friend’s job offer was pulled for being a jerk, is my girlfriend’s CEO overstepping, and more

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

1. My friend’s job offer was pulled after he was a jerk

My friend Howell recently signed the contract for a new job, but was dismissed before he started for aggressive behavior to coworkers. The backstory is this: he needed to pass a medical before starting and after he passed the medical his employer was slow to confirm that they had received the certificate and give him a start date. He emailed the employer about this, and when he didn’t get a response he phoned the company receptionist, shouted at her when she couldn’t put him through to HR, and, as I interpret the story, bullied her into giving a number for HR. He then called HR and spoke to various women who said he wasn’t in their region and they didn’t have access to his file. The way he tells the story sounds as if he told them robustly that he believed they were lying. He then got an email saying that the job offer had been withdrawn due to his behavior to colleagues. He says they are all passive-aggressive misandrists and he wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.

The backstory to this is that Howell has been unemployed for about three years and I had encouraged him to apply for this job for which he has the skills and qualifications. It’s with a big company in the industry I work in, although fortunately there is no way the people I work with will connect me to him. Is there anything Howell can do to repair this and apply for other roles with the company and any advice I could give him? It now appears to me that the reason he has been made redundant a few times and had a slow job search may be more due to personality than the job market.

There’s nothing Howell can do to get considered for a role at that company again. He should send an email apologizing for his behavior simply because that’s the right thing to do, but it’s extremely unlikely they’ll ever consider him again after he bullied and shouted at a receptionist and accused multiple employees of lying. It can take far less to put someone on a “do not hire” list. (And really, would you feel comfortable if you discovered your own company was considering hiring a candidate who behaved like this? These consequences are logical ones and warranted by what happened.)

As for advice to Howell … he needs to do some significant work on his temper and the way he treats people. Personally, I advise reconsidering whether you want to maintain a friendship with someone who believes women who don’t do what he wants are “misandrists.”

2. Is my girlfriend’s CEO overstepping?

My girlfriend works as an executive assistant to the CEO in a mid-size company she joined three months ago. She tells me her male CEO often compliments her on her outfit, how amazing she is, that he doesn’t know what he’d do without her, etc. Also that she’s made him change his dress code to be more stylish.

Over the last few weeks, she’s planned a larger company event at an out-of-state resort. It all went well and during the event her CEO gives her a gift card to a back massage at an exclusive spa close to her home. I find the gift too personal and that the CEO is overstepping. My girlfriend laughs it off and tells me nothing is going on between them. What do you think?

Do you trust your girlfriend? Nothing here is inherently inappropriate.

I originally had written an additional paragraph that said: “Does your spidey sense normally go off when your girlfriend has warm interactions with other men in her life? If not but something is setting off alarms this time, there might be a conversation to have here. But you need to navigate it carefully so you don’t put your girlfriend in a position where she feels pressured to quit a job where nothing inappropriate is happening. (You also don’t get to take repeated bites at that apple; you’d pretty much have to hear her out and decide how you feel about her response, not keep raising it.)” But re-reading your letter, the details you included just don’t warrant that. She has a warm relationship with the CEO she supports — something the CEO/assistant relationship often lends itself to — he appreciates her work. She’s the best person best equipped to judge if the vibe feels off, and she says it doesn’t. Unless there’s more to it, this is just not alarming.

3. Why don’t people say thank you?

I work on an in-house “service” team (think communications deliverables) in a larger group that sits within an even larger organization. I am in a senior director role, but fundamentally I still work for others, so my day-to-day consists of creating things (or overseeing the creation of things) and sending them out to people in our larger organization for “review and feedback.” It’s exhausting, but it’s what I signed up for.

I am consistently surprised by the way people respond to having something they asked for (and that serves a key role in the business) sent to them. When did people stop saying thank you? When did people stop acknowledging the creation of work? When did people stop being … nice?

It doesn’t matter to me if you decide to change every part of the work, the “thank you” part is important. Am I expecting too much? If people are doing what they’re being paid to do, does that mean they are not entitled to be thanked? I’m noticing this behavior more and more. Is this a workplace trend, or is everyone in my organization just a jerk?

How do these same people treat you generally? Are they respectful and decent, or demanding and rude? If they’re generally respectful, then yeah, I think you’re putting too much emphasis on the thank-you; for whatever reason, that’s not the culture in your organization. It might be because people are busy, or they figure their appreciation goes unsaid (not necessarily a great stance, but a common one), or they simply see creating these materials as part of your job and not something that requires specific thanks from them.

To be clear, if they were writing in, I’d recommend they take two seconds to thank people who fulfill requests for them — but on your end of that transaction, I think you’ll be happier if you focus on how you’re treated generally at this job and by these teams, and not so much on specific individual thank-you’s.

Coworkers who don’t say “please” or “thank you”

4. Was this recruiter using me for insider info?

My job is fine — not great but fine. I’ve decide to look into what other jobs are out there, just to see, so I’ve been replying to recruiters messaging me on LinkedIn.

I had a call today with a recruiter in my space and got asked some odd questions mixed in with expected ones: “How is your team structured at the moment?” The recruiter then mentioned knowing some people in my company, including my current boss by name.
Later on, I was asked, “Do you have any projects coming up over there?”

At the time I thought this was checking on whether I would be available to change jobs. But thinking back on it, we brought in an extra team member on a short-term contract for a large project last year. Was this a sneaky way to see are there any jobs coming up on my team? Or am I overthinking?

Yeah, this was almost certainly a recruiter trying to get intel they could use to try to get business from your current company. Some recruiters do that almost as a matter of course — it’s as if it’s built into their business model — and would still do a perfectly fine job representing you, but it’s also reasonable to be annoyed by it. (I would be! You hadn’t agreed to provide info for that purpose.)

5. How much should I tell my brother’s manager about his hospitalization?

I am my brother’s medical power of attorney, and he is in the hospital with both a heart issue and alcoholism. The heart issue was discovered when he was brought to the hospital with a very high blood alcohol content and threatening suicide.

He had notified his manager that he was in the hospital but has now lost phone privileges. I’m in a different city and trying to navigate until I can get to him.

I do have his manager’s contact info. Should I notify her that he is in the hospital and leave it at that? Should I mention the heart issue? I don’t want to mention the alcoholism due to the ongoing stigma that still, unfortunately, accompanies mental health and addiction issues. (If it makes a difference, we are in the U.S.)

Definitely don’t mention the alcoholism; that’s not a decision you should take away from your brother. You don’t really need to be specific about the heart issue either. You can simply say he’s hospitalized with a medical issue and not able to talk by phone and that you will keep his manager posted once you have better information regarding his return to work (or until he’s able to do that himself). Stick to the stuff that’s relevant to them — he’s out, he’s in the hospital, you’ll know more by X date, but not specific medical information.

{ 698 comments… read them below }

  1. Viette*

    OP #2 – if your girlfriend was saying she felt creeped out by this, you would be appropriate in advocating for her to stand up for herself or go to HR. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case. It sounds like you don’t like this guy and you think he’s hitting on your girlfriend, but unless your girlfriend thinks that, I don’t see a reason that would be true.

    And honestly, “you look so great you’ve inspired me to upgrade my own look to be more stylish” is pretty well on the benign end of complimenting a person’s clothes at work.

    1. MK*

      Except this isn’t what OP said his girlfriend was saying, the girlfriend said the CEO “often” compliments her on her outfit and that she “helped” him change his wardrobe. I guess it depends what that means exactly; Is it an occasional compliment or does the girlfriend come home every other day and say that her boss loved her dress? Did she give style tips or did they go shopping together? I don’t think it’s necessarily suspicious, but neither do I think OP is crazy to feel something is off, depending on the details.

      1. MK*

        That being said, Alison’s response makes perfect sense. The CEO isn’t being overtly inappropriate and the girlfriend doesn’t sound bothered. OP can raise this with their partner.

      2. Dark Macadamia*

        I took that line to be that she encouraged him to update the clothing expectations for the company (or maybe just for her role?) – like pointing out that pantyhose aren’t as common these days or that it’s not seen as inappropriate to have multiple piercings or whatever.

        1. MK*

          Maybe. I think this is a situation where my take would depend a lot on details that the OP naturally wouldn’t provide in a short letter, like what exactly was said, how often etc.

          1. Viette*

            The variability of interpretations in comments already definitely makes me agree with Alison’s reply that either the OP trusts their girlfriend or not. It’s not apparent from the letter that something sketchy MUST be going on, but it could be going on. But then of course something sketchy could always be going on even beneath the most innocent behavior.

            There’s a sort of Punnett square here of “OP trusts/doesn’t trust” and “girlfriend is/isn’t cheating”.

            1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

              I thought it was “boss is creeping on girlfriend” as an option, not “girlfriend is cheating”! Maybe three options for that axis!

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              Something sketchy could always be going on.

              Any decent actor can take the same chit-chatty script and run it as “flirtatious” or “creepy” or “benign shading to boring.”

            3. wordswords*

              Yeah, agreed.

              To be honest, when I read the letter, it DID sound potentially a bit off to me, in the sense of the CEO nudging at boundaries to be a bit flirty. But only potentially and slightly and maybe; so much depends on details that we don’t have — and, frankly, OP2 doesn’t either.

              If OP2 trusts their girlfriend, then they should trust her sense of the CEO’s vibes. (And, on top of that, make sure they’re a person she can come to if she does have concerns later, instead of setting up for a million I-told-you-so conversations and making her irritated now. But she may never have any concerns! This may be completely fine, as many have taken it.) If OP2 doesn’t trust their girlfriend, then that’s a different problem.

          2. Chicken Dinner*

            If OPs girlfriend has zero concerns about her bosses behavior, words, and actions, I don’t see why “what exactly was said, how often etc” should matter AT ALL to OP. His judgement of the situation does NOT override hers.

            And what, exactly, does he think he would get to do about it if the boss WAS being flirty? Ride in on a white horse and rescue her from the evil flirty boss? She’s an adult and doesn’t need rescuing. Force her to quit? She has agency and can decide for herself whether it’s something she can deal with or not.

            I’m sorry but this just sounds like another insecure man who feels threatened because his female partner has a healthy non-romantic relationship with another male human being, who doesn’t trust her not to leap straight into the arms of any man who shows her some attention.

            Sorry OP, if you trust her so little (or think she could be so easily influenced away from you), do her a favor and break up now. She doesn’t need a weak & immature small minded man second guessing her every interaction with her boss looking for infidelity or the potential for same. You are insulting her by assuming that if there was a problem at her work, that YOU would be in a better position to notice or deal with it than SHE would. By continuing to hunt for “clues” after she’s said all is well, you are inferring that she is either lying to you or too stupid to understand what’s “really” going on, and women don’t need that infantilizing BS.

      3. Linguistic precision is important*

        Ot does not say that the girlfriend “helped” the CEO, it says “Also that she’s made him change his dress code to be more stylish.”

        That is a fairly ambiguous statement: did the CEO change his personal dress code, or the dress code of the office? Did she actively try to get the CEO to do that, or did the CEO do that just because of how the girlfriend dresses? How exactly did she “make” him do anything?

        1. MK*

          Yes, it could be anything from her pushing for a more updated dress code for the office to her picking his clothes for him, and a lot of options in between.

          1. Allonge*

            And on top of this, there may or may not be anything inappropriate in any of those options.

            1. MsM*

              Yeah, I’ve advised bosses on wardrobe before media appearances before. Why they asked for my input, I don’t know, but…

          2. Fishsticks*

            I actually read it as he saw that she looked so stylish and put together that he personally changed his own clothing to be more stylish, too.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Same, adding that she gave him some advice on specific actions that would cause the clothing to be more stylish.

              Recalling a past thread on how the casual Friday “khakis and a blue oxford” looked different on different levels of workers.

            2. Nebula*

              Yeah totally. I figured it was like “You look so stylish that I felt embarrassed about my assistant being more put together than me, so I’ve decided to put more of an effort in.” Again the whole thing goes to show how many interpretations there are for this behaviour. If the girlfriend isn’t bothered by it, LW doesn’t need to do anything. If they don’t trust her for other reasons, that’s the thing to address, not the CEO.

              1. Csethiro Ceredin*

                That’s how I took it, too.

                Maybe the CEO is overly effusive, but (barring more alarming details coming up) it reads to me like he is just really trying to show he appreciates her work and professionalism.

            3. Turquoisecow*

              Same, I thought it was something like she mentioned a red tie would look better with that suit, or he asked what she thought of his shoes and she gave an opinion, he ended up agreeing with her opinion and changing how he dresses, but then thinking about it, since he is the CEO and has control over the company’s dress code, he could have had her help in making changes to that as well. I don’t think it would be out of line to get a stylish assistant’s input on dress code.

          3. learnedthehardway*

            It’s also important to note that many EAs for senior executives have roles that cross into what you could call “life management” – everything from arranging not only the work schedule but also the exec’s personal commitments (because life is complicated), to remembering to send flowers and choosing gifts for people, to arranging tailoring, dealing with dry-cleaning, arranging both personal and company travel, and a myriad of other details.

            So it’s entirely possible that the EA has updated the CEO’s wardrobe as part of her job. This might especially be the case if the CEO is meeting with investors or bankers – where looking polished and professionally put together is helpful to project an image.

            If the CEO were offering to give the EA a massage – not appropriate. Giving her gift certificates for a spa day after she has worn herself ragged dealing with a major event (that was probably physically taxing) – ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE and the sign of a good boss who really understands and appreciates the extra effort his EA put in to make the business successful.

            It sounds to me like the CEO is a good boss, who appreciates the EA’s contributions. Looking the part is part of the EA’s job, as well. (I’m recruiting an EA type role right now, and professional appearance, taste and appropriate demeanor are bonafide requirements for the role).

            For the boyfriend, check your insecurities at the door.

            1. Kate*

              Right. This is not an inappropriately personal thing for an executive assistant to someone high up to help with.

              Frankly, it sounds to me like OP is inappropriately jealous and using details his girlfriend has shared about her work as a way to attempt to control her, not that he’s concerned about her boss being creepy.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                When I was an EA early in my marriage, I could tell my husband was a little jealous of the ‘life management’ type of attention I had to give to the details of my boss’ life and how it overlapped with the sort of things spouses might do for each other. He never said anything and there was nothing inappropriate, but yeah, it sounds like OP might be giving voice to it and maybe needs to handle his insecurities more internally, if that’s what is going on.

            2. MM*

              Oh good, I’m glad I didn’t have to scroll too far to find this. I feel like both LW and many of the comments seem to simply be operating from a lack of knowledge about what EA positions can often look like.

        2. Laura*

          Yeah, exactly. I interpreted it as the CEO was inspired by her to update the way he dresses, but who knows.

        3. The dark months*

          I read it as the boss was inspired by her to up his wardrobe game. Either way I’m not sure if the boyfriend is picking up creepy vibes because he’s a guy and seen men pursue women this way before or if his insecurities are showing. The gift card thing was not out of line though. Massages are a non alcoholic, non food, gender neutral gift item – the unicorn of gifts that also doesn’t add unwanted clutter to one’s life.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yup. My husband got a weekend ticket to a posh Welsh spa resort from his boss. We went and had a lovely time; although we felt a little out of place, it was a lovely idea and something we’d have never done on our own initiative.

        4. Nina*

          It read to me like ‘since seeing how well my assistant dresses, I felt I had to raise my own standard of dress to something more stylist/professional, and I view that as a good thing’.

      4. Ally McBeal*

        Back when I worked in admin, I “helped” my boss change his wardrobe by helping him schedule appointments with a company that brought a tailor to his office to measure him for shirts. I “helped” him by giving him feedback – when he asked – on the colors and patterns he was buying and casually complimenting him when he wore something particularly nice. And this was for a company that made it clear that admins were EAs, not PAs – if I’d been at more of a PA company then I probably would’ve gone shopping for him. This falls within perfectly normal parameters for EA/PA work.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          This! The EA for my great grand-boss would absolutely do something like this if she were asked to. They are both CIS het women (and great grand-boss is pretty stylish), but there’s that level of trust in the EA’s opinion.

        2. TX_TRUCKER*

          +1 on it being normal. My EA always helps with my wardrobe before a media appearance. He is absolutely more stylish than me. I think all the C-suite in my company have an EA relationship similar to what the OP describes.

      5. jalee*

        She’s not a child. She doesn’t need a man – a man who doesn’t even see what goes on day-to-day telling her what is what. I’d be telling her to reconsider whether or not she wants to be with this guy. It doesn’t sound like he respects her judgement.

      6. Office Lobster DJ*

        Yes, this is where I land. Based on the details, it could very much be nothing but a normal working relationship, maybe with a dash of going a little overboard to make a new employee feel welcomed and appreciated. On the other hand, I also don’t think it’s completely out there for OP to write in.

        Of course, it all does come down to OP trusting their girlfriend or not. I think the “test” mentioned in the original deleted paragraph — for OP to try to calibrate their spidey sense by considering their reaction to her warm interactions with other guys — is a pretty good exercise.

      7. TootsNYC*

        that one line, and how it’s worded, is the only thing here that bothers me. “You’re changing me for the better” is not a good thing to hear from your male boss when you’re an attractive younger woman.

        1. Garblesnark*

          Eh. I’m a young, femme-presenting person in an EA-type role. “The way you are doing your job is making me better at things” is the entire point of my job. I see the point you are making, but I have been treated inappropriately before, and in EA-type jobs, the thing you are saying isn’t necessarily always that, because doing that professionally for work things (which includes dressing professionally for some positions) is the entire point of the job.

        2. Nicole*

          This comment is so interesting to me because it illustrates the way we interpret things: you said she’s younger and attractive, but nowhere in the letter does it mention her age or physical appearance

    2. Dorothy Zpornak*

      I actually think that comment makes it pretty clear he’s not flirting – it sounds so much like a compliment a woman would give another woman, it’s the kind of thing men worry would put them in the “friend zone.”

      1. Nephron*


        It reads like he is not interested at all and/or a professional that follows all the advice provided on how to compliment a woman without making it uncomfortable. I have seen the advice of complimenting outfits and things a person chose so many times.

      2. KitKat*

        Yes – I think men are actually often given the advice that if they’d like to compliment a female coworker, they should stick with things she’s *selected* (great outfit! fun sweater! neat earrings!) and avoid her *appearance* (you look great in that outfit! you look pretty today!)

        So to me he may just be following that advice in a friendly way, and OP’s uncertainty might come from hearing this relayed back and never witnessing it in person. There’s so much here that depends on the details – what’s being said exactly, how often, how often he compliments other people, tone of voice, etc. – and ultimately OP has to just decide if he trusts the girlfriend’s take on things. I think Alison’s advice is excellent as always.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah, I agree with your last paragraph. I think when people don’t like fashion much it can read a bit oddly when two people are super into it, and discussing outfits; if clothes are just appropriate body coverings to you, it seems like people are discussing bodies instead of style. I think some people go straight to “I wouldn’t do this with my boss” without considering how different we can be as people.

      1. Allonge*

        That’s a very good point – worth remembering indeed.

        If people want to flirt, they can be flirting while discussing excel formulas. If their relationship does not have that element (from either side), they can talk about very intimate things without any further implication.

        1. mlem*

          One of Courtney Milan’s romances includes flirting with NDA language, which is right up there with “Excel formulas” to me!

        2. GERDQueen*

          Yup: during the friends-to-dating transition, I waved a Geiger counter over my now-husband and declared him a hot zone (undergrad lab partners).

        3. Professional Staff*

          On our first date my husband & I flirted over Customer Relations Management metrics.

      2. Lokifan*

        yeah, I think that’s very insightful! I’m into clothes and I’d definitely think of it as talking style, colour etc but I can see how it’d seem like covertly complimenting someone’s body (which it can be – depends on the details – but I think the more discussion of clothes/fashion there is, the less likely it’s anything but that).

      3. Smithy*

        This is so well put, and also that level of distance with the question being asked by the partner and not the person working with the CEO.

        Up until a few years ago, I was just not “into” perfume at all. In the last few years, I’ve not just learned to like it – but to take more of an active interest in the topic. Prior to this time, someone telling me I smell good/what am I wearing would have only been creepy/flirty/intimate. Now I can either go into an excited/geeky conversation about perfume OR still tell if the question is coming from a creepy/flirty/intimate perspective and respond accordingly.

        Recently I was in a situation where it came up when someone was returning my coat, said it smelled so good and also asked if it was from a certain brand. I was very happy to engage from that “interested in perfume” view and the conversation was one I’d consider to be very benign. The third person in the group at first had a face of concern if any lines were being crossed, before realizing it was a conversation no different than people would have about shoes or golf clubs.

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          Can I just say how I love that you had a watchful bystander who was paying attention to the dynamics, and had an accurate read on it all?

      4. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        Thank you! I’m a person who doesn’t like fashion AT ALL and have been wondering why so many people including Alison are okay with the compliments on clothing. This helps me understand where that’s coming from.

        1. zuzu*

          Clothing and fashion are a language. To someone who cares about clothing and the message it sends – everything from cut, fit, fabric, appropriateness for the occasion, quality, style, color, designer, construction, and detail can tell you a lot about the wearer and the message they’re trying to convey. That message may be as simple as “I’m quietly competent and I dress above my station and salary by buying quality clothing secondhand” or “I have a flair for the dramatic and I mix colors and patterns in unexpected ways” or “I take risks with my fashion and I don’t always pull them off, but I have the confidence to try.”

          The GF’s boss is someone who understands the language, at least somewhat. He certainly appreciates that the GF is a person who speaks the language much better than he does. He admires her style. He respects her facility with the language. If we take the “dress code” comment to mean that he’s asked for her help stepping up his own personal style game, he’s essentially a beginner or intermediate asking to be tutored by an advanced speaker.

          Fashion isn’t always meant to make your body look hot; there’s a well-known fashion blog called Man Repeller, so-called based on the observation that a lot of fashion actually repels men. But a lot of people have a hard time with the idea of complimenting a dress without it being a way to covertly compliment the body in the dress. Keep in mind we don’t know from OP’s account just *how* the boss compliments the GF’s outfits; he could very well be complimenting her color choices or “I love the unusual shape of that sleeve” or jewelry. But to OP, any compliment on her outfit must be a comment about her body.

    4. Emmy Noether*

      I’m a woman in a male-dominated field and I like clothes and try to be stylish, so I feel like I have relevant experience:

      I’ve found that both happen. Some men do hit on you, and some just benignely admire your style. You have to sort of develop a sense of which it is (though I’ve found that *seeming* oblivious to the being-hit-on can be a useful strategy sometimes).

      I had a grandboss once who would sometimes comment on my clothes, and asked for my advice buying a scarf for his wife on a work trip, that kind of thing. I got no creepy vibes from him (he didn’t seek me out specifically or find pretexts to talk to me, it was never about my body, he complimented others as well, and he respected me and my work), so it was fine.

      So, yeah, as everyone says, your girlfriend is the only one in a position to gauge if it’s ok. She’s also the only one who would have standing to react if she *was* being hit on. Trying to get your partner, against their will, out of situations where other people are interested in them is never a good idea. Fidelity by lack of opportunity isn’t worth much anyway.

      1. EmmaPoet*

        I worked in a building where I’d often see an older gentleman entering or leaving who wore the full 3-piece suit/pocket square matching tie/fedora and looked incredibly snazzy. Never over the top, but always dapper and smooth. We never had occasion to speak, being in different departments, but one day he caught up with me on my way in and told me that he was leaving soon but he’d wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed my hats coordinating with my outfits- I wear wide-brimmed hats with different flowers and ribbons pinned on- and that he was going to miss seeing them each day. In turn, I told him that I would be sorry to see him leave as I’d also enjoyed seeing his very elegant looks each day! It was a charming encounter, and I still remember it ten years later. I had no sense that he was hitting on me, the conversation was very polite, and he made me feel great. I hope I did the same for him.

        1. MM*

          As a fashion appreciator myself, this warmed my heart. Benign positive interactions among relative strangers! It’s like a functional society or something!

          1. EmmaPoet*

            I’ve had other encounters like that, all of them positive. There are people who can pay compliments without being scary! The guy who walked past me and said, “Ma’am, that hat is FIERCE!”, the woman who told me she’d been following me for ten minutes because she loved my skirt (pro tip, guys cannot pull this off) and where could she get one for the summer? They work because they’re about your sense of style and dress rather than about body parts (though I’ve told women with fabulous nail art that it is in fact fabulous and they like hearing it, but that’s still more about your art form than your body.)

      2. emmelemm*

        Yeah, I’ve definitely had working relationships as described in the letter that were “icky”, if you will, and ones that were totally benign. It really depends. If OP’s GF feels like it’s OK, then he should trust her that it’s OK.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      This put me in mind of that quandary “Why don’t people give compliments to men about how they look nice?” plus “Of course, all compliments on appearance other than woman-to-woman are a sexual overture.”

      If both people in the boss-employee relationship are happy with some “Hey, that is a great choice of houndstooth on you! Love the grey flecks!” I would not worry about it.

      Very often the thing that encourages someone to start dressing sharper is not a romantic prospect, but someone in the friend/colleague role who shares the secret with them of how “dress sharper” would actually be translated for them.

    6. PleaseNo*

      I’ve always thought it’s not appropriate for any manager to comment about anyone below them regarding anything: body, clothes, odor, etc. I take it in the same vein as managers not allowing some subordinates special access (via golf or borrowing their vehicle etc). Managers need to hang out with others at their managerial level. Once that hurdle is passed, the personal comments become more acceptable (though I’d still say no one should be commenting on the appearance of others at work) but it’s not a default green light by any means,.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Complimenting someone’s outfit is not nearly in the same vein as giving them special access that others don’t get.

    7. DataQueen*

      This type of relationship between an EA and a CEO isn’t weird at all – I personally had one boss who used to text me on the way to the office “hey a Board Member is coming in, can you stop at Banana and get me a new jacket?” or similar. The fact that I could buy him pants and brief him on the strategic plan at the same time was super impressive ton him, and the breadth of what i provided was how i became so invaluable.

  2. DoctorM*

    Unemployed for three years then blows his chance at a new job by yelling and bullying his future coworkers?
    Wow, yeah LW1, your “friend” is a real piece of work. I can muster up some sympathy, thinking he must have been so anxious to get a start date and that’s why he blew up at the poor receptionist/HR people. But then turning around and calling them misandrist? Everyone makes mistakes but people who only blame others and never themselves are the definition of toxic. I’d bet you $5 he will also blame you for suggesting he apply to such an “awful” company.
    I hope he sees reason one day, and in the meantime I hope you find better friends.

    1. Marshmallows*

      I also would never “excuse” this behavior but also tried to do the “benefit of the doubt” that he was super stressed because maybe he was waiting to give notice to current employer or had already given notice and was worried they had rescinded because of the delay… but then I saw he was already unemployed for several years so in this case he had nothing to gain by being mean and everything to lose. So, really poor judgement and I can definitely understand why he’s struggling to get hired. In my experience (anecdotal of course), people that are willing to do what he did have a hard time hiding that part of themselves for long enough to get in the door and interviewers can often pick up on smaller versions of it in the interview (especially if he’s throwing around terms like misandry).

      1. A Person*

        Yeah, my first thought was also that he’d already given notice and was getting antsy about the delay because his previous position was ending. His behaviour would still be completely unacceptable, of course.

        1. NerdyKris*

          The problem with that is he still treated people terribly, bullied someone until they gave him a number they weren’t supposed to give out, and then accused everyone of lying to him when he didn’t get the answer he wanted.

          Even if he was stressed, that says volumes about his ability to handle conflicts in the office. Being stressed doesn’t make it okay to accuse your coworkers of lying to you for no reason.

          1. Bast*

            I don’t think anyone was saying it was okay. As A Person stated, “His behaviour would still be completely unacceptable, of course.”

          2. Marshmallows*

            Oh absolutely! His behavior was unhinged and unacceptable. I was just trying to think of what the “why” might be… seems like in this case the “why” for his unacceptable behavior is just that he’s a jerk not that there was some extenuating circumstance that caused a temporary lapse in judgment. Seems likely to be systemic with him.

        2. Observer*

          Yeah, my first thought was also that he’d already given notice and was getting antsy about the delay because his previous position was ending.

          That “benefit of the doubt” lasted till the OP mentioned his behavior to multiple HR people. At that point, I don’t care how “antsy” you have reason to be, you’ve gone beyond “this guy handles stress VERY badly” to “This is a definite problem.”

          Then the kicker that he’s been unemployed for 3 years? Poor judgement is an understatement.

      2. Random Dice*

        He’s incel or incel-adjacent, and showing behaviors of concern for workplace violence.

        Nope. Hard pass.

        Why be friends with an utterly malignant stew of a human?

        1. Jadzia Dax*

          Yup. A staff member who would treat colleagues like in this manner is a legal liability.

      3. Artemesia*

        I think we know why he was unemployed for 3 years. I’d slowly back away from this guy as a friend but my advice to him would be very blunt: ‘Get some therapy to get your anger issues under control and never try to bully someone you hope will hire you.’

        1. DJ Abbott*

          I would not advise him on how to hide his bad behavior. He’ll act nice until he starts work, then start with the bullying and hostility. Let him keep doing what he’s doing now, so employers can see what they’re dealing with.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      The last sentence in this letter really hit the nail on the head. (And if he’s saying he wouldn’t want to work their anyway because they hurt his delicate male feelings, why on earth would you want to help him re-build a bridge which he blew up?)
      This friend may be wonderful to the OP in other contexts. But some people just don’t have personalities that are compatible with employment in a functional work environment. If you do want to hold onto this friendship and your professional reputation, stay out of his job search!

      1. Eff Walsingham*

        “Some people just don’t have personalities that are compatible with employment in a functional work environment.”

        Yes, this! My husband has a very dear friend who is often out of work. Anyone but him can see common denominator in his situation. The problem is not with the industry. It’s not the economy. (Dude!)

        It seems that a personality conflict always arises, and then the colleague in question will “turn the others against him”. It’s “politics”. Yeah, sure it is. Every damn time. Funny that.

        1. RVA Cat*

          “Functional work environment” is also key. People like this get hired by other jerks into a toxic workplace that accepts this bad behavior. Unfortunately non-jerks also work there and either leave or get beaten down and come to think of The Jerkdom as normal.

          1. MassMatt*

            Exactly. Jerks hire jerks and create a jerky environment. One reason the commentariat is often biased towards “Get out! Quit!” as a solution is so many of us have seen this and seen how it can warp your sense of normalcy until soon you just think the workplace must be full of jerks. Or worse, become one yourself.

          2. Polly Hedron*

            But even in toxic environments, jerks won’t let you be jerks to them: jerks can only get away with punching down.
            Howell didn’t understand that HR had a voice.
            His best chance might be in a dysfunctional little workplace with no women in power.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Letter 1 encapsulates that moment when you realize that for the myriad problems of the Howell in your life, Howell is the common factor.

          1. Science KK*

            Yup! Trying to get my mom to come to this conclusion about a Howell relative.

            Took 7 years to finish high school because “the teachers didn’t like him” at two different schools. Worked a part time job for years without paying rent, car payment etc but only has $500 saved because “he doesn’t make enough”.

            Only job he’s managed to hold down is a pizza joint, but he quit again because he can’t understand why his 16-20 year old coworkers don’t want to hang out with/befriend a 29 year old who is (according to him) perfect!

            There’s one common denominator that he can’t quite figure out.

          2. Britpoptarts*

            I feel bad for anyone who is suffering unemployment or other hard circumstances, but at some point they have to realize or be helped to realize that they are their own biggest stumbling block. It isn’t always EASY to find help, but help is out there, and the kind of help Howells need is typically WAY above the figurative pay grade of any acquaintance / friend / relative in their lives. A good therapist / counsellor + WILLINGNESS to get needed help is what will turn things around.

            I’m friends with, have gone to, and have worked for therapists and one thing they all noted is that there are certain personality types that would really benefit from therapy, but those personality types tend to be the least likely to seek any unless, say, a judge orders them to get it (and then they are resistant, most of the time, because “no one tells them what to do” and “they are fine the way they are (despite all evidence to the contrary, as demonstrated by failed relationships, inability to hold a job, stress-related health issues, few or no close friends, etc.)” so they get no benefit from it).

            (They also say there are personality disorders that don’t improve much with therapy 99% of the time, like NPD, but that’s getting off-topic.)

            Someone who behaves in obviously self-sabotaging ways needs help, but that type of help is not something a friend or acquaintance can provide, and being endlessly sympathetic when yet another self-inflicted wound occurs doesn’t benefit the Howells out there, either. “Rock bottom” isn’t just for addictions. Show your Howells where the tools can be found, then disengage for the sake of your own mental health and well-being.

            1. Random Dice*

              Except that abusers have incredibly low success rates in therapy. Instead they learn the language of therapy as a weapon of abuse, or use the therapy sessions against their victims.

              1. Britpoptarts*

                I didn’t specifically call out abusers, but you’re correct, that is a type of person who will not typically benefit from therapy but will instead co-opt “therapy language” to become a more sneaky predator. So the addenda here is fine with me, and a fair point to make.

        3. Random Dice*

          People like this gravitate to politics that feed their worst sides, and then hector people aggressively about their terrible views, so that then they can blame “politics” for their own bad actions and for their own failure.

        4. H.Regalis*

          I had a friend like this as well (we’re not friends anymore). Over the years he got banned from the public library, some government buildings, and multiple private businesses in our town. It was always a “misunderstanding” and nothing was ever his fault. Except one of the places he got banned from was my job and I had to read an incident report about what he did.

          Straight, white, cisgender guy too; so the most likely to be given the benefit of the doubt in many situations, and he still got kicked out of everywhere.

        5. Liz*

          That’s my brother too. It comes down to, he doesn’t like other people telling him what to do and he tends to think he’s the smartest person in the room.

          He’s in business for himself now and seems much happier.

      2. Smithy*

        Yeah, honestly – the kindest reading of this is that he’s super high anxiety/high stress about work – and also not great at being an employee. And while he may not be perfect as a friend, he’s genuinely not like this as a friend.

        I have a few friends who are largely lovely but not perfect people. But who I’d never recommend professionally ever ever. The reality is that whatever qualities they have as a friend that in friendship are wonky, in the workplace are yikes. Essentially, a friend who’s regularly an hour late may be accommodated due to other positive qualities and planning in ways where it’s not a major inconvenience. However it that’s energy they also bring to work….

        1. Dust Bunny*

          My mother is rude as H*ll when she’s stressed. It’s not people criticizing her for being an outspoken woman–it’s because she talks over you, snaps, criticizes, and flies off the handle over trivialities. It’s definitely her.

          I love her but I would not want to work with her.

          1. Perfectly normal-size space bird*

            Same with my mom. I love her, but she leads with the assumption that the person on the other end is incompetent or trying to pull one over on her. So she starts interactions hostile and the rest proceeds exactly as one would expect. Then she feels validated by her behavior. I understand that as a woman who entered a highly specialized field in the 60s and 70s, she likely was subjected to a lot of poor treatment by (mostly) men and that has colored her experience in work-related matters. However, there’s a common denominator in her interactions and it’s not the latest poor assistant getting raked over the coals.

        2. Observer*

          Essentially, a friend who’s regularly an hour late may be accommodated due to other positive qualities and planning in ways where it’s not a major inconvenience.

          I can see that. But the behaviors that Howell has exhibited here are far more toxic, in any sort of relationship.

          I don’t care how anxious someone is. Even if he has a diagnosable level of anxiety, his behavior is so over the top that if is shows up in personal relationships, they are absolutely relationship killers.

      3. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        “Some people are just not suitable for the workplace and won’t be until they’ve done a lot of introspection/hard work on themselves” is one of the reasons I’m in favor of a robust social safety net with no work requirements and no need for a formal diagnosis that conflates a crappy personality with disability. We shouldn’t inflict these people on coworkers and we shouldn’t starve them.

        1. Britpoptarts*

          I’m with you, and I like to imagine that people who are financially unburdened enough to pursue their talents and passions are likely to be happier and more productive than people suffering through work that (perhaps) provides health insurance and a paycheck, but doesn’t really interest them much.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            But if some could have that, everyone would want it. Why wear yourself out working when you can just putter around doing things you like? And get enough sleep, and low stress… I don’t have any personality disorder, but I would take that in a minute.
            It would be so unfair to give this only to people who are unemployable. And you can bet an amazing number of people would suddenly become unemployable!

            1. Perfectly normal-size space bird*

              I think most people would still be working, they would just be doing it with the knowledge that they don’t have to be trapped in some craphole of a job because the work they actually want to be doing doesn’t pay enough to cover the bills or the craphole job comes with luxury bone insurance they need for their kid’s braces. And I would happily send people off to live an unemployed life without starving without feeling jealous because I’d get so much more work done if I didn’t have to deal with two specific coworkers who waste everyone else’s time and effort with their jerky behavior.

              1. DJ Abbott*

                I think you vastly underestimate the number of people who would want this. There wouldn’t be enough people left to do the necessary work that keeps society going.

                1. DJ Abbott*

                  Though if I could do my job 3 alternate days/week, 6 hours or less, then it wouldn’t be as tiring and I might still be willing to do it. For enough $$$ to live comfortably, of course. With a guarantee that my needs will be provided for the rest of my life.

                2. abilene*

                  For the record–can’t post links, but these are easy to google–studies on universal basic income have pretty substantially and clearly shown that this is not the case. Highly recommend looking up the studies because they’re inspiring and pretty cool!

            2. Gumby*

              Yup. I actually do enjoy working for the most part. I’ve had decent jobs with great co-workers. I am a conscientious and well-regarded employee if you listen to any manager I have ever had. But I am not internally motivated to work. I enjoy my job, but I do it because they pay me and because I like to eat and live indoors.

              The first time I was unemployed (company shut down) the *only* reason I actually started looking for a new job is that COBRA was running out. The second time (had been hired for a term position that ended) was after the ACA passed. I was unemployed for more than twice as long and only ramped my job search from ‘lackadaisical’ to ‘putting a modicum of effort into it’ when my savings were running low.

              I saved aggressively when I was employed so being unemployed was affordable to me for longer than it would be for many/most people. But if it was always affordable for me? I am just not sure I’d ever work. Do you have any idea how many books there are to read? Paths to be hiked? Family members to visit? TV shows to binge watch? Classes to audit? One day I will be an excellent retired person.

              1. StarTrek Nutcase*

                Strongly agree. Though now retired, there were many instances in my 45+ yr work-life that only my desire for at least a minimum lifestyle keep me at a job or finding a job. Even the jobs I truly enjoyed were primarily transactional – money for work. I have no desire to live in a society that permits adults to not contribute to their own maintenance – to the absolute highest degree possible. Sitting out should not be an option.

                1. DJ Abbott*

                  Another good point. If some are allowed to live an easy life, others will have to work that much harder. Even more unfair. And people like Howell deserve it the least!

            3. Britpoptarts*

              I think it was Buckminster Fuller who noted that we have enough resources both to do this (or other UBI-type plans) as well as paying higher wages for people doing harder jobs. He may have been wrong, but it’s something that pipes up in my head whenever I hear about people struggling with jobs that are bad fits because there’s nothing else they can do to stay housed, fed, and unharassed by creditors. Working until your body falls apart just to have access to health insurance that only covers a fraction of necessary medical care (teeth, ears, and eyes should always be covered, ditto mental health and PT/OT when needed!) is also a symptom of a greater problem.

              But yes, there will always be people who resent the idea that anyone is getting anything “for nothing” and see it from a frame of envy and disapproval, rather than thinking, hey, this may benefit a lot of folks, even if I didn’t get to benefit from it myself in the past, let’s crunch some numbers and do some tests and see what happens! (UBI programs have been, at least last time I checked, remarkably successful and as a benefit, reduce the UBI recipients’ reliance on social safety net programs, which ends up costing less overall.)

      4. Observer*

        This friend may be wonderful to the OP in other contexts. But some people just don’t have personalities that are compatible with employment in a functional work environment.

        I have to wonder about this. Because there are some things that cross the lines of employment vs personal life. Like, sense of humor should be calibrated for friend group vs work group. And how you show respect often is calibrated the same way. Bullying people to give you what you want? Yelling at people and calling them liars when they can’t give you what you want? Being utterly unable to handle the pressure and strain of normal annoyances? Flaming misogyny? I would be shocked if they really only showed up in a workplace context.

    3. Not on board*

      Yeah, and when he tells the story, he would tell it to make himself sound better and he still came across like a complete jerk. It’s like those AITA posts – people phrase things to put themselves in the best light, but often end up coming across as jerks.
      Calling women misandrists because you didn’t get what you want out of them is a giant red flag and I’m glad the company chose not to subject its female employees to his BS.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I strongly suspect that all his interviews were with men, or the company might not have even bothered to give him an offer.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          At the very least I assume he was on his best behavior/was so confident he’d get the job that he was in a good mood. He seems not to have shown his a** until he didn’t get what he wanted fast enough.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            From the letter and this breakdown, I’d bet that Howell is one of those guys who can be absolutely charming until the slightest inconvenience blocks their path and then they just Hyde out in the blink of an eye.

      2. StressedButOkay*

        Howell is 100% the kind of person who would see the “you yelled at the receptionist while waiting for the interview and didn’t get the job” as a secret test as opposed to…just being a decent person and the employer didn’t want a terrible person as an employee.

        1. Helen Waite*

          I once worked for a company in which the owner and president of a small privately owned company who had just hired a Howell as CEO fired him less than a week later for screaming at the receptionist. He did this in full view of the owner, customers, and other employees.

          1. Gem-Like Flame*

            Helen, good for that company for not putting up with a CEO who’s rude to a receptionist! Many organizations would prioritize the higher-ranked employee over the “lowly” one and not think twice about this kind of behavior in a CEO. It speaks very well for them that they didn’t tolerate THAT particular CEO’s behavior no matter whom he targeted! Good for them!

          2. StressedButOkay*

            Good for that company! That is not someone you want being the face of it or dealing with employees.

      3. ferrina*

        Yeah, when someone tells a story to gain sympathy and the story makes them the villain, you’ve got to wonder what they left out.

        I also can’t believe that this is Howell’s first offense. A normal person doesn’t leap to “they’re all misandrists! they’re all lying!” when there’s a paperwork error.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          I’m sure it ISN’T Howell’s first workplace offense! He’s probably been fired from a lot of other jobs and has clearly learned absolutely nothing in the process – remember, he’s been unemployed for years.

          And jumping to the conclusion that any female individual who sets any limits for any male individual is a “misandrist” sounds WAY too close to the incel/”manosphere” mindset. The only silver lining in this is that Howell loudly proclaims his attitude during the interview phase (when applicants are supposedly on their best behavior!), thus literally telling the company – loud and clear – “What you see is what you’ll get if you hire me!”

          1. br_612*

            The misandrist comment leaves me wondering if Howell was red pilled either shortly before or during this unemployment. If this behavior is relatively new, LW may be holding onto the man Howell used to be before being red pilled and hoping that getting a job will make him like he used to be. That it’s the stress of long term unemployment making him like this.

            I get it LW, but I’d still reconsider your friendship with Howell. What he did is SO beyond the pale. And anyone who hears about it and knows you’re friends with him will start to question your judgement and your views. And that’s fair of them to do because his rage is concerning and definitely aiming towards misogynistic.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              I would bet literal, actual, money he was. I mean, I’m sure he wasn’t exactly a peach when he was employed but I would not be at all surprised if he’s spent the last three years looking for scapegoats.

              1. Observer*

                s. I mean, I’m sure he wasn’t exactly a peach when he was employed but I would not be at all surprised if he’s spent the last three years looking for scapegoats.

                Sure. But that would still mean that he was probably a jerk to start with.

                But also, even incels generally know better than to bully the b*** that answers the phone, nor to yell and c***s who “lie” to him. Because these all powerful hags will use any “excuse” to get him into trouble. (Yes, I’ve actually heard this line of thought.)

                Which means that you’re looking at two sets of problems, and they each make the other more problematic.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              As much as you liked Howell of the past or may still like the way he treats you, a friendship is a social recommendation. People who trust you *will* give him the benefit of the doubt, which in this case is not a good thing; it will damage their trust in you as well.

            3. Csethiro Ceredin*

              This happened to my very smart, previously tolerant ex.

              I talked to him a few years after we broke up and he went on a huge, unsolicited, and very poorly-understood rant about “privilege” after I happened to use the word ‘systemic’ in conversation. It shocked me until I remembered he had suddenly started sending me a heck of a lot of YouTube links (which I hadn’t been watching).

              He was unemployed too. I guess the Dread Algorithm got him. I’ve since had to cut him off despite parting as friends after many years together, but it took me too long to finally do that. He’s a totally different person now.

              1. H.Regalis*

                I lost a friend to that, and it just sucks. I’d known this guy for almost twenty years and he’s become a completely different, and deeply unpleasant, person.

              2. Dust Bunny*

                I have one of those exes, albeit not his bad (that I know of; we haven’t contacted each other in five years). The last time we connected he want on a small rant about how white guys can’t get a break any more. No, dude–it’s because you have minimal education, a Swiss cheese work history, don’t think you should have to upgrade your skills, and have an attitude. I mean, I wish your life was better, too, but you have to actually do something to propel yourself in that general direction.

    4. Over Analyst*

      I could give him some leeway being stressed this is taking longer than he expected and taking it out on the receptionist. Not good, but in the heat of the moment it happens. But the rest was premeditated! He had to get the HR numbers and actively call those other people to yell at them!

    5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Unemployed for three years, then using the term misandrist, makes me think he’s gone down some weird Internet rabbit holes. OP, if you care about your friend, this would be a good time to find out if there is something bigger going on with him.

      1. SarahKay*

        This is really good advice.
        Yes, it’s possible that Howell has always been an angry sexist jerk, but it’s equally possible that he’s had too much time at home with not enough to do and has been sucked into the whole incel internet thing.

      2. Flax Dancer*

        I agree! Unfortunately, pulling someone out of one of those paranoid, embittering internet “rabbit holes” is harder than teaching a slug to fly. If Howell HAS gone down one of the many “manosphere” rabbit holes, he certainly can pull himself out – but the key here is that he has to do it HIMSELF.

        The LW will not be able to “rescue” him, nor will anyone else. Only Howell can change his attitude and behavior, and that will start with developing a level of humility and self-knowledge that he’s very far from possessing right now.

        1. Random Dice*

          It’s a whole cult deprogramming program, that OP does not remotely have the skillset or the mandate to conduct.

      3. Momma Bear*

        I found that word use interesting as well.

        I also wonder if he’s downplaying the interactions with the staff. How much did he berate/scream/disrespect the receptionist to get the HR number? There’s bullying and then there’s being verbally abusive/a complete @$$hat. I don’t think he has a chance of ever being hired there, either. He needs to take a good look at his interactions with others if he wants a good job.

      4. Lola*

        Oooh, that’s a very good point. Unemployed life can be very lonely, and can often mean being chronically online. When I was unemployed I probably spent too much time in the beauty Youtube/influencer space, but the only consequence of that was spending a bit too much of my dwindling money on cosmetics.

        1. MassMatt*

          Unemployment, especially if it started with a layoff or firing, can definitely damage your self esteem, no question. But this behavior was inexcusable.

          Someone who’s been unemployed for years in this economy where there are labor shortages in so many areas well, unless there’s some unusual circumstance, such as substance abuse, incarceration, or disability, there’s something very wrong with how he is job searching.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      Yeah – this company dodged a bullet.

      Regardless of whether the guy was stressed out, that is NOT a justification for bullying either the receptionist or HR. Frankly, if this is his behaviour BEFORE he was onboarded, I can only imagine how horrible he would have been to work with. In fact, I would assume he would have been downright dangerous, with that level of aggression in a situation where he should have been on his very best behaviour.

      Believe me, the determining factor in whether to employ him or not was NOT whether he was male. That’s just laughable. The company had extended an offer to him. His own behaviour caused them to retract it.

    7. Cynical B*

      “Misandrist” makes me cringe a bit. Being out of work does things to your head, damages your self confidence & esteem, but that is no excuse for lashing out, and calling people names that are loaded Andrew Tate related buzzwords.

      I bet he’s rude to the servers at restaurants too.

      1. Bitte Meddler*

        Yep, I was out of work for almost a year during the Great Recession. The weird thing it did to my head was to make me feel worthless and to become absolutely certain no one would ever hire me because I had nothing of value to offer.

        I did NOT decide that my lack of unemployment was everyone else’s fault and therefore it was perfectly fine for me to yell at people and accuse them of lying to me about neutral facts.

        Howell’s behaviors and choice of words indicate a muuuuuch larger problem than “unemployment messed with my head.”

        [I am 100% agreeing with you, Cynical B.]

        1. Perfectly normal-size space bird*

          Agreed. My husband had his job retrenched and was unemployed for three years. He also lost health insurance and access to antidepressants and antianxiety meds at the same time as a lot of personal and family things started imploding. He felt worthless and was certain no one would hire him ever again because he had no value. Somehow during all that time and stress and all those job hunts and despite unmedicated mood swings, he didn’t once scream at a receptionist or declare his failure to get a job was because of misandrists lying to him.

    8. Cold Snap*

      Definitely don’t recommend him for any job you could be connected to; if I interviewed a recommended candidate and they behaved this way, I would really start to scrutinize the recommender’s behavior from then on as well.

      I do also want to observe that your entire letter is dedicated to how you could help out your friend, you don’t express any horror about his abusive behavior. You should be asking about how to confront him about his behavior, not advice on how to inflict him on other workplaces. The way he acted is not OK in any setting, regardless of the hardships he may be facing, and I really hope you recognize that.

      This is also 100% Not Your Problem! Why do you need to help this grown man get employed? He’s unemployable because he’s opting to behave awfully, that’s nothing you can solve.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I’d argue that Howell’s behavior is partly LW’s problem if LW wants to continue being friend with them. More in a “how do I confront him about how inappropriate this is” way than a “how can I get him to tamp down this behavior long enough to get hired” way, though.

        LW, if you are friends with Howell and not pushing back every single time he describes bullying someone or accuses a woman who doesn’t do exactly what he wants of being a “misandrist”, your friend isn’t the only one behaving badly.

        1. Artemesia*

          ‘Howell, they offered you a job and then you trashed it by being rude and abusive to their staff when they didn’t move as fast as you hoped. This is on you. ‘

    9. goddessoftransitory*

      “He says they are all passive-aggressive misandrists and he wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.”

      Right there is where I pulled the plug–it’s just sour grapes with some incel/edgelord thrown in. There’s a reason this guy’s been unemployed for three years, LW.

    10. iglwif*

      Yes, all of this.

      If I’m the company he interviewed with, my thought process would be:

      “He’s been unemployed for 3 years – yellow flag, but stuff happens, and his qualifications are good. Worth a try.

      “Well, now he’s pestering, doesn’t seem to have a good grasp on hiring norms – red flag.

      “Uh oh, now he’s bullying our front-line staff at a point in the process where he should still be trying to make a good impression! BIG RED FLAG.

      “FFS, now he’s flat-out accusing our HR department of lying. RED FLAG STORE. DO NOT HIRE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.”

    1. BuildMeUp*

      Yeah, plus I would assume the gift card was for the spa in general and not specifically for a back massage.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        I have worked with a bunch of people who tend to store their tension in their backs, in that it was pretty common knowledge in the workplace. I could totally see a nonspecific gift certificate for that spa being presented to her (it is reasonably common to present key organizers with personal gifts after/at an event) with a joke/suggestion that she use it for a back massage if everyone knows that’s where her stress tends to collect.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I even worked a conference where we had those sitting-up massage chairs and massage therapists in the staff room, because we were all stressed/exhausted/lugging around heavy things.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            Ohhh, that would be fantastic!!!

            At one of my old workplaces (in a Silicon Valley job a few levels of worker pampering below places like Google) they had a laundry service that people could sign up for with work as the pickup/dropoff place, a manicure/pedicure service that showed up in a trailer every other week, some other things I don’t recall, and a massage therapist who would set up every couple days in a spare conference room at very reasonable rates. I think I only ever booked a massage once, but I was happy to have it there as an option.

        2. Data Slicentist*

          During a super stressful “push” time, my department offered $100/week stipend for a list of things that could make people’s lives easier. Grocery delivery, takeout, laundry service were on the list, but so were massages. I think of it more in the health & wellness category than intimacy.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Used the cost of a 1 hour massage to answer “how much should the gift certificate be for?”

      3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        Even a back massage is pretty benign. (I saw this as less of an issue than compliments on clothing.) Lots of people carry stress in their backs, and the workplace is a major source of stress for many people.

      4. MigraineMonth*

        I wouldn’t think a back massage was particularly scandalous either. I’ve had massages in the office that included massaging the glutes and disrobing apart from underwear (in a private room only used for massages).

        As long as the CEO isn’t paying for a happy ending…

        1. Chicken Dinner*

          It’s so non scandalous that a big manicure salon I used to get my acrylics filled at had an in house masseuse that went from customer to customer giving us neck/shoulder/upper back massages as we got our nails done. OP would probably get the vapors because not only could every customer in the place see, the whole storefront was wide open and anyone walking by the place could too, lmao.

      5. iglwif*

        Around here one of the most widespread massage places is called “The Great American Backrub.” (No, I am not in the US. Who knows.)

        They do all kinds of therapeutic massage! It is not a sexy place! But a gift certificate is going to look like it’s for back rubs.

    2. Twix*

      Yes, I think LW is equating “personal”, which was likely the intent of the gift, with “intimate”, which is not at all the same thing.

      1. StressedButOkay*

        Oh, yes! That’s what I was trying to search for. Just because the CEO gave something more personal than, say, a Visa gift card doesn’t mean anything more than a boss being appreciative and knowing that his assistant enjoys spas. Especially after working on such a large project which is stressful.

        1. Eff Walsingham*

          While I agree that “personal” is fine and “intimate” in not in this setting, I don’t even think that a spa certificate is all that personal. He may not know that his EA likes spas specifically; he may just be thinking spas are synonymous with relaxation, which is an antidote to stress, and that big task was probably stressful.

          So for me it lands as “thoughtful”, which is highly appropriate.

          1. Twix*

            Yeah, I actually totally agree with you about that. But it’s definitely more personal than, say, a cash bonus or a Starbucks gift card, which I think is why LW feels weird about it.

      2. Galadriel's Garden*

        Yes, absolutely agreed. I also don’t think “personal” is unreasonable or suspect when it comes to an executive/executive assistant relationship – oftentimes what makes an EA good at their job is knowing their executive well, and what makes the overall working relationship good is if that goes both directions. That extra “personal” layer is, in my opinion, what can define the line between an executive assistant and an administrative assistant (besides possibly the number of people they support).

      3. Laura*

        Yes, thank you. I was confused about how this was intimate. It’s not like he gave her lingerie or is going to the massage WITH her or anything.

      4. Cmdrshprd*

        I will say massages can be intimate, but that is usually when it is being done with a romantic partner, not at a professional massage spa.

        I have had professional massages at Spas and while they can be relaxing they are not really intimate. Often I ask for deeper pressure to work out the pressure stress, so they are not totally enjoyable/relaxing in the moment, but end up with better lasting relief.

        I think the OP might be stuck in that massages are all intimate/romantic in nature, but that is not the case.

        I even got a couples massage once, and honestly it really wasn’t much different than having one by myself. I like quite so besides the beginning and end, didn’t really interact with my partner.

        1. UKDancer*

          I’d say a massage is intimate in that clothes are removed and you’re being touched, but it’s not romantic when done by a professional therapist. It’s a health and wellbeing benefit which makes people feel good.

          I think it’s a nice thoughtful gesture to give someone a spa voucher if you think they’re someone who would appreciate it. Creepy would be trying to go along with them or saying inappropriate things.

        2. Twix*

          Yeah, I took a massage therapy course 15 years ago and have been an amateur masseur ever since, and every partner I’ve ever had since has loved me working on them – it definitely can be intimate/romantic/sexy. What I originally meant was that gifting someone a massage is not inherently intimate in the way that, say, gifting someone lingerie would be.

    3. amoeba*

      Eh, I mean, if it was the CEO writing in, I can definitely see Alison would advise not giving the massage voucher, as I believe she has often said that than kind of gift (involving private/physical things) is something people might find uncomfortable! But it’s not suspicious in it’s own right.
      Also, if the girlfriend was writing in and worried, I’d also say she should proceed carefully and watch out whether she’s getting flirty vibes or not.
      But she’s not, she appears to be perfectly happy. So, yeah, it does come down to trust! (Also, if LW actually trusts her, he shouldn’t be worried about her cheating, but if anything, worried about possible inappropriate/unwanted advances on the bosses side that would stress her out?)

    4. LCH*

      i would love to get this sort of gift cert from work (as long as i didn’t find my supervisor creepy). i got a large gift cert once to a major makeup/skin product retailer and it was amazing. not creepy.

    5. t-vex*

      Yeah, he’s not offering the massage himself, there’s nothing overly personal about this gift.

    6. Bunny Girl*

      I think a massage is a pretty common gift to give to most people. A lot of people enjoy getting a massage so it’s a safe bet. It’s like the fancy version of those lotion sets that everyone seems to give women that they don’t know well.

    7. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      LOL, yup. I mean, we’ve given my mom gift certificates for back massages and there’s nothing flirty about it.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I’ve given my mom back massages and (I certainly hope!) there was nothing flirty about it.

        1. Chicken Dinner*

          When I was in grade school my mom went through a Reflexology phase and would give my brother and I foot massages every night (she called it “foot therapy”.) It was awesome, especially because I had foot & leg pain that even orthopedic specialists couldn’t figure out the cause of, but it sure as heck wasn’t flirty or intimate.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            When I was in grade school one of my teachers got extremely stiff shoulders/neck (this was in the late 1980s). One day was particularly bad and she asked if anyone would be willing to rub her shoulders during story time while we were coloring or doodling or just listening to her read aloud. She was a popular teacher so there were a lot of volunteers. Eventually this resulted in a conga line of students all giving each other shoulder rubs while waiting their turn to help our teacher. The other teachers’ opinions were split between hilarity and envy.

  3. Workaholic*

    LW#1: reading this made me cringe. my first employer once hired a guy that refused to take orders or listen to anything a woman said. Being that every supervisor, assistant manager, and manager was female… he didn’t last long. (Actually we had one male supervisor. Who also really didn’t like the guy). And no idea how he managed to get through an interview.

    LW#3: Do they never say please/thank you? Or do they have it in their initial request, and figure they preemptively thanked you, and don’t want to flood you with unnecessary thanks? I usually include please and thank you, but when dealing with 100’s of emails a day… having to delete all the “thank you” emails – or worse, the reply all “thank you” and “you’re welcome” and “please stop replying all” emails gets annoying. So sometimes I just hate the thought of sending yet one more email to be read and deleted.

    1. Tired and Cold*

      I often put a “thank you in advance – I appreciate the help” type statement in my original email so I can express my genuine thanks, and avoid spamming people with extra emails that are just “thanks” after the fact. And I’m a big thank you person (I live in a building with a doorman and I say thank you every single time they open a door for me or do anything), but responding to every single email where someone did something for me with a thanks only email is a bit much for me, thus the preemptive thanks.

      1. Dorothy Zpornak*

        This! No question, the best expression of gratitude is to NOT send me an unnecessary email that I have to then take time to read and sort. I would never want to inflict a redundant email on someone else. If it doesn’t have actionable info, just say no! But I do try to say thank you the next time I see them in person.

        1. Heidi*

          Truly, getting someone’s item out of my inbox gives me more happiness than their thank you email ever could.

        2. Some Words*

          Unfortunately there isn’t concensus on this point, and the impact will be pretty job specific. I’d probably have the same response as you if I was buried in emails all day. But I’m not, so “please” and “thank you” are appreciated niceties to me.

          1. Roland*

            Yeah, this is where I’m at. Most emails I get are automated emails from various systems that get automatically filtered into their own folders – I really don’t get very many landing in my inbox. I would prefer to get thank yous. If people are in the same role they probably have a similar volume of emails, but if they’re not, it’s hard to know.

      2. Maz*

        This! I work in a call centre type environment but the majority of our work is actually done by email. I appreciate that people want to be polite and appreciative and so say thank you, but it’s a burden when you have an extremely high volume of emails. It may only take a few seconds to open an email, read the thank you (reply you’re welcome, if appropriate) and file or delete the email but with each successive email, that time adds up.

        In my previous job, when I was the one to send the thank you emails, I had a very offended colleague tell me quite firmly it was unnecessary to thank her for doing her job. I think she found it condescending, although in retrospect it could also have been that she didn’t have the time to keep opening emails that were nothing more than thank yous.

        Politeness is important but it’s also necessary to consider if it’ll be appreciated or not. If the recipient is going to find it a burden, it’s probably best to skip the thank yous.

        1. AnotherOne*

          and that’s where I tend to go. I have coworkers who are very- I don’t want thank you emails for everything I do because I’m always doing things for people and that would be a lot of thank you emails, so I don’t personally send thank you emails.

          I will often include a pre-thank you (something like thanks for handling this but i also feel like it can sound passive aggressive.)

        2. Jayem Griffin*

          Our ticketing system will reopen the ticket if someone responds after we close it out. Usually this is fine and useful for follow-up, but the I have to re-close SO MANY TICKETS when someone responds just saying “Thank you!” Sigh.

          (and tickets closed plus time-to-close gets tracked, so…)

      3. Despachito*

        This is interesting.

        In what I do, the “thank you” mail serves a double purpose – apart from the gratitude part, it is an acknowledgement (yes, I confirm I received what you sent me), and is by no means redundant. But I guess it depends on the character of the work, and given that some people do not want thank you mails and others on the contrary, it may be worth clarifying if either way is preferable.

        I would hate to bother people with mails they find annoying (as suggested by some commenters) but equally hate if I come across as rude by not saying thank you (as suggests OP). Knowing what the person actually wants would greatly help.

        1. ZugTheMegasaurus*

          Yeah, I used to avoid sending emails solely to say “thank you” because I thought they were annoying and unnecessary. But then I eventually got so many emails from people asking me to confirm if I’d received something that I started doing it just to head that off.

      4. Willow Pillow*

        I worked with someone who was so insistent on thanking people that she’d send emails to thank them for thanking her. The job involved records management, and I tried to tell her that she was just creating unneeded records for people to have to manage. At least Outlook has introduced functionality to “react” to an email without having to send a new one!

    2. Emmy Noether*

      Yeah, I’ll very rarely send an email with just thanks, unless it’s someone who I interact with rarely and who did me a big favor AND their email closed the matter. Otherwise it’s just too many emails with no substance.

      What I usually do is I start off the next substantive email on the topic with thanks. Like “thank you for the report, please find attached my comments”.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        For me a “Thanks” email often functions as “I confirm receipt of the final file.” For interim steps, it’s more likely to land as piling up unneeded emails. (Especially the reply-all thanks.)

        I think I’m a lot less likely to use “please” for work emails compared to non-work socializing, because it would often land as over softening? e.g. “Can you get this done by end-of-day Wednesday?” is a question, and the answer doesn’t change if someone adds “please.”

        1. ferrina*

          This is my approach too.

          I almost always reply “Thanks!” as 1) essentially a read receipt confirming that I received it and 2) to genuinely thank the person for doing the task.

          I only rarely use “please” in email because I’ve found that a lot of people read “please” as “this is optional”. “Please do this mandatory thing by Friday” means only 60% of people will actually get it done by Friday. I’m fine using ‘please’ in meetings or calls because it doesn’t have the same effect in that medium. (and now I really want someone to do a study on this)

        2. Lenora Rose*

          This; I try not to send random redundant thanks emails, but when someone is sending me something, it’s the easiest and briefest way to say “Yes, I got the thing.”

    3. KTurtle*

      Re: thanks emails… I send them partly because it feels polite, but mostly as an acknowledgement that I got the thing that was sent. Email is generally reliable, but sometimes things still go wrong (accidentally sent to the wrong person, email client sends it to the junk folder, etc). So to me, “thanks” is also short for, “I received your document and now the loop is closed.”

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          And so “please” doesn’t get used nearly as much as “thanks,” because the “thanks” in these emails is not “I thank you for taking the trouble to do me this favor.”

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      I send “thank you” emails to close the loop, and because it’s the culture in my organization. However, to me the more important thing is whether I feel that the other person/department is showing any sort of gratitude/appreciation. And that’s more in actions than words. (Do they respect my time? Is their request reasonable? Are they polite to me and others on my team?)

      If someone does something especially helpful, I also make sure others (my boss, their boss, etc.) hear about it.

    5. anywhere but here*

      Based on the info, it sounds like LW3’s colleagues are emailing back anyway to ask for changes, which makes it less likely that it’s abut not sending extra emails and more likely it’s about not acknowledging the work required before changes (or even after).

      1. TraLaLa*

        LW3 here—yes, that’s exactly right. It’s not necessarily about the “thank you”-only emails (which can get really annoying, I agree), but about the acknowledgement that work was done in the act of providing feedback. I just think it’s such a simple thing to say and takes absolutely no effort, but it continues to surprise me just how often it’s not said. It wouldn’t even occur to me not to do it.

        1. Anonym*

          I work in your field (communications within a large company), and my team does usually get thanks for our work. Often though not always in an email, and sometimes verbally in larger meetings.

          All that to say I don’t think the lack of acknowledgement is universal. I suspect it’s mostly tied to company culture. I work in finance, in a large company that is generally pretty positive and professional in terms of colleague interactions, but have heard from friends at other companies in both finance and tech that cultures seem to vary widely.

        2. anywhere but here*

          I agree. I also personally feel a bit bad every time I have to ask someone to rework something so I try to thank them/compliment the first iteration although I probably do forget. Your letter is a good reminder that the little things often make more than a little difference!

        3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Ahh, thanks for the clarification, LW. This is a little different than I imagined. I’d probably be a little irritated, too, if all I was getting was feedback to change things and very little acknowledging the work that was done and the good things that are there. Unfortunately, that’s some people’s way of talking – very brusque and to the point. So I’m curious whether it’s more like that or more of a situation where you don’t feel respected and valued more broadly.

        4. Straight Laced Sue*

          This is the exact kind of work where a thank you – and acknowledgment of what you’ve done WELL – matters to the creator. Often we’ve done a fiddly or nifty thing, or several, which took time and graft, AND unfortunately we’ve made it look easy (because it shouldn’t draw attention to itself)…and it does feel bad to only get “change X and do Y better please” in response. Yeah, ideally we’d all have thick skin but positive feedback matters. I know that people simply forget to notice the positives, but it can really help improve the working relationship.

          When I’m in the feeder-back role, I always explicitly acknowledge the good, even if I only have time to do that briefly.

    6. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Came here to say something similar to LW#3. The lack of “thank you” reply could be that for those folks, the polite, conscientious thing is not to bombard your inbox with extra messages. So Alison’s advice is on point – take a look at the big picture of how they’re treating you.

    7. falc*

      I have a habit of sending close-the-loop (I saw you did the thing and and am acknowledging that I know) thank you emails in response to folks saying they completed something and a couple of my team members have politely asked I stop because as far as they were concerned the loop closed when they did the task.

    8. Well well well if it isn’t the consequences to my actions.*

      Re: Letter 1. I’ve worked with dudes like that. What shocks me is how they 180 when working with me like the woman he was just working with didn’t brief me. Since im pretty good at seeming like a straight dude my boss generally sends me to see how the person behaves around me. I’ve had a few dudes try the whole “all X are like that if you know what I mean” thing of testing the waters.

      Worst guy I had was a guy who applied to be a Tier one helpdesk tech. The temp company said he was a network engineer before this role. I thought “huh that is strange. A network engineer should have plenty of options besides tier 1.” We were short staffed at the time so we went with it. The guy was paired up one of our best techs on the team to shadow calls. That lasted 4 hours before the tech talked to my boss. Dude was abusive. Accused the woman of not being clear with instructions and just being argumentative. My boss assigned him to me and he was so polite and nice. That’s when he told me he was in the field for 20 years. So that was another red flag. Well my boss was not trusting that this guy wouldn’t be a sexist knob and he was let go from our team but since her was a contractor he stayed with the temp company and worked somewhere else in the same company.

      Long story short he tried filling a complaint against his boss. My boss countered with his events and HR pulled his teams chat log. Dude was a raging bigot and said horrible stuff about my colleagues and boss all in writing. So he was out of the job. That incident ended up giving my boss ammunition to stop using that temp company and move hiring back in house where we would have more control over the vetting.

      1. jojo*

        I must say, if someone’s gonna be a bigot, I appreciate it when they are also knuckleheaded enough to put their bigotry in writing, using their work computer/account. Thanks for digging your own grave, bro!

  4. Pink Candyfloss*

    my company has instituted a decluttering email policy in which they have asked us not to respond with a simple thank you upon receipt, in order to keep people’s inboxes from overflowing anymore than they already are.

    1. B*

      It sounds like there is feedback and responses happening but they don’t include a thanks

      It’s weird for me as I habitually put thanks in a lot of my emails honestly. If I’m sending details for you to do something you already agreed to do I will sign off with a thanks. If you sent me something and I need to give feedback on it or ask a question my greeting will be a thanks. It just feels polite even though we are all doing what we have to do. Just like I say thanks to my kids for doing their chores and thanks to my husband for doing the cleaning even when it’s generally his job to do X or Y. It’s easy to say and costs me nothing

      1. Allonge*

        This is where I landed – in most of my emails there is a thank you somewhere (on the other hand I rarely send an email with nothing more than a thanks).

        But it really can be a company culture thing, where no response = all good, thanks is implied! And if I get something in a file sharing system somewhere and make my contributions there, well, the thanks has less of a place, so it’s also a workflow thing.

      2. Chas*

        I agree. If I need to email back a response or ask for a change when someone helps me, then I’ll start with “Thanks for that, but…”. Also If I’ve already asked them for changes to the info before, or there’s any indication that the person helping me isn’t sure they’ve sent what I needed, then I’ll give them a quick “Thanks, it’s fine now” kind of email to assure them that they don’t need to think about it anymore.

        But if I’m just asking for a simple update or report that shouldn’t require a response from me, then I’ll say please and thanks in advance when I’m requesting the info and then not respond once I get it, since I don’t want to contribute to the amount of email they’re getting unnecessarily.

      3. JM60*

        It sound to me like the lack of a “thank you” is when the person gets the feedback. For instance, I ask you to send me feedback a document, you send me back your feedback, but then I don’t email you back a “thank you”. It seems that unless I have some other reason to send you a follow-up message, this “thank you” email would be nothing but a “thank you”, which most recipients would probably find to be a waste of their time.

      4. Pink Candyfloss*

        Yes, our decluttering policy only says not to send an email that only says “thank you” and nothing else, not that we are asking anyone never to thank anyone else.

        Most if not all of us either begin or end emails with a statement of thanks depending on whether it is an initial request or a reply to a response.

    2. Yay! I’m a llama again!*

      I’ve just noticed that Outlook now lets you ‘react’ to an email, so I’ve started to do a thumbs up to the o end that would otherwise just me sending ‘thank you’ or another acknowledgment. It’s a bit odd, but I think it’ll be popular. (I say just noticed, it might have been a thing for years!)

      1. bamcheeks*

        It’s coming in on different systems at differen times. I had it at my old job, changed roles last summer, and it’s only just been introduced at New Job. I love it too! Super handy.

        1. Aqua*

          the way my work email is set up unfortunately means the emoji reacts just come through as a weirdly formatted email saying someone sent an emoji react, which I like less than just getting a normal email

            1. starsaphire*

              +2. Plus it appears in a different place in my email, so I have to click and click and click to get the alert to go away, by which time my entire thought train has left the station and derailed into the river.

              YMMV, of course.

          1. Not Totally Subclinical*

            Same here. One of my professional email lists has a few people who use emoji reacts regularly, and one day someone was clearly going through their backlog of list email because I got fifteen email alerts in ten minutes. (I almost wrote them to say “hey, just so you know” but then looked them up and discovered they were the top person at their organization, so decided I didn’t want that to be my first interaction with them.)

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Yes — this has been very popular among the people I work with, and I specifically called it out to my reports as an option for anyone who’d missed it.

        1. Bumblebee*

          This works great as long as everyone is in on it. My boss, who is technology-averse at the best of times, finally broke down and said, “What are all these thumbs? Why are you doing this?” and told us, his senior leadership team for an entire division, that he had no idea what any of the emojis meant or that we’d started to use them to mean “received, thanks.”

        2. Zona the Great*

          I think it only works if you use the Outlook 365-like version. I have never seen it work using traditional non-web-version of Outlook.

      3. Random Dice*

        I like it for that reason! Thumbs up is like thank you, without cluttering up the inbox

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (She/Her)*

      I love this. But this is from the perspective of the one who has to do investigations into email accounts and fifty million banal ‘thanks’ or ‘morning’ emails are really tedious to strip out of the logging.

    4. Constance Lloyd*

      I yearn for this policy. We are expected to reply all with a simple, “Noted, thank you,” to any email which doesn’t require a more detailed response.

      1. AnonInCanada*

        Reply to sender with an OK to acknowledge is one thing. Reply-all is another. I really don’t need 40 “thank you” emails from everyone in the TO/CC fields responding, along with 30+ “please don’t REPLY ALL I have enough email to deal with” co-responses. GRRR!!

        1. Potoooooooo*

          People often need to learn reply vs reply all and how to use BCC in business contexts I’ve found.

        2. Constance Lloyd*

          I tried replying only to the sender (my supervisor) once and was promptly corrected. Thankfully there are only 3-5 of us, depending on the email, and we all know the expectation so there are no follow ups telling us to not reply all, which minimizes the apparently necessary clutter. I still hate it but it isn’t worth fighting :(

    5. Bast*

      Overflowing inboxes was a problem at my Old Job as well, so we asked people to not send emails/inter-office messages with things like, “Thanks” “Ok” “Sure” etc. Some people were overwhelmed and had 500+ messages, half of which could be cleared out instantly because there was no real substance in them.

    6. AnonInCanada*

      Which is fine, except I would normally respond to an email with a “Thank you,” in order to acknowledge that I’ve received their email and thus closed the matter. I think that should be permissible. When the original sender sends back an email with “You’re welcome,” while I know they’re being polite, I really don’t need another email to have to look at when I’m already drowning in them, thank you very much! >:-|

    7. learnedthehardway*

      Sometimes you have to acknowledge that you received something, but often, responding is just not necessary and those seconds to open and read an email that only says “Thanks” actually do add up.

  5. Andromeda*

    Interesting how the normal “use “she” by default” convention here changes how I read letter 1, especially in light of Alison’s last piece of advice. It definitely sounds like Howell’s bullying was gendered in a way that many guys would miss, even if he would have steamrolled and harangued anyone who happened to pick up the phone that day. If LW1 is a woman she is probably skedaddling from that friendship already.

    1. Andromeda*

      Aaaaand I just read the part about wanting to help Howell get other roles at the company. (It’s 4am over here.) LW, Howell has thoroughly torched that bridge!

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        This is the part that made me drop my coffee.

        This is the LW’s industry, presumably. They’re certain that Howell and themselves cannot be linked at this company (this is good). What advice can they offer Howell to help fix the bridge that was detonated? Um, none. Stay out of it. Keep yourself clean.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          OP1 cannot care more about Howell getting a job than Howell does.

          At no point in the last 3 years, could he find a job? It’s not the companies, its not the economy, its Howell.

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

            to be fair we don’t know why Howell was unemployed. He may have not been looking because of health issues, taking care of a family member, living off of his rich uncle. I don’t think it matters

            1. Bitte Meddler*

              The OP hints at it when they say that it appears Howell’s personality is the reason he has been unemployed for so long, and not the job market (which, presumably, is the reason Howell has been giving the OP).

      2. AnonInCanada*

        Torched? More like took a nuclear bomb to it, then a flamethrower at whatever remained.

        OP#1: I think the only advice you can give Howell at this point is to get him into an anger management course along with some sensitivity training. He’s never going to get a job at this company, and since word gets around, he may never get a job at any company related to this industry, either.

        1. ferrina*

          “My friend used a disintegration ray to destroy a bridge. He has no remorse and feels justified in doing it. What’s the best way for him to collect the atomized particles of the bridge and rebuild it?”

          …..OP, you are not asking the right question.

          1. just here for the scripts*

            I keep hearing Jodie Foster’s voice from this season’s True Detective “your not asking the right questions, officer.”

        2. learnedthehardway*

          Yeah – from experience, that candidate is on a “DO NOT HIRE” list at that company. He’s probably becoming a legend told by recruiters to prospective candidates about how the company has the backs of its staff and won’t hire assholes.

          Personally, I use the example of a client company that fired a new hire who made a racist comment to a coworker. The fact that the company took it seriously and didn’t even hesitate to fire the person assured the rest of their staff that they were committed to equity and fairness. And I used the example both to assure candidates of the company’s culture, and to put some candidates on notice or to get them to self-select out.

    2. Cedrus Libani*

      Frankly, I assumed LW#1 had to be male…you expect me to believe Howell not only has a female friend, but a close female friend who knows him well enough to write this? And who thinks he’s a good dude who could be fixed with a little advice?

      1. I&I*

        I suspect a female friend would have realised that ‘passive-aggressive’ in this context means ‘spoke politely.’ This kind of guy is looking to blame the women for provoking his anger, and ‘passive-aggressive’ or ‘condescending’ is what he says when he’s angry they didn’t do anything he can use against them.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Yeah, I suspect it means “she spoke politely, but it still had to be her fault, so clearly she was subtly undermining me by being passive-aggressive.” Or “she was polite but I didn’t get my way, so that’s hypocritical.”

      2. Andromeda*

        I read the letter initially as “oh god I had no idea and now my horror is steadily mounting” but wonder if, again, that’s caused by me assuming LW is not a guy.

        That said, I don’t know if a guy would have made a point of including the “misandrists” comment since the rest of Howell’s behaviour was so egregious — the tone of the letter isn’t quite as outraged as I would expect, but I don’t think it’s giving Howell a pass either.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          It is a fair point about the LW including the “misandrists” comment, but I am nonetheless 98% sure the LW is male, for the reasons Cedrus Libani gave. This doesn’t strike me as a guy capable of having female friends, or even admitting to the idea of any guy having female friends. I think the LW was just being thorough.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            This. I think the LW was reporting exactly what Howell told them (most likely “him”).

            Which means that I strongly suspect that Howell’s behavior might have been even worse than we’ll ever know.

          2. Crooked Bird*

            Your reasoning is pretty logical, but for some reason I still find myself picturing LW as a female friend of Howell’s who’s become emotionally stuck in a caretaking posture toward him. There’s something about the combination of a fair amount of clarity about Howell in the narrative with the sense that “help Howell get job” is still on the to-do list and they would just like to get it crossed off. It feels like the way people treat their deadbeat kids sometimes–tear their hair out and then pull some strings to get that at least SOME kind of job.

            … DO men ever act like that with their jerkass friends? I guess I actually don’t know.

            1. CowWhisperer*

              That was my thought, too. “I can help him change!” is a siren song to some women – like me 20 years ago ….

        2. ecnaseener*

          I thought just the opposite – the ‘misandrist’ comment makes it feel way more likely he was speaking to a man.

      3. Ex-prof*

        Yeah, I also assumed this, because only a man would not have noticed; or would have noticed but assumed it was just a quirk and not a major issue.

        (Not saying ALL men wouldn’t have noticed, just that ALL women would have.)

      4. Csethiro Ceredin*

        If they are a man, they might have a little bit more chance of getting through to their friend. I’m not too hopeful, but if LW! is a woman I assume Howell would just interpret any criticism as misandry.

      5. Katherine*

        That’s also my read. So many guys don’t see their toxic friends’ toxic behavior because those friends only reveal their toxicity to women. “He’s the nicest guy” until he doesn’t get what he wants from a woman.

    3. RagingADHD*

      I don’t know what circle of men you know, but I am not personally acquainted with any men over age 9 and under age 85 who would fail to pick up that the bullying was gendered.

      If for no other reason that they subconsciously understand Howell would not have spoken to them that way.

      1. Bitte Meddler*

        I see you are not acquainted with my ex.

        I could always tell if the customer service agent on the other side of the phone call from him was male or female, based on his level of aggression / condescension.

        He also never noted any situation where women were being treated worse than men as bullying. In his mind, that’s just The Way Things Are: Women are “less than” and everybody knows it, therefore everyone acts accordingly.

        1. Bitte Meddler*

          Oh, and FTR, therapy and anger management courses only gave him an increased vocabulary and heightened passive-aggressiveness / gaslighting with which to abuse me and other women.

          1. ferrina*

            I’m sorry you went through that. I’ve met more than my fair share of these guys too. It’s actually easier when they are blatantly jerks- too often they hide their opinion and put on a pretty face until you are invested. Then the mask starts slowly coming off. And you are left questioning yourself and whether it’s a passing phase or you misinterpreted or maybe it’s even your fault….yeah, I’ve ridden the gaslight carousel a few times and it’s the worst.

            And yeah, don’t try to get these people in therapy. Therapy is only for people who want to change. People who don’t want to change will just find more reasons why they shouldn’t change and find more ways to gaslight (and then explain why you are “clearly projecting the trauma from your narcissistic mother onto me, since I’m safe and secure”….dude, you literally have dismissed and/or mocked every single thing I’ve said in the last month, like hell you are ‘safe’).

            Wishing you every wonderful thing, and hope that you’ve recovered from that jerk!

      2. Observer*

        I don’t know what circle of men you know, but I am not personally acquainted with any men over age 9 and under age 85 who would fail to pick up that the bullying was gendered.

        I’m not sure that the OP sees the bullying as gendered. Sure, he mentions that Howell talked to women – but that’s probably because Howell complained about misandrists, which only makes sense if he talked to women.

        I mean the OP really does not seem to get just how egregious this behavior was. They are asking if there is any way to get him in to this company! And they think that his behavior “may” be a large part of the reason he’s having employment troubles. And, oh he just “told” them all that they are liars. Sure, he yelled and / or cursed and them but that’s just him being “robust.”

        It reminds me of the guy who wanted to complain to HR because the victim of assault joked about it. His description of the behavior in question was pretty hair raising, but then he characterizes it as “stupid games” and only concedes that she was the victim of “something”.

  6. Heidi*

    When people ask me to complete work items for them, and I do what was requested and email it back to them, I’d kind of prefer not to get a response email that just says “thank you.” It’s just so. much. email. If I am handing them something in person, though, I’d probably be a bit surprised if they didn’t say “thank you.” It’s not that I expect gratitude for doing my job; it’s just such an automatic thing to say, like “bless you” when someone sneezes.

    1. Strahd Von Zarovitch*

      100% agree. If LW3 does stuff for people who are in the office, I would expect people to say thanks as they walk past. An email saying thanks everytime they do something for someone? No thanks! Looking at your inbox and seeing 15 emails there but 12 of them just say thanks would annoy me far too much and there would be a rule created very quickly.

    2. allathian*

      Yes, this. I feel that there’s also a difference between routine work, where thanks can feel superfluous if you get a lot of email, and the other person acknowledging your efforts when you’ve truly gone above and beyond.

    3. TooTiredToThink*

      This is how I feel about “You’re Welcome” too. I work a job where I often need to focus for awhile but yet I’ve had managers who have gotten upset if I don’t respond immediately to things – so every time I have to stop to check that email or IM that came in and it’s just a “You’re Welcome” I go a bit bonkers LOL. Especially when its hours later. So I’ve, sadly, gone off a bit of saying Thank You to certain people who say You’re Welcome and just do the thumbs up if its a message or if I need to acknowledge say something like “Awesome.”

    4. Mockingjay*

      As a technical writer, I send and receive voluminous emails during the course of a document’s development, review, and approval. I’m happy to simply get a response from the engineer or the project manager and will issue my own fervent thank you to myself: “Oh thank deity, Fred finally approved the monthly sales report! Now we can publish it. Oh, wait. It’s already time to draft the next month’s report.” Sigh.

      My lame humor aside, OP3, if you or your team get recognition in other ways (award, bonus, announcement in meeting) for accomplishing large or difficult tasks, perhaps let go of courtesy expectations in daily emails. Email is a normally a quick delivery or task mechanism; I add “thanks!” to my emails, but I don’t expect a courtesy in response.

    1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Yeah, most of it could totally be appropriate platonic appropriation or, read another way, inappropriate flirting. But the ‘more stylish because of you’ part made me wrinkle my nose. Could still be ok, but it didn’t ring right.

      I guess it’s because women are often expected, in our culture, to be responsible for dressing men up, but only their own men.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          But the girlfriend in question isn’t uncomfortable, per the LW (and she knows the situation better than anyone), so there isn’t really a problem.

          1. Chicken Dinner*

            I don’t understand why so many people are ignoring this MAJOR point. It doesn’t matter how you or I or someone else might feel in a situation we are imagining to be similar, it doesn’t matter how OP feels about it. The only opinion that counts here is how the girlfriend feels, and since she’s comfortably and feels fine, I am happy to take her at her word.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        The period followed by “and” makes it somewhat ambiguous, actually. It’s not clear to me if that line is meant to be parsed as, “She tells me that he says things like nice outfit, amazing, would be lost without her. And [she also tells me] that she changed his dress code to be more stylish,” or, “She tells me that he says that says things like nice outfit, amazing, would be lost without her. And [he also says] that she changed his dress code to be more stylish.”

      2. DJ Abbott*

        To me the CEO sounds excessively needy. He sounds like the type who will put all his emotional needs on his assistant, as well as his professional needs.
        It may or may not be romantic/sexual, but IME men like this are not unusual.

    2. Shakti*

      As someone who worked as an executive assistant in a variety of places it seems off to me as well!! I’d definitely assume that the guy was into her. I remember when I was younger I didn’t want to assume that’s what was happening because I was worried I’d come across as being arrogant or something. For example I’d do things like not say anything when the cfo took me out to lunch by myself and kept touching the small of my back. Now I’m aware that that’s not really a thing colleagues should do especially ones who are much higher in the power structure. Then I was like oh he’s just being friendly? It’s tricky because it’s the girlfriend’s job to navigate it. Does the girlfriend have friends who are women? maybe lw could find a way to ask one of them to get a sense how the girlfriend feels about it? Women often feel more comfortable talking with friends who are women about things like that and getting a sense from them like yeah that guy is creeping or no he’s ok. Men often are trained to be reactionary and that’s not helpful in situations like this. Again not all women and not all men, but there are safe spaces to discuss things exactly like this

      1. Leenie*

        Oh no. LW should not go behind his girlfriend’s back to ask his girlfriend’s friends to second guess her judgment on his behalf. Not if he wants to remain her boyfriend.

      2. Waverley*

        Oh hell no. OP needs to trust the girlfriend and her judgement of the situation – this is HER business. OP should absolutely not start digging around trying to investigate anything. If they feel the need to do that, this relationship is already doomed!

        OP, either you trust her or you don’t. If you do, this is a non-issue. If you don’t, that’s the issue, not her having a normal warm relationship with her boss. Either way, this comes down to you, not them.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          THIS. This is a relationship issue not a work issue. Now the GF could be misreading the situation. Personally I think the CEO is dressing better because he wants to impress her, the back massage was really a bit too personal. But the GF might not be seeing the overall impression these give but seeing each one as a separate act . However, that’s a discussion to have with the GF one time. Then drop it. She needs to feel safe telling you what is going on at work — so if she is misreading the situation, she knows you have her back.

          And if you don’t have her back, its better you end the relationship. She doesn’t need to navigate your jealously and her job.

          1. Chicken Dinner*

            I’d dump them so fast it would reverse time and I’d end up never having dated them at all.

      3. HonorBox*

        If one of her friends confided in LW that the girlfriend was uncomfortable or had said something, that’s one thing. But planting the seed with friends is completely inappropriate. That sounds very high school, and if a relationship is going to last, there needs to be trust. An outcome that is equally as likely is that the friend confides in the girlfriend that LW doesn’t trust her relationship with her boss.

        Maybe there’s something off. Maybe there’s nothing off. The girlfriend currently sees that there’s not anything wrong with the interactions and her boss’s intentions. If the LW goes digging, all he’s going to do is create mistrust between him and his girlfriend and continue to let himself follow a train of thought that will undermine the relationship.

      4. Observer*

        maybe lw could find a way to ask one of them to get a sense how the girlfriend feels about it?

        OP, only do this is you are ready to break up today!

        It would be a bad idea in any case. But given that you’ve already tried to over-ride your GF’s assessment of the issue, further digging is a sure fire way to torch this relationship.

    3. Leenie*

      It’s really not that out of the norm for Exec Assistant territory. Over 15 years ago, I got a $300 spa gift card for planning a party. And many C-suite people are reflexively charming, and appreciative toward the people who support them. In any event, the only person who is in a position to judge is the LW’s girlfriend. The LW either trusts her actions and her judgment, or he doesn’t.

      1. GythaOgden*

        My husband as office manager got a similar gift from his employer. It was a lovely weekend for both of us :DDD.

    4. Tiger Snake*

      I think I’m twigged because it’s only been 3 months. Even an EA picking out ties for their CEO wouldn’t strike me as odd if it was a long-standing partnership. But that’s a lot of glomming very fast.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        ^This. I would not find it strange at all to offer an opinion on a shirt or tie with one of the men I’ve been working with for a while. It’s rare, but especially with someone who was specifically like “ok you are so stylish it inspires me to take things up a notch!” – I have casual bonding conversations about the snack options in the office with one person, about how to keep warm in our freezing office with another, this could easily fit right in that. But. Three months in, that is…a lot. It just seems like a lot to me. That said, it’s ultimately her call. I am slightly ashamed to say that for years I did often feel and feed into a slightly flirty vibe with folks I supported, and was perfectly content with that. It was never ever going to be anything more than light flirty vibes and it wasn’t anything like…direct/suggestive/anything like that at all? But when I started working for my current boss, it was 100% absent and I loved it and realized I was not taking the very best approach previously. To me, that’s the vibe I get from this letter: EA is confident it will not lead to any lines crossed but does have a slightly flirty vibe.

        1. stratospherica*

          I think part of it is probably due to the nature of the job as an EA? 3 months certainly wouldn’t be a lot of time to start giving style advice to colleagues for me either, but if your job involves working closely with one person every day, then yeah I can imagine that you develop a warm working relationship very quickly (and it’s probably a pretty essential part of the job, really).

      2. 20 Points for the Copier*

        That’s the only part that stands out to me, too. It’s hard for someone to come in and really become indispensable that quickly.

        But not impossible… if he’d had a string of bad hires or the position had been empty for a while and she had the relevant experience to pick things up quickly, I could also see him just being floored by how nice it is having someone nail the job from day one.

        1. Catherine*

          Having been an EA previously, if the position has been vacant long enough all it takes to become indispensable is to show up. Plenty of execs just don’t know how to function or make minor choices without an assistant.

      3. Cmdrshprd*

        “Even an EA picking out ties for their CEO wouldn’t strike me as odd if it was a long-standing partnership.”

        It might seem like fast from the EA perspective, but if CEO had their previous EA doing this it might not even register/seem as anything weird.

        I work as an EA supporting a few people and as soon as I walked in the door, I had access to their entire life/personal details, last 4 SSN, DOB, answers to security questions, website PWs etc… It was needed to do my job, and this was/is the level of support they are used to getting so I had to continue where the last person picked up.

        1. Winstonian*

          This exactly. I could always tell my bosses who had EA’s before and who hadn’t. Truly the amount of life information you get access to, choosing a tie doesn’t even register. And I took the “you made me more stylish” as her dressing nicer in the office made him realize he wasn’t doing the same so now he’s suit or nice tailored sports coat over a button down rather than baggy polo, etc.

          Nothing in that letter dinged as weird to me.

        2. Tiger Snake*

          That’s an interesting perspective. I always assumed that your CEO would have to ‘get used to’ their new EA before putting certain things on them.

          Access to work passwords and email and the like? Sure. Bantering? Absolutely. Personal details? More drip-fed as the need arises over time.

      4. Bitte Meddler*

        I didn’t read it as the girlfriend picking out her boss’s ties, but more that when he saw how stylishly she dressed, he felt the need to up his game.

        So that situation could read as him realizing how odd it would look for his assistant to be better dressed than he is [totally fine], or that he started dressing better to impress her as a potential romantic target [full of ick].

        1. Melissa*

          I’m getting confused, people keep saying the boss changed his style or is asking her about his clothes. The LW said the boss changed his DRESS CODE. Am I misunderstanding?

    5. Dark Macadamia*

      Honestly the thing that’s weirdest to me is how much the girlfriend seems to be bringing this stuff up? Like I tell my husband if I get recognized for an actual accomplishment at work but I wouldn’t tell him someone complimented my outfit or said something generically positive.

      Even if there’s nothing going on with the CEO it kind of feels like the girlfriend is going out of her way to mention these things. Makes me wonder if maybe LW is oblivious about things GF wishes they’d notice, like is she hinting that she wants more compliments or wants LW to be interested in fashion or something? (This doesn’t necessarily mean LW is doing anything wrong, just maybe a mismatch that GF isn’t expressing very clearly?)

      1. Rufus Bumblesplat*

        It might not be that the girlfriend is proactively mentioning the CEO. As the LW is suspicious he might be the one questioning her and she’s simply responding.

        1. Delta Delta*

          Or it could be a normal conversation.

          LW: how was work today?
          GF: pretty good. I (insert tasks). And the CEO mentioned he liked my shoes (or whatever).

          Since LW isn’t there when these conversations happen it’s hard to know the tone and context.

      2. Anonly*

        I just think we need to hold out the possibility he’s hyper focused on this and that affects his portrayal of this situation or how often he asks about it.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. Sounds like he is jealous of the CEO as for having the money and power he doesn’t. But his girlfriend chose to be with him.

          Also, if the CEO does turn this into a harassment situation he needs to have her back, not see this as “cheating”.

      3. Cmdrshprd*

        “I wouldn’t tell him someone complimented my outfit or said something generically positive.”

        My partner and I have discussed things like this as part of our general talking about our day stuff, “boss/coworker(s) mentioned they liked my outfit/shoes today, or they were really thankful for the help on x project.”

        I don’t think my partner is making a point to specifically mention every compliment/kudos, but I do think they generally share them.

    6. Myrin*

      This is one of those letters that could go 100% in one direction or 100% in the complete opposite direction as well as everything inbetween, and all of it depends on details which (understandably) aren’t in the letter.
      I think the only way for OP to get a really clear idea of where on the spectrum this falls is to see how everything develops – it’s only been three months, after all, and whether anything inappropriate is going on will be much clearer in a year’s time.

    7. Language Lover*

      But it’s not really the lw’s place to make that determination or do anything about it. At this point, the girlfriend is the best person to decide whether or not something is off about how her boss interacts with her.

      The thing the lw can do is let the girlfriend know that they trust her and will be someone she can turn to if things do start to get weird–without judgment or “I told you sos”. Otherwise, they can just be happy that their girlfriend is being treated well.

      1. Allonge*

        This. As a defauly, LW needs to listen to girlfriend and be supportive.

        It’s possible that this is inappropriate and girflriend wants it to stop or cut back, but that needs to be her decision and actions.

        LW can of course share if they feel something is icky or makes them feel weird, but that is about the relationship between them and girlfriend.

      2. Turquoisecow*

        This. If the girlfriend is okay with it then she’s okay with it and LW has to deal because ultimately it’s her call. LW needs to trust the girlfriend on this and all other relationships with men in her life, she’s an adult.

    8. Andromeda*

      There’s a way to read the compliments that’s pretty normal (imagine one of the parties was gay, and/or switch the gender of one of the parties — that world could totally exist, but I think we are rightly sus of too many powerful man –> less powerful woman compliments). There also… is not. Either way I don’t think advice to the LW changes but they might feel better if they talk it over, as long as it’s clear they trust their girlfriend and want them to succeed in their job.

      1. Tired and Confused*

        OP#2, you are asking a bunch of strangers whether the action of a man you don’t work with are appropriate towards your girlfriend without providing a lot of details except that the person who works there us ok with it. Your GF doesn’t have a boss problem, you have a problem with your GF!

    9. FashionablyEvil*

      I agree. Not sure if it’s the CEO overstepping or the girlfriend mentioning it so much, but this did not read as “100% absolutely innocent, nothing to see here!”

      Also, maybe the massage thing is normal in some (corporate) cultures, but giving a gift in which the recipient would be naked would be an overstep in mine.

      1. Chicken Dinner*

        What? Who on earth actually views a gift certificate for a *back* massage at a legitimate spa as “a gift in which the recipient would be naked”?

        For one, someone doesn’t have to be “naked” to get a back (or many other types of) massage. For another, even when a particular type of massage requires the removal of all clothing, the person getting the massage still has all their “personal” areas discreetly covered by towels and/or sheets unless/until the masseuse needs to work on that area. For a third, people don’t get massages so they can “be naked”, they get them to relax, relieve tension, or reduce pain. The removal of clothing isn’t the point of a massage AT ALL.

        You are making a massage sound FAR more intimate and nudity centered than they are in reality.

      2. Observer*

        Not sure if it’s the CEO overstepping or the girlfriend mentioning it so much, but this did not read as “100% absolutely innocent, nothing to see here!”

        True – but at the moment the main thing to “see” here is a guy who doesn’t trust his GF, nor does he respect her.

        Does he have a reason for that? Maybe, maybe not. We have absolutely no way to know that.

    10. Lightbourne Elite*

      LW2’s girlfriend herself says there’s nothing going on, so I don’t know why disbelieving the person with the most direct experience possible in the situation makes sense.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree. Also, I don’t think it’s suspicious that the girlfriend has mentioned these things – she’s still new to the job, the CEO is still new to her, I don’t think it’s odd or telling in any way for her to be commenting on what the CEO is like or things he’s said to her. I think it’s normal when you’ve just started a new job to be a bit ‘Steve’s already said he doesn’t know what he’d do without me!’ or ‘Steve seems like a really good boss – he noticed I was changing into heels when I got to the office, asked me about the dress code, and agreed to change it so we can wear flats’ or whatever.

        She clearly thinks it’s fine, and I also really don’t think a spa voucher is inappropriate – execs work closely with their assistants and as far as I know (having had a couple of EA friends) it’s really not unheard of for a boss to give their assistant a bottle of wine, or flowers, or a spa voucher to show their appreciation for a particular thing they’ve done in the course of their work.

      2. Dek*

        For me personally, I kind of flash back to my BFF’s then-fiance (and our then-housemate) who talked about a coworker and how he was very nice to her, and since she had to give him rides to work (I think legally he couldn’t own a car? Or maybe just didn’t) she’d gotten to know him, etc. At the time, I chalked it up to “Well, she’s a social butterfly and very friendly” even though something kinda pinged me the wrong way about it. But *she* was the one working with him, *she* was the one who knew him, and I trusted and liked her, and so did my BFF.

        It turned out that she actually had been cheating with him.

        Since it wasn’t *my* relationship, I don’t know that listening to the little voice would’ve helped all that much. But it did make me a little more wary when Something Seems Off.

        But even if that’s the case, this still isn’t really a work issue in LW’s case. Because it’s not his job. It’s not really about “Is the CEO overstepping” because if the GF isn’t uncomfortable, the answer is no.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, and even then it’s the woman in the driving seat…so to speak. She’s the one who chose to pursue the affair and get into all that business. I mean, I don’t approve of what she did, but she was exercising her own individual agency in what she was doing. It was inappropriate for her to end up jilting her fiancé, but it would have been inappropriate for the fiancé to stop her driving some guy to work out of a professed desire to protect her.

          We’re trying to expand women’s agency as people in their own right, not just subject them to an opposite and virtually equal ideology ‘for their own protection’. That’s what bothers me about even the well-meaning assumptions that she’s being treated inappropriately.

          (I’m actually getting a lift back to the station right now by two male colleagues. It’s no better for people to warn me that they’re doing it in order to get me to do whatever with them than it would be to warn me I might tarnish my reputation by being seen in their car. Both would be equally repressive of my ability to judge their honesty towards me and my ability to have a good relationship with them as their administrative assistant.)

          1. Dek*

            Nah, I agree. But I don’t like the dogpiling on LW from some folks insinuating that he’s a terrible boyfriend for feeling the way he does.

            (It really got wild for us, because we were all still on the lease together. And then she had her new bf living in her room without telling us. And then after they finally left the police came looking for him because he’d been giving his parole officer our address. And then there was a car chase. Anyway, he’s in prison for trying to run down a bunch of firemen during the car chase. But on the plus side, as soon as they moved out, we were able to get cats!)

        2. recovering admissions counselor*

          Sure, but this comes back to Alison’s point: either the LW trusts their girlfriend, or they don’t. If they do, and the GF says there’s nothing going on, they should trust them as the person with the most direct experience.

        1. MK*

          A female boss complimenting a younger male employee on his outfits and asking for fashion advice, and a girlfriend who was feeling a shady vibe from the relationship? If anything, the OP’s feelings would be more likely to be validated.

          1. Catherine UK*

            Yes, it seems that in many questions like this there’s a “trust the woman” vibe from most of the answers (not that we shouldn’t listen to that)!

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              I don’t think it’s a “trust the woman” vibe so much as a “Either you trust your partner or you don’t” vibe.

        2. Leenie*

          We should, if it was about the LW’s boyfriend’s boss. And I definitely would. Honestly, either you trust your partner, or you don’t. There’s no answer that involves trying to torpedo or second guess your partner’s working relationships, no matter the genders involved. If your partner has given you real reason to mistrust their actions or judgment, make your own decisions based on that.

    11. Quinalla*

      With the info sent in, I just don’t see it. Could there be something off? Sure, could be in any relationship, but I don’t see any evidence in what was sent. When you have a great assistant/employee, it isn’t unusual to tell them how they are invaluable to you, etc. if you have that kind of personality. And talking fashion for folks who enjoy fashion is NBD, it’s like taking about any common interest: sports, video games, etc.

      The spa gift card is also not alarming at all. Likely she mentioned she goes to or wants to go to a spa and he wanted to show appreciation. I know for some spa can seem intimate or whatever, but it’s a gift card! It’s not like he booked a joint spa appointment or something. Also, I work in a male dominated industry and my bosses are always like “Feel free to take the women clients to a spa if you want!” even though I’m not a spa person, some just think woman = spa like men = golf outing. It’s very common!

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        Since it was connected with an event, it might even have come from the event budget (gift for organizer A, gift for organizer B, gift for organizer C, gifts for speakers) rather than the executive’s personal budget. Which, if a person is examining a situation for signs of impropriety, it may not feel like an important distinction, but it really kind of is. It changes the situation from “executive feels appreciation of SOME SORT for assistant, gives something Very Personal” to “all organizers of X event at Y level are getting a gift of approximately $Z, what might this person appreciate?”

    12. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Eh, it wouldn’t bother me. Either way it doesn’t make a difference – neither us nor the LW can judge what is and isn’t ‘dodgy’ here because none of us are the ones involved.

      The LW is only involved on the periphery. Either his trusts his girlfriend’s assessment of the situation or he doesn’t. And if he doesn’t then that’s a job more for a relationship discussion than a workplace.

      It’s like the old post here ‘I emailed my giirlfriend’s boss about encroaching on our relationship’ because she went out drinking with her boss one night. If she doesn’t feel threatened then just believe her!

    13. Falling Diphthong*

      If the letter had said “By the way, the CEO is supposedly gay” would it land that way?

      To me it lands as stuff that can be executed in a too intimate way (like many mundane interactions can be rendered flirty or creepy)–but can also be executed in a way that conveys bonhomie around “Who even knew sock quality was a thing? Thank you for putting me onto these!”

      1. starsaphire*

        I mean, it could have been anything from a couple of casual mentions like “Oh, no one wears three-button suits anymore; what you need is a good waistcoat!” to “Here, let me show you online a place where you can get Italian shoes.” It doesn’t mean that they’re sneaking out at lunch to canoodle in the dressing room of the Mens Wearhouse.

        Boyfriend is overthinking, IMHO.

    14. TootsNYC*

      it’s the “you’ve inspired me to make myself a better person” vibe with the wardrobe that bothers me. The rest of it is normal.

      Even the back massage (as opposed to just a massage) seems fine; maybe she lugged a lot of boxes, or mentioned that her back was hurting from sitting all day.

      1. Leenie*

        What if you reframed it to, “You got me to up my fashion game.” Same sentiment, different vibe. It’s about clothes, not about being a better person.

    15. TootsNYC*

      The part that bothers me is the “you’ve inspired me to improve myself” vibe to the wardrobe comment.

      The rest of it is fine; even the back massage could just be a considerate boss—maybe she lugged a lot of boxes, or mentioned that her back hurt from sitting so much in an unfamiliar chair, etc.

      Back massage actually feels MORE work related than any of the other massages or spas. It feels medical, not sensual.

      But the wardrobe part would make me want to know more.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        I think the “you’ve inspired me to improve myself” is a mischaracterization of what was said.
        The quote from OP “Also that she’s made him change his dress code to be more stylish.”

        Changing his dress code to be more stylish is different than “inspired me to improve.”

        I have had coworkers that dress sharply/stylishly and have felt the urge to try and up my game, I usually start but fall back into my routine, or don’t start at all. Maybe it is semantics, but I wouldn’t say I was “improving myself” if I started dressing differently.

    16. LaurCha*

      If the person who is actually interacting with him doesn’t think it’s a bad vibe, then we have to trust her on that.

  7. nnn*

    Reading #3, I find myself wondering if the method they use to send things has changed.

    My dirty lens is that my organization (which, oddly enough, also meets the very vague description LW3 gives of their organization) switched from sending things by email to uploading them into and downloading them from an online system. And I’m finding a side-effect is fewer casual interactions that you might respond to with a quick “Thanks! :)”

    1. misspiggy*

      That’s such a good point. I can imagine myself responding to an emailed document with, “Thanks so much for getting this done on time. I’ve attached some comments…”, but if I were responding to a download I’d probably say, “I just looked at the llama report and I’ve got some comments…”

      1. Medium Sized Manager*

        You know the “glass shattering” scene in How I Met Your Mother when they suddenly realize the glaringly annoying thing x person does? This comment just shattered the glass for me and how I approach the reports I regularly receive..

  8. ENFP in Texas*

    “Is there anything Howell can do to repair this and apply for other roles with the company and any advice I could give him?”

    Repair this? No, that ship has sailed. It has sailed and fallen off the edge of the earth. That ship is GONE.

    Advice for Howell? Seek professional help regarding “how not to be a complete jerk in the future”.

    1. coffee*

      That ship has burned down to the water line and Howell then managed to burn down the bit under water as well.

      1. Cat*

        I completely understand the decision not to have upvotes in these comments, but if there was I would upvote this phrase.

        1. Phony Genius*

          A variant of this that I have heard is “he burned all his bridges, then he burned the ashes.”

    2. I take tea*

      I can just picture the other side of this:
      “We interviewd a guy for a job, he wasn’t the smoothest of persons, but had good qualifications and the work isn’t customer service. When the actual offer was a bit delayed because of reasons he blew up the phone to HR with wild accusations. We withdrew the offer. Bullet dodged.”

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      It is worse than that. Given the “misandrist” line, Howell is not merely a jerk in a general sense, but a jerk to women. This not being Mad Men, this will continue to be a problem unless he can work out that women are actual human beings too. Who knew?

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Absolutely, but I still think anger management would be a very reasonable place for him to start. Could he be convinced to do so.

        1. I&I*

          The trouble with that is that his anger doesn’t come from a reasonable source. If someone rudely cuts ahead of you at the supermarket and you hit them, sure, anger management might help: they did something that would anger most people, you just dealt with the anger badly.

          This guy’s anger … isn’t that. He had reason to be tense and anxious, sure, but deciding women are passive-aggressive misandrists deliberately mistreating him, rather than low-ranking professionals unable to oblige him? That’s not an anger issue, it’s an attitude issue.

          A basically reasonable person with an anger problem would be talking about how it was frustrating and he hated being this stressed and why couldn’t someone just help him. This guy made it about gender when it wasn’t. That’s a way of thinking anger management won’t address.

          He may have a problem with anger, but he has a bigger problem with women.

      2. Observer*

        I think that each problem is enough on its own to make him pretty unemployable. And they both feed each other.

        But I do think that the anger management might be a better place to start, as that could help him control some of the worst of the sexist behavior. Not because he has changed his thinking, but because he realizes that he needs to. And, better behavior from people like that is a net plus.

    4. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      As the first point of contact in an Old Job I met a few Howells. One candidate came for their interview and I offered coffee. As a courtesy, I made a fresh pot. When they tasted it, I got a lecture on how long it took and the quality and that things would definitely change when they were in charge. Because clearly I didn’t know how to do my job and making decent coffee should be a no-brainer. In less than 10 minutes I heard “when I’m in charge” at least 3 times. They had their interview but didn’t get the job. Apparently, “when I’m in charge” came up a few times. We decided that someone gave them really bad interview advice.

      1. MsM*

        Or someone tried to give them good interview advice, and they didn’t listen because they already knew exactly what they were going to do “when they were in charge.”

      2. Sofie*

        Out of curiosity, was he even interviewing for a job that would put him “in charge”? Or was he anticipating that once he got hired he’d be CEO in six months?

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          If I recall, it was a team of 3 or 4 people. It was posted as a managerial position so maybe he got his delusions from that.

      3. Texan In Exile*

        The only way “when I’m in charge” is an acceptable comment is if it ends with “of making the coffee.”

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Lol, yes. “The water will be heated to exactly 180 degrees before beginning the pour over when I’M in charge of making the coffee.”

    5. Bear Expert*

      I’m trying to think about how quickly I’d pull an offer for a candidate that harassed random HR people, and how throughly I would make sure that they would be placed on a permanent “Do Not Hire” list.

      Admittedly, the second part might be easy, because again… harassing HR and they or their management may have easier access to that DNH list than I do.

      This is a torched bridge. This is not a company Howell can approach for employment. If he continues to attempt to do so, using the approaches and attitude he has so far, its not out of the realm of possibility that legal involvement could occur.

      Advice for Howell:
      Read books and watch movies made by and for women. Increase his ability to respect women as people.
      Decide in his heart that all other people are worthy of respect and care, and work daily to express that respect and care to everyone he interacts with. Possibly journalling or a points system so he can track and reflect on his work and improvement here.
      Possibly some work on how to accept and deal with his own problems instead of deciding that other people need to be under his control without their negotiated consent.

      Job advice for Howell? None, he can probably get a job, but he needs to be a better human regardless of his W-2.

    6. I Have RBF*

      Yeah, until Howell gets off of the MRA bandwagon and starts treating women like people, he’s gonna be unemployed.

      Anyone who uses “misandrist” in anything but a facetious manner or quoting someone else is not someone I want to be around. Between that, yelling at the receptionist, calling HR and then accusing them of lying, he is probably on the “do not hire even if it would mean the company went out of business” list. Basically, he’s gone into the sexist incel assholosphere, and he probably won’t keep a job at a normal company until he pulls his head out.

      If I were the LW, I would send him a link to this post with comments, and then block him, go NC, and move on. He will either hit rock bottom, pull his head out and get his shit together, or he will end up homeless and shouting in the street about all the “misandrist” women of the world screwing him out of his rightful fortune and fame.

  9. Brain the Brian*

    I find the line between sounding genuinely thankful and just annoying / condescending when sending “thank you” emails to be quite hard to walk — so I often skip them. I’ve tried the “thank you in advance” method, but that feels even more condescending. Does anyone else feel this way, too?

    1. I am Emily's failing memory*

      It might help to think of it less about gratitude perse and more as closing the loop to confirm that the product they delivered meets your needs. “Thanks, this looks good!” “Thanks, I don’t have any questions now but will let you know if any pop up.” “Got it, thanks!” “I think I’m all set now, thanks again for your help!”

      Or if the next step is you owe something back to the person based on what they gave you, then roll your thanks into confirming next steps, “Thanks for this! I’ll take a look and get edits to you by Thursday afternoon.”

      Shoot, even some people who I know get a lot of email still like hearing back later how their with was used and what kind of impact it made, so, “Thanks! We’ll be deploying this feature tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes!”

      There’s actually a custom emoji on our company Slack that’s the letters TY on a shimmering glitter background; my team are all comfortable and regular users of emoji and reactions, so for deliverables and status updates minor enough to be Slacked (“the scheduled delivery was just picked up on time,” type of things), I feel that emoji nails the appropriate level of thanks and confirms receipt of the message without feeling excessive

      1. allathian*

        Absolutely. I really appreciate it when the thanks message is either an emoji for small items on Teams, or a bit more specific when it’s a larger task sent through our ticketing system. There a simple thanks is a bit annoying because any new message reopens a closed ticket. But I do appreciate knowing that people think I’m doing a good job.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          What an annoying feature of the ticketing system! Seems that should have been easy to anticipate.

          1. allathian*

            I agree, and pretty much everyone else in my org seems to agree, too. Our ticketing system is clumsy, clunky, and slow, and on top of everything else it requires an inordinate number of clicks to do anything. All the required fields should be on one page, rather than separate pages for setting the deadline, assigning the ticket to a user, etc. We also have some mandatory drop-down menus for each ticket and the system doesn’t give an error message if you forget to pick an option, it just refuses to close the ticket and it’s left there sitting in your queue. Argh!

            The ticketing system runs is browser-based, but the interface looks like something out of the early 90s. Very clunky indeed.

            Last week, I filled in a survey where they asked which features we most disliked in the system and which we’d like to have in a replacement. So this ticketing system is going to go away eventually, but because I work for the government, it’ll take a while.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              I worked on one of those, and it sends an auto-reply with a ticket number. Someone once sent an email from a shared mailbox that also had an auto-reply… I think there were 20 new tickets before someone was able to stop it.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I really like the ability on messaging systems to add an emoji to a message as a reaction because it closes the loop without cluttering up the chat.

        It’s a shame there isn’t an equivalent for email (read/delivery receipts don’t actually validate whether a person has digested your email).

      3. Forrest Rhodes*

        Strong second for Emily’s failing memory’s first paragraph. That quick, final, “Got it, thanks very much” note closes the circle: it lets the sender know that you received the whatever-it-was and that you appreciate it. That five-word note is quick, easy, and everyone’s happy.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Even a whole workday later? Our time zones are so scattered where I work that I usually have to triage 100 things when I first log on in my morning, and I’m not getting to little “thank you” emails until the end of the day.

          1. Forrest Rhodes*

            Yeah, I’d think next-day would work. Most of my clients are in other time zones (nationally and internationally), and they tell me the wrap-up note is just fine.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Subtleties of human interactions!

      The discussion made me realize that I am much less likely to put “please” in a work email than I would for a volunteer thing–because it’s work, and once everyone has agreed to the project we are doing these steps for work and not as a personal favor. (And at the project floating phase, people don’t say “please” and I think it would land as “I need to appeal to our personal connection and beg you to do this thing because the offer doesn’t stand on its own merits, but please can you do it anyhow?”)

      I think “please” in some contexts can land as akin to “kindly” or “gently”–some people find those emails kind and gentle, it says so right there in pixels. And some of us grind our teeth at the implication that we are so touchy that we need to be managed with kid gloves, rather than just told that the llama antimacassars need to ship on Thursday like a competent adult who does our job well.

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I always send a quick thank you. It’s as much a heads-up that I’ve received the goods as a quick show of good manners.
      When my clients don’t thank me, I’m left wondering whether they received what I sent and worrying that they didn’t and when they realise they didn’t, it’s too late. I mean, I can prove I sent it but they’ll always have that niggly feeling that maybe I messed up somehow.

    4. Marvel*

      I find “thank you in advance” grating too. I don’t mind it from people I have a good working relationship with… but I get it more from the people I find challenging, in which case it feels passive-aggressive (which may well be the intention in those cases). For me it’s one of those phrases where you need a good sense of your relationship with the other person before deploying it.

    5. ferrina*

      Yeah, I also don’t like the “Thank you in advance”. It also implies “I already know you will do this thing”, i.e., no opportunity for me to say yes or no. Some people claim it’s a time-saver, but it takes 10 seconds to email “Thanks!” (I do this on a daily basis- it has never impacted my schedule.

      Responding “Thanks!” also closes the loop. The person who did the favor now knows you received it, and the ball is in your court if you want to reach back out for changes (they don’t have to wonder if they should follow up).

      1. Brain the Brian*

        I think people use “thank you in advance” a lot at my company because we all work in vastly different time zones, so there’s often no real opportunity for a back-and-forth about who is best positioned to do something. One office just needs another to do it during their next set of working hours — end of story — and asking nicely often doesn’t work.

    6. MigraineMonth*

      I’ve changed my email signature to “Thanks, [MigraineMonth]”, and people magically stopped complaining that my emails were too brusque. It sometimes makes no sense in the context of the rest of the email, but I’ll take an occasional bit of friendly nonsense over another managerial conversation about my “tone” any day.

      I don’t really read it as condescending, though it’s maybe a bit more chipper than I would be in real life.

  10. Tiger Snake*

    Sending emails that just consistent of saying “thanks” seems a lot more annoying than nice to me. People get more than 90 emails a day, I don’t want it bumped up to 150.

    1. In My Underdark Era*

      I’m kinda surprised at how many people are saying the “thanks!” emails are annoying or rude! I get how people can be inundated with email and always debate about whether to send the thanks email because of that, but in the end I feel like I’m being rude if I don’t send one.

      It probably depends a lot on culture, role, general situational context, but I wonder if phasing it out is just an eventual consequence of the evolving technosphere.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        I never feel annoyed when I receive one. I do fear I might be annoying others if I send them.

      2. TooTiredToThink*

        Easy solve – when you make your request, say thanks in the request itself. That way you’ve satisfied your need to say thank you (and it’s a good need to have!) while limiting the emails.

        1. allathian*

          That really depends on the task. If you’re basically assigning work and the employee has no option but to do it, thanks in advance works well. But if you’re submitting a request that the service provider has the right to refuse, thanks in advance is pretty presumptuous, IMO.

          I basically do the work I’m assigned, but when we’re overloaded, we have the right to outsource some lower-priority stuff, or rather, to ask the client to contact the agency we partner with (to be fair we’ll do that for the C-suite). I’ve dealt with a few people who thought that a thanks in advance would ensure that we’d do their low priority task instead of outsourcing it. My coworker or I soon disabused them of this notion, with backup from our manager if necessary.

          1. ferrina*


            Personally, I tend to add “Thanks” in a lot of my emails. It’s an easy thing to default to, and there are very few cases where “thanks” isn’t appropriate.

      3. londonedit*

        For me it definitely depends on who I’m emailing. If I’m dealing with an author, I’ll ask them to do something and say thanks in advance, then when they send me the thing I’ve asked for, I’ll email back to say thank you and reiterate the next steps in the process. Authors generally like to feel cared for and appreciated, and they like to feel as if they know what’s happening with their book at all stages, and that’s fine – sending them a ‘thank you’ email so they know I’ve received what they’ve sent me is no problem at all and it greases the wheels of a good relationship.

        If it’s an internal colleague then emails are generally less formal anyway, and if I’ve asked someone for something, said ‘Thanks!’ at the end of my email, and they’ve sent it to me without any further questions or whatever, then usually I don’t bother sending another ‘thank you’ email, and I wouldn’t expect one either. I don’t find it annoying at all, I don’t really mind either way, it just depends on the nature of the conversation and who I’m talking to.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        Sheer quantity of work email is also a big factor. If you get 0-8 work emails a day, one of them can say “thanks.” If you get 80-300, you’d probably appreciating nuking any that don’t include clearly expressed deliverables.

      5. Some Words*

        Sadly it makes me suspect many people have disconnected the word from the intention/emotion. Perhaps it seems insincere or condescending to some people because they believe that to express gratitude is to condescend to someone lesser.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          This is definitely part of it. I work at my company’s HQ, and most of the people with whom I work are in satellite offices, so there’s an inherent power dynamic even when we’re at the employment grade (and even when they’re theoretically senior to me).

    2. Comms people can't read minds*

      Comms is a notoriously thankless industry- people feel very comfortable picking the campaign they’ve asked for to pieces, and very rarely say ‘thank you’ at the end of the process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put together a campaign based on the information I was given, only to have the requesting person get angry that some important info THAT I WAS NEVER GIVEN hasn’t been included.

      An email that just said ‘thanks’ would be stored in my miniscule folder of thanks and praise until the end of time!

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      But it takes all of two seconds to read and you know that the person has received what you sent. Should they later claim you didn’t, you have proof right there. Maybe you’ve never needed to CYA?

      1. ferrina*


        This is why I love the “Thanks” email. For most people, I can just delete the email and I know that that task is officially done. Or if I don’t get a “Thanks” from someone that usually sends one, I’ll check in with them in a couple days to make sure they received the thing (saved a few projects that way). For a few people, the “Thanks!” is a CYA to show that I have completed my part of the transaction, no matter what they may claim later.

    4. Laura*

      A lot of people don’t get that many emails, though, and it’s good to confirm that someone received something I sent them.

      1. Tiger Snake*

        I think you and I are both making interesting assumptions there. A lot of people don’t get that many emails, but A LOT of people get that and much more. 90 is the average in my 1500-person business line. I get 200 a day and I’m barely considered a ‘high flyer’ in my company by that number.

  11. JagoMouse*

    I am an EA to a CEO and I cannot tell you how many people think/suggest/gossip/insinuate that “there’s something going on”, due to the nature of this job. I am grateful that my husband is not one of them.

    I have been with my boss for 9 years. I have seen him at his best and his worst. I have helped him fill in medical forms and visa forms, I’ve kept his business secrets and ensured he got coffee and lunch. We have to be in sync and working well together – meaning we talk a lot, we know each other’s moods and we are a bit protective of one another. It is a partnership, just one based on work, not romantic love.

    And my boss has taken me to lunch, dinner, loaned us his holiday home, gifted me spa vouchers…he’s a good and generous person and he appreciates that I work with him to support not just his work, which is stressful and time consuming enough, but also his family life.

    It is beyond infuriating when people look at a strong and cohesive working relationship and think there’s something unseemly going on. I am at WORK. It is a professional relationship. Ask yourself something – if this was a woman CEO…would you feel the same?

    This is a YOU problem, not a CEO or girlfriend problem. There is nothing going on here, though it sounds like you are determined to undermine your girlfriend in her new role. I hope she chooses her career.

    1. MK*

      Is taking your frustrations about other people’s misconceptions with your working relationship out on OP helpful in any way?

      1. Hrodvitnir*

        This is not taking anything out on anyone. It’s an extremely relevant personal experience, directly after a thread that’s 100% people insisting it must be inappropriate despite no example in the letter backing that at all.

        “It’s a you problem” is strong but highly likely to be true.

        Alison’s caveat re: vibe is very fair, but the letter of the… letter doesn’t read inherently bad at all.

        1. MK*

          It is relevant personal experience that’s 100% insisting nothing inappropriate is going on and OP is trying to sabotage his partner’s career, without addressing the most “off” examples, like the compliments, the dress code and the short time of the working relationship. Under a thread that’s almost 100% people saying it’s not overtly inappropriate, but feels odd to them too.

          1. GythaOgden*

            So you’re actually kind of disempowering this woman here, MK. It may not feel like it, but you’re doing a similar thing to what the other side do in terms of assuming a woman is always the vulnerable party and needs to be protected from her Big Bad Boss. So much so that you’re not actually being a great feminist here.

            My idea about feminism is that it empowers women to make their own judgement about situations they’re in. That can definitely include smelling something off in terms of a dodgy man at work. But it does mean we have to be on guard about projecting our assumptions onto other people and effectively speaking over them in order to impose our own third hand perspective on the situation on the person who’s actually there.

            If we treat her as the vulnerable victim in this situation, despite her protests to the contrary, then we’re not doing her any favours. We’re not giving her any agency — in fact we’re taking it away from her. Feminism is nothing if not giving women agency and allowing them to make their own decisions and cultivate their own relationships. It’s not about painting women as eternal victims or about actively dismantling their ability to make their own minds up about a situation.

            To me, social justice is about giving people the power to make their own decisions in the workplace and in society. If we start demanding hitherto marginalised and weaker members of society adhere to our own assumptions and orthodoxy, we’re no better than those who kept us marginalised in the first place. All we’re doing is reversing the magnetic polarity of dogma rather than freeing people from it. And that’s not how I, or millions of other women on this planet, want to live our own lives.

          2. bamcheeks*

            What do you think LW would do with that suspicion even if it is correct? Anything he does would be horrendously undermining of his girlfriend, including saying, “I told you so.” Just gross!

            1. MK*

              I would hope that in a healthy relationship there is room to talk to your partner about your concerns that their boss is being inappropriate, without automatically undermining them or accusing them. I said above that I think Alison’s suggestion makes sense in this scenario, including that this is a one-time only conversation.

              1. KG*

                In a healthy relationship, you trust your partner and trust she would bring up concerns if she had any. She doesn’t.

              2. bamcheeks*

                As a boyfriend, I don’t think there is! Maybe once or twice, “And — does that feel ok to you?” But then taking their answer as a final word. Writing to an advice column saying, “my girlfriend thinks this is OK, but I don’t think it is” just doesn’t come across as supportive, I don’t think there IS a way for a boyfriend to do this in a way which is supportive rather than undermining or jealous.

            2. Dek*

              I think that’s where I’m getting caught up.

              Because honestly? It does feel a little off to me. But even if it is, the issue isn’t “The CEO is overstepping.” And either way, there’s really nothing LW can do. Either he trusts his gf or he doesn’t.

          3. I should really pick a name*

            It’s the experience of someone in the same position as the LW’s girlfriend. It’s a useful data point that the don’t find this inappropriate while commenters who may not be in the same position do.

            1. MK*

              The expierience is useful as a data point. The accusatory tone and the obvious projecting in the last paragraph isn’t.

              1. Lightbourne Elite*

                But the accusatory tones and obvious projecting on the “CEO is obviously a creep planning to wear your GF as a skinsuit, LW2” are totally cool.

                1. MK*

                  No, they are non-existent. There have been no comments at all arguing that this is even inappropriate.

                2. Lightbourne Elite*

                  There are entire comment threads arguing that the boss is not being appropriate or that something is “off”.

              2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                It’s blunt and not particularly kind, but honestly that paragraph is correct and important. LW’s girlfriend has a job where she’s working very closely with her boss, and that’s just the nature of the job. It’s ultimately up to the girlfriend to decide whether her boss is being inappropriate, and to take whatever action seems reasonable to her regarding her employment. LW’s options here are to trust their girlfriend’s judgement and make peace with her career, or decide they can’t and move on.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I thought it was an incredibly helpful take on how the roles are often misunderstood due to their nature. But then I always find it the most relevant when people are speaking from an experience base, rather than speculation, or reaction.

        1. ferrina*


          JagoMouse’s comment was a thoughtful, well-written account of their experience being in this exact situation. I found it really interesting and informative.

      3. Wynni*

        It’s far more helpful than your comments upthread, frankly. It’s realistic, honest and based on personal experience rather than the fantasy football some commenters are playing today.

        1. MK*

          I don’t doubt it’s honest, but it’ not particularly realistic in a world where sexual harrassment in the workplace is rampant. And it’s not “based” on personal expiereince, it’s only an account of personal expierience and nothing but that; “I have a close relationship with my boss, ergo there can be nothing inappropirate about a close relationship with a boss” isn’t an argument.

          And I am frankly baffled by this hostile and overblown reaction to pretty sedate comments of the “I don’t know, but it feels a bit off to me too” variety. No one has said that the boss is being 100% inappropriate or that the girlfriend is doing something wrong.

          1. HonorBox*

            It is an account with 9 years of data showing that it is definitely possible to have a normal and professional relationship with a boss that is also very personal without it being something inappropriate.

            And it is in response to a LW who is obviously questioning whether the boss is being appropriate.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Reading all interactions between men and women as probably including sexual harassment–even if neither party sees it–is super not helpful to the people with less power, who should probably be cordoned off so they can’t be harassed.

          3. bamcheeks*

            Sexual abuse IS rampant, but men thinking they know better than their girlfriends is a symptom, not a solution. The problem here is that even if there is something non-consensual going on, LW writing to an advice column to try and prove his girlfriend wrong is the exact dynamic that lets harassment flourish.

            You want to combat harassment, you trust and support women in their own receptions, not try and second guess them.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              This! I’m not saying it’s the case for OP, but boyfriends explaining How To Woman at work is equally or even a bit more common than actual sexual harassment. Also, spotting and solving or commenting on any harassment is not a boyfriend duty. See also: the LW who got kissed by her male work friend and her boyfriend was all “Oh sweetie so you’re so naive: trying to have a friend! Lol!” instead of ‘Ugh that guy sucks and trusting him was not the misstep here”.

              1. Kay*

                “Oh sweetie so you’re so naive: trying to have a friend! Lol!” instead of ‘Ugh that guy sucks and trusting him was not the misstep here”.

                This is so frustrating, and it often comes from people who think they are on the right side of things.

          4. Nancy*

            The girlfriend herself has said nothing is wrong, according to the LW, and someone with actual experience in the field is telling the LW it is typical for that role. Why don’t you believe the women who say there is nothing inappropriate here?

          5. K8T*

            It just feels with all of your comments, that you’re determined for this to be flirting. I’ve worked as an Admin/EA before and for me and my first-hand experience, the behavior in the letter is normal and it does read that the partner is insecure.

          6. Susan Calvin*

            It’s fairly vehement, but “hostile” is a stretch – and yes, sexual harassment in the workplace is rampant, but significantly more so than jealous boyfriends jumping at shadows? Maybe not.

            I fully appreciate your good intentions, but the reflexive assumption that a male boss showing warmth and appreciation to a close female colleague is probably sinister somehow is unfortunately within spitting distance from “she only got the job because she’s hot”, and I understand JagoMous’s frustrations here very well.

            1. Dek*

              “This is a YOU problem, not a CEO or girlfriend problem. There is nothing going on here, though it sounds like you are determined to undermine your girlfriend in her new role. I hope she chooses her career.”

              I’d say “hostile” is an appropriate way to describe this last paragraph.

              1. Chicken Dinner*

                No, I’d say it hits the nail right on the head.

                A bunch of people keep bringing up MeToo, sexual harassment in the workplace and so on to excuse OPs “concern” about the bosses behavior, but OP never professes even the slightest bit of worry that having (what he perceives as) an inappropriately flirty boss might put his GF at risk for sexual harassment or assault, or being groomed/coerced into sexual situations she does not want but feels she can’t escape- he’s not worried about her welfare AT ALL. No, his main and seemingly *only* concern is that if the boss is acting inappropriately flirty it means his GF is *cheating*.

                That’s a BIG red flag.

          7. Galadriel's Garden*

            Sure, but the person it’s actually happening to doesn’t seem to think it’s sexual harassment – this sort of concern-trolling is not helpful to GF, or LW.

            Having been an administrative assistant before to a couple male executives, while dating an inherently suspicious and jealous partner, it’s *exhausting* to feel like you’re constantly on the back foot having to defend or explain your (perfectly normal) working relationship, and getting little to no support for your career since the entire basis of your job – supporting executives, and fostering a positive working relationship with them – is met with suspicion. I suspect a number of commenters here have experienced that, hence what you perceive as “hostile and overblown.” GF has only been in her role for three months, so while it seems relatively benign now, what happens if she stays in this job for a while? Do LW’s suspicions disappear, or does he grow increasingly frustrated that she stays working for someone he views as hitting on his partner?

            Nothing in the letter is a glaring red flag and GF hasn’t said they’re uncomfortable with the exec’s behavior – so this is a “does LW trust his partner” issue, and not a workplace issue.

          8. Colette*

            The OP doesn’t get a vote in what his girlfriend’s relationship with her boss is. Either he trusts his girlfriend and lets her deal with it, or he doesn’t trust her and he ends the relationship. Those are his choices.

            His anxiety is his to deal with.

      4. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        It’s frustrating when normal interactions are mistaken for something else. We had a senior manager with Crohns and because of dietary restrictions our practice was to ensure that their catered food was safe. I was training a new staff member and emphasized the importance of ensuring their food safe and separate. They asked me if I was having a relationship with them. No, I just don’t want to send someone to the hospital.

        1. Eff Walsingham*

          I had a similar experience with a CFO with a life threatening peanut allergy. It was part of my onboarding that “Joe can be a bit cavalier about his allergy when he’s focused on work. We’ve had the ambulance for him twice in the past, and we want to avoid a repetition.”

          So part of my responsibility was to ensure that any catering we had was safe for him. On one occasion a very chic and reputable bakery let us down, and I had to scramble for a solution while not neglecting my other tasks. Basically, I had to look out for that man as if he were my child, all the while having a no more than ordinarily cordial business relationship with him. People may misunderstand, but the CFO is getting paid a large salary to keep his attention on important company stuff, not to have to worry and fuss about muffins. Meanwhile, I was making a good clerical salary to take over that muffin fussing for him.

      5. Falling Diphthong*

        I really appreciated JagoMouse’s comment, because I have been very uncomfortable with the comments along the lines “Even though the person with direct experience says there is no inappropriate flirting or creeping going on, I pick one up anyhow! Can men and women really discuss work clothes in a nonsensual way?”

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, it’s kind of curving right around beyond feminism on the part of LW and into misogynistic behaviour in itself. Part of feminism is giving women agency of their own to make their own decisions about how they’re treated, not just subjecting them to the same scrutiny from the opposite direction.

          1. stratospherica*

            Agreed. It’s incredibly paternalistic, as if OP’s partner isn’t able to manage or interpret her relationships by herself.

        2. ABC*

          What, you don’t appreciate comments like “I have no experience in this role, but I’m still certain this is not how people in the role act!”?

          1. Galadriel's Garden*

            Thank you for putting words to the sentiment that has *really* been bothering me. Being an executive assistant inherently means you have a more personal working relationship with your manager than in other roles – I’ve been in a similar admin/exec role before, and am now in a very different kind of role. The continual overlooking of peoples’ actual professional experience in this comment section when it comes to an assistant-type position is…kind of icky, to be honest, and smacks of the patronizing that often is visited upon support roles. “I may have zero experience with this kind of thing, but because I find it different from my own working experience, it must be abnormal!”

            Very Principal Skinner, “Am I out of touch? No, it’s the kids who are wrong” vibes.

    2. I take tea*

      This is a bit harsh. If you don’t have experience with this kind of work, it does sound a bit off. I do believe you when you say that this is common, but in my line of work it would be way out of normal. And it’s not unheard of that the boss pushes boundraries.

      The OP wrote in to ask if their feeling was valid or not, I didn’t pick up on any “she must quit this job immediately”.

      1. allathian*

        I tend to agree with you on this. I appreciate JagoMouse writing about her experiences as an EA, a very skilled job that many people, myself included, are fundamentally unsuited for (I absolutely loathe the idea of massaging the ego of some bigwig, no matter how much appreciation I’d get for the effort and no matter how well he maintained professional boundaries). A very skilled job that’s often devalued because it’s one of those caretaking jobs that women are supposed to be good at simply because of our gender.

        The thing that “gave me furiously to think” as Hercule Poirot would say was the fact that the LW’s girlfriend’s only been in this job for three months.

        1. Despachito*

          Haha, massaging the ego of some bigwig. You named it, I am totally unsuited for that for the same reasons. (Nothing inherently wrong with this job, just nothing for me)

      2. GythaOgden*

        I think it’s important to listen to the people who actually have the jobs in question, however. Otherwise we’re actually disempowering people in the very positions we’re seeking to empower by not taking them at their word. That’s really not what feminism should be about — sacrificing individual situations on the altar of an abstract ideal.

        1. Dek*

          But honestly, I think that’s part of why LW wrote in? Because this WOULD be really weird in some jobs. So hearing from folks with longterm experience in the EA field is probably helpful (yes, his gf also works in the field, but 1. She’s only been there 3 months and 2. I can see the appeal of doing a vibe check with strangers instead of asking directly specifically because he DOESN’T want her to feel like he’s undermining or questioning her).

          Like, very glad to hear from actual EAs that this isn’t out of the norm. Less glad to see them accusing him of wanting to undermine her career and insinuating that she should leave him.

      3. Galadriel's Garden*

        Having been in an admin assistant role years ago, I really did not get any red flags immediately upon reading – this is pretty normal. I am no longer in an admin role, and would find that kind of relationship weird. It’s very contextual.

        The thing is, having been in a (very unhealthy!) relationship with a jealous and suspicious partner while I was an admin, “she must quit the job immediately” is not how it usually starts – but their frustration that their partner stays in a role that the partner views as inappropriate tends to grow over time. How will LW feel in 6 months? 1 year? If LW’s partner complains about work then, will it be met with support, or an internal eye-roll at best?

        1. Galadriel's Garden*

          Sorry, meant to say – that kind of relationship would be weird in my current role.

    3. GythaOgden*

      Thank you!

      Part of empowering women in the workplace is to allow us latitude in how we decide we’re being treated. We don’t need someone else coming in — male or female — trying to break up a particular thing because they think it’s weird or think we need to be saved from the tyrannical ogre who…gave us tickets to a place where we can get to feel good on someone else’s some.

      There’s general awareness of what might feel creepy to others and then there’s taking away someone else’s agency in the name of some abstract ideal that doesn’t take individual relationships into account. It can’t be good for anyone to try and break up those relationships based on some principle or other and have a net effect of basically infantilising and disempowering someone else — who’s not a part of that relationship — to choose.

      Focus on doing what you can in your own life to empower yourselves and leave other people’s lives out of it. This is the kind of ‘X saviourism’ we rail against in other contexts, but it’s not ok just because you happen to have progressive views. It’s actually disempowering because you’re assuming a woman can’t make her own choices here.

    4. Jane Bingley*

      100% agree. I hate the EA/CEO must be secretly sleeping together stereotype SO MUCH. When someone is at the high level of a business, the line between personal and professional becomes blurry – I talk with my boss about his clothes all the time, because I often have better line of sight to how formal an event will be than he does. I book most of his medical appointments because they have to fit around his insanely busy work schedule, and I spend more time in his calendar than he does. If we’re out running errands, it’s not uncommon for him to buy me coffee or lunch because it’s a business expense and a business reason for me to be out. He’s generous with gift cards because he’s got disposable income and I’m a big part of making his work life successful.

      When you spend 40+ hours a week in close contact with one person, a lot of people will either learn to get along very well or come to hate each other. Sure, some will keep it strictly professional, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s also nothing wrong with two colleagues developing a friendly relationship, and it can happen quickly in an EA role because that job is SO isolated to focus on one person.

  12. Raul Pudd*

    Yeah, Howell sounds like a misogynistic fool. You can be an eager beaver ready to start, express frustration/ask “how can we speed this up?” to the right person, but accusing HR of lying and getting angry eliminates any goodwill.

  13. Your Oxford Comma*

    I’m here to thank you, Alison, for your very reasonable and responsible advice. I found this space during the pandemic (the California Association of Realtors put ridiculous burdens on showing agent, good grief it was awful!) and I really appreciate your voice of reason. I sent a link to a specific column that dealt with a problem my sister was having at work. When she ignored it I realized that *she* was the problem. That shift was huge for me. Thank you for what you do, and providing a space for people to be heard. That is huge.

    1. Gemstones*

      Sis was a “problem” because she didn’t read a blog link you sent? Seems a tad harsh.

    2. sasha*

      I think you may be overstating the significance of your sister not responding to a random web link…

  14. DeskApple*

    #5, I wonder if it’s overstepping if OP shared their bother’s current condition without specifics? “stable” for example

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      One thing OP5 should do is request FMLA information to protect his brother’s job.

    2. HannahS*

      I think it can be a kindness to tell someone’s boss or coworkers that–you can just say, “He’s in the hospital for a medical issue right now. He’s stable but unable to contact you himself. We don’t know what the timeline is for him returning to work–I’ll let you know when we know more.” Workplaces are made of people, and they often will care and worry that the person is dying. But I wouldn’t say more than that.

      1. Allegra*

        Agreed, and think the wording here’s good. An extended hospital stay is worrying in itself, and I think a bare minimum “stable but not able to call now” would probably go a long way without being revealing.

        Also, LW5, I hope you’re doing okay and your brother’s recovery goes well–sending good thoughts to both of you. It can be scary and hard supporting a family member through this, as well as going through it oneself.

      2. Dek*

        Also, workplaces generally get upset if you’re AWOL. Letting them know seems like it could be crucial in making sure his brother has a job to come back to.

      3. HannahS*

        Also, you may already have an answer prepared, but be ready for them to say, “Oh my gosh, that’s terrible! What happened?” Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when you also want to protect his privacy. I’d just say, “Thanks for your concern. I’m going to let John talk about it in his own time; right now we’re keeping his medical information private. But I’ll pass along your good wishes.”

  15. Yup*

    LW#1: Howell is a walking red misogynistic flag. If he goes around saying “I’m a feminist but…”, add another flag. But 2 thumbs up to HR for spotting and doing something about this behaviour before Howell got to start.

    1. The Other Sage*

      This. I have experiences mysoginists of his caliber at work, and it’s refreshing to read about a case where the mysoginist didn’t get away with his behaviour.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Right? Instead of being promoted, there are consequences. Absolutely refreshing.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Somebody needs to explain what misandry means to Howell et al. I’ve also got to wonder what’s in this relationship for OP.

  16. Adam*

    LW1, Howell isn’t a jerk, he’s a grade A asshole. He sounds like the kind of person I’d fire as a customer, let alone an employee. He doesn’t need advice, he needs therapy.

      1. AnonORama*

        Ha, a family member of mine calls folks like this a “gold-plated asshole.” So he’s really bright and showy in his asshole-ness, but not even high quality.

  17. Stella70*

    I nearly always agree with Alison, but letter #2 about the EA/CEO is not one of those times. I don’t believe it is an issue for the boyfriend to ‘monitor’ or resolve, but if the EA asked me herself, I would tell her it does feel off to me. (In part, a gift certificate to a massage? Do they not have a local Starbucks? I am miles and years from being a prude, but in my industry, that would come off as odd.) Separately, the examples aren’t giant red flags, but together, and reflecting her short tenure, I think it is something to aware of.

    1. Eff Walsingham*

      As discussed above, I think these differing reactions are probably industry or culture based. I used to live on the West Coast, and in my workplaces, massage was seen as a stress-relieving wellness discipline, not as a provocative sort of thing.

    2. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

      I’m wondering if the CEO would have given a certificate for a back massage to his EA if his EA had been a man.

        1. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

          No, I’m not speculating. I’m wondering. If I were speculating, I would have said, “I bet the CEO wouldn’t have given a MALE EA a certificate for a back massage.” I’m wondering because I really don’t know what would have happened if the EA were a man.

          1. enma*

            Yes, youare speculating. And now you’re trying to wrestle your words into a paraphrase that you think looks like you’re not speculating, but it’s actually just splitting hairs (congruent hairs, at that) and your message is the same. It’s speculation.

    3. Observer*

      but if the EA asked me herself, I would tell her it does feel off to me.

      Sure. But that’s really the key here- *She* is the one who is in the situation, so it’s really important to respect her reading of the situation. Even if this is generally “normal”, if she were saying it feels off, I would totally respect her reading. But the GF explicitly disagrees with him. And he wants Alison to tell him that he is right and GF is wrong.

    4. Kay*

      I am a consultant for a number of industries ranging from tech to non profit and I can tell you that a gift certificate for a massage is so so so common in so many industries. There wasn’t anything in this letter that stood out as odd to me. All the things I did think:

      -OP’s girlfriend is good at their job
      -CEO is a good, thoughtful boss
      -Before CEO was slacking, but has since upped his game – in the sense of now looking the part
      -Boss really wants the girlfriend to stay and be happy in the position!
      -LW has jealousy issues

    5. Azure Jane Lunatic*

      When a company is throwing offsites at out-of-state resorts, the budget for the gift to a primary organizer is large enough that it would be weird to give a Starbucks card in that denomination.

      1. $$$$*

        100%. In an organization like this, he is probably paying for her coffee whenever she is getting his. A Starbucks gift card for an event like that is not appropriate. I have worked in an industry with an insane amount of money before and have received numerous massage/spa gift cards. That may be weird in some industries, but not in an environment like this.

  18. Glowworm*

    OP1, if you’re able to expand in the comments, can you describe what qualities Howell has that make you keep him as a friend? Genuinely curious to know more.

    If it’s just that you don’t see his treatment of women and his bizarre irrational temper as a big problem, that’s one (unfortunate) thing. I’m just wondering what kind of friend he is that makes it sensible to keep him in your life.

    Plenty of negative qualities, shitty behavior, and struggles are fine in friends, and obviously friends can and should help each other improve. It’s just so curious to me that the kind of aggressive fool who would yell at a receptionist at his new job could also cultivate a friend.

    Trying to phrase this so it’s clear that it’s a real question and not a way of just saying “kick him to the curb”!

    1. Lenora Rose*

      I like this question, not least because it was my husband asking this sort of thing, nicely and with genuine interest, that led to me withdrawing from a friendship that had degraded from being mostly positive but with some bad spots right down into almost entirely negative without my actually noticing the good stuff was gone.

      With a different friend, where the positive was still there, it would have had a different outcome. (I can think of friends where things were rocky where I could still explain why I stuck it out.)

    2. Dek*

      And fwiw, if Howell has already sort of alienated himself from others, it may feel difficult to decide to peace out yourself, because, well. It hurts to be alone, and this dude absolutely needs to reevaluate himself, which is something having friends can help with BUT.

      Being the go-to guy for someone like this is a whole level of emotional and mental exhaustion you are not required to take on.

  19. Kella*

    OP1, I think it may important for you to recognize that the reason there’s no coming back from this for your friend is for someone to act with anger and hostility towards the people he’ll be working with at a *brand new job,* that displays deeply flawed judgement or terrible impulse control. If he can’t keep it together when he’s expected to be at his best, what’s he like when things at work are rough? Those aren’t behaviors that just pop in at random and then never show up again.

    And even if there were some magic thing your friend could do to repair things… he didn’t write in to Alison, you did. Howell would need to see himself as in the wrong here and see the relationships as worth repairing. It’s clear he doesn’t and that’s not something you’re going to be able to fix for him.

  20. Strahd Von Zarovitch*

    Why not send the information in Teams, then people can send a simple thumbs up or even a heart to convey thanks? I would find having an email from people saying thanks would quickly become annoying.

    1. Jan*

      We’ve got the “like” options in our Outlook too! Saves so much time while also acknowledging the gesture.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I find email easier to search and organize than Teams. Teams is a tool we use at work so when people send me important stuff that way, I deal with it. But I’d be annoyed if someone did that *only* to get a thumbs up from me.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, I agree. For quick jobs that I know I’ll probably never have to get back to, Teams is ideal. But for larger jobs, our ticketing system, for all its faults that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is more practical.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Nooooo — at least respond in the same medium that the person is sending the message in!!

      I have entirely too many ways that people can contact me, and if they start sending appreciation for things I’ve emailed them by text message or in teams, I will lose what is left of my mind!

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I think you misread; Strahd was suggesting the OP switch mediums entirely, not that they respond in a new medium.

        And for me, Teams sends messages to my email if it’s closed or inactive, so there’s medium redundancy anyhow.

  21. bamcheeks*

    LW2, trust your girlfriend and support her own perceptions of her work relationships, or break up with her. None of us knows exactly what’s happening in that relationship. But you have to trust that that she’s got it.

    If he is hitting on her, she’s got to figure that out herself: you *cannot* help by being like, “told you so! And all my friends on this internet advice site agreed. You should’ve…” If he’s not, you’re just being a weird and jealous boyfriend. If you think it’s mutual and she might cheat, well, look, break up because you don’t trust her and that’s gross for both of you.

    Anything you do except for trusting her is weird and undermining and demoralising. If you can’t trust her, break up, because the alternative is bad and horrible for both of you but especially her.

    1. Despachito*

      What about the situation the GF also feels there is something iffy but isn’t able to put her finger on it yet?

      How many times have we been – as women – in a similar situation (what we thought was genuine interest/appreciation was in fact covert grooming)? And how would we want people close to us to react? Would we really feel it that this person does not trust us if they told us they smell a rat (without incriminating us of course)?

      1. ABC*

        What are you talking about? Did you just throw out a bunch of hypotheticals that have nothing to do with this letter?

      2. Kel*

        Then…she’d tell him? Or tell someone? Based on the info in the letter, which has nothing from the girlfriend’s side, there’s nothing for the LW to do here.

      3. bamcheeks*

        I think that’s a plausible situation, and it’s *why* I think LW needs to back off. Having a partner who is behaving like they know more about this than you do is *more likely* to make you over commit to “it’s fine, he’s just being friendly!” and possibly dismiss real warning flags.

        The single most important thing any woman (or a member of any minoritised group) needs in that kind of situation is validation and the ability to trust their own perceptions and judgments. Including when their perceptions and judgments change as they get more information. You can’t hurry people into that kind of realisation before it’s ready without undermining their own sense of their ability to make that kind of judgment.

        1. Sapientia*

          Yep, overcompensating is definitely a thing. And one’s judgement being questioned leads to being more insecure in one own’s judgement.

      4. JustaTech*

        “If he is hitting on her, she’s got to figure that out herself”

        The LW has brought it up more than once, so if the GF needed a nudge to see that her CEO was coming on to her, then the LW has done that. The GF says no, the CEO is not coming on to her.

        The LW has planted the seed of “is the CEO a creep” – only the passage of time and more experience will tell if it grows into a “Creepy CEO” plant or if it dies for lack of creepy behavior because the CEO isn’t a creep.

  22. Not Cool*

    A male CEO repeatedly complimenting his subordinate on her dress is viewed as appropriate what world? First time I’ve thought advice on this page was way off. Very strange. Fine to drop it if the girlfriend is eating it up, but in 3 months I’d not be surprised if this continues to morph into a situation that the line has been erased.

    1. bamcheeks*

      If it was someone writing saying, “my boss is commenting on my outfits and it makes me uncomfortable, is that inappropriate?” the answer would be YES, it’s inappropriate. But it’s not. LW says his girlfriend thinks this is fine.

      Maaaybe if this was the girlfriend’s female friend writing in to say, “I’m worried about my friend, this seems skeevy, what do you think?” you could suggest that she could ask a few more questions just to check her friend is definitely cool and not missing any red flags. But you can’t really do that as a boyfriend: it’s going to come across as sexual jealousy, and it puts his girlfriend in a horrible position either way. Just say no!

    2. GythaOgden*

      It’s not cool either to infantilise women or insist that they don’t also have agency in this situation. There’s a lot on this thread that verges on victimising this individual in the way that’s not that far removed from either misogynistic or women-as-innocent-delicate-petal assumptions on the other end of the political spectrum.

      If feminism is to mean anything, it means we need to trust and empower women to manoeuvre and function within the ambiguities of social and professional relationships without just exchanging one kind of dogma for another. We need to see everyone — female, male, non-binary — as individuals capable of determining what the right path and the right responses are for them /as individuals/. Being defined by my lady parts and told what I ought to feel about them is as condescending when it’s done by people who call themselves feminists as it is when the person is an out and out misogynist like yer man from letter 1.

      Women haven’t fought for agency for centuries at this point just to have their thoughts, needs, opinions and careers commandeered by people who still think of us as victims needing to be protected from the big bad world. At the end of the day, it’s just as disempowering as any other point of view — particularly in this case when it’s coming from a man.

      1. Not Cool*

        My comments apply sticking to the power dynamic between a CEO and their brand new to the position EA. Really nothing to do with male versus female and certainly not to “infantilise” since I specifically said it’s up to her and not the boyfriend to navigate. But at some point we do have to trust that the person who is having these stories recounted to them feels concerned. Jealous boyfriend? Perhaps, but we have zero indication of that. He’s not indicated he has issues with other bosses she has had, etc. Just this one. But for now he needs to just let it be – and be there for support if one day it crosses the line (and resist the urge to say “I told you so.”

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          We can trust that he feels concerned. The issue is deciding that his take on it overrules his girlfriend’s take, even though she is the one experiencing it and he’s only hearing it second hand. That is what is infantilizing.

    3. Lightbourne Elite*

      People of the opposite sex can be nice to each other without nefarious intent. I put effort into my style and enjoy friendly compliments on it, including from men!

    4. Eff Walsingham*

      Compliments on dress = fine. Examples: “That outfit is very stylish!” “That colour really suits you.” These are fine because they involve praising something the person has presumably chosen.

      Compliments on face or body = not fine. Examples: “Love that booty!” “Your eyes are so beautiful.” Not fine, because the person cannot help having body parts.

      This is how I was taught.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I do think there can be a bit of overlap though, especially if the compliment is supposedly on dress but there is an implication about the person’s body. Like “I really like you in a short skirt” or “that outfit really flatters your figure.”

        Not that I’m disagreeing with you, just to add that creeps can find ways to comment on people’s bodies while maintaining plausible deniability that they were just talking about dress.

        But given the context of her getting him to change his dress code, it seems more likely his comments were along the lines of “wow, you’ve great style. Could you give me some advice on this?” rather than “wow, sexy dress.”

        1. bamcheeks*

          I think there’s overlap too, and I’m always kind of nervous about people doing, “x ok, y bad”, because so my CV of it is in tone of voice, relationship, and whether you feel safe to give a, “um, not comfortable with this” and trust it’ll be respected. Which is why the only person whose viewpoint really matters here is LW’s girlfriend: everyone else’s speculation is just that!

          1. londonedit*

            Definitely. My boss has absolutely said things like ‘Ooh, looking very smart today’ or ‘Is that the dress you bought at the weekend?’ and I know 100% that there is nothing behind it except for genuinely noticing what I’m wearing. My boss has also asked me for advice on what to wear to a particular party or event. So I don’t see anything weird in that, presuming the OP’s girlfriend also doesn’t see anything weird in what’s going on in her situation. In another situation, ‘Ooh, looking very smart today’ could absolutely come off as creepy or weird, depending on who was saying it, the tone of voice, the situation, etc, but it’s up to the person in the situation to decide what they are and aren’t comfortable with.

        2. Lily Rowan*

          Any compliment can be made creepy with the right tone and expression, too. Which is why we should all take the GF’s word for it that this is not creepy.

          Honestly, I was just looking at my calendar for the day and being glad I thought to put on a scarf because I am meeting with a very stylish higher-up later. I’m sure he has never thought twice about me or my clothes.

    5. Angstrom*

      There’s a difference between “I never would have thought of combining those colors, but as an outfit it works. You have a good eye.” and “You look hot in that”.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        And for someone into fashion, someone noticing that they have successfully paired pink and red can be a real boost to the day. Like any other background stuff that we execute well, that most people don’t register, and then someone is like “That snack selection was SO well thought out, it make the afternoon session easier!” and you feel seen.

      2. bamcheeks*

        My personal rule for not making people uncomfortable is, “would it be weird if I said this to my mum”. “That blouse looks great on you” can be fine if you’re thinking, “really brings out the blue in your eyes!” and not fine if you’re thinking, “shows lots of boob!”

        That said my advice to anyone at work is that there are very few situations where NOT complimenting someone’s outfit will offend them.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      This is a little too close to the ‘men and women can’t be friends because the man will always want to sleep with the woman’ line for me to be happy with it.

      I have male friends. One of them is a former boss of mine! A compliment that my coat looks fabulous on me or that I’m always well dressed wouldn’t bother me from him at all. Now if it was ‘your knockers look great in that’ then we might have a problem. Or not.

      It in no way means he’s gonna make a move on me.

    7. Not Cool*

      I work in a HIGHLY male dominated field. As in 20 years ago when I started I was the first female of my kind in the entire state. A male top dog repeatedly telling a brand new female subordinate what sounds like almost daily that he likes how she dresses, he can’t live without her, etc. is ALL the red flags. It’s honestly how weird to me how many people don’t see it as such. But I also work adjacent to law enforcement so I can spot “grooming” behavior from a mile away and know all the tricks. There is a huge difference between occasionally telling someone you have a good, longstanding relationship with their outfit is on pointe versus doing it frequently with a new employee coupled with indications they couldn’t possibly survive without you. Boyfriend has no leg to stand on if girlfriend can’t see the red flags herself, but I can almost guarantee that this will escalate, especially since she seems obtuse to it.

      1. londonedit*

        But the thing is, we don’t know whether it’s ‘repeatedly telling a brand new female subordinate almost daily that he likes how she dresses, can’t live without her etc’.

        It could just as easily be ‘Jane, thank you so much for fixing the printer! You’re a lifesaver!’ or ‘Wow, you’ve sorted the flights and hotels for that awful conference trip already? And you got me an upgrade? That’s incredible, what would I have done without you?’ or ‘Ooh, smart dress – you always look so stylish! I should take a leaf out of your book!’ As I said in another comment, I almost think that the girlfriend still being new to the job is partly why this stuff is prominent – when you’re in a new job people (i.e. your boyfriend) will naturally ask you about it more, and you’re also more likely to talk about it in more detail – three years down the line it’ll be ‘Yeah, same as usual – Steve’s moaning about that conference again’, but in the first three months it’s more likely to be ‘It’s going really well, I think – my boss was really pleased with how I handled his travel bookings, and I managed to fix the printer on Thursday. He’s joking that he can’t live without me, so I’d say he’s happy with my work!’

        There’s nothing to suggest that these comments from the boss are an everyday occurrence, either. Poor guy could equally just be trying to make his new EA feel appreciated and welcomed!

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, I was brought on board in the autumn and I’ve heard very similar things about my work from the men I report to. They tend to be more vocal than the women, sure, but the context is all about the work.

          I also connect well with one of them mentally — we work the same way and thus he can train me in ways I can grasp quicker than the very nebulous approach of my actual boss. We can be working off a list of property database numbers and I can bring up the fact that it sounds like we’re broadcasting over a number station (the coded radio towers that Russia still uses to connect with its agents in the west) or make a joke about the shipping forecast. He also references the Dalek blueprint poster behind my seat in my home office as a secret weapon for dealing with difficult suppliers, (like the ones who tried to charge us for work done that should have been included in an overall yearly price as part of a standing contract, and only then did it come to light that no-one actually ordered the work to be done in the first place and they shouldn’t have even drawn up the chart in the first place!).

          I’d be really quite upset if someone insinuated he was grooming me by being a good friend. We’re supposed to be trying to bridge the gaps between men and women in the workplace, not impose a new form of gender segregation on people just trying to get stuff done.

      2. Lightbourne Elite*

        “Daily” was not indicated in the letter. Jumping straight to grooming in this dynamic is its own form of sexism and infantalization.

      3. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

        Also a female in a male-dominated field, and frankly I don’t really see a problem with it. We’re only getting the boyfriend’s side here. We’re only seeing his perception of what’s happening *via his girlfriend*. He isn’t witnessing the interactions directly – he’s interpreting what she is telling him happened, and not through a very flattering lens.

        Is it possible something is going on? Sure. Is it the only possibility? Not by a long shot.

      4. LaurCha*

        Uh, “grooming” is something done to minors and very young people. It’s not what’s happening in a business relationship between two adults.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yeah, I think grooming is something that happens to young people or vulnerable people (so I’ve heard it used towards people without the capacity to consent to things).

          The OP’s girlfriend is a grown adult and there’s no mention of her being vulnerable. I don’t get the feeling she’s being groomed in a malicious or corruptive way, she just has a boss who appreciates her and says nice things.

          1. Not Cool*

            Hey guys. “Grooming” really has nothing to do with children. Yea, it happens to children frequently, but grooming is simply “the practice of preparing or training someone for a particular purpose or activity.” There would probably be a lot less sexual harassment in workplaces if people could accept that grooming happens to people at all ages. CEO at the top of the food chain complimenting brand new EA at the bottom of the food chain, enough that the recounts of the stories are frequent and concerning enough to raise the hackles of loved ones…… grooming. It is not infantilizing her as I am quite clearly stating this does not rise to the level of outside intervention and she has to navigate it on her own since she is an adult. But a good gauge to decide is something is appropriate is to ask yourself if you could say it to a child and not sound like a creep. But sexual harassment (even if it’s welcomed sexual harassment) often starts with exactly this kind of behavior. There is definitely a chance his behavior never morphs beyond this, but telling an subordinate after 3 months you can’t live without them and that they are the inspiration to changing your wardrobe is WEIRD and NOT normal behavior. 3 years into their establishment relationship I wouldn’t necessarily find this odd. But it is.

      5. Ellis Bell*

        So no one ever discusses fashion passionately in law enforcement? Then someone explain female cops in heels on television to me please. Seriously, though, you do realise this is a different industry and it’s an EA not a general subordinate.

    8. anywhere but here*

      I more or less agree. I think generally in a professional context, it’s better to veer away from appearance-related comments, or, if you do use them, be sporadic. Regardless of whether the girlfriend is uncomfortable, I think drawing attention to someone’s appearance in such a habitual way is just better not done, especially given the power differential. There’s a difference between the occasional comment when someone’s got a particularly cool statement piece/pattern/etc. and complimenting someone nearly every day of the week. At that point, surely she gets it? Yes, she dressed well. She always dresses well. She doesn’t need that pointed out all the time.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        We don’t know that it’s pointed out all the time; often could mean every day or once a week. And quite honestly I would be tickled pink if someone complimented my outfits regularly. If the girlfriend is okay with it there isn’t an issue.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        If you’re talking about fashion as an interest, you’re not really discussing appearance, you’re discussing choice. It’s also not really the case that you would only comment once on such a thing, and then consider that comment perennial; of what other interest or passion could the same be said? Also, it’s part of an EAs role to match clothing to events, or for their taste to be appreciated, so it’s not at all weird it would come up frequently.

        1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          For all we know, this EA might have to handle her exec’s dry cleaning, if this is one of the industries that has fuzzy or non-existent lines between EA and personal assistant.

    9. Lenora Rose*

      There’s a lot of variance in what a compliment on dress looks like: “You always manage to look so professional/stylish” is totally appropriate, especially if followed by, “can you give me some advice on sprucing myself up for the Cameleopard Presentation?”

      1. JustaTech*

        We also don’t know what the EA’s personal style *is*.
        Is it standard modern women’s business wear? Does it tinge Dark Academia with tweeds and wingtips? Is it super cutting edge?
        Like, complimenting the EA on a feminine pair of wing tips and asking where he could get a similar style is very different from complimenting the EA on a pair of stiletto sandals.

        At the end of the day the important thing is that the EA says that there’s nothing weird about the CEO, and since the EA has the most data, we should believe her.

      2. I&I*

        And surely part of feminism is allowing that a man might just enjoy talking about fashion. If we assume the only reason a man might talk to a woman about clothes is that he’s after the body inside hers, we’re not allowing much gender freedom to men.

  23. r.*


    The CEO/EA relationship can be a good point to remember that the etymological root of “secretary” is not one of a clerical assistant, it is “keeper of [someone else’s] secrets”.

    A good EA will know more about the innermost details of a company’s working, and the executive’s mindstate and thoughts, than almost everyone else, including other executives.

    As a consequence the executive will (need to be able to) have almost unconditional confidence and trust in their EA, not just from their abilities but also their personality. Due to the nature of their work your GF will see the CEO both at their best moments — and also at their very worst. Hence the CEO will come to deeply care about their EA, because they tend to be one of the few people there when the CEO is the most vulnerable, and of course the EA will reciprocate, unless either of them is a sociopath, because this is how humans work.

    *Of course* such a relationship will become increasingly close and much closer than other professional relationships, but that does not change that it remains just that, a professional relationship.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, the etymology of the word secretary definitely explains a lot, including the fact that the word is a part of some very senior positions like Secretary of State, Secretary-General (of the UN), etc.

      The only thing that’s even a slightly orange flag for me in this whole thing is the fact that the girlfriend’s only had the job for 3 months. I’d expect that sort of professional intimacy to develop over time, and that to me means years rather than weeks or a few months.

      1. HonorBox*

        The timeframe gave me pause initially, too, but it may be that the exec is just one of those people that starts with the glass full, trusting that a new EA is going to be able to handle all things from the jump. I like to believe that I start with new people that I meet, assuming 100% and not expecting them to work up to that.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I absolutely picture the EA being the first person who could explain to the boss how “sharper” translated into “buy this jacket, not that one.”

      2. another fed*

        Eh, if this isn’t her boss’ first C-level job, he could have already learned the value of an excellent EA. I have a couple of C-level execs in my family, and their EAs end up coordinating lots of things bc they are the schedule/resource keeper, and that means yes, scheduling medical appointments, arranging for medication delivery, securing clothes for various events, and coordinating with adult children and spouses around things as needed. Some of this depends on varying continuums of EA/PA, the level of travel, outside events, personal working style, etc. We should all assume that the GF, like every one of us in the workplace, should continue with “trust but verify” in calibrating her relationship and interactions with her boss.

      3. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

        I actually have an explanation for the time frame. If OP’s girlfriend has only had the position for 3 months… who had it before? Was it a woman who worked with the CEO for a decade? Is the CEO transferring some of that familiarity to his new EA without realizing it? If the girlfriend is doing a good job (sounds like she is) it’s possible the CEO doesn’t really see her as “new”.

        1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          Any previous EA would likely have taken notes on the CEO’s preferences (and the preferences of everyone around him who they’d be likely to interact with — if the EA sends the CEO’s mother flowers on Mother’s Day, the notes should say what kind of flowers Mom likes, and whether she has any pets that would affect the flower choice) so that would contribute to a speed-run of getting to know each other from the new EA’s side as well.

          Major events are also a stressful experience and that can lead to quicker bonding amongst people who have done them together.

    2. sumifs*

      Idk, sounds like mentionitis to me. Not so much that something is happening, but something is developing.

  24. Ampersand*

    #4 Recruiters are their own beast. Best practice is to always be defensive with your information. I once interviewed pretty extensively to work for a large recruiting firm, and behind the curtain is wild.

    1. OP4*

      Hindsight is 20/20.
      I was in question answering mode on the call so I did answer and only afterwards thought Oh that was wierd.

      Still, that was only the first recruiter I talked to and I can be more cautious going forward

      1. Willow Pillow*

        I’ve been in those “wait, what just happened?” circumstances as well – in my case it was someone walking around my secure office with energy drink samples… Given that the questioning can also be used for cybersecurity issues, it could also have been much worse!

  25. Eff Walsingham*

    I will preface my comment by saying that I’m a Canadian working for Canadians, which may colour my experience, although I’ve worked with people from many countries.

    To me, saying “thank you” is merely a polite and convenient way of closing the loop. It means “acknowledged”. To leave it off would feel weird. Some commenters have said that they have been requested to stop doing it as an email decluttering method, and, if I was ever asked to do so, I would. But I sure hope no one would come crying to me if it turned out that a computer glitched, they didn’t receive the information they needed, and their own work was delayed because of this “no thanks” policy. I personally think that a two-second “thank you” that can be instantly deleted is preferable to a bunch of time-wasting follow-up with someone who really needs what you’re sending them but isn’t in the habit of acknowledging things.

  26. Comms people can't read minds*

    LW3 –

    I also work in a comms team and people are just downright RUDE to us. They often nitpick exactly what they’ve asked for, get angry when you can’t read their minds, make rude comments about how comms hold everything up, and almost never ever say thank you (I keep a small folder of praise and thanks- over the last five years I’ve had fewer than 10 people thank me for my work). I spent years working in a completely different high-pressure, high-stakes, life-or-death industry and I thought _that_ was bad for being under-appreciated, but since working in a comms team I can honestly say it’s more thankless than any job I’ve ever had.

    In my organisation, people see comms as an easy thing to do- surely anyone can write a press-release/ bash together a poster/ design a logo/ create an advertising campaign??!! So they have very little respect for us as a team.

    I’m really sorry you’re feeling this way- from the sound of things it’s a universal experience of working in communications.

    1. The Office Mattress*

      Same experience as you and LW3. I’m in a senior communications role and it is weirdly brutal for all the reason you described. Overall, I feel like my business partners want things immediately and then, when you move heaven and earth to get things done, they slow roll the approval process (which, at my company, is very layered and extensive). The amount of time I spend hounding people to get their edits or approvals far outweighs the time I spend writing/planning/strategizing. I think it’s less about the actual ‘thank yous’ and more about the pervasive feeling of being unappreciated and overworked.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        “The amount of time I spend hounding people to get their edits or approvals far outweighs the time I spend writing/planning/strategizing”

        I quit my Comms job (in comment below). Six months later, another Comms group at the same company called to recruit me. I returned on the condition that I would not be the person who had to get the approvals. All I would do was the writing.

        (Also as an hourly contractor, not salaried employee. Hourly is the way to go with a writing job – you want me to re-write the entire story? Your dime.)

    2. Texan In Exile*

      Also spent time in Comms in the technical dept of an F100.

      All the tech VPs thought they could write better than we could. (They couldn’t.)

      And their favorite thing to do was to ask us – the Friday afternoon of a three-day weekend – to send out a non-emergency email using JungleMail because they didn’t want responses to their own emails. Because we were just clerk email senders, not strategic partners.

      I quit that job without another lined up after my boss texted me while I was on vacation about a (non-emergency) issue I had addressed with him before I went on vacation.

  27. Lol*

    “Misandrists” hahahahah
    …..The backstory to this is that Howell has been unemployed for about three years….
    Oh there it is

    1. allathian*

      Misandry is a real term that can be useful in some situations, but not in a situation where a privileged cis male is angry that other demographics also have rights and don’t hesitate to take advantage of them.

      Company policies can be misandristic as well as homophobic if they don’t allow a gay man who’s adopted a child with his husband/partner to take paternity leave, or even if they do allow it explicitly, implicitly expect their employee not to take it. Of course, when such a policy applies to all male-presenting parents, the obvious, inherent misogynistic assumption is that men don’t need paternity leave because their female-presenting partners/wives will take care of any children.

      So yes, misandry does exist, but the term has been misused to such a great extent that it’s very hard to take it seriously when you see it.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        It’s not even that “other demographics also have rights” here, it’s more that other demographics have a job to do, which doesn’t involve taking shit from someone who needs to sit tight and be patient until they have something concrete to tell them.

      2. anywhere but here*

        If the root source of something is misogyny, then it’s just patriarchy backfiring on men, not misandry.

  28. ijustworkhere*

    LW #1 If he’s really a ‘friend’ then maybe it’s time to tell it like it is to your obnoxious friend. It just might be the kindest thing you could do if it helps him change his behavior.

    “Your behavior was unacceptable and it’s understandable why you were let go. If you don’t want to repeat history, I suggest you get some help for this over-the-top aggressive behavior you’re exhibiting.”

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Regarding Howell and how can the OP possibly be friends with him…

      If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading Captain Awkward, it’s that people can blind spots the size of the Andromeda Galaxy when it comes to their old friends.

      “I have this friend who talks nonstop about how he just loves the Proud Boys, and none of our female friends will hang out with him anymore because he leers at them and tries to grab their asses every chance he gets, and he can’t hold a job because he’s a freethinker and taking orders is an insult to his intelligence, but I’ve been friends with him since grade school and he’s really a good guy and people don’t give him a chance, and how can I get him to straighted up and fly right before his trial for assault and battery next week? It was really that chick’s fault because she was blocking the bathroom door and my friend really had to pee after the 10 beers I bought for him because he left his wallet at home but he’s paying next time, honest. And he said she was drunk herself and fell into his fist and I know he’d never lie to me.”

      Everyone else reads it and wonders why the writer didn’t yeet that yutz into the nearest black hole a decade ago.

      Thankfully, OP’s company doesn’t have the same blinders and I’m glad.

      1. Dek*

        Man, I remember when this guy got kicked out of our sketch group for being blithely racist and sexist (and then, after being soft-kicked out, had a bunch of his military buddies come to our next meeting). We relocated so he wouldn’t find us, and his gf (somehow he had one) started messaging our group leader begging us to take him back because he doesn’t have many friends and folks just don’t like him and he’s Really Not That Bad, and it was simultaneously funny and tragic.

        I hope she got out. But it was wild how she kept naming the problem and not seeing it.

        1. Csethiro Ceredin*


          I fully believe that people just don’t like him. I know I don’t!

          People sometimes get stuck at “well they can’t be a bad person or maybe I would be a bad person for liking their company” and then it becomes enmeshed with their sense of identity… and we all have daily proof of how hard that ship is to turn around.

  29. JM60*

    #3 I wonder how much of this communication is over chat or email vs speaking to someone. If it’s over chat, some people might prefer not to get an extra notification just for a “thank you”, and most people would ordinarily rather not get an email that’s just a thanks.

    1. allathian*

      True. It would be nice if you could enable notifications of messages but ignore any emoji reactions on chat systems like Teams.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        My Teams does in fact not notify me of emoji reactions, just actual messages. In the settings, under “Notifications and activity,” there’s an option for “Likes and reactions” and mine is set to “off”.

  30. Kevin T-Rex Willis*

    On #2, I kind of agree with Alision’s original answer that she then dismissed – I think this IS setting off the OP’s spidey senses or he wouldn’t have written in!

    Doesn’t mean anything untoward is happening and there’s still not really anything to do if the gf says it’s ok. But I don’t think OP is out of line for feeling this way

    1. Anonly*

      Feeling that way isn’t a huge issue but whether he trusts his girlfriend and how he treats her around this are.

      1. MsM*

        Yeah, I don’t think the question is whether OP’s spidey-senses are going off: it’s whether those senses are on a hair trigger when they shouldn’t be.

    2. Angstrom*

      Given all of the MeToo awareness in the past few years, I’d never fault anyone for caution and a periodic reality check. OP can do that and be supportive without constantly being suspicious.

      1. Chicken Dinner*

        Except for the fact that OP isn’t worried that what they perceive as “flirtyness” from the boss is an indicator that the GF might be in a MeToo situation – there’s no concern that she is in danger of sexual assault or harassment or coercion or anything like that. OP is worried that what they perceive as “flirtyness” from the boss is an indicator that the GF is *cheating* on him. That is a MASSIVE red flag for an insecure, jealous, controlling partner, not one who is worried about their partner’s welfare.

  31. ChurchOfDietCoke*

    We used to a awash with ‘thanks’ or ‘great!’ emails – mercifully the option to like / heart / smileyface messages in both Teams and Outlook has largely put a stop to that over the last year or so as more and more people have discovered it. So. Much. Better!

  32. You Can't Pronounce It*

    LW 3 – I don’t send thank you emails unless it is for something that I need to confirm receipt of because I hate receiving thank you emails for everyday work things. It clogs up my email and I already receive enough. I do worry sometimes that those people who send them might think I’m rude if I don’t, so occasionally, I try to make it a point to send them one back, but I don’t do it every time because I know I don’t like receiving them. Don’t take it personally and Alison’s advice to focus on how they treat you is perfect.

  33. Bookworm*

    LW1: This person is toxic. Howell sounds a lot like a few too many co-workers I’ve known over the years but luckily it sounds like the market is working as intended. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    LW4: I haven’t been a recruiter asking questions but I have worked in recruiting agencies and can confirm that yes, it’s common for recruiters to do “market research” by getting in touch with people they may not want to hire (and may not want to be hired) but happen to know. One of my jobs was to ID people who might be a good resource but might not be interested in a job (they are retired, working PT, are strictly consulting, not the right fit but have lots of related/lateral experience/connections, etc.)

    I can’t say what was the case for you, but it does happen. (It’s also why working with recruiters often drive me bananas, TBH, because yeah: are they interested or do they just want your expertise? *eyeroll*)

    1. OP4*

      Ugh, thanks for that insight, that kind of gells with the vibes I got.
      I’m about 30 years or a lotto win from retirement so I was hoping for a role on the call.
      The LinkedIn message asked was I interested in new opportunities and then on the call I was told they don’t have a specific role yet but want to have my details for new roles in Q2 (admitted that recruiting timelines in my industry are long with longer than average notice periods)
      Oh well; try, fail, try again, fail better

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        I have learned to never set up an actual phone call until I have actual job details. Waaaay too much of a waste of time.

  34. I should really pick a name*


    It might not be intentional, but the wording of your letter sounds surprisingly uncritical of Howell.
    Do you appreciate how far over the line Howell’s behaviour was?
    Why would you believe repairing the relationship with this company would be possible or even desirable?

    No one should have to be told not to shout at their prospective employer. I don’t see how it’s possible to help someone who doesn’t grasp such a basic concept.

    1. MsM*

      I don’t read it as uncritical so much as “I’m trying to be as fair and balanced as possible, but I recognize it doesn’t look great.” Regardless, the fact this is the most charitable take Howell is going to get means LW should definitely be rethinking this friendship.

    2. Elbe*

      This stood out to me, as well. Howell’s behavior was so over the top that I can’t imagine anyone thinking that he could still, somehow, get a job at that company. Rescinding an offer is a huge step that most companies don’t take lightly.

      It seems like either the LW has gotten so comfortable with Howell’s bad behavior that they expect others to work around it, as they have, or they may be somewhat sympathetic to his views and his anger. It’s not great either way.

      1. Melissa*

        My read was more that LW is hearing all this from Howell (who is likely putting the best spin on it or thinks his behaviour was reasonable) and LW is reading between the lines and assuming the behaviour was pretty bad but doesn’t know for sure.

  35. ceiswyn*

    Why… why in the names of all the gods and little fishes do you *want* Howell to apply again to your organisation?

    Your ‘friend’ just repeatedly verbally abused a succession of women purely because they were telling him something he didn’t want to hear. I suggest you sit with that thought for a bit. Do you want to work with someone like that? Do you really think that you can just say something magic to him and he will decide not to be an aggressive misogynist in future? And that was when there was every reason for him to be on his best behaviour – what about when he’s *doesn’t* have any reason to hold back?

    Howell has told you who he is. I suggest you believe it, and proceed accordingly.

    1. Yikes*

      Making a large assumption that the LW is also a man… he wouldn’t have to worry about Howell speaking to him like this so that’s why he doesn’t have to think too hard on this overall.

      1. Observer*

        he wouldn’t have to worry about Howell speaking to him like this so that’s why he doesn’t have to think too hard on this overall.

        And the LW would be wrong. Because keep in mind that he emailed and then called the office without knowing that he’d be talking to women. Which is to say that this guy is an uncontrolled walking powder keg.

      2. Elbe*

        Agreed. It’s very possible that the LW hasn’t seen much of this side of Howell if this behavior is primarily directed at women.

        But, now that he’s aware of it, it’s not great that his main concern in all of this is still how his friend can get a job. Maybe the LW isn’t very concerned with how his friend treats women, which is concerning in itself.

    2. The Rafters*

      I can’t get over the fact that OP 1 is thankful that no one can link Howell to them, but still wants to help Howell get a job with his company.

      1. Observer*

        I can’t get over the fact that OP 1 is thankful that no one can link Howell to them, but still wants to help Howell get a job with his company

        It didn’t sound like the OP’s company. But still. Why would you want to help someone like this into a job in your industry.

        Or any industry, for that matter. I get that he needs a job. But the idea of inflicting him on anyone . . . Ouch!

      2. Ellie*

        I assumed there were some family politics in play. I have occasionally helped horrible people out because I knew if I didn’t, they’d take it out on someone else. ‘Friend’ might be code for cousin or brother. But OP should definitely be rethinking how much help they really need to give Howell here.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t think OP wants Howell to get a job with OP’s company. OP wants Howell to get a job at all, possibly with the company Howell just torched, which isn’t OP’s company I don’t think? But might be the only company with work Howell is suited for. I donno. But sounds like OP both cares about not ruining their own professional network cuz of being associated with Howell but also wants Howell back on his feet. If it’s a close/longstanding relationship I think it’s a fairly human cognitive dissonance right there.

  36. Seashell*

    I can’t imagine my husband telling me about a compliment on his appearance or his work skills from his boss more than very occasionally, so, if this is a frequent thing, I have to wonder if the girlfriend is telling LW either to express some concern about the CEO’s behavior or to try to make LW jealous.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I read it as she’s into fashion, and is thrilled that someone is noticing that she understands how to pair statement earrings with a restrained sheath dress and flats.

      Maybe she wishes boyfriend would notice more, and maybe she gets that this isn’t his thing but expects him to be happy that she feels happy and appreciated for a thing, even if it is not his thing.

      I suspect this brushes into how there are some coworkers who would be able to describe the exact outfit you wore Monday, and other coworkers who registered “Seashell is wearing office-type clothes” and couldn’t have answered any questions more detailed than that.

      1. Ellie*

        Yes, men have a bit of a bad reputation here. I’ve known several men I’ve worked with who have complimented me on a particularly well put together outfit, jewelry, even my perfume. The vast majority of men I work with would never notice, but there are a few who do and there’s never been anything sinister in it. They’re just men who are genuinely into fashion. I think its great that his girlfriend has such good rapport with her boss. I wouldn’t think anything of it.

    2. Leenie*

      Since the LW says she’s laughing it off, it really does not sound like she’s trying to express concern.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      But this isn’t about your husband, so that would explain any out of character stuff wouldn’t it?

    4. Chicken Dinner*

      Is that because culturally, men are/are supposed to be less interested in clothes, hair, shoes etc than women are? And specifically, your husband and/or his boss is not particularly interested in clothing or fashion? And your husband is not working as an executive assistant where personal assistant duties can be and often are an important part of the role?

      In my social scene it’s not unusual for completely cishet men to care about and be really into clothing, hair, and fashion. I’ve sat & listened to two middle age men, professional musicians who came out of the early punk/proto goth scene, sit around for two hours discussing all their favorite outfits, boots, and hairstyles exactly like tween girls at a slumber party would, lol.

  37. Boof*

    LW1; I presume you weren’t sitting next to Howell on the phone (correct me if I’m wrong!); so Howell did all this, then told you about it, and concluded the company was full of man-haters? And your question is… how do you get Howell hired at your company?
    I have to ask what amazing qualities Howell has that you think trump this spectacular display of bad judgement and what sounds like some grade A projection of his own bigotry (he sounds like a raging misogynist by the description here of berating multiple women for not jumping to do his bidding which I guess makes them misandrist?)
    I’d question if you want Howell in your life at all, or if they have some spectacular redeeming quality for you, then how to help them get to some kind of appropriate counseling center to start untangling how inappropriate all that was (I guarantee you should not try to be Howell’s free therapist; you can at best reinforce what Howell did was wrong and help get Howell to resources that might stand a chance of changing their behavior if they care to).

  38. TYVM*

    I don’t NOT say thank you, but I probably say it less via email than I do face to face/in my everyday life just because my first instinct is to not clutter someone’s email inbox with too much… fluff, maybe? Or I’ll include the thanks in the request to cover my bases. I would notice someone not saying thank you face to face/in my everyday life but I wouldn’t necessarily notice if someone never says it via email. I would instead be aware of how they talk to me otherwise, how they make the requests, etc. I think that says more about their attitude, personally.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I very much agree with this. On a bad day, I can get a 100 email messages. I do not need fluff emails just saying “thank you” so I rarely send that when someone is just doing their job, responding to a simple, ordinary question. I don’t want those emails so I am kind to others by not sending those emails.

      Plus 95% of my email have “thanks” as the final word before my signature block.

  39. AngryOctopus*

    LW#4, the recruiter may well have been fishing for info, but also could have just been looking at how to match you.
    “How is your team structured?” can tell them a lot about what jobs to put you forward for. For my own experience in science, some companies have an “associate scientist” track between ‘research associate’ and ‘scientist’. Some don’t. Asking how your company is structured allows them to figure out where on the associate/scientist track you are, esp if you’re currently on ‘associate scientist’ and the company you’re looking at doesn’t have that track.
    “Do you have any big projects coming up?” could also mean “when is this person likely to want to leave? Do they want to start somewhere else sooner? Or if there’s a big project, do they only want to leave if they’re not picked to lead it?”. It could even mean “hmmm, they’ll want to replace LW if they leave for a better job, so they can cover this project, wonder if I can help hiring?”.
    None of these things are the worst thing a recruiter can do, so if they’re otherwise good and helpful, I think you’re probably OK.

    1. OP4*

      Thanks, yeah the recruiter did ask about what size team I want in a new role, so I did assume it was that.

      I know being a recruiter is a job, not a charity to me so I wasn’t treating it as a red flag, just a pink one and I wanted a second opinion on the shade, is it millenial pink or shocking pink?

  40. Grith*

    LW3 – is it really the “politeness” that’s an issue, or is it the fact that the loop is still open? If it really is the former, that would seem to be part of the culture and I don’t think there’s much space to do anything other than either get over it or move to a different company with a different culture.

    But if it’s the latter, something in your last email like “please confirm that these changes are as required so that I can close this job” might get the response you need to close the loop. And as a bonus, they’ll probably use the word “thanks” in that loop closing email as well.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      And if not that, then the presumptive close: “I will assume that these changes are as required unless I hear differently from you before x date/time”.

  41. Jo-El (Kryptonian)*

    lw#1, if I was unemployed for 3 years I’d be up the creek financially and be desperate as a trapped animal to start making money again. Nothing in that statement though excuses what he did and his attitude towards women.

    1. ceiswyn*

      If I’d been unemployed for 3 years and was up the creek financially and desperate – I would be so incredibly polite and undemanding to anyone associated with a potential job that they’d be creeped out by the sheer niceness.

      1. Stripes*

        Yep – I’d be overthinking every single interaction, piece of punctuation, phone call, email, etc., as to not screw it up

      2. Ellie*

        I can see a situation where he thought he had the job, but could feel it slipping out of his fingers when he was blocked by the receptionist, and then HR, and panicked, then needed someone to blame for it. But if this is how he performs under pressure, you don’t want him working for you anyway. Also, his doubling down on his behaviour and his insulting language when discussing it with OP later is just awful.

        1. ceiswyn*

          The ‘needed someone to blame’ is where I lose sympathy. There are a lot of different ways that humans can act when they panic, but Howell goes straight to bullying and blame.

    2. Laura*

      If he’s that desperate, he wouldn’t be acting like a jerk to people at a company he wants a job from. He’d be on his best behavior, not his worst.

    3. Polly Hedron*

      I want to know how Howell has been surviving without a job for three years. Is he a trust fund baby?

      1. Jackalope*

        This is absolutely 100% AAM fan fiction that the OP would probably have mentioned if it were true, but I wondered if he were couch surfing or borrowing money from friends or something, and so the OP had some sort of financial stake in him getting a job so he wouldn’t ever spend the weekend on OP’s couch or hit the OP up for some money. That would explain why the OP cares so much. But again, fan fiction.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          Hiring Mgr below speculated that Howell might be related to fictional millionaire Thurston Howell III of Gilligan’s Island.

        2. Ellie*

          That was my assumption – Howell has a long suffering wife, parents, or friends that are carrying his burden and OP wants to help them out as much as they want to help Howell. This is also the only reason I can think of why OP still wants to help him get a job after his behaviour.

      2. Potoooooooo*

        Doordash, Instacart, and other app-based gig work take seem to take pretty much anyone. The money is okay at best, but better than nothing.

    4. Observer*

      Nothing in that statement though excuses what he did and his attitude towards women.

      In fact, I would say the reverse. I would expect that he would be so desperate that he’d be taking extra care not to mess stuff up.

      1. Ellie*

        Misogynists tend to think that everyone feels the same way they do. Ergo, the hiring manager, being male, is not going to care that he berated the receptionist or HR because he assumes they think like he does.

  42. Cinn*

    LW3, this has reminded me of the mortification when I realised I didn’t thank a receptionist for telling me where I needed to go because my brain just assumed my mouth had already said it. XD Sometimes people are just forgetful.

    Having said that, when it comes to work, if it’s just routine stuff then the thanks can assumed to be implicit. In my work we get stuff sent to us, we do the relevant processing then send results back. For run of the mill stuff I don’t necessarily expect to hear back from the customer because that’s what the job is. However, when a customer kicks up a big stink about how critical or urgent something is and we end up having to do things faster or otherwise different/more than usual, then it sticks in my caw when they don’t offer even a “thanks”.

  43. HonorBox*

    LW2 – There are not enough details to fully understand all aspects of your concern, though I think you need to really step back and consider a number of things.

    1. It has been 3 months that your gf has been working for her boss. In those three months, how often has she told you that he’s complimented her dress? Is it once a week? Is it daily? And what specifically are you hearing that he’s saying? Is he saying that he likes an outfit or blue is a good color for her? Or is it something more personal sounding?
    2. Regarding the change in his dress code… what specifically has been said? Is it that he’s gone to her for advice? Is it that he’s dressing snappier because she dresses better? This is the one area that gave me more pause than any other part of your letter, because if he’s just stepped up his game a bit because he dressed like a slob when she started, that’s one thing. Maybe he realized he’s a little out of date or out of style. But if he’s gone out and overhauled his wardrobe completely to look different, that might be something else.
    3. Regarding the compliments about her work… are there specific things she’s telling you that he’s saying? And how regularly are those compliments coming?
    4. How is all of this coming up in your conversations with her? Is she just responding when you ask her how her day was? Is she bringing these compliments up organically? And again, how often are you hearing these things? Daily? Once a week?
    5. A gift to say thanks for good work – be it a spa gift card, a gift card to a favorite store, a bottle of wine, an afternoon off – is normal. If the gift is a shared experience between the two of them, that is something odd, but know that now she’s probably not paid as much as she should be or that her boss would like her to be, and he’s doing something extra to show appreciation.

    Context matters a lot here, and we don’t have all the context in your letter. I lean strongly toward nothing going on here. It doesn’t read as overly abnormal, even for the short time she’s worked for him. As someone said upthread, flirting can happen over very innocuous things, too. And it is possible to have a strong, personal connection with someone of the opposite sex without it being something else.

    Advice: Think about the context related to the four points above. If there’s something more to this related to the context, you could in the future point out that a comment made seems inappropriate for the workplace (if it is). But remember that she’s not feeling like there’s anything off about the situation. Support her, trust her, and if something goes off the rails and the exec becomes overly weird, be there for her when she needs you.

    1. SarahKay*

      Something else to consider – was your girlfriend previously working for someone where all feedback was critical? If so, that could absolutely feed into why she’s telling you about being complimented, because it’s just such a marvellous change from working for someone where she could do no right.

      We had a regional boss who it would apparently have killed to compliment the site without adding a ‘but’ and four things we were doing wrong.
      He was replaced by someone who would compliment something we’d done and then he’d stop. He’d still point out flaws where he saw them, but as a separate thing and in a much more supportive way.
      It was just marvellous and for a good six months after the changeover the entire leadership team basically came out of every meeting or call with new regional boss talking about how great he was. Hell, it’s six years since that changeover and intermittently we still talk about it.

  44. Michelle Smith*

    LW1: Not your monkeys, not your circus. Time for him to manage his own career and you to back away from emotionally investing. No more advice, no more recommendations. Just let him do what he’s going to do and if that means not being employed, that’s on him. But notice that you’re the one who wrote into a column for advice, not him. Don’t be more invested in your friend’s success than he is.

    1. Milagro Beanfield*

      I agree in part—getting this friend a full-time job at this company or even in this industry is not your circus, OP1, but if Howell is a good friend to you, he is your “monkey.” ;) If you’re continuing this friendship, then as someone who has a clear sense of what’s right and wrong, you can gradually help Howell build confidence in himself—real confidence in real things that are positive attributes of his, not false bravado and insecurity that causes him to lash out at women who don’t meet his whims. You can be his tether to a reality where kindness matters. You can lend him your worldview the way you’d let a friend borrow your glasses who needs a similar prescription. Get your friend out of the house, off the internet, and as you encounter scenarios together where things don’t go your way and women act like autonomous equals, model how to take that in stride and if he doesn’t, gently call him out (“whoa—, what? Why did you just say that?”). I’m inferring a lot from your description of Howell’s actions, but given that he spent 3 (pandemic, heavily internet-reliant) years out of a workplace, and then could not adapt to a real-world snag, and then blamed that snag on the female sex discriminating against him (what?!), I think his current models might be an online group of similarly isolated men who find a misguided outlet for their genuine suffering through blaming those who aren’t them (ie, women). Here’s hoping you can provide a healthier alternative!

      1. Observer*

        You are putting WAAAY too much on the OP here! No, he can’t be the “tether to reality” that will bring him back to sanity and decency.

        *IF* and ONLY if, Howell tries to change, can the OP do anything.

        But also, I’m not completely sure about the OP’s clarity of vision here. There are some yellow / orange flags here.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah in spite of everyone else’s assumption that OP must be a male friend because no woman would put up with this misogyny; all the emotional labour being put in by OP made me assume they were female and had been cast by Howell as “free therapist” for venting. Either way, dudes like Howell are a progress-resistant time sink, OP. If you’re truly, seriously, going to plough your time and energy into socialising him, prepare to lay down all your other ambitions and goals now.

  45. MsMaryMary*

    LW 5, I would ask your brother’s boss who to contact regarding disability/FMLA. You do want it documented that he is unable to work because of a medical condition so he has the appropriate job protection and applicable benefits. You will need to provide medical information to whoever manages FMLA or disability, but that should be confidential from everyone else at the company.

  46. MuseumChick*

    LW 1, you ask what advice you can give Howell. Have you been honest with him that what he did was beyond the pale and that if he continues to behave this way he will continue to face unemployment? To be clear, there is nothing he can do to salvage his reputation with this company. Any advice you give him will be for the next job not this past one. So I ask again, have you been honest with him that it is HIS behavior that is the cause of his lack of employment? Have you called him out for his attitude towards women? Have you stopped him when he begins blaming others and pointed out that no sane employer will hire someone who screams at multiple people on the phone? This is the advice you can give him but from my own experience be prepared for him to not take it.

    1. Anne Shirley Blythe*

      Agree. I suspect Howell is too far gone to hear anything. My overactive imagination wants the LW to be a childhood friend with blindspots or actually a relative, for I can think of no reason to befriend Howell.

    2. danmei kid*

      This will be the perfect way to end the friendship with Howell, if LW wants to go that way. I think they should!

  47. kiki*

    Is there anything Howell can do to repair this and apply for other roles with the company and any advice I could give him? It now appears to me that the reason he has been made redundant a few times and had a slow job search may be more due to personality than the job market.

    I personally think this bridge is burned with the company and there’s nothing to be done there. But if you are a good friend of his and really want the best for him, it’s probably time to loop Howell in on your last sentence here. “Howell, your story the other day really alarmed me. It was wildly inappropriate to treat anyone that way, let alone your prospective future colleagues. I’m worried that your temper may be standing in the way of your employment.”

  48. TMI for Me*


    I have been the manager in your exact scenario. Here is what I needed to know:
    – basic facts: my employee was having a medical issue and could not communicate with their employer
    – the name and contact information of the person who held power of attorney/would be in communication with me and our employer so FLMA/leave could be arranged
    – a rough guess as to when the employee was expected to be able to return
    – when a good “check-in” point would be (a month? a quarter?)

    I was told vastly more than this and it made it much more awkward than it needed to be when my employee eventually returned. Please keep it simple and straightfoward and as confidential as you possible can.

  49. Ex-prof*

    LW #1 — Your friend sounds like he’s extremely online in some of those virulent misogyny spaces. It’s surprising that this is the first you knew about it, but now that you know, you know.

  50. Ex-prof*

    LW #3– Gen X, and undoubtedly our parents and grandparents, were taught to say thank you before we could walk in a straight line. Now it’s so ingrained we’ll thank an elevator door for opening.

    I wonder if that stopped at some point?

    1. kiki*

      I think digital communications (email, work IM, etc.) have changed things. We’ve seen a few letters come through here with folks complaining about unnecessary thank you emails cluttering their inbox. It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the mentality LW is encountering from their coworkers. They do appreciate what they’re being sent, but they also don’t want to create another notification or email for LW’s pile. At my company, that’s part of why emoji responses are so popular– a heart or thank you emoji lets the person know you appreciate what they said but they don’t get a notification that pulls them away from other things.

      1. Ex-prof*

        Interesting! I do send those annoying “thanks!” emails, but it seems to be an industry-wide quirk in publishing.

        1. Galadriel's Garden*

          Also in publishing, and I do think it’s very team-dependent – on the more back-end, operational side of things, I don’t see as many standalone “thanks!” emails as we’re already on the receiving end of an absolute onslaught in our inboxes. “Thanks” does often instead appear either in a “thanks in advance!” or a follow up, “thank you! I’ll let you know if x/y/z occurs,” or included in closing the loop on an outstanding item.

    2. Chicken Dinner*

      Gen X here also. As children, my brother once bumped into a mannequin at a store and said “excuse me” because we’d been so thoroughly taught our manners lmao.

  51. Hiring Mgr*

    Hopefully Howell is related to millionaire Thurston III and is in the will, otherwise he may never be able to support himself via employment

  52. A. Nonymous*

    Caveat: I work as an assistant/admin….

    I think as long as the overall tone of the interaction is kind/grateful, there doesn’t need to be a literal “thank you” every. single. time. I find that a bit literal and precious, to be honest.

  53. Observer*

    #1 – Howell is going to be unemployable almost anywhere where the most basic of decent behavior is required. Even in male dominated fields.

    It’s not just the sexism at play here, although that’s a big deal. Keep in mind that even sexist bosses don’t want their female staff bullied into doing stuff that’s not in the company’s interest / process. And many of them can be quite “protective” of their staff. Like they may think that it’s ok to pay women / “women’s jobs” less than men, but that doesn’t make it of to call them liars.

    But also, that’s a really extreme reaction to basic bureaucratic creakiness. Sure that stuff is infuriating, and someone with options may decide that this is not something they want to deal with. But yelling at people? Bullying them for information that they are not supposed to provide? “Robustly”* accusing ~~multiple~~ people of lying?

    This company had no choice but to pull his offer. In a functional company, even someone past probation would be facing immediate firing over that level of behavior.

    * Please don’t try so hard to sanitize his behavior by using language that obscures what happened. He either yelled, cursed or threatened them, or any combination thereof. Think about if you were the target of that kind of behavior – using the ~~plain~~ description of what he did. And think of any woman you know and have ANY care for being the target of his behavior, again using the plain terms. How would you react to that? How would you react to an employer who would NOT act quickly and decisively to put a complete stop to it?

  54. WellRed*

    OP 5 I’m here to offer you sympathy and support. I lost my brother to chronic substance abuse (including alcohol) three years ago. It’s an awful and insidious disease and the lack of understanding and the judgment make it harder.

    1. Penny for thought*

      Seconding this OP5- sympathy and support. I’ve had to do this for a loved one (who with a lot of reflection and hard work is doing well now) where I had to manage the hospitalization and contact his boss when he couldn’t do it. I was the FMLA contact until he was able to do it himself. Make sure you take care of yourself too though! You are also going through A LOT and it can be so hard to be dealing with this.

  55. learnedthehardway*

    It’s also possible that the recruiter was trying to figure out where you fit within the team. I will do that, in situations where I need to know how senior a role really is (eg. a VP in one company might be part of the executive team, and in another might be many levels down from the SLT).

    Getting an understanding of the structure also allows me to gauge the veracity of claims from a candidate. Eg. if someone tells me they led the data management project, but there is a Data Manager, then I need to probe further about what “Led” means, and who exactly did what.

    1. OP4*

      Oh, that question didn’t bother me on its own.

      But a bit later the question on any up coming projects, and that the recruiter didn’t have a specific job in mind (first time that’s happened to me, usually when a recruiter contacts me they are recruiting to fill a vacancy), once I finished the call I was second guessing it.

      I wasn’t thinking of it as a red flag, more of a huh, better double check that’s normal.

  56. Nat20*

    One, I think it’s worth mentioning that we don’t know the gender of LW #2 (unless I missed a comment from them somewhere). I see a lot of comments assuming they’re a man, which was my first reaction too. But we don’t know.

    Two, regardless of the LW’s gender, I think Alison’s advice is spot on. If you trust your girlfriend otherwise, then there’s nothing here that should raise suspicion. If you don’t, then you need to figure out if that’s because she’s given you good reason not to, or whether you’re being too distrusting and possessive (or some combination). Without that context, there’s no way to say whether these interactions with her boss should be suspicious, but only you can determine that. But there’s nothing *inherently* wrong with any of this, and I don’t think the boss himself is overstepping.

    I do also think the LW is probably being a little paranoid here, at least about the boss. These are all normal things for a friendly boss-EA relationship. If he were calling her in the middle of the night asking for said “style” advice (anyone ever see the movie Two Weeks Notice?) or being too touchy or something that’d be one thing. But complimenting her style, appreciating the work she does, and buying her thank-you gift cards for something women often like is all very normal.

    It’s worth remembering as commenters that none of this is coming from the girlfriend herself, it’s filtered through the LW.

    Also, LW, maybe the classic gender-swap hypothetical can help. Would any of the boss’s actions seem flirty or inappropriate if the boss was a woman?

  57. sunny days are better*

    For #3:

    I was already working for an organization and we were merged with another team in another country.

    I immediately noticed (as did some of my other local team members) how culturally different we were. My side were very “good morning/afternoon, please, thank you, etc.” and from them – none of that. It was jarring at first and then I realized that this is just culturally how they are and we had to get used to it. I did notice that the manager over there (who was now our manager as well), did eventually start talking more like “us” but I don’t know if someone said something to him or if he picked up on it himself.

    The OP mentions working for a large organization, so I wonder if that could be the case as well – people spread across different countries. It’s not that they are intentionally rude, but that it’s just not “their way.”

  58. ecnaseener*

    A lot of comments are about not wanting to send or receive messages that are just “thank you,” but I don’t think that’s what LW’s referring to — they say they’re surprised by “the way people respond,” not whether they respond.

    I read that as they’re getting responses with comments/feedback on their drafts, where the person could easily include “thanks” but doesn’t. I agree that’s a little rude!

    1. GythaOgden*

      My tactic is to use the Outlook reaction to let people know I got the email and then actually reply once I’ve done it, particularly if there’s a deliverable attached. Some of those deliverables actually generate their own emails that I can copy to the person who asked me to do it in the first place.

      Then again, most of our emails are basically one long chain per thread. It doesn’t bother me either way but one approach to reducing clutter might be to use conversation mode in Outlook, standard on the web app but also IIRC in the desktop app, and keep everything together. I do prefer having individual emails shown — there’s a process I go through that often requires me to file each stage in a separate inbox so when it does come to clearing stuff up and filing I don’t have to disentangle long convos — but each person is going to have their own method.

      Then again, the human contact I get through work is really important to me. I loved it when my boss showed me how to high five her on Teams. One colleague was on sick leave for a while and I found myself missing her pinging me through the @ function on Outlook and forgetting that that does not actually forward anything attached to the email. It’s silly things like that I enjoy despite being the functional equivalent of a hermit (my grotto needs some external renovations though; uPVC is a godsend that I’m sure the likes of St Julian of Norwich would have killed for). It’s also that social grease that probably means more to the people who appreciate it than it ticks the people who don’t like it off.

  59. The Rogue Thanker*

    Re the emails, I haven’t worked in jobs that have tons emails for most of my career and I’m currently dealing with some personal life admin where a lot of people who likely DO have email-heavy jobs are helping me out. I have been replying with short thank-you emails because it feels so rude not to acknowledge! Should I stop? Is this a pretty universal thing that folks are annoyed by thank you emails or is it very much a personal preference?

    1. Jiminy Cricket*

      This is totally specific to your org’s culture and sometimes specific to the person. I work with one person who always sends “Thank you” emails (and, more endearingly/annoyingly “You’re welcome” emails). You cannot be the one to end an email chain with this person and do not try. You will not win. That’s the work culture they came from.

      And I work with another person who came from a work culture that specifically prohibited “thank you” emails as a way to cut down on inbox bloat.

      I personally appreciate the “Thank you,” because that tells me it didn’t get lost in the inbox, but I don’t get annoyed when I don’t get one.

    2. GythaOgden*

      1. This forum skews very introverted and sometimes some perspectives are more in appearance than others. It’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it isn’t automatically representative of the population at large.

      2. I feel that in terms of thank yous or acknowledgements (like of team awards), the people who would be frustrated by too many emails may just grumble about it and move on, but it would be noticed if you didn’t ever say thanks or click the thumbs up button or added to a chorus of ‘Well done dream team’.

      3. If it would be expected that you joined in with explicit thanks in your office culture, then it’s better to cleave to that cultural expectation rather than be seen as a grouch who can’t read the room. If it would be seen as Way Too Much to be always thanking or congratulating someone, then dial it back. I am an ambivert who can live with either, and I like the fact that my team is really genuinely cohesive and congenial and looks out for each other, because I was in one for ten years before that where it got a bit…lonely, and I mentioned in another post here that I am by most measures a hermit worthy of Herman himself.

      So it will vary between working environments and between cultures.

    3. Catabouda*

      I agree with the above – there is no one answer for this. I personally don’t want thank you or you’re the best!! emails. I have a clogged inbox as is, and having them added to the number of unread emails annoys.

      However, I work with someone who is insistent that they get a response from everyone when they provide information. So all of their emails end with “Please reply to confirm this email has been received.” And then try track who doesn’t reply and they follow up with “Please confirm my original email was received.”

      It’s super weird and aggressive. Co-workers are split into camps. A lot of us (I am here) have set up an Outlook Rule to automatically reply to his emails. Some of us reply in super flowery, long winded emails, which are clearly passive aggressively fake sweet. Some of us continue to ignore him no matter how many follow ups he sends because it makes them happy to know they are annoying him.

      So, long winded reply to say – it depends.

  60. BecauseHigherEd*

    OP 1 – Yes, Howell’s personality is 100% the reason for his issues in the job market, and to be honest, he likely needs therapy or anger management. Even hearing *Howell’s side of this through you* he sounds highly unstable–I imagine the real-life version was even worse.

    1. Catabouda*

      I had a similar thought – we’re getting the version that Howell thought was palatable to pass along to a friend. I imagine the actual interactions were a lot worse.

  61. Water Everywhere*

    Oh hey LW#1, I see you’re friends with my ex-BIL. Even before he & my sister got married I’d lost count of how many jobs he’d had. He got by okay for a good while by having skills that were in high demand in his booming industry…but industries have downturns, and the never-his-fault conflicts that always ended his jobs eventually made him unemployable in that industry. Last I heard he’s still going from job to job, only much lower paying ones with longer periods of unemployment.
    I liked him at first, he was intelligent and engaging, but the complete inability to take responsibility for his own actions bled over into his personal life and tanked that, too. Therapy might have helped, if only he could have seen the common denominator in his troubles and accepted that he needed help.

  62. Frankie Bergstein*

    The questions are weird today! Lots of poor judgement.

    “It now appears to me that the reason he has been made redundant a few times and had a slow job search may be more due to personality than the job market.”

    Omg. Poor Howell. Poor friend.

    1. ceiswyn*

      Poor Howell! Forced, forced I say, to verbally abuse a series of women in order to destroy his own job prospects!

      …oh, wait, no, the other thing.

  63. Dawn*

    It turns out that if you’re an aggressive MRA who flies off the handle at the first inconvenience, especially if you’re flying off the handle at women specifically, you may have some difficulty finding or holding a job.

      1. Future*

        Men’s Rights Activist. These folks are not generally concerned with genuine men’s issues, like toxic masculinity, but believe that feminism is taking something away from them.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        Thank you all. The google is really failing us on this (and on so many other things).

        1. Dawn*

          I was a lifelong Google fan; like I had the Google socks and everything. For a while, I vocally hated Apple.

          Last November I bought my first iPhone because Google has decided to throw their entire 25-years-in-the-making reputation completely in the garbage.

  64. Veryanon*

    LW1 – why do I get the sense that this guy spends a lot of time on incel message boards? I don’t feel sorry for him; you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.

  65. Megarita*

    #2, as it’s useful, when I moved from one job with a Very Negative Supervisor to a job with a Very Kind and Supportive Supervisor, I could not shut up about it to my partner. Previous hellmouth ™ was something he watched me suffer through, and the better gig was something I wanted to share with him because I was happier! Just a counterpoint to your worries…

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Lol! I think Howell owes everyone at that company a microwave at this point.

      His microwave debt is so high he’ll never get out of it.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      *aiming Howell at a company that has areally nice microwave in the break room, that I could carry off while he creates a diversion. And everywhere he goes, he creates a diversion*

      1. CommanderBanana*

        If the microwave identifies as a woman and doesn’t like Howell, is it microwavandrist?

  66. Kt*

    LW3 – if you have a lot of output, it can be exhausting getting several emails a day that just say ‘thanks’. People are probably just trying to save your inbox.

  67. anon_sighing*

    1. “shouted at her when she couldn’t put him through to HR” – and he doesn’t see what he did wrong? I know he’s your friend but kudos to this company for cutting their losses and nipping this in the bud early on. How impatient and on top of it, rude & hostile. His language is also concerning talking to and about these women.

    2. Nothing weird here and if there was, your girlfriend is also being odd (i.e., making him dress more stylish). They seem to have a less professional relationship but many, many people develop a more casually professional dynamic with an assistant since that person has access to their life in a professional-personal way anyway.

    3. I hate to be rude, but you’re not doing them a favor. It’s your job – are you thanking them for using your service so you can stay employed? I really doubt it. All that said, yeah, they should give you a thank you (you can give ‘thank you’ out like candy, same as ‘sorry’). It’s a common courtesy. But they’re just using a work service, they’re busy, they’re moving along. I don’t know if it’s worth taking it personally unless you feel truly disrespected like Alison outlines (and I don’t mean because you’re a “senior” person/”director” and they should respect you for that alone).

    4. I agree with Alison, but I don’t think you could have realized in the moment considering how recruiters SHOULD operate.

    5. I don’t know why you’d mention why he’s in the hospital at all. Just tell enough to explain the absence — he’s hospitalized — and if needed, for how long.

  68. stratospherica*

    Sounds like Howell is standing on the intersection of “HR is five people and they all do the same thing,” “HR are actively plotting how to grind employees into a fine paste and use that to fuel the generators” and “any female employee should be assumed as hostile by default”

    Can’t imagine why he’s been out of work for 3 years. /s

  69. Delphine*

    Re .3 the missing “thank you”
    I have the opposite reaction when people send me an email with just “thank you” after I provided a document (tbh I do not write or create the thing, just pass along references): I wish I did not receive it.
    I receive way too many emails per day, so I don’t need “empty” emails with no information. I trust that the document arrived, or that I’ll be asked again if not. So I mostly do not send such “thank you”. Except when it is someone that I seldom work with, or if I know that the person likes it.
    However, when someone creates a document for me, I thank them. Unless it is routine/ frequent.
    OP, if you want to receive something, maybe try to ask a question when sending the document. (but beware that I could lead to minor modifications…)

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