am I a hypocrite for dating a customer, coworker sends political texts outside of work, and more

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

1. Am I a hypocrite for dating a customer?

“Meg,” the owner/manager of the independent coffee shop I work at, is giving me a hard time because I’m dating a man who asked me out during my shift. Months ago, we went through a big thing where a different man came in and hit on me repeatedly. I told him I had a boyfriend, but he stalked me on social media and found out I didn’t. So I wanted Meg to back me up by telling him we have a rule against employees dating customers. Meg thought this was stupid and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t just tell the guy I didn’t want to date him. Finally, after I told her I was seriously afraid of him, she did it; she banned him from the shop when he argued with her, and I haven’t had any more problems with him.

But now, Meg is saying I manipulated her into setting a policy I didn’t abide by, and I’m a hypocrite for dating another customer. Aside from the small, unimportant fact that I’m attracted to my boyfriend and was not attracted at all to the other guy, my boyfriend asked me out very politely, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have kept pestering me if I’d said no. Am I being hypocritical, and what should I say to Meg, who now brings this up every time my boyfriend drops me off or picks me up from work, or I mention him in any way?

No, you’re not being hypocritical, and Meg is being horrible. You weren’t asking her to actually have a policy against dating customers; you were asking her to tell someone that for your own comfort and safety when he didn’t respect your original no. Try framing it like that for her: “I wasn’t asking you to set a policy against dating customers. I was asking for your help, as my employer, in a situation where I felt unsafe. I’d appreciate it if you would stop implying otherwise.”

2. Assigning tasks to an assistant

Whenever I assign a task to my assistant, he says something like “I can’t do that until tomorrow afternoon” or “I can add it to my list but right now I’m doing A, B, C…” or “I was doing something else right now” or “I was actually planning on doing other things today, but if you can wait for three days from now, sure.” It never feels helpful, but rather it feels like an initial “no” or like I’m being managed. I truly just want to lob tasks over to him, I want him to say “got it, I’ll send it when I’m done” and that’s that. And I’m absolutely fine with him just adding it to a long list and doing it when he can, unless I say otherwise and need him to prioritize an urgent task.

I bristle every time he sends some kind of a time boundary in response to a task. I feel like I have to consider it in some way — like I’m being given some bit of info or scheduling that I now have to deal with. Am I being unreasonable? Can I ask him to stop replying to tasks by telling me when he will do them, and that I will tell him if there is a deadline for these things?

Part of me also wonders if he does this because he’s trying to manipulate the role so that I never ask for something quickly, but the job sometimes demands that tasks can shift into suddenly being urgent and I need him to be flexible rather than defensive about that.

How’s his workload? A lot of those responses sound like someone with a high workload trying to manage up because there’s no other way to make his priority list sustainable. If he does have a high workload, this is a sensible strategy: he’s giving you info about how he’ll fit a new task into his existing workload, so that you have the opportunity to say, “Actually, I need it sooner than that.” That’s good, because if he didn’t volunteer that info and you needed it sooner, you’d both be missing an opportunity to spot that and course-correct. So if his workload is high, I’d leave this alone.

On the other hand, if his workload isn’t particularly high, some of those comments would feel a lot more rigid. In that case, it’s reasonable to say, “When I give you new work, I’ll tell you if there’s a particular deadline but otherwise I’ll assume you’ll fit it in with your existing priorities. You don’t need to warn me that you’ll need a few days with it; I’m generally assuming that’s the case.” And then if it still continues, the next time you could say, “Yep, no need to flag that, let’s always default to the assumption of a few days of turnaround time unless we discuss otherwise.”

Re: your last paragraph: is he ever resistant when you do need something right away? If so, that’s a separate conversation to have with him — that sometimes things will be urgent and rolling with that is part of the job.

3. Coworker sends me political texts outside of work

My coworker (who was just hired to be an equal, and is supervising staff I work with) is texting me at home about anti-vaccination movements and fringe science things. She is (mostly) well behaved at work but I get frequent messages at home. We were quite friendly before this and I’m not sure how to stop this in a way that won’t raise her hackles. She clearly knows the behavior isn’t work-appropriate. Any advice would be appreciated!

Text back this: “We have different views on this stuff and I would rather not receive texts about it. I actually prefer not to get texts after work hours at all unless it’s an emergency. Thanks in advance and see you at work tomorrow!”

But I’m concerned she might be doing something similar to people she manages, who might feel less able to push back. It’s worth mentioning that concern to your boss if you share the same manager.

4. My office is weirdly focused on bathrooms

I’ve worked at my current company for roughly three months. It’s a standard office environment for the most part. But apparently there’s an ongoing issue of people not cleaning up after themselves in the bathroom. I’ve seen nothing egregious, but am extra diligent due to all the focus this has gotten. There have been at least a half dozen emails, signs, and meetings on the topic and there are sanitizing wipes, gloves, and toilet covers. Yes, it’s gross. It’s also a fact of life that some people, by will or physical abilities, will have issues that no amount of signs or meetings is apparently capable of resolving. I’m sick of the topic. Thoughts on how to resolve the issue or get people to move on? At the latest talk, the manager said a possible “solution” was floated among higher ups to lock the bathrooms and have a manager open and check them as needed, but thought that might be going too far and shelved the idea.

That does indeed sound excessive (multiple meetings on the topic?!) but you’ve only been there three months, which means it’s highly unlikely that you have the standing to shut it down (unless you’re a high-level manager, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case). Your best bet is to either find it amusing or tune it out.

5. I lied about my new job

I recently left my previous organization for a better opportunity. While I was on my notice period, my manger was constantly after me to reveal the place I was going to and under that pressure I randomly blurted out the name of a company which is situated in another location and just cooked up a story that I would be joining there. The other reason being that the company which I was going to join was one of our clients and my manager and the managing director have connections there, so I was very scared as to whether they would just put out something against me to retain me here … which lead to the cooked-up story.

So now everybody thinks that I am joined the place I told them about, even though I haven’t. I don’t know if I did the right thing or whether there will be any repercussions once they find the place that I have actually joined.

Yeah, that’s potentially going to be weird! Best case scenario: if you’re not likely to stay in touch with anyone from your old job, it might never come up. But if you’re likely to have contact with anyone there … well, could you plausibly just say your plans changed? Or even: “I have no idea why I said that. I’d thought about X, but decided on Y.”

In the future, if you don’t want to say where you’re going, it helps to have an answer already planned out so you’re not put on the spot. For example: “I’m not ready to share publicly yet, but I’ll let you know when I am.”

{ 516 comments… read them below }

  1. Ginger Cat Lady*

    I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with an assistant giving you information of turnaround time. What you call a “time boundary” seems more like a plan for turnaround to me. Is there a reason you’re taking the harshest possible read on this?

    1. nnn*

      If his workload isn’t that high and he’s constantly responding to new tasks with “I was doing something else right now” or “I was actually planning on doing other things today” I can see why that sounds off.

      1. Xanna*

        “I truly just want to lob tasks over to him” and “just adding it to a long list and doing it when he can,” reads to me as if the assistant is balancing/is meant to be balancing a lot of ongoing tasks/priorities/projects with a fairly high level of autonomy.

        I think a bit less focus on the assistant’s presumed motivations, and trying to extend a bit of benefit of the doubt might be helpful – there are a million reasons people overexplain, many of which fall into the “annoying in the workplace and totally fair game for you as a manager to have a constructive conversation about”, but aren’t nefarious or meant to hurt/inconvenience you?

        Obviously, could be context to this guy that makes the benefit of the doubt slightly too doubtful, but just from what’s written here – it’s coming across as pretty harsh IMHO. Also definitely curious about his actual work output – which feels a bit like the missing puzzle piece in this letter.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Less focus on the assistant’s presumed motivations, and trying to extend a bit of benefit of the doubt.

          I agree with this. Like Ginger Cat Lady, this read to me as super normal “Okay, I should complete A, then M, then G, and then this, right?” checking in for someone balancing a lot of tasks with shifting priorities. Sometimes your boss wants to say “Get A finished, then turn to this, the other stuff can wait.”

          1. Googledit*

            I don’t know why, but I assumed the OP was female, and her assistant was male. When I had that in my head, his responses seemed curt and meant to stop her from asking. I know that’s my fantasy but just wanted to share

          2. EngineeringFun*

            As an engineer with multiple projects I say stuff like this to my boss all the time. And yes I’m a highly loaded worker. I used to keep a wipe board with all my projects and when my boss would come in with his next Big Idea I’d ask him where to put it on the list. Normally he would be like “oh, bummer. low priority”

        2. Annony*

          I’m wondering how OP is phrasing the assignments and if he is misinterpreting and assignment as checking to see if he has extra time to complete more tasks. “Can you assemble the verification documents we need for project X?” could be reasonably interpreted as asking about capacity to complete the project quickly. OP might simply have to make it clear that these are assignments, not requests.

          1. Antilles*

            “Can you assemble the verification documents we need for project X?” could be reasonably interpreted as asking about capacity to complete the project quickly.
            That phrasing also doesn’t specify timeline or urgency, so even if he recognizes it as an assignment, he doesn’t realize whether it’s something you need ASAP or OP’s more casual “this can take a few days, just slot me in”.
            OP says in the letter that it’s just do it when you can, but it’s not clear whether that’s actually being conveyed when she assigns the work.

        3. ferrina*

          definitely curious about his actual work output – which feels a bit like the missing puzzle piece in this letter

          Yes! What is his actual work like? Is he getting a reasonable amount done? Does he tend to prioritize well?
          I think these are crucial context that would completely change the read of the letter.

      2. Serial Chair Lounger*

        That would make sense if he had no other work assigned and was sitting there twiddling his thumbs. But if he has any other work on his plate and is remotely organised, he’ll have a plan for getting that work done, and I really can’t see an issue with informing OP how the new assignment fits in so she can ask him to reprioritise as needed. I don’t see any reason for OP to be assuming negative motivations here.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Admin tends to be reactive and the stuff he may be being asked to do may also be time sensitive. Things that I do in the course of my role generally need to be jumped on quickly because especially towards the end of the week, it could make the difference between a contractor being paid on time and a frustrated email from them as to why their payment wasn’t in this week’s run. There was one tea urn someone had to chase this week and it took a bit of digging to find out why it hadn’t been paid despite being delivered a few weeks ago — it turns out the contact I had at that site was on sick leave and thus I hadn’t been able to follow it up with them.

          I was also asked in my interview how I’d prioritise tasks. I’ve been asked that in a lot of interviews because they’ve generally been jobs with a lot of time-sensitive work because I legit prefer that as a way of working rather than having longer projects. Like all the way up to party politics, where I was asked whose needs came first — a backbencher or a member of the (opposition) shadow cabinet. Like, if you’re working on a longer project for a backbench MP and the shadow chancellor needs a quick briefing on the price of wholesale tea from China, you’re going to prioritise the senior party member. (I didn’t get that job but for me the answer there was a no-brainer. If it helps, I have nightmares about it because I botched the other questions so badly; it’s up there with anxiety dreams about not having handed my university coursework in or not having been to class in a whole term.)

          Stuff needs to get done. If you’re working on something with a longer deadline, that’s great, but it can’t be at the expense of shorter term tasks. You have to manage your priorities as an admin; sure, there may be days when you’re working hard on something and focused and your boss needs you to raise a purchase order for some reception stationery or something else pretty trivial, but tbh reception will need that stationery ASAP and the more significant a project and the further out the deadline, the more time you’ll have to work on it than you will on the quicker more reactive tasks.

        2. Gemstones*

          Especially since, as Alison notes, this is advice she’s given time and time again to people with heavy workloads.

        3. AngryOctopus*

          I honestly thought to myself “wow, that sounds really organized of him, and he’s giving you the chance to say “actually I need it earlier, by Th EOB, so you can push off project L in order to get this done”.
          OP, if you truly have “a few days is fine” on all of your asks, you can TELL HIM “I appreciate you letting me know your turnaround times, but if I don’t specifically say I need it sooner, a few days turnaround is going to be fine.”. And then you have to mean it. Don’t ask a day later where it is. Don’t check up on him.
          Personally I would do better overall with a “we need documents A-F for project L, Thursday EOB is fine, and we need a status report on F from Jane by tomorrow noon” and your assistant might too, but if you both have the same definition of “a few days”, then you can tell him he can set his schedule as needed and doesn’t have to update you.

      3. GythaOgden*

        Agreed. I’m an assistant to the regional manager (!) and the workload is what she gives me to do. I can plan out when I’m going to work on longer term stuff and do it, but I find that I jump on small tasks as they come up just to get them out of the way (and because I am prone to getting very intensely focused on something to the detriment of my physical stamina and the quick task gives me that brief mental break to recharge my energy for the longer projects). There are definitely afternoons where I am writing up monthly minutes for tricky customers (like, three hours spent on them after a one hour meeting!) but those are relatively sporadic and anyway they also need to get done in a timely manner and are part of my job. My boss does make sure people don’t push me out of the range of what I can manage — I’ve been asked to cover my old job on reception a couple of times by one of my old line managers, because I still effectively report to her and know the building, but my boss put her foot down when she heard that and has also vetoed me being responsible for directly contacting contractors with jobs after an issue when someone else thought I was able to do that just after I started…and I phoned the wrong company with whom we didn’t actually have a prior relationship. I’ve taken on stretch assignments and want to learn team roles so I can help out with what needs done.

        So the nature of admin roles is that you’re available to do stuff at a set time. If the guy is pushing back on everything he’s ever asked to do, that’s not a good sign, it’s a cause for concern. I know I’ve been asked by one of the managers how long it takes to do a certain task and where the pinch points are, and she was surprised it took me half the time of someone else, which led to increased scrutiny of that other person and a discussion about moving her to a place where she was more comfortable as a worker in general. I didn’t ask for that (it’s never nice to think you’d be responsible for someone else getting demoted), but my responsiveness and availability is what I’m paid for, I’m not going to slow down just to make someone else look better; I take pride in my work (as they say, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well) and admin is nothing if not generally time-sensitive. Furthermore, if OP has a concern about this it may well be because she’s surprised at this guy’s lack of time.

      4. JustAnotherCommenter*

        Yea honestly some of the phrasing felt a little off to me. Instead of coming across as asking about deadlines (ex. I’m currently working on ABC so I won’t get to this for a couple days, does that work?) or simply explanatory (ex. Sure, I’m working on ABC right now so I’ll aim to have this to you by Tuesday) some of the language comes across a bit passive aggressive.

        It’s hard to say for sure without knowing the tone or more context, but it sounds like it might just be a mismatch of communication creating unnecessary friction from both sides.

        1. Distracted Procrastinator*

          I’m wondering if a lot of the issue here is his tone. If he’s sounding slightly aggrieved or maybe adds a little sigh when he’s asked to do something, even if he’s phrasing his reply perfectly, it’s going to sound passive aggressive and not appropriate.

        2. Katy*

          Yeah, this sounds like a tone thing. If you lead with “I’m doing something else right now,” and then grudgingly agree to do it, then the message sent is, “What you’re asking is a big imposition.” If you say, “Sure, but I probably won’t get to it for another two days, because I’m working on x right now, is that ok?” then you are being polite and professional. The problem isn’t that the assistant is setting boundaries around deadlines, it’s that he’s responding to every assignment by implying that OP is overstepping by assigning it at all.

      5. Friendo*

        But OP apparently has no issue with him doing the task in three days. If they were concerned about workload, the turnaround would be the problem, not what he says about it.

      6. Oh yeah, Me again*

        I think it’s likely a habit he got into with another boss/bosses (or maybe even a parent or academic mentor) that liked that kind of heads up. Or maybe *he’s* not comfortable with your not setting a deadline. Just tell him! “That’s fine! A couple days is ALWAYS my expectation, unless I say otherwise. We don’t need to discuss the timeline every time I assign you work. I’ll *tell* you if it’s urgent, you tell me if you’re getting overwhelmed. OK?”

        1. jojo*

          I was thinking his responses sound like he might have had a previous boss whose expectations were very different from OP’s, e.g. every time they assigned him a task, it would come with an unspoken “drop everything and do this ASAP,” which could quickly become unsustainable and necessitate a bit of “managing up.”

          Not saying that’s definitely happening here, but it’s a possible cause of this kind of miscommunication problem. And regardless of the cause, the solution remains the same: OP needs to communicate more explicitly what they do and don’t expect from the assistant re: priorities and time management.

    2. Zanshin*

      I agree with Ginger Cat Lady. As an employee, and now retired as a volunteer, I always assumed my supervisor would WANT to know when I anticipated getting to a newly assigned task (so they could ask me to rearrange priorities if needed).

      1. Betsy*

        I wish I had thought of this a while ago. I’ve gotten better at getting things done, or at least started, within the week after my manager and I talk about them. But in the past, I would forget to work on a new task because things were really busy, and my manager would just bring it up again in our next meeting like we never talked about it. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to not embarrass me or if he really didn’t remember that we talked about it before.

      2. Allonge*

        Yes and no.

        In general, if I don’t get a deadline (implied or otherwise) for a task, I assume that my boss trusts me to figure out when to get to it on my own. If it’s unclear, I can ask. (By the way, this is why managers should give deadlines with tasks).

        But unless I expect some kind of problem, I do not list for every task I am given, what other things I am working on and where this one fits into my to-do list – generally I assume my boss knows I am busy and not everything will be done immediately, or if something has to be, that delays other stuff.

        What OP describes sounds a bit like their employee does this every time, and as tehy give tasks often, it gets too much.

        Of course if there is a workload issue, there will be regular reminders of that but even then, giving an ‘I am sooo busy’ every single time is not going to be helpful.

      3. Kevin Sours*

        In theory yes. But there is also something to be said for wanting to unload the mental bandwidth of dealing with it. I can understand a manager not wanting to worry about the exact order and timing of low priority tasks and coming from a perspective of “you figure that out”.


        If you take that position you absolutely need to be clear on general priorities and real deadlines. Moreover, you need to have the back of the person you delegate too if they make different choices on the things you leave to their discretion (with the understanding that sometimes correctly figuring out priorities *is* part of the assistant’s job). Even if it’s not intended a moment of exasperation that somebody didn’t prioritize a task that you didn’t tell them to prioritize is going to lead to them making sure they’re clear in the future.

        This really sounds like a case where two people need to sit down and hash out expectations. I strongly suspect OP needs to be clearer about general priorities (in my experience people are rarely as clear as they think they are). It’s entirely possible that the assistant needs to lighten up and take more initiative. I don’t think either side is wrong here, but there is clearly a disconnect.

      4. OMG, Bees!*

        A past coworker (SysAdmin, not an assistant, so entirely different roles) would frequently be given new tasks that the boss expected to be done quickly, if not right away, so not merely “something to add to the list.” His solution was a bit more direct, but he would pull out a notepad that had every project written down and ask the boss which current project was getting bumped in priority. Again, different situation, but necessary to keep the boss’s expectations that every new project or task could be done right away or not.

    3. Gretta Swathmore*

      I wonder if the OP is someone who secretly wants everything immediately. I wasn’t an assistant, but was in a role where we had lots of projects going on concurrently, some that our boss assigned, others ongoing or assigned by other matrixed people. She would give us a deadline of two days (for example), but she really wanted us to drop everything and do her latest thing first. It was so frustrating, I felt like saying things like the assistant does, but she would have flipped a gasket if we had said anything like that. So we all learned to abandon whatever we were working on and do her new shiny thing first to get her off our back. So annoying.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        Wants everything immediately, or is really bad at giving deadlines when assigning a task. I’m in an industry where requests often come in with really quick deadlines, and I’m good at meeting deadlines, but I’ve struggled with bosses who don’t think to give me the deadline. Usually I’ll mention it early on in a new job or with a new boss, and offer reminders as needed. “Yes, happy to handle – what’s the deadline on this?” “I can get started on that next week unless you need it sooner – what were you thinking in terms of turnaround time?”

        If OP is the type who generally likes things immediately, I completely understand their assistant being somewhat on the defense.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          Valuable advice. I’m this way as well — tell me what you want, when you need it by or a good sense of how I should prioritize it, and then just let me be (PLEASE). I’ve done the same as you by making a point of getting that information up front, which has also helped when the type of person Gretta mentions tries to check up: “The Llama file? Going fine. Wednesday, right?” Delivered with a smile, it doesn’t seem to ruffle feathers much.

          For OP, I’d advise them to include a clear deadline or priority in the initial request and see where that takes them.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘I wonder if the OP is someone who secretly wants everything immediately.’

        I wondered the same thing. I also wondered if OP views the assistant’s responses as pushback or worse, and not an effort to provide information or context to his boss. ‘Bristling’ because her assistant tells her what he’s got going on seems unnecessary to me.

      3. MicroManagered*

        I wonder if the OP is someone who secretly wants everything immediately.

        This feels like another example of taking the harshest possible read of the situation… The OP didn’t say anything to indicate she secretly wants everything done immediately, and why would she have a reason to keep that secret here?

        1. blood orange*

          Quite the contrary. They said they don’t need a timeline unless specified and just expect him to get to it when he can.

          It’s weird to me that a lot of commenters are assuming the worst about OP rather than taking them at their word that this feels off to them. They even reference the tone from the assistant, which can be difficult to describe.

      4. Peter the Bubblehead*

        The Assistant’s response sounds to me like someone who got burned in the past – was handed a project with no clear timeline while working several other things, then was reprimanded for not having it done when the boss expected but never told the assistant.
        Sounds like a form of malicious compliance, making the Boss state when something must be completed so the Assistant can never assume incorrectly again.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          I wouldn’t call it malicious compliance really. Assistant wants to be clear on deadlines to cover their ass not to be pain in OP’s. It can be rough when you get a steady stream of tasks and unclear priorities. Especially if you’ve been burned by it in the past.

        2. HiddenC*

          This is partly why I had so many issues with my previous boss. I went from a job where I was constantly yelled at for not dropping everything to work on each new task (and where every project was a rush project because we weren’t allowed to tell our customers “no”, even if they literally wanted the impossible) to working for her, and the combo of me having ADHD and getting frustrated when she’d interrupt my workflow with something completely non-urgent and my reactiveness due to the trauma from that previous job made for the worst possible combo.

          We never know what baggage people are bringing with them, even in the professional world. I’ve been in therapy for years to work on it, and my therapist recently suggested EMDR for me to try and get past it because the trauma is still affecting me (from a job I was at for 18 months). Having a conversation with the assistant where you say “hey, just so you know, unless I specify a timeline, you don’t have to let me know when the task will be done, just get it done when you can”. And actually mean it.

        3. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Been there, done that, and this is why I had everything confirmed with email with a certain manager who would tell me to do something a certain way and then say, ‘I never said for you to do that’.

    4. Astor*

      It sounds to me that her problem is not the information he’s conveying, but that he sounds out upon about it. I’ve taken the examples from her letter and reworded them so that convey the exact same information, but don’t feel like pushback:

      “I can’t do that until tomorrow afternoon”
      “Yes, I should be able to work on that tomorrow afternoon”

      “I can add it to my list but right now I’m doing A, B, C…”
      “yes, I’ll add it to my list! Let me know if you need me to prioritize it over A, B, C.”

      “I was doing something else right now”
      “Yes, I’ll get on that as soon as I finish something else”

      “I was actually planning on doing other things today, but if you can wait for three days from now, sure.”
      “Sure, I can slot that in for three days from now, if you can wait”

      1. Xanna*

        ^Totally agree. Additionally – I wonder if part of the problem is that OP is frustrated by the additional step of closing that loop – and how especially maddening that can be in a very full inbox?

        Like currently I’m imagining the pattern is:
        OP: Please make a list of all the things.
        A: I was doing something else right now
        OP: Doesn’t have to be now, but can you finish it sometime this week?
        A: Yes
        ^Or if “no” omg I see where OP is coming from with this frustration

        It is incredibly frustrating to be balancing a lot of priorities without the information you need to make accurate decisions about what needs to be top of stack, and I wonder if that is coming through in the assistant’s responses – I wonder if providing some more context up front might short circuit a lot of this back and forth misery?:

        OP: Please make a list of all the things – no rush, just need it by Friday afternoon.
        A: Yes, will do. I’ll get on that as soon as I finish this spreadsheet!
        ^No further response needed – the reply just serves as FYI that the task has been received.

        On the other hand, if he pushes back that end of week isn’t doable, that’s super relevant information for OP to have – either in terms of if there’s a problem with his work output/attitude to be addressed, or if he’s genuinely swamped and priorities can be reshuffled.

      2. Kella*

        IT sounds like the assistant is assuming that each task has an implied “I want you to do this right now” at the end of it, and phrasing everything in the negative is explaining why they can’t do it immediately, and why it would interfere with other work goals to do it right now.

        The thing I’m not clear on is whether OP actually is implying “I want you to do this right now” or whether the assistant inferred that on their own. Hopefully this is a simple expectations reset and the problem isn’t that OP’s behavior demonstrates that they want a different timeline than what they’ve communicated in the letter.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          I am certainly guilty of inferring urgency when there isn’t any. In my case, it’s a fun symptom of anxiety — and not one that’s easy to correct. It really helps me when people are specific about the timeframes they expect.

          1. ferrina*


            I’ve done this, and I’ve had people do this to me. I’ve started pre-empting that by saying “I’d like to have it by [DATE] if possible, but [LATER DATE] would work too”. Or even “I need this before I can start on the report; when is a reasonable time that you could turn this around in?” or “this needs to be done by the end of the week, but if you can squeeze it in earlier, that would be much appreciated.”

            You generally can’t police other people’s tones on this. It’s pretty rude, and it also just doesn’t usually work. Most people either aren’t thinking that much about what they say and how they are saying it and get confused/frustrated/embarrassed by what seems nitpicky, or they are doing it on purpose and get annoyed that you are missing the subtext (yes, it would be nice if these people would clearly state what they want, but can’t change people who don’t want to change). Since OP is the boss, they have decent standing to talk to the assistant about communication skills and what they want to see. But at the end of the day, if assistant is otherwise good at their job, I’d let this go.

        2. Astor*

          Yes, agreed! And if it’s the case I’m assuming, the is still for the OP to start adding some specifics about the timeline to their initial requests. That could include telling the assistant that they can always assume that a 3-5 day turnaround is fine unless the OP tells them otherwise, and then hopefully adding “usual timeline” into their requests. For the actual rush items, that might free up time he was spending on other things.

          Ideally that just fixes it, where he doesn’t feel like the OP is asking for a rush on everything and the OP doesn’t feel like there is pushback, because they’re both just conveying information.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        Ah, I think you put your finger on why I found this guy slightly irritating, even though in principle I have no problem with what he’s doing. It’s the phrasing!

        1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          Yeah, I said as much in another comment too – the principle of asking your manager for prioritization is great! But the phrasing – especially including the word “actually” – is a bit off.

      4. Green great dragon*

        Yeh, this is my take too. The phrasing suggests he’s pushing back on a deadline he can’t meet, but OP hasn’t asked for it any earlier, so it’s making it all feel a bit scratchy when it doesn’t need to be.

      5. Still*

        This! I was thinking this exact thing and your alternatives are great and they leave space for clarifying if something needs to take priority.

      6. Boof*

        Gonna agree, there’s ways of saying the same thing that don’t sound resistant- when you have to assign someone tasks frequently, that constant feeling of subtle pushback starts to wear thin. But it is worth checking if the employee has an overwhelming workload and doing something about that if so.

      7. Also-ADHD*

        This is fair, & would be good advice for the assistant, BUT pretty petty to harp on as the manager if the person has a large workload, though could be woven into coaching on communication in general if applicable.

        I’m not sure I’m loving the “I just want to lob things at him” line, but I may be reading too much in. A lot of this seems like it’s a LW problem with how LW likes communication but not right/wrong. As the boss, LW can get what they want probably, but at what cost? A lot depends on the quality and quantity of work.

        1. FromCanada*

          I agree with Astor – I think it’s in how he’s responding and it sounds to me like pushback. The alternative versions provided are information – what he is doing is not providing information or asking questions it’s passive-aggressively pushing back and I would find it exhausting. In this context I also wouldn’t find OP petty – just at the end of her rope. If the work is as fast and furious as I think it might be – this kind of thing is not sustainable. It is a teaching moment because you need an assistant who can figure out what’s important, or ask if unsure, but it shouldn’t be constant (unless extremely new).

          Also, how much you want to bet OP is a woman? This also reads like it could be sexism as well. It may not be, but that’s what I would start to think depending on other factors.

          1. Also-ADHD*

            My perspective is that if the goal is effective communication, then a discussion may be merited but if the goal is to assuage the boss’s own communication preferences, they should consider if that’s fully inclusive and necessary. Having to couch things in softer language is fine for customers and such, but it sucks with immediate team members and your direct boss. I’ve never wanted to keep working for those people frankly, but I’m neurodivergent and more direct than folks might like by nature. I can mask, but someone tone policing me would impact my motivation to do good work for them. This guy could have any number of motivations, so I’m just saying if it’s a matter of “boss personally is a little bothered by the phrasing, possibly on a human ego level”, yet the work is good, then is it worth alienating the assistant?

            1. Astor*

              I was able to point this out specifically because it was a thing I needed to be taught, but I don’t think that necessarily means that doing it this way is masking. For me, it feels like verbalizing the implicit bits. It was explained to me as:

              * If you can do some of what they’re asking for, then the first important piece of information to communicate is the yes.
              * Then, if it’s not exactly like you think they expect, then explain what you can do to solve this.
              * Then, if there’s something that you can’t do, tell them.

              When I started with the things I couldn’t do, because that seemed like the most important part to communicate, it was harder for people to realize I meant I had already agreed to do all the other parts.

              You may, of course, find it feels differently and doing this is part of masking for you! But in case it helps to know, I don’t get that exhausted feeling that I get when I have to be less blunt or appear more cheerful. I “just” recalibrated what information is important to communicate each time, in similar ways that the OP might need to with providing her own expected timelines.

          2. Astor*

            Just to clarify, I don’t think he necessarily is pushing back or being passive aggressive. Some of us say the stuff he’s saying while thinking “okay, I’ve got this but FYI” and all the can’ts come out. I do think that the missing/implicit yes is the part the OP is bothered by, but there’s dozens of reasons it could be missing and some are on OP to solve.

        2. Michelle Smith*

          I agree, I wouldn’t nitpick the language or tone police the assistant if the only issue is “I wish he’d soften his communication a bit.” Checking in to make sure he’s overwhelmed is a good idea and setting clear expectations is, but I don’t know that I’d have an entire meeting to be like “I want you to reword your statements because I feel like you’re pushing back on deadlines even though that’s not your intent and there’s not actually anything wrong with your work.”

          1. JustAnotherCommenter*

            I don’t know, I think a development meeting about that would be beneficial. Knowing how and when to turn on the ‘customer service voice’ with clients, coworkers and bosses is necessary in most jobs (especially assistant jobs) and if someone is struggling to do that I think it’s worth sitting down with them to talk about it, they may not even realize how they’re coming across.

          2. Allonge*

            With someone who is an assistant to OP primarily, I absolutely would ahve this discussion. Why not try to remove this irritation from their relationship?

        3. Sloanicota*

          I wondered with that line if OP is trying to express a general sense that they want this assistant to have sort of a better customer service approach overall? People have assistants to make their lives easier. If OP feels that the assistant is coming across as a bit surly/reluctant/resentful, that may be their bigger issue. That seems like a tough thing to bring up when the customer that wants better service is … yourself, but I suppose it’s coachable. I like the example responses suggested above that mean the exact same thing but just seem more pleasant.

        4. Astor*

          Yeah, the OP needs to change her side of things too but I thought it could highlight the mismatch in how people are seeing it as (not) a problem.

          I will add that I’ve absolutely worked in assistant roles where I expect my manager to lob things at me and I’d be super annoyed if my boss regularly told me their expected timeline rather than trusting me to sort it out based on my understanding my job. It can really depend on the nature of the work and/or the seniority of the position.

          1. saskia*

            Same here. I feel a sense of pride when my boss can give me five different tasks, and I (through a combination of training, trust, institutional knowledge, experience and asking the right questions) can prioritize them and accomplish them on time.

            The assistant’s tone and phrasing sounds rude to me, honestly. I would never speak to my boss in such a negative way unless they were truly The Worst.

      8. londonedit*

        Agree, there seems to be a communication issue here. OP needs to try being more specific about deadlines and urgency rather than ‘lobbing tasks’, but the assistant also needs to approach it from the perspective of ‘Of course – when do you need it back? I’m working on Y at the moment, but if you need it this afternoon let me know and I can shift Y to tomorrow morning’ rather than ‘Can’t do it this afternoon, I’m working on something else’.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yes … plus the “lob” comment may have meant to convey like, OP doesn’t want to follow up again with another email about the task; she wants to be able to assign it once and assume it will be done, so she needs OP to frame their emails more like “Great, this is when I’m assuming I should do this, and I’m on it,” not seeming to seek more conversation about the deadline. (Would I advise OP to always give a deadline even if it’s made up in her first message, also yes).

        2. Annony*

          I agree that a lot of this could be fixed by including a deadline in the initial “lob”.

        3. ferrina*

          Yeah, I’m guessing the assistant might need more guidance. Even a deadline can be really helpful (even if it’s “end of the week”).

          I had a boss that loved to lob tasks to me with little to no context. Of course, she had all the needed context, but I didn’t! I had no idea if it was a high priority, if it was something a VIP was involved in, if it was something that she wanted a feasibility scope or she wanted me to execute…it meant that I was forever following up with her and/or taking a guess then having her frustrated that I had guessed wrong. Just a couple extra sentences of context would have made a world of difference- “Hey, Miguel was asking if we’d be interested in setting up a social campaign on the new llama hats. Can you chat with the marketing team and figure out what would be required for that? I’d like to have the info by Wednesday so I can make a decision.”

      9. renata ricotta*

        Agree. My assistant is wonderful — she definitely phrases things in the more positive, can-do light. When she’s on vacation or leave, my backup assistant is much more like LW’s assistant and it absolutely grates on my nerves. It doesn’t read like neutral information, it reads like pushback and reluctance to do the task, or an attempt to get out of doing it. (Also, my assistant is way faster at getting tasks done more than my backup is, as a general matter.)

      10. Shan*

        Agreed – the current phrasing feels very defensive/curt to me. And it’s interesting, because a lot of people seem really stuck on the use of the word “lob” by the LW, but don’t see how the assistant’s phrasing might come across.

        I work in an admin-type role, and if I have concerns around timing for a task I’ve been given, I always respond similar to your suggestions. There have only been a few times I’ve responded like the LW’s assistant, and they’ve all been when I was absolutely cheesed off (and my boss knew it).

    5. Apple Pharmer*

      Yeah this sounds like the assistant is just very judicious with managing expectations. There’s no mention that they ever miss any of the timelines. Perhaps they’ve come from a previous workplace where a simple “yes” meant unclear timelines and a feeling of missed deadlines.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah, and if it is actually okay for the assistant to get to it whenever he gets to it.. has OP ever actually said that? A few rounds of “Oh of course, that’s routine, I’ll always let you know if something’s more urgent” and “As usual! Yeah it’s not a priority” should express this. Or the OP could even pre-empt and say “When you get a chance..”

        1. DJ Abbott*

          I have had too many people say “when you get a chance” when they meant “right now”or “soon”. Since the assistant already seems anxious about how to prioritize, I think OP should give him a more clear and specific expectation.
          And make sure you mean it. Don’t say something vague and flexible when you mean something more specific.
          Also, is your assistant from the Midwest? It’s common here for people to phrase things in negative ways. Not everyone does it, but many do. It’s a habit they learned growing up.
          Please don’t read anything into the way he phrases, especially when it seems like he’s already anxious about how to prioritize.

          1. Octo*

            I’m in the Midwest,work with someone who does this, and it’s not at all cultural.

            In our case, it’s related to brain damage and an inability to look at anything in the gray.

            in LW’s case, I don’t know, but I feel their frustration.

            1. New Mom (of 1 7/9)*

              As a lifelong midwesterner I initially thought you were saying that we all had brain damage, whoops! ;)

            2. DJ Abbott*

              I used to talk this way, and have known many others who do. It was just the way I learned to talk. It wasn’t negative or uncooperative.
              It was really unfair when colleagues and employers assumed I was trying to be negative or uncooperative. They could just say what they need!
              I eventually figured out it helps if I’m more specific. To ask “I’m working on this now, do you want me to put it aside and do the new thing?” or, “I can have it for you by Tuesday, is that ok?”
              But if OP just wants to send tasks without a response from their assistant, this might not work for them.

          2. AngryOctopus*

            And honestly, I don’t see him phrasing it negatively, so to him it’s probably just how he says things.
            I do think that OP needs to either be clear about expectations and their definitions of “a few days” (if OP assigns something on Monday, ‘a few days’ may mean “by Thursday” to the assistant and “by Wed AM” to OP, so they should be clear). It’s very possible the assistant has experience with, as you say, “when you get a chance” or “a few days” meaning “I meant an 8 hour turnaround, where is it?”. But if OP is clear about real expectations and then follows through, assistant may not even update them like this in the future because they feel more secure in their ability to do their job.

          3. Kelly L.*

            I had a boss once who used “no rush” when she meant “hair on fire huge rush.” It was…exhausting.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Yes, my first thoughts were what Alison said (sensible managing up from someone with a heavy workload), OR someone who got into the habit of doing that in a previous role and doesn’t know that it’s not necessary in this role. There are a lot of managers who would either actively ask for this kind of information, or where it would be prudent to do it because the manager is unreasonable, and it’s the kind of habit that can definitely follow you to a new workplace if nobody tells you that’s it’s a problem.

    6. Hiding from My Boss*

      I once worked in a very deadline-driven field. It was usual to provide a ballpark timeframe for completing new assignments. That way the other person knew it would take 2 hrs. instead of 10 min., or a couple of weeks, not a couple of days. Your manager knew you had a full plate, and if they needed you to give a new assignment higher priority, they said so.

      Then I went to work at New Place under Horrid Manager. I did the same thing there. She never said it wasn’t necessary until the staff meeting when she told me off for being “SO inappropriate.”

    7. Anonys*

      To me the assistant’s wording/tone (if accurately reflected by LW and not paraphrased) such as “I was actually planning on doing other things today, but if you can wait for three days from now, sure.” is the issue. I can see how to LW this feels not very helpful and almost a bit dismissive.

      Imo that kind of wording is weird for an assistant/manager relationship and seems to imply that if LW in fact cannot wait three days then assistant just won’t be able to do the task and someone else will have to. “I am working on a other priorities right now, but will get it to you by Wednesday. Let me know if it’s more urgent than that” makes more sense. In general, assistant seems to use negative wording such as “I can’t do that until tomorrow afternoon” when positive wording such as “I’ll work on that tomorrow afternoon/I’ll get it to you by cob tomorrow” just comes across better in this type of interaction.

      Also LW – do you ever give deadlines? I find some manager almost never do and it’s an issue for many employees. I agree not every minor task needs an explicit deadline but just adding “please get this to me by the end of the week” or “I need this within the next 3 days” for some most tasks that will take more than an hour might solve this and provide more clarity for the employee.

      1. Antilles*

        The last paragraph was my thought too. I note that there’s no mention in OP’s letter of her actually conveying the deadline of a task when she hands it off to the assistant.
        If so, that basically explains the entire letter right there: The assistant has zero idea of how urgent OP considers the task, so he pre-emptively explains the timeline to get an idea of what’s in OP’s head, how to prioritize the task, etc.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          This is my feeling too. “I want to lob it at my assistant and have it get done” is fine for OP, but the assistant is trying to manage his workload. He also needs to know that if he gets something that needs attention after this, what he can move so he still meets all his deadlines.

        2. miquelon*

          I’m curious about how long the assistant has worked for the OP. It can take time to build an asst-manager relationship to the level of “just lob the task and trust it’ll get done.” Is he relatively new to the job and he’s trying to get an accurate read on OP’s sense of urgency? This may just be part of sorting out communication styles and laying the groundwork for the relationship. Or has this been going on a while with no improvement, which is part of OP’s frustration?

          I was an assistant to 2 very busy individual contributors. We had a mix of short- and long-term projects, and assistants were expected to take a lot of ownership over projects (especially the long-term projects). I had weekly or biweekly meetings with my bosses to review the project slate, update them on where things stood, and re-prioritize if necessary. This may not be applicable at all to the OP, but I wonder how clear the OP has been about what “doing it when he can” means, and whether they have any check-ins about where long-term or less important projects stand.

          Also I agree with other commenters that the assistant’s tone could be a big part of the issue here, and changing the way he frames his responses would be helpful (but of course he’s not the one who wrote in). One of the many things I had to learn through trial and error as an assistant is that “managing up” requires a pretty savvy understanding of how to communicate in the way your boss needs/wants to hear. I had very positive, but very different, relationships with the 2 people I supported.

      2. K*

        I think this level of nitpicking in the workplace is not an efficient use of time. The assistant is communicating information that is potentially helpful for the letter writer. It would be incredibly petty for her to complain that he’s not wording it in the exact way she would. There have got to be higher priorities for her to focus on.

    8. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I get the impression that the assistant is framing things negatively: “I can’t do it until Thursday” rather than “I’ll be able to fit that it for Thursday”, hence Alison wondering whether his workload is high.
      OP might preemptively ask “can you fit this in some time this week?” rather than “here this needs to be done”, with the unsaid expectation that it should be doable within the week.

    9. The Taking of Official Notice*

      Agreed. I used to have a boss who would ask me to complete reports and who would not give a deadline when doing so. When I’d respond, “No problem, I’ll have that for by EOD!”, they’d respond with some version of: “Actually, I need this ASAP.”

      This happened regularly.

    10. Sharks Are Cool*

      I wonder if the assistant is doing this for HIMSELF and not for the boss at all? I’m in an assistant-adjacent role, and I have ADHD, and tasks that don’t have an associated deadline don’t get done. But if I tell someone I will get it to them by X time, then I will. To me it sounds like he’s just verbalizing his priorities and workload to give himself some accountability.

      1. bamcheeks*

        This is something I do too, although I agree with other commentators upthread that you can phrase it in a more positive way if so.

    11. RIP Pillowfort*

      I feel like maybe there’s a disconnect in expectations on the part of OP and the assistant. They say they’re fine with it getting done whenever, unless otherwise stated. So there’s no need to discuss time boundaries unless OP says it’s urgent.

      I think that’s where OP needs to focus on this. It’s great the assistant is thinking about time but unless it’s explicitly stated, time’s not the concern for all tasks. They don’t need to worry about how to work it in most of the time.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        But the LW also does mention things needing a quick turn around, so I’m honestly confused by them. Are they cool with things getting done whenever, or is everything urgent? Even reading this letter, I get mixed vibes on that.

        1. Myrin*

          OP says “the job sometimes demands that tasks can shift into suddenly being urgent” – I don’t think that’s at odds with it being generally okay for things to get done whenever.

          1. ferrina*

            Yeah, but that’s why OP needs to proactively say what the deadline is. Even a general descriptor works- there’s a big difference between “as soon as possible”, “by end of day”, “end of the week” or “in the next couple weeks”.

            I work in a deadline-driven industry that has some tasks that are very urgent and some that are not-at-all urgent. It’s extremely important to clarify which is which so everyone around you can manage their workload.

          2. Also-ADHD*

            Well sure but they don’t convey that they’re clearly communicating what is and isn’t urgent, the assistant’s workload, etc. I’m not sure how often tasks are urgent or if the assistant would know which ones are.

      2. Mockingjay*

        In my job, EVERY task has a due date. BUT…only about 50 percent of those task assignments come with a due date. If I chase the task owner down and request a date, I get “ASAP.” Even if it isn’t. Organizing my workload for the day/week is nigh to impossible; I always have to stop halfway on something and start something else.

        It’s been my biggest frustration throughout my career. I fully understand and can handle shifting or new priorities, but only if I have accurate information. And when priority shifts become a daily occurrence instead of occasional, it’s exhausting, frustrating, and impossible to do your job well.

        OP2, as others have stated, there is a communication issue between you and your assistant. I suggest adding a regular check-in to go over tasks and priorities. I think you are lobbing a lot more balls over the fence than you realize. Your assistant can only catch so many at a time.

    12. CommanderBanana*

      I had a subordinate who did this.

      I’d ask her to do something in the morning (usually something that needed to be done before 4ish that day) and when I checked in around 2 it was always “well I’m about to have lunch,” which for her was minimum an hour shut in her office with one of her work besties, and she’d get to it at the last possible minute, which jammed up other stuff. Generally it was something like getting an item ready to be packed with a shipment, so it needed to be done with enough time for that to happen before pickup, and she knew that.

      It was entirely passive aggressiveness on her part because she was over the job and fed up with being there, and miffed that her position now reported to mine, which manifested itself in a lot of crappy-but-just-on-this-side-of-plausible-deniability behavior.

      It doesn’t really sound to me like this is the situation here, but it’s really hard to communicate nuance in these letters, so who knows. I’d try to err on the side of not presuming that’s the case here if I were the LW, but personally, I could see myself making a not-very-charitable interpretation of this sort of response. Especially if it’s every single time you give them a task.

      1. My Useless 2 Cents*

        Sorry but being given a deadline of 4 and then getting asked 2 hours before that if it was done would get old quick. Unless there was a history of deadline not getting met, I don’t see the problem with subordinate.

        If the task needed to be done earlier than that the deadline should have been “this morning” or “by noon” or even “by 2” so that subordinate could prioritize her morning appropriately without causing others to rush when she finished her task before 4 per the deadline given to her.

        1. Sovreignry*

          While it would be annoying to me as well, did you miss the part where the delay jammed other tasks from being completed? Because if other tasks are being delayed because someone else is working at the last possible minute, it would be problematic.

          1. My Useless 2 Cents*

            I didn’t miss it. My 2nd paragraph. The deadline given should take into account the next steps required. If it needs to be done by 4, then deadline given should be 4 minus the time of subordinate#2 to complete their task.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Uhhhhh……… I started asking her at 2 because there was a history of the deadline not getting met, because as I said in the comment, she would get to it at the last possible minute and hold up a chain of other things that needed to happen.

          These were routine, not hard tasks, like “prep a stack of certificate blanks to put in this box for a shipping I’m working on” that needed to go out that day. So everything else would be done, and I’d be waiting for her to finish something that took 15-20 minutes so I could finish packing, sealing, creating the manifest, etc. and get the shipment out the door. So now it’s 4:45, the UPS guy is coming any minute, missing this day’s pickup means now it has to go 2-day instead of ground, which is waaaaaay more expensive, because she had to spend the afternoon giggling over her Panera with her work bestie.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            It sounds like your deadline was off–you need it by 3:30–or if she was missing the 4 pm deadline consistently, she needed a PIP.

    13. Well Here's The Thing, Janet*

      Yeah, LW2 brought back some memories of working a trade and having a full day scheduled and my boss calling with “This urgent thing came up that will add an hour to your day and NEEDS to be done today” and me trying to explain “OK, I have A through G stops to do, should I reschedule any of them? No? Am I authorized to work overtime? No? Do you want me to do all of them 10% faster, affecting quality? No, keep the focus on quality? Then what do you want me to do???”

    14. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      What stood out to me was the phrase “just lob tasks over.” If OP’s style is curt, it may be coming off as demanding and urgent. Which prompts the assistant to level-set on when things can reasonably get done. I suggest taking the the time to spell it out: “I like to just lob tasks at you and forget about them. But based on your responses I wonder if I sound like I’m demanding you drop everything for ghe latest thing. I trust you to manage your tasks and your time. I promise to tell you in words if something is urgent or has a set deadline. You don’t have to guess.”

    15. juliebulie*

      That is where I land – it doesn’t sound bad to me that the assistant is giving you an estimate.

      Hell, there’s even a time management system called Do It Tomorrow, which I swear by. It allows you to maintain focus on what you’re doing. Basically, if you are in the middle of something and something else comes up (that does not need to be done immediately), you put it on your list for tomorrow. Then go back to what you were doing and don’t waste a single brain cell on the new thing until tomorrow. Simple but effective.

    16. I have opinions...*

      Agreed. I might only suggest that he drop the “I’m in the middle of some other stuff” as an introduction. A simple, “Yep, I can do that. Is it okay if I have it to you by eod Friday?” No need to set up the detailed excuse for the proposed timeline.

      If manager doesn’t like the proposed timing, they are free to push back, at which point those other priorities are worth mentioning and discussing.

    17. saskia*

      I think phrasing (and tone) is important too, but that aspect is being overlooked in today’s AAM comments.
      “I was doing something else right now” and “I can’t do that until tomorrow afternoon” are… pretty brusque. The first sentence doesn’t even give me any info other than ‘the assistant can’t do this task right now,’ which is unhelpful because, as OP said, many of these tasks are non-urgent. If the assistant wants to create plans, great, but some of these statements are not actually helping them do that. “I can’t do that until tomorrow afternoon” — OK, why? Are you taking a half day for an appointment? Working on something for another department? Doing a task that can actually be reprioritized? More info and better communication is needed from both sides.

    18. TootsNYC*

      maybe what’s bugging the LW is that it feels like he’s batting away word and marching orders.

      In which case, maybe LW should be the one who brings up the workload and priorities right away, as part of the sentence in which he/she assigns the work.

      “I have a task I need you to do; let’s run down the list of what you’ve got, so I know how to set your priorities.”

      And LW should have a vague sense of what those are, and how important they are, and how far along the person should be.

      But at the very least, being the one to bring up (and thereby control) scheduling, priorities, and workload, the OP can eliminate that feeling of being bossed around by someone who works for them.

    19. Caramellow*

      I feel for the assistant because work flow isn’t always obvious. I was once a consultant for 2 teams and everyone thought their work was a life or death crisis. I’d hammer out turnaround time right up front. I wasn’t trying to get out of work but I did want to avoid any misunderstanding about completion time.

    20. 2e*

      From my experience, FWIW, managers who jump to the harshest possible reading of an employee’s communication are also likely to have completely unreasonable expectations about workload and/or time required to complete tasks.

      Which makes sense, because devaluing an employee is often the root of both “why are you being so difficult?!” and “this can’t possibly take you more than 15 minutes.”

      (Or, if you assume ignorance instead of malice, they’re both underpinned by “I have no expertise in your area and don’t know how long X takes.” But even in that case—if you respect this expertise, you’d also respect a clarifying response.)

  2. Pink Sprite*

    Re: letter 2: I’m wondering if the OP is a woman (or female-presenting) and the assistant isn’t happy about being answering to her (them).
    There have certainly been plenty of letters in AaM about this exact situation.
    For the OP’s sake, I do hope that isn’t any part of the problem.

          1. Katie A*

            Lots of reasons. One big one is that people enjoy having a bad guy in scenarios they’re weighing in on.

            Another is that a lot of people go into online communication already assuming bad faith, which is an understandable if ultimately negative thing to do, since there are plenty of trolls and bad faith comments.

            A third is just that some people tend to have more negative outlooks or enjoy dramatic things, and it makes sense that that type of person would both be more prevalent in the comments on a blog like this and have more uncharitable takes.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              This is really helpful.
              I was thinking there must be an uncharitable reason for the assistant to do this. Because the language sounds aggressive.
              Then I read Alison’s reply. Maybe assistant needs to be assertive in this position. Maybe it is a holdover from a previous position.
              Maybe this is exactly how it was done with his/her last manager. Maybe that last manager needed to have things spelled out to prevent, “are ya done yet?” (See letters re: why do people stop over after sending an email? and why does my manager seem annoyed when I’m not done Wednesday on a project due Friday?)
              Yet we look for personal reasons, not business.
              Dear Allison,
              Your welcome.

          2. Well Here's The Thing, Janet*

            “We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read” – Anton Ego, Ratatouille

          3. Irish Teacher.*

            I’d guess it’s at least partly because dramatic things stick in our minds more. People remember a time they experienced something similar and the person had a nefarious motive so they wonder if this was similar whereas they forget the times the person said something similar just to clarify when they would be done so they are less likely to wonder if this is another case of that.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I didn’t get the impression it was a gender related dynamic particularly, but I did feel like perhaps he sees himself as ‘only’ an assistant, with little autonomy, so says things like this to feel like he has more autonomy and ownership of his workload – like when people say “I have a window ar 10am on Wednesday”…

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

        I don’t see that at all. I think the assistant is being respectful and letting their boss know that they have XYZ they are doing so this other task is not going to take priority. I think the OP has an issue with the assistant being comfortable telling them what their plan is. The OP seems to be the one that has a problem and just wants things done.

    2. Awkwardness*

      The examples listed in the letter have not the warmest language and one can read them as factual about turnaround or quite harsh as looking for delay. So why does OP read these answers like they do?
      Do they want everything immediately; do they have an understanding of authority that tasks will not be debated but only assigned; do they seek reassurance that the assistant accepts the them as their manager; does OP never debate the turnaround time with their manager and the assistants communication style feels resistant?

      It is not said that OP is female, but I had the impression. So I wonder too how gender dynamics might play into it, especially if OP might have a rather rigid understanding how hierarchy works.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      I thought about this too. It seems there are more likely explanations available, most of them having to do with the assistant’s wording or some unspoken expectations about timing on either side, but … I would be curious about whether there are any age / gender dynamics in play. It’s not evident in the letter, but it wouldn’t be the first time.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      Letting someone know a timeline for completion isn’t OP’s preference, but it doesn’t signify unhappiness.

    5. melissa*

      Well that COULD be. Or the manager could be Black and the assistant is a racist. Or the manager is Jewish and the assistant is an anti-Semite. Or… I don’t think we should make up stories like this when there is zero in the letter to suggest sexism is coming in to play.

    6. Nancy*

      There is no reason to think that from the letter.

      Sounds like the assistant is just giving an actual timeline for when the work will get done. OP should let him know expectations. It’s not unreasonable to want a more set timeframe. I’d react the same as the assistant because I’d assume the person asking would want to know when the work will be done.

      1. I have opinions...*

        Yep. And hey, if OP wants to stop this, one great way would be to proactively provide the deadline when assigning the project. Don’t make the assistant guess if their proposed timeline is sufficient.

    7. Anonymously and*

      I wrote in to this site for advice once and the gender and name (obviously) of my boss was changed for the published piece. So, now I don’t put too much emphasis on gender, unless specifically stated by the LW, in the questions.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think they mean they changed it when they wrote in! I don’t change gender in letters unless it’s a decision made with the writer (like if we’re looking for ways to anonymize). But it’s common for people to change details like that themselves when they write their letter.

    8. Craig*

      Conceivably, but my feeling is that AaM would have picked up on this herself if it was a likely issue. She’s certainly done so in the past.

    9. K*

      This wasn’t mentioned in the letter and the rules here are not to speculate about stuff not in the letters. We have no reason to believe this has anything to do with it.

    10. Lucia Pacciola*

      Or maybe – hear me out on this – maybe LW2 and their assistant are good people doing the best they can, and having a good-faith miscommunication. That’s what you’d want us to assume about you, in such a scenario, right? So let’s extend that same charity to others, instead of going straight to the most toxic, misanthropic possibility.

    11. Conscientious OP who does the things*

      And people wondered why I was very specifically not gendering the Andy in my letter last week….

  3. Cee S*

    LW#3: I had a co-worker who sent me texts and emails about a non-work related subject that can become political. He was trying to be friendly to some folks at work. I ignored the messages at first. Then he wondered why I didn’t reply to his messages. I emailed him back with reputable news sources explaining why his messages were political in a bad way. He was very much offended and eventually stopped messaging.

    (I don’t name what political subjects were because I don’t want AAM to be brought down by hackers.)

    1. Helen Waite*

      Back in the neolithic age of online communications, certain people would send inflammatory political nonsense by email to a huge list of recipients. A quick search could find several sources of evidence against it. I’d reply all with “Nope. Here’s a link: $link”.

      The worst offenders soon learned never to include me on these.

      1. Gumby*

        Yeah, I had hoped responding to a certain family members with links to Snopes every time one of those emails came in would prompt them to check Snopes before sending whatever the story of the day was. All it did was prompt them to stop including me on the email lists. Which was not the worst outcome.

    2. PMaster*

      Can we take this a little further? What if the appropriate response is “these ideas have been completely debunked, and your sharing them makes me question your judgment, if not your intelligence”?

  4. Heidi*

    I’d feel very sorry for the manager who was given the role of unlocking bathrooms for people and then inspecting them afterwards for cleanliness. I wonder what the plan is for when/if they identify the bathroom messer upper.

    1. Gretta Swathmore*

      Can you imagine having to face your boss after this inspection? What if it was slightly smelly or something? Would your boss be waiting outside as you went? All of this is so infantizing.

      1. RagingADHD*

        I don’t think they’d be talking about gloves and sanitizing wipes if smell were the issue. It sounds like someone is routinely missing the target. Perhaps LW hasn’t seen anything egregious because the other team members are taking it upon themselves to clean up the mess, and LW has just lucked out on timing.

        If someone isn’t physically able to put everything where it belongs or clean up after themselves, then they need an accommodation like WFH so others aren’t subjected to it. There’s also the outside chance that someone is doing it deliberately, which is associated with pretty extreme aggression or mental health issues.

        If they refuse to request accommodation, I’m not sure what the options are, but expecting the other team members to just continue dealing with it isn’t reasonable either.

    2. Brain the Brian*

      I imagine the idea would be to scare people into not leaving a mess in the bathroom. But good Lord, what a dreadful way to handle it!

    3. Support Project Nettie*

      Imagine applying for a new job and listing among your responsibilities “Jobbie sniffer”.
      But seriously, having to ask a manager for a key to the toilet, knowing that said manager will be checking up on you afterwards? That is beyond abnormal – it’s downright freakish and insane. I’d be asking HR whether so much time spent on this is a good use of resources. And also looking for employment elsewhere if they thought it was.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        And now the manager has to take time constantly to let people into the bathroom, and then lock up after? Are they waiting around? What a great use of their time. /s

    4. Emmy Noether*

      I think it’s a bad idea on just so, so many levels. The constant interruptions to the manager. Does the manager deputize someone if they are unavailable for some time? What if they went to get a coffee, got stuck talking to someone, and someone else has an urgent bathroom need? Then there’s the whole subject area of people being embarassed, AND the whole subject of medical needs (needing to go often, or for a long time, or for purposes other than elimination), that will be more obvious. Will a bad manager start to comment on the frequency or length? AND bathrooms even after normal use can be smelly, so it’s not a nice task, and people may again be embarassed… Just, so many issues off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more.

      I bet some people would start doing extra coffee runs just to go to the bathroom at the coffee place.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Wanted to add: I feel like free access to a bathroom is, or at least should be, a basic worker’s right.

        1. Feckless rando*

          I actually got a few hundred dollars from a class action settlement with a previous employer because a judge determined my employer’s bathroom policy was too restrictive. You had to request someone to cover your post (via department wide radio call) wait for someone to come relieve you and then radio when you were back.

      2. Cinn*

        Is it bad that amongst all the examples you gave a part of my brain added “just imagine the talk when they realise they’ll know which women are on their periods”? But that might just be because I’ve learnt to expect the people who focus the most energy on this are the ones who will be gossiping about it (they’re also likely the ones to volunteer to be the monitor).

        That isn’t to say that some bathroom related issues shouldn’t be fixed. There have been some genuine emails of “this is not acceptable” go around the places I’ve worked. But there’s also been plenty of others that just… weren’t.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Yeah, also periods. Those can sometimes also kind of be more urgent than elimination typically is for me, in a way that would make me not want to detour by the manager…

          Oooh, and speaking of embarassing: farts. Where do you quickly step into to fart? I’d be tempted to propose the office of whoever came up with this harebrained idea.

    5. Cat Tree*

      I feel more sorry for the employees! I have several health conditions and sometimes it’s urgent. If I had to wait around for a manager to let me in, I’d quit that job as soon as I could find anything else. I also sometimes need to go frequently, occasionally less than an hour apart. I can’t imagine going to someone to plead my case to be allowed to pee again.

    6. RedinSC*

      I get that this is totally insane, but honestly, I can see how it could get to that! I don’t know what’s going on in people’s minds that think it’s OK, but there someone(s) here at my work that are completely disgusting in the bathroom. The leave poo smeared on the walls and toilet paper dispenser. They pee all over the seat and all around the seat. I cannot imagine what their homes look like!

      I work in an office full of lawyers, not a preschool, so it’s not that people are just learning how to use the potty.

      We’re never going to police the bathrooms by having a manager supply keys, but we do have signs, I personally purchased nitrile gloves and clorox wipes so when that poo is on another surface, I can clean it without having to be anywhere close to it.

      I have NO IDEA what the janitor thinks, he comes in every night around 3:30am. It’s insane that adults use a shared space this way.

      1. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

        That warrants a call or complaint to OSHA and the local or state health dept as a biohazard in the work environment. Employers are required to provide a safe workplace by law. Having to use a bathroom where fecal matter is spread everywhere and could contaminate others or spread disease is not a safe environment. Please call them & file.

        1. RedinSC*

          So, what will OSHA do? Honest question. Other than notes, and the tools to clean up, we’re starting to get into the territory of managers handing out keys and checking the bathroom after someone uses it.

      2. JustaTech*

        Before my company moved into our current building it was very minimally occupied by another company that was mostly housed across the street.
        Apparently there was an employee who had some kind of problem, because someone was pooping in the hallway outside the men’s bathroom very early in the morning, regularly.
        Whoever it was wasn’t ever caught, and they either stopped or left, but it’s one of those cases of “so many questions, not sure I want the answers”.
        Medical issue or really, really angry?

  5. Not A Manager*

    LW2 – Can you preempt this by giving a timeline of your own? “This isn’t urgent but should be completed by the end of the quarter,” “I’d like this by next Monday; please let me know if that’s not possible,” “This is urgent; please get back to me with your pressing tasks so we can re-prioritize them.”

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing. I would assume that the assistant is doing a reasonable thing in letting the OP know when he can have the work done. I would also think that the assistant expects the OP to TELL HIM if he needs to rearrange his priorities.

      Eg. “I can get this to you by Friday, because right now I’m working on the Pot Pie pitch and the Quiche report.” And the OP would say, “I need you to get this Raspberry Pie done before the Quiche, so make this your first priority. We can push the Quiche deadline out until Monday.”

    2. roster gang*

      yeah i was going to suggest this. or if you don’t have an idea of *when* you want it done you can still give some indication of relative importance.

      my better managers have used a system like this – such as, “hey, could you take a look into Y? it’s not important.” to which i’d usually say “do you need it this fortnight or this month?”

      or “can you do X for me urgently” and i’ll say “sure, i need to finish Y first, unless you prefer i stop working on that?”

      i wonder how much of OP’s problem is tone and being told an implied ‘no,’ which can be a bit of a cultural or personality thing. some people are just more blunt or aren’t used to ‘positive/upbeat/say yes even when you say no (eg. “i can do that if i switch out this other task!)’ type responses and it’s rarely personal.

    3. Performative gumption*

      Coming here to say exactly this!
      OP I think a simple conversation about expectations and not needing this from them unless you specifically ask when sending work will really help pre-empt this. Also giving timeframes is hugely helpful.
      I think as suggested by others above, some of your irk maybe from the phrasing the assistant is using in their response*. Could this also be a culture clash?

      * I’m always extra polite and perky when replying to my US colleagues versus my fellow European ones so they don’t think I’m rude.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        The overall conversation is what I was thinking. “In general, I am trusting you to manage your workload, and you’re doing a great job at that! I’ll let you know if something is urgent or has a specific deadline.”

    4. Octo*

      I have done this, in a similar situation. It seems to drive more negativity and surliness, not less.

    5. DameB*

      Nod. I’ve done that sort of managing up when I had too much work (as Alison says) but also when I had an erratic seagull manager. Setting expectations is useful when the manager ignores me, flies in once in a while, shits all over everything, screams, and flies away.

      OP, I’m not saying you’re a seagull. Your employee might just have habits left over from a previous seagull manager.

      1. ZugTheMegasaurus*

        I’m picturing a giant seagull in a suit (anyone remember Chicken Boo from Animaniacs?) and it’s hilarious.

        1. Professional Cat Lady*

          Yay!!! Thank you for the Wednesday brainworm:)
          “but you’re not a man, you’re a Chicken-Boo!”

    6. Pizza Rat*

      I think that’s a perfectly reasonable way to set expectations.

      I don’t find anything fundamentally wrong with what the assistant is saying. It sounds to me like he is trying to set expectations. I feel comfortable saying he’s not handling the LW, he’s handling the work. If I were in his shoes I’d say, “I’m working on this thing you gave me to do, do I finish that first or do I immediately pounce on this new thing you’re giving me to do?

      I also picked up a bit of expectation of mindreading on behalf of the LW, but that may be because I’ve had too many managers who expected me to to read their minds.

    7. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. I thought that was the answer as well. Preemptively give him a deadline so he only need ask if things need to be reprioritized.

      I does sound like he’s trying to apply the advice of what to do if he can’t do everything except that there’s not mention of dropping him not never getting to some tasks just the priority order.

      Possibly he could also just be a really organized person who lives his life by lists and is just verbalizing it to the LW.

    8. ariel*

      I’m with this. If needed, have a high level conversation about how the work isn’t urgent unless you specify that it is (if that’s true), and that you expect them to get it done in a timely manner but not urgently. Otherwise, it would be useful for you the manager to say when something is due if it’s outside whatever norm you set. As someone whose boss is always giving me random tasks while I stare at my to-do list and weep, I identify with the worker and know my boss is sometime jarred when I come back begging for help prioritizing the tasks that they delegated.

    9. I Have RBF*

      Yeah, the responses described almost sound like him thinking out loud about when he can fit things in, and trying to give his boss a sense of when things will be done. I don’t love that they are annoyed at feeling “managed” – a good admin manages up, and clarifies expectations immediately.

      Boss: “Do X”
      Admin: “I am doing Y right now, but I can fit it in after W tomorrow.”

      The unspoken is that he has told his boss when he can slot it in, and that if boss needs it sooner, they need to tell him. He did an unvarnished dump of his current tasks and schedule, and told them where he sees it fitting. Sure, there isn’t a lot of people pleasing in his statements, but he is probably used to working for someone who wants to know what he’s working on and when stuff will be done. So it ends up being:
      1. Boss throws work at assistant sans deadline
      2. Assistant, unclear on deadlines, informs boss when stuff can be slotted in.
      3. Boss has two options
      a: “Sounds good”
      b: “Actually I need it sooner, so do it before Z.”

      Is that managing his boss? Maybe, but it is more managing his time and communicating what he has on his plate. It just doesn’t have any of the people pleasing nicey-nice “enthusiastic” verbiage around it. “I can get to X after W” is flat statement of plan, “Sure, I can get to X after W, is that okay?” is pseudo-enthusiastic with people pleasing on top. The data conveyed is the same – X is slated for after W unless told otherwise. (BTW, sometimes the flat statement is a male mode, and the people pleasing is a female mode.)

  6. kara*

    #2, I used to have a boss who would lob tasks at me with absolutely no feedback about timelines or expected turnaround and it made me feel as though everything was a “right now” ask, which quickly got overwhelming and stressful. Maybe you could change the dynamic by giving a general timeline or assigning some kind of importance when you give your assistant a task?

    The way my then boss and I wound up handling it was to have her label her asks as follows:
    #1 – I need this asap, it should be put at the front of your list
    #2 – This should be completed in the next 3-5 days; let me know if there’s an issue
    #3 – This is a “when you get around to it” item (and she’d generally give me a rough deadline a few weeks out).

    This has followed me through several jobs and on my current team we use red, blue, green on our shared tracker. When I reach out to my team members I let them know that what I’m asking for falls into which group and then it’s up to them to prioritize the rest of their time appropriately or let me know why that’s not possible.

    It also makes it easier when I can reach out to a team member with a semi-humorous “Red Alert: XYZ needed for ops review TOMORROW” or something like that.

    Just some thoughts from someone who has been on both sides of the “when is this ask due” question. :)

    1. Msd*

      I agree. The LW says it’s a long task list. How is the employee supposed to prioritize? Just “lobbing over tasks” with no timeline is difficult for the person receiving the tasks. Inevitably there will be tasks that won’t be completed in their manager’s unknown timeframe. Then it becomes an emergency and a ossicle point of contention.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        I also wonder is the assistant works exclusively for them or also supports other people.

        I am in a similar role, but support 6 people. Those 6 don’t really interact/coordinate with each other, so it is on me to prioritize tasks and set schedules for completion.

        Depending on the ebb and flow some days/weeks can be slow others busy.
        One day an expense report can be done same day, others it can take 2 or 3 days.

        sometimes what can seems like a low priority task can need to be bumped up.

        To OP I would suggest if you want you can have a talk and set expectations, “any task I send can be done in the next 3-5 days, but if I need something sooner I will let you know.”

      2. Lostlawyer*

        I agree and I’d like to add – how frequently is the manager checking in about the tasks? When I was a personal assistant, I had a standing bi weekly meeting of “this is what I’m working on” to keep track of the status. It’s also a good time for me to flag to my boss “hey this is taking a bit longer than I thought” and for my boss to say things like “oh here’s a quick fix for that”.

        You’re being managed because youre “lobbing” things to your assistant with what appears to be no set parameters. The personal assistant should be managing the tasks and keeping them, and subsequently you, on track.

      3. Lizzie ( with the deaf cat)*

        Hi MSD, May I just say – while there IS such a word as ‘ossicle’, I think Autocarrot is messing with you because unless you are a bone specialist it is far more likely you wanted ‘possible’ in that sentence.
        (Although an ossicle is a very small bone, I still thought it worth picking!)

        1. Msd*

          LOL – if only there was an edit function. I did mean possible although not setting priorities could become a small bone of contention.

      4. Emmy Noether*

        I do think this depends on the nature of the job, and the nature of the tasks.

        For example, in my job, people do mostly just lob things at me, and I set the priorities. Some of them do have timelines attached (make the slides for the presentation tomorrow), and some have external deadlines (think submission deadlines for funding, that kind of thing). But my bosses very rarely give me a deadline or priority – they mostly do just lob stuff at me and I get it done. And they’re fine if they’re not done yet because I did other stuff first.

        I mostly like it that way, though at the moment I just returned from maternity leave and feel like picking up the million threads and prioritizing them is taking up as much of my time as actually doing them.

        I think typically the kind of tasks an assistant would do should come with a timeline and a priority. But it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that one of the tasks LW wants off their plate IS the priorisation and the keeping track. Because that is a lot of work in and of itself.

      5. Pizza Rat*

        Going off on a tangent, your comment reminded me of something that happened to me a long time ago at a job interview.

        I was trying to get a feel for the interviewers management style so I asked him what he’d do if I came to him with conflicting priorities. His answer, “Well, I’d put that back on you.” No clarification, no help, no explanations.

        I didn’t get an offer, but I would have turned it down.

    2. Grith*

      Another vote in favour of this. “Lobbing tasks to an assistant” is going to seem frustratingly vague to them. OP either needs to give tasks complete with deadlines (or at least a bit of clarity on urgent/not urgent), or set a standing timeframe for anything that doesn’t have a specific deadline attached.

      Have a sit down meeting and say something like “If I give you a task and it doesn’t come with a deadline or explicit urgency, my usual expectation is that it will be done in 3-5 working days. I’ve seen you work and trust you to manage your workload appropriately, I don’t need a detailed understanding of where it fits into your work flow as long as these timelines are reasonable.”

    3. Policy Schmolicy*

      I *love* this and will be implementing it with my team as soon as they all get back from vacation.

  7. Pete*

    LW2 can simply inform the assistant when they would like the urgent task to be done, regardless of the workload. “Have this to me by noon on Tuesday, please.” If the assistant helpfully responds with a list of priorities that might conflict LW2 can decide which task can be late.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      And I would argue this is the assistant’s job!! When OP says “I need this by noon on Tuesday”, the assistant can say “Okay, we have X taking priority right now and that’s due EOB Tuesday, is it OK if we push it till 1o on Wed so I can complete this new task?”. OP can confirm it’s OK (and follow up with those who need X to let them know) or say “actually we’ll have to push Y to Wed EOB instead of noon”. That way nobody is looking for their stuff and everyone knows how things have to be shuffled.

  8. Rob*

    #1: Perhaps the employer thinks it’s wrong to lie?
    Ignoring morality… it seems like potentially legal tricky to say something is a policy for one employee/situation, and then it turn out to not be for another employee later.
    Not lying is good for avoiding that kind of trouble too.

    Being asked by an employee to either lie, or to toy around with policy/legal trouble is probably frustrating for that employer.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      That’s really stretching things. And if the manager is doing so, they are pretty darn tone deaf and exceedingly privileged (or just plain lucky to never have been in a similar situation) to think that a white lie is somehow worse than allowing their employee to be sexually harassed at work and stalked outside of work by a customer who won’t take “NO” for an answer.

      In any case, the manager shouldn’t have made it a policy or claimed there was a policy. When the OP asked for help, the manager should simply have told the customer to cut out his bad behaviour because nobody should be harassed at work and beyond by someone they are not interested in.

      1. Allonge*

        Your second paragraph: the whole issue was that this guy did not think he was doing anything bad. Sometimes these people understand ‘there is a rule against it’ better than the ethics they should already have mastered a long time ago.

        1. redflagday701*

          In such cases, I’d say it’s actually helpful for someone like the boss to spell out that it’s bad behavior, so the customer can recalibrate accordingly.

          1. Dinwar*

            This is stuff you should have learned by the time you’re old enough to go to a coffee shop by yourself, though. We’re not talking about something obscure and industry-specific here; we’re talking about generally accepted social conduct applicable to any situation. Adults are expected to abide by unwritten rules all the time in a commercial setting–you don’t need a rule “Do not pour coffee on your head”, or “Do not drink other people’s drinks”, or “Do not punch someone for no reason.” “Do not stalk the staff” falls under that heading.

            I would further argue that if someone needs “Do not stalk the staff” spelled out for them, they are thereby admitting that they are a danger to themselves and others and probably shouldn’t be allowed out without a caretaker. I’m fine with asking once–it’s the price we pay for expecting individuals to find their own partners, rather than arranging marriages–but if you can’t take No for an answer you’re dangerous, or at least present the appearance of being dangerous. And as a manager my first obligation is the safety of my employees.

            Finally, I have to ask what the point is. You can’t rules-lawyer your way into a relationship–certainly not a healthy one. If you’re starting from the premise “There’s no rule saying I can’t stalk you”, you’ve already demonstrated contempt for the person you allegedly are attracted to (by ignoring their opinion). Maybe you can get away with a one-night stand under such conditions, but even that’s poison psychologically.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              “I can’t see what’s different between me asking you out, which you refused, and him asking you out, which you accepted!”

              “Consent. The difference is CONSENT.”

              1. Dinwar*

                Even the question starts with a flawed premise. The question presupposes that the person you’re propositioning has an obligation to agree unless there’s a reason not to. (That’s a generic “you”, not you in particular!) The reality is that the person you’re propositioning has the right to make any decision they wish, on any grounds they wish, including none at all.

                It’s telling (at least to me) that the only people I’ve heard ask for reasons for a rejection are also people who refuse to accept the reasons. They don’t ask to understand–they ask so that they can argue against you and wear you down. Well, there was one exception in my life, but she was a prostitute and different rules obviously apply. And even she accepted “I’m married and our relationship doesn’t allow it” without complaint.

                1. Indolent Libertine*

                  “ It’s telling (at least to me) that the only people I’ve heard ask for reasons for a rejection are also people who refuse to accept the reasons. They don’t ask to understand–they ask so that they can argue against you and wear you down.”

                  THIS. 1000% this. And someone who stalked the LW’s social media to “prove” she could in fact date him since there was no boyfriend, PLUS argued with the manager when she said there was a policy saying she couldn’t, is clearly not someone to whom many women would feel safe saying a straight-up “No, I’m not interested in dating you, don’t ask again.”

        2. Sloanicota*

          Oh c’mon, he found a barista’s social media and snooped around to “prove” she didn’t have a partner *after she told him she did* to decline going out with him and then presumably showed up again with this new “evidence” … he would have to be a real whacko to think he can lawyer someone into going out with him when she’s clearly not interested. I actually agree that the stated rule should have been “you have to respect my staff to be a customer here, you are being extremely disrespectful by continuing to hassle OP when she’s made it clear she’s not interested, thus I have to ask you to leave and not come back” rather than “we can’t date customers” but the boss is being a jerk at this point.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Oh sorry Allonge my first read was that your comment was that he didn’t understand so they should have explained more and been more patient with him but re-reading your comment now I think we’re on the same side – my apologies.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            Agreed. Only reasonable people get reasons, and I stop treating you like a reasonable person when you start trying to bludgeon me with “reason” and “logic”.

          3. Laser99*

            Also, a possible response to “We are not allowed to date customers” is “Well I’ll just stop coming in here, then!” Yes, that happened to me.

      2. Cinn*

        What learnedthehardway said. LW1 wasn’t asking for a policy, she was asking for help in the only way she could think of that might work. Meg didn’t have to follow the original plan but could’ve still helped intervene for her employee to feel safe. (And at least the LW talked her out of the “just tell him you’re not interested” BS.)

        1. Orora*

          She was asking for help that her employer is legally obligated to give her. Meg has a duty to ensure her employees are protected from sexual harassment by customers as well as other employees. Repeated requests for dates and other unwanted advances could qualify as sexual harassment.

          1. Cinn*

            Absolutely, I think I just worded my post badly. I meant that she didn’t have to lie to help LW if she was uncomfortable with it, but that didn’t mean there weren’t alternatives. (Which, as you say, as her employer she’s legally required to prevent her employees being harassed at work.)

      3. Old and Don't Care*

        There have been comments here from people who can’t respond to “How are you?” with “Fine”, because it feels like lying. And I see how the manager could walk herself down that path with various “what-ifs?”. But as has been stated, the manager could and should have just told the customer to stop harassing her employee.

        1. Laser99*

          Managers who won’t back up their employees in cases like this are sleazy, and cannot be redeemed.

    2. Merrie*

      She just told a creepy dude that was the store policy. The legal thing is only relevant if she actually enforced this policy on some employees and not others. Creepy dude isn’t an employee. He doesn’t have standing complain about selective enforcement of a policy regarding employee conduct.

      1. Venus*

        He also proved that he was too difficult to be a customer. That’s a real high level of problematic behavior.

      2. Emily Byrd Starr*

        I suppose it could be an issue if Creepy Guy somehow found out that OP was dating another customer, and then demanded to know why Meg lied to him. Of course, Meg could always call the cops if he gets violent, but Creepy Guy could retaliate by writing a negative review of the coffeehouse on Yelp.

    3. JayNay*

      I disagree – I see nothing wrong at all with telling a customer about a made-up rule to stop him from harassing your employees. Ideally, LW1’s boss at the coffee shop would’ve set that boundary without making up a general rule, but let’s be real here – this man badgered the LW, ignored her rejection and stalked her socials, at that point you do whatever you need to stay save.
      You want your boss to back you up when you’re getting harassed by customers, esp at a coffee shop where your work location & hours are easily identified. I find the boss’s slow action here weirdly out of tune with the situation.
      I like Alison’s script and might even add something like “I’d like to keep who I’m dating out of our work conversations from now on”. Your boss doesn’t get input on that.
      Also, depending on how much you love this coffee shop and how many others there are in your area, it might be a sign to just move on.

    4. Morning Reading*

      Oh please. It is perfectly acceptable to lie to get out of a dangerous, threatening, or even just annoying situation.
      Lies I have told men: I’m waiting for someone, I have a boyfriend, my religion forbids that, I’m busy that night, I’m not from around here, I have another ride, and the old traditional… I hear my mother calling.
      This LW simply added the “policy doesn’t allow..” and needed her boss to back her up.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah. Nobody owns the creepy stalker complete honesty or veyr much of anything else for that matter.

        In an ideal world if OP said “no thanks, not interested” the first time he asked her out he’d buzz off and it would be over. That is, sadly, not the world in which we live. Having her manager tell a white lie to force him to go away is not even morally grey.

      2. Juicebox Hero*

        Hell, at one point I was pretending to be engaged to a marine named Steve just to get one guy to back off me. My mother had given me her engagement ring because she wanted me to have it; I actually wore it on my left hand for verisimilitude.

        Lord, the awkward conversations I had to have with other coworkers who wanted to congratulate me and know all the details about the wedding…

        1. Bast*

          I am married and have a wedding ring, but do not typically wear it. When I wear the ring, I seem to get a lot fewer shenanigans and pushy people as opposed to when I don’t. People seem a lot less willing to cross a man who isn’t even there than there are just to respect a “not interested” when I am not wearing the ring. Of course, you always get the “he doesn’t have to know” people, but there are fewer attempts in general if they notice a ring, and on the off chance they didn’t notice the ring when they first approached, they are more likely to back off once they do notice, as if he’s lurking around the corner waiting to beat them up.

          1. Emily Byrd Starr*

            Then there are the creepy guys who, after seeing that a woman has a ring on her finger, will say, “Are you and your husband interested in a threesome?” It’s never happened to me, but I’ve heard of it.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          When I worked retail and at previous jobs that required a lot of travel I wore fake wedding sets.

      3. ferrina*


        When you are in a dangerous situation, you get to lie to stay safe (as long as you aren’t putting someone else in danger). Unfortunately, enough women have dangerous experiences saying “no” to a date that that inherently counts as a dangerous situation. And OP’s instincts were right- the dude ended up being a stalker (and stalkers should be considered dangerous- they demonstrate a willingness to cross boundaries and social norms, and you don’t know how far they are willing to go until it is too late).

      4. Laser99*

        When you have that type of job, you literally lie all day long. “I don’t know when Carla is working next.” “I don’t know the wholesale price.” “Your breath must certainly doesn’t stink.”

    5. SarahKay*

      Then perhaps the employer should have come up with an alternative way to help her employee feel safe at work when CreepyDude (in an entirely unsurprising turn of events to most women) refuses to take No for an answer.

      1. Kes*

        This is where I land. I also thought the boss might be uncomfortable lying, and that’s fine, but the solution to that is for the boss to come up with a different way to support the employee – she could tell the guy to leave her employee alone and that if he doesn’t he’ll be banned from the shop, without lying about anything if that is the problem.

      2. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

        Especially when the “male customer at a restaurant/coffee shop continually hits on female staff member who is expected to maintain Customer Service Politeness, customer refuses to take no for an answer banking on that Customer Service Politeness to shield them from consequences” is in no way an unheard-of phenomenon! Neither is stalking the staff member in question, ultimately, which has unfortunately been going on for decades. This… should be entirely predictable for a manager or owner? Up to and including the part where the Creepy Dude will not take no for an answer and you have to step in to do whatever’s necessary to get him out the door and stay gone, and YOU have to do it because the staff member’s worried for her safety and already had to put up with way too much.

      3. dawbs*

        As the older, slightly Karen-looking middle aged lady wearing a suit at a previous job, my employees were mostly very young and this was an ongoing problem.

        I pulled multiple young men aside and explained the ‘go to hell’ rule. Which is the rule we settled on where if you have any doubt that the person could shout “GO TO HELL” at you with absolute impunity, you couldn’t ask them out. These young ladies were being paid to be nice to them, they should assume nothing but friendliness. And I said that once they had asked once, the ‘no’ meant they needed to move on.
        And I let them know they could now cease to ask anyone out or bother anyone, or they could leave. (This job had security, which, on rare occasions, had to be called at that time)

        Some people’s children have never had the moment where someone makes them think of a perspective other than ‘what I want’.
        I don’t know if this helped any of those guys…it probably didn’t. But I tried.
        (I also gave staff the absolute right to be ‘professional and mean’ and to call me at *any* moment where someone made them uncomfortable. Somehow me coming up and clearing my throat and saying “Hi, did you need something?” ended a lot of stupidity)

    6. Irish Teacher.*

      In that case, she should have said it at the time. “Sorry, but I’m not willing to lie.”

      And honestly, I think an employee being harrassed is bigger trouble than a customer potentially being annoyed if they found out they were told somebody wasn’t allowed to date them when it was really just that they didn’t want to.

      I doubt there are any legal issues involved and I certainly doubt there would be any risk of legal trouble. I can’t imagine how “one customer was told an employee wasn’t allowed to date them but that employee dated another customer” could possibly lead to legal trouble. It’s just…not an issue that involves any legal issues. I mean, if the employee actually wanted to date both and was told they couldn’t date the one who was the same sex or opposite race as them or something but was later permitted to date a customer of the opposite sex and same race, I could see that potentially being problematic, but I can’t imagine how an employee saying they weren’t allowed to date somebody when they really just didn’t want to could be one.

      1. Snow Globe*

        There is one legal issue here, and that is that the employer has a legal obligation to take action when an employee reports sexual harassment.

      2. CityMouse*

        Exactly, think through the implications. It would be implying that the customer has a right to date an employee of the coffee shop. That’s 100% not a thing.

        1. Csethiro Ceredin*

          Which I wish more people like this creepy dude would internalize.

          If someone made up an “excuse” not to go out with him, what does he think proving it was fake gets him? This only makes sense to him if he thinks “she doesn’t want to” is not a valid reason.

      3. Sloanicota*

        It’s also completely predictable. Any employer that employs people in a customer-facing business has to have a plan for how to help their employees navigate creepy guys who think the coffee shop (or gym, or bar) is a red light district where they can just point to the one they want. It’s not a question of if, but when. You can’t just throw them to the wolves and ignore the issue, and it’s especially salient in more casual businesses where young people gather.

    7. bamcheeks*

      If the manager doesn’t like lying, she had an absolutely straight-forward opportunity to NOT lie, and say, “Please don’t harass my staff, you won’t be welcome here if you do.” LW asked her to say there was a policy about it because they had less power in this situation: the manager was totally capable of making a different choice.

      If you actively choose not to manage a situation and default to your employee’s idea, you don’t get to blame them if you don’t like the idea. You’re literally paid to be better at this stuff than they are!

      1. Laser99*

        Obviously, I can’t speak for anyone else, but my experience is people who say things like “Just be honest!” or “Well I’m not going to LIE!” are the ones who are eager to let you know you have gained a few pounds, and so forth. Also—I can’t believe this even needs repeating—it is entirely acceptable to lie in situations where the truth would put you in danger.

      1. CityMouse*

        Agreed. A boss who won’t take basic steps to protect an employee from stalking is frankly, useless.

        1. Laser99*

          Worse than, possibly. She might be of the “Oh just give him a chance” school. My experience is that women are much more guilty of men, although I can’t fathom as to why.

      2. Observer*

        Worse to lie than to facilitate a stalker?

        In a nutshell? Yes.

        Thanks for calling it out so clearly.

        I’m sure that @Rob is not going to like that. But honestly, that’s the plain reading of the comment you are replying to.

        When someone goes to such lengths to make up non-existent “dangers” in a situation where the whole (fake) issue could have been avoided if the person had behaved better, I have to assume that what they are really objecting to is being expected to step up to the plate. Like they are making up stuff to “explain” why the manager should not have had to have the LW’s back, and since the LW “forced” them to, Meg needs to somehow punish her or at least make her feel very bad about the terrible thing she did.

        Obviously, I could be wrong, but I’m having a very hard time taking that comment as being made in good faith, and your comment encapsulates exactly why.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          It took me a couple of readings of your comment to get that the “someone” in question in your fourth paragraph is Rob, not the LW, which briefly meant I read this as a rather horrific comment. So glad I checked again…

    8. RIP Pillowfort*

      What like the creepy stalker guy is going to sue the store because he wasn’t allowed to date an employee that wasn’t interested?

      Even if this manager had some kind of moral code forbidding lying in any circumstance- all Meg had to do is stand up to the guy and tell him he can’t be harassing her employee. He cyberstalked her and was sexually harassing her. That’s grounds for a ban outright.

      The fact OP felt like there had to be any rule in order to get Meg to PROTECT HER is the issue. A sad one at that. I’m hoping OP knows that competent managers would have acted on the obvious harassment sooner.

    9. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s not legally tricky to tell the stalker that they need to huff off because of a made up thing.

      He isn’t going to get any court to listen to his “So I kept asking, and she kept saying no, and then her manager said there was a policy that I couldn’t date her… but I have obtained a copy of the employee rule book and that isn’t the policy! So I need you, the jury, to tell her that she has to date me now.”

      Any more than he can expect success for his first attempt, “So I kept asking, and she kept saying no, and finally she told me she had a boyfriend, but I followed her everywhere she went in real life, I found all her social media, and there was no boyfriend! So I need you, the jury, to tell her that she has to date me now.”

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Precisely this. If we ever get to the point where courts are ordering people to date each other against one party’s will because Reasons, we will have much bigger problems than a coffee shop’s employee handbook.

    10. House On The Rock*

      What’s actually “frustrating” is being harassed and stalked, having to plead with your manager to help put a stop to it. I’m also not clear on what “trouble” you think not lying avoids – being harassed and stalked?

      Your focus here and invocation of “morality” is skewed, perhaps think on that.

    11. DameB*

      Wow. This is a HECK of a comment. Do you honestly think that the frustration of providing a safe work environment to your employee is somehow worse than being stalked?

    12. T.N.H*

      The employer has a legal obligation to stop sexual harassment regardless of the circumstances. It should never have come to lying about policy. The manager needs to be a lot more proactive about this.

    13. Some Words*

      Making up little white lies to stave off unwanted advances is a normal part of existing as a woman on this planet. It just is.

      The little white lie isn’t the problem here.

      1. CityMouse*

        Yes, I don’t think Rob understands. Women need a toolbox because in these situations we are worried we will get hurt. If you are seen to have agency or the rejection is seen as personal, there are people who will not take a no, who will continue to escalate and will put your safety at risk. The absolutist “lying is wrong” is completely out of touch with the very real, very scary experiences of many who have worked with the public (myself included).

        1. Chanel No. Pi*

          Meg. Boss is a woman. Not all women see these things clearly either. My own mom nagged me to start taking my stalker’s calls, because “it’s rude to keep ignoring him.”

          1. Csethiro Ceredin*

            I had a wanna-be stalker briefly and a few female friends suggested “giving him a chance” when I complained to them about the dozens of increasingly unhinged overnight texts.

            Unfortunately we’ve all been socialized with some messed up expectations and some have internalized them more than others.

    14. Also-ADHD*

      Well, they could have not lied but just told the customer their behavior was inappropriate and they needed to stop or be banned etc. if that was the case. It seems more like they see no responsibility for protecting employees from overzealous customers and feel annoyed they were expected to step up.

    15. Jennifer Strange*

      IANAL, but I don’t think there is anything here that could cause legal trouble. A customer is not entitled to a date with an employee. Also, I think morality went out the window when the customer stalked her on social media.

      1. CityMouse*

        There are definitely no legal issues here. Businesses have the right to exclude stalkers from their business. “Stalker” is not a legally protected category.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        There are no legal issues here. Rob is just mad that the OP lied to the man who was stalking her.

      3. ferrina*

        Yeah, lying itself isn’t inherently illegal. If so, every child ever would be incarcerated (yeah, sure you didn’t eat the cookies. Also you’ve got chocolate all over your face).

        Lying needs a specific set of circumstances to be illegal (for example, deliberately providing untrue information to secure financial backing, or proliferating information proven to be false to discredit someone).

      4. Anne Shirley Blythe*

        YES to both points. And for that matter, no one, in any circumstance, is entitled to a date with another person.

    16. Butterfly Counter*

      I’m a person who has a hard time lying. Just thinking about trying to lie now is starting to give me hives. I also hate confrontation and have a hard time not answering a direct question. If an employee wanted me to lie to a customer, it’s not something so easy for me to do.


      C’mon now.

      First, it’s not illegal to lie. There won’t be legal troubles there.

      Second, I hypothetically like my employee and would hate if they were being creeped out and Facebook stalked. This is a zero-tolerance situation by a customer. OP’s boss needs to have a policy, yes, but it needs to be a “no sexual harassment of my baristas” policy that she needs to be ready to enforce.

    17. kiki*

      I think the crux of the issue here, though, is that this employer wasn’t protecting their employee from a man who was pretty clearly exhibiting stalking behavior. The employee suggested one path for receiving help (a white lie about a policy existing), but Employer was free to just straight up tell this man he was harassing the employee and to leave her alone. Acting like the employer was forced by the employee to lie and continuing to rag on her for it now is really odd! Part of managing employees in customer service roles means protecting them from customers who are antagonizing or harassing them.

      Additionally, I don’t think this is situation is at all legally tricky actually. I don’t think there is any real legal case that could be filed here. The employer didn’t tell an employee that the policy actually exists, no employee is confused by what happened. Maybe this customer will somehow find out how LW met her boyfriend and come back to the store mad about it, but… boohoo? I don’t think there’s any lawyer who will take on this case– what harm was caused to this customer? None!

    18. Observer*

      it seems like potentially legal tricky to say something is a policy for one employee/situation, and then it turn out to not be for another employee later.

      Not at all. In any case, this was not about making an actual policy for one employee and then not applying it to another employee. Which means, ironically, that if the manager tried to pull that line, they would be not only untruthful, but in an even worse situation because then there would be the clear fact that the manager is using an untrue excuse. I can’t really see any situation where this would come up in court, but if it come up this excuse would probably be labeled as a “pretext” and would probably tank any case that the employer might have.

      Being asked by an employee to either lie, or to toy around with policy/legal trouble is probably frustrating for that employer.

      Except that there is no chance that this could cause legal trouble, and there were no actual policies at play, till the manager decided to make one up.

      And, they could have avoided the whole thing by banning the customer to start with. But I guess that being asked to have your employee’s back is also “frustrating”.

    19. Student*

      Let me explain this to you very bluntly.

      Men who do not take “no” for an answer about a date are generally speaking, also people who do not regard women as fully autonomous humans. They think we are sub-human. They do not trust us to speak for ourselves.

      As such, there is literally no thing we can say to these kinds of people ourselves, true or false, that will get them to stop harassing us. They literally believe they are entitled, by their ownership of certain genitals, to the use of OUR body whenever they like, and that our own opinion on the matter is rather immaterial. Again, they do not regard us as actual, full humans. They treat us more like how a toddler treats a cat that doesn’t particularly want to be petted, but also can’t outrun the toddler – like they will get us eventually no matter how we object, and just need to find the right scheme to manage it.

      The only way to get through to these kinds of people is to borrow the authority of someone that they do feel they must listen to. That might be a manager, as in this case. It might be the police. It might require inventing some other man, like a pretend boyfriend, who they will respect more than the actual flesh-and-blood woman before them, as our phantom male “owner”.

      If you want to pretend that this kind of person, someone who treats adult women as if they were less than animals, has some sort of morale superiority to us – then the kindest thing I can say to you is that you really need to go back to your ethics 101 class and pay more attention.

      1. Anne Shirley Blythe*

        THIS. 100 PERCENT. And in the states, the fact that there are Supreme Court justices who agree women are not autonomous is certainly not helping this.

      2. Galentine*

        The proof is in the pudding here because the dude wasn’t deterred by “store policy” and argued with the manager to the point that she did end up banning him! So obviously 1) this is not a person who knows how to take no for an answer, and 2) the manager is capable of banning customers and just didn’t want to do it for LW’s benefit. Everyone sucks here except LW.

        1. AKchic*

          I’m betting that he argued with the store owner because Meg is also a woman, therefore she, being a woman, is also sub-human and not to be believed. Had Meg been a man, HIS “store policy” would have been believed and been sancrosanct. Sure, he might have tried to buddy up “man to man” to try to get around it, but ultimately, he would have agreed it was a good “rule” to have, and limited himself to coming in to the shop and giving OP longing glances and decent tips and sighs and hints at what “could have been”. He would have respected a male manager’s confirmation that a date wouldn’t be. Meg’s words would never be enough because she’s a woman. Banning happened because he didn’t accept the “no” by a second line of authority after stalking OP and not accepting HER multiple no’s in the first place.

    20. Dinwar*

      “Perhaps the employer thinks it’s wrong to lie?”

      White lies are part of society, including business contexts. When it comes to stalking, this is even more true–I don’t know of any philosopher of ethics (including those who advocate radical honesty, which is a thing) who believe one owes honesty to someone who is demonstrating themselves to be dangerous to you. This is a “return awkward to sender” situation: The stalker committed the immoral act, everyone else is just scrambling to avoid the consequences.

      “… it seems like potentially legal tricky to say something is a policy for one employee/situation, and then it turn out to not be for another employee later.”

      It would only be tricky if the policy was applied to THE EMPLOYEE. Customers are not covered by employee handbooks. Besides, almost any court would accept “We lied because he was stalking her and this was the best way to handle it” as a perfectly justifiable defense. You are ABSOLUTELY legally allowed to lie to get out of dangerous situations.

      “Being asked by an employee to either lie, or to toy around with policy/legal trouble is probably frustrating for that employer.”

      Too bad. Either suck it up or get out. I have zero sympathy for this view. Management gets paid to do this sort of distasteful thing, and if you don’t want it or are too cowardly to protect your employees from harassment and stalking because “What if some lawyer somewhere somehow decides I did it wrong” you have no business managing employees. The safety of your workers is your FIRST priority.

    21. LCH*

      how is Meg real and does not understand the phenomena that (i thought) all women experienced of that one guy who will not take no for an answer and freaks you out. WTF, Meg.

    22. Lenora Rose*

      “Ignoring morality” is pulling a LOT of weight here.

      If the choice was a black/white Binary (Lie/allow employee to be stalked) Lying IS actually the more moral choice. But it wasn’t that black and white, and Meg was not required to lie OR set policy to actually support her employee, she chose that because apparently putting her foot down at a customer otherwise was beyond her.

      There is nothing legally actionable about it in any case. You can’t rules lawyer who will date you, never mind real-lawyer it.

    23. RagingADHD*

      If the manager wanted to be Jesuitical about not lying, they could very easily say, “Employee cannot date you because it is against store policy. You must leave Employee alone or you will be banned from the store.”

      The policy in question being that they protect employees from harassment.

      Or, you know, they could go full bore and say “You are harassing Employee and you are banned. If you continue to harass them outside store hours we will assist them in pressing charges and provide evidence of your behavior.”

    24. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      So why didn’t manager not lie?
      “You have asked my employee out a number of times. She has said no. Please stop harassing my employees or I will ban you from the store.”
      I thought the manager was just super concerned about banning people and not willing to step up and do the hard work. OK, her job is on the line. Bad Yelp reviews and all that. Cowardly, but not unheard of.
      Until manager felt threatened herself, stepped up and did the hard work when the overreaching customer made HER feel uncomfortable.
      That’s my problem with this.

      The manager could have banned him because of what he was doing.
      But she chose to use the lie that a desperate employee offered instead of doing what she clearly knew she had the power to do.
      And now the manager blames the employee for a choice she made herself.
      Is she lashing out from some sort of guilt because she can’t admit that the situation was the same or is she really oblivious?

    25. katydid*

      I think you’re misunderstanding something– there was no policy for *any* employee or situation. The policy didn’t exist, and was never communicated as something any employee was being held to. The policy was a lie told to the customer, not the employees.

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

      But the LW wasn’t asking for an ACTUAL policy. They wanted their manger to back them up and shut down this guy and by saying their is a policy against dating customers gave everyone a nice safe exit.
      It’s really sad that we live in a world where guys don’t take no for an answer and then cyber stalk a woman to prove she is lying about having a boyfriend. Its also really sad that women can’t just say no, but that they have to play it nice. Obviously this guy is a creep and is deranged and the OP wanted a nice way to stop this that would not escalate the creep.

    27. Kay*

      Those pesky employees wanting to be protected from stalking and harassment by clients in the workplace…

      But thanks for that hot take Rob – I kinda laughed at the notion of this creeper, stomping his foot and blustering all red faced “I asked her out and she said “No”, which she is legally not able to do as I discovered through stalking her that she lied when she said she had a boyfriend and then the manager had the audacity to lie and say I couldn’t date her because of a policy, which never existed! I want… RESTITUTION!!!!”

      Then I remembered that in real life women die all the time at the hands of men like this, who decide they are judge and jury, taking what is owed to them.

      Nice work on the mental gymnastics. Other commenters got it right when they pointed out that the manager could have just as easily not lied.

    28. Have you had enough water today?*

      If men would accept NO for an answer we would not HAVE to lie to get them to leave us alone Rob. Too many men care more about the feelings of a fictional boyfriend we make up than they care about our wishes when they are trying to get laid. And I am sure I don’t need to tell you how dangerous it can be for a woman to tell a man no.

  9. GladImNotThereAnymore*

    I’m curious if the assistant for LW2 is exclusive to the writer, or if the assistant is shared among other folks. If the writer isn’t the sole assigner of tasks then it may very well be that “I was planning on working on something else [for Bob]” or “I’m doing A, B and C right now [for Alice]” and without a clear priority it is being attended to when it can be. If the assistant is exclusive to LW2, it seems like the work that has been assigned should already be clearer to LW2 to know where new tasks would fit, so perhaps being more assertive on priorities is needed. “I know I told you yesterday that I need task C completed and you were working on that today, but I’m putting out a metaphorical fire this morning and I really need A done before the end of today,” say.

    1. Genevieve en Francais*

      This was also my question, having been an assistant to 14 people at once before. And while I agree with the analyses upthread about the negative (and therefore off-putting) framing in the assistant’s responses, I do wonder how exactly LW is asking for things and how she’s responded in the past if/when the assistant has returned things later than expected.

      I think there’s a lot of room here for better communication all around without either party necessarily having an ill-will or even being out of line, but how best to resolve it might depend on the exact nature of their relationship and whether or not there are others involved.

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

      That’s what I was wondering too. Even if it’s only for one other person, the OP might not realize how full the assistant’s workload is because THEY haven’t given him a lot of work, so they don’t understand why he keeps telling them this information.

      another thought is that maybe this is the communication style that the other manager(s) like or maybe he worked with someone else and had to communicate his priorities like this.,

  10. nnn*

    For #5: a script I’ve heard people use when their plans changed is “It fell through.” (I don’t know if they were originally lying about their plans, or if something happened that they don’t want to talk about.)

    That could pair well with speaking positively about where you actually are working (if that’s something you want to share) or refocusing on “So what have you been up to?”

    It doesn’t actually disabuse them of the notion that you thought you were going to be working at the other company so it might not be suitable if, like, you’re talking to a friend of the hiring manager at the other company, but it could help for people with no proximity to the situation.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Wonan*

      Most people forget where you said you’re going anyway. I’ve run into former coworkers and most of them haven’t ever remembered where I work now, and vice versa.

      But on the chance they do remember, your suggestion is fine. Jobs fall through all the time, I don’t think anyone would jump to the conclusion that OP5 was lying.

    2. Lisa*

      You don’t even have to say “that fell through”, which might prompt an “so what happened” from someone nosy. I would go with a more generic “Oh, that ended up not happening, I’m at X Company now working in the Fancy Teapots division” which redirects the conversation.

  11. Gretta Swathmore*

    How gross is this bathroom that they provide GLOVES??? I’ve (thankfully) never heard of that. And I’ve worked in some places with gross bathrooms. Gloves! Wow. Actually, now I kinda want to start wearing gloves in a few public bathrooms I go to. Oh no, I’m going to start turning into Monk.

    1. Blue*

      I think (and pray…) that the gloves are for use while cleaning, not for just attending to ones normal business.

    2. Panhandlerann*

      I am sure this is because a gross bathroom (even a slightly gross one) is a biohazard.

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

      Probably so that if someone has to wipe the seat they can do so with gloves and not just their hand and paper towl

  12. LobsterPhone*

    Re LW2…it comes across as a bit passive aggressive to me because he doesn’t finish that statement by asking if the new task is a higher priority, he just states that he won’t be doing it until he’s completed his self-determined schedule of work. If I was either person in this situation, I would feel more comfortable with a response of ‘I was planning on doing X,Y,Z but can make this a priority if need be/when did you need it done by?’

    1. Brain the Brian*

      My experience with my manager has long been that if I ask a question like that, she will simply ignore it for at least a day (citing an overwhelmed inbox) and leave me in limbo until she answers. My solution has been to reply with language like “I’ve been working on Project A today, but I can switch over if you prefer. I’ll keep working on A — let me know if you want me to shift priorities.” That closes the loop and puts the onus for priority-setting where it should be: with my manager.

      1. roster gang*

        Oh yep I’ve had this manager too. Usually I would write down in extremely clear terms what I was working on and what the timelines were, being careful to get it into writing, so that the lack of management of my workload (which I was fine with, to be clear, only that my manager just never did that for me) would not be something that ultimately sat with me.

        I was always extremely clear with what my plan was given that my manager was not doing the planning work for me, and it would be on her to come back to me and tell me if she had a different view of priorities.

        I don’t think its bad to manage up in this manner. Maybe the tone could be improved but if this bothers OP, they need to address it directly to work out why this is their employee’s approach.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Yeah, the phrasing also rubbed me the wrong way—“I can’t,” “I’m doing something else,” “if you can wait,” collectively all kind of sound like jerk ways of saying something that would otherwise be reasonable.

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Some of the phrasing was a bit grating. But some of the other phrasing was straight out of AAM. It is exactly what you are supposed to do. So to me there are two explanations:

      1. Assistant read the advice and is weaponizing it.
      2. LW is not giving clear timelines and Assistant is trying to prioritize their workload appropriately.

      Fortunately the solution is simple — instead of just lobbing work over for the assistant to figure out the priority, LW can give a heads up — this can wait, I need this ASAP, whatever.

    4. Irish Teacher.*

      It’s possible he knows the new task isn’t priority and is simply informing the manager that he has higher priority tasks that need to be done first so it may not be done for a day or two. That would be my assumption.

      If both the manager and the employee know this task is not a priority, it might come across a bit oddly to essentially say, “well, I have these tasks I know you want me to prioritise but I can do this task first if you want me to.”

      I’d often reply to the head of my department by telling him, “well, I have a lot on this week, so it will probably be next week by the time I get to X.” He knows I generally can’t prioritise a task over my classes and if he wanted that, which he has on occasion, he will say something like, “Can you do this today? I will cover one of your classes if need be.” Otherwise, it’s a case of when I can and if that is likely to be a few days time, I let him know so he doesn’t wonder if I have forgotten or something.

      Yeah, the “I was doing something else right now” sounds a bit abrasive, but the rest really just sounds to me as giving an indication of when the work would be done.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Some bosses (especially those who view assigning work as “lobbing” tasks) struggle to give deadlines. Sure, they *can* do that, but they don’t want to or struggle to unless they’re pressed.

  13. Gretta Swathmore*

    I kinda get where the time boundary assistant’s boss is coming from. It would be annoying to get pushback after every assigned task. Or have to be constantly thinking about the assistant’s schedule and workload. I think the boss just wants to get back to the rest of their job and have the assistant actually assist them, not create more work. All that being said, I also could see it being the boss’s fault, if she/he is giving too much work or expecting things back too quickly.

    1. Rebecca*

      I’m not seeing any pushback from the assistant. Viewing the responses as pushback rather than information is probably the heart of LW’s problem. The assistant’s workload came from the boss, at least partially, and thinking about is part of the boss’s job. Especially if there are other bosses giving the assistant work, the assistant’s throughput impacts LW’s throughout, and it’s LW’s job to be on top of their own throughput.

      1. Lisa*

        I think the perception of pushback is in the phrasing. Assuming the LW is accurately conveying the wording the assistant uses, it’s a bit aggressive, but in general it’s appropriate for the assistant to manage expectations that way. On the other hand, LW should clearly convey the deadline and/or urgency of the tasks when assigning them and let the assistant manage their own workload within those constraints.

    2. K*

      I don’t see how this gives the letter writer any additional work. She’s just being given a timeline. The assistant is trying to be informative.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        It’s only additional work if the LW hasn’t actually thought through when they really want things, and the assistant saying when they’ll do it is causing them to think “oh, but I really need it by Thu at 9, for that meeting at 10”. And that’s on LW to properly set expectations and deadlines.

        FWIW, I find the assistant’s phrasing fine, and I’m sure others do as well, which is to say he’s just saying what may come naturally to him (or it’s how he thinks about his tasks), and they can certainly have a conversation about it, but it’s not done from a bad place.

    3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      It’s not pushback! It’s asking the manager to actually MANAGE by prioritizing tasks.

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

      I don’t see this as the assistant pushing back. They aren’t saying that they wont do it. They are communicating expectations. And if you are a boss giving people work to do you SHOULD be thinking about their schedule and workload. That’s part of being a good manager.

  14. Martin Blackwood*

    Ah, bathrooms. There’s a million signs in my work’s bathroom and I never see any mess but it must be happening because they put up new signs sometime last year. Including, much to my trans surprise, “targets” in the urinals.

    1. Albatross*

      Mine has a sign up requesting that you not flush needles and instead use the biohazard sharps container provided by the sinks. I’m used to signs requesting that you not flush paper towels or menstrual products, but the needles were a new one on me.

      Anyway, the only problems I’ve actually had were 1) the auto-flush not working and 2) a rather intense smell of Lysol. Given the other smells you can find in a bathroom, the Lysol is pretty tolerable.

    2. Grey Coder*

      At OldJob, someone went beyond passive-aggressive to full on aggressive signs, in response to (I think) one instance of failure to flush. The thing that made this weird is that the plumbing was being worked on at the time, so it was absolutely possible that flushing just didn’t work.

  15. tabloidtainted*

    “I was actually planning on doing other things today, but if you can wait for three days from now, sure.”

    This would grate on my nerves. As if you’re asking a favor of him, which he can reject outright, rather than giving him a job to do.

    1. Xanna*

      I think the issue is that it seems likely that the “other things” are the tasks/jobs/projects OP gave him yesterday, the day before that, and so on.

      It sounds like the assistant might not be getting the context from OP to decide what can go on the back burner and what needs immediate attention. In that case, it makes sense to start with the items that came in first chronologically, which means any new request is already starting at the back of the queue, and if that queue is long, I feel like flagging that for your boss is pretty unavoidable?

      1. allathian*

        Indeed. But it sounds like both of them need to communicate more clearly. The assistant is unnecessarily negative in all comments, another poster had rephrased the facts in a more positive tone. I get it that the assistant has a lot of autonomy and that the LW doesn’t want to micromanage him (good!), but the LW should have some idea of his workload and help him prioritize his task list if necessary.

        1. Some Words*

          Agreed. It sounds like they’d both benefit from a couple conversations about expectations & communication styles. It sounds like they’re both communicating in ways that rub the other the wrong way.

      2. Also-ADHD*

        Or others have pointed out, we’re not sure he’s LW’s assistant only—many assistants do have multiple folks they support.

        1. Yorick*

          This is possible, but LW would be aware of that and would probably have mentioned it in the letter. If we take LW at their word, this is THEIR assistant

          1. bumblebee*

            Eh, someone can be your assistant and also be other people’s assistant. I’d agree in leaning towards interpreting it as him assisting OP only, but this isn’t a case of people doubting or disagreeing with the OP’s assessment of their own situation–it could go either way and people throughout the comments have offered different advice and considerations for both scenarios.

          2. Also-ADHD*

            I’m not so sure. Lots of people call my department’s assistant their assistant, even people who aren’t directly superior (higher grade). I’m a lead and she’s not even really my assistant but people say that too (“your assistant”). But it certainly doesn’t have to be the case, I just can’t tell which and thought it was a good question asked by others!

    2. ThatOtherClare*

      It grated on my nerves too, but I have an entirely personal loathing of the word “sure” as a substitute for yes that’s colouring my vision.

      One of my colleagues has “sure” as a vocal tic. Occasionally it’s meant neutrally, but often it’s deeply passive-aggressive in situations where a simple “I don’t have the time for that right now” would have been fine. It’s a hangover from a toxic workplace where he felt he wasn’t allowed to say no or have reasonable boundaries (I know his old place). He gets annoyed and feels under pressure when I ask him for something he doesn’t have the time or resources for, because he forgets he can safely just tell me “no” and I’ll find a different solution, no big deal. I understand why it happens, but unexpectedly being snarled at like I’ve turned into a snake does try my patience.

  16. Brain the Brian*

    In a corporate job, I can see an argument for a general policy against dating customers. But in a coffee shop? LW1’s boss needs to get a grip!

    1. Emmy Noether*

      That’s what I was thinking! It’s cool that this worked on the guy, but as an actual policy, this would be kind of bonkers. Like what, employee’s partners are banned from the place? How is a client even defined? Employees can’t date anyone who ever bought a coffee there 5 years ago? Depending on the size of the town, this may limit them to long-distance relationships and new arrivals. Or is it just if they met while there? How would one verify that? It’s just not a realistic policy for places that serve the general public.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Seriously! Half of my high school friends would have had zero boyfriends if this “policy” were ubiquitous.

      2. bamcheeks*

        “Don’t date customers” is a bad policy, but “customers can’t hit on staff during or immediately after their shift” is a pretty good one for a lot of reasons, and if Meg had instituted that rule and was then annoyed at LW, I think she’d have a point. Even if some customers are capable of doing it in a polite and consensual way, it’s OK for a business to have a blanket rule that that’s not OK because it’s not the point of the interaction.

        But it doesn’t sound like Meg has thought any of this stuff through properly, or she wouldn’t have had a problem speaking to the first guy who was hassling LW, so I doubt very much that’s where she’s coming from.

  17. Just me*

    The timeline issue would work better if the LW gave some sort of guidance as to when the task needs to be accomplished. I love it when I’m told the goal is to have x done by Tuesday. Or z is needed by the end of the day today, y can wait until tomorrow.
    This is so much better than wondering which of the half dozen or more things that all need done now is really top priority.

  18. Caitlin*

    LW 2 – as someone with a long task list with variable priorities, information on when something needs to be done is something I absolutely need from my manager, and if I don’t get it it when the task is assigned, I’m going to ask.

    I usually ask by saying something like “when do you need this by?”, but I’ve definitely also used “I won’t be able to get to that until next week”, or “do you want me to focus on this or on X first?”.

    So I think you either need to provide timeframe/urgency information yourself, accept that your employee is going to ask/give clarifications on timeframe, or have a conversation with them on how you’d like those clarifications to happen. Or I guess you could decide you don’t want to provide them at all, but if that’s your decision, you don’t then in future get to be pissed off if tasks are prioritised in a way you didn’t like.

    1. Hiding from My Boss*

      I’d also throw in–sometimes managers don’t have a clue how long it takes to do “assistant tasks” and think it’s all quick and simple, so no need to prioritize and schedule the work.

      1. Pretty as a Princess*

        Yes – this is an important consideration.

        I have no idea how long it takes for my assistant to file an expense report for me (I can’t do it myself, there’s a separate info system that I don’t have access to). And she’s not just my assistant, she provides admin support to my whole team. And is part of a pool for a larger division, and can get assigned tasks by our division leadership.

        But we handled this simply. There is a list of long term/when they fit in items (housekeeping on some internal data sources etc) and if there is something I want to add to that list, I tell her it goes on the long term backlog. There are routine items (expense reports) that have an established turnaround requirement of x business days, under our organizational policy. There are routine items for our team that are “within the week”. If I ask her for something atypical or that doesn’t fall into one of those categories, I tell her where it needs to go in priority when I make the request. We established up front that if things come on to her plate that overload it, she comes to me to discuss how to prioritize (and I can provide top cover/deconflict if needed).

        Honestly, my read of the assistant’s end of the convo relayed by the LW is that this is an assistant who has been burned before by having a boss who wanted everything they chucked over done immediately. The assistant sounds like they are trying to manage up by preventing a situation where turnaround expectations aren’t crystal clear. This does not have to be hard – Alison’s advice was great and the LW sounds like they are “bristling” because the first few times the assistant was clear with them, they didn’t try to have a conversation about regular prioritization & assumptions.

  19. Lilac*

    Regarding #4 , I once worked in a government office where someone was constantly flooding the toilets in the womens bathrooms because they were flushing the paper towels used for drying hands. It was costing a lot of money and doing a lot of damage so they took the hand towels away and we all had to use the air hand dryer which was loud, terrible at it’s job, and a bad time.

    Occasionally someone would sneak in a stack of paper hand towels and those were the only times my hands felt truly clean. No amount of signage or warnings stopped the situation happening, even though there were rumours that older staff knew who was responsible.

    1. allathian*

      I’m so glad of our cloth roll towels! You pull on the exposed bit of the roll and dry your hands, and when you release it, the spring-driven towel rack pulls the towel in on the side closest to the wall so that the next user gets a clean bit of cloth to dry their hands with.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Usually those rolls are collected and replaced by an external company, which takes them away and launders them.

        2. bamcheeks*

          (“Phs roller towels” seems to be the official name and brand if you want to look them up!)

        3. Wings*

          At an industrial laundry that presumably has a machine to press and re-roll the clean towel. Apparently they can be washed and re-used around 100 times in their lifecycle.

      1. Some Words*

        Also they’re more environmentally friendly than a single use, throw away item or something that requires electricity.

      2. Two Dog Night*

        I haven’t seen one of those in ages! I wonder why they went out of style–they do seem like a great solution for public restrooms.

    2. Lenora Rose*

      This is the sort of thing I don’t understand at all. This person KNOWS that putting paper towels down has flooded the toilets before, so… they keep doing it? Even after being told not to repeatedly?

    3. AnonORama*

      Ha, I kind of enjoyed those air blowers until a friend of mine, who’s in public health, referred to them as “poop cannons.”

  20. Smurfette*

    OP2 – it sounds as though your assistant is trying to manage upwards, so before you try to change his behaviour, look at your own to see if there’s a reason for why he’s doing this. As a manager, that should be your first step.

    1. Lily*

      Upvote for this one, and Alison did say this too.
      I agree that he could work on his phrasing and manners (at least if LW2 is being very accurate in their portrayal of his responses) but it does sound like the assistant is following the advice that is regularly given to overwhelmed junior staff everywhere about managing up.
      I have never found that advice to work for the exact reason shown here by LW2 – the not-so-great manager just gets exasperated and says ‘I don’t know – you sort it out’.
      My current manager gets huffy when I politely ask ‘…and when do you need that by?’ as if I’ve asked an incredibly difficult question that I’m being unfair in asking.
      Needless to say, she won’t be my current manager for much longer!

  21. Snow Village*

    LW#4: This happened at my work! The person I was hired to replace told a complete lie about his plans for after he quit, and then revealed months later that he’d actually just gone to work for one of our clients.
    It was a shocking situation for the boss, mostly, because the two of them had co-founded the company together (the person who left had had the boss give a speech at his wedding–that is how close they used to be), and then he lied to get away and blocked him everywhere. To this day the boss swears he has no idea what happened between them, but there wasn’t any major fallout from what I can tell. It was just weird.

    1. Yeah...*

      I am sure the other co-founder would describe the situation differently.

      Not the perfect analogy, but sometimes when couples divorce, one spouse is like “We were perfectly happy. I completely shocked spouse wants to end the relationship.”

      Meanwhile the other spouse has been planning their exit (discreetly) because they’ve wanted out of the relationship for awhile.

  22. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (dating a customer) – I think the key to understanding this is that Meg has a very black and white, possibly overly simplified, approach. The previous customer kept hassling OP and to Meg this situation means that you just say “sorry dude I’m not interested in dating you” and the situation is resolved. But OP quite understandably asked Meg for help in enforcing a “policy” against him, which Meg did but now seems to see “we don’t date customers” as an established precedent, rather than an expedient way to get rid of that guy. So now she sees OPs behaviour in dating the new customer as not ‘conforming’ to the expected precedent.

    I would be really curious to know if Meg has this rigid, if-then-else sort of approach more generally as I bet she has.

    1. Blue*

      She reminds me of CJ from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. This literal interpretation and thinking that this clearly fake agreement ended up somehow being real, despite being in on it from the beginning, is exactly something he’d do.

    2. anithero*

      I would love an update, but it’s hard to imagine Meg being reasonable when we haven’t had a demonstration of that yet. OP1 isn’t doing anything wrong… does Meg resent protecting them the first time? If so that’s weird and unsettling.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I actually thought Meg was needling or mocking OP in an “Oooh, well, now you can’t date anyone – see how stupid it was to get me to say that!” because she resented having to set OP’s boundary for her. Though, I think it would give me serious pause if my boss were still harping on about having to protect me at work for any reason. In retail and hospitality the ability to have your boss block a creepy guy is pretty much invaluable. I would say; “Just for the record, it wasn’t a rule, it was just something we said as a safety defence; which I appreciate a great deal. The reason I do, is I need to know you have my back if someone is stalking me, pestering me or doing anything making me feel unsafe. I shouldn’t need to be dateless to ask for that.”

      1. HG*

        It also looks like Meg feels she just put in all this effort to get OP out of a bad situation and now OP has jumped right back into it by dating another customer. Maybe she doesn’t understand how bad the stalker situation was or is stubbornly refusing to see it as a big deal.

        I can see Meg’s reaction basically being “well when this new guy turns into an asshole don’t expect me to help you again.” Just refusing to see the difference between the two.

    4. Emily Byrd Starr*

      “Meg did but now seems to see “we don’t date customers” as an established precedent”

      I had thought that, too, that Meg thought that OP was asking her to actually make the policy where they weren’t allowed to date customers, rather than simply lying and saying no.

  23. SPB*

    Regarding #2, do you usually give your assistant a time frame for when things need to be done? He might respond like that because he feels like he doesn’t have enough information. Also, consider whether you have expected him to just know things are more urgent in the past without setting a clear timeline, and he’s trying to prevent that from happening.

    1. GythaOgden*

      I think an assistant should know what’s a priority and what’s not. I have been asked that at interview several times now for assistant jobs and if the guy is struggling to prioritise, OP needs to discuss it with him, because he’s not doing his job if he isn’t prioritising correctly.

      It goes small to big — if there’s a project due at the end of January but a purchase order is needed so we can get a maintenance job done, the thing to do is get the PO raised now and then go back to the longer term project. It wouldn’t be ok to press on with the longer project and ignore the reactive tasks, thus acting as a bottleneck for other people to get their own work done.

      Ultimately, assistants are there to support their boss, not the other way round.

      1. Friendo*

        Is there any evidence he isn’t prioritizing correctly? LW2 said that the issue is his response, not his actual task allocation. They don’t mind him saying he’ll do it in three days, just him saying he will. That seems to me that it’s being prioritized correctly.

  24. eight oh two dot one*

    I think LW2 is way overthinking it. It’s a little much for them to want the assistant to be like a task-completing machine that they can just lob tasks over to and receive the desired output with no further interaction. It doesn’t sound like too much “more work” for them to just take in the time-boundary information and respond back.

    Is the long list of tasks getting done generally in the time frame LW2 needs? If so, nitpicking this could sour the relationship and seem like LW2 is just wants more deference to their authority or is overall controlling.

    I say the manager should find a way to get over their bristling response to this and instead use the responses to make their own life easier. Dealing with different attitudes and communication styles is their responsibility. So, if the work needs to be done faster, say so! Assistant is giving you the perfect opening. If not, say “thanks for the help I appreciate it!” Check in with the assistant about if they have enough support managing priorities. This is your teammate, not a task machine.

    Model the communication and treatment you’d like to receive, and you may receive it back.

    1. I Have RBF*

      Yes. When the assistant responds with “I am doing X and Y right now, but I can fit Z in tomorrow.” the boss can say “No, I need Z before Y” or “That will be fine.” He’s told them where he can fit things in, the LW needs to respond with “Okay” or “No, I need it earlier.”

  25. GoodEmployeesProvideTimelines*

    OP2, this sounds very normal and model behavior for anyone responding to a new task let alone an assistant. I am a director and I do this all the time for all sorts of different tasks. I try to proactively set deadlines for things I send to other people, but if I don’t I would much rather someone ask than drop a ball or not get stuff back to me by the time I need it.

  26. Irish Teacher.*

    LW2, that actually sounds to me like somebody who is very careful about not promising what he can’t deliver or somebody who wants to give you the opportunity to let him know if the task is urgent.

    My guess is he is either trying to help you by letting you know when to expect the task to be done or else is covering himself by letting you know that if it’s not done by close of business, it’s not that he has forgotten.

    I don’t think he is doing anything wrong. It sounds like he isn’t putting the tasks off beyond the point that you would expect them done? So I would take it more as a way of saying “yes” than of saying “no.”

    It sounds like you might be reading some deeper meaning into what he is saying beyond “I’ll do it at such a time” whereas I suspect the odds are that there isn’t any deeper meaning, that he is simply letting you know around when to expect it and what his priorities are.

  27. Still*

    LW1 – wait, so you asked Meg to TELL the customer that there’s a policy so that he’d leave you alone. And she responded by… actually SETTING the policy? That she now complains you don’t abide by? Does Meg not understand that you didn’t ask her to set an actual policy, just tell a white lie to get the customer off your back? I’m baffled.

    I might try to say “Meg, I never asked you to set an actual policy; I only wanted the customer to think that we have one so that he’d leave me alone. I don’t think we need such a policy for consensual relationships, I just needed an excuse to get him to go away, because some men won’t take no for an answer. I’m glad you had my back; it was such a scary situation for me, I don’t want to be reminded of it every time my boyfriend comes around. Could we please stop mentioning it?”

    I can’t believe you need to actually spell it out for another woman.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, your first paragraph is exactly what baffles me about the whole situation. It seems like Meg is lacking in… I don’t even know, common sense? Empathy? An ability to understand that some situations are different from other situations? An ability to lie? An ability to listen and understand what is being said? (That last one in particular gets me – like you say, OP didn’t want an actual policy being implemented, she just asked for help!)

    2. Snatland*

      I wonder if *part* of this is just Meg being unusually literal minded? I mean she’s definitely seems to be unreasonably mean and unhelpful as a manager on top of that, but it took me reading Alison’s response to have the lightbulb moment of, ‘Oh! She could just *tell* them that without if being true.’
      I definitely thought Meg needed to do more to help OP out of a sucky situation and was being incredibly unkind about it all but it really hadn’t occurred to me that she could just lie about it being a policy.
      And I swear I’m not one of those ‘literally any lie is a moral affront’ people usually!

      1. ThatOtherClare*

        So if I’m reading what you’re saying correctly, you think something like the following could have happened:

        LW1 thought she was asking Meg to simply lie about there being a policy.
        Meg thought LW1 was asking her to create a policy, and was annoyed about all the work that she incorrectly thought LW1 was asking her to do.
        Meg created the policy, thinking it all through properly in her mind or actually writing it down, and then informed the customer of the existence of said policy.
        LW1 went on with her life thinking nothing happened here beyond a single white lie, and eventually broke the policy she didn’t realise now exists.
        Meg is now mad because LW1 broke the policy that in Meg’s understanding she asked for, and that Meg went to all the effort of creating.

        Dear me, what a comedy of errors!

      2. Emily Byrd Starr*

        It’s possible. I am neurodivergent and can be very literal-minded, because I can’t always read between the lines. I could easily see myself making such a mistake. Now that I am aware of my disability (I wasn’t fully diagnosed until I was an adult), I shudder to think of all the times people thought I was an a-hole because they communicated to me in a way that I couldn’t understand.

  28. Czhorat*

    I’m angry at Meg on behalf of LW1 and every other reasonable person in the world.

    This reminds me of the supposed “gotcha” joke in which an unattractive man complimenting a woman is reported to HR for sexual harassment while a good-looking one is responded to positively; it’s reinforcing the false idea that workplace norms, rules, and even laws about harassment are weaponized to harm “ordinary” but nice men.

    It is not hypocritical to want romantic attention from one man and not another; it is not hypocritical to say “no” when someone asks and then to escalate when repeated no’s are not respected.

    It is not hypocritical to want your manager to protect you from an unsafe interaction and then enjoy another safe and consensual interactions.

    This is not a difficult concept, and Meg should know better.

    1. Professional Cat Lady*

      Very well put, very simple concept, apparently so obscure in practice…

      1. ThatOtherClare*

        I nearly just nodded vehemently and scrolled past, but I’m chiming in somewhat unnecessarily here to add my agreement.

        Although this is so simple, obvious and correct that it needs no comments as embellishment, I wouldn’t want anyone to somehow take away the wrong impression that this isn’t a popular view, or is an idea people don’t actually want to engage with. The reality is quite the opposite. So, here is my wordy equivalent of a +1.

    2. Have you had enough water today?*

      It is exhausting trying to explain this to people who think that just because someone pays you attention you somehow owe them your time & attention in return.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Yes, and it’s also exhausting (and kind of dumb) for a womano to have to explain to another woman that there actually are men who won’t take “no” for an answer when their overtures are turned down. It’s like, what planet has Meg been living on that she doesn’t know this is a thing?

        Tbh, I think Meg is either ridiculously literal-minded, or kind of a jerk!

  29. IHavetheBestJobEver!*

    OP2-I wonder if perhaps your assistant was previously in a position where they were given tasks yet no deadlines but were expected to do it all right now, hence the constant explanations to you. Maybe if you were to give deadlines when you ‘lob’ the work, you might feel less ‘managed’. In truth, most managers are managed by their assistants to some degree-it’s how we help them get the work done. The manager/assistant relationship is based on a high degree of trust and I’m grateful my manager trusts me to manage her in a way that helps her get the job done.

  30. Jay*

    About OP#2-
    It sounds crazy, but this is a topic that has been brought up here on more than one occasion, so it needs to be asked:
    Is this person actually your assistant, only your assistant, and is everyone, including them, aware of this?
    -It seems that, every month or so, AAM gets a letter that starts something like “My boss treats me like I’m their assistant, but I’m not!”.
    -Also, and I know this from personal experience, sometimes people assume that a new assistant is THEIR assistant and everyone else in the company assumes that they are a general assistant to everyone. In my current roll (it’s more general support than an assistant) I will have people from all levels of the company stop by my desk, more or less at random, with tasks for me to handle. This ranges from the owner and founder of the entire company to summer interns. And this is fine, it’s what I’m supposed to do. I just need to give answers similar to what your assistant gives. I’ve also needed my boss to have a conversation with some managers to kindly inform them that I do many things serving many projects, for many people, and they have to wait their turn, that the president of the company generally takes priority over a department head, etc.
    -This one is a little odd, but what does “assistant” actually mean in your company? I’ve worked in places in the past where “assistant” and “junior” were interchangeable. Like, there would be a pretty serious difference between “Assistant Teapot Flower Painter” and “Teapot Flower Painters Assistant”. One was a junior Teapot Flower Painter handling lower level flower painting tasks as they built up the experience needed to be a full Teapot Flower Painter and the other was the person who mixed the paint, trimmed and cleaned the brushes, and took care of all the little things that made it possible to the actual teapot flower painting.

    1. Cmdrshprd*

      I think you meant to say the difference “assistant manager” and “assistant to the manager.”

    2. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      I have been told, more than once, “You work for me,” and I have had to reply, “No, I don’t. I assisted you on X Project because it was a priority for my boss.” Fun convos.

  31. Hiring Mgr*

    I don’t really see what the assistant in #2 is doing wrong. LW says they’re fine with ass’t doing the tasks when they can. That’s what assistant seems to be doing

    When they say they can’t get to it for a few days or whatever, LW says that’s ok, but they just don’t want assistant to say anything about it?

    Unless there’s some context missing, it sounds like an annoyance rather than anything serious

    1. Gemstones*

      Yeah…to me it feels more responsible than potentially dropping the ball and leaving LW wondering where an assignment is.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I wonder if there’s something in tone or follow through that isn’t get conveyed. Otherwise yeah this is a petty complaint.

    3. K8T*

      Their phrasing is the problem – there’s a good comment on the highest post about restructuring the same sentence but without seeming like they’re being put out by being asked to complete a task. Like “Sure, I’ll have that to you in 3 days”.
      OP should of course make sure their assistant isn’t overloaded but I’ve worked with one who certainly was not busy at all and bemoaned every task given to them – this seems to echo that to me.

      1. K8T*

        And just to cut off some potential comments – I know she wasn’t busy because I was given a lot of her workload so people could avoid her. And yes, I did not stay at that job very long lol.

  32. Policy Schmolicy*

    LW#1: It sounds like Meg (willfully or not) misunderstood what you were asking for.

    Having a policy isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it gets everyone on the same page and gives you (or Meg, or anyone else who works there) something to point to. But your workplace doesn’t have an “employees dating customers” problem; it has a “customers harassing employees” problem.

    If you get the opportunity, you might suggest that Meg set this policy instead: if a customer is harassing the staff, they will be asked to leave, and they will not be welcome back. My husband manages a team of mostly female customer-service staff, and about three times a year he has to pull aside some member of the public and explain this policy to them. It’s not comfortable for anyone, but it’s something customer-service managers have to do.

  33. CityMouse*

    For LW1, I would find a different job. Meg dragged her feet on harassment and is being willfully obtuse about the difference between a stalker and a boyfriend. Having been in a similar situation when I was a teen, I would never work for a job that didn’t firmly have my back again.

  34. Fluffy Fish*

    #2 – I dunno about this. Ironically OP rubs me the wrong way. Probably because I’ve been in their employees shoes a lot. It is very normal to tell your supervisor when you can get to a task and it’s odd to me that would be so offensive. It feels very “I’m the boss you don’t tell me what to do”. Why wouldn’t you want to know what your employee is working on and how they are prioritizing things? Maybe I’m wrong.

    If it a workload issue than that’s separate entirely – that’s a conversation more about time management.

    1. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

      It’s the line “I just want to lob tasks at my assistant” that does it for me. Yes, of course it is a manager’s responsibility to assign tasks to an assistant. But the tone to me reads “I’m going to throw all the things at you and you just need to get them done”. It sounds like the assistant is wants OP to realize they have a tremendous workload, and not everything can be a right now thing. I’m taking OP at their word that not everything needs to be done right now… but does your assistant know that? Their phrasing is clumsy, but it sounds like they’re telling OP the tasks they have active on their desk right now, and where this new task will slot in.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Agree. When I’ve had a “lobber” that also comes with the inevitable “why isnt this done? where is this? why can’t you prioritize? you should just be able to read my mind and know what i want done when?”

    2. Coffee Protein Drink*

      OP bothers me much more than the assistant’s behavior. What stood out was that she didn’t seem to want her assistant to have any boundaries or that any boundaries (which might have been initiated by work she assigned) were hers to cross at will with no explanation or prioritizing.

      I also have a heavy, “why isn’t my assistant reading my mind?” vibe from OP.

    3. Ess Ess*

      I had the same reaction. It is normal and seems to be a ‘best practice’ method of responding to new tasks from your boss. Give the boss your current priority list and the estimated time of completion so that the boss can decide if they want you to modify your current priorities and to know when the boss can plan to have the final result. This allows the boss to plan their own priorities by knowing when the assistant will have the task finished.

      This sounds like an excellent assistant, and a boss that dislikes organization and planning.

  35. Darlingpants*

    The difference between being someone’s manager and having an assistant might be important for letter 1: having a personal assistant, or even an executive assistant, is mostly about making your own life smoother and taking things off your plate. But if this is an employee of hers, her job is to help her employee be successful, not to have her own most efficient day.

    The way OP is framing this makes it seem like she wants to get the entire task, including any thinking about when ands how it might be completed, out of her brain and 100% on to the assistant/employee. Which I totally understand, because I also don’t love taking on the cognitive load of someone else’s schedule when I’ve tried to delegate to make my life easier.

    1. bumblebee*

      Yes, I think this is a useful point. It’s tough because (as others throughout the comments have pointed out) “assistant” could mean a number of different situations here and it’s hard to know from the info in the letter which it is.

  36. cnoocy*

    #2: Does this assistant have enough tasks that they would benefit from a project management tool like a Kanban board or some other software that allows the priorities of their tasks to be visible to them and others?

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

      I don’t think that would matter in the situation because the OP doesn’t seem to care. They just want to “lob” tasks at them. If there was software the OP would feel like it was another task they had to do

  37. subaru outback driver*

    LW1: I don’t think Meg is being completely unreasonable here… sorry. You had a customer who started flirting with you and it turned into a stalking issue that required her to basically bar him from the property. Now weeks or months later you are dating a customer, and it is working out for now at least until it doesn’t… in her eyes. She probably thinks your bringing a lot of drama into her business and she is cleaning up after you when it comes to your social life.

    1. CityMouse*

      The difference is a harassment issue versus a consensual relationship. This smacks of blaming LW for being stalked, frankly.

    2. AMH*

      Being stalked is not “bringing drama” and Meg is being completely unreasonable. Part of her job is to protect her employees.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Yes and that was just doing her job, he bare minimum expected of her, so she shouldn’t be acting like the LW owes her something in response. She did her job, the issue is over. She has no reason to mention it again.

        2. AMH*

          Yes. And then turned around and tried to make her employee feel bad about it because her employee dared to agree to date someone who WAS NOT stalking her. And you think that’s reasonable?

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      Equating being stalked with bringing drama into her business isn’t a good look. I remember you also made some comments defending the guy who decided a woman simply being his age and existing was good enough reason to hit on her at a work event, so interesting you didn’t claim he was bringing drama into work by engaging in a romantic pursuit.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        When men pursue women for dates at their place of work, not matter how many no’s, it’s fine.

        When women say no, they are bringing drama.

        Seems consistent to me.

        1. subaru outback driver*

          Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word drama, it is a bit of triggering word for some. My views were based of the LW’s statement here:

          “But now, Meg is saying I manipulated her into setting a policy I didn’t abide by,”

          The business owner has a right to have be annoyed here. She has the right to feel how she feels, folks don’t get to police that. In then end Meg is trying to run a business. Saying someone manipulated you usually comes from feelings of that are probably not good.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Saying your employee “manipulated you into setting a policy” is not the normal pressure of running a business. She gets to have her feelings, everyone else gets to observe that her feelings are based off wild misunderstandings of her role in this situation and that she is entirely out of line.

            1. Observer*

              She gets to have her feelings, everyone else gets to observe that her feelings are based off wild misunderstandings of her role in this situation and that she is entirely out of line.

              They also get to point out that her *behavior* here is wildly out of line and unreasonable.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            The “manipulation” in this case was “I am being stalked and I need You, Manager, to have my back somehow. If you won’t just send him off like a decent person would, tell him This.”

          3. CityMouse*

            She asked an employer for help with someone who is stalking her at work and then… dated a completely different person.

            Please explicitly explain how that is manipulation, of you think Meg is correct here.

          4. Falling Diphthong*

            Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word drama, it is a bit of triggering word for some.
            Or people react to the victim blaming of claiming a person being stalked at work is inviting drama by being stalked.

          5. Jennifer Strange*

            So first, the word drama is triggering because it often gets thrown around only about women, and in particular while gaslighting them for absolutely valid reactions. So let’s not ignore the sexist history of the term.

            Second, no, the business owner doesn’t have a right to be annoyed here. The LW didn’t ask Meg to set a policy, she asked her to say there was a policy to escape the advance of a stalker. If Meg had a problem with saying that she could have simply seen that her employee was in a dangerous situation and taken care of the situation in her own way.

            Yes, Meg is trying to run a business. But the LW is trying to not be harmed (or potentially killed) by someone who cannot take no for an answer.

          6. LCH*

            i don’t think OP was trying to set a policy; she was trying to get her boss to back her up in shutting down a customer. which makes sense since OP probably didn’t feel like she could treat the customer like she would a regular guy out in the world. because of the thing where you have to be nice to customers. “setting a policy” is a red herring. don’t get stuck on it.

          7. Seashell*

            Meg can feel how she likes, but she claimed something happened that didn’t actually happen. No one asked her to actually set a policy. Perhaps Meg misinterpreted the LW’s request, but that’s a mistake on her end.

          8. Fluffy Fish*

            yeah no. people being entitled to feel their feelings is not an excuse to accuse an employee of manipulating them.

            That’s not at all what people are entitled to their feelings means.

          9. Kay*

            The LW manipulated Meg into finding a way for her to do her job and protect her?? I get the whole “people are entitled to their feelings”, but Meg is being wildly unreasonable, as is anyone defending her giving the LW a hard time.

          10. ThatOtherClare*

            Meg might have feelings about the fact that the letter writer was being stalked, but she should keep them to herself and her therapist. Stalking is violence. Would you be saying the same thing if the person had been coming in and trying to spit in the letter writer’s face?

            Thought experiment time:
            Imagine some random customer with lead poisoning and no mental health care decided to come in and try to spit on the letter writer every day. The fixation is 100% the fault of the lead poisoning, the letter writer did nothing to cause it, she just had the bad luck of being the staff member out front the day this guy came in. Meg would have a responsibility to shut that behaviour down using whatever means were fastest and most effective, yes? Otherwise her inaction would be exposing the letter writer to harm just because she had the bad luck of working in that location. Would Meg then have a ‘right to be annoyed’ if the letter writer started dating a customer a few weeks later? Of course not! The two aren’t connected in any way, shape or form.

            Stalking is violence. It’s not actually related to a person’s decision to date their choice of non-violent individual in any way, whatsoever.

          11. MCMonkeyBean*

            She can *feel* however she wants. She does not however need to constantly bring it up, or try to shame the OP for agreeing to a consensual relationship after avoiding a stalker. The two situations are NOT comparable, and the boss is the one “bringing drama” by constantly bringing the stalker back up and making Meg feel uncomfortable about a situation in which she was a victim asking for extremely reasonable help from an employer who had a duty to protect her.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        Nice catch. I thought I had made a mental list of the people defending that guy, but I hadn’t twigged to this name.

        Sadly, it makes sense that it’s the same person. In both cases they’re defending a man daring to ask a woman out in a context that requires a demonstrated mutual attraction, despite her likely or (in this case) proven complete lack of interest.

    4. Czhorat*

      This is as wrong a take as there can be. Let me put it very simply:

      Just because a woman has a consensual relationship, mutual flirtation, or any other engagement with one man does not mean she owes it to every other man she meets in the same context. If she tells a man no and he keeps pursuing then he is in the wrong. Full stop.

      The “drama” was entirely OP *being the victim of stalking*. That is NOT her fault, and being stalked is not part of her “social life”.

      I have a comment stuck in moderation about how this is a standard trope used to undermine women fighting back against sexual harassment. Don’t do it.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      If only the LW wouldn’t do that thing that causes someone to stalk her after repeated nos, then it wouldn’t be awkward for the boss of the business where the stalker knows to find LW…

      This is legitimately gross as an attitude.

      1. SarahKay*

        Where “that thing that causes someone to stalk her after repeated nos” = being a woman in a customer-facing job :-(

        1. Czhorat*

          That’s not fair.

          The person with guys who hit on her schedule-bot proved that you don’t even have to be an actual woman – you just have to kinda sorta present as one.

          1. Amh*

            Had me in the first half (to my surprise, because I often find you have said the thing I wanted to, but better) and so was relieved by the second half!

            1. SarahKay*

              Same here. I read the “That’s not fair” bit with amazement and horror because Czhorat is one of the guys that actually gives me faith that it really isn’t all men.

              Then I read the second paragraph and laughed out loud.

              Czhorat, you are awesome!

    6. Sneaky Squirrel*

      This is making a lot of leaping assumptions at LW that almost lean on victim blaming. I’m not understanding how the first customer was her fault at all to accuse LW of bringing drama or cleaning up after LW’s social life.

    7. kiki*

      I disagree completely. LW didn’t bring the drama– the customer who decided to stalk her and antagonize her at work brought the drama. Removing customers who harass employees is part of the gig for managing employees who interact with the public. It stinks that it has to be part of the job, but it is. If Meg doesn’t see that, she’s not fit for this line of work.

    8. CityMouse*

      I don’t even know where to begin with this. You’re basically implying if a woman has ever been stalked, she’s at somehow fault if she gets in a relationship with another person?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Incel logic in fact seems to go, “Would this woman agree to date at least one human on Earth? If so, then she is obligated to also instead date me. Or it isn’t fair.”

        1. I Have RBF*

          Yeah, men are not interchangeable, and neither are women. But some men think that if any woman will date a man, they should also be willing and obligated to date them. The subtext is “If she’ll put out for him, she has to put out for me.”, and that is just not the case at all.

          But incels seem to see women as nothing but animatronic blow-up dolls that they just have to say the right words or push the right combination of buttons to make them dispense sex.

      2. subaru outback driver*

        I didn’t “basically” say anything of the sort. I did post something not in complete support of a LW or the answer that was given.

        1. CityMouse*

          You said her boss had a right to be annoyed because, after this woman was stalked, she got into a relationship because “it’s working out… until it doesn’t”. implying that basically she’d be at fault if her boyfriend stalks her.

          1. subaru outback driver*

            Or like a normal interpretation, when a relationship “doesn’t work out” it means they broke up. Not all break ups end in stalking.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              So if they break up and the boyfriend doesn’t stalk her how does that affect Meg?

            2. metadata minion*

              If they break up, then…it might be kind of awkward between them for a while? Unless this is a business where you have assigned clients that you work closely and frequently with — which as a coffee shop, it isn’t — I see no reason to think that them breaking up will lead to anything more than, at worst, a single customer going to a different coffee shop.

        2. Observer*

          I didn’t “basically” say anything of the sort. I did post something not in complete support of a LW or the answer that was given.

          No, you did worse.

          You claimed that 1. the LW “brought drama” into the workplace. Which is 100% victim blaming, regardless of whether you meant “drama” or any other word. Because the LW did NOT “bring” anything into the workplace.

          You claimed that Meg legitimately is worried about the “ethics” of lying to get rid of a stalker, and about “cleaning up” the LW’s “social life” because she is dating someone OTHER than the stalker because what happens when it “doesn’t work out”. Even though the last situation never had anything to do with the LW’s behavior, social life or relationship not “working out.

          You also claimed that Meg is correct to be annoyed because of some imaginary pressure to create a policy and another imaginary legal obligation to enforce that policy.

          That’s just gross. And trying to claim that you didn’t say what you said doesn’t make you look any better.

        3. Irish Teacher.*

          The point is that there is no reason not to support the victim based on what was said here. She did absolutely nothing that could in any way be considered causing drama. Being stalked is not cause by her in any way and if the boss sees that as in any way reflecting on her, then the boss has a deeply messed up perspective. Nor is dating somebody causing drama.

          If you have ever dated anybody, I doubt you felt you were causing drama because the relationship could go wrong? And if you weren’t, why would you apply a different perspective to her?

          And even if you didn’t intend it, your comment about how this relationship could go badly seemed to compare being stalked to a relationship going badly, which makes no sense. There was no relationship with the stalker.

    9. Observer*

      She probably thinks your bringing a lot of drama into her business and she is cleaning up after you when it comes to your social life.

      Seriously? The OP never dated the first guy. it was never and issue of “it is working out for now at least until it doesn’t” He just decided to stalk her. That is not “cleaning up . . . social life”. Nor did *the LW* “bring” anything into the business.

      That’s dealing with a *stalker* who won’t take no for an answer.

      That you don’t see the difference is profoundly disturbing.

      1. Random Bystander*

        Yes, I remember many years ago when I was working as a cashier at a grocery store. I had a flurry of customers, so I wasn’t really sure which one had left it, but when the line cleared, I noticed that a note had been left on the counter behind me (where scanned groceries went if I had a bagger). Something to the effect of how the guy had been watching me for an unspecified period of time, and a lot of other really creepy stuff. I was quite freaked out.

        Fortunately, I had a good employer, and they took steps to locate the note-leaver and let him know that he should not have done that, his advances were unwelcome, and he was never to do that again to me or any other employee or he would have to shop at one of the other grocery chains in town (town had three major chains, plus smaller groceries). And that is how creepy customers should be handled.

    10. CommanderBanana*

      Wow, I didn’t realize not wanting to be stalked and feel unsafe at your place of work where you can’t leave was “drama!” /s

      This is a really gross take and it says a lot about you.

    11. Cinn*

      The stalking was a direct result of her interacting with a customer, not her social life. (Not that it would be acceptable for her boss to let it happen at work regardless of where they met etc etc.) So her boss wasn’t “cleaning up” after her, but providing a safe workplace.

      If you take your post to it’s inevitable conclusion, you’re basically saying the LW can never have a romantic partner ever again because one guy stalked her and it’s on her to make sure history never repeats itself not the people who won’t accept being told no.

    12. HannahS*

      I mean, that very well could be what Meg is thinking. If that’s what Meg is thinking, then she’s being enormously unfair to the OP. A good boss distinguishes between “customers who harass my employees” and “customers who do not harass my employees.”

    13. Csethiro Ceredin*

      I would have thought anyone who has managed a customer service business has seen instances of pushy, creepy customers and has needed to take action to protect the staff. It’s odd to me that Meg is acting like this is about OP’s actions rather than the creepy guy’s.

      There’s a line between someone trying to argue her into accepting a date because he thinks she needs excuses to turn him down and someone whose consenting relationship goes sour later. If that guy started stalking her at work after a breakup they would need to be banned too, but until then it’s not the same thing at all.

    14. Irish Teacher.*

      If she thinks that, then quite frankly Meg is more in the wrong than any of us have previously said. If she thinks being the victim of a crime is somebody’s “social life,” then that is deeply troubling.

      We all know she never had to “clean up” after the LW’s social life. She had to deal with a crime that was committed on her premises. If she cannot tell the difference between these two things, then she has a very messed up perspective. Would she react in the same way if a customer punched punched the LW? If they stole from her? Would she think either of those things related to the LW’s social life?

      You said your comment was not in support of the LW, but honestly, if you are correct, then Meg is MORE in the wrong. Nothing you have said would make the LW any way in the wrong. If Meg confuses stalking for being related to the victim’s social life, then quite frankly, she really has a lot to unlearn.

  38. Applesauced*

    Assistant #3 is doing exactly what Alison recommends when someone is balancing multiple project/responsibilities and has finite time to complete them.
    Be glad they are so transparent!

  39. Nancy*

    LW2: your assistant is giving you a timeframe for when the work will be done. That is a normal response. I don’t think ‘lobbing tasks’ at someone to add to a long list and do whenever is a great strategy, personally, so makes sense to me that your assistant is giving you more info on when it will actually be done.

  40. Michelle Smith*

    LW2: Just explicitly state your expectations. My boss DOES want me to say “I was working on X project, which would you like me to prioritize,” because very often she doesn’t know what I’m doing at any given second and has different priorities than I think she does. She is also terrible at giving me deadlines, which stresses *me* out because I need to understand her expectations more clearly. So I manage UP with statements like, “when do you need this by,” after finding out that when she says “it’s not urgent” she really means “you can do this tomorrow” instead of how I hear it which is “do this when you finish other work and can squeeze it in.”

    Don’t bristle at an employee trying to clarify their timeline for you. They’re trying to make sure that you know what their plan is so that if you want them to do something differently, you have an opening to say that! They don’t want you assuming that they’re dropping everything to work on that right now and they want to make sure you understand they are prioritizing X over Y in case you want Y reprioritized over X! If you don’t want them to do this, SAY SOMETHING!

  41. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #2 – I feel like it’s fair for the Assistant to want to keep OP in the loop of what’s going on. After all, presumably all of their tasks are things that you need them to do for you. There’s a lot of reasons he could be handling it the way he is. Try a sit down with Assistant to say that when I’m sending over something to you, you can choose how you prioritize it among your other tasks unless it’s xyz (where if you have things he regularly has to prioritize, then these would be listed). Then the next time Assistant communicates back, OP can reiterate that Assistant is free to prioritize this one as they need without asking.

  42. LHOI*

    LW2 – please just talk to them. Maybe it’s learned behavior from past bad bosses, maybe you aren’t as clear as you think you are when timelines are tight, maybe they are pre-setting expectations so they can slack off, maybe they are overworked and frustrated, maybe your expectations don’t align with theirs, maybe, maybe, maybe….there’s no way to know without asking and then talking to them about what you mutually want and need from one another.

  43. K*

    I don’t think the assistant in number 2 is doing anything wrong. He’s just telling the OP how long something is going to take. Maybe she doesn’t need the information but it doesn’t hurt her to have it. It’s unreasonable for her to be offended by this.

  44. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

    LW2, this seems like an entirely normal if slightly awkward attempt to ask you about prioritization. It’s extremely common when people are given new tasks for them to ask something along the lines of “I’m working on XYZ right now and it will take me another day or two to finish; should I pause on that and work on this instead, or wait until I’m done?” This reads like someone who may be a little less experienced with professional phrasing trying to do the same. Your assistant can’t read your mind! They don’t know unless you tell them which of their tasks is the highest priority – one of your jobs as a manager is to prioritize. So you can either do that when you initially assign them (“I’d like this to be your highest priority for now” or “I don’t need this for a few days” or whatever), or you can not resent when your assistant asks for that prioritization. In many fields with ticketing systems this is built in – any request gets assigned a priority so that people know which to work on first. You may want to guide them to more professional phrasing – “I was actually planning on doing other things today” isn’t ideal – but the concept is 100% okay.

  45. Starfox*

    OP #2, that sounds like the kind of things I would say to my boss just to make sure I understand what they want & that we’re both on the same page. I live in constant fear that this behavior will be seen as arguing or manipulation though because I’m neurodivergent & people tend to think I’m being argumentative or manipulative no matter how hard I try to be honest & transparent about things. It’s not fun.

  46. kiki*

    “Can I ask him to stop replying to tasks by telling me when he will do them, and that I will tell him if there is a deadline for these things?”

    I think you can, but you have to make really sure you actually do tell your employee every time there is a deadline or you have an expected time frame of when something will be completed. Like, you can’t say something is low priority and then act aghast a week later when it’s not yet done. Not saying that you would necessarily do this, but it’s unfortunately very common.

    “I truly just want to lob tasks over to him, I want him to say “got it, I’ll send it when I’m done” and that’s that.”

    There are assistants who can handle this dynamic and prioritize appropriately, but I want to say it takes a significant amount of skill and experience to become the type of assistant who can handle that for a busy workload. Especially if he’s newer to the role or field, wanting to make sure he’s aligning with you on prioritization makes sense. It’s possible he will naturally reduce the amount of input he needs overtime as he adjusts to the role. Even if he doesn’t, if his suggestions for how he will prioritize always align with what you had in mind, you can have a discussion to say, “I really trust your prioritization. You’ve always done a great job and I don’t need to hear how you’ll prioritize unless you’re really unsure. I trust you.”

    1. kiki*

      ” And I’m absolutely fine with him just adding it to a long list and doing it when he can”

      I think LW should probably make sure this is super clear and make sure they’re also actually okay with what “doing it when he can” looks like. If the assistant’s list is so long that they’re not getting to the bottom of the list within a month or two, is that okay? Is it okay if some of the lower priority things at the bottom of the list never get done? Should they be removed at some point?

      1. Kendra Logan*

        About removing tasks, if something is particularly time sensitive and the assistant can’t get to it timely, could someone else do it?

        1. Pretty as a Princess*

          It’s up to the boss to figure out how to deconflict these things, IME/IMO. They need to reset priorities or find/communicate an acceptable way for the assistant to offload. Assistants usually don’t just have someone around they can delegate to.

    2. YetAnotherManager*

      Fully agreed! I wouldn’t be surprised at ALL if this is learned behaviour from a previous boss; my gut reaction to “is my reaction unreasonable” and “can I ask him to communicate differently” is yes AND yes.
      LW seems disproportionately affected by what seems like mildly annoying phrasing, but that doesn’t mean they have to let it go entirely. Personally, I would go in with the general angle of “When you frame things like that, it makes me wonder about your overall workload. Let’s recalibrate expectations: unless I say otherwise, I don’t expect tasks to be done until XYZ timeframe. Can we agree to treat that as the default in future?”

  47. Not Moving Yet*

    #1 – Here’s a different take. Meg initially thought the policy was stupid. Then after you started dating a customer, she reflected on it and thought the policy was a good idea. She doesn’t want to fire you over it, so she’s trying to get you to decide on your own to stop dating him.

    1. Observer*

      She doesn’t want to fire you over it, so she’s trying to get you to decide on your own to stop dating him.

      By claiming that she was forced to set a policy? She wasn’t even *asked* to set a policy, much less forced into it. Calling the LW a manipulator and hypocrite is not only offensive and untrue, in what world does it makes sense that it would convince someone to stop dating someone they like?

      It’s a stupid policy, but if that’s what Meg wants to have as a policy, she should set the policy and deal with the fall out instead of acting like a child and lobbing insults.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      But that’s pretty stupid of Meg to make it a policy, especially like this where she’s not telling anyone(?). So now nobody who works at the shop can have a significant other come in for coffee? They can’t meet someone who says “Oh I love that coffee shop!”, and what, they have to say “oh, well we can’t date customers so you can’t come there anymore”.
      OP was asking Meg for help at getting rid of someone who was harassing her. Honestly, Meg should have said to OP “the behavior is unacceptable and I’ll tell him to stop because it’s unacceptable, and I’ll ban him if I have to”. Which is what happened. I get why OP wanted Meg to say there was a policy (because sometimes these harassers accept Job Authority), but Meg should have just had OP’s back and told him to stop or get out. And made sure that OP never had to interact with him again.

    3. Seashell*

      There was no such policy though. That was a statement made to get rid of a creepy dude. If LW had asked Meg to tell the creepy dude that LW was dating a 300 pound football player, so he better leave her alone, would Meg expect LW to run out to find someone to date who fit that description?

    4. Dinwar*

      Having an employer dictate who I can and can’t have a relationship with is creepy. Sometimes it’s necessary (such as in the military), but come on, this is a coffee shop here–we’re talking entry-level employment, not a “Finger on the red button” situation. The idea of my boss trying to get me to break up with someone is just…ew.

      The policy is a horrible idea. As others pointed out, it means that as soon as you start dating someone you lose them as a customer (remember, word of mouth is still important for businesses). Further, how do you enforce this? All you’ll really do is make your employees not trust you and hide perfectly normal social interactions. Meg’s going to end up like Stalker Guy…

      The reality is that Meg is being petty. She didn’t like being forced to do her job (and preventing sexual harassment by customers is 100% her job, legally and morally), and is taking it out on the LW. This has nothing to do with policy, and everything to do with Meg being a jerk.

  48. Kendra Logan*

    OP 2: Agree with all the earlier comments. Particularly about an assistant who supports multiple bosses, some of whom assume their own work is the only thing the assistant has to do. Lawyers for one can especially act like this.

    @Michelle Smith’s comment sums it up perfectly.

    1. ferrina*


      Meg’s initial refusal to protect her employee, then eventual begrudging protection, then finally blaming the employee for a policy that Meg instated. Even if OP had originally suggested the employee, the boss is the one that calls the shots and decides what policy is. And it sounds like Meg is trying to position it as “OP is a hypocrite because she didn’t date the creepy guy that she didn’t like who refused to take ‘No’ as an answer, but OP is just fine dating a nice person who she likes”? WTF Meg?!?

  49. petulant*

    OP 1: I’m curious, is your manager also saying anyone you date in the future is never allowed to come into the store and buy a cup of coffee? Because at that point, you would be dating a customer, wouldn’t you? (I know that’s not the point, but I’d be interested in the owner’s response to that.)

    1. Emily Byrd Starr*

      To me, that’s a very different situation. It appears that OP in Letter 1 made it very clear that she wasn’t interested in dating Creepy Guy. Emma was less than direct. While I can understand why she might not have been comfortable giving him a hard no, it seems that Ryan might not understand anything less than a hard, direct, no. In that case, it’s on the OP who manages Emma to give Ryan a clear and direct “Emma doesn’t like you that way.” It shouldn’t be on Emma herself.
      Several people commented and said that Ryan might be neurodivergent. I’m neurodivergent myself and for many years, I didn’t understand anything less direct than someone coming right out and saying no. I usually don’t understand soft no’s and subtle hints. Now that I understand more about my disability, I am horrified to think that I might have ever given someone the impression that I won’t take no for an answer. I absolutely can take no for an answer, as long as the person communicates their no in a way that I can understand. Giving me soft no’s and subtle hints is like texting a landline: no matter how many times you send the message, it’s not going to get through. I’m just glad that I’m a female and small in stature, so that I (hopefully) never came across as creepy or threatening.
      In Letter 1 here, it’s Meg who seems to be confused about the message, not Creepy Guy. It appears that Meg thought that OP meant for her to actually instate the policy, when OP meant for Meg to pretend that such a policy exists as a way of getting rid of Creepy Guy. Creepy Guy isn’t someone who doesn’t get the message; he’s just flat out ignoring it.

  50. Karma is My Boyfriend and so is Travis Kelce*

    I believe locking a restroom goes against OSHA? They require prompt access to a restroom.

    1. Karma is My Boyfriend and so is Travis Kelce*

      “If an employer puts any restrictions on employee access to toilet facilities, such as locking the doors and requiring the employees to ask and sign out a key, the restriction must be reasonable, and may not cause extended delays. If OSHA were to receive a complaint concerning such a restriction, the Agency would evaluate the situation on a case by case basis to examine the nature of the restriction, including the length of time that employees are required to delay bathroom use, and the employer’s explanation for the restriction.”

  51. Dek*

    “Can I ask him to stop replying to tasks by telling me when he will do them”

    This is so bonkers to me, because in my personal experience, my manager ALWAYS wants to know when I’m going to do a task. It seems like he’s trying to provide you with information that some managers would think is relevant, and that it’s really just rubbing you the wrong way that he’s saying anything other than “yes boss” to you at all.
    (which…unrelated, but it does make me wonder how you respond when he has any questions about your instructions. I’ve worked for people who think any response other than a simple affirmative is somehow challenging them, and it’s…exhausting.)

    “I truly just want to lob tasks over to him, I want him to say ‘got it, I’ll send it when I’m done’ and that’s that”

    Then yeah, you should be VERY clear about this. For me, the default assumption is that when my boss gives me a new task to do, it gets done NOW, or at the very least Today, if I absolutely need to get to a stopping place with what I’m currently working on. I would never be able to guess that you wanted it done when it’s done, as it were.

    1. bumblebee*

      My experience has been the same in terms of bosses wanting to know when stuff is going to get done. Clearly, from the letter and the variety of comments, that is not the case across the board and maybe it will be useful for the OP to see that variety of expectations and reactions. IMO the assistant’s behavior isn’t inherently wrong, but it evidently doesn’t vibe with OP and they can communicate that.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      “I truly just want to lob tasks over to him, I want him to say ‘got it, I’ll send it when I’m done’ and that’s that”

      And honestly, while I realise we are missing tone and the LW may have picked up on something that isn’t obvious from reading this, I don’t even see that what was said is substantially different from this. The only real meaningful difference I see between “got it, I’ll send it when I’m done” and “I can’t do that until tomorrow afternoon” is that the latter gives the boss a better idea of when to expect it so she can plan in advance. To be honest, if I were a boss, I’d rather hear the latter, as the former gives me no indication whether to expect it in an hour or in a month.

  52. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    LW1: Not sure what state* you are in, but Meg (and you, for that matter!) would be well-served in familiarizing herself with sexual harassment and EEO laws. In NY state, for example, sexual harassment laws also extend to customers/clients, and by failing to address the situation appropriately, it was creating a hostile work environment for LW1.

    Honestly, if I was Meg, that’s the approach I would have used: “You’ve asked, she said no, and repeatedly pestering her is creating a hostile work environment. If this continues, I will have to ban you from the store.” But, that ship has sailed.

    *I just realized I assumed US, but regardless this advice applies.

  53. LCH*

    #3: since this is a coworker, can you block them on your personal number/accounts? is there a reason they need to be able to reach you via personal communications or can they just use your work email?

  54. Falling Diphthong*

    OP3, I think the texter is abiding by “This would be inappropriate at work… so I will wait until the moment someone’s foot steps off the parking lot, and then I will do the thing I know I can’t do at work.” But if the behavior would be problematic at work (as opposed to just not what you’re being paid to do at 10:27 am) then it’s also usually going to be a problem if the person does the thing only once the employee is technically not at work.

    For that reason I agree with the advice to alert a manager, because she might well be doing this to her reports, none of whom want to rock the boat by complaining.

    This sort of out-of-work stuff is opt in. Joe and Steve can have an extensive texting discussion of Pokemon outside of work because they both are really into that. If the other person does not respond at an equal level, and initiate half the time, then you’re getting into the territory “I like to send my impassioned texts to people whose numbers I have, who will feel it would be professionally awkward to tell me to cut it out.” And then management/HR might well feel they want to know about this dynamic, even if the impassioned texter can point to how each day’s first text always went out at 5:01 pm and so off the clock.

  55. Anne Shirley Blythe*

    LW1, I am sorry you went through that and are now dealing with your boss’s cluelessness. If you are on Facebook, consider adjusting the privacy settings so only your friends can see your relationship status. You can also do this for your individual posts. And you can drop your last name and just use your first and middle names (or other tweaking). Should something like this occur again (God forbid), get a restraining order. Confronting you about relationship status after finding you on social media is all kinds of wrong. And of course, he should’ve taken no for an answer the first time.

    1. Seashell*

      Restraining orders aren’t always that easy to get, and it will vary by location. It sounds like this guy is creepy, but hasn’t broken the law, so that’s not going to be enough everywhere.

      1. ThatOtherClare*

        INAL but technically the guy has probably broken the law in that stalking is assault (as per the common definition of assault):

        “an act that puts the victim in reasonable apprehension of harmful or offensive contact.”

        Technicalities aside, I do agree with you that a restraining order for what will be frustratingly viewed as “only very mild stalking” will be nigh on impossible to get in most places.

  56. Elizabeth West*

    RE the bathroom OP: did they have a rogue pooper before you started? That was my first thought when I saw gloves mentioned. Something must have happened to make them focus so much on cleanliness.

    I don’t think there’s much you can do about it other than just making sure you don’t make a mess or clean it up if you do, as I’m sure you already are doing. If you ever find out why they’re being like this, I’m sure we’d like an update because this is weird.

  57. Chalant AF*

    I definitely think the manager is a woman, and the assistant, being male, is used to *telling* women rather than *asking* them, and is certainly not happy about being expected to take direction from a woman.

    There is a world of difference between “Okay, I am currently working on A, B, and C; shall I complete those and then focus on this?” and his approach of (quoting here…) “I can add it to my list but right now I’m doing A, B, C…” He clearly thinks it’s HIS decision what to prioritize. It’s not. It’s hers, and instead of acting put out that she’s expecting him to do. his. f*cking. JOB, he needs to use his words and ask for clarification and direction if he needs it.

    Bottom line is that men are too emotional and fragile to have professional jobs. JK. Sort of.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Nah thats really nitpicking language – this is totally normal behavior from an assistant regardless of gender.

      It’s not strange abnormal or a power play to let someone giving you work without providing a deadline know when that work can be expected to be completed.

    2. bumblebee*

      Ultimately, there are two things going on here: what he’s doing (giving her info on his priorities list) and how he’s saying it (perhaps more negative than positive, and certainly more of a statement than a question). IMO, there is nothing inherently objectionable about the first, and the second is not ideal but also not necessarily bad–and I think it’s really easy to overanalyze comments like this when they’re put down in writing.

      I think a lot of commenters are focusing more on the second thing (how he’s saying it) which is understandable because there’s more ambiguity (and thus more conversation to be had) about tone, attitude, intention, etc. But OP’s concern seems to be more that he’s telling her at all.

      Personally, I have been thinking since reading this letter about how often I say actually in speech–as in “I was actually just thinking about that!” or “I was actually just about to do that!” (indeed, when I first wrote this sentence I had an “actually” in there). I realize that written out, that probably makes me sound insuffrable and/or condescending. I can’t speak to the first think but the intention and tone are not condescending, it’s just a verbal tic or something. I guess this is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m hesitant to nitpick people’s language.

      It’s possible that his responses reflect some kind of deep discontent, condescension, or desire to undermine. It’s also possible, as people elsewhere in the thread have speculated, that he’s incredibly anxious and this reflects that. It’s also possible that OP is an evil, unreasonable boss who buries her assistant in work. I tend to think that it is probably a lot more boring than all that–the assistant feels like he should give OP timeline updates and OP doesn’t want them (and can probably remedy that by saying so).

    3. NotARealManager*

      Agree with Xanna that this is very speculative reasoning. It’s much more likely he’s telling OP what he’s prioritizing because OP hasn’t made it clear what should be prioritized either in a general way (“I usually expect reports to be turned around daily”) or in a more specific sense (“this report can wait until next week”).

      As we’re getting this letter from his boss, we don’t know how his actual tone is, which could make a difference. But ultimately I think OP just hasn’t clearly communicated what they expect whether that’s status updates, priorities, or general working style.

    4. nofiredrills*

      I’m a woman and my (woman) boss would think it was very weird if I had to formally ask to prioritize different tasks instead of just, stating my workload and talking like normal people

    5. Irish Teacher.*

      While I agree that’s possible, I think it’s far from certain. It may well be that they both know the current thing is not a priority or that it is typical for him to be expected to prioritise his own work unless he is told otherwise.

      And there is nothing to indicate he is put out. He might be, but simply saying, “OK, I’ll do it once I’m done with task you told me to prioritise/task I’m in the middle of” is not, in itself, indicative of somebody being put out.

      I realise the LW has heard the tone and we have not and it does sound like something sounds off to her, so it is possible that he is put out or doesn’t like taking instructions from her (whether because she is a woman or because she is a different race from him or because she doesn’t have a college degree and he does or just because he is the sort of person who objects to taking orders from anybody) but there are many other possibilities, including that he has previously worked for a micromanager who would hassle him daily or even hourly about tasks, assuming he has forgotten if he doesn’t magically do all the tasks simultaneously, so he’s gotten into the habit of talking the manager through the order things will be done in, so he doesn’t constantly get asked “why haven’t you X done?” “because I’m working on Y.” “Oh, OK.” *two hours later* “Is X finished yet?” “No, I was working on Y. Do you need me to prioritise X?” “No, I just wanted to ensure you hadn’t forgotten.” *rinse and repeat* Or just that he is the sort of person who values clarity or that he gets anxious that his boss will think he is slacking if he doesn’t start a task immediately so he wants to make sure she knows that if it isn’t done immediately, it’s because he’s working on something else and not that he is sitting around watching Youtube (if I had to take a guess, this would be my guess) and that it’s simply an awkward way of letting her know he has heard her instructions.

  58. NotARealManager*

    LW2, If you’re assigning someone tasks you do have to do some thinking about schedule. As someone who has a lot of tasks assigned to them it’s most helpful when people say things like “I need the llama report by EOD today” or “I need an analysis of teapot conference spending, but it’s not urgent. End of the month would be great, but other things can still take priority.”

    It sounds like your assistant has to do a lot of guess work about what projects are a priority which is why you’re getting the responses you are from him. Just tell him what is a priority when you assign a task! If you can provide specific deadlines, even better.

  59. Waiting tables in a diner, in some remote city, down the highway*

    OP #1 definitely not a hypocrite! I worked in service/retail for years and while I normally didn’t appreciate getting hit on at work, I also met my husband who asked me out while he was a customer (he was polite, we had some friendly chit chat for a few weeks prior, and he could sense there was mutual attraction). Circumstances and attitudes make a huge difference, not every workplace ask out is the same. I hope Meg will understand that!

  60. Person from the Resume*

    Am I being hypocritical, and what should I say to Meg, who now brings this up every time my boyfriend drops me off or picks me up from work, or I mention him in any way?

    No, you are not hypocritical. Meg is being a jerk harping on this. Given that the customer asking you out and stalking you argued with her and then had to be banned from the shop, it should be super obvious to her that he was not taking no for an answer.

    What can you do, though? I’m not sure you can say anything to convince her of sense, but perhaps not have your BF pick you up or drop you off at the shop (at least inside the shop versus waiting in the car outside for you) or mentioning your BF to her. Neither of these things actions sound like great hardships.

  61. Betty Beep Boop*

    I think maybe we should give OP2’s situation a chance to be simple before we make it fancy. It sounds like stuff gets done, and gets done well, so there’s no obvious reason to assume anything but good faith.

    This honestly sounds like someone’s whose last manager: micromanaged/needed a lot of information/had to be managed up, check all that apply,

    now working for someone who: gets stressed trying to hold too much in their head/whose last assistant mostly just took stuff and ran with it/had a bad experience with someone who did this for bad-faith reasons, also check all that apply.

    “Can I ask him to just add it to the list and only tell me about timeframes if it’s going to be unusually long?”

    Yep, you sure can! You can say “I appreciate you keeping me in the loop but if it’s a rush I’ll tell you, if you’re really slammed please tell me, and otherwise I’d rather you just fit it in wherever it fits” and you might even want to add “You know I trust you to get stuff done, right?”

  62. saskia*

    The assistant’s responses would drive me up the wall. I don’t need to know your every move. That’s why I’m the boss and you’re the assistant. I generally expect you to be organized and knowledgeable enough about me and the business to rearrange tasks in a way that will allow you to get the work done in the generally expected time frame and to have the judgement capabilities that allow you to flag when timing is an issue.

    Of course, that first requires the boss to give an overview of when things are typically due, what priorities the assistant can expect per day/week/month, the types of assignments you do and the things you’ll most often ask for, etc. So if you haven’t laid that groundwork, do it ASAP. Then when the assistant responds like this, you can either refer them to the groundwork, or if you realize the ask lies outside those bounds, you can give the assistant a due date/time. If you’ve done those things and the assistant still acts like this, you can then point it out and reinforce what you’ve already taught them.

    Honestly, though, my sympathies. I don’t have an assistant (and never have, and probably never will). But I’ve personally done the jobs of all the people I manage because I started at the bottom and moved up the ranks in my job, so I’m very familiar with everyone’s daily priorities and workload. When I ask them to do something different than a day-to-day task and they act like it’s so hard to fit it in or get suuuper detailed for no reason, it’s annoying and wastes everyone’s time.
    For example, I’ll ask for a task to be done “whenever you can, just by the end of the week.” Sometimes instead of just affirming, they’ll go into a spiel about how they were about to go on break, then work on X and Y, and then maybe they can get to my thing around 3:30, but maybe they’ll have to do it tomorrow instead because deadlines are tight lately, and is that ok? And it’s like, yes… I already told you it was! Which the OP here says is how she generally operates.

    There is a big difference between a petulant employee dragging out a request and an organized person giving you more information about when they’re fitting your request in. I have dealt with both (thankfully, mostly with super-organized people!) and when you experience both, you can tell which is which right away. To me, this letter sounds like the latter. (And if it is indeed boss = woman, assistant = man, it’s an even more problematic dynamic.)

    I think some people say these things not because they’re conscientious, but for other reasons — maybe because they worry you think they aren’t working hard! Or they think that you’ll secretly move the deadline on them, or they’re simply annoyed at being asked to do a non-typical task and want to put some of the stress back onto the asker.

    There is a reason seasoned EAs are valuable.

    1. Betty Beep Boop*

      I mean, this is all true, but one of the things about seasoned EAs being both valuable and comparatively rare is that the best approach is often to find a comparatively raw one with a lot of potential and season (but not cook!) them to suit your personal taste.

      1. saskia*

        Yes, people, please don’t cook your employees! And I have no idea if the assistant from #2 is an EA, a departmental assistant working with five different bosses, an assistant who receives tasks from the boss and also does office manager-type tasks, or something else. Could be anything! I’m just saying that it’s rare and valuable to find an assistant who is good at anticipating needs and seamlessly working with their boss.

        My bottom line is that OP needs to set some basic expectations, communicate thoroughly with the assistant about needs, and then see how the relationship goes from there. Because neither party seems all that comfortable with the way things are working right now.

  63. bumblebee*

    OP2, is there something in your relationship with your assistant and/or the dynamics of your workplace that made you feel like you can’t make this request? To me and I think to a lot of other commenters, asking someone who works for you to communicate differently is a pretty basic ask, and so I’m wondering if there’s more going on here.

  64. nofiredrills*

    Wow thanks to OP #2 and a lot of commenters, I’m now paranoid that my attempts to communicate clearly are being read as hostile at worst and annoying at best!

    1. saskia*

      As long as you’re not saying “I can’t do that task right now” and nothing else, you’re most likely fine…

    2. Xanna*

      Also pretty disappointed by that undertone in these comments – I feel like usually when these conversations come up here there’s a lot of acknowledgment that people have different conversational approaches around communication, a lot of which is socio-cultural, regional, linked to neurodiversity, family of origin, etc. Not to say you can’t have a discussion about how to communicate better and what he could do differently in service of that aim- but really, part of being in society (even in a hiarchical relationship) is that to some extent you gotta learn to work effectively with people who don’t think/communicate exactly like you??

      I feel like some of the harsher comments come across as like “how dare this lowly assistant fail to show suitable deference – totally inappropriate for him to have thoughts on the work he’s doing – stop being impudent and go get my dry cleaning” which is…so not what I think of when I think of effective management, or the general values of this comment section?

    3. KatL*

      Yeah, same. I never knew it was bad to let your manager/supervisor/boss know what you were working on and where whatever new task they give you falls on your list of “things to get done.”

    4. ThatOtherClare*

      The first 3 examples are fine. It’s the last one that could potentially be snarky, depending on the tone – and I suspect that’s colouring people’s interpretation of the previous 3, thus causing the unusually deep split between “assistant is fine” and “assistant is out of line”. I had to re-read the letter myself in order to re-align my first reaction of “Wow, rude!”. On second reading I don’t think there was nearly enough information for me to jump to that conclusion.

      If you’re not usually passive aggressive and snarky, nobody would raise an eyelid at the first 3. If you’re the sort of person who is considering how they come across to others right now, you’re almost certainly fine!

  65. bzh*

    Lots of people are pontificating and spinning letter #2 one way or the other, which to me means there is missing context. Either the assistant is passive-aggressively pushing off tasks to manager her bosses expectations or the boss is making an unneeded big deal about her assistant communicating her schedule prioritization. Context is everything here and it is hard to judge from afar.

  66. Matthew Strickland*

    LW #4 – is it possible that you don’t use the bathroom where the problem exists? Perhaps it’s the different gendered bathroom than the one you use that has the sanitation problem.

    As a man who uses men’s bathrooms, I can tell you… ugh. Just ugh. The only time I’ve not been in some way disgusted by using a bathroom at work was when women and non-binary people also use that same bathroom, namely single person use bathrooms.

    1. Karma is My Boyfriend*

      I will agree—women’s restrooms and single user restrooms—are the most disgusting restrooms. It’s like women collectively decided that “we (let’s face it, women still take care of a lot of household tasks) clean the bathroom at home so we’re not going to bother cleaning up after ourselves at work”

      I once went into a public restroom near The Mall in DC and was astonished at the amount of poo just all over—walls, stalls, CEILING. I wanted to somehow leave a tip for the cleaner of that restroom.

  67. Throwaway Account*

    for #5, I’d say, “Did I say that!? How strange. I am no working at x place.”

  68. KatL*

    OP#2 – I’m not an assistant but I am the only minion my supervisor oversees, and I often tell her where/when I can fit something in. If she emails me and says “this needs to be applied to that and then this needs to be reconciled” if I can’t do it immediately I will email her back and let her know my timeframe. That way she can either tell me it needs to be done ASAP (usually because it’s affecting something she needs to do), or let me know it’s not high on the list of priorities (can be done at any point before the end of the month). My doing this also let’s her know, “hey, I got the assignment you sent me, I just want to let you know I’m working on this other thing you asked me to do and not blowing off my job to shop online or watch YT on my phone.” I saw some people mention dynamics in the comments, but to me, letting my boss know that I’ve heard their request, it’s on my list, and this is the expected timeframe they can expect results, is a pretty normal thing to do.

  69. Have you had enough water today?*

    Meg needs a kick in the rear. My assistant is young & attractive & it can cause problems for her when she is working & is supposed to be professional but men (new employees & clients) will bug her for her number or a date.

    It became such an ongoing issue that I have given her permission to be blunt, to the point of rudeness, to these men if they persist after she tells them NO. After she declines politely once, she likes to say “I already said no & no is a complete sentence” & go ahead & ignore them. If they persist she can tell them anything she likes, up to & including expletives because I will not tolerate these men (who are generally old enough to be her father) harassing a young woman at work when they know they have her trapped & in a vulnerable position.

    1. ThatOtherClare*

      Anybody who isn’t sure what they can do for an employee who has faced (or may possibly face) a similar issue, the answer is this. You can do this.

      And if your employee feels uncomfortable or unsafe saying such things, or is rudely ignored, you can say them. Sadly some men will only listen to “no” from someone they view as an equal or above them, and they do not view women they harass as their equals.

  70. FlatWhiteWalker*

    #2 – I had a job where I was *constantly* giving people expected timeframes on the work they assigned me, because that was one way of prioritising a high-volume workload. It had the side effect of making me look proactive and like a great communicator.
    I implemented it after one of my managers (yes I had multiple) said he needed a task done “whenever you can get to it” and it turned out that actually meant “in the next 60 minutes.”

  71. Raida*

    2. Assigning tasks to an assistant
    Have a 5 minute or less meeting at the start of the day: Hi how are you I’m fine, I’m planning on working on ABC today, The XYZ I sent you yesterday can go to lowest priority, any concerns or issues?, I’ve been asked for an update on DEF – is “That’s in progress and you’ll get an answer by Thursday” good for you?, cool.

    Firstly – I assume this is your direct report. You should be having regular 1:1 meetings with them.
    But as you work immediately together and you assign them work, a daily stand up to check workload and priorities and give space to specifically say “Is there an issue I can help with?” will go a long way to both of your not having a misunderstanding of priorities and timelines. And he’ll know you know his workload. And he’ll know he can talk to you about his workload.
    This is not a discussion. This is not “let’s look at the Agile wall.” This is “How fast can we confirm each person knows what they need to know for today/this week?” And if over time you find that actually this’d be great to have fifteen minutes for to discuss things, then that can be a natural expansion of the meeting as opposed to a waste of time to begin with. Or maybe once a week it’s 20 minutes long. Who knows!

  72. Semi-retired admin*

    Regarding letter #2, is he strictly your assistant? I ask because in my former role as admin, my title indicated that I was assistant to the head of my location and provide support for other staff, but in reality, there where large aspects of my job that did not fall into that, most of them my supervisor didn’t even know about. I would say about 60% of my week was spent on tasks for other departments and administrators in my organization.

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