections, he may not know or be confident in that. Stigma is real. We have no reason to think OP or the employer at large is unreasonable or discriminatory, but fear of such can cause people to be protective of whatever could “expose” them.

              1. Expelliarmus*

                It’s a more general way of asking, like to see if it’s a personal preference thing or if it’s a medical thing. I don’t think OP’s language was lacking in transparency.

                1. Kevin Sours*

                  It’s not about transparency. It’s about what you would like to be able to put on a hypothetical future affidavit

            2. Sacred Ground*

              So, if he has a similar condition, it is on him to say so and ask for accommodation. AFAIK, employers aren’t supposed to offer such without being asked. If they offer an accommodation that isn’t needed, it could be seen as treating someone differently due to a perceived medical condition, a violation of ADA. As I understand it. I could be wrong.

              And if he *does* have a similar condition, sunglasses are a reasonable accommodation. Expecting clients to sit in the dark and be creeped out when the mandate is to make the office welcoming and inviting is not reasonable.

              And the whole accommodation argument is a red herring next to the insubordination problem. He refused a legitimate directive without giving any reasonable explanation and then told his supervisor that how he works is *not their business*.

              First job out of college, ok, but is this his first job EVER? Pretty much everywhere I’ve ever worked, this would have gotten me fired on the spot. It honestly pisses me off to see people like him pull this kind of crap and their boss refuses to fire them. OP, you will lose the respect of your whole office if you tolerate this.

            3. CowWhisperer*

              I have light triggered migraines as well – but I’ve never resorted to creating a Bat Cave. I use lamps. Fabric light diffusion panels are magical since classrooms for preK are hard to adequately light with lamps. I have sunglasses in my locker or on my head.

              If my boss asked me why I never use the flashing option on the LED strip lights which the students would love, I say “Unfortunately, those settings trigger my migraine – but we change the color a few times a week” , not “I don’t like it – and it’s none of your business! ”

              Unless he uses his words, I have no reason to think he’s got a medical condition.

            4. amoeba*

              But the office actually has natural light (unless he closes the blinds), not any kind of harsh fluorescent lighting.

              Also, that would then be a discussion about getting a different kind of lamp, which the LW, from her letter, would probably be absolutely OK with. Not about “let me sit in the dark (with candles if possible)”.

            5. GythaOgden*

              Yeah, I have similar issues (as does my supervisor) but if you work anywhere with other people you have to be diplomatic and brainstorm a collective solution. We changed our lighting system to LEDs this time last year, which helped enormously for me without actually dimming lights for everyone else. (It finally solved a perpetually faulty fitting that no matter how often you changed the bulb it would still occasionally go rogue. On good days it would just refuse to work. On bad days it would flicker, and since it was on a single circuit you couldn’t just turn it off without turning everything else off.) I also worked in a semi-public facing setting so had to compromise or find adjustments. Now work from home and am really looking forward to when it stays light until 5, which isn’t actually that far off now, because I work best in medium light and mains light is surprisingly expensive to run compared to lamps you plug in…and the lamp I bought is still in pieces because I can’t get one part to screw in and live alone, so getting someone in to help is a job in itself.

              There was also the time I worked in a small shop with a post office counter. I prefer it cooler rather than warmer (since my body actually thinks it’s a few degrees warmer than it actually is and responds effusively :-///), and felt sick because the heater was a bit dodgy anyway and may have been beginning to leak. I turned it off…only to have the postmistress turn it back on again because she felt sick when it was too cold.

              I think the problem was solved by spring coming shortly afterwards and not needing the heater, and I left that job in the summer so didn’t have to argue the toss again the following winter. That was 2009, when both ends of the year were particularly and unusually cold ones as well, which played its own part.

              So even if there’s a medical need at play here, it still needs to be solved collegiately and taking other needs into account. The best way to get others on board with your needs is to consider theirs as well and come up with a reasonable accommodation, not assert your rights over theirs and make an ass of yourself in the process. It’s not an interactive process for nothing — that’s the way to really get the best deal for everyone rather than treating it as a zero sum, antagonistic game.

        2. datamuse*

          I mean, I hate overhead fluorescents myself and never had them on in my office, but I did bring in plenty of lamps and other lighting so it wouldn’t feel cavelike when people came in for consultations. Quite a few students even remarked on how homey and comfortable it felt.

          1. Rainy*

            Yeah, I don’t use the overhead fluorescents in my office unless there’s no other choice (sometimes it’s just dark out!) because they do make me a little more migraine-prone, so I keep the blinds open on my window, have lamps that don’t bother my eyes, etc, so that my office isn’t a flickering cave.

            I also really dislike my overheads because they’re on a motion detector and even when you turn them on they go off if you aren’t moving enough, and I learnt the hard way that the motion detector doesn’t count typing or even hand writing as “enough”. I apparently sit as still as a statue when I’m really concentrating, and having my lights turn off if I don’t sit at my desk flinging my arms around nonstop doesn’t really help me be productive!

            1. datamuse*

              Oh god yes, a motion detector switch was installed in my office and I covered that thing with several layers of black masking tape because otherwise the lights would come on and startle me while I was working.

              The lights didn’t make me feel ill (I am prone to migraines but fluorescents aren’t one of the triggers) but I just didn’t like them. My office was kind of small in terms of square footage but had a really high ceiling, so when the lights came on I felt like I was in a terrarium.

              1. Rainy*

                And yet I bet your facilities people would have been annoyed if you’d installed a waterfall and and a bunch of hardscaping and plants… ;)

            2. That wasn't me. . .*

              He’s getting lots of sympathy for avoiding the flourescent lights, but he closed all the blinds! Nice, steady natural light.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                I have light-sensitive migraines that mean I need to avoid natural light as well, but my solution is sunglasses. All my coworkers may think I’m pretending to be a celebrity or constantly hungover, but at least they aren’t tripping over stuff in my office.

        3. mreasy*

          If you have a job that requires meeting with the public, and you have a medical condition requiring you work in near complete darkness, I can’t imagine that there is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA that would solve it.

        4. el l*

          Agree about the medical. Even if there were a medical angle, the general rule: It is not boss’ job to figure out employee’s deal. If he needs a medical accommodation, that’s on him to figure out and ask for it. It’s not OP’s responsibility to go hunting around for why he is the way he is. And take him at his word: He just prefers it dark.

          After reasonable messaging he is stubbornly choosing this hill to die on. Ability gets you hired, attitude gets you fired.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        “So John has to decide whether this is the right place for him.”

        John appears to be on a fast track to having LW make that decision for him.

    7. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Or having a job at this point in his life.
      He is not ready.
      He thinks he’s being clever; I think he is being antagonistic.
      OP, mad props for blowing up his spot and instead channeling your inner Alison, treat it like a normal request.
      “I see you brought in candles. Of course, you cannot use candles because they are a safety hazard. Thank you for understanding.”
      Instead of manifesting the meme in his head.
      You said open the blinds. He cracks the blinds. Manager: Pikachu face. Not like that!
      You said I could bring in lights. He lights candles. Manager: Pikachu face. Not like that!

      1. Laser99*

        That did not occur to me but you are correct, of course. It’s like when we were in school, trying to test the boundaries and so forth. “What? You said I couldn’t wear a skirt. This is a kilt!”

      2. Artemesia*

        Exactly. He is making this a game of dominance where he skates up to the line and is constantly antagonistic about it. He needs to be fired.

        1. empathy*

          I think this is making an unfair leap. We’re ascribing an awful lot of thoughts, motivations, and desires to this person on very thin evidence. It seems far more likely that he’s just grossly inexperienced with workplace culture and he’s probably going to wind up learning about it the hard way.

          1. Czhorat*


            Either way, he can be fired because he’s being insubordinate. He was told he has to have his office reasonably lit, and he keeps refusing and finding new, different ways to keep it dark.

            It might be time to tell him that if he wants to keep working there he needs to keep the office reasonably lit to the same degree other offices are. If he can’t do that he can sit in the dark at home.

            1. empathy*

              I absolutely agree! The behavior is unacceptable, and he should be sternly talked to about it, disciplined, and potentially fired if he can’t fix it. I just think we can all agree upon that without painting him as a villain, accusing him of lacking empathy, presuming he’s making a play for dominance, or even imagining he’s playing this all out as a funny meme in his head, as other commenters have done. That’s unhelpfully harsh and unsupported by the evidence.

              1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                This. Also, we should take the LW at their word when they say he is actually a good worker and that this is the only problem. Maybe it is a sign of something more sinister, like a dominance game, but it is also possible he has some sort of issue with lights, or interacting with people, and he just doesn’t know how to put it into words beyond “I just prefer this.” Since replacing the guy will take work on LW’s end, stick co-workers with carrying the employee’s work while a replacement is hired and trained, and said replacement will probably have their own issues, it really is in LW’s best interest to exhaust ways to resolve the caliginous office issue first before firing the employee.

                1. Yorick*

                  But coworkers are already picking up the slack for him because he’s deliberately making his office unfriendly to patrons (sure, we don’t know if that’s WHY he wants it dark, but he has been told to keep the lights on to make them comfortable and he won’t do it). I’m sure morale would improve if this guy were gone.

                2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

                  Nesting limit, but the “morale will improve when you get rid of a bad employee” is one of the most insidious pieces of fanfic in this community, I think.

                  I’ve had exactly one coworker who was a negative enough presence that his firing was a relief, and that guy was watching porn on his phone at his seat in an open-plan office. Otherwise, when I lose a co-worker who’s a dead weight or a bit of a pill, the general mood seems to be sadness and anxiety around the office. In part because they’re still a human being who lost their job, in part because it’s not like the work immediately starts being done by someone else – as Bunny Lake points out, hiring and training usually results in workload getting worse for everyone before it gets better!

            2. Churro*

              One could keep giving that young guy more and more chances to rectify his behavior, but given that he has already demonstrated he won’t play by the rules and actually gets snappy when called out about them, he displays an entitlement sadly typical of many young people, and should be dismissed without prejudice. let him learn the hard way this doesn’t work in the real world.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I don’t think this is an age thing. It’s just an entitlement thing. I’ve worked with older people who are very much like this too.

          2. Clisby*

            Yeah, but if he’s just out of college isn’t he used to professors telling him what to do and not taking “no” for an answer? I mean, obviously professors don’t tell you you have to have lights on in your own study space, but if he came to class and started turning off all the lights, or decided it was none of the professor’s business if he didn’t attend class, he’d be hit with a clue-by-four pretty quickly.

            1. zuzu*

              Oh, don’t think for a minute he wasn’t questioning every grade he got and asking the professor for extra time or to explain things that were clearly explained in the syllabus.

              And the ratings!

              1. Zephy*

                +1. Students like that absolutely exist (will argue with any perceived imposition even when that’s absolutely not how this transaction works, have clearly never been told no in their lives) and they do graduate (somehow).

            2. AcademiaNut*

              Professors can be surprisingly limited when it comes to enforcing boundaries on student behaviour, outside of poor grades for poor work. Someone can be an argumentative glassbowl, and the professor can’t kick them out of the course, or expel them, or dock marks.

          3. Worldwalker*

            Most people, if there is something they’re inexperienced with or unfamiliar with, will attempt to learn that thing. If someone doesn’t have much experience with Excel, say, they’ll read a manual, watch some tutorial videos, practice, whatever works for their particular learning style so they become familiar with it. If this guy’s issue was just that he didn’t know how office settings are supposed to work, once he was told what was expected, he would change accordingly. Instead, he’s being downright passive-aggressive, rules-lawyering, actively defiant, and told the boss it wasn’t any of their business.

            That’s not cluelessness; that’s insubordination. All of it.

            This guy needs to be on the fast track to Firedville.

          4. Sacred Ground*

            Getting fired because you antagonized your employer and were insubordinate IS learning about it the hard way. Most of us who need this lesson get it before graduating college. He didn’t. Now is the time.

    8. Project maniac-ger*

      This guy has found one of the only jobs where the look and feel and lighting of your office has a bona fide business reason to be light and welcoming. It might be best for everyone if he finds a new job where he can have those dungeon vibes at his workplace.

      1. Thinking*

        Good luck if he tries this in a typical open-plan working space. Very few jobs allow private offices with no interruption, especially for entry level people.

      2. MassMatt*

        I suggest he look into the fields of palmistry, spiritualist seances, or Goth/emo influencer.

    9. Momma Bear*

      This is a good point. A lot of our SW engineers work like moles in the dark but they don’t need to talk to the public. Maybe this guy needs to look for a transfer out of public-facing work. If he’s good at other things, can he take on people’s administrivia and they take the walk-ins? I hate my overhead lights but if my boss told me to keep the office well-lit, I’d look for options like a couple of floor lamps. Sometimes overhead lights hum and can be distracting.

      The bigger problem is arguing about the feedback. I wonder how he handles other interactions with his coworkers.

      1. Keyboard Cowboy*

        Yep, that is exactly where I’m coming from – I’m a software engineer as well, and light (and preferably lack thereof) is a constant issue when negotiating workspaces. As you say, we NEVER meet with customers face to face, so it’s not a problem.

      2. thelettermegan*

        there’s a lot of truth to this – when people work on computers for long stretches (like SW work), reducing all other light can reduce general eyestrain and glare.

        But that’s not his job. He needs to be able to see people, and people have to be able to see him!

    10. tamarack and fireweed*

      I like that. Smart people who deliver good work can lack awareness in important dimensions of the job – and that’s one to check.

    11. Kstruggles (Canada)*

      Honestly? We have a 3rd of our office lights and blinds closed because I am extremely sensitive to excessive amounts of light (and yet I need 3 monitors for my job *cry face*)
      we are public facing, we just left the lights in front of the customer side on so it looks brighter.
      I miss working from home with only my computer screens for light. (it makes me feel extremely sleepy if there’s too much light. I’ve gone home sick, thinking I’d fall right asleep, but to be wide awake because of the low lighting)

      1. StarTrek Nutcase*

        IMO the problem is he’s grown up in a time where workers are expecting to have much more say at work (a good thing generally) – as opposed to when I started in 1970s when the company/boss was law & not to be questioned. He just doesn’t get that, like every good thing, there are still limitations and ways to stand up. A more experienced, savvy or mature person would have addressed his preference and, more importantly, the feedback more diplomatically and seriously. But sometimes we have to crash to learn a lesson – unfortunately he’s headed for a crash.

      2. uncivil servant*

        I think you have a circadian rhythm disorder if being in natural light makes you sleepy and complete darkness keeps you awake. It’s like the very first thing we have to teach newborns, that dark means sleep.

        Or are you talking about fluorescent lighting? Because we’ve established that this guy rejects natural lighting.

    12. Lacey*


      I’ve had plenty of coworkers who like to work with only the glow of their computer screens to illuminate the office.
      Personally, I have vision problems that require a well lit work space.

      Most of my employers try to accommodate both of us. But I’ve also never worked a public facing role. It’s always in a back office somewhere or, now, from home.

    13. Jellyfish Catcher*

      I disagree with that. You as his manager, would be allowing him decide how the office appears. It’s one thing to have a possum
      (or whatever animal it was) pencil holder, or other personal decorations, but not Darkness and Flickering Lighting. Just…no.

      Second, that could make other staff, or clients, especially women, feel uncomfortable going into a dark office with a man. It’s weird at best and could feel creepy.

      Third – his attitude and lack of respect for you as a manager has to be addressed, regardless of his office decor. The decor will not be the only or the largest problem you’ll have with him.

  2. SS*

    My first thought was a medical issue (because I myself have chronic migraines and often need to have lights/screens dimmed or off), but as Alison said you’ve given him plenty of opportunity to speak up and he hasn’t mentioned it.

    1. Suz*

      That was my 1st thought too. Years ago I had an admin who got migraines from our fluorescent lights. We were easily able to accommodate her by moving her desk to a different location that had a large window and let her use a desk lamp instead of the overhead lights. But the insubordination from OP’s employee is appalling.

    2. Chris too*

      My first thought was some sort of medical issue he doesn’t actually have a diagnosis for – I have a beloved family member who would probably be like this, but because his mum pushed hard he actually got a diagnosis.

      For those of us who have always needed glasses – remember the first time we put them on and realized that everybody else actually saw individual leaves on trees instead of the green blobs we were used to? You don’t always realize you’re different and that the way you do things is based on a need, not a preference. It might be worth it for this guy to look into actually seeing a doctor.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        It definitely might be worth it, but it’s not the OP’s place or job to suggest that to him

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yes. OP is not the employee’s parent or doctor; they should not be offering medical advice (even if that advice is to see a medical specialist).

      2. tangerineRose*

        I also was thinking that John might have some issue, maybe with his eyes, where working in the dark is easier for him.

      3. GythaOgden*

        He needs to do that himself. We’d be advising him to do that if he were writing in (and in certain situations in the UK an employer might be able to refer you to occupational health — an OH referral with my org needs to go through your line manager — and I know of at least one disciplinary situation that ended in a ‘go to rehab or lose your job’ situation that ended well for everyone involved, including the person who complained), but honestly we can’t help him when he’s at this degree of separation from us and the general culture in the US would be that employers can’t raise a medical issue without permission from the employee.

    3. JB (not in Houston)*

      Exactly, and I say this as someone currently working from a dimly lit office because of a similar issue. The one quibble I have is that the OP is demanding that he have natural light when that isn’t usually necessary to make an office well-lit and welcoming, and it can cause headaches for some people. Even if sunlight were his problem, though, he could balance it out by bringing in enough lamps to make the room welcoming for patrons. But if he isn’t explaining that he needs an accommodation, then he’s just failing to meet the job requirements without explanation.

      1. Three Flowers*

        This. Also, if OP has never sat in an office on that side of the building all day, they probably should before they talk to him again. Glare is real, and so is heat. And sunburn. It doesn’t necessarily need to be medical to be a legit issue for him.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Slightly tangential, but it’s really hard to get a sunburn through a glass window, because real glass is fairly opaque to UV light (one *can* get sunburnt through plexiglass – ask me how I know). Glare and heat can still be issues of course.

        2. Tired*

          If there is a legimiate issue, then he should be communicating with OP and trying to find a solution. OP has given him plenty of opportunities to say something like, “When the window is open the glare is making it hard for me to see my screen” or “My room gets too hot with the blinds open.” Managers can’t be expected to sit around imaging every possible scenario when someone is refusing to simply have a productive discussion with them.

      2. My Useless 2 Cents*

        The OP was really putting me off with the “bat cave” and “pitch black” remarks. I have seen very few offices that are open to the public that could fall into that category. Based on that wording, the OP may be coming off more judgmental than they think when speaking with John about the lighting issue. While it doesn’t excuse outright insubordination, it may be something OP could think about before speaking with John again.

        If possible, I’d look into lamps with soft or pink light bulbs. They tend to be easier on the eyes yet the office would still be lit enough to be welcoming. Especially if there is a light by the door and another by the desk. Similarly swiping out or covering what sounds like horizontal blinds with fabric curtains/shears could also soften the light coming in while making the office more inviting.

        (I write this as someone who feels much more comfortable in soft lighting and never open my curtains at home. Bright lights make me hot, tired, and stressed out. No clear medical diagnosis I can fall back on, although I have suspected Summer SAD but never enough to follow up with a doctor. I turn off any and all lights at my office desk that I can but I do work in an open floor plan office so it is still more “lit” than I’d prefer.)

        1. sparkle emoji*

          If it was dark enough that customers couldn’t tell there was anyone in the office, I’d imagine that has to be close to “pitch black”. It’s fine to want or need a darker office but when John is demonstrably helping fewer customers and customers are citing the lighting as a reason, his needs for his workspace and the needs of the role aren’t aligned.

        2. lilsheba*

          Yeah I would be the one turning off the overhead lights PRONTO. I can’t deal with those. I would have it lit with lamps instead and probably string lights. And if there is sun blaring in the window that blinds are getting shut too. I had to fight to have blinds shut on the west side of a building when I worked at my last job because I couldn’t even see my screen! I would do my best to have a medical accommodation for it but yeah those lights are staying off.

          1. Worldwalker*

            I WFH and have had constant problems getting lighting right in my workspace, which has very little natural lighting and awful overhead lights. The thing that I finally found that works is a panel of Nanoleaf hexagons. I can adjust their color and brightness to precisely what I want. The down side is they’re not cheap, but for the first time in years, I have actually good lighting.

            1. Jojo*

              World Walker, thanks for mentioning the Nanoleaf hexagons. I think I need them. I’m a light lover, but I’m also aware that light bothers other people. I haven’t brought my SAD lamp into work because I know it would be obnoxious, but this might give me the lift I’m looking for without bothering other people.

            2. lilsheba*

              I’m not familiar with those but plan to look into it just out of curiosity. Meanwhile I also have candles and incense burning all day (I WFH too) and oddly …they are no danger at all! Imagine!

        3. Lunita*

          It’s not OP’s job to look into different lighting for this person, and if the problem is bad enough that he is getting noticeably fewer patrons and even a complaint, then OP’s wording is probably accurate. Particularly with the complaints and declining patrons, I don’t think OP needs to second guess their interactions with this insubordinate employee.

        4. Warrior Princess Xena*

          When you say “I have seen very few offices that are open to the public that could fall into that category”, I think you’re affirming OP’s point that this is an unusual and undesirable situation! If patrons are describing the office as “creepy” and John cannot reliably be seen from the outside, that does indicate a level of ‘dark’ that’s outside the norm.

      3. Kstruggles (Canada)*

        Natural light is harder for me than man made light. I face away from the windows had the binds open about 6 inches. Closed the because of the cold and was like “wow instant relief from my light sensitivity”

      4. Miette*

        I wonder if he doesn’t know he can even ask for an accommodation, since he’s so new to working? Perhaps OP could explore that a bit with him?

        Don’t get me wrong, his response for OP to mind their business is out of order, but as a chronic migraine and cluster headache sufferer, I don’t do well with most overhead fluorescent lighting and sometimes strong sunlight. When I worked in an office, they kindly let me order some lamps for dimmer/warmer lighting and it worked really well. John can have a well-lit and welcoming space for the public while still being comfortable (if this is his issue–otherwise he sounds like an entitled jerk and needs to knock it off).

        1. MigraineMonth*

          The thing is, OP has been very flexible with him even without going down any formal accommodation route and John has been balking or going back on his agreements. Even if he asked for an accommodation, the solution wouldn’t be “gets to sit in his bat cave and avoid interacting with the public”, because serving the public is a core part of his job.

    4. ArtsNerd*

      Yeah, in addition to migraines, I was thinking it could be a sensory issue that he might not be able to articulate. (It took me years to realize I was so fastidious about using ear plugs in band practice because I have an aversion to certain tones coming from the drum kit that don’t bother anyone else.) But even if that’s the case, the employee needs to figure it out and request an accommodation.

      1. wordswords*

        Yeah, that’s my thought too.

        He might well genuinely work better in and feel comfortable in a dark cave of an office, and that might be anywhere from “I can deal with bright lights but I don’t like to” to “I’m going to be miserable and stressed/in pain and unable to focus all day long if I have to have all these lights.” It’s on John to figure out what he’s willing to compromise on for a job and what’s a dealbreaker. But it’s also completely fair, reasonable, and necessary for OP to draw the line on business needs for his office and his position, and “a space that patrons find welcoming and are comfortable in” is clearly a firm requirement of the job here. If John isn’t able or willing to provide that, that’s okay, but then this job probably isn’t right for him (and unless his next job is wfh, it probably won’t let him light candles either). If he does want to stay in this position, then he needs to listen to his manager when she tells him about the requirements and expectations for it.

    5. Schnapps*

      This. I have a semi-assigned space in our hotdesking pods, but it’s right under two flourescent lights – this desk is not as deep as a normal desk, and the combination of the lights plus the dual screems that seem to be right in my face are really tiring and often headache-inducing.

      We usually have at least one empty office somewhere which are assigned-but-shared spaces (meaning, if the person its assigned to isn’t three, it’s up for grabs). I usually grab one of them and sit there with the lights off, or just one light on. If I have a meeting with someone I ask if they prefer the lights on or off.

      But I am not public-facing and most of my meetings are over Teams or Zoom. The fact that he told you a key aspect of his job is none of your business is a huge red flag.

    6. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      I have to wonder if he does, in fact, have a sight or migraine problem, but either doesn’t know it, or doesn’t want to go to a doctor to find out (i.e., that would make it real). Or does know it, but doesn’t want to admit it. People can be very weird about medical conditions. I understand OP has told him repeatedly that he can request medical accommodation; but I think we probably all know That One Person who just will not budge when comes to coping with a medical issue.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        It’s also true that sometimes if you have had something for life, you don’t know it’s not normal. I think I was in my 30s or maybe late 20s when I noticed people eating foods they said they disliked and then they’d be like, “oh, I just find it very bland, but I couldn’t be bothered cooking anything more fun today” and I was like…”you mean, when you said you disliked it, you just meant…you didn’t actually look forward to eating it, not that it makes you visibly gag and leaves a horrible taste in your mouth or that you are physically struggling to swallow it?” And it was only very recently that I am really started to realise the extent to which I have a sensory issue with the texture of a lot of foods. I just thought that that was what disliking a food meant and that other people were just less picky and disliked less foods!

        That said, even if he does have a sight or migraine or sensory issue (with light, in his case), it still doesn’t justify him telling his boss his office is none of their business.

        1. But what to call me?*

          This is definitely a thing with sensory issues, and can even be a thing with more directly physical issues. I was in college before I realized that it wasn’t normal to feel like there were knives in your throat while trying to breathe when running, or to feel like your eyes were bulging out of your head from lack of oxygen if you followed your gym teacher’s instructions to push through it because running is supposed to leave you out of breath. I didn’t figure out that there was a difference between ‘out of breath’ and ‘slowly suffocating as your body tries to force air through a tighter and tighter hole’ until long after my miserable (and apparently dangerous) gym class days were over. I never would have complained or refused to comply with instructions for that any more than I would have for sensory issues, but that was because I was taught to just put up with such things because that’s what everyone does. It’s really hard to tell when a problem actually is worse for you than it is for other people vs. when you’re just being whiny and dramatic.

          For that matter, we see the same problem with people not being sure if the problems with their objectively toxic workplace are really that bad, because, after all, everyone complains about work sometimes and lots of people don’t like their jobs much.

          Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that some things are simply requirements of certain jobs. I’m never going to be a track star or work in a job with lots of bright lights and loud sounds, and it would be silly for me to insist that those jobs change their fundamental nature to accommodate me.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I spent years feeling like my throat was being tightened like a drawstring bag whenever I tried to go up hills or push too hard exercising. Didn’t get diagnosed with asthma and handed an inhaler until well into my thirties.

            1. ArtsNerd*

              “Do you feel a tightness in your chest?”
              “Ok then it isn’t asthma.”

              It was asthma and GERD.

  3. Cat Tree*

    He told his actual boss that it’s none of their business about something that is directly related to the job. He doesn’t have a good understanding of how boundaries work and unfortunately I think formal action is the only way he might realize that this in fact his boss’s business.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      I suspect he won’t internalize that until he’s working at another job, after losing this one.

      1. Alan*

        Or then. I commented separately but a friend went through job after job refusing to do as he was told and getting fired. It was always someone else’s fault.

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          Well of course it was someone else’s fault. If they hadn’t fired him he’d still be working there.



        2. Laser99*

          I will never understand people like that. I mean, I have engaged in disobedience at work, but it was over safety issues. (Example: I have low blood pressure and am subject to dizziness, so I refused to climb a tall stepladder to change light bulbs.). That sort of thing. Arguing just for the sake of arguing is entirely different.

          1. Alan*

            I remember the issue at one place was dress code. The company insisted on a white dress shirt every day (this was 30+ years ago). He simply said no, they had no right to tell him how to dress. That or another company also had a no-beard policy which he knew when accepting the job, but he refused to shave. “It’s all a game and I refuse to play.” We drifted apart for other reasons, but I never understood his attitude.

    2. Nea*

      I don’t know which part is more fireable – telling his boss that it’s “none of their business” that he’s hindering customer service or not seeing the problem with having lots of little live flames inside an office.

      John needs to work out his Phantom of the Opera fantasies at a different job.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Telling his boss that. Not thinking about fire hazards is a very human thing to do, as is preferring candles to electric lights. Refusing to address an issue your boss has told you to address (whether it’s the candles or the general light level) is a sign that you’re not going to be able to teach them how to behave in your office, because they’ll be turning down anything they dislike enough.

          1. Scarlet2*

            THIS. I bought a bunch of really cheap ones because I don’t have a cat but I’m pretty clumsy and wary of open flames.
            They create a great effect.

          2. Dek*

            I don’t think they’re a nice compromise in this case, because to me, candles would just emphasize that the room is very dark, and it would feel, I dunno…weirdly intimate? Home fine, but office for meeting with public, not so much?

            1. EmmaPoet*

              Yes, I’d find them alarming in a standard business setting. Now, I’m totally fine with my acupuncturist having them (she says, coat smelling mildly of incense after last night’s session) but most offices aren’t the place.

    3. MassMatt*

      I rolled my eyes hard at that. It’s his first job out of college and he’s telling his manager that something very much relevant to his job is none of her business? I would start the PIP process immediately. I’d say chances of this employee turning things around are probably slim.

    4. Looper*

      Sadly, some people only learn from their own mistakes. The rest of the team’s needs also need to be considered: if he is getting significantly less walk in appointments than everyone else, that means they are stuck doing his wor because…he doesn’t want to turn on a lamp.

    5. Jules*

      I’m trying to imagine telling my first boss in my first job out of college that something was none of her business. I can’t quite get there without also imagining getting fired on the spot.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Well, there are things that are none of my boss’s business, such as prying about medical things or my personal relationships. And it is good to be able to set boundaries around those. But this guy does not understand the difference between personal issues and work issues.

    6. Walter*

      “He told his actual boss that it’s none of their business about something that is directly related to the job. “.

      Nailed it. Immediate termination for gross insubordination. Boss has already burnt more than enough cycles on this.

    7. Sprigatito*

      Yeah, I think this is a case of someone not understanding that work relationships are not like friend or family relationships. I had someone on my team a while ago who was also on their first full time job and they seemed to think that refusing to comply with requests from their manager was “setting boundaries” and “refusing to be a doormat”.

        1. S*

          Unfortunately, no, since they also decided that they also didn’t have to comply with their eventual PIP.

  4. Michelle Smith*

    I did not know for many years that I had a medical condition called photophobia. Overhead lighting is painful. Bright lighting of any kind is painful. Light from outside is painful. I wear special glasses to minimize the impact of the headaches on my ability to work and I have completely stopped driving because the headlights cause me to be temporarily blind from pain and it became too unsafe.

    I’m saying this to say that he might have a medical condition and not know it. It could be anything, from photophobia to medication sensitivity to some type of neurotypical condition that causes sensory issues. Since it’s this person’s first job, I really do think it would be a kindness to emphasize the ability to ask for medical accommodation and your commitment to keeping any information he shares confidential. He may either not know he has a medical condition that needs accommodation (or can be accommodated – I didn’t know photophobia was a thing until a manager basically forced me to be evaluated by an eye doctor because my driving to and from the office was unsafe) or may be afraid to disclose it.

    1. Observer*

      I’m saying this to say that he might have a medical condition and not know it.

      At this point it does not matter. The minute he told his boss that his office – the office in which he needs to meet with clients!- is none of their business was the minute he lost any standing for anyone to bend for him.

      Also, if he has medical condition, even if he doesn’t know *what is is*, he know that has SOMETHING going on. So he might not know why, but he would know that light give him a headache or make things blurry, etc. But that’s not what he is saying. He is saying that he just “prefers” this. That’s untenable.

      1. Oof and Ouch*

        While I agree with your point about his reaction to his boss’ request, because that was wild, I have to completely disagree with the second part of your statement.

        If it’s something related to a neurodivergence you don’t always have some kind of glaring physical sign that says “oh yes, this is a problem” like a headache or eye strain. Sometimes you just have something that feels better or just doesn’t feel as wrong.

        Neurodivergent people (of which I am one if that wasn’t clear) have a tendency to mask and learn what will and won’t be taken well, so I know it’s weird to say “look, the repeated noise from copy machine located outside my office makes my entire body tense up with a combined feeling or anger and wrongness that I know is out of proportion to the actual noise the machine is making, and if I don’t do something to mute it I will go insane.” However it’s very normal to say “oh, I prefer to work with my door closed.”

        I’m not saying all preferences can be accommodated or that they’re all the result of neurodivergence, or that the employee is neurodivergent, I’m just saying that it’s not so clear cut if that’s a factor.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          Neurodivergent people (of which I am one if that wasn’t clear) have a tendency to mask and learn what will and won’t be taken well

          That’s just part of the human experience.

          We all have to learn to adapt and react to unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable situations. Sometimes we don’t do so well. But awkwardness and self-doubt are part and parcel of being a person interacting with other people.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Not singling you out but it’s as good a place as any to add this becuase there’s a lot of it in this thread: Please remember that the commenting rules prohibit armchair diagnosing and ask that you explain how any speculation on facts not in the letter would change your advice! Thanks.

        3. Quinalla*

          Agreed, as someone who is highly sensitive, explaining my actual experience to folks who aren’t is fraught to put it mildly. My experience is that I am being assaulted by noise, that sounds over the top, but it is true. It sounds even more over the top when it is noise that seems very normal, even on the quiet to medium volume level, to a lot of folks. It is physically painful and I feel like I want to jump out of a window to get away and I often auto-block out stimuli and then when someone tries to talk to me it takes several seconds to un-block and tune back in and I act very strangely to a non-sensitive person :) And auto-blocking helps me to focus, but it is extremely draining. Similar reactions to light/smells/touch/taste, but sound is the one that happens most often. Side note, one of the BEST things about WFH is being able to have so much more control of my environment ie no strong smells, too bright of lights or too dark, lovely near silence, etc.

          Employee was WAY out of line here, but he may either know if he tries to explain it is going to sound so out there or doesn’t even know he has a thing that is very odd to others. So yeah, I don’t fault any action the LW has taken here, but I would follow Alison’s advice to make it even more clear that this is a requirement of his job and if there is a medical accommodation, etc. they can discuss, but a preference is not something you get to do when it affects your job this much.

        4. Maglev to Crazytown*

          I had a similar situation to this, in that a had a few years where something was just off about certain lighting situations, and I couldn’t articulate it. I ended up subsequently being diagnosed with epilepsy. Thankfully it only had impacted social activities at that point that I had to bow out of, rather than work. But it registered as a, “Sorry, I just can’t… I don’t know why.” Think about the classic flashing lights and epilepsy thing… stuff similar would just viscerally aggravate me in a way I could never articulate. Up until the day I had an incident that crossed the line into “I don’t think this is normal,” and leaving work early for evaluation at the ER.

        5. daeranilen*

          Exactly this – and honestly, even the outsize reaction could be coming from a place of confusion and frustration. Speaking from my own experience pre-diagnosis: many undiagnosed people are just as baffled and irritated by their struggles to do things that should be easy as the people asking them to do those things, and if you feel like you don’t have a good explanation for what’s going on, it can absolutely come out in undesirable ways. I can’t say whether John is in that same position, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind.

    2. Morgan Proctor*

      Thank you for pointing this out. Headaches are just debilitating for some people, myself included. The first time I saw a doctor about it I was in second grade. She suggested that fluorescent lights are at least partially to blame, and she was correct. I’ve tried to deal with it over the years with OTC and prescription medication, but the easiest, most effective thing is to just not be around fluorescent lighting.

      I’m not saying that’s what’s going on with this person. But it could be, they just haven’t had a diagnosis yet. Or, like many Americans, just assume that headaches are an unavoidable part of life, and they just need to deal with it. You don’t have to deal with it! Please see a doctor!

      1. 3DogNight*

        I have found indirect lighting to be a god-send. I don’t use my ceiling lights, instead I have an adjustable neck lamp that I keep to the side, and point it away from me. It’s so helpful!

      2. Texan in exile on her phone*

        Yes! Pain is not normal and it’s a legit reason to see your doctor. I didn’t get migraine painkillers until I was 40. I just thought headaches were something you got.

        (Painful periods are not normal either, BTW.)

    3. mb*

      That’s perfectly valid – but his response that how he keeps his office is not his boss’s business is, to me, a fireable offense.

    4. Mad Mac*

      I really like this response.

      I recently spoke on a panel about accommodating people with disabilities in the workplace, and one of the conversations we had was that you’re never just addressing someone’s disability in the immediate now: You’re addressing their accumulated experiences as a disabled person, from all the times they’ve been ridiculed for being different to all the times they still feel trapped in and frustrated by their own body/mind. Yes, LW’s given him plenty of chances to speak up and divulge anything that may be contributing to this behavior that looks so inexplicably hostile from the outside, but that doesn’t mean he’s not defensively hiding something he’s learned to perceive as a weakness or an “othering” element that reduces him to more of a condition and less of a person.

      Sure, reasonable accommodations might not be compatible with the nature of this work and what it requires, or he may just be a newly minted grad who thinks he knows everything and goes forth confidently wrong about it all ‘til some humbling comeuppance brings him back down to earth. But having a disability that I have fiercely (and, yeah, probably rather rudely in my lesser moments) hidden from others until I learned that I am not my diagnosis has left me feeling like if that was true for me, how true is it for other people, too?

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Ok, let’s assume that he does have this problem and is actively concealing it.

        What is OP supposed to do about it? He hasn’t asked for accommodation and she’s given him every opportunity to do so. She hasn’t asked him straight out if he needs one and there’s probably good legal reasons for that- if she’s wrong, she risks discriminating on the basis of a perceived disability.

        All he has done is insist on keeping his office too dark for clients to meet with him which is a basic part of his job. Every client that doesn’t meet with him meets someone else, increasing their workload. The current situation, his darkened office, is unacceptable. He’s offered no other suggestions, like dark glasses.

        He’s maintaining his office in a way that hurts his ability to do his job and he refuses to do otherwise or even discuss alternatives.

        And he told his supervisor this was not their business.

        So, assume he does have this condition. What should the OP do about it? She can’t let him keep it dark. He refuses to change it. He isn’t asking for medical accommodation and when directly asked why he needs to work this way, he calls it a preference. You can’t give someone a medical accommodation that they haven’t asked for as that could violate the ADA.

        What’s your solution for OP?

        1. amoeba*

          Yup, this. I mean, it’s great to accommodate people who need it. But it’s not their manager’s job to solve/diagnose their issues for them. That appears to really be a tendency in the comments here though, no matter what the problem is.
          You can’t care more than they do themselves. If they’re not interested in solving their medical issues, you as their manager are most certainly not the right person to do it for them/push them to do it. Yes, it’s great to consider that accommodations could possibly help your employees, but they do need to ask for them – you can of course make it clear that you’re open to that (as OP appears to have done), but anything beyond that would be quite overstepping.

    5. Ex-prof*

      Same. Came here to say this. I didn’t know when I was John’s age. I thought I just liked to be in the dark and had a weird distaste for sunshine. Some young people don’t pay a whole lot of attention to what’s going on with their bodies.

    6. Critical Rolls*

      If he says “I just prefer it that way” instead of “The brightness you want gives me a headache,” that’s what the LW has to operate on.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Exactly that.

        And his going back to turning the lights off, weaseling around in different ways, the candles (!), and finally openly defying his boss, are part of the aspects of the situation the OP has to work with. All of which amount to insubordination.

        He didn’t even say “I work better this way” — he said he preferred it, and tried all sorts of sly maneuvers to get what he wanted. That’s not someone you can manage.

    7. wordswords*

      This is an important and insightful comment, and I agree that it would be a valuable kindness for OP to make sure to explicitly lay out the possibility of accommodations.

      However, it sounds like it’s also important here for OP to really think about what accommodations ARE possible within the needs of the job. If John says “oh, yeah, I do get headaches from overhead lights,” but patrons are still saying that they don’t want to make an appointment with the guy in the cave — what are the options? Maybe there are some! Maybe there are “low-light room” signs and John becomes the go-to guy for patrons with sensory sensitivities too; I don’t know what the options are. But it is also possible that John’s needs may be fundamentally incompatible with the public-facing job he’s been hired for, and it’s important for OP to be very clear both with herself and (as needed) with John about what’s necessary and what’s potentially flexible with accommodations.

      1. jojo*

        I too tend to see this situation as a possible opportunity for creative, compassionate problem-solving that may help OP retain an otherwise good employee. His differences could make him valuable in ways they haven’t yet identified.

        1. Dancing Otter*

          But is he an otherwise good employee, when he told his boss his dark office was none of her business? And disobeyed direct instructions?

        2. Allonge*

          John needs to want to problem-solve though, and demonstrate it in his actions. At the very least he needs to talk about what his issue is.

          I understand the wish for people to fix things for us, but OP is John’s boss, not his parent, teacher or doctor.

        3. wordswords*

          I mean, it might be! But it might also be that John’s needs (or desires) are just genuinely incompatible with this job. I’m saying that OP might have scope for creative problem-solving that meets everyone’s needs, IF John is willing to work with her on it and IF there is indeed an option that means John pulls his weight in the job’s priority task of meeting with patrons. But the core of the job might not be compatible with having a dark cave of an office. OP needs to think about the opportunities for flexibility, yes, but also about what she really can’t budge on, and it sounds like she’s been doing that.

          (Also, importantly, so far John has shown absolutely no willingness to work with her on this. The reasons behind that might be sympathetic or not — he doesn’t know that this level of photosensitivity isn’t normal, he doesn’t know what accommodations he’s entitled to or what might help, he doesn’t realize he has to listen to his boss, he wants his office to be a cozy dorm room cave and doesn’t see why he has to listen to anyone saying otherwise, who knows — but they come down to the same result. OP can’t and shouldn’t care more about solving John’s problems than John does, or about solving John’s problems at the expense of overworked coworkers and unserved patrons. John has to change that posthaste if he wants to keep this job, regardless of the light levels in his office.)

      2. Sequoia*

        Everyone’s saying that John is rejecting all options, but I’d like to point out that he did ask to bring in lamps, but OP told him he could only if he kept the blinds open, too.

        Color temperature of light is an important thing to consider. If the overhead lights are too harsh for him, it’s entirely possible that the light from outside is also to bright and glare-y, especially if there’s snow on the ground. If he wants to bring in lamps that have a warmer, yellower light, and can keep the office lit to an acceptable level, why does he need to keep the blinds open? The clash between the colors of the outside light and his lamps might be just as unpleasant as the bright light itself.

        It sounds to me like John is trying to find something that will work, without knowing how to approach that, but OP just shuts him down. Instead of just saying “No, you can’t do that” over and over, why don’t you offer options? Window film to reduce the intensity of the outside light might be another option.

    8. Kella*

      I think there’s a good chance that this is the case BUT that’s not actually the problem here. I have been the person who had an undiagnosed disability making it difficult to do my job. If I was asked to do something that was difficult for me, even though I didn’t know why, I would either A. attempt it even though it was a struggle or B. tell my manager that I didn’t think I could do that. Sometimes I would do A once, discover how hard it was for my body to do, and switch to B the next time I was asked.

      John is doing neither of these things. He is refusing to follow OP’s instructions for the basic requirements of how to do his job and even telling OP that it’s not their business to dictate those requirements! As far as we know, John has never stated that he cannot work in a well-lit room or that his work quality suffers or ANY consequence other than he doesn’t prefer it. The fact that he doesn’t know why he has this preference (or if it’s actually a need) doesn’t matter. The problem is his refusal to work with his own manager on effectively doing his job.

    9. fhqwhgads*

      It’s still on him to say “I need this because X” not just say “I don’t wanna” or saying OK but then continue not doing it.

    10. zuzu*

      With very few exceptions, someone who needs accommodations under the ADA needs to ask for them themselves, so there’s only so much prompting the OP can do.

      Given that, it doesn’t really matter what reasons the employee may or may not have for wanting the lights out. If he’s not providing a request for medical accommodations, he has to do what his boss asks, which is keep his office lit to a reasonable standard, with or without the overhead lighting being on.

      I say this as someone who has worked in a public-facing job in windowless offices for several years now, but who also suffers from migraines triggered from the overhead lighting: most workplaces are pretty reasonable about the lights and will let you find alternate ways to light your space, even without formal accommodations, as long as you aren’t doing mushroom-farm lighting conditions.

    11. Worldwalker*

      I don’t know of any medical condition that causes someone to tell their manager that managing him is none of their business when it is literally their job.

      1. Yorick*

        Exactly. The fact that he responded this way makes me suspect it is not a medical need, but at the end of the day his attitude is the real problem. It sounds like he has never actually complied with keeping the office reasonably lit and has been testing the boundaries. He will probably end up being problematic in other areas too.

    12. MassMatt*

      “he might have a medical condition and not know it. It could be anything, from photophobia to medication sensitivity to some type of neurotypical condition that causes sensory issues. Since it’s this person’s first job, I really do think it would be a kindness to emphasize the ability to ask for medical accommodation”

      I completely disagree, this is absolutely fishing for reasons to drag this process out and make it more complicated than it needs to be. This is an office in a public facing role, the employee’s behavior and “solutions” are wildly out of step with that, and his response that it is “none of her business” even more so. The LW is a workplace supervisor, not a social worker.

      I think many of the comments are not simply armchair diagnosing, but projecting onto the employee.

  5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    Honestly – you need to have a big picture conversation with John about the requirements of the job to help determine if this is the right fit for him. Being open and accessible is a part of the job – and he can’t be that if his office is scaring away clients and making other coworkers pick up more than their fair share of the walk-ins.

    Like Alison said – you are doing him a favor by being clear on expectations, because you are teaching him the difference between college and the working world.

    1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I did wonder if the “you are not serving as many patrons, and patrons are actively resistant to making appointments with you, because of the lighting in your office” was clear in the discussions.

      I mean, if your manager unambiguously tells you that something is a requirement, you should do it. But “It’s none of your business” (aside from being wildly unprofessional) says to me that he doesn’t get why this is relevant.

      If LW DID make the reasons for the lighting clear and still got this response… that’s a heck of a thing, and probably a sign that this will not work out long term. (I’m suspicious all around that it won’t work out long term. But if he’s confused about the importance of lighting, I could MAYBE imagine it working out.)

      1. sparkle emoji*

        I do think this is a good point, it could be obliviousness on John’s part if LW hasn’t spelled out why a well-lit office is a business need. If that was made clear and he’s still insisting on complete darkness that’s a different issue.

        1. Dog momma*

          WHY do so many commenters continue to provide excuses for this behavior? whether or not this guy has real medical issues or not, this manager has been very patient with him, and has queried several times to get to bottom of this & provide accommodation if needed.
          First job or not, he’s not going to last long anywhere if he doesn’t get an attitude adjustment. Bc his co workers who are picking up the slack are probably REALLY tired of all this by now.

          1. Lacey*

            Yeah, it definitely took me a while to pick up some office norms when I was first out of college, but not the bit where the boss is… you know… in charge. That one’s pretty well known.

          2. sparkle emoji*

            I wasn’t trying to make excuses for John. I think his response to LW was awful, and he sounded unpleasant in the letter. Regardless, I do think clear and direct communication as to why keeping his office well-lit is non-negotiable is necessary. In some offices, keeping the lights off wouldn’t be an issue. It’s a problem here specifically because the role is public-facing. It seems a little bizarre that he doesn’t grasp this, but I would feel better knowing I had been clear about why he was a bad fit if I were in LW’s position and ended up firing him.

  6. Anonymato*

    Oh, Alison, I so appreciate your humor combined with solid advice. I needed the laugh today. Thank you!!! Also, I read the title first as “scaring off parrots” ;-)

    1. Quantum Possum*

      To be fair, such an office setup would probably also scare off parrots.

      I hope your day gets better.

    2. Gumby*

      I also read parrots initially and was excited to know of how an office had a need for parrots.

  7. Tinkerbell*

    OP, you may have to go in and set the office FOR him. “These blinds stay open, this overhead light stays on, you may put electric candles here and here if you like but no open flames, this is non-negotiable.” If he’s still insubordinate, then that’s its own problem!

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Why should she have to basically parent him? he’s an adult, he’s been told what to do. He has refused. At this point, why keep him? His work being good is not a reason if the whole point is to serve the public to the point other work takes a back seat.

      I’d have one more meeting where I told him, this is just the way it is, are you going to do it? If not, we will have to transition you out. Just so he knows his little quirk has consequences.

      1. Laser99*

        She shouldn’t have to do any of that. I do hate to say this, but if the LW is indeed a woman, I recommend having a man sit him down for a little chat. Two men is even better. They don’t even have to be superiors, as long as this clown believes they are.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          I disagree. Yeah, having a man or two tell him to illuminate his office might make him do it, but if he will only follow direct orders from his boss if his boss is a man, he deserves to be fired.

        2. dot*

          So she should show this guy that two random male coworkers have more authority over him than his boss?

        3. Quantum Possum*

          I don’t think this would be at all helpful.

          For one, she would be teaching her employees (and bosses, and peers) that two random men have more authority than she does.

          For another, it isn’t anyone else’s business, and she would be abdicating her management responsibilities and doing her employees a disservice.

        4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Nope, because if he won’t listen to his boss who happens to be a woman, he doesn’t have to work there anymore. Eventually he will learn — or find an all male office that let’s him sit in the dark and do whatever he wants all day long.

          1. Laser99*

            You all make excellent points. I stand by my suggestion, however, because if might narrow down if he is a chauvinistic jerk, or an everyday jerk. Either way, he doesn’t seem worth keeping around.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              If he isn’t worth keeping around either way, why should OP undermine her authority by having a man repeat what she’s saying? He needs to listen to *her* and if he doesn’t she needs to do something about it. Not bring in male proxies.

              1. Laser99*

                It would inform the way I treated him going forward. If he is sacked then it doesn’t matter, but if for some inexplicable reason they hold onto him, I would make sure he has as many women as possible telling him what to do. “Jane says to tell you the Pensky report is due by three.” “John? Beth here. It’s your turn to clean the kitchen. Don’t forget.” Yes, I am Betty Petty.

                1. Scarlet2*

                  But according to your earlier comment “if might narrow down if he is a chauvinistic jerk, or an everyday jerk. Either way, he doesn’t seem worth keeping around.”

                  So why do you need to know whether he’s sexist or not to “inform the way you treat him”? I really don’t understand what it’s supposed to achieve, except dragging the situation for no reason. If he’s a jerk, it doesn’t really matter whether he’s also a chauvinist or not…
                  Also what Green great dragon says below.

            2. Green great dragon*

              But what happens if he listens to the man? You fire him even though he’s started doing what he’s told? Or keep him around because he’s no longer doing anything fireable, having set up a precedent where LW needs a man to get her message over?

            3. Student*

              I am curious, why would you want to bother to suss out his motivations for being a jerk, instead of just letting jerk behavior have its due consequences?

              Like, did you want OP to keep him around if he’s a jerk-to-women but fire him if he’s a jerk-to-men-and-women? I’m baffled as to why you’d expect the consequences of the actions to vary between these two potential motivations. It’s not acceptable in the workplace to be a jerk-to-women.

        5. Green great dragon*

          If he hasn’t learnt the lesson that he needs to do what his boss says whatever their gender, then the kindest thing you can do to him is demonstrate now that he will get fired if he doesn’t do what his female boss says.

        6. Observer*

          but if the LW is indeed a woman, I recommend having a man sit him down for a little chat.

          Absolutely NOT! The LW should absolutely not try to borrow authority from a man. Now, depending on how their office is set up, it may be necessary for John to have a conversation with LW’s boss, whether man or woman. But the idea that he gets to listen only to men and not women? If that’s any part of the problem, he needs to be fired and told that this is why he being fired.

          There are some things you try to accommodate, especially medical stuff. But you absolutely do NOT try to accommodate raging misogyny in the workplace.

        7. Kella*

          This strategy is useful in situations where you actually have less power and authority, like at a doctor’s appointment, and so you use the privilege of someone else to help you get what you need. OP *does* have the authority here to discipline and fire him and those consequences should apply regardless of whether John’s motivations are sexist or not.

        8. Lunita*

          Absolutely not. If he won’t listen to her because he’s sexist (and there’s no evidence that’s the reason) he needs to be fired.

      2. Dog momma*

        Wondering if mom & dad just never told him NO. And he learned to push back with others just to get his own way.

      3. Rebecca*

        Stop thinking about what is fair and start thinking about what gets results. Life isn’t fair, but certain actions do get results.

        And she would not be parenting him–what an odd way to frame things! She is a supervisor who is correcting worksite non-compliances. If this were a shop floor and a male supervisor came over to move somebody’s tools that were left out in an unsafe manner, would you still say the supervisor was parenting the worker?

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Perhaps he hasn’t honed his problem-solving skills yet, which I didn’t either at that age.

    I hate florescent lights too, and natural light blocks what I can see on my monitor. So I solved that problem with four IKEA floor lamps that cost $8 each. They have that expandable paper shade with the switch you step on to turn on.

    Perhaps a visit to Amazon, IKEA or Walmart websites could happen first before anything else? Maybe there’s a compromise you haven’t both reached yet?

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yeah, I hate overhead lights so I keep them off. But I use lamps and my blinds aren’t closed all the way, and my office has actually been called “cozy” and “homey.”

      1. Polaris*

        I use lamps, but my blinds are closed if the sun is out or if its winter (and I add blankets because cold) because I need to keep my office above 60 degrees and below 95 degrees. Our windows are atrociously bad for insulation. Anyone told me the blinds stay open when that leads to a 55 or 58 degree office? Or a 95 degree one? No way. Facilities says its the landlord, the landlord says they’re fine.

        1. Observer*

          Anyone told me the blinds stay open when that leads to a 55 or 58 degree office? Or a 95 degree one? No way.

          Yeah, but then you tell your boss that “If we do that, it makes it too cold / hot for the clients.”

          That’s the key issue here – he’s making his office a place where people don’t want to be.

      2. Seahorse*

        Same, although my blinds look out onto the florescent-lit public area, not a nice meadow. Still, I have three lamps and plenty of ambient light. When patrons or coworkers come in, I always ask if they’d like me to turn the overheads on. Most people decline. I’ve gotten several compliments on my “comfortable” office, but it just has two computer chairs and standard office furniture. The only difference is the lamps.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think the light level is the key thing rather than its cause. I don’t think it matters whether it’s a lamp or an overhead light causing it but the office needs not to look like the lair of a vampire or a serial killer’s darkened basement if the public are expected to want to go into it.

          1. Seahorse*

            I guess that’s the point I was badly trying to make. :) My office is noticeably dimmer than the area around it or most of the other offices. There are effective and professional ways to avoid overheads or natural light without giving off the vampire vibe, and my willingness to accommodate other preferences for the duration of one meeting means no one is bothered. The LW has tried to compromise, but John isn’t budging. They need to meet in the middle, or John needs to go work in the dark in a new job.

          2. Maglev to Crazytown*

            I asked my employer once for a medical accomodation related to lighting, as I am severely photosensitive to certain fluorescents to the point I break out in blistering red rashes (autoimmune conditions). I wanted shielding or a different type of bulb so I didn’t burn like a lobster.

            My employer GAVE ME the type of office that the LW is describing, as an accomodation. Maintenance removed the light bulbs from my entire side of the room, which was a very large office with two partitioned offices. I was in a pitch dark batcave for about a week before our helpful admin thankfully ordered me a nice standing desk lamp to give more light. and look nice without burning me like a lobster.

            1. sparkle emoji*

              Thanks for detailing what these kinds of accommodations could look like. In the letter, I thought that the offices sounded like they had plenty of options for light sources if fluorescents were an issue.

      3. The Unfrazzled Project Manager*

        Same. Overhead fluorescent lights give me migraines, and I generally hate overhead lights. I was lucky to have my own office during most of my an-office career (I WFH now) and always brought in a ton of lamps. So many people commented on how nice my office felt. It was the lamps- which put out a lot of light. I was not sitting in a dim bat cave. None of them were expensive lamps either- but the light sure changed the mood of the room. I would have asked for an ADA accommodation if a boss ever insisted that I keep the overheads on, but that never happened because I was not a rude weirdo about it, and I also had plenty of light.

    2. Lab Boss*

      It doesn’t help John’s insubordination issue, but my boss found a great solution for her issues with fluorescent lights that several of us have copied: You can buy these blue rectangles of a plastic-ish fabric, they feel something like a shower curtain and have magnets around the border. They can be stuck onto the frame of a fluorescent ceiling fixture to filter the harsh light. My whole office is now lit in a slightly dim, cool blue light (still full room-brightness, but less harsh than raw white and less uninviting than dim black).

        1. Redwinemom*

          I looked this up on Amazon ((‘m not the person who suggested these), and found both solid blue covers, and even these that look like clouds and sky.

          1. Lab Boss*

            Those are just the things- I mean, I don’t know the brand as I was given my boss’ leftovers, but the look of them is just right. Now I’m a little disappointed she bought plain blue, it might be worth going out of my own pocket to upgrade to clouds. Thanks for doing the legwork to find what I meant :)

      1. Name Anxiety*

        Bought these for library programs that were geared towards including families with sensory issues. I wanted to just leave them up all the time :) They worked great.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          Please do leave the filters up if possible! For one, they tend to make things better for lots of people and worse for no one. And for another, speaking as the parent of two kids with sensory challenges, it is REALLY helpful to have spaces we know will be sensory friendly all the time.

    3. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      Yeah, maybe the way the office is set up (desk/monitor position) and how the light hits that particular window at certain times is bothering him and he can’t really articulate it. Now that I’m in my 40’s, I can more clearly identify, “This light is stabbing me in the eyeballs at certain times of the day,” instead of, “It’s too bright in here in general.”

      Is the natural light absolutely necessary? I don’t enjoy it either (see: stabbing me in the eyeballs) but I can handle other types of light, especially coming from other directions. I can’t imagine that if it’s well lit, even if the blinds are closed, people would avoid his office.

      (I’m also kind of jealous about looking out over a meadow and a forest, though. I have a very boring interstate retaining wall I look out on, so I have no incentive to keep my blinds open.)

    4. The New Wanderer*

      I think if John were reasonable, this would be a good suggestion. But the LW already allowed him to bring in his own lamps and they are still dim enough that the overall light level in his office is just too low for clients to feel comfortable approaching him.

      John may be “generally good” at parts of his job, but not at some key elements like taking on feedback and serving clients at a rate comparable to coworkers. And the best LW can say about his work is that it’s generally good? It sounds like he’s not the right person to invest a lot of effort in trying to make successful at a bad fit job. The sooner John is managed out, the better for both John and LW.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Yeah, I feel like “generally good” is a pretty low bar. How many other people in the applicant pool would be “generally good” at their jobs, including maintaining a welcoming office space? Probably lots.

    5. Nea*

      We’ve had people at a previous office solving that with sunshades over their desks and, for serious light sensitivity, sunglasses.

    6. WillowSunstar*

      Yeah, florescent lights can cause migraines and it’s possible he’s young enough that the connection hasn’t been made yet. But then he’d need to put a regular lamp or two in the room.

      1. Laser99*

        Fluorescents give me migraines as well. I would loooooove a dim office. You know what I else I love? Staying employed.

    7. Observer*

      Perhaps a visit to Amazon, IKEA or Walmart websites could happen first before anything else?

      Why would the OP do anything like that? If John wants this, then he needs to get on line, find what he wants / needs and then ask the OP if they could be purchased. Under any circumstances it would be ridiculous for the OP to do the shopping for him. Under these circumstances, where the OP has no idea what this guy actually needs or wants (other than darkness) it’s just not even something to think about.

      Maybe there’s a compromise you haven’t both reached yet?

      Sure. But that’s completely on John at this point. If he has an issue he needs to act like an adult an use his words. He can’t say that “I don’t wanna” and expect that to stick. And that is exactly what he is doing. Not only did he tell his boss that it’s none of their business (!) he also claims that it’s fine because that’s what he prefers, with no reasons.

      There is no way to reach a compromise with someone like that.

    8. ferrina*

      That was my first thought too, but then we got to the part where John was saying “that’s none of your business” when it sounds like the OP had pretty clearly said “this is something that patrons are complaining about, and part of your job is being welcoming to patrons” (OP, I’m hoping you stated that very, very clearly and didn’t sugar coat anything).

      If this was a lighting issue, yes, I empathize. But when John’s saying “you can’t tell me what to do!” to the boss, that’s an insubordination issue. John is failing at a core component of his job (being welcoming to the public) and is being defiant and/or petulant when told he needs to improve this. The logistical fix is simple (Ikea, Target, Amazon); the underlying attitude is up to John.
      (side note: it is possible that the overhead lights are painful and the sunlight is uncomfortable and John doesn’t have the money to provide alternate lighting. He’s inexperienced enough that he might not know how to address this. If boss is being really nice, they could give John a budget to purchase his own lighting with some guidance on what is to be purchased.)

    9. I Have RBF*

      IIRC, they now make drop in LED replacements for fluorescent light tubes. The don’t have the flicker, IIRC.

      But if he needs different light for accommodations, he needs to articulate what the problem seems to be, and work with his boss and facilities to get light that does not cause problems but is still lit well enough to be welcoming for patrons.

      I’ve been in (open plan) offices where there were no shades on the windows, and the glare on my monitor was horrific. I solved it by getting a glare filter for my monitor and shade screens for the windows (you could still get light through them, but they cut down the glare.)

      But he needs to be willing to work with the LW and articulate what the problem is, not dig in his heels and bring in candles (!!!!!) for light.

      1. Orv*

        The drop in replacements only work with electronic ballasts, not magnetic ones, so may not be an option depending on how old the fixtures are.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Before my unit got sent to remote work – they converted our floor to LED ballasts and bulbs. So much easier on all our eyes than the old fluorescent bulbs. Another team moved into our space eagerly when we went remote.
        The organization is switching out all the fluorescent tubes as facility budget permits.

    10. Dulcinea47*

      She said he can bring lamps (not candles!) from home… hopefully he understands he’s free to buy what he wants. It kinda sounds like it’s not about the quality of the overhead lighting, it’s just that he wants it dim, like some people *do* keep their homes, esp. if they’re on the computer or watching TV. He needs to get it through his head that that’s not a professional option.

    11. ampersand*

      I don’t think not having found a compromise yet is the issue. It’s more the part where he told LW how he works is none of their business and isn’t trying very hard (or at all) to arrive at a solution to a problem that has been identified as a problem.

      I’m 100 percent sure if my manager–and even/especially in my first job–told me that I had to do X thing, I would have done it. If I wasn’t able, I would have provided a reason and tried to find a compromise then. That’s what reasonable people do. This guy isn’t sounding reasonable. He’s not even really making an effort.

    12. Dust Bunny*

      We can turn our overhead lights off **if** we have another (safe) light source that keeps our offices from looking like caves. And if he’s getting glare on his computer screen he can address that by rearranging the office. (The blinds on our outside windows stay closed to block sunlight and heat, and the interior glass panels in our offices don’t have blinds.)

      But if you have a public-interaction role, you have to be willing to make yourself approachable to whatever community you serve. That’s just how it works. A big part of our patronage at my job skews older and a bit conservative, and I’ve decided I like the job more than I want to dye my hair blue and wear my septum ring at work (at least when patrons are here).

      I mean, I like a dark room, too, but that’s not who I get to be at work.

  9. Nonprofit Pro*

    Would a middle ground where he has a couple of table or standing lamps and maybe a friendly sign on his door welcoming people in be an option?

    I do my work much better in a lower light environment and bright light bouncing off my screen or overhead florescents give me eye strain and I’m more tired at the end of the day. it’s the sort of thing that would never cross my mind to refer to as needing an accomodation though and doesn’t feel like it’s quite a medical need. maybe that’s what is happening here? Especially with it being his first job out of college, he might not know the way to navigate talking about this with his manager.

    Or he’s a clueless jerk. Even odds.

    1. MK*

      I think it’s worth asking if he is in fact welcoming people in, or if he is using the darkness to avoid doing a part of the job he dislikes.

      1. ferrina*

        if he is using the darkness to avoid doing a part of the job he dislikes

        This is a real possibility and can be happening at a really subconscious level.

      2. not nice, don't care*

        I had a coworker who absolutely was rude/unwelcoming on purpose to avoid unwanted workplace interactions.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. I have a feeling it’s not *just* the darkness that’s making patrons avoid him. Anyone who tells his own boss “it’s none of your business” must give off a-hole vibes.

    2. king of the pond*

      It could easily be a bit of both. Even if it’s something that is essentially a medical accommodation that he doesn’t realize is one, he’s still being rude by saying it’s none of OP’s business. Assuming OP gave him a chance to explain, that would have been the time for the employee to go “I understand it’s important to be welcoming, but I legitimately struggle to see my screen” etc etc, at which case OP would probably have gone “oh, that’s different, we can work out a solution.”

      1. UKDancer*

        Absolutely. I am happy to discuss any number of reasonable adjustments for my staff, get them (within reason) whatever kit they need to do their jobs effectively and happily but there needs to be some form of discussion to make sure it’s going to work for the office as well as for the individual before adjustments are made (especially if it involves us buying particular furniture / equipment etc). I don’t need to know all the medical details but it can help in working out specific adjustments for someone to explain in general terms why they need them.

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Even a sign would not work if the feeling is creepy dark office. A sign doesn’t change that. You just wonder WHY you are being welcomed — like what is hiding in there?

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes and the people wanting to have the meetings need to feel comfortable. I wouldn’t want to have meetings in a creepy dark office either, I’d be wondering what the person was hiding. If you’re in a job that involves dealing with the public and having meetings with them then you may need to accept that their needs are important and you may need to do what they prefer rather than what you prefer.

        1. Dulcinea47*

          People can’t actually see well in the dark, esp. if they’re coming into it from a normally lit place. If they need to refer to any printed materials this is yet another reason why dark office is not okay.

          1. Dog momma*

            And if I was a client and fell/ injured myself in the bat care, you’d be hearing from my lawyer.

    4. Yeah...*

      “Would a middle ground where he has a couple of table or standing lamps and maybe a friendly sign on his door welcoming people in be an option?”

      Where would a table or standing lamps be located in reference to the dark office?

      As long as the room is dark, I am not going in.

    5. Tupac Coachella*

      Never underestimate the power of a welcoming sign. In my last job I was expected to be available for drop ins, but rarely got any despite having a clearly communicated both literal and figurative open door policy. Then one day I had to keep my door closed because of construction noise, so I put up a sign that said “I’m here! Knock and come in.” I had more foot traffic that day than I’d had for a long time. I started making a habit of it, as an experiment, and sure enough more people stopped by on days when I had my door closed and a cheerful “come in” note than when it was wide open. Some would even say “your door said to come in, so…” This suited me fine, because I actually prefer a closed door for focus and privacy, but always thought an open door was more welcoming…who even reads signs, right? Apparently the population I serve (college students) prefers you say it in words.

      That being said, John’s reaction suggests MK might be right-the lack of traffic could be a feature, not a bug, of his design scheme.

      1. Jessica*

        Wow, that is fascinating. My experience has been the exact opposite, that whatever you put on a sign, it doesn’t speak as loudly as an open/closed door. I am impressed with the reading comprehension tendencies at your college!

    6. Observer*

      Would a middle ground where he has a couple of table or standing lamps and maybe a friendly sign on his door welcoming people in be an option?

      Well, the OP *did* give him permission to bring in lamps, but he chose to keep them very dim. And even the “friendliest” sign is not going to outweigh that.

      Give that the OP actually asked him what’s up and he wouldn’t give an answer *and* he told the OP that his office is none of OP’s business, I don’t think it can be anything but immature brat or jerk.

  10. Just Want A Nap*

    I too hate the usual office fluorescent lights, they’re crimes against my eyeballs…
    You gave John options (natural light, bring lamps from home), but it makes your patrons uncomfortable and this IS a public facing position.
    I hope you’re clear with him and he either decides to get with the program, or find a position he’s better suited for.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I too hate bright fluorescent lights (does anyone actually like them) but let me say as someone who regularly sings in a choir by candlelight, you end up with a lot more eye strain at the end of the day!

      1. Maybe Not Entirely a Lurker*

        Considering the sheer volume of the laugh this elicited from me, it’s a good thing I’m working from home today! I mean, Quantum Possum’s question was funny, but Blarg your answer made me quite literally LOL!!

    1. Kes*

      I was thinking vampire. OP… have you ever seen him outside, and if so does he sparkle in the sunlight?

      I would give real advice as well but I think Alison and others already have and OP is handling it pretty well so far. At the end of the day, this is a work requirement, which you know is already affecting his ability to do his job since patrons are reluctant to go into the dark to get help from him. It’s good to work with him to find something that works where possible but he needs to work with you to find a solution that also meets your requirements, which it doesn’t entirely sound like he is doing so far.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        I also thought vampire. Can vampirism be accommodated as a medical issue? Next let’s do a letter about a werewolf advocating for more dog-friendly workplaces!

        1. UKDancer*

          I think it could be accommodated but it would depend on the job and the type of vampirism. So there was a TV series about a vampire police officer which was called “Forever Knight” where the vampire worked the night shift due to his “sunlight allergy” and had a “special diet” due to his medical issues. He didn’t tell his bosses he was a vampire but he was able to negotiate reasonable adjustments. Other vampires in the series tend to work in vampire owned businesses.

          I think self employment might be better though for vampires, in a lot of other TV series the vampires are self employed (e.g. Henry Fitzroy in Blood Ties is an author, Mick St John in Moonlight is a PI).

          1. Storm in a teacup or pot*

            Isn’t there a series of books where the lead character is an accountant who gets turned into a vampire and simply continues his job as an accountant?

            1. Freya*

              Frankly, I can see a lot of clients finding an accountant who works and takes meeting outside ‘business hours’ incredibly useful – much easier to see an accountant external to your business if you don’t have to find coverage for the meeting time!

              1. GythaOgden*

                Or a HR vampire who takes interviews after dark…sorry, after business hours. Very useful!

              2. Warrior Princess Xena*

                I recall at some point reading a short story about a former safecracker who decided to turn CPA and help other criminals get around being caught by the IRS. It was incredibly funny.

            2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

              Yes, and it’s by a favorite author. The full title is “The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant”

    2. H.Regalis*

      This is immediately where I went as well XD Got about halfway through the letter before I was like, “BATMAN! He’s Batman!!” although I guess he could be Eric the Vampire from Johnny the Homicidal Maniac/I Feel Sick.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Oh man that brings back memories! I used to read those comics in high school, they were awesome.

        Disturbing yes but that’s what made them awesome.

    3. Heidi*

      The idea of Batman in a public facing job feels weird. I mean, what would his customer service voice sound like?

    1. Dulcinea47*

      same, I really want to know the outcome of this! Does young man turn on the lights? Discover clinical light sensitivity problem? Or get canned!?

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes! Hopefully this will be a “oh god I was so stupid when I was 22” letter in the future, we’ve all been there.

  11. Alan*

    Reminds me of a friend from my 20s who absolutely could not hold down a job. He was very bright, but everywhere he went he had a problem with the management: “I don’t have to put up with them telling me what to do.” Job after job. He eventually just left the job market entirely and was supported by his family. It was too bad. He really was bright and capable, he just refused to take direction.

    1. Stitch*

      I’ve nicknamed that behavior ‘Poe Dameron Syndrome’, or “I know better than my managers and company veterans!”

      1. triss merigold*

        At least in this case (unlike the vice admiral) OP laid out why her employee can’t do this instead of keeping him… in the dark.

        I’m sorry, I’ll see myself out.

    2. Emily*

      Very sad, but unfortunately it sounds like he was being enabled by his family if they just decided to financially support him when he couldn’t hold down a job (it’s likely where he got the entitled attitude from in the first place).

      1. allathian*

        Exactly. Lots of young people have issues with authority. The vast majority learns to deal with them because they have to. I suspect that wanting to be their own boss is a significant motivator for most people who start their own businesses. Only a tiny minority can survive without having to work.

    3. ferrina*

      This was my dad. It was well known that he had issues with authority but he was really charismatic. He could come across as very charming and was very likeable in small doses, but couldn’t maintain that long-term. He’d start strong, make a bunch of friends, then slowly disappoint/neglect/blame all the friends until he had nothing left. It usually took a year or two for him to be universally disliked, then a few years after that he’d be fire (unless he did something stupid and was fired quicker). He was very bright but hated being told what to do. He got fired/laid off from job after job. Finally in his late 50s he figured out that part-time positions with a set end date were the best fit for him.

      His job record is pretty consistent with other aspects of his life. He’s a constant victim in his own mind and absolutely refuses to take accountability from anyone else. He likes to blame his “old mind”, which he’s been doing since his mid-30s. He is still wicked smart, just prefers to be stupid so he doesn’t have to be considerate. Still extremely charismatic and a lot of fun in small doses, but I pity anyone that has to interact with him long term (I’m VLC and it’s great!)

      1. H.Regalis*

        @ferrina – I would swear this is an ex-friend of mine if it weren’t for the age difference and having kids. Ugh, these fucking people.

      2. MJ*

        Do we have the same father? My dad wound up starting his own business where he could take advantage of the short term charisma with clients without having a boss to piss off, so he managed to make it work. But any time he had to report to someone or has a client he needs to work with very regularly over the long term, he had/has pretty much the same pattern, except he would quit about half the time without anything lined up because he had a problem with management.

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        I have a friend with that, and it definitely makes things challenging, though ironically he’s been perfectly happy as an assistant manager in a local supermarket (I suspect it makes him more popular with the cashiers, because he’s psychologically incapable of giving in to “the customer is always right” types!). For him, it manifests more when it’s his own demands he’s got to meet – he really needs solid routine to prevent being triggered by telling himself he needs to leave for work right now etc. It took him until his 20s to really grasp how it was affecting his life and work out his best coping strategies, and I think being diagnosed as a kid really helped him slot the puzzle pieces into place in a way that a lot of adults can’t. That and realising his previous workplace was toxic; a very classic AAM “I need to solve this problem with myself, what do you mean the fact my boss insults me to my face suggests the problem isn’t me?” scenario!

    4. A Simple Narwhal*

      My dad is like that too, though not quite that bad, I’ll preface by saying he is at least (apparently) very good at his job, it’s always seemed easy for him to find work, even now as a semi-retired older man. But he’ll share stories about sassing his boss and coworkers, refusing assignments he doesn’t want, plus other similar Main Character anecdotes, and when I was younger I’d be like “yea your boss sucks, you showed all of them!”. And then over the years as I matured and grew my own career those stories hit very differently, it was weird to realize my dad might be a difficult/bad employee.

      I know everyone has the realization that their parents are human but that was a particularly hard one.

      1. Elbe*

        Apparently, a lot of people had very similar experiences when they were in Covid lockdown with their families. They started realizing that their parents/spouse/sibling/SO/friends were awful employees or the office bullies.

        1. Alan*

          Yeah, now that you mention it, my family occasionally heard me have arguments with people at work during covid and commented that I’m very direct, not so much with my team but with outside managers trying to push inappropriate work or risk onto my team. I hope that this never crossed the line into bullying, it’s just that sometimes I need to hold the line of what my team can deal with, and what we *should* be dealing with, and that sometimes manifested in very firm boundaries.

    5. Csethiro Ceredin*

      My ex did this too. As far as I know he has been unemployed for at least 15 years, despite being very smart and a quick learner.

  12. Buffy will save us*

    I get migraines from overhead fluorescent lights and often find the sun to be too bright. However, I also work in management where I need people to be able to come into my office and not feel like they are in a cave. I have magnetic covers for the overhead lights that dim the light enough to make it palatable. I close the blinds going up so the light comes in but to the ceiling and not my face area. These are reasonable accommodations. Sitting in the dark and making other people adapt are not.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – he has options to keep the light level where it is comfortable to him but inviting to the public. So far he isn’t taking them, indicating he needs accommodations.

      Since he’s just out of college sounds like he probably needs to learn the art of compromise.

      1. Lisa*

        It sounds like he needs to learn “how to job”, because telling your boss that something in the workplace is none of their business is not done.

    2. Jezebella*

      I am also a migraineur and cannot tolerate a bunch of fluorescent lights. If that’s his problem, he COULD ask for an accommodation, but also: telling people you have migraines can be a real problem. A lot of people don’t really believe in migraines, or think it’s “just a headache,” and personally I have gotten a lot of shit from managers who thought I was a malingerer and not a person with an actual chronic neurological disorder.

      So maybe he doesn’t want to disclose this, or he thinks it would only hurt him, not help him. Maybe he’s being a turd, but let’s acknowledge the fact that an office full of fluorescents feels like an assault to a lot of people.

      1. Observer*

        A lot of people don’t really believe in migraines, or think it’s “just a headache,

        Which is true and stupid. But not really relevant here. I have very little doubt that if John told the LW that the lights give him “headaches”, they would work with him to figure out what kinds of lights would work for him. Because they already gave him permission to bring his own lamps, so he could have brought in lamps that are reasonably light but highquality LED that doesn’t flicker. And that’s not what he did.

        1. Allonge*

          Yes, while there is an objective difference between migraines and headaches, it’s unlikely that in this particular situation the difference is meaningful.

          It could be migraines, plain old headaches, eye issues, light sensitivity or something else, or a mixture of the above – John still needs to talk about it more than ‘nunya beeswax’.

      2. Yvette*

        Anyone who thinks a migraine is “just a headache,” has never had one. And deserves to experience it first hand.

        1. Laser99*

          Agree 100%. I would describe it as fiery nails driven and into your skull, for anyone fortunate enough not to have ever had one.

        2. A Simple Narwhal*

          I’ve been fortunate enough to only have had migraines once in my life when I was very very sick, and I simultaneously thought I was dying and sincerely hoped I was. It felt like I had a white-hot railroad spike burrowed in my brain and it was trying to dig its way out through the back of my eyes.

          I have friends that suffer from them now and I have so much sympathy for them. Fortunately most in our friend group our similarly understanding so if we ever come across someone who isn’t they immediately get the smackdown.

      3. Kevin Sours*

        Maybe he doesn’t want to disclose. But he is obligated to. He current behavior is causing legitimate problems and he’s offered no compelling reason for persisting in it. Nor has he engaged in any discussion that could lead to an accommodation that would satisfy his needs and the needs of the business.

    3. Observer*

      Also, LED lights tend to flicker a lot less. And if you are really sensitive, you generally can find LEDS that are still ok. Yes, they tend to be more expensive, but for people who have an issue with even the slight flicker, it’s well worth it. And I would say that it’s an absolutely reasonable accommodation – the bulbs are not THAT expensive.

  13. Roo*

    Sound advice, as ever. I’m a fairly brave person but even I would think twice about heading alone into an office with that setup. It sounds batsh*t crazy (though we must hope not literally). Lit candles?!

    Sadly, I suspect that John will double-down on this nonsense and the LW will have to end up firing him. A shame, as they sound like a great boss.

  14. AnonAnonAnon*

    Is there any chance he is sensitive to fluorescent lights? They cause headaches in a number of people. I had a direct report affected by this – we bought covers for the overhead lights that mitigate the problem.

      1. Que*

        FWIW, I often have trouble with specific types of natural light in addition to fluorescents and overheads. Bright, cloudy, filtered natural light hurts my eyes and gives me migraines. I wear sunglasses even on cloudy days. But I’ve fixed this for myself by putting warm-colored light-filtering (but not -blocking) curtains over my windows and filling my spaces with lamps and string lights for more warm, bright, non-overhead light. It took me a few years to figure out that I needed this setup, let alone to finetune it. I wouldn’t rule it out as option for what’s going on here.

    1. HonorBox*

      While that’s a definite possibility, it sounds like LW offered an opportunity for him to express the ‘why’ for his preference. That would have been the perfect chance for him to offer this kind of sensitivity. LW can’t speculate with him on why he might not like the lights on. If he needs to make adjustments to allow compliance, he needs to bring those up.

    2. CTT*

      If he needs an accommodation, he needs to say that, not “you don’t have any business telling me how to work in my office.”

    3. Llama Llama*

      It’s entirely possible but he needs to communicate that when directly asked instead of saying ‘I prefer it this was’ or ‘you can’t tell me what to do!!’.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      Honestly, it sounds like light headaches. I don’t tend to turn lights on at home when I’m working unless I have to for that reason. But if that’s the case, he needs to say it’s a medical thing and not “nunya business.” Geez.

    5. Emily*

      The LW said they asked him to help them understand what the problem was, and he said he just preferred it that way. If it was an issue of sensitivity to fluorescent lights or some other type of medical issue, then he should have raised it, but he did not. Instead he just said that he “prefers it that way” which is not a legitimate reason.

      1. duinath*

        yep. i prefer to drink sparkling wine in heels and lingerie, but sadly i must accept that this is hardly ever a practical thing to do, and my preference must be put aside. kind of weird that he’s gotten through college without learning that lesson, but it looks like he’s about to learn or he’s about to lose his job, and if he keeps putting his preference before the requirements of his job that’s just gonna keep happening.

        1. EmF*

          Drinking sparkling wine in heels isn’t practical, you’re right. Too much danger of spraining an ankle – drink the wine in sensible shoes so your tipsy balance will be better!

    6. Observer*

      Is there any chance he is sensitive to fluorescent lights?

      Then why did he insist on bringing very dim lights when given permission? And then refuse to explain why he wants to be in a bats cave?

      That’s a key piece of this. The LW is clearly trying to make this work and giving him as much opportunity as possible to fix whatever the problem is. And he’s saying “You can’t tell me what to do!”

    7. Martin Blackwood*

      I feel like, WRT “does this guy have some photosensitive issue” is that there’s a variety of things that can cause that….and sure, maybe it’s eyestrain, or headaches/migraines, or migraines without headaches, or contributing to sensory overload……but if he hasn’t identified it, it would be *way* too intrusive for his boss to run down the list of possibilities! Like, probably the worst person to try and figure out your health issues for you! I’m kinda surprised by the people implying they’d be okay with their boss digging into undisclosed (even if they are undiagnosed) medical conditions.

      1. Observer*

        but if he hasn’t identified it, it would be *way* too intrusive for his boss to run down the list of possibilities! Like, probably the worst person to try and figure out your health issues for you!

        Totally this.

        If the OP were coming to complain that John wants *different* lighting that could still be welcoming, that would be one thing, and I would certainly be on Team “Let him have his lights”. But, given what John wants and his refusal to provide any information, there really is nothing the OP can do in that direction.

  15. Blarg*

    I mean, I get headaches from overhead fluorescent lights – the buzzing and flickering is awful. So like a normal person, I have done things like brought in floor lamps so I didn’t need to turn on the overhead lights. And unless I had a south facing window that got direct sunlight and heated up the room so much it was intolerable, I cannot imagine shutting out natural light!

    This just seems so weird, and bizarre that he is pushing back so fiercely.

    I once briefly explored getting a chandelier for an office where the maintenance staff was particularly fun to work with, but alas, the ceilings were just too low for it.

    1. Saturday*

      Such an odd response to being told he needs to let in more light. I imagine exactly zero clients would choose to go into the weird candlelit office when they could choose a different one.

      1. ABC*

        A dark office filled with candles would make me think, “Surely they’re not actually doing human sacrifices in here, right?”

      2. Hohumdrum*

        Oh I mean I honestly would be much more attracted to a candlelit office than a regular one, but then I am afflicted with Latent Goth Tendencies so there’s that.

    2. Nea*

      I was ready to give him points for cleverness until I realized they weren’t battery candles. I don’t even know John and I’m freaking out about what could have happened if one fell over.

      Also, and I am speaking from experience, clothing and hair can catch fire shockingly easily. John’s lucky he didn’t torch his office or a customer!

    3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      This is the detail that convinces me the employee is being a smartass, not genuinely trying to find a compromise.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        Like he thinks he’s the hero of an 80’s movie where the plucky, iconoclastic hero bests the villainous boss, principal, or commanding officer with his innate awesomeness.

  16. Christina*

    Before I started working remotely, my seat neighbor in our cubicle farm managed to get our manager to agree to turn off the overhead florescent light above their cubicle because they didn’t like the glare and claimed it hurt their eyes and thus needed a medical accommodation. Unfortunately, that was the main light source for my cubicle also so I then had to sit in darkness too and it really affected my mood. haha (yes, I had a lamp, but it was not bright enough to make up for the lack of overhead lighting). All this to say that the lovers of dark and the lovers of light are implacable foes, just like the people who want the AC set on 60 and the ones who want it set on 80. Best of luck to the OP in trying to get him to change. Sounds like he needs a remote job in another field.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      In an ideal world, every working space would be divided into dark/light and cold/hot quadrants, and you’d get to take your pick. I’ll take cold and dark, please.

      1. Nea*

        I actually suggested that the last time they were rearranging desks at my old office. And for a while it worked – they turned off the overhead lights in one section and left them on in the other.

        1. ferrina*

          I love this solution! For a time, I worked in an office that did this and I sat in the borderline between the two sections. I loved it- I’m constantly fiddling with my workspace (ADHD), so I could tilt myself toward the light as needed and toward the dark as needed.

      2. TX_Trucker*

        We have a dark and light section in our office – it’s great! Sadly, the temperature wars are ongoing. And everyone loses due to crappy HVAC. It’s a roll of the dice if it will be a cold or hot day.

    2. Jezebella*

      You say “claimed it hurt their eyes” as if you don’t believe them. Why would you not believe someone who is having trouble with awful lighting? Why else would they complain? There’s like no other reason to want to get away from bright lights other than “I find this painful/uncomfortable/migraine-inducing.”

      This is why I hate to disclose my migraine condition to managers.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Honestly, I’d say because from the letter he said he “didn’t know why he just preferred it that way” and then went right to “it’s none of your business how I prefer my lighting” when in fact it very much is the boss’s business, esp when it affects his coworkers and the patrons. I would not be inclined to work with someone who said that.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Jezebella is asking Christina about a former coworker of Christina’s, not about the letter.

      2. bighairnoheart*

        This feels a little nitpicky of language. I understand what you’re getting at, but using the word “claimed” doesn’t always mean that, and there’s nothing else about the comment that suggests Christina didn’t believe her coworker, just that she was annoyed by the result.

      3. Myrin*

        Christina probably had a much deeper insight into the situation than what she put in this comment (e. g. the coworker outright admitted to just making their reasons up, there was other stuff going on with them which makes this being untrue more likely, etc.).

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I dealt with that person too. The problem was that we were denied lamps in our cubes due to the age of the building (it’s actually a registered WPA project, it’s had several updates to the electrical but it still can’t handle the number of plugs that a new building does). On my side was the fact that I had two other cube mates that also wanted a slightly higher lighting level due to the projects we were all working on. The no light person didn’t want to compromise with us – we really needed more light than pure dark due to the high detail in our workload – it was a mess. In the end our person quit rather than move desks to an area that was darker than the level of light the other three of us needed.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I will say our lights we dimmable LED panels instead of the standard fluorescent overhead lights. And we were asking for 70% illumination, she wouldn’t accept anything above 30%.

      2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Amazing. You must all do what I want and I don’t have to make any changes. This is not an attitude for a professional workplace.

    4. Llama Llama*

      I had a really migraine prone because of light team. We had an open office space and it was bright! So our department manager moved us the ‘darkest’ place possible (ie beside a wall). We didn’t have a choice about the overhead lights though

    5. Lorac*

      I also work in a cubicle farm and my work just hands out Ikea LÖVA leaf canopies. Anyone can request one and you see them mounted everywhere for people who want to shade out overhead light.

  17. Nea*

    I have worked with so many people whose ideal is to have no light whatsoever – it’s incredibly popular and I don’t know why. John would thrive as a software developer.

    Perhaps you could suggest that as a new career when-not-if he fails his PIP, because right no matter how good he is at other parts of the job, he is both failing his customer service goals *and* repeatedly refusing to comply with direct orders *and* rules-lawyering his way out of even partial compliance. Even if he had a medical need to dwell in darkness, the accommodation doesn’t cover refusing to deploy the soft skills necessary for his most important tasking.

    1. Sloanicota*

      “when-not-if he fails his PIP” – agree on this. My only suggestion was to edit the phrasing of “If you don’t, the next step would be starting formal disciplinary action, the consequences of which could include firing you.” – this is one to many “coulds” to me – “we will have to start a formal disciplinary action and fire you” is clearer – because it sounds like OP is absolutely going to fire him if he doesn’t turn on the lights.

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        I would disagree about saying “ we will have to start a formal disciplinary action AND fire you” (all caps mine) because the ‘and’ is not accurate.

        LW would be saying We will have to start a formal disciplinary action, with the most severe outcome being firing you, and I’m telling you so you understand the stakes. I’m not saying I WILL fire you, because if you comply with the plan then I won’t need to escalate to firing you, but I need you to be clear that not complying is a fireable offense (as opposed to, say, something that is my personal preference but not that big a deal, or a style disagreement, or anything else low-stakes that gets forgotten).

    2. Pescadero*

      “I have worked with so many people whose ideal is to have no light whatsoever – it’s incredibly popular and I don’t know why”

      IME – it’s totally normal in tech. When I was working as a computer engineer at Intel – I’d guess about 90% of engineers and designers had it as dark as they could make it.

      1. Nea*

        That statistic is born out by my personal experience – but as a tech writer who thinks surgical theaters are too dark, it’s… a challenge.

        Currently I’m working in an office lit only by emergency lighting but there are three lamps on my desk and I’m by a window.

        1. Ginger Baker*

          “ but as a tech writer who thinks surgical theaters are too dark, it’s… a challenge.” THANK YOU, finally a kindred spirit on this front! I, too, just want More Light in almost every scenario (unless I’m outside in the sun, in which case I love the light BUT need to be physically situated in the shade and enjoy the view from there!)

      2. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, it’s pretty common in tech, along with certain types of neurodivergence. I’ve worked with people who only have the glare from their monitor for light, and they want it that way. I’m a “indirect light, not sunlight or glare” person, but I can’t work in complete dark.

        I WFH now, so the light war are a thing of the past for me. But open plan offices and certain types of neurodivergence just don’t mix well, with light and noise being the two major issues. IMO, open plan offices are designed for neurotypical extroverts who get energized by being around talky people in brightly lit settings.

        The last open plan I was in we had some conflict in our area because of the brightness of the overheads that the maintenance staff would always put up to full, that we would then have to see-saw through too-dark and too-light until we got comfortable again. Then some manager from another area would come over, decide our area was “too dark” and report a light problem to maintenance, then lather, rinse, repeat.

        But this guy works with the public in an enclosed office. He needs to be willing to put out the welcome mat by having the office well enough lit that people are comfortable in it, and he isn’t. Then he makes matters worse by copping an attitude with his boss.

        1. GythaOgden*

          TBH as neurodivergent if I tried to self-select out of open offices I’d be out of a job — the UK has few if any places that aren’t now generally open plan, and even legacy places with smaller offices have been subdivided into shared offices (which are the worst of both worlds IMO).

          However, I think neurodivergence doesn’t dictate what someone likes in that sort of specific detail. My neurodivergence ends up with claustrophobia in small spaces and certainly, while it’s amazing in so many other ways and I wouldn’t give it up, WFH has made me into a complete hermit and I’m struggling to adjust to a completely sedentary situation rather than having the commute to get in my exercise, fresh air, sunlight etc. As spring approaches, I may well get better light and more opportunities to get out during the evening, but it’s been a bit claustrophobic over the winter, particularly because although I bought a standard lamp for the end of the drawing room that I work from, I ended up needing help to screw in the rod that keeps it upright to the base. I live alone and the people who could help aren’t often in the position to do so and I would rather sit in the dark than let my mother into the house to help me. (I love her to bits but she has a funny approach to boundaries and need to steel myself before asking if I don’t want her to come in and whirl about all over the place.)

          I don’t know whether this claustrophobia is wholly just me or whether it’s because I’m used to being in an open space while working (it’s probably a bit of both ), but I do think it’s not as cut and dried as all that and a certain amount could be that neurodivergent folks are more likely to become habituated to a particular situation and find it difficult if they have to adapt to something else.

          Also, this assumes neurodivergent people can’t adapt to different situations over time. Few if any of us can actually find their ideal workspace that they don’t have to share with others or where their preferences have a
          no adverse effect on others. It is probably better to be at least somewhat adaptable in general and negotiate anything like lighting with a nod to others who need the opposite to what you need rather than being obstinate about it. And that’s coming from someone who does keep lighting fairly low for both comfort and cost concerns (and had a running battle with my mum over her insistence that I’d go blind if I didn’t have the equivalent of a small movie production stage on at all times). There are ways of getting accommodation for actual medical needs without turning everything into a battleground, and that’s the important takeaway from this thread.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Part of it is to remove distractions and focus attention. You can’t be distracted by, or stare at, something that you can’t see.

  18. CatCalendarFTW*

    I agree this is a problem and John needs to be apart of fixing it , but it might be helpful for OP to lead with or incorporate some inquiry into whether he has light sensitivity issues, and whether and how he could work around that . my husband also prefers darker lights/ no lights and has his phone and computer on dark mode. it’s really more of a physical/ eye condition situation than a “this guy enjoys creepy bat cave environments and is difficult.”

    I say this with acknowledgement that OP has allowed accomodations in terms of lighting and such , and that is great and awesome. just wondering if asking about and/or recognizing this as a physical issue might help to grease the wheels .

    1. HonorBox*

      I think if OP starts leading the conversation, though, it may not accomplish what needs to be accomplished. If John can’t specify why he doesn’t like the setup, starting down the road of speculation isn’t going to fix something…it is just going to lead to more and more changes as John decides the fix isn’t working.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      OP should not get into medical issues and diagnosing. She opened the conversation. She asked him why he wants it dark. that was his time to raise any issues with flourescent lighting, too bright lighting, anything. Instead he just shrugged and said he liked it that way. Which could be a personal preference rather than a medical issue. But its an interactive process if its a medical reason. In other words, he needs to engage on the issue instead of shrug it off and keep doing what he wants to do.

      1. ferrina*

        I totally agree with this. OP had the right conversation by asking why John was in darkness. At that point, there are two things that could happen:
        1) John discloses a medical condition.
        2) John does not disclose a medical condition.
        If Option 2 happens, it is not OP’s responsibility to try to figure out if John has an undisclosed medical condition. That may actually go against the ADA (which protects people from perceived conditions, regardless of whether or not they have the condition)

        It’s true that John may have a medical condition that is not diagnosed or that he doesn’t know how to get accommodations for. I empathize- when I started my career, I had semi-diagnosed ADHD (I had self-diagnosed but didn’t know enough to understand how it impacted me) and I had no idea what, if any, accommodations I could ask for. It was hard. But what I did do was learn my working style and negotiate with my boss to create my own support systems. I learned where I could bend the rules and where I couldn’t. It was a tough and sometimes painful learning process. It took me over a decade to actually get my timesheets in on time. But it wasn’t my boss’s job to take that journey for me, and even if they had wanted to – even if I had asked them to- they couldn’t because they aren’t me and they aren’t experts in my condition.

        OP did the right thing by having the dialogue about the business need, but John needs to engage in that dialogue for either of them to see results.

        1. Observer*

          2) John does not disclose a medical condition.
          If Option 2 happens, it is not OP’s responsibility to try to figure out if John has an undisclosed medical condition. That may actually go against the ADA

          Exactly this. The minute the OP starts speculating and talking about medical issues, it puts them – and the organization into a bad place.

          The OP has done really the only thing they could – they’ve explained the need and given John the opportunity to deal with the problem. The next steps have to come from John.

    3. Observer*

      but it might be helpful for OP to lead with or incorporate some inquiry into whether he has light sensitivity issues, and whether and how he could work around that

      The OP already did that. They gave him the option to bring in his own lamps, and asked him why he feels the need to work in the dark. And John has been frankly obnoxious. Telling his boss that it’s none of their business is not a medical issue and doesn’t need accommodation, “curiosity” or “spirit of inquiry.”

  19. Ms. Norbury*

    This guy seems to be choosing a weird hill to die on. The most generous interpretation of this behavior I can come up with is that he does in fact need a medical accommodation but doesn’t feel comfortable asking for it or is unaware that he needs it (he just knows lights make him feel bad). So I guess there is a chance he’s not just being clueless and stuborn. Doesn’t change the advice though, as OP can’t read his mind. Please send an update when you have one, OP!

    1. allathian*

      Indeed. This seems to be his first job, or at least his first job where he has at least some control of his work environment (you don’t get to adjust the lighting if you work retail). It’s a catch 22 if he doesn’t know he could ask for medical accommodation and the LW isn’t allowed to say it in so many words.

      Given his lack of work experience it seems unlikely that he doesn’t want to disclose a medical condition to avoid potential discrimination.

      Even with medical accommodation, the employee doesn’t get to dictate the exact type of accommodation. Working in a dark office that scares customers away isn’t a reasonable accommodation, using sunglasses, non-fluorescent lights etc. would be.

      That said, his attitude needs to change. How explicitly has he been told that having an office that customers want to visit is a non-negotiable condition of employment? Seems to me that the fact that he sees fewer customers because they avoid his dark office is a feature, not a bug.

  20. Rick Tq*

    If your employer has a probationary period John should still be in it, so you may be able to cut the progressive discipline process short.

    I’d just let him go now, he has already reverted to his ‘preference’ at least once. It will take a clue-by-four to get him to understand the office standards of his job overrule his nocturnal lighting preference.

  21. AKchic*

    I get it. Fluorescent lights suck. But light options have to be given for the public since he is in a public-facing role.
    Floor lamps with warmer-spectrum lighting, the blinds open (even halfway as a compromise), etc.
    I do have to wonder if John has vision or migraine issues, but since he hasn’t mentioned it, it sounds more like a personal preference (especially with flickering candles!!) than anything.

    This is something that needs to be dealt with firmly. No “if you could” kind of language. Something tells me that either he’s going to figure it out (begrudgingly) or he’s going to find a non-public role to work.

  22. Maleficent*

    “Bat-Man, part of your job involves helping patrons. I know you think I am a Joker for continually harping on this, but I must say it again: you need to accommodate patrons, and that means changing your lighting. Your batcave is too spooky and the Citizens of Gotham City are complaining, and avoiding you, and going to Robin and Alfred for help. That’s not fair to Robin or Alfred. I need you to solve the Riddle of making the batcave welcoming or I’m going to send you home to Wayne Manor permanently.”

  23. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    He’s given no reason except for what seems to be a preference.
    However, even if he has a disability that requires dark, is it even possible for him to retain a dark creepy office as an accommodation? Sounds like it seriously interferes with his essential duties.
    Can he switch to another role that is not public-facing?

    1. HonorBox*

      Good point. If darkness is an accommodation, it may be that the employer can’t actually make that happen because patrons aren’t willing to meet in the dark.

    2. UKDancer*

      I think it would be difficult to retain a dark and creepy office if part of your job is having meetings with the public who need to feel welcome and safe. I could see some form of reasonable adjustment around the type of lighting, some kind of film on the windows to reduce glare or adjustment of the seating to avoid having the sun in your eyes if he was having issues with the nature of the lighting.

      But he’d need to engage in a discussion to find that type of adjustment.

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      As he’s given no good reason, keeps ignoring the OP and is new, maybe give a final warning – in his first job after uni he may not realise that earning a paycheck means his personal preferences take a back seat to essential work conditions.
      If he refuses to commit to the changes the OP requires, or backslides again, then he needs to be let go – maybe he can then find a job that allows his dark cave.

    4. Nea*

      The problem here is that John is expecting the customers (and his employers!) to adapt to his preferences without spending the slightest time adapting himself to meet the job’s needs. He hasn’t considered a sunshade, he hasn’t considered sheer curtains over the blinds to cut down more light, he hasn’t even considered wraparound sunglasses!

      The challenge here is “how can John get less light coming into John’s eyes.” The solution is not “make sure nobody else has any light to see.”

    5. Dust Bunny*

      The comments have been over this several times: He has to ask for it. Right now he’s just shutting it down with he likes it that way. There’s not much the LW can do to accommodate if he doesn’t ask to be accommodated.

      But also: If you have a job that involves serving the public, you have to find a way to make yourself approachable. Or find another line of work.

  24. FionasHuman*

    I wonder if he has an undiagnosed health issue and has been able to work around it until now given this is his first post-college job. That would also explain some of the defensiveness — he doesn’t know why he needs things this way. I don’t know that this possibility changes how the LW needs to respond.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Or his family/college peers/etc just gaslit his issues away.

      When the answer is some variation on “shut up and deal with it,” dancing around the real issue becomes second nature.

    2. Vanessa*

      I fully agree that there could be an underlying and potentially undiagnosed issue. If there is an eap it would be worth making a suggestion of looking into it. Generally people aren’t so bizarre in their actions because it’s fun for them. The rigidity and sensory pieces along with unconventional “compromises” are concerning. I hope he gets the help he needs.

  25. Liz the Snackbrarian*

    I want to know if he was using like Bath and Body Works candles or long, tapered candlesticks. I am really hoping for the latter.

    1. Just Saying*

      I was picturing beeswax candles on iron carry things so he could use them as he wandered the hall of his spooky manor at night

    2. Caledonian Crow*

      I’m imagining full-on candelabras lit with tapers that he puts out at the end of every day with a silver candle snuffer.

      1. Sitting Pretty*

        Though I’m guessing if it were Sting sitting in an office bathed in candlelight, he’d have more than his share of willing visitors

  26. Sally Sparrow*

    If he’s not willing to compromise or offer other solutions other than pure darkness, then he’s not doing great at his first office job. When I started at my current employer, I found that the overhead lights in my office game me a headache. My compromise was bringing in two floor lamps from home. My boss was perfectly fine with it because my office remains well lit.

    But this guy isn’t showing any wiggle room and is going against your directives of keeping the curtains open and other things. Be clear with him what is needed or you’ll have to put the official review in the works.

    1. münchner kindl*


      I lost all sympathy for “John might have undiagnosed light problems/ might not know how to ask for medical accomodation” the moment OP asked him and John brought candles.

      If he has undiagnosed problems, then I expect him to have a lamp at home that works for him, but he didn’t bring his special Lux 2000 that has the right temperature so he feels well; he brought candles.

      That’s the opposite of trying to solve the problem.

      Plus: OP has noticed that less patrons want to enter the dark cave of being groped or weird cave with candles for sacrifice, meaning John’s coworkers have more work to do – but no mention of John offering anything to make up for this to his coworkers, which would be the decent thing to do.

  27. Portia*

    John possibly developed a habit in college of working in the dark, and “It’s none of your business” is something one might say to a college roommate, not the boss. Sounds like John needs to be clearer on the expectations that come with working in an office and among fellow humans — where you don’t always get to have things your own way.

    I can see why people hesitate to make an appointment with anybody — perhaps particularly a young person — who has turned his office into a personal cave. It would make me wonder about his priorites.

    1. Elbe*

      If the LW hasn’t mentioned to him that the darkness has gotten complaints and has resulted in him serving fewer patrons than coworkers, now would be the time to mention it. It would be easier to make the case that it IS affecting his work if he knows those details.

      But telling your boss “it’s none of your business” about client-facing, company-owned office space is really wild. He has some seriously warped expectations about office life.

  28. theothermadeline*

    I wonder if it would be fastest for OP to simply provide the needed number of lamps to adequately light the office from business funds and require the blinds stay open (or are positioned in a way to let light in). That way they won’t constantly be in a push-pull of this guy trying to find creative workarounds every other day (I am imagining an office full of lava lamps)

  29. Ellis Bell*

    It sounds like this is the optimal light level for his admin tasks, but the worst for his public facing ones. There are also a lot of reasons why he might not realize why he requires it; for example Irlen’s Syndrome. I wonder if there’s a way to split up the two separate types of tasks; maybe keep it dark by his computer, but have a very welcome set of seats by the window? Or possibly do his admin at the start or end of the day and have core “light up hours” when visiting is busiest?

  30. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I wish I had added this to the post, but I think it is a good thing in general that there is a move toward believing that people should be able to work in the ways that work best for them, as long as they can still get the job done without it interfering with work outcomes, or their coworkers’ ability to do their work. But it also seems like some people who are fairly new to the workforce have really latched onto that message in a way that displays no understanding of the nuance or trade-offs or how that needs to be balanced against the business’ priorities. And it’s leading them to expect things that are completely out of line with what’s realistic. It wouldn’t surprise me if we’re seeing some of that with this guy.

    1. Quantum Possum*

      This, this, a million times this.

      I think colleges/career counselors/etc. are failing new workers miserably when it comes to realistic expectations and grey-area negotiations.

      Nuance is a thing that exists. Society has to accommodate a wiiiide array of people. Everyone has to give and take for it to work.

      1. Beboots*

        Yes, 100%! I have encountered this with my employees too. I do my best to be flexible when there’s no need to be rigid, but sometimes I have to be like “… no, that is a work requirement” or “that interferes too much with your job or your colleague’s abilities to do their jobs.” I’ve had things like staff members in public-facing roles wanting to bring their dog to work to sit behind their desk, for instance. Not like an emotional support dog or a service animal, just “I don’t want him alone all day”.

        Effectively… work is work, and that means you may not be deliriously happy about every element of your job, or be able to arrange everything to your exact specifications. There is some professional judgement and compromise involved.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          I do my best to be flexible when there’s no need to be rigid, but sometimes I have to be like “… no, that is a work requirement” or “that interferes too much with your job or your colleague’s abilities to do their jobs.”

          Same here. It felt terrible at first – and still sometimes does – but I tell myself that I’d be hurting them by not addressing it. And if they’re putting an undue burden on their coworkers (as sounds like the case here, since no clients want to visit Batboy), then I feel obligated to step in and adjust course. The rest of my team will not suffer from one employee’s hissy fit.

    2. Saturday*

      Yeah, it’s interesting that he would say that his office lighting is none of his manager’s business when she just explained it’s necessary to be inviting to the public. Like, that is the “business” – the reason they’re paying you.

      He’s like the blanket-fort employee, but at least her role wasn’t public-facing.

    3. CTT*

      It also feels like a misinterpretation of the “no is a complete sentence” advice. A lot of the commenters are saying “but he could have issues with sensitivity to light!” And that could be it, but he has to say that. It seems like he has a “no, this is my space and therefore I don’t need to explain further” mentality, and without explaining himself, LW is left wondering if the no is because he gets migraine or because he’s actually the Phantom of the Opera, or he just does not understand workplace norms.

    4. Emily*

      I think this is such a good point. I feel like we’re seeing the same thing with remote work. There seem to be a fair number of people who seem to feel like no matter what they should get to work remotely, even if that does not make sense with the job.

      There’s a difference between “Being sensitive to the needs of people and doing the best you can to accommodate within reason” and “This is how I like to do things so I should get to do them this way no matter if it negatively affects other people and/or the business.”

    5. Hiring Mgr*

      I don’t know – this sounds like a “back in my day…”

      Anecdotal I realize but in my world I don’t see any difference between people entering the workforce now and 5, 10, 20 years ago..

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I see an enormous difference in the last 5 years, and it’s especially notable in my mail. Hell, it’s reflected in my answers here; I personally have evolved more toward “let’s be as flexible as possible, within the constraints in play” too, and I’m not going all “back in my day…” on myself.

        It makes sense that people brand new to the workforce wouldn’t understand all the nuance of that yet.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            It was trending that way already. From the perspective of somebody who first went remote in 1999, it’s a different world in terms of the tools. At that time dedicated “virtual meeting” rooms where a thing and very expensive (usually for communicating with offshore teams). Now a home computer and a couple of hundred dollars in microphones and cameras can replicate it. Screen sharing tools basically didn’t exist.

            The big thing COVID did was it forced companies to allow employees to do things they were loudly claiming were impossible and… it worked out just fine.

            1. Sparkles McFadden*

              Yes, this, and don’t forget the big push for outsourcing jobs was part of what was driving the development of high speed networks and cheaper remote tools. Lots of layoffs were happening so jobs could be filled by datacenters in Bangalore etc. Domestic employees had to be “butts in seats” but remote work by offshore workers was fine with management.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Good question and I’m not sure! I think I was starting to see it before that but if I was, Covid really sped it up. Maybe partly because it caused a reckoning with what we want from our lives and what we owe/don’t owe our employers, and partly because some employers behaved appallingly during it? That’s my best guess. But I suspect Gen Z is driving a lot of it on their own too — although who knows how much of that is because of how the pandemic shaped their outlooks.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Came back to add: I also think this particular stage of capitalism is so increasingly Not Serving People’s Interests that it was bound to happen regardless, but the pandemic may have sped it up significantly.

              1. Storm in a teacup or pot*

                I think the lack of nuance is a huge thing currently in social media. Short vids / posts of limited characters or pictures do not allow for a nuanced response or conversation. I see this with my younger family members a lot. I do wonder if this is now bleeding into behaviour in the workplace for gen Z in particular.

              2. Boof*

                I think it’s a combination of we are well off enough that we can say “no thank you” and jaded enough with the last few decades of history and progress that we don’t think sacrificing current quality of life for work will somehow net a better future for ourselves, or our children, or compatriots.

            2. Kevin Sours*

              In addition to putting the lie to “butts in seats” managerial claims that remote work couldn’t be efficiently accommodated I think there is the reality that doing it requires some real costs: you need meeting software, VPNs, process improvement and training to get people working on common tools. Much of this already existed mind you, but not everybody was using it or knew how. A lot of stuff needed to be upgraded to handle the load of everybody using it at once. The costs weren’t insurmountable but there wasn’t necessarily incentive to do that in most places.

              But having done it, the infrastructure and culture already exists. There really isn’t a cost to continuing to do it.

            3. nonprofitpro*

              I’ve had to remind myself that people who are just graduating college had a significant portion of their learning experience curtailed. They attended fewer classes in person, they may have had many classes where they sat in the dark with their lights off, likely had fewer opportunities for in person internships and jobs, college club and in person group experiences. All of these things help us mature and better our ability to work together. So, I’ve had to consider that people’s “work age” is really younger than their chronological age and be more specific and direct in communication and expectations with the recent grads I regularly work with. This trend had been going on for awhile though and I agree COVID really made a difference.

              1. londonedit*

                Not only that, but anyone who started their first job in the last three years has had a completely different experience from what used to be thought of as ‘normal’. I have colleagues approaching their mid-twenties who have never known anything except hybrid working and online meetings – they’ve never been in the office five days a week, they’re not used to large in-person meetings, and you can see that they’re not really comfortable with working in an office environment. A colleague at my level remarked a few months ago that she’s baffled by the younger members of her team – they all come to the office on their assigned days but they communicate mainly via Teams and they don’t really engage with anyone unless it’s a structured meeting. You have to remember that they’ve never experienced going to a bustling office every day and being immersed in that sort of environment – we ‘grew up’ at work with chat and tea rounds and impromptu meetings, whereas all they’ve experienced is one or two in-office days a week, probably in a quiet office because not everyone is in at the same time, and the rest of the time it’s all online communication and video calls. I think it’s hugely difficult for young people to get a foothold in their career these days, simply because you don’t have that experience of sitting in a room full of people and hearing what’s going on and absorbing how Jane talks to a supplier on the phone or the fact that Dave’s moaning about needing another pair of hands on the Jones project or whatever.

                1. E*

                  we don’t need any of the office bustle. a career isn’t happening and too many can’t even afford rent on full time work. the environment is collapsing. what is the point of an office job anymore or any of this nit picky stuff about people who don’t want to play office anymore.

          3. Not sure how to say it....*

            You didn’t ask me specifically, but I want to answer. I do think COVID was the biggest catalyst to change (in the U.S. because that’s where I am).

            Remote work, while not previously possible for a lot of jobs for #reasons, was now feasible. Many people could not leave their homes or leave for only brief periods but commerce had to continue.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              Really it had been feasible for a while. Companies and managers just thought it wasn’t. In some cases because they put a great deal of effort into thinking that.

          4. Irish Teacher.*

            As a teacher, I think just greater understanding of things like mental illness, neuroatypicality and so on (and even physical illnesses and disabilties) is at play. I know this is probably not as true in places like the US and the UK who are decades ahead of us when it comes to special educational needs, but it still probably has some relevance.

            The amount of accommodation available in schools today is so far ahead of when I started teaching in 2004 and it’s no longer stigmatised in the way it was when I was at school. My students are jealous if a kid is getting resource because “you get out of *whatever subject*”. They think it’s cool. Whereas when I was a kid, you would avoid mentioning to somebody that they went to resource classes because it would have been seen as something embarrassing. And was only available in primary schools and only for kids with severe literacy difficulties.

            So I think a lot of kids are leaving school with the idea that different people have different needs and of course they are accommodated. A teacher I follow on facebook actually made a post about how her students (she teaches little ones) were playing school and the kid playing the teacher offered fidgets as part of their role. And this is great. I love the way my students don’t, for the most part, even question why kids have accommodations (I had one kid this year who complained about a boy who had just arrived in Ireland being allowed to use his phone to translate and immediately two other kids shouted her down, pointing out that he didn’t speak English and needed to look up what we were saying in order to understand).

            But I can well imagine people entering the workplace for the first time not having a clear view of what’s a reasonable accommodation and what is…well, something like this.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              Also, when you’re accommodating students in schools you can’t afford to wait for a diagnosis. The “business” of schools is to optimise learning conditions for the students. We should also chase down a diagnosis and explain what are/aren’t valid reasons for accommodations, but even then the accommodations aren’t always necessarily going to match business needs, so it’s not really our place to explore that.

          5. Dog momma*

            Well people need to get used to covid not going away. They are being paid to work! Not foist it off on their co-workers which I believe is also happening here. Lets stop making excuses for this guy. or arm chair diagnosis.

        1. Camp staff*

          The majority of my employees/coworkers are under 22 and are often working their first jobs, and I totally agree with Alison here. It’s a very fine needle to thread, and sometimes a very hard lesson for them to learn, but there has to be a balance and it is understandable that businesses have needs and requirements, too, as do the other employees.

        2. Quantum Possum*

          It is very noticeable to me, too.

          Due to our robust internship programs, we always have people fresh out of college joining the workforce. I’m a very live-and-let-live, free-spirit hippie type – and at this point in my life and career, nothing that anyone could do would actually surprise me (the human condition is…vast) – but my WTF radar goes off far more frequently now than, say, 10 years ago.

        3. Hiring Mgr*

          Could be my industry (tech and/or startups) was always a bit more laid back anyway, so maybe whatever the changes are in newer people haven’t been as noticeable.

          For me anyway, I don’t really find much difference in the new employee of 2009 compared to 2023, but sounds like that’s the minority view.

    6. Lisa*

      In this guy’s case, the fundamental problem is in what you say, “as long as they can still get the job done without it interfering with work outcomes”. If part of the job is giving a welcoming space to clients and handling a fair share of the clients, what he’s doing IS interfering with work outcomes.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          I feel like maybe the problem starts with school and “teaching to the test.”

          Growing up, people become so used to being judged strictly on quantitative criteria (e.g., grades, scores, stats). The mindset becomes “as long as I meet my [quantifiable metric], then it doesn’t matter how I got there.”

          But most of what we practice in business (and life) are soft skills, which are very difficult to quantify. I don’t believe schools put enough emphasis on teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

    7. Hrodvitnir*

      100% this. I have strong feelings about society (and businesses) serving the people and not vice-versa, but I’m sort of cringing seeing so much poor advice and encouraging terrible attitudes in my online (anti-capitalist) spaces.

      It’s certainly good IMO to encourage people not to fall for the emotional manipulation inherent in a lot of jobs where underpaid staff are made responsible for understaffing… it’s not good for anyone to encourage a generally bad attitude.

      I say this as someone who will absolutely speak up to management, but who also likes working – and appreciates work ethic. I really believe not investing yourself in your work at least somewhat makes your life 100% worse.

      I’m 38 and from a poor background with a 15 year work history first in retail and production, then vet nursing which is poorly paid and overworked. Now I’ve retrained in science I’ve got to see my generation younger, upper middle class best friend perform poorly in multiple roles (we worked together and he’d be a great employee with more supervision, does poorly when left to his own devices) but feel depressed he can’t get more money, terribly abuse the flexibility in his current job, and just be super miserable he doesn’t have *more*. I just… don’t know how to address this, so I watch and wince. (He has legitimate money stressors due to the horrendous state of COL, but his perspective is shockingly entitled to me.)

    8. Head sheep counter*

      This is an excellent take. We seem to have veered into some wishful thinking when approaching jobs. I don’t know if I’m on the extreme other end… but its always been my take that my employer controls the employment part of the agreement which includes… environment, job responsibility assignments, laying out expectations for all the things and paying me… ideally with a healthy dose of treating me and my colleagues with a reasonable amount of respect and not abusing us. My responsibility is my job, understanding the expectations and meeting those I can and finding ways to address the ones I can’t and for my own behavior and treatment of others. Its a contract. I do my part. They do their part and ta da… paychecks. My job does not owe me… unusual non-business accommodations. I’m literally paid to meet their business need not the other way around.

  31. Quantum Possum*

    The fundamental issue that I see here is his response to feedback and direction.

    So it becomes much less about the specific behavior (although candles are definitely a big safety concern), and more about how would you deal with insubordination in general.

    You may want to ask some questions about why he prefers his office that way. Also, check in with how he feels about having interacting with the public. This could be his way of retreating from a public-facing job. It’s just good practice in general for managers to check in with employees on how their jobs are meeting their expectations. It’s especially important when something is obviously going on underneath the surface.

    1. Observer*

      You may want to ask some questions about why he prefers his office that way.

      They did. And John basically said “cuz”.

      Also, check in with how he feels about having interacting with the public.

      You mean check if he still wants the job? Keep in mind that interacting with the public IS the job. Not just a small price that he might be able to trade off with someone.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        You mean check if he still wants the job?

        Pretty much, yes. That’s important for a manager to know.

  32. Me*

    Him thinking it’s none of your business is a clear sign that he hasn’t had many jobs in his life!

    Look, I have a co-worker who gets migraine headaches from fluorescent lighting. So he keeps his overhead lights off, and he is VERY verbal about why– constantly, “I am sorry if it’s a bit dark in here, it’s the lights, that’s why I have six lamps” etc etc etc. Because he realizes it is a departure from the norm, and he doesn’t want people to think he is just being weird by doing something so outside of normal behavior.

    1. Jane*

      Yeah, your coworker is totally justified, and it sounds like they try and accommodate others with lamps, etc. John is just sitting in the dark because he likes to, I guess? Haha.

      1. HonorBox*

        There are days when the fluorescent lights in my office really mess with my eyes. I have multiple lamps positioned throughout my office so it is still well-lit and doesn’t appear that I’m just sitting in the dark. A well-lit office can be accomplished pretty easily without needing to rely on the overheads.

        I suggested this in a comment elsewhere, but perhaps if the LW wants to really be kind, they could offer John an opportunity to purchase a couple additional lamps at company cost. Then it isn’t his financial responsibility to find a fix.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, but he has a good reason, he articulated it, he’s acknowledged that it’s a bit different, and he’s compensated with lamps.

  33. Spiders Everywhere*

    Important to note that not everyone who needs a medical accomodation actually knows it! Sensory issues like photophobia can have a lot of different causes, not all of which are obvious or well known. Eye issues, neurological issues, neurodivergence – I would encourage this employee to dig into this since it seems like it goes beyond a ordinary preference and it’s starting to cause real problems for him.

    1. WellRed*

      If he’s turning off the lights because it’s a problem, then he knows lights cause him a problem. Thats what he needs to say, not, “none of your business, boss.”

    2. Observer*

      Important to note that not everyone who needs a medical accomodation actually knows it! Sensory issues like photophobia can have a lot of different causes, not all of which are obvious or well known.

      What is the relevance of this, much less “important”. The LW is not asking for a medical diagnosis, but for an explanation of the behavior (which could be as simple as something like “I get headaches when there is too much lgiht”) and some willingness to deal with the problem. John has provided no explanation, no willingness to *try* to fix the problem, and no understanding that the way he keeps his office *is* relevant to the LW.

      1. Spiders Everywhere*

        I’m not saying he’s handling it well, I’m saying he may be handling it badly because he doesn’t know what’s going on. Sensory issues can be really tricky! He says he doesn’t know why he needs it dark, and the answer to that could be “I have a personal preference that I’m making too big a deal over” or “due to an undiagnosed medical condition light causes me severe discomfort in a way I am unable to easily describe” and for everyone’s sake he needs to figure out which one that is.

        1. Elbe*

          That’s fair advice for the employee, but John isn’t here. We’re trying to give the LW advice about how to handle John and making him be reasonable isn’t an option.

          Personally, I think that the odds that this is a medical issue are relatively small. Most people can articulate discomfort, especially if it’s severe enough that they are willing to risk insubordination to handle it.

          It’s not helpful to the LW to have a bunch of people prompting her to be considerate of theoretical medical issues that likely aren’t even there. She has to deal with the situation as it is. Regardless of why, John is ignoring direct feedback and showing incredibly poor judgement in telling her that his client-facing office is none of her business. Lighting accommodations won’t fix that.

          1. Spiders Everywhere*

            I mean, I’m saying she needs to tell him he needs to do what I said if he wants what is essentially a medical accomodation, otherwise he’s not getting it.

            1. Elbe*

              A manager shouldn’t suggest that someone may need a medical accommodation when there’s no indication of a medical issue. If he had complained of headaches or other physical symptoms, there could be some leeway, but he hasn’t. In fact, he’s stated that it’s just a preference, so she should trust him on that.

              It would be really overstepping to suggest that he’s sick or has a condition just because he’s being unreasonable and insubordinate.

              1. Observer*

                It would be really overstepping to suggest that he’s sick or has a condition just because he’s being unreasonable and insubordinate.

                Yes, it most definitely would. Worse, it has the potential to create spill over issues for the company. Because all anyone needs is for the OP to create an impression that they see people with medical issues = to people who are a pain to deal with.

    3. Steve Oh*

      She literally can not ask him to “dig into” whether or not he has a medical condition. That’s a huge overstep by a manager and not relevant to the discussion.

    4. Dog momma*

      All speculation from our vantage point. and LW asked about it I believe & he dug in his heels and said MYOB!

      Dog poppa said he should be fired.

  34. HonorBox*

    I think there’s plenty to speculate on here… John may be sensitive to the overhead lights. Or light in general. However, the LW did offer an opportunity for him to explain why he wanted to sit in the dark and John couldn’t provide a concrete answer. We could guess and guess and suggest and suggest when at the end of the day, it isn’t LW’s place to enter into armchair diagnosis / suggestions of potential medical issues. What we have here is an employer who outlined expectations from the start, had to go back and do it again, and an employee who continues to go back to his own preference, which is causing issues for the workplace. I think, if the LW wanted to take one more step before formal disciplinary actions are taken, they should walk into John’s office and show him exactly how the blinds could be positioned (maybe there are a couple of options that let enough light in) and suggest placement / type of lamps that would comply with the workplace rules and that the workplace would pay for. If John isn’t open to that, John has to go.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’m not surprised by the handwringing and “but what if medical reason??” in the comments but like most of the time, it doesn’t seem particularly helpful to the OP (except for one comment further down suggesting that OP should lay out clearly, once, that medical accommodations are a thing, because John might not actually know about those; that’s actionable and sensible, although I wouldn’t blame OP at all for not going that route).

      Also, I’m willing to bet that there’s no medical thing going on at all here and John just either likes the aesthetic, wants to fuel his edgelord vibes, simply got used to working in the dark because he did so during college, or got the skewed idea about working however you please Alison mentioned in a comment. Looking at past letters, it’s basically never the sympathetic (and often outlandish, although not in this case) reason commenters want to imagine, people are just weird (and often entitled).

      1. HonorBox*

        The only reasons I’d shy away from offering info about accommodations is that – as someone pointed out elsewhere – assuming some sort of disability can run you afoul of ADA. And accommodations have to be workable for the employer.

        Meeting you halfway, though OP could have one more conversation and suggest that alternative lighting (at the employer’s cost) could be purchased IF the overhead lights are giving him trouble. But it would have to be enough lighting that patrons aren’t uncomfortable going into his office, and would have to be approved by OP.

        1. Myrin*

          Oh yeah, I’m actually not a fan of mentioning it at all (in general, but in this case in particular) but the comment I mentioned stood out to me in its practicality; I’m not from the US so the only “knowledge” I have of the ADA is what I’ve gathered from this site over the years, so this is very interesting to know.

    2. Elbe*

      Agreed. It’s nice that the commenters here want to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, but it’s not anything that is actionable for the LW. And, frankly, it’s a little excessive for someone who outright stated that this is just a preference. If there’s more to it than that, John has to take responsibility for John, which includes actually communicating relevant information to his boss.

      Unlike a lot of people here, I think it’s likely that this is just a preference and not any kind of need. His “it’s none of your business” comment is a huge indication that he doesn’t feel like he SHOULD HAVE make changes, rather than that something is preventing him from changing his approach. If something was physically wrong, it would be easy to say, “I can’t concentrate with them on” or “they give me a headache”, etc. even if he didn’t have a formal diagnosis. In this case, I think a) outright stating that it is a preference and b) not mentioning any physical symptoms, even when prompted should be enough to end the speculation about what the root cause is.

      1. Allonge*

        I think that a lot of this ‘OP should get to the bottom of this medical issue’ talk is at least partially wish-fulfilment. People commenting here say it took them decades to be taken seriously/diagnosed/figure out that it’s not standard to be in pain just because a room is adequately lit – it’s natural to want these things fixed sooner.

        But it would be incredibly inappropriate for any manager to go there.

        1. Observer*

          I think you are right. Both about why people are saying these things, but also that it’s just not realistic.

    3. londonedit*

      I agree. There may well be some sort of medical reason behind it, but the point is that John at least needs to be able to articulate ‘I’m sorry but I really dislike the overhead lights and I prefer to work in the dark’, because at least that’s a starting point for discussion. At the moment he’s ignoring the OP’s requests to make his office lighter and more welcoming, he’s not giving any justification for it, he’s telling OP it’s ‘none of their business’ which is frankly rude, and it’s having a detrimental effect on his work because people either don’t realise he’s there or don’t feel comfortable going into a darkened room to seek help. There’s no need for the OP or John to bring anything medical into it, but it’s reasonable for the OP to get some sort of explanation out of John and it’s also reasonable for the OP to require him to have some sort of decent light source in his office as part of his job.

  35. Decima Dewey*

    OP: You need to keep the blinds open and the overhead light on in your office. It’s non-negotiable.

    JOHN: It’s none of your business how I do my work.

    OP: Yes, it is. (OP produces a Bankers Box from hammerspace and puts all of John’s stuff into it). You’re fired, by the way.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      OP: you’re right, it’s no longer my business because you no longer work here.

  36. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

    I had a coworker who kept her office in a similar state of darkness (no window – just her computer and a small task lamp on her desk). Not a problem since it wasn’t a public facing position, but I did have to meet with her outside her office as *I* couldn’t see well enough in her office. I can see how it would be a real problem for a public facing position.

    I was also the person who required an accommodation that the overhead lights to be on when I moved into a new location where other people preferred them off. The natural light and task lights were not enough for my damaged eyes. The library came up with a compromise that an individual could request that an overhead light directly over their cubicle be removed.

  37. Jessica*

    LW, don’t feel bad when you fire this guy. Somewhere out there in the workforce (or maybe just trying to be) is another smart, talented young person who cares about sharing work fairly with coworkers, providing good service to patrons, and cooperating with the reasonable requests of management. You can help her be successful instead.

  38. Ashley*

    It seems likely he thinks it’s an aesthetics thing and that you just dislike it, rather than that it’s actually impeding the work he’s supposed to do. I agree with being super clear with him about the requirements in general but I also think it’s important to break it down and explain how it’s impacting the work. Adding something like “we’ve received complaints from patrons about not wanting to approach you because of how dark your office is and your numbers are significantly lower than we’d expect” etc might really reiterate *why* the lighting is a requirement and make it also easier to discuss alternatives (lamps, etc). If nothing else, connecting those dots might help him get a better understanding of whether or not this is actually the role for him.

    1. Nea*

      LW says John has received a notice including “expectations and the reasons for those expectations (serving the public), records the dates when we discussed the matter, provides examples of non-compliance, and repeats the request for compliance.”

      John already has had the subject explained and still isn’t grasping the problem.

      1. Yellow sports car*

        See “serving the public” isn’t really informative for something that sounds like a personal preference on behalf of the manager. I suspect John doesn’t understand that there is a genuine business need and not a manager who just likes bright and cheery and thinks anything else is weird.

        The OPs way of describing things sounds like a dramatic over exaggeration to me. I happen to love caves, but find it really unlikely that an office opening into an open plan would have anywhere near the black out blinds needed to get actual darkness. I imagine that for every customer that wants it brighter, there be those with sensory concerns who might love that there’s an option for them.

        LW seems to like everything about the employee except that their office is dark. I think it worth putting the effort in to work with the employee to solve the problem. If you could find an accommodation that worked for everyone with a diagnosed medical condition in play – that same accommodation would work without one. It seems odd to see someone as a good employee if they have a medical condition, but otherwise not.

        LW if you do want a solution – then follow up on the preference to work towards a solution (if one could exist) and figure out what you could accept. Ask more questions. You can make it clear that this isn’t a satisfactory answer and he needs to work with you properly to find a solution.

        Or yes you could just sack him and hope your next employee likes brightly lit offices.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I tried watching that show. The opening scene, the phone rings. And rings. And rings.
      Yeah, this is not funny to me. This is the Office, IT Department.
      I have that stress in the real world. I’m going to watch hospital shows where I’m completely oblivious to all the violations, the inconsistencies and the workplace BS going on and just see who is flirting this week.

      1. KayDee*

        Honestly, the first episode is pretty much my least favorite of the whole series. I will say some of the stuff hits a lot closer to home than it did when I was younger with way less office experience, making it a little harder to laugh at.

  39. Night Manager*

    Maybe he is a nyctophile, as I am. But I’m (mostly) required to work regular office hours in a well-lit environment, so I deal. I’m impressed by the OP’s desire to have the employee have a great first job experience, but in my experience is if an employee pushes back as hard as “John” has on this (none of the OP’s business???!!) I’d be concerned about some form of malicious compliance. I think OP should let him go.

  40. Chris*

    “This is his first job out of college… It would be different if John had a need for a medical accommodation, but you’ve given him the opportunity to say he needs that, and he hasn’t.”

    Given that this is his first job out of college, he may not even know that a “medical accommodation” is a thing. It might help if the LW was more proactive in inquiring about the reasons behind this than they would with a more experienced employee.

    1. Sal*

      I think this is fair. I didn’t know what a medical accommodation was (or that they were a thing) until I went to law school.

      1. Elbe*

        Exactly this. He’s fully capable of mentioning symptoms, even if he doesn’t have a formal diagnosis.

        The fact that he hasn’t given any concrete reasons for his insubordination speaks volumes.

    2. Observer*

      It might help if the LW was more proactive in inquiring about the reasons behind this than they would with a more experienced employee.

      The OP has been proactive enough. They gave him permission to bring his own lamps, they asked him what his issue is, and they explained why they need things to change. At this point, even if John doesn’t know the term “medical accommodation” (which would be odd for a college graduate), he still had the opening he needed to say “I get headaches / My eyes get blurry / Whatever problem happens.” Instead he basically told his boss To butt out of his business.

    3. HonorBox*

      But then you can get into potential issues with ADA (as someone pointed out upthread) in assuming that there’s an issue that needs to be accommodated.

      LW has been proactive in asking John why. He couldn’t say. Even the newest of the new to the workplace should be able to say “I get headaches” or something like that. LW doesn’t need to plant seeds in John’s mind, especially when he’s been overtly obstinate.

  41. Skeptical Coworker*

    My first thought was “oh look, he’s figured out how to not to a significant portion of his job and shuffle it off onto his coworkers.”

    Y’all are a lot nicer than I am.

    1. Even Batman had the Bat Signal*

      MTE! How is the OP considering him a good worker if he is regularly doing less than everyone else by figuring out how to repel patrons? It sounds like he knows EXACTLY what he is doing. Candles are generally banned in most buildings as well, for health and safety reasons.

      Also, telling your manager that it is none of her business when she has clearly stated that it is an issue, is amazing. Even if he did need to be in the dark for some reason (diagnosed or undiagnosed) that response alone smacks of someone who is way too entitled. Straight to a PIP, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

  42. H.Regalis*

    It sounds like getting canned might be how he learns. I hope that’s not the case, but you can’t just nope out of a key component of your job.

  43. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Just need to add, if you scroll quickly from the top to the comments, the headline does not read dark FLICKERING bat cave.
    But then again, I am definitely a witty, clever, precocious and slightly dark child.

  44. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I’d go back in and say “John, we’ve talked about this and you keep not doing it. What’s up?”

  45. teensyslews*

    So IMO there’s 2 parts to this:
    – the “John has to make his office inviting, or he is not meeting his job requirements” which Alison covered beautifully
    – the “John clearly hates bright lights, can this be reasonably accommodated”? I think there’s a few other things that might help here:
    – can he get a north-facing office? There might be someone on the opposite side longing for more sunlight. I had a north facing office for years and direct light was non-existent while still providing adequate lighting to make it pleasant
    – can his shades be replaced with something translucent? this both stops him from being able to make it so dark and gives a middle ground on lighting
    – can less harsh lighting be brought in? Warm-hued lighting, and lamps that go in the corner and shine a light to light up the walls, or low to the ground lighting. Both are easier on the eyes while making it bright enough to not be cavernous.

    1. Observer*

      The thing is that none of these suggestions matter unless John lets the OP know what the issue is. I don’t even mean a medical diagnosis, but more of “Fluorescent lights give me a headach” vs “If light are too light my eyes get blurry” Once you have that, the other options can come into play. But the OP cannot – and should not try to – make any suggestions without that kind of information.

      1. Yellow sports car*

        Why are the words “medical accommodation” so important?

        I understand if you see accommodations as something you are forced into, and the sole concern is fulfilling legal obligations.

        But if your goal is to work with your employee so they can do their job well – those words don’t matter.

        If John can’t do his job with low lights then it does not matter whether there is s medical condition or not – low lights aren’t an option. If John CAN do his job with low lighting, then why does it matter if he is more comfortable because the lights bother him due to a disclosed medical condition or “just” a preference?

        It’s not about assuming a medical condition or trying to force a diagnosis. It’s just working collaboratively with an employee so they can be most productive while ALSO meeting their job requirements.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Because there’s a difference between “I cannot do my job with bright lights” and “I do not WANT to do my job with bright lights because I just don’t want to.”

        2. Observer*

          Why are the words “medical accommodation” so important

          They aren’t and I did not say or imply that they are.

          What I said is that the OP simply cannot start throwing suggestions at the wall till John gives them SOME information. If John actually gives the OP some real information – again it does *not* have to be a diagnosis, just information! – the LW can do some brainstorming about potential solution.

          You claim that it’s about being collaborative, but collaboration takes two (or more) to happen. And John is absolutely refusing to collaborate.

        3. Kevin Sours*

          People are expected to go father to accommodate medical issues than they are to accommodate preferences. Whether you can or can’t accommodate something isn’t a binary as you are making it out. Accommodations come with costs and consequences. And if you accommodate a preference for one employee everyone else will reasonable expect the same accommodation — which may be difficult to impossible to do.

          For instance with John it might be possible to rearrange the workload so that doesn’t have to handle as many walk in, which might easier to mitigate the customer issues with having a dim office. But *somebody* has to.

          So yes, there is an important difference.

  46. Reluctant Consultant*

    I think since you appreciate his work otherwise and he is newer to the workforce it is work trying to address 1 more time in a different way. I would approach this as a problem-solving opportunity. Lay out everything you have already (repetition is sometimes needed) and ask him if you can work together to solve the approachability issue in a way that works for him. Also, let him know that if the approachability issue doesn’t improve, he will be let go. For example, might he be open to adding some twinkle/christmas lights and at least 1 lamp? I could see people being more likely to be attracted to some decorative lighting even while it keeps the office a little bit dimmer. If he and you can come up with some lighting options to test to see if he can get more walk-ins and if no more people call his office creepy/scary/unwelcoming, then maybe it could work out.

  47. DannyG*

    Anyone else reminded of the short story “ Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville? With the clerk’s famed line “I’d rather not!” To his boss’s requests.

  48. Coin_Operated*

    As someone who prefers to also work in a lot less light (especially sans the headache-inducing fluorescent lighting of most offices), I can empathize with John to an extent, but he’s taking it to an extreme degree and being very hostile about the feedback.

  49. sb51*

    Like other suggestions, it doesn’t fix the attitude problem, but I wonder if he’s mostly surrounded himself with other people like himself, and a part of his brain is saying “no one ACTUALLY likes bright lights, they would all feel more comfortable in the dark” to him, because it’s more comfortable TO HIM. This is not a good reason! But it might be bouncing around in his head, and if the LW is trying to coach him, might be an idea to have in mind.

    Like, bring him out into where a patron would stand on approach, and ask him which desk looks friendly and approachable to him. He might say that his does, because he’s enough Team Cave that it actually is the more approachable, but that’s where you say that most people (and that you have data to prove it) disagree. (If he already agrees that his is off-putting, then you’ve definitely just got someone trying to get out of doing what they know they should do.) And again, this is only if LW feels he’s coachable and that she can actually get him to talk about why he’s doing this honestly rather than just blowing her off.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I like this approach. But you may need to do a little more prep work.

      “Our patrons are . They are looking for help with but don’t know how to tackle that themselves, so they come here to get help from someone who knows and will treat them respectfully and kindly.”

      NB, this is a thing that is done in retail management training – stand outside the store, pretend you’ve never been there before, and walk up. Is it appealing? Can you see inside the windows? Is there clutter, junk, trash in the way? Is the signage faded?

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        GRRRRR. Angle-brackets strike again!

        “Our patrons are (description). They are looking for help with (problem) but don’t know how to tackle that themselves, so they come here to get help from someone who knows (solution) and will treat them respectfully and kindly.”

  50. Lilo*

    he needs to shape up quickly or he needs to be fired. He can’t act like thatbon a public facing role and then fight back when his boss talks to him about it. If he wants a dark office he needs to find a job that doesn’t involve working with the public.

  51. Coverage Associate*

    Leaving aside the employee’s attitude, I have to say I don’t understand the need for natural light and lamps. I understand that these weren’t enough lamps, but I do think OP should stick with the amount of light, not the source, as long as it’s safe, etc.

    It’s normal to have meetings after dark, especially this time of year. All sorts of places are welcoming without natural light. So I do think OP needs to check their preference for natural light. I think it’s too much to make the employee keep the blinds open in hope he will have a drop in who just wants to admire the view.

    I expect that a light gauge is cheap, maybe free on a smartphone. I would gauge “good” offices’ light throughout a day, and then say the employee’s office needs to be approximately that level, with natural light, artificial light or both.

    1. Critical Rolls*

      Perhaps you missed the part about direct patron complaints regarding the creepy, dark office.

      1. Coverage Associate*

        I didn’t.

        But we don’t know that patrons will complain if there’s adequate artificial light. All that’s been tried is inadequate artificial light and separately lots of natural light. It’s never occurred to me to care whether the blinds are open in an office that isn’t mine (unless it’s a ground floor office and I want the blinds closed so no one can peek in), so my hypothesis is adequate artificial light will be adequate for all purposes. OP can present it as an experiment so that the employee doesn’t think lamps will necessarily solve the problem, but blinds closed is very normal to me as are meetings in winter after 4pm so after sunset, and I am in Northern California, not Alaska. So I don’t see natural light as necessary for friendly.

        By “good” office, I meant a coworker’s office with light OP considers adequate, but it has to be measured at different times of day, not just when the natural light is brightest. At least run the experiment to see if it’s natural light v amount of light that scares off patrons.

        1. Sally Sparrow*

          The OP isn’t saying natural light from the open blinds is required. She only mentioned it once and it sounded more like a trying to compromise with him to allow him the dim lamps while increasing light in his office. He’s balking at any light, artificial or natural, beyond candle light and low lamps.

      2. V*

        I believe Coverage Associate understood that. They’re pointing out that the *amount* of light is important, not whether it comes from natural or artificial sources, and should focus on that rather than whether or not the blinds are open. His office can still be well lit from lamps, etc.

  52. starlightstarbright*

    If all offices have a window, I’m going to assume the door is opposite the window. And unless his back is to the door (which I doubt given the public-facing roll), then that means the window is probably behind him shining on his computer. My home office is set up that way and I keep the curtain closed because of that. I definitely have less eye strain at the end of the day if they’re closed. Overhead lights aren’t great either. We removed some of the overhead lightbulbs when we were in a space with cubicles. It was a good compromise. Most people found it more pleasant, and those who wanted more light brought lamps for their area. The ‘none of your business’ comment is a completely different matter.

    1. Spreadsheet Queen*

      There are anti-glare screens that can be placed over the monitor that can help with sort of thing too.

      Also, what are these magical blinds? Even my blinds at work, when closed, let in some amount of natural light unless it’s very cloudy.

  53. Critical Rolls*

    Inevitably there will be many comments about this being a medical condition that the LW must somehow intuit or otherwise uncover beneath the bald-faced insubordination.

    However, what is clear from the letter is that John is rapidly developing into a missing stair. He’s refusing direction and not doing his share of patron support, and that work IS going somewhere else, to people who are more established, follow directions for a welcoming environment, and are possibly better than kinda okay at their jobs. I’m actually thrilled John is recent hire, hopefully that means he’s still in his probationary period and it will be easy to ship him out if he doesn’t shape up.

    1. Lilo*

      The other thing is accommodation must be reasonable. It’s not reasonable to not do a necessary part of your job.

    2. Myrin*

      “Inevitably there will be many comments about this being a medical condition that the LW must somehow intuit or otherwise uncover beneath the bald-faced insubordination.”

      And whenever an OP later sends in an update on a much-speculated letter such as this one, it was basically never a medical condition (the reasons are usually either “person is a weirdo” or “person is a jerk”, sometimes both), making all that hemming and hawing and “but what if”-ing in the comment section entirely moot.

      1. new old friend*

        And increasingly, we see OPs who are more than a little upset at the wild, baseless speculation in the comments…

  54. Delta Delta*

    I wonder if “it’s none of your business” is less about how he’s working and more about whether he’s got some sort of medical condition that he doesn’t want to disclose.

    Or maybe, as someone else commented, he actually is Batman.

    1. Observer*

      Well, he is the one who said that how he works in the office is none of LW’s business. And regardless, it *is* the OP’s business, whether or not he “wants” to disclose. Because unless he tells them that he has a medical condition – IF he has a condition – the LW has no obligation whether moral or legal to try to figure something out. They’ve already tired to be flexible.

      Only if there is a medical condition at play does the LW have any level of obligation here – and they cannot and *should* not guess.

      So, yes, in both readings, it’s the LW’s business.

    2. londonedit*

      At the very least he needs to act like an adult and say ‘I’m sorry but I absolutely hate fluorescent lights’ or ‘I find I work better in low light’ or whatever. The OP can still reasonably say ‘OK, but as part of your job you need to find a way to make your office welcoming to patrons, and we need that to include a reasonable light level’, but John also needs to use his words and not just say ‘none of your business’ to his boss.

    3. Allonge*

      If he is Batman, he has other options.

      If he is not, he needs to learn very fast that ‘it’s none of your business’ is a bridge-burning term to use in work-land and even if he were right about the substance, it should be deployed only as a last resort.

      As things stand, if there is an issue, he has some information he could share before we go into disclosing sensitive medical details (I would say ‘lights give me a headache’ is not too much to share even for someone very private).

  55. Gem-Like Flame*

    This young man seems to have decided that Bartleby the Scrivener is a splendid role model and that defying your manager and telling them that giving him directions is none of their business (?) is just dandy. Time for a firm talk and very specific written instructions, with a clear warning that a PIP is on his horizon if he doesn’t do a 180-degree attitudinal turnaround.

    LW1, Alison was spot on: allowing this employee to continue his rude, defiant behavior is doing him no favor at all!

  56. ReallyBadPerson*

    This guy sounds a bit arrogant, if his response is to tell you your legit concerns about how he does is job is “it’s none of your business.” And to make it a game of brinksmanship suggests he is a poor fit for this role. I would absolutely tell him, “This isn’t about how close to the line you can get, it’s how far you should run from it.” Lights on does not mean a gap in the blinds and lanterns, it means blazing, hallelujah chorus of angels, daylight!

  57. Hedgehug*

    He sounds like an immature brat who thinks of you as an annoying parent nagging him.
    I would NOT give him a second opportunity to talk about medical accommodation, because 100% he will immediately reply with “yeah actually it is a medical condition which is ILLEGAL for you to ask me about, so there!” He already told you he doesn’t know why, he just prefers it like that so I would leave that as his official reason. I would just show him the door and he can learn from this experience.

  58. too many dogs*

    The darkness is a security issue, for him & for customers. As the customer, I would be reluctant to meet with a stranger in an unlit room. As the employee, I would be reluctant to walk into a dark room, not knowing if someone was hiding in there. How does the customer trust that he has enough light to do his job correctly? But it’s his responses that concern me. If he’s so ignorant of workplace norms that he can’t see that this is not going to work, or if he’s just having fun challenging his supervisor, either way, however talented he is, he’s just not worth the hassle.

  59. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    LW says John was hired as a new team leader. What is his performance like in that role? When he deals with patrons (unless they all avoid him now), how does he interact with them? He is ‘rules lawyering’ his manager at the moment. How does he behave toward people who don’t have any authority over him?

    1. HonorBox*

      Team member, not team leader. But that aside, your other questions are good… how is he as a teammate? How is he interacting with people when not stuck in the dark office? It sounds like patrons don’t like the idea of interacting with him in his office, but how has he been with them when not in his office? All of that is additional data that will support letting him go.

  60. Have you had enough water today?*

    One of my accommodations is no overhead fluorescent lights due to what it does to my eyes. I also cannot open the blinds as this reflects on my computer making it a challenge to see (there is absolutely no other position I can have my desk in due to size & the positioning of the door & the window). I have a desk lamp & a floor lamp in the corner but my office still looks kind of spooky, not at all helped by the prison like concrete walls. Candles are a bit much though…

  61. BecauseHigherEd*

    Have you point-blank told him that a patron said they didn’t want to see “that guy in the creepy dark office”? I have a long history of customer service work and, trust me, nothing gets your attention more than your supervisor saying, “We surveyed patrons who have worked with you and they said this.” (Mine were mostly good, fortunately, but one of my colleagues who was unprofessional and rude received a wake up call when he got a bunch of comments saying he was, you know, unprofessional and rude.) If that doesn’t get his attention, nothing will.

  62. Lady_Lessa*

    Honest thank you, migraine sufferers. Your comments have helped explain the changes in our purchasing manager’s office. She has gone to lower lighting, and warmer indirect lighting from lamps. I vaguely remember her mentioning migraines.

    It is pleasantly dim, but not dark.

  63. Awkwardness*

    I am a bit surprised about all the suggestions for accomodations.
    John clearly had the possibility to explain himself – which he preferred not to do. An explanation could have been as simple as “I do not like overhead light” or “I do not like bright light. That’s why you see me with sunglasses on most of the time”
    And this would not be giving away illness, personal information or need for accomodation.

    But John refuses communication about issues that are clearly work relevant. This should not be rewarded with OP bending over backwards to find reason for this behaviour.

    1. V*

      I agree to some extent, but I think bringing it up clearly, once, is a good idea. John is brand new to the work world and it may not have even occurred to him that that’s something he can discuss/ask for. I do think folks are trying to be kind by pointing out something that not everyone considers. After that though, I wouldn’t encourage OP to bend over backwards figuring it out. That’s just not their responsibility.

      1. Awkwardness*

        I always try to imagine how working with such a colleague would look like. And I realize that, for some basic compatibility, the colleague has to communicate too. If they are willing to express themself, we can discuss almost everything.
        I do not see this here. It takes some balls to tell your manager that something is none of their business. With this kind of boldness I would rather fear that he would take advantage of the things OP could be offering so accomodatingly.

    2. Elbe*

      Honestly, I find the comments here to be pretty wild.

      I’m surprised by the number of people who seem to think that the LW should a) ask John a bunch of questions about his health to guess if he has a condition or b) suggest TO HIM that he could have a medical condition, when he’s given absolutely no indication that that’s the case.

      It’s not impossible that John has a condition. But it’s also not particularly likely, either, given the conversations that the LW has already described. The door was wide open for him to disclose either a diagnosis or symptoms, and he didn’t. The only professional thing for the LW to do now is to handle the situation as John has described it – as a personal preference. Anything more would be crossing a line into making assumptions about an employee’s medical issues.

      I don’t understand all the comments that seem to suggest that the LW should be actively trying to find explanations for this behavior that make John look… less bad. It’s not exactly unheard of for young employees to behave badly, or inappropriately, or outside of business norms. And it’s significantly more common in people who are bristle at receiving feedback, as John has with the LW. That type of person just learns a lot more slowly, if at all.

      And, frankly, the attitude issues that John has are much more severe than this one problem about the lighting.

  64. KN*

    a) What We Do in the Shadows called and wants their episode outline back
    b) Hey now, I blast death metal in my work earbuds all day!

    1. new old friend*

      This does seem like a very good WWDitS episode. Mundane and vampiric in equal measure…

  65. morethantired*

    The “it’s none of your business” combined with lighting candles in his office signals some serious lack of judgement from this guy. Why would anyone assume lighting candles in their office is okay unless they asked?

  66. Mmm.*

    Have sunglasses been suggested as a compromise? He might have headaches or eye issues (diagnosed or not) that make light painful. He probably thinks it’s unprofessional to wear sunglasses at work, but it’s better than having total darkness.

    I might ease off on the natural light thing if the sunglasses work. Back when I had migraines, that stuff was awful. Lamps were better.

    1. Observer*

      Have sunglasses been suggested as a compromise?

      Why? Why would you expect the LW to start coming up with different ways for John to be comfortable? He “might” have any one of a dozen different conditions, and it’s not on the OP to start guessing which condition he MIGHT have, and then the next and the next and then the next, till all possible conditions are exhausted.

      If John has an issue, it’s on him to speak up. The OP has given him more than one opportunity to come up with an actually workable solution. But the thing here is that his *attitude* is the underlying problem. He simply does not see that he needs to come up with a better solution than keeping his office dark.

      The idea that he thinks that sunglasses are unprofessional is beyond laughable. This is the guy who things that CANDLES are appropriate in an office, and the he can tell his manager that how he works in the office which he needs to meet clients in, is none of their business. This is absolutely not someone who has any clue of the notion of professional.

      1. Oldmillenial*

        I agree that it is not the employer’s job to figure out the cause of the problem. but I am interested in whose responsibility it is to find a remedy once a disability or a cause is determined.
        I am sensitive to light. I don’t really have a diagnosis. I get migraines, but I’m sensitive to some lights all the time. I have found through trial and error that I prefer warmer color temperatures and LED lights (they don’t flicker). but when this became an issue at work, I didn’t know the type of light that would work best for me. my employer was willing to accommodate me, but said I had to do research on what lights would be best for me in my office. I contested that the employer should hire a consultant to help me in determining what would be best because I am not a light or eye expert. HR said that no such consultant existed and that it was my responsibility to figure it out. I feel like there has to be such consultants or experts for when companies build new offices and such and think it was the employer’s responsibility to work on finding possible solutions. it ended up not being a big deal because I started working from home during COVID and continued to WFH. thoughts on who should have been responsible for finding possible solutions?

        1. Mmm.*

          Oldmillennial – They’re right. They only have to make reasonable accommodations, and having them hire a consultant that would essentially replace a doctor’s advice isn’t financially reasonable and could put them in a spot that opens them to lawsuits if their professional’s advice isn’t right.

          Also, accommodations are a negotiation. That’s something I was super misled on at one point, to my detriment. You come with an idea, they counteroffer. But at the end of the day, they get the final call–even if that means no accommodations, assuming all reasonable options (no undue burden to them) have been exhausted.

        2. Elbe*

          Generally speaking, the employee’s doctor would describe the accommodations necessary, which the company would then implement.

          When there are known best practices for certain circumstances (an employee using a wheelchair or needing a pumping room, for example), I think it’s reasonable to expect the company to implement those practices. But companies are not (and shouldn’t be) responsible for determining what accommodations are necessary. Making decisions about how to handle someone’s health would be a very large overstep for a company, and it would open them up to liability if their solution wasn’t the correct one.

          I also don’t think that they’re legally obligated to provide accommodations unless the employee has a formal diagnosis. They can’t solve a problem if they don’t know what it is, and it would be deeply inappropriate for them to get involved in your medical diagnosis. I think that your company is right that it’s your responsibility to work with your doctors to figure out a root cause and get solutions for them to action.

      2. Mmm.*

        Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they directly say that they could find a way to accommodate them if they weren’t front-facing. And this is a way to accommodate them when they’re front-facing, potentially solving the entire issue they wrote in about with a couple pieces of plastic.

        1. Waiting on the bus*

          It’s not a way to accomodation him while he’s front-facing, though, because OP doesn’t know what the employee’s issue is. Sunglasses are a solution for a problem this comment section came up with. It’s the same with any other suggestion made in the comments – even if there is a medical issue, OP cannot offer solutions because she doesn’t know what the problem is.

          That’s why it’s on the employee to articulate the problem. Only then can OP offer suggestions. Until then, anything suggested here as an accomodation is, pardon the pun, a stab in the dark.

  67. Hiring Mgr*

    He reminds me of the Robert Prosky character in The Natural. He couldn’t stand light, certainly not the mega-wattage of Roy Hobbs.

  68. new old friend*

    Holy armchair diagnosing, Batman!

    I don’t think it matters *why* he prefers his office like this. Maybe he has migraines or sensory issues or latent vampirism or his childhood best friend’s great aunt’s dog’s groomer died in a tragic lightbulb accident. He’s refusing to take correction and trying to rules-lawyer his way around things.

    1. Quantum Possum*

      his childhood best friend’s great aunt’s dog’s groomer died in a tragic lightbulb accident

      Well, obviously that was the tragedy that turned him into Batman.

  69. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Carry a netbag of garlic bulbs into his office. If he shrieks and implodes …. you had a vampire and he’s gone now.

  70. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    Would you love to be near a conversation where a coworker tells their manager that it’s “none of your business,” why they do what they do, when the paycheck is all about their business.
    Maturity problem here. For some people proper office behavior has to be learned the hard way and that’s exhausting. Play the game, man, come on.

    I dim my lights to ambient/warmer light on headachey days, and the way it’s lit with my little warm white lights and battery operated candles presents another problem because it becomes so cozy everybody wants to hang out in it. When (forbid forbid) the auras come on, it’s time to get up and go. But at no time am I sitting in the catacombs when at any minute a massive client could just come right through the door. And trust me, that would be the day they do.

  71. Dinwar*

    As someone who prefers the dark, the solution is pretty simple: John keeps the office dark when he doesn’t have appointments or otherwise isn’t engaged with clients, and turns the lights on when he is. The rules of hospitality are to accommodate a guest within reason, and turning on the light certainly constitutes a reason. On the other hand, expecting someone to accommodate guests who aren’t there isn’t reasonable.

    I would love to work in a career where flipping a light switch constituted something big enough to notice. And while I get picked on for preferring dark offices, mostly it’s good-natured ribbing; no one actually cares.

    1. Elbe*

      The LW is expecting him to create a welcoming environment to accommodate patrons who ARE there.

      The letter states that a lot of the clients are walk-ins and that the darkness prevents them from even knowing that John is available to help them. The LW mentions that his volumes are less than his coworkers because of it. There’s a good reason that the office has to be welcoming at all times, not just when he has a specific appointment.

    2. NMitford*

      But, but, but…

      The issue is that he doesn’t get as many walk-ins as the other staff because his office is dark. Are you saying that he only gets to take previously scheduled appointments and leaves all the drop-ins to everyone else? Because that doesn’t really solve the issue. He needs to look like he’s ready, willing, and able to serve drop-ins, and a dark and gloomy office doesn’t say that.

    3. Allonge*

      We are not talking about guests and hospitality, we are talking about work and clients. If what he is doing effectively stops clients from going to him, he is not working, and the rest of his team is doing more than they should. Why would OP need to accommodate him if he is not delivering work?

  72. Hexiva*

    Great response to the letter, but I’m curious what the advice would be if, instead of backsliding or acting evasive about it, John had indeed said “yeah, I get a migraine unless it’s very dark in the room.” Like, if his work is otherwise good, it would seem unfair to force him to choose between agony and keeping his job. But on the other hand, how do you make sure that customers are actually willing to work with him in the dark room?

    1. Kevin Sours*

      At which point you can start having a conversation about what is actually required: both for John and the business. For instance will different lamps help? Is there a spot that is sufficiently dim for health but less off putting? Is is possible to communicate to customers that there is a legitimate reason for the dimness and not just John being creepy? Can you rearrange work duties so that John can do his fair share while seeing fewer walkins.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        Yes, and that hypothetical conversation cannot occur until John communicates. The accommodations process does require cooperation, which he’s not doing. Entirely possible the armchair diagnoses are right but that’s not relevant unless/until he raises that.

    2. Green great dragon*

      You could have a conversation about what ‘very dark’ looks like, and set up the lights so John’s in the darkest part of the room. You can check if some lights are less bad than others (warm tints, not flickering). Maybe you could rebalance task so he gets more non-walk-in work, and you can explain to customers why it’s dark to make them less creeped out. But if nothing works, this might be the wrong job (I am imagining an operating theatre nurse asking the surgeon if she could just turn down the lights a bit mid-op).

      But John didn’t say that. And his reaction sounds fireable anyway, since ‘taking on board feedback’ is a pretty basic skill. There are other jobs that might suit him better, and other people would may deserve the job just as much.

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      “how do you make sure that customers are actually willing to work with him in the dark room?”
      Customers have already shown they are NOT willing and this is unlikely to change – who wants to go into a dark creepy room for a closed-door discussion with a stranger?

      John needs to either change his habits or his job, because he is currently not performing his essential job functions.

      If he has a disability, then he has to chose a job that he can actually do with reasonable accommodations, which would not include a creepy cave for customers.

      However, it is quite likely that John has no disability, but that, fresh out of college, has not yet realised that he can’t always choose to work in the way he wants and also that he cannot tell his manager that it is none of her business how he works.
      The fact he actually told her this is what makes me think he is just ignorant of employment norms rather than disabled.

    4. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      N.B. accommodations should NOT be:
      . that his coworkers have to take over a major part of his job, which it sounds like walk-ins are
      . or that clients have to be persuaded to go into a dark cave. The organisation is meant to serve them, not the other way round.

      OK would be:
      . Lighting of a different kind, so long as his office is light and welcoming, comparable to his coworkers’ offices.
      . Protective glasses paid for by the employer
      . Moving to a different job (if one is available at his level) within the organisation that is not public-facing

      1. Dancing Otter*

        Protective glasses, yes!
        Back when I worked in an open plan office with fluorescent lighting, I had a light tint on my computer glasses. It was the lightest available rose tint, and I don’t think anyone else could discern it (if anything, they probably thought I needed to clean my glasses), but it helped SO MUCH.

    5. Observer*

      Like, if his work is otherwise good, it would seem unfair to force him to choose between agony and keeping his job.

      That’s like saying that if someone can’t physically do something they should still be allowed to take / keep a job that actually requires that thing. There is a reason why the ADA requires *reasonable* accommodation, and that allowing someone to not do their job explicitly doesn’t fall under that umbrella.

      If John were to say something like that, there would be a different question here. And the advice would not be “force clients to walk into a bats cave” because that’s not reasonable. What *is* reasonable is to discuss if it’s possible to create a reasonably inviting set up that does not trigger the migraines – may be different lighting, lower lighting with a different color temp that feels more “cozy”, using different bulbs, etc. So, you would have that discussion and see if it is possible for John to do his job.

      But unfortunately, if the only way for John to function is *really* to keep things this dark? Then he cannot do his job.

  73. Boof*

    I would make sure the big picture conversation with John includes the fact that they have less drop ins than their peers and have a client complaint about the lighting in their office. That way it is clear it’s not just you, there is clear evidence that this is affecting the main part of their work. It’s gonna be up to John to figure out if there’s an actual medical needs and communicate to you what it is or not. You can’t guess that, you can just tell them why you need it and that it’s not negotiable to have the clients feel unwelcome. At best suggest if you have resources for employees who are struggling? (I would think a good eap would include evaluating for conditions that might cause the problem being brought up by a patient but i could be overly optimistic there)

  74. PlainJane*

    First, yes–patron comfort comes first.

    But I sympathize. I hate over-bright lighting. I’d probably be the patron who sought him out because his office was comfortable! I will tend to leave lights off until it is absolutely impossible to function without them, and even then, I’ll keep them dim. (Then again, what I love is natural light, and what I hate is the artificial stuff, so I’d probably be all about the windows, unless the light was absolutely glaring in–like facing west at sunset glare.) This is such a question of personal comfort levels–I often am working in what I consider lovely, pleasant light, and someone else will say, “What, did the bulb blow?” So saying “It has to be light enough…” is very vague. What is “light enough”?

    How bright do you actually need it to be for patrons? Is there a compromise to be had? Not in terms of “John, you need to be visible”/”No, I won’t turn the light on”, but in terms of a level you can both be comfortable with. He does need to be in the office all the time, after all, so maybe some accommodation can be made. Is there a way to configure the office so the light isn’t direct on him while he works? How bright would the standing lamps he brings need to be? Would a full spectrum light help? (Even if it’s on his dime… maybe it’s the yellow light that’s bugging him?) If he’s otherwise excellent at his job, it might be worth compromising on something like that. Not so dark that an average patron will complain about creepiness, but maybe not full-blast fluorescents, either.

    1. PlainJane*

      Also, and a little bit shy of the topic, the business of people just walking in and going to an office with anyone is… odd? I might well assume a person with a dark-ish office was doing “backstage” work, even if I liked the lighting. I feel like, if you want to even up the workloads, having someone working reception to direct patrons to the person next on a list, or someone free, would be more comfortable for everyone. I mean, yeah, it could just be me–I’d be super uncomfortable just wandering up to an office and saying, “Hey, are you free?” But it also seems like a good way to even out the work flow. Then, if lots of people go in there and all of them say, “Ugh, no, don’t send me to the dark room,” then you’ll know it’s not just one patron who has a thing about it.

      1. Observer*

        or someone free, would be more comfortable for everyone.

        Not if people are complaining about it! Keep in mind that someone actually complained to the OP, which means that more people don’t want to deal with it. Combined with the drop off, that tells you that if a receptionist or someone tried to make people go to John’s office, there would be a LOT more complaints – and people who stop coming in.

        then you’ll know it’s not just one patron who has a thing about it.

        Except that they already know that. Because, given the choice, John is having a much lower rate than anyone else. People are literally voting with their feet.

        1. PlainJane*

          Only one person has complained about it, as far as I can tell. (At least the letter only refers to one.) OP is combining that with low numbers to bolster the idea that patrons hate the “creepy dark office,” but I’m not willing to make that jump without more than a single complaint about it. People may be not going in there because they think he’s busy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have an issue with it. It could be something else altogether keeping them away (including the somewhat abrasive attitude implied by the refusal to take feedback–is John looking up like he’s annoyed if people go in?) Is his office further from the door than others? Has he been getting bad word of mouth? Do the others just already have established relationships with patrons? There could be dozens of reasons other than the number of lumens coming from his lights. And the one person who complained may just be that person who can’t stand to be in a place without every light turned to the highest level. We just don’t know from the information given.

          When I said “more comfortable for everyone,” I don’t just mean his office. I mean the whole experience of going someplace for help. Who wants to go into a building then just wander around and hope that someone is free to help? It’s much more comfortable get, “John’s free right now, second office on the right” as opposed to, “Oh, I’m sure someone’s free, go and pick your favorite office”

          1. Observer*

            OP is combining that with low numbers to bolster the idea that patrons hate the “creepy dark office,” but I’m not willing to make that jump without more than a single complaint about it

            Why? The OP knows enough about the work and traffic flow to know that there is something about John’s office that is putting off people. Same for the other issues you’ve mentioned. (Do you really think that this is the first time there was a new team member in the office?) Given that reality, the OP would be stupid to not take that one complaint very seriously.

            It’s much more comfortable get, “John’s free right now, second office on the right” as opposed to, “Oh, I’m sure someone’s free, go and pick your favorite office”

            You’re making a lot of assumptions here. But even it were actually a better way to work, it is just not relevant. The idea that a company should change its entire workflow to accommodate a single person is a bit much under any circumstances. To suggest it in the context of accommodating one person’s *preferences*?! You’ve got to be kidding.

            1. PlainJane*

              That’s why I prefaced it with saying it was a bit shy of the topic. It struck me as odd that the patron is the one choosing the office (which they’d have to be if they’re rejecting John because they don’t like the look of his office).

              Why? The OP knows enough about the work and traffic flow to know that there is something about John’s office that is putting off people.
              What I’m saying is that there’s clearly something about John and/or his office that’s putting people off. But saying “It must be the light!” because of a single complaint about that overlooks what else it could be. Not everyone complains.

              To take it away from this specific example, let’s say that Percy is Grover’s boss. Grover has a habit that Percy doesn’t like much–he plays his reed flute and leaves it on the desk and it looks spitty and gross. They have had conversations about this, and Grover is very unpleasant about it. There is the management issue of needing to establish that Grover does not have carte blanche to leave a spitty pipe on his desk, and has to take direction better. But let’s say that he also has lower numbers than everyone else. It could be the pipes. It could be his attitude. It could be that the door is far away. It could be that he’s been ducking out of his office and leaving a pan pipe recording playing to fool people. But one day, a patron on comes to Percy’s office and says, “I was grossed out by the spitty pan pipes.” This confirms Percy’s pre-existing opinion that the pan pipes are the problem therefore, it must be why everyone is staying away. At last, there’s hard data to support his position! Except it really doesn’t say much about why other patrons are staying away. Maybe it’s the pan pipes and they’re just not makin the complaints. Or maybe there are other things that they’re not complaining about. Dealing with “You’re not seeing enough walk-ins” may be an entirely different question than “You have spit all over your desk.” Or it might not be. One complaint doesn’t tell us one way or another, because there are no other data points.

    2. Observer*

      If he’s otherwise excellent at his job, it might be worth compromising on something like that

      He is *not* “otherwise excellent” – no one who tells their boss “How I work in my office is none of your business” can qualify. ESPECIALLY when the office in question is one where he needs to meet with the public and his boss explained the problem to him. And ALSO he brought in candles! It’s just bad enough judgement / high enough immaturity that it’s not reasonable to that he’s otherwise excellent.

      Also, the issue here is not the the LW won’t compromise. But the *John* won’t compromise! The LW has already given him a chance to makes some changes and to explain what he needs. And he’s just digging his heels in. It’s wildly inappropriate to think that the LW would start trying to figure out what might maybe work with absolutely no information nor any indication that John is willing to be even faintly reasonable here.

      1. PlainJane*

        OP referred to him as a smart and talented worker, so I assume there’s some reason she’s trying to figure it out instead of just saying “Strike three, you’re out.”

        (Though I admit, I’m more interested in the general question of balancing employee comfort with patron comfort than in the particular question of John.)

        1. Observer*

          so I assume there’s some reason she’s trying to figure it out

          The much more likely reason is that the OP is a decent person who is stymied by ridiculous behavior on the one hand, and on the other hand is not cavalier about messing up someone’s livelihood.

          That is *good*. You WANT employers to try to help their employees succeed! You WANT bosses who take their responsibility seriously and respect the needs of their employees!

          But it means that sometimes a boss is going to wind up struggling to help someone who is not all that great. And it’s fine. If the OP can get through to John, and get him to behave, that will probably be a win all around. And it will probably wind up improving John’s work all around, because part of this means that John learns some better judgement.

          But *right now* there is no way that John is “excellent” at the major part of his job.

  75. PlainJane*

    Which is a whole separate problem from the lights. The latter happened to interest me more because I’ve been there, but yeah–the refusal to have the conversation is a LOT more problematic than the lights.

  76. learnedthehardway*

    I feel for John – I have a south-facing home office with lots of natural light, and I have the blinds drawn and work with a lamp a lot of the time. In fact, I never have the blinds more than 6 inches up. That’s because the glare from the light really bothers my eyes, especially with a backlit monitor. I’ve tried other configurations of my office, but then I have glare reflected on my monitor, and it’s worse. If I don’t work this way, I get migraines and eye-strain.

    If I were the manager, I would look at ways that John’s office can be reconfigured to work for his need for low light, but still be welcoming for patrons. Perhaps his desk could be moved so his screen is not reflecting glare from the sunlight back at him. Maybe he could close half the blinds. Or something else – I would ask John why he feels he needs darkness, and then try to work with him to meet both his needs/preferences and those of the patrons.

    1. Observer*

      I would ask John why he feels he needs darkness, and then try to work with him to meet both his needs/preferences and those of the patrons.

      Did you read the parts where the LW actually did those things? They allowed John to bring his own lights. Then they asked John what his issue is and John told him “Cuz”.

      There is simply nothing for the OP to explore at this point.

  77. peter hook*

    i’m sorry, man, i don’t mean to sound like a “milennials, smdh” person, but this guy has got to go. “none of your business.”?? OK, our businesses will no longer intersect. problem solved.

    1. Quantum Possum*

      The LW says that John is fresh out of college and in his first job, so I’m assuming John is Gen Z, not a Millennial.

      And “none of your business” is totally a response I would expect from a Gen Z employee. In my experience, Millennial workers tend to be more earnest and idealistic, looking for meaning in their work, while Gen Z workers tend towards the cynicism and contrariness brought on by Late Stage Capitalism.

  78. Calyx*

    Additional suggestion for the dark-office guy: He seems willing to invest in comfort. Could you work with him to get lighting that is dim but welcoming? That could broaden your appeal to customers. Not everyone likes bright offices. A well lit but not bright office could be welcoming in a different way.

  79. Texas Teacher*

    I think the LW should ask why he wants it dark in his office. There are several learning disabilities and vision impairments that bright light or fluorescent lights aggravate. He may not be diagnosed but knows bright and/or fluorescent lights are painful or cause eye strain. If that is the case maybe the office can be configured to have a welcoming front space and a side or backspace that has lighting that makes it less painful for him to work.

    1. Oldmillenial*

      I was thinking that too. I am sensitive to light, though do not have a specific diagnosis. I do get migraines that make it worse, but am sensitive even without a migraine.
      maybe he could move into a meeting room when he interacts with customers.

    2. Observer*

      I think the LW should ask why he wants it dark in his office.

      Except that the OP actually did that. They say that “I’ve asked him to help me understand why he feels he needs to work in darkness,” but John wouldn’t give him an answer.

      There are a lot of possibilities, but none of the matter. The LW has a legitimate need, and John is simply refusing to comply without giving the LW any information that would allow a chance of accommodation.

  80. New Jack Karyn*

    I think there’s a lot going on here. John sounds like he’s been on reddit too much, and dug in too deep to the “As long as my work gets done, they need to leave me alone” vibe. He’s also young, and in his first career job. There’s also a vocal online contingent who advises to never disclose a disability to your employer, to avoid being discriminated against. These three factors may have come into a perfect storm in John, and he’s about to get an education that he didn’t receive in school.

    None of this changes the advice to OP. She needs to manage him, using clear and firm language. I am not suggesting that she do anything other than Alison’s advice in her approach.

    My comment is for everyone ragging on John here in the comments. Yes, he’s not behaving well and he might well need to be fired. But we could stand to have a little grace when discussing a young person in their first professional role. Think back to when you were 22-23; I don’t know about y’all, but I made some many missteps–some of them serious. I’ve learned and grown, and I think John deserves a chance to do that.

  81. Oldmillenial*

    i have a sensitivity to light and so I sort of understand his position, but if he can’t perform his job because customers don’t know he is available, then something needs to be done about it. either he turns his light on, he finds a nother way to signal his availability like having a light up sign on his door (and then turning on the light when a patron enters his office), or he leaves that position because he cannot satisfactorily perform his job.

    I am curious though, I have found that the newer generation in the workforce, so like gen z, at least at the place I worked, have a strong tendency to not turn on lights in their office and keep their door shut (the company I worked for had an open door culture) and it really was hard to know if they were ever there. since this is the guys first job, it’s safe to bet he is probably a gen z-er. I wonder if it is a generational thing? has anyone else noticed it with those just entering the workforce in the last few years?

    1. londonedit*

      I think we need to keep in mind that anyone who’s started work over the last five years will have absolutely no idea about how workplace norms used to be pre-2020. I have colleagues in their mid-twenties who are in their second or third jobs, and they say things like ‘Yeah…I was only in my first job for six months before Covid happened so I don’t really remember working in the office full-time’. Some of them have never worked in an office full-time. Their early experiences of the working world have been WFH or hybrid working, and they most likely live in a houseshare so if they’re WFH they’re probably working from their bedroom or another small space. They’re probably used to trying to find privacy wherever they can get it. They’re also used to the vast majority of work communication being online – Teams or Slack, email, maybe the odd video call. They’re not used to sitting in a room full of people and having the hubbub of a pre-2020 office environment around them.

      1. Allonge*

        Ok, but – what can OP or any other manager do about this? There is only so many things you can explain to someone new to the workforce*, and they need to be willing to talk about issues.

        *By the way, there were always people new to office work, ever since there is office work. Sure, COVID was a big difference, but so was war, or just coming from a non-white collar background. People managed before, the ones starting now will also manage.

        1. londonedit*

          Of course, but the point is that people should consider all of the above rather than jumping to ‘young people these days are so weird about work, what’s up with that’. Just a bit of understanding rather than ‘why don’t they talk in the office???’

  82. Thunder Kitten*

    There are a lot of interesting ideas here. A couple of things I would like to point out is that your employee is young. He may not have the emotional maturity to be open to his manager about any actual need / condition. It may be that he doesn’t have a formal diagnosis. He may not know what things are appropriate to ask for. He may be worried that disclosing information would lead to discrimination (without weighing the fact that his actions sans context could get him fired).

    OP, before you speak with him, I would recommend being very clear with yourself as to what sort of accomodations you could offer/suggest – even without him disclosing anything to you. Maybe it’s worth brainstorming with him about options that WOULD be acceptable in your workplace. Maybe he can switch to a different (non-public-facing) role. Maybe wearing dark sunglasses indoors would be okay.

    1. Observer*

      Maybe it’s worth brainstorming with him about options that WOULD be acceptable in your workplace.

      That would be a reasonable suggestion with someone who recognizes that their boss has the standing to weigh in on his office *and* is willing to try to figure stuff out. But John fails on both counts.

      This is the thing that’s making me a little nuts here. There are SO many suggestions to the LW that simply ignore that the lights are only PART of the issue – and one that cannot be resolved by the OP without some cooperation from John. And that the other – and larger – part of the issue is that John *refuses to cooperate* and thinks that he should not have to.

  83. Emily*

    I’m dissapointed, but not surprised at the rampant speculation going on in these comments. Some of the comments are making it seem like OP should be able to be a mind reader who should understand that John needs accomodations even though John has done nothing to express that. OP gave John an opportunity to express what his problems were with the lights, and no legitimate reason was given. Let’s not forget that due to John’s actions his co-workers are having to take on more than their fair share of work (I was so glad Alison touched on this in her answer).

    OP, I am sorry for the rampant speculation and outright fanfiction some of the commenters are writing. Please continue to closely manage John and directly address his innapropriate behaviors. It sounds like this job may not be the right fit for him, and how he is behaving is not good for business, your patrons, you, or his co-workers.

  84. Cats stole my croissant*

    John sounds like a stroppy teenager. Next time OP writes in, it’ll be “I asked John for some paperwork that was overdue. He said ‘urgh, you’ve got no right to make me do homework, I hate you, you’re not even my real dad’, slammed his office door and turned Marilyn Manson up to 11”.

    1. Observer*

      No, he’s going to claim that the OP laid a trap for him. . .

      I mentioned the letter from the woman who was annoyed that her supervisor “interfered” with her work, even though it was “none of supervisors business”. But I’m also reminded of the letter from the OP whose employee was complaining that asking the employee to show up to meetings was being like a “nagging Mom”.

  85. Vermont Green*

    I feel about Amazon the way people of certain faiths feel about alcohol. Just as a gift of alcohol is a conundrum to some; to me, so is a card for a company that runs its employees ragged while allowing its owner to make 1.43 million an hour (according to Yahoo Finance). I would hate to spend it, even knowing that the money (as in the alcohol) had already been banked by the unethical profiteer. So giving gift cards also requires some careful judgment.

  86. Student*

    I got a lot of “John is not very self-aware” vibes off this letter. He doesn’t really know why he’s doing what he’s doing, and he doesn’t know how it comes off.

    I think the OP’s done excellent and does not owe John any further slack.

    If OP wants to give another round a go, here’s how I’d approach it with other people I’ve worked with who exhibited similar behavior.

    I would show OP feedback from customers (or at least directly bring such feedback up to him – if there’s a presumption client feedback would be anonymous) to show him that this has an unacceptable business impact. I would probably also point out that he gets less walk-ins than his peers, and directly say that this difference means he is doing poorly at his job compared to his peers. Demonstrate that walk-ins are a specific job success metric. I would do this with an air of trying to teach him that there is a business reason for the lighting rules. Try to stay far away from any tone that conveys you are justifying your orders; treat it more like teaching someone remedial information they should’ve already known.

    Then, I would direct him that he needs to create a new lighting plan for his office. It needs to meet my OP’s needs first, his needs second. I would give him a specific budget guideline for what you can reasonably afford to spend (which might be quite small), and tell him that you have final authority and approval over the actual purchase. But he can, within reason, find a lighting solution that better supports him as long as it meets your standards. Then he has to go research what would work. Tell him part of this exercise will also require he document why the current lighting available (natural, overhead) isn’t sufficient, to justify the purchase. These can be brief paragraphs.

    You might want to explicitly say he has to write down whether he wants to change the window treatment, the electric lighting, or both. I doubt he is mature and experienced enough to think about window treatment solutions without prompting, but depending on his actual problem they may be a cheap and viable solution. There are filters you can stick to windows, blind changes or repairs, etc.

    The idea is that forcing him to write something down might push him to actually say if he has a medical need, or screen glare, or any of other things that commenters have suggested. Forcing him to look up some light solutions will force him to weigh some costs and benefits, make some choices, and think harder about the problem’s constraints. It generally just makes people take things more seriously if they write it down.

    Also, if he returns something in writing that is very flip, or as hostile to basic feedback as he has said verbally, it’ll make your case to get rid of him very easy to justify.

    1. Boof*

      I like this; it is a bit above and beyond but still within reasonable scope of a motivated manager and should have a relatively short time investment/ final notice period

  87. Billy Preston*

    Look, I also get migraines from fluorescent lights and have fought some battles over this. But the employee needs to communicate & explain more, and then try to have a reasonable discussion with their supervisor. Because a totally dark office isn’t welcoming to patrons and that is part of the job. Like just a couple lamps in there would do the trick.

  88. CLC*

    If he is right out of college and in his early 20s he may not know he has a medical need that qualifies for accommodations. I didn’t know I was neurodivergent until I was 30, and then it took a few years to understand what that really means for me (honestly it is on going 15 years later). Lots of people have light sensitivity for various reasons. It would be really unfortunate for an otherwise talented person to lose their first job over something that could very well be a biological sensitivity and seems like it could be accommodated in some way if some creativity is applied.

    1. GythaOgden*

      The guy has to make that first move, though. So far he hasn’t articulated anything beyond ‘don’t wanna’. I’ve been in that situation myself — down to a similar age when I accepted the diagnosis because the assistance available was more empowering than it had previously been — and even though I was struggling I was sensible enough to work with my employer rather than against them. Ultimately it took a few instances of the job not working out before I actually went and sought help, and this is in a working culture (the UK/Ireland) where it’s easier to discuss what’s holding you back and there’s actually more requirements on the employee’s part to declare what’s going on and get accommodation/adjustment so they can stay employed. (We have to list the reasons we were off sick on a form when we get back, even if we were only self-certifying, and for many illnesses longer than a working week or so we need a doctor’s note. So the employer can find out what the issue is if we keep having to take sick leave, and it’s to ensure they themselves can cater to what we need in place for us to be able to do our jobs.) I ended up realising that I’d had the expectation of a significant career rather than just a job but didn’t have the physical ability to cope, particularly when I had to do study outside of a FT job to acquire the qualifications I needed for that job. But my accountant employer wasn’t going to keep me on if I kept falling asleep at work because I couldn’t handle both FT work and study at the same time.

      Compassion only goes so far. At some point you have to lay it out clearly — he can’t keep bristling at what he’s being employed to do (which is specifically public-facing, and I don’t want to go into a dark office with a strange man just to fill out some forms or whatever) if he wants to avoid this becoming an object lesson. If he does want to stay at the job, he also has to put some effort in to find a way to cope with what his boss needs from him.

    2. Emily*

      CLC: If he needs medical accommodation then he needs to communicate. I don’t understand why so many people are missing this incredibly important point. LW can’t be a minder reader, and right now the only information LW has is that John “prefers it that way” regarding the light, and is also being dismissive and rude when LW gives John work related instructions. That is not at all appropriate.

      1. Emily*

        I also want to add, if John can’t figure out how to communicate his needs more effectively then saying “I just prefer it that way” that is really not LW’s problem. LW has been engaging in discussions with John, and John also needs to do his part, but expecting LW to be able to read John’s mind is not a reasonable expectation.

        I also want to touch on the one-sided compassion I am seeing a lot of commenters show that reminds me of the letter from the LW who worked at a place that needed coverage over the holidays and everyone was supposed to take turns, but the parents were dumping all the holiday coverage on non-parents and the higher ups were saying things like “Have a heart” when it came to the parents getting to be off on the holidays, while completely ignoring the impact it was having on non-parents.

        John is not the only person who matters here. LW and John’s co-workers matter to. There is no real evidence that John needs medical accommodations, yet many commenters are showing a ton of concern for John based on medical issues it is not even clear he has, without considering the impact on LW and John’s co-workers, not to mention the patrons John is supposed to be serving.

        I strongly suspect a lot of commenters are allowing their own personal experiences to bias them and therefore are not seeing this situation clearly (I have sensitivity to light and need medical accommodation and therefore John must too! Even though he has not done anything to explain this to LW, LW should just innately understand this!)

        1. Observer*

          John is not the only person who matters here. LW and John’s co-workers matter to. ~~~SNIP ~~~, without considering the impact on LW and John’s co-workers, not to mention the patrons John is supposed to be serving.

          This is a really good point. The OP pointed out that patrons don’t like this, and others are being forced to pick up the slack on the work he’s not getting done.

    3. Observer*

      Lots of people have light sensitivity for various reasons.

      And they all know that they have light sensitivity. They may not know why, they may not realize that this term applies to them. But they *do* know that light makes me feel woozy / gives me a headache / gives me a migraine / whatever other symptom. So when the LW asked John why he needs to keep his office dark, he could have responded with that information. He chose not to. The LW did not ask him about a formal medical diagnosis but just “why are you doing this?” And his answer was “because I prefer it.”

      It would be really unfortunate for an otherwise talented person to lose their first job over something that could very well be a biological sensitivity and seems like it could be accommodated in some way if some creativity is applied.

      Except that this description has absolutely nothing to do with the situation at hand. If John had come to the LW and said “I get headaches from these lights, can we use other lights?” and the LW was “Nope. Your office needs to be THIS way, and this way ONLY”, *that* would be a situation where the employee was losing a job over something where a little creativity and flexibility might help. But John is probably going to lose his job because he is refusing to *do his job* and he is insisting that his boss has no business to supervise him and his work.

      He also *chose* to tell the LW that how he keeps his office – in which he needs to meet with the public – is “none of your business”. That’s not a biological issue. And it’s not something that anyone should even *consider* “accommodating”.

  89. Daytripper75*

    Why do employees seem to think that their managers directions are optional these days? “Turn the lights on and keep them on.” “Nah, that doesn’t make me happy.”

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      It’s not “these days”. There have *always* been employees with . . . alternative approaches to authority. Someone above told about her father who behaved similarly.

  90. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    John needs to decide if he wants to continue in a customer facing role or not. Because he can either work in a darkened office or he can do this job, but he can’t do both. I think this needs to spelled out explicitly.

  91. Elbe*

    A lot of young workers fundamentally misunderstand what it means to have an office. They think that “my office” is possessive in the same sense that it would be if they were saying “my room” or “my apartment”.

    It could be that the LW needs to sit him down and explain that “his office” is not actually his own personal space. It’s company space being allocated to him for the specific purpose of doing his job, which includes making a welcoming environment for patrons. Because this space is strictly job-related, it 100% falls under his managers purview.

    The “none of your business” comment makes me think that he has a fundamental misunderstanding of what is going on here. And it could be that some of that stems from how he is thinking about this space as a whole.

  92. lincva*

    This employee reminds me of a teacher I had in high school who always had the lights off and just had lamps and string lights around the room. It felt more cozy than off-putting and there was still enough light to see things. There are ways to have a low-light environment without making it uninhabitable, but it doesn’t sound like this person is really trying.

  93. Raida*

    Unless John has a medical issue such as getting migraines from the flouro lighting, eye strain from lights, etc then he’ll need to follow the office guidelines.

    If he DOES have a medical need – that’s fine! He can provide the office manager with them, and a new format can be figured out that both creates an inviting space for patrons and suits his sensitivities.

    He could *certainly* create a cosy environment without bright lights, and brighten it a bit more when someone comes in by tweaking the blinds or having a dimmer switch to dial up the brightness.

    But he’s not doing this – he’s saying it’s “none of your business” when it *is*, he’s driving away patrons, he’s creating a persona of ‘creepy weirdo’, and he’s changing his behaviour back to *whatever he wants* when you’re not around. Also, he doesn’t seem to understand that this can cost him his job, progression opportunities, etc – which is normal in someone new to the workforce but he’s gotta learn

  94. Not in the Dark*

    If this is a library or a research institution, one thing that I have not seen addressed in the commentary (yes, I read over 600 comments) is how the patrons and co-workers are collaborating with John.

    If John has his office so dark and his computer set to dark mode, some of the lower numbers could be a lack of returning patrons due to not getting help from John potentially due to his being new and not knowing things and partially due to them not being able to see things on his computer.

    As a librarian, a lot of what I do is demo on my computer of what database to go to and what to search to make it give you stuff. or government site or the library website, etc. If his computer is set too low for someone else to read, does he adjust that?

    Also, how are his relations with his teammates? A huge part of my learning was from hanging around my co-workers and observing how they handled requests, not only the hard skills but also how to work with people. For example, people that want to patent something want information about how to search to see if their invention was already patented…but won’t tell you what their invention is, because they fear you stealing it. If a new employee is telling their supervisor that they can’t tell them what to do, what are they telling their teammates? Especially if their teammates can see that the new person is getting away with doing substantially less work, it can turn toxic fast.

    Another thing that hasn’t been referenced is that librarianship has a long history of being tolerant for the sack of being tolerant, so the OP better be sure that her leadership will be behind her for getting rid of John. Unfortunately, lack of management ability is a real problem in the land.

    While what I have pointed out is mainly librarianship related, all of it applies to other patron centered jobs, just librarianship, like academia, is a whole nother level of weird.

  95. bat*

    1) Something about the lights obviously bother John, but he may not have an explanation/diagnosis for why that is; or he may be reluctant to share it. Or pinning down why the lights are a problem might require a level of self-body-awareness that isn’t happening for John.
    2) If they haven’t already, OP may want to provide some general info about requesting accommodations, since this is John’s first job.
    3) The question is: is there a lighting option (warm light, many diffuse lights) that isn’t overhead or natural light, but is still enough light to make the space welcoming to patrons? Or is that just not possible? I can see even regular cozy lighting being weird if all the other staff a patron could chose are in bright office light.
    4) These options exhausted… there might not be much OP can do to make this work for John, and work for patrons. Maybe John will head into a less-public facing job.

  96. anonny*

    Does anyone like bright fluorescent lights shining over them all day? I believe the fluorescent bulbs actually give off radiation (a small amount but like…who wants lights that American work culture forced in office buildings back in the 1970s because it was cheap?).

    I think being direct with John (we can change the lights to something less harsh/soft white light, but it’s a bona fide job requirements that lights must be on). Make him agree in writing and when he goes back to shutting them off, put him on PIP or fire him.
    At least you can point to something he signed, and ethically know you made a cheap common sense accommodation and if he won’t disclose a disability, it’s not your fault.

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