coworker interrupts me with questions she could answer herself, playing a game at a public-facing job, and more

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

1. My coworker interrupts me with questions she could answer herself

My coworker and I used to work in the same extremely toxic workplace. We leaned on each other, commiserated, and when I told her I was done, she pointed me in the direction of a job she knew would be better. I moved to the new job and after six months, she took a job here as well.

The onboarding process here isn’t the best. We were each assigned a mentor, but largely we need to figure out how to do our work from the previous examples we can find on the system. The work isn’t difficult or complicated, but especially in my first couple months, I frequently found myself digging into the files to resolve obscure issues. When my coworker started, I knew that I would be a good resource for helping her find her feet on things. I was happy to help when she was starting out.

However, now it has been three months and she comes to my office upwards of six times a day to ask questions. Mostly they are questions she could have found the answer for herself in about five minutes. I get that it is faster to come ask me, but I have a job to do as well. Also, she does have a mentor whose job it is to help her with these issues.

I don’t want to be rude or alienate her, as at this point we are friends. But at the same time, I am getting extremely frustrated by having to constantly answer her questions whenever she hits the slightest snag. Also, I’ve only been in the job six months longer than she has! I am sure that if I outright ask her to stop, she will get offended. But I want to be able to focus on my work without the constant interruptions.

“Now that you’re settled in, can you start going to Mentor with questions like X or Y? I’m available if she’s not free and something is urgent, but I’m realizing I need more focus and it takes me a long time to get back into a task if I stop what I’m doing.”

If she’s offended by that, that would be pretty ridiculous and an issue with her, not with what you said. (And if she’s that overly sensitive, it’s unlikely there any way you can word it that she won’t bristle at, and if that’s the case you might as well just say it and get it over with.)

Alternately, you can make it less satisfying for her to ask you questions than to take five minutes to figure it out on her own, by coaching her instead of giving her the answer: “Where have you looked so far? … OK, go look there and then if you still have questions, come back.” … “What did you find? Which part of the document did you look in?” … etc. She’ll either pick up the problem-solving skills she needs, or she’ll realize you’re not a fast source of answers.

my coworker’s questions are getting out of hand

2. Playing a game at a public-facing job

I work as a scheduler at a hospital, which is a front line job. During down time when patients are not at our desk, we are expected to do back work, which is completing scheduling requests. One of my colleagues and I like to do the NYT Connections Puzzle each day and we would share our results with each other. This is how we bond. One of our managers did catch us doing it once and she said that it does not look good to play the game in a patient-facing job where the patients and families need us. She is the one who has reminded the team again and again to put our phones away at the front desk. The amount of time I spend on the puzzle each day is minimal. If I am with a patient, they have my undivided attention. Most of the time, I am doing the work. I am not the one who is scrolling on social media all the time on my phone. We all check our phones and surf the web at work a bit, especially in this day and age. So far, there hasn’t been any further disciplinary action (at least what I know).

How common is it for disciplinary action to be taken if you are on your phones and scrolling on the web for even a fraction of your shift?

If you’ve been explicitly told to stop and you’re caught doing it anyway, the odds of it being a problem are pretty good. Whether that means formal disciplinary action depends on how your workplace works; if that’s a thing they do for small issues, then sure. Or you could just get reminded again. If it comes up a third time, though, that looks pretty bad.

There are jobs where you just can’t use your phone at a front desk, and it sounds like you’re in one of them.

3. Can I use a reference who lost their job for something bad?

I started a new role during the height of the pandemic and I hate it. I knew pretty soon that I needed to move on, but put me in the bucket of people who stayed too long to try and close out projects / fear of finding a new role that paid as well, etc. The person who hired me (Paula) moved on after about a year because they were also a pandemic hire and not a good fit. Selfishly, I figured that was perfect for my job search since I could use her as a reference, because my current manager is absolutely not someone I’d trust to support me during a job search.

Cut to a while later, and I ran into to someone on Paula’s new team at a professional conference. They had been harassed and bullied by Paula almost since day one and filed a complaint. Fast forward another six months and I found out Paula has been asked to resign or let go. Details are unclear, but it’s not good either way. As far as I know, she hasn’t found a new role nearly a year later.

I am not planning to stay in this field in my next role. It was a pandemic layoff-driven experiment that has not played out for me, so it’s unlikely that a future potential employer would have the industry insider knowledge that Paula was forced out for for extremely bad behavior. But what if they did find out? That wouldn’t look good for me as a candidate right? And beyond that, it just feels sort of morally icky to use someone as a reference who harassed and bullied a direct report (or anyone!) I’m not off-base here to select a different reference familiar with my work in my current role, even if they aren’t a manager, right?

I think you’re fine to continue using Paula, especially if the choice is between her and a non-manager reference. First, you don’t know the details of what actually happened (or, it sounds like, whether it’s the reason she left). Second, people successfully use references all the time who aren’t perfect in their own work lives, and it’s fine. Unless the reference is known to have a very specific sort of bad judgment that would be relevant to your hiring (like if they were known for cutting corners in a QA job and you need them to speak to your QA skills, or they embezzled money and they’d need to talk about your bookkeeping prowess), it’s unlikely to be a problem.

4. People are confused by my non-western name

I have a Japanese first name (very common in Japan but uncommon in the United States) and a Pakistani last name that I gained through marriage. Most of my work happens via email so they will see both the sender and the email signature “Firstname Lastname” and I believe the fact that both names are clearly ethnic is causing an annoying issue for me.

So many people will reply “Good morning Lastname!” and I really hate it. Usually I send a reply stating, “Please call me Firstname or Mrs./Ms. Lastname” and was recently told by a colleague that this comes off as rude, as if I’m asking someone to be unnecessarily formal. My intention was just to acknowledge that Lastname is a name of mine, but we’re not on a sports team where they should refer to me that way. I’m not sure if there is a better way to get this across to new people or even worse people who will continue to call me Lastname after I’ve asked them to stop. I feel like I shouldn’t mind but I find it so disrespectful and mildly racist. Especially as I would never call anyone by a name they’ve asked me not to use. Is there a better way you can think of to get my point across?

It’s not rude, but asking to be called Ms. Lastname in a context where people don’t go by last names is potentially going to sound a little off (and that could be the chilly part your coworker is responding to). I get that you’re doing it to emphasize that it’s your last name, not your first, but instead I’d just say, “Lastname is my last name; please call me Firstname” or just “my name is FirstName” or “please call me Firstname.”

And yes, once you’ve corrected someone, it’s rude if they don’t bother to retain it.

{ 461 comments… read them below }

  1. Gingerbrave*

    Re #2….I trained RNs (as one myself) in my last clinical job. Many found it hard to believe that they’re not allowed to use their phones on their shift. It’s just a terrible look in front of patients and family. On breaks, in a lounge it is fine. But people really don’t want to see health care staff on phones.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      It’s not just a question of not being a good look – especially in a medical setting, part of your job is often to keep aware of emergency situations which may occur. Even someone without medical training needs to be ready to act if a patient needs intervention. That’s much harder to do if you’re focused on your phone :-\

      1. Tinkerbell*

        (ETA: by “ready to act” I mean, ready to call the appropriate personnel to help with a slip and fall, a heart attack, a confused dementia patient, etc. Not that you’d necessarily have to do anything medical yourself!)

    2. Ginger Cat Lady*

      At one point, my hospital tried using phones with an app of some kind (not personal phones, but phones still) instead of Vocera, and it did NOT go over well with patients. Went back to Vocera.

        1. DannyG*

          Closer to a Star Trek comm badge. Allows (mostly) hands free person to person contact. Also has broadcast feature for code teams, trauma response, etc

        1. CraigT*

          If I’m your manager, and I’ve warned you twice to cut this out, and I’m aware you are finding excuses to continue this behavior, I’m looking for your replacement.

          1. too many dogs*

            I agree. However harmless it feels to be looking at your phone while at work, once you’ve been told to stop it become insubordination if you don’t.

      1. Ecobee*

        They added a giant clunky case to ours so they don’t look like iPhones, I think that’s helped with the perception from patients.

        1. urguncle*

          That’s what my L&D nurses had. The most obnoxiously large and garish Otterbox-type cases that are probably water and drop-resistant. At least one of them said “this isn’t my phone, OBVIOUSLY” to me.

      2. llama mode*

        I’ve worked places where the charge nurses have iphones to do their jobs and patients have expressed displeasure at seeing them texting (when it could very well be in the patient’s favor).

        That said the connections is very fast and is not going to stop someone from hearing a code or noticing someone in front of them. But I guess it depends the way your computer is facing?

        1. lilsheba*

          wow maybe patients need to get over it and mind their own business. As a future hospital patient (surgery next month) I don’t give a damn if someone is on their phone or why because I know they are still going to be there for me when I need them.

          1. a clockwork lemon*

            You will when you need something and you’re sitting in the hospital bed watching nurses text while you yourself are phoneless in a gown unable to move or get anyone’s attention except by yelling for someone to come check on you.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              The guy in the room next to me was getting plenty of attention because he had dementia and kept making a fuss. While I had asked for more pain medication 30 minutes ago, and no one had come yet.

          2. Dawbs*

            i think that your right, ppl need to get over the “bad optics” gut train that prevents a worker from getting an emergency call from their kid’s school or a casher from (heaven forbid! ) looking less attentive because they have a chair.

            but… please keep in mind that medical situations are stressful and there’s a lot of understandable medical trauma. Quite bluntly, i an not at ALL sure that staff is going to be there when i need them. I know that the nurse in front of me today is not the same as the nurse who caused my distrust of the medical community, but the medical community is not a ‘safe’ place for a lot of us. We’re justified in our distrust- (and that’s without race and class and gender coming into the reasons for distrust)

            and as someone who (again) recently got told about a security breech involving my medical records, no, i don’t want a nurse’s personal phone used to text about me- even in an “official ” app.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              The sitting one is very weird because usually the receptionist is sitting, almost everyone in the office is sitting, and you expect them to be attentive to their jobs, including dealing with the public if that’s an aspect of the job. Stealing all the chairs–from the reception desk and everywhere else–would strike patients as weird, not a signal of attentiveness.

              The checking the phone is more difficult because it’s become such a symbol of disengagement. People say that they just need to respond if the school calls with an emergency, but then the majority of those claimants are checking the phone every 90 seconds while talking to you and yet none of those times was it the school calling with an emergency.

              1. Orv*

                I think the sitting one comes from American grocery stores, where cashiers are forbidden to sit because it makes them look lazier to customers. The only exception I’m aware of is Aldi, where they discarded the optics of it and found that cashiers were more efficient if they had stools.

          3. Observer*

            I don’t give a damn if someone is on their phone or why because I know they are still going to be there for me when I need them.

            Will they be? I do not assume that just because someone is using a phone that they are busy with personal stuff. But if someone is clearly playing a game or doing other personal stuff like that when they are on duty? Then, yes, I would worry. And with good reason.

          4. Not-So-New Mom (of 1 8/9)*

            “Future hospital patient” is a hilarious title to give yourself. Sorry that I want my medical staff to be attentive to stuff going wrong!

            –Signed, once and future hospital patient

          5. used to be a tester*

            Yeah, it’s the “they are still going to be there for me when I need them” that’s the tricky part. When my husband was hospitalized I had to go hunt for nursing help more than once because it was something I couldn’t do myself, and we had waited over 10 minutes for someone to respond to the call button.

          6. Nancy*

            That’s nice, but there are valid reasons why healthcare staff shouldn’t use phones in front of patients other than ‘bad optics.’

            For OP, they can do their puzzle on break or at lunch. Simple solution.

            1. Quill*

              If you are front desk there’s less of a potential contamination issue, but if you’re a nurse? Gloves on or off you will be constantly transferring germs around by always touching the screen. (And while you can clean your phone I’m betting the pager, being more hands-off than a touchscreen and probably more resilient to boot, is much easier to thoroughly clean.)

          7. JB*

            Yeah, most of us have reason not to have that same faith.

            Honestly I have no issue with someone in a standard service job being on their phone, but it’s a very different story if I’m in the ER, in pain, already expecting the staff to be rude and dismissive to me regardless of how patient I am (based on past experience), and they all appear to be playing on their phones and not acknowledging me.

            It also feels very strange to be waiting to check in at my PCP and having to just stand there while the desk staff checks their phone, knowing full well that if I’m late for the appointment because of traffic or whatever else they’ll call me and chew me out for it.

            I’m not out here scolding anyone for being on their phone and I always just assume that whatever they’re doing must be important, but the optics are undeniably different in a medical context, especially when medical professionals already have a lot going against them in terms of the experiences people have had.

          8. WTF*

            You should. The distraction of phones negatively impacts patient care leading to harm and sometimes death. If a study ever came out showing otherwise no doubt they would be allowed.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          The fact that Connections is fast to play is all the more reason that you should never once have been caught playing it on your phone when you were supposed to be doing something else. Yet OP has been caught multiple times.

          And I think many people’s everyday experience of people staring at their phones is that the person will fail to notice something right in front of them. It’s come to be a signal of disengagement with the world around you, and engagement with wondering if there’s an update somewhere, or might be an update. (I think the possibility of an update aspect is a big part of what reads as over-absorbed; a magazine doesn’t update and so can be set down for 5 minutes or 5 weeks.) Thus the “this is NOT a cell phone, it’s more like a walkie talkie” solutions described in the thread.

          1. Zelda*

            There are plenty of stories about customers in retail stores who have been preoccupied with looking at their phones and not noticed that their small children have wandered away/ grabbed things out of other people’s carts/ climbed up the shelves/ etc. One could wish that parents had a boss who would come down on them for that kind of crap. Meanwhile one can’t really say that “oh, it’s just the optics; it’s actually totally fine.”

      3. Cat Lover*

        All the hospitals in my area use iPhones for everything. Scanners for scanning patient barcodes- they are connected to printers. They can text other providers in the hospital. They are also attached to the call bells in patient rooms, so they can just use the iPhone to answer a call bell.

        However they all have big cases with the hospital name on it, so I don’t think anyone really cares. Most adults at this point understand that everything is done on phones or tablets.

      4. Cat Lover*

        Where do you live? Just curious as every hospital in my area uses iPhones (at least in the ED and MedSurg units) and have for 5+ years.

      5. OMG, Bees!*

        There is always some level of optics to show that someone is working and not slacking off.

        At an old job using the cheapest of everything, we used personal GMail for communications before we switched over to Slack (still free version). Occasionally, clients would think we/I were not working when talking in GChat, despite all of the conversation at the time being on topic discussing how to fix whatever issue the client had. I once even had to show the client my messages to ensure them that I was in fact working on their issues right then and there.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I think it’s great that OP wrote in for advice, because there’s an underlying layer of “what is the big deal really?” that really needs to be talked out. I wouldn’t express that opinion if I were OP because it seems overly attached to phones. Light phone use isn’t necessarily a big deal in non-customer facing jobs, but it looks horrible when it is, especially on a front desk! If I had a colleague who seemed reluctant to put their phone away for a clear workplace priority, I would consider them to be the ones making a big deal out of it. I can see OP feels quite slighted and lumped in with people who are scrolling endlessly, and I’m sure that’s not the case, but it’s equally bad to not be able to go without even lighter phone use. If it’s not that much phone use, why not do without it entirely? There are other ways to pace yourself at work, and they don’t involve board games.

      1. Tio*

        I very much get a vibe of “No one (patient) is catching me, and other people in the company do it, so why can’t I?”

        1. Because no one’s caught you YET and if they do, like your manager has, they might not be thrilled. Or at least your manager thinks they won’t.
        2. Different positions, even in the same company, have different expectations. As a front desk person, there are optics that management considers for this that aren’t as big of a factor as for other positions. And management does get to decide that even if it’s not fair or hasn’t caused any problems (yet). because it’s a risk avoidance strategy to avoid said problems, and they get to make that call. Also, you don’t know how many of the people you see on their phones have also been reprimanded and are playing with fire the same way you will be if you continue.
        3. Digging in your heels and refusing to abide the direct instruction is a bigger deal than the phone usage. I almost had to fire someone at an old job because management changed the rules and we couldn’t wear headphones at work anymore. So they started playing very quiet music at their desk on the phone speaker. Did I personally care? No, I thought the rule was stupid and unnecessary and I don’t think the music was loud enough to reach anyone else from their position. Did my boss’s boss care? Yes, which meant I had to enforce it because otherwise I would get in trouble too.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Also, you don’t know how many of the people you see on their phones have also been reprimanded and are playing with fire the same way you will be if you continue.
          Yes, this is very true. It comes up all the time when teaching. “But loads of other people were doing it too. How come I’m the only one in trouble.”

          Well, for one of two reasons. Either you were the only one who got caught, in which case, yeah, that’s bad luck but that’s the chance you take when you choose to break a rule or else you aren’t the only one in trouble but you’re the only one you know about because teachers aren’t going to tell you about their interactions with other students. Same with bosses and employees. A good boss is going to speak to people privately and just as others won’t know if you are corrected, you won’t know if they are.

          OK, with students there is a third possibility, that the person who is complaining is the only one who made an issue of it and started arguing that they should be allowed, but hopefully most adults don’t start shouting abuse or making sarcastic comments when told to stop doing something.

          My reply to students is “it doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing. If you are caught breaking a rule, you will be in trouble. Yes, some people may be lucky and not get caught but that’s the chance you take when you break a rule.”

          1. Clisby*

            All my life I’ve heard people complain they were stopped and fined for speeding, even though other people were speeding all around them. Their defense was never “the officer lied and I wasn’t speeding,” it was “why just me?”

            That’s a question for the universe. My answer: Luck of the draw.

            1. Orv*

              I think in the case of speeding enforcement there are other elements besides luck, like:
              – Does it look like the kind of car someone would drive fast in?
              – Does the person seem attentive or are they weaving?
              – Does the person look white or black? (Black motorists are pulled over at distinctly higher rates.)

    4. münchner kindl*

      Not in hospital, but service counters in general (retail, library, civil office) I have seen both sides, as employee and customer, and while I can understand thinking as employee “of course I’m not doing important stuff, I’m just waiting until a customer approaches me” – from the other side, the patient/ customer doesn’t know if you= employee are writing down important information in a file before you forget it/ doing backlog/ finishing admin stuff, or just waiting, and so many people will default to “be polite” which means “don’t interrupt”.

      And with your head down, you can’t see that there’s somebody hovering several steps away waiting for you to finish and look up.

      And shy people (stressed people, socially akward/ anxious people) will prefer to go away after some hovering, instead of stepping up and saying “excuse me” to get your attention.

      Yes, it is boring to sit around when there’s slack time. But it is better to look at the customer when they (finally) appear than down or at a screen.

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        Some of us have found that even very politely saying “excuse me” to someone playing games or talking about their social life can get a very rude response and even that person refusing to serve/assist you at all.

      2. Anonym*

        Good point. And in a medical setting, the proportion of stressed and anxious people is much higher than other settings.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        One time the old hands at my local farm stand were modeling for the summer job kids how to have a discussion at the checkout while simultaneously indicating to customers that it was fine to approach and you would sell them a rutabaga in a prompt and cheerful manner. Demonstrating a willingness to be interrupted is a skill that can be taught and learned.

      4. Drago Cucina*

        In the public library I would be working on the computer at the research desk and people would say they didn’t want to interrupt me because I was working. The work I was doing was to be in between helping the public. I had to watch my focus was always toward the public.

        I used to tell staff, ‘Check out an eBook if you need something to read. Or, pull up your e-textbook.” It looked 100% better than scrolling social media, doing puzzles, even reading news sites (the ads just make them look like fun stuff). If it’s not possible on a computer, it looks much better on a tablet than a phone.

        1. hypoglycemic rage*

          I used to work a lot of nights and weekends at public libraries and would get so much reading done because it was usually less busy than during the day. I still had to keep an eye on the public I was helping, so I couldn’t get as engrossed in the book as I normally would, but it looked a lot better than being on my phone all the time.

      5. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

        We have a service counter that is not always manned. We have a large sign that says please ring the bell.

        90% of the time, people just stand there waiting for someone to notice that they are there. I think there is a cultural thing now to wait to be noticed. So yeah the phone thing can be misinterpreted.

        If you are not supposed to use the phone, then don’t use the phone.

        1. Orv*

          I hate having to ring a bell because it feels imperious and demanding, like I’m the lord of a manor house ringing for a servant to come help me.

          1. Birb*

            I also hate having to ring the bell and attract EVERYONE’S attention. Also, once in my college library, a student employee removed the desk bell for their shift and replaced it with a sign that said “For assistance, please quack.” and then chastised me for being unwilling to quack for him after I stood quietly and waited until he noticed me.

            1. Orv*

              That sounds like the kind of stunt that would have seemed hilarious when I was in my early 20s, so I can both thing it’s dumb and sympathize with the bored student who tried it.

      6. Slow Gin Lizz*

        The thing is, the OP said they are supposed to be dealing with backlog of scheduling requests when they are not actively helping someone at the desk. Which means they don’t really have “slacktime,” they are always supposed to be doing work. (Assuming that this medical office is like every other medical office and always has a backlog of appointments to schedule.) So that means that they *really* shouldn’t be playing on their phone at their desks. When in the break room, sure, but not when they are supposed to be doing actual work. Sorry, OP, but it is completely within reason for your boss to tell you you can’t be playing on your phone when you’re at your desk. I get that being a medical scheduler can be a frustrating job in a lot of ways, but you’ll have to wait until your official breaks to play on your phone.

        1. kanada*

          I can say with 100% certainty ou’re not productive every minute of your shift. Don’t chastise others for doing the same.

          1. tetsuo*

            Amen. I can also say with 100% certainty that LW2’s manager doesn’t even meet the “100% of my time is productive time!” standard she feels entitled to demand.

            1. judyjudyjudy*

              Harsh take on the manager, imo. I think it’s reasonable to ask the reception staff not to play games on their phones when they are manning the desk, not entitled. I assume that this game can be played on coffee/tea or lunch breaks.

            2. Also-ADHD*

              My impression was that it was an optics thing in this case, more than that, to be fair, just because they’re public facing.

    5. Performative gumption*

      Hard agree
      The challenge these days is I have so many clinical apps on my phone!
      Standing at the end of my patient’s bed on my phone looking like I’m scrolling but I’m just working out their creatinine clearance!

      1. Cordelia*

        yes, I work in healthcare and carry my phone around in order to communicate quickly with my team – we have a secure app similar to WhatsApp with different chats depending on the team/patient group. I also use my phone calendar to check my availability and book appointments. I do always say to the patient “just checking the calendar” or “just looking at the last message about this from Dr X” as I don’t think the optics are great!

        1. Petty Betty*

          It is appreciated, especially for the folks who actively frown upon ANY technology use. My grandma spent a lot of time in the hospital during her last 5-6 years. Of course, technology was constantly around. She did not like it, did not want to understand any of it. If a medical professional was not writing with pen and paper and documenting everything in a paper chart, she felt they were lazy and that they were doing it wrong. This, coming from the woman that had an 8th grade education.
          And she complained constantly about “doctors with their noses in their phones when they should be paying attention to me!” and “my taxes pay for them to play on their phones all day!” (meaning her Medicare). We had to remind her with every phone call that her medical records were IN those electronics, and that they were looking up information to keep her as healthy as possible so she could keep making complaints.

          1. Emma*

            This is why I only work in pediatrics. Bless people who can work with adults and the elderly. I’ll take the screaming baby all day every day.

          2. Freya*

            I had a doctor snark at me to put my phone down while I was telling my now-husband what the doctor was saying about my health, so that I could both remember the details and so that my now-husband could pick up on any questions I’d forgotten to ask. I have never been back to that doctor.

        2. Festively Dressed Earl*

          I do the same thing (personal, not professional) when dealing with my elderly aunt. She believes that if I’m on my phone while we’re visiting, I’m not paying attention to her. Now when I pull out my phone, I simultaneously say “Let me find out about {question Aunt asked that needs a semi-immediate answer}” or “I just want to add that to my Notes so I don’t forget to look into it later.” She perks up when she realizes that I’m more engaged with what she’s saying, not less.

      2. DataGirl*

        This- not sure about nurses but our doctors have to use their phones- we use a mobile app for paging, for alerting the crash team to codes, for MFA when prescribing meds, and other things.

      3. Jojo*

        Performative Gumption – Every time I’ve had a doctor/nurse use their phone in front of me, they have explained why. “Let me check if they’ve gotten your results back” or “I’m going to plug these numbers into the calculator to see if you need medication.” It takes just a moment, and helps me understand that they are using their phone as an aid to my treatment.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This sort of small up-front framing makes such a difference. Like the advice that in an interview, if you got your phone out you would say “Let me check my calendar.”

          Because in modern life, it is definitely a thing where the person who is supposed to be engaged with you keeps drifting off to see if someone has liked their post. “Huh, wha? I was listening! Um, what did you say?”

          There was a scene in some sort of heist show where hacking the email would require the target to get out his phone and check it while in line at the coffee shop–the newbie worried this wouldn’t work, but the experienced hand knew you’ve gotta pull your phone out whenever you’re in line.

          1. GythaOgden*

            We’re never 100% aware of how we’re doing. Even the most self-aware person can’t know for certain that they’re doing a good job in someone else’s perspective, and to me part of that self-awareness is to recognise that you don’t know how you necessarily come across and thus self-correct to show more, rather than less, focus and attention.

            And in all of this I’m coming from a place of being an incorrigible fidget and needing some outlet for spare brain cycles. I know it’s hard. But when your boss tells you to stop, you stop.

        2. Roberta*

          I have learned to use that in non-clinical settings too.

          “Oh I think that was emailed out, let me see if I can find it quickly.”

          “what was that date again? I will just Google upcoming events and see if that is available”.

          “oh that us such a good idea, I am going to write it in a note on my phone so I don’t forget”.

          and then immediately putting your phone away when the task is done.

          in my past life I was at a day care centre and phones were all but banned on site because they were treated as a distraction. if you were on your phone, you weren’t with the kids. and if they were unattended that was a fireable offense. But explaining you were checking the weather report or got a text from our colleague helped clear the air.

          1. Mangled Metaphor*

            “immediately putting your phone away when the task is done.”

            Probably the key step that gets missed most often. The duration of “immediately” can have such a surprising impact on the other person’s perception of your attention.

        3. Antilles*

          I use this same strategy all the time as a patient: I like to take notes on my phone so I don’t forget anything, but I’ll pre-emptively announce “I’m going to take some notes if you don’t mind” so it’s clear that I’m paying attention.

        4. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Relatedly, the best dentist I ever had also did his own hygienist work, and he narrated everything he was doing, and sometimes for what purpose (if it wouldn’t be obvious) every step of the way. There’s something very reassuring as a patient about feeling so clued in to what’s happening with your own care down to each moment.

          His screen saver was also a slideshow with dozens of photos of his two pet cats and the monitor faced right towards me in the chair, so that was a treat too.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Hah. My hygienist loves to start an erudite conversation and then immediately shove her hands into my mouth so I can’t respond. She’s great in every respect — a real coach in many aspects — and I actually appreciate the chatter because it’s going to be at least somewhat interesting even if she’s just talking about her kids playing pro soccer.

            I love those hospital machines where they project calming images onto the ceiling or perhaps into the actual capsule itself depending on where the patient’s eyes are going to be. I’ve seen laser-knife surgery masks painted in Spiderman colours and arm casts made to look like Thanos’ glove. My husband got a bed in his hospice that actually stretched out to accommodate his lanky 6’6″ frame after a week crammed into a hospital bed that almost had him sitting up to fit him in. Making a patient’s day just that little bit better is imperative in healthcare — it’s been shown to improve physical wellbeing and help recovery as well — and people who can’t do that shouldn’t last long if the management is good.

            1. Lisa*

              “Hah. My hygienist loves to start an erudite conversation and then immediately shove her hands into my mouth so I can’t respond.”

              I’m pretty sure that’s a skill they teach at hygienist and dental programs. I’ve never had one not do that.

              1. starsaphire*

                It’s the same skill that waiters learn, to come by and check on you right as you’ve just shoved a bite of something chewy into your mouth…

                1. Freya*

                  … the staff at the pub that hosts the weekly pub trivia night I go to are very very very slowly learning that it’s a bad idea to ask some of us to respond right as a new question goes up on the screen, or when we’re still discussing what our answer is…

                  (I have previously had to go and apologise to one of them, because I was very rude, and she did not deserve that from me, no matter that I was distracted trying to deal with teammates and question when she asked if it was my food that she was holding)

      4. Observer*

        The challenge these days is I have so many clinical apps on my phone!

        I think it’s helpful to tell someone what you are doing. Like “Oh, let me check your blood work. It should be showing up in my app by now”. That not only tells them that you’re not just scrolling “something”, but you are actually actively engaged in their specific care.

      5. Jay (no, the other one)*

        I’m not allowed to load hospital apps on my own phone (except for two-factor authentication to get into my work phone). As someone said below, if I take my work phone out in front of a patient – or during a conversation with a colleague – I explain what I’m doing. Since it’s my work phone, there’s nothing else on it and I put it away immediately.

        Added bonus: I turn it off when I’m not working and don’t hear text or Email alerts, so my time off is my own.

    6. Inkognyto*

      Work for a healthcare org in a hospital and medical and support staff are to leave their phones in their locker, or locked into the desk.

      If it’s seen in their hand not on break I believe it starts with 1 warning then onto disciplinary action.

      Vocera is a local communication device similar to a phone, it’s locked to the hospital, can talk/text etc.

      I believe the ones we have are clip on with a mic and voice activation words, can work under PPE. Think MIC with a device screen on belt or in pocket.

      One it’s good to have something usable across a hospital to communicate on shift at any time
      that is encrypted and on radio channels that do not interfere with some hospital equipment.
      Two it helps with liability. “Oh the patient didn’t get X in time because the person was on their phone.”

      It’s called negligence and even saying “X person didn’t do something because they were not paying attention (true or not) becomes a liability.

      On the hospital workstation/ computer email/web brower usage is tracked, and not on the local computer on the servers it goes through. They know every site you visit and every email sent and received. There is a legal liability reason for them to track it. Then there’s the hospital software for the patients’ medical record would be tracked also to ensure who looked at what records and when, also similar reason to ensure only those who should be looking at an individual patients records are.

    7. GammaGirl1908*

      LW2 has 24 hours to do Connections. They need to skip the 8 hours when they are at work. It’s one thing if no one specifically called it out, but they’ve been called out. They need to take the hint instead of pushing back because it’s just a few minutes. It doesn’t have to be a big deal in general for it to be a big deal at this workplace.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          They can do it on their lunch hour then.

          OP is clearly looking for the loophole that will let her continue to be on her phone despite being told she cannot. Let me spell it out simply — there is no loophole. No cellphone use means none, not even a little bit.

        2. Ess Ess*

          Interesting… my spouse and I compete with Connections every morning and it doesn’t take more than 3 minutes.

          OP should follow the rules they are given and if it is so urgent to do the game they can do it before clocking in, or do it on their break/lunch.

          1. Me*

            Connections completion time varies really widely. I went to a thing where people were doing a set of 4 Connections-type puzzles on their phone, and after a few minutes, the emcee said, “Are people almost finished with the first one?” and I was almost finished #3. I ended up being one of the top scorers, but I had no idea until that gathering that I was doing Connections faster than a lot of people.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        100% this. There is ZERO urgency to playing this game. OP doesn’t want to give up “her” time for it. She wants to use “her company’s” time. If I were her manager, I would be wondering how else she is using work time.

      2. Rex Libris*

        Yep. If you’ve already been warned once, assume you’re one crotchety patient saying “I tried to get her attention, but she was too busy playing with her phone” away from being unemployed.

    8. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I think there’s an optics difference if it’s a tablet, because so many settings including healthcare use tablets for legitimate work purposes, whereas smartphones read as personal.

      That is, if I approach a front desk and someone is tapping away on a tablet I’ll assume it’s work-related even if there’s an obvious computer at the desk.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        My nurse practioner ( so prefer an NP to a doctor) carries a laptop around. I know she is checking lab results typing her notes in right then, and even sending orders for lab tests. By the time I get to the front desk, they have everything they need for me to schedule follow up appointments.

        But the laptop is clearly business. She could everything on her phone but as noted, optics.

        1. Rex Libris*

          It’s just being professional. Part of the job in a public facing role is to reassure the client/patient/customer that they are your focus and have your attention, and being on one’s phone gives the opposite impression.

        2. JB*

          It’s not nitpicky, it’s reflective of reality. It’s common to see tablets deployed as work equipment and hard to believe that someone will have brought their personal iPad to work and gotten away with it.

    9. Grim*

      Yeah, it’s inconvenient sometimes, but having your (personal) phone out in any customer facing job just looks so bad. It reads as casual and disengaged in most cases, even when it’s arguably providing a work-related function. I have a good reason to keep my phone on me at work (silent/vibrate alarms to remind me to take my medication every three hours) but it stays in the zipped-up pocket of my scrub pants. Have to use a torch/flashlight on night shift or to check a patient’s pupil reactivity? I carry a small torch in a different pocket. Need a calculator? There’s one in the med room. Want to look something up on a clinical info app or database? Gotta walk to a computer. Although I know a lot of doctors will whip out their personal phone to take a photo of a wound’s healing progress and text it to the rest of the medical team, which is a whole different can of worms. Technically against my organisation’s guidelines but it seems super common and normalised.

    10. Joyce to the World*

      Also, if you are around protected information it gives the impression that one errant post on a social media site can expose that information. As a team lead in a non customer facing role, it was strongly discouraged for staff to use their phones during their work time as we worked with federally protected health information. Not to mention they were measured on their production.

    11. kalli*

      Health care staff generally have a reason to have a device handy.

      The number of times I have been told off for ‘being on my phone’ instead of ‘paying attention’ when I am typing to someone because I am mute and that’s how I talk, well, I lost count about eight years ago. It has even resulted in fines because police officers would not believe I was using it to be talking to them and not on my phone while driving and just didn’t have the sense to put it away before they got to the window. A lot of people won’t wait for me to type and exclude me from conversation or won’t let me finish a longer sentence.
      And there is a non-zero number of people who have taken my phone away from me and then been mad at me for not being able to talk to them, people who have grabbed my arms and then been mad at me because I couldn’t talk to them…

      … and I can’t get funding for a Lightwriter because the speech pathologist was like ‘the grant will only be for an iPhone and maybe an app for typing in because it’s cheaper and everyone has a phone anyway’. Bzuh?

      But the ‘your phone means you’re not paying attention to me’ is very much not exclusive to people who have to use devices to access EMRs or paperless file systems; it’s a widely held social supposition that will absolutely follow staff into a break room and to their personal devices.

      It’s also not relevant here, because the issue isn’t about phone use anymore. It’s about LW having been instructed multiple times that when they are not actively engaged with a patient, they are meant to be performing other work – and LW failing to comply with that reasonable direction and spending work time on personal pursuits. They can play games and socialise during breaks. Failure to comply with a lawful direction such as ‘please do your work’ is very much suitable territory for a warning, and multiple failures after being warned can progress that closer to PIP or termination territory.

      And that would be the same if they had no visibility to patients, weren’t customer-facing, worked remotely, were invisible, or otherwise had no element of body language or other non-spoken communication in any work-based interactions. The issues are failure to follow directions and using work time for personal activities. This isn’t stretching or having a sip of tea or running to the toilet real quick; it’s an activity where the reasonable and default expectation is that it can and should be kept to breaks, and that expectation has been explicitly communicated.

      1. GythaOgden*

        That legit sucks.

        At the point where you’d find this situation, though, you’d have reasonable adjustments figured out with your manager. OP isn’t saying any of this applies to her at her workplace.

        1. kalli*

          And as I said, it’s also not relevant in OP’s situation because it’s no longer about the phone, but a failure to follow a reasonable direction.

      2. Student*

        Have you considered carrying a small, physical, laminated card on it explaining that you’re mute and you communicate mainly through typing on your phone?

        You can flash it at people, give it to the police officer up front, etc. Emergency responders are relatively used to getting critical up-front information on such cards. I carry one for a medical condition that I flash at people whenever it comes up. It’s the size of a standard business card with a simple message that’s nicely formatted on the front using a standard business card template. This has the advantage of looking very official and clearly being prepared in advance, so nobody is quick to accuse me of making stuff up. I still get met by disbelief sometimes, so it’s not a cure-all, but it helps.

    12. Winstonian*

      I used to work in a clinic where one of the nurses carried her phone in her pocket and played music (radio station I think) all day long. And no she did not mute it when in a patient room.

          1. Orv*

            It interferes with the advertising-spigot TVs that all doctor’s waiting rooms seem to have now.

        1. Leenie*

          Seriously? I really do not want to be in an exam room listening to someone’s chosen pocket music. I’m not easily annoyed, but that would be irksome.

          1. Carol the happy elf (who only checks out AAM on lunch or after shift)*

            It actually does hurt the patient. Or rather, it skews the results, and that’s dangerous.

            When taking BP, Pulse rate, and O2 while forcing or allowing the patient to listen to loud or even fast music, the patient may become agitated, and the medical personnel are definitely not able to pay full attention.

            Musical beat can have an effect on heartbeat; that has been known for centuries. Here’s a link.


            My neighbor is a cardiologist; he regularly warns patients to avoid parades and in-person sports events because the sound and tempo can be felt, and have an effect on their vitals. We feel band music at a parade and the halftime show at a football game; it’s meant to create a physical and emotional response.

            So a nurse walking into a patient room with his/her music playing audibly wouldn’t be permitted, (in my medical system at least). At best, they’d be dividing a few bits of attention, but it tells patients that the nurse (and music!) aren’t to be interrupted by the patient’s questions or needs.

            This OP is being paid to present a respectful, conscientious, service-oriented demeanor- AND BE AWARE OF THE LOBBY OR WAITING ROOM. Any cellphone usage makes that impossible. Lock up your personal device at work, and don’t even take a Word Find out of the break room.

            (We have tablets for the patients to enter inforrmation, but they’re not game- compatible.)

            They’ve warned you- so quit it.

            1. The Provisional Republic of A Thousand Eggs*

              “Who does it hurt”? I was going to write “well, some of us have sensory issues”, but what you wrote is a lot worse.

              1. dawbs*

                My kid has sensory issues and migraines and I’m picturing how this could go badly.
                (And yup, that’s resolved by asking the person to turn off the pocket music…which should be an easy fix. But also, I do NOT want to irritate the person who is going to be stabbing me with needles in a few minutes. It’s already a really high stress place to be.

                My autistic teen, if by herself, would have to deal w/ her social anxiety, put on her (figurative) mask for her face, put on her (figurative) mask for her voice [<that sounds minor to a lot of people. It's not], and then hope that it didn't make the medical person irritated with her when she has other sensory needs she'll need to ask for help with for for in the next 15 minutes–and considering how dismissive medical folks who know her diagnosis [it's right there in the file!] have been over things like "we need the manual blood pressure cuff" when I"m there to hulk-out in getting her supports, I can't help but think she has reasons to worry)

            2. GythaOgden*

              Makes sense. Sound waves are physical vibrations in the air received by the ear but also felt by other objects. We’ve learned to manipulate them for communication and art, but they do still have an impact on their surroundings, so it makes absolute sense that this might happen when dealing with other bodily sensors.

            3. Nina*

              I had to be awake for surgery at one point (so they could get me to move in certain ways to check their work) and they had a bunch of songs that were ‘approved’ for the OR (appropriate BPM? something) and told me to pick an artist or a style or whatever I felt like listening to. In that case there was an entire nurse scrubbed in for the sole purpose of keeping an eye on the very much awake patient, and he changed songs on request.

        2. Ahnon4Thisss*

          If I’m in the clinic not feeling good, the last thing I wanna hear is someone’s phone playing a radio station as they walk around. It isn’t respectful to patients or coworkers who may need to focus.

        3. Frankie*

          The patients and coworkers. It lacks common courtesy, and speaks to not giving your full attention to your health care job.

        4. But I'm A Musician*

          It hurts anyone who doesn’t want to be forced to listen to other people’s tinny phone music.

          Use a single ear bud if you MUST have music in your ear at all times.

          Also related PSA: No one wants to hear your speaker phone conversations!

        5. Observer*

          and who does that hurt? no one.

          Not true. There are very few genres of music that are really inoffensive to everyone. And in a healthcare setting that’s a real problem. It’s bad in any setting where you might be distressing your clientele, but it 100 x worse in healthcare, which is by definition a space where a significant proportion of your clients are stressed out.

          Then there is the issue of actually using a personal phone in a healthcare setting around patients. This is not just “optics”. This is a clear risk of medical records being compromised.

        6. Rex Libris*

          It would hurt the nurse, because if I were a patient, it’s unprofessional, oblivious and rude enough that I would definitely complain, and demand a different nurse.

        7. Colette*

          It’s annoying (I don’t want to listen to music I didn’t choose in a situation I don’t have a choice about) and distracting. And, frankly, unprofessional – it makes it appear that her priority is listening to music, not helping her patients.

        8. Dust Bunny*

          Noooo you do not play music out loud in a setting like this. You’re not even supposed to listen to music out loud on the bus because we all have to share the space and if everyone thinks they’re the exception to the rule it gets loud and annoying really quickly.

        9. JB*

          Are you kidding? You’re alright with hearing someone else’s music on speaker on their phone?

          Or is this something you’ve never experienced because the people around you are more considerate than that?

          This is like saying “sure, she scratches her nails across the chalkboard whenever she enters a patient’s room, it’s just a quirk. What’s the problem?”

        10. Petty Betty*

          It certainly hurts my opinion of that person, for one. I didn’t ask to be in a guest role in that person’s undercover tv show, complete with soundtrack.

          But others have fully stated great reasons why it’s not good to be playing music like that. I just don’t like it when others think they’re the main character and need to have a running theme song/background music for their lives. Low music at their desk if it’s not bothering anyone else, sure; but pocket music? No.

        11. Winstonian*

          Other than being as annoying as hell as her coworker?? Please see all the other comments.

        12. Happy poet*

          A patient in a hospital room? In an exam room? A coworker trying to get work done at the nurses station? Yeah, I imagine they would ALL have something to say about that. God invented headphones for a reason.

      1. anon_sighing*

        This is so inappropriate. When people are sick, they may be noise sensitive. When they’re sick, they’re already in pain and/or uncomfy. When they’re sick, they’re worried and maybe don’t wanna hear whatever the nurse has on. Maybe they’re trying to meditate and the noise is jarring. Maybe I don’t wanna hear what they are listening to. A hospital is already uncomfortable, dealing with the other patients is already annoying…why is the staff making it worse?

        Either way, I don’t even want to hear other people’s music on the bus — yes, it harms no one, but it’s terribly inconsiderate.

    13. Blame It On The Weatherman*

      Yeah in terms of how realistic is it to be disciplined for this, the answer is… extremely likely if you keep ignoring it! I spent some years in that same kind of role, and that was like the most common thing people would get in trouble for. You can play the connections on your breaks still.

    14. Dust Bunny*

      I think there are also security/HIPAA concerns about nurses snapping pictures of patients’ info (medical or financial) and sharing it. Obviously the vast majority of healthcare workers would never do that, but it’s a bad look, and there have been a few leaks of celebrity, usually, medical situations in the news.

    15. Crenecestre*

      As several people here have pointed out, health care staff absorbed in their phones is more than a “bad look”. Patients in a health care setting are already very, very vulnerable in many ways; they’re there because their health – even their life! – is at stake, and they’re already worried about what the staff will tell them.

      It’s crucial for ALL the staff that they encounter to SHOW the patients that they’re approachable, understanding, nonjudgmental, and that they welcome patients asking questions and sharing concerns. If a staff member is on their phone, patients will very likely hesitate to “interrupt” them, even when they have vitally important questions; they don’t want to be rude and they REALLY don’t want to antagonize someone who could hold power over their health care! TL:DR – If you’re working in a health care setting, put. away. your. phone. till. break-.time.

    16. anon_sighing*

      This is where I fell. I don’t think it’s actually that bad to be on your phone; it’s just the optics in that setting. If you were doing a desk job or something where you’re not visible, then I don’t think people would really care.

    17. HA2*

      Yep, I agree.

      Here’s my recent experience.

      So, I was recently the caregiver for someone who was in a hospital. It was a very stressful time. I would wheel them in a wheelchair between different parts of the hospital for different reasons (being vague). I can with no exaggeration say that those few days were literally the most stressful days of my life, with nothing else even coming close to it.

      There was one receptionist who would, when we would stop by the front desk to get in to a section of the hospital, make just a bit of smalltalk before opening the door to the secure area with a button press. It was no more than a few sentences – something like “how are you”, maybe another pleasantry or so, she would say to feel free to call if we needed anything. I think she was trying to be nice. But she would wait to push the button to open that f@$#$$# door until we answered. And we both came to HATE that one damn receptionist. We’re going on 2-3 hours of sleep last night, we have 2 hours until the next time we have to be awake, we just want to get in to the room so the patient can catch a 1.5-hour nap (hopefully), we don’t want to chat, you know who we are and you’re not doing any ID or authorization checks, just OPEN THE DAMN DOOR SO WE CAN GET THROUGH AND SLEEP. But we can’t be rude because that might cause an argument and another minute or two delay, and she is (literally) the gatekeeper between us and sleep, so we grin and bear the 10 seconds of questioning while wanting to scream in frustration. No, that extra 10 seconds isn’t really materially important to our health outcomes, but it certainly feels like it is in the moment. My preferred “interaction” with that receptionist was that she sees us coming, pushes the button, and the door opens before we get to it so the wheelchair never has to stop. NOT “we pull up to her desk, stop, chat, then she lets us in.”

      If there was some receptionist that visibly looked like they were playing a game on their phone, that would feel even worse. Yes, logically I know the extra few seconds or whatever to look up and notice us isn’t going to adversely affect our health care, but man it would make us feel so terrible.

      So I can totally understand why in a health care setting, it is vitally important that no patient in that situation EVER sees their gatekeeper to health care distracted from them by a game.

  2. ENFP in Texas*

    “She is the one who has reminded the team again and again to put our phones away at the front desk.”

    When a manager tells you not to do something, then don’t do it. It doesn’t matter what it is, or how little you think you’re doing it. If your manager says don’t, then don’t.

    If your manager has to tell you numerous times not to do it, and you still do it, don’t be surprised when you are subject to disciplinary action.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Your manager has given you clear warnings – repeatedly about putting phones away – and you are ignoring her.
      Disciplinary action is quite likely, maybe even the next time she or another manager sees you. Even now, you may be dinged in your review or be first on the list to be let go if there are job cuts.

      Playing games and surfing on your phone doesn’t matter in some jobs but it does in yours, even as you put it “in this day and age”. Keep it for your breaks – you can “bond” together then.

    2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Yes to all of this!

      And LW, even if you feel like you’re not doing it all that much (and even if that’s true), that’s really neither here nor there. Your boss gets to decide if she thinks it’s something you should be doing at the desk or not, because she’s the boss.

      Furthermore, if you keep doing something the boss has repeatedly told you not to do, you’ll risk being seen as insubordinate, which is not cool in the vast majority of workplaces and can get you in serious trouble in many of them. Unless you think this is a hill you really want to die on, your best bet is to follow her instructions and do as she asks.

      1. Rex Libris*

        This. I’ve worked in public service for 20 years, and almost everyone I’ve ever seen fired, the ultimate cause was insubordination… the manager repeatedly said do this, or don’t do that, and the employee just couldn’t grasp that it was that big of a deal.

      1. Shepherdess*

        …And then don’t be surprised when your supervisor won’t give you a good reference!

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I’m surprised at the OP’s pushback on this. I thought this was exactly the kind of setting where you should definitely not have your phone out. Not only do you have to be approachable, you have to be ready to observe things that patients might not have the awareness to, or might be reluctant to, tell you themselves. The fewer distractions the better.

      I have a job where nobody cares if I look at my phone sometimes, but if I were assisting a patron I would only have it out if it was very clear that I was using it to look something up for them.

    4. Clisby*

      Yes. We can discuss all day the reasons for this, and when it might be actually helpful to the job, or whatever.

      I suppose there might be roofers out there who don’t understand why they can’t substitute any old random nails if they run out, and they just go ahead because they can’t be bothered to get more roofing nails. And their bosses find out and say, “Cut out that shit or you’re fired.” And they keep on sneaking around using other nails. And they get fired. The inhumanity of it all!

      If you want to stay in your job, do what your manager has directly told you to do, unless of course it’s something unethical or illegal. In that case, don’t do it and take your complaint to the higher-ups or to law enforcement. Or, of course, you can quit and find another job.

    5. Orv*

      I have taken written notes in meetings and typed them afterwards for the last decade because I had one manager who felt it was rude for someone type during a meeting. I have not taken a laptop to a meeting since.

  3. roster gang*

    For #1, seconding Alison’s suggestion here!

    > you can make it less satisfying for her to ask you questions than to take five minutes to figure it out on her own by coaching her instead of giving her the answer: “Where have you looked so far? … OK, go look there and then if you still have questions, come back.”

    This was a HUGE help for me, I’m in a position where for various circumstances I’ve accumulated a lot of information over the years about the company’s systems & have written most of the guides on them. So, people often come to me with random questions.

    Unless it is my job specifically to help someone learn something, which it rarely is, I usually answer with, “sure, i’ll help with that! what have you found so far in the resources?” or something like that (“how did the replication for that problem go?” “send me the link to the test for that and i’ll check it out” etc). 80% of the time, there’s no followup questions :)

    Some people learn quickly, others might take a few weeks of this, but keep your patience – it’ll be worth it!

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      I also think it would be a huge help for LW to be more specific about the problem. Right now LW is hoping Colleague guesses out of thin air that she needs to be more self-sufficient, while Colleague thinks this is fine and she is checking in and getting face time with LW. That is, this communication has been a GOOD thing so far, and she needs to be told more explicitly that, no, it needs to taper off. On a scale of 1-10 of communicating that this needs to stop, LW is maybe sighing a bit, which is about a 1.5, tops. Some people need you to go to a 4 or 5 and don’t consider that to be rude.

      Say something! It’s not rude to say something. It’s just rude to say something rudely. Try something more like:

      “This is an atmosphere where you need to be self-sufficient. Now that you’ve gotten acclimated to how things roll here, I can help you if you’re really stuck and you’ve exhausted your resources, but you now should start looking up answers before coming to a colleague, because people aren’t always going to be able to just tell you the answer. Try looking things up first in the [glossary] and [documentation]. I promise, most of the answers are there for you! After a few weeks here, I had to start looking things up, and I figured out that the answers were there in the [documentation] and I could look them up and get on with the work. I know it might take a bit more time at first than coming to someone for a quick answer, but you are going to have to start using the resources more than asking people here.”

      Then, the next time it happens is the time to say, “Did you look in the [glossary] or [documentation]? This is a perfect time to check those first. Go look there and if you haven’t figured it out in [time] or so, bring them in and we’ll look it up together .”

      1. LW#1*

        I agree completely that I definitely need to be more direct. I came to AAM because I often struggle to know the best way to be direct with people. I doubt I was even at the 1.5 sighing point, as I was really hoping the questions would taper off on their own as she became more confident in her work.

        I really like your suggestions and will absolutely give them a try. Thank you!

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Oh my gosh, if you haven’t said ANYTHING, definitely say something! Even just, “Let me show you where to look that up so you can start finding answers on your own,” is a place to start.

          1. hypoglycemic rage*

            yeah i am someone who often needs to be told things spelled out – i don’t pick up on stuff sometimes. so my co-admin at my job, who is doing a lot of my training, had to specifically say that part of this job is being self-sufficient and i need to try things on my own before asking for help. i’ve really been trying to work on that – like if a printer gives an error message, i try and troubleshoot it first before asking anyone.

    2. Caroline*

      Yes, this! I’ve also made a practice of deliberately delaying my responses so it’s consistently faster for people to figure the easy stuff out on their own than ask me. Now that I manage people, I coach them to do the same. Take an hour or even a half day to get back to someone with a question, and never just provide the answer, always respond with a follow-up question or query about whether they’ve checked what XYZ says or what they’ve tried so far, and you’re more likely to find out they’ve figured out the answer for themselves in the meantime.

      Also – sometimes if you’re too available, not only will people use you as an easy button for answers, they’ll actually outsource your brain as a memory bank for things they should be making an effort to remember themselves, not even things they’re just avoiding finding or figuring out, and it’s best for everyone concerned if you discourage that. They’ll be stronger if they know things for themselves, you have better things to do than serve as a human reference book, and the company benefits if you’re not the only person who knows things. I actually had a coworker blatantly tell me “why would I bother remembering how to do that when I can just ask you?” He was joking, but it made me realize I needed to change!

    3. Maz*

      It’s also possible to answer a question with either, “I’m sorry, I don’t know,” or “I’m working on something urgent right now,” or “I really need to concentrate on my current task right now,” all of which would be followed by, “Try looking in X or Y resource, or perhaps ask your mentor. If you still can’t find the answer, I can help you later.”

    4. Retail Dalliance*

      Teacher here! (High school teacher, teaching ages 16-17). “What have you tried so far?” “Where have you looked so far?” “What don’t you understand?” All these alleviate learned helplessness to a pretty high extent!

      Also if you say “no” in a cheerful enough tone, people don’t take it personally. Obviously you’d word it more warmly than just saying “no” on its own, for example:
      “I can’t tell you that right now but look here and tell me what you find!”
      “I want to see if you can figure this one out because it’s likely to come up again!”
      “I think I told you that maybe last month? Check the manual for the instructions.”

      1. Nonanon*

        For the record it took me ten years but I JUST REALIZED that’s what my high school teachers were doing and I subconsciously did it whenever I was tutoring/training lab techs sooo thank you for your work, it winds up going more forward than you think :)

      2. Lady_Blerd*

        I need to implement this with one of my direct reports. I do it sometimes but it’s usually out of frustration. It needs to be my usual response to him so it doesn’t feel like I retaliating at him.

      3. Clisby*

        Yes, we did that if our children asked for homework help. (I confess that my husband was much more patient; I remember him once spending at least 30 minutes tutoring our daughter through some complicated geometry problem, and most of his input was some variation on “Read this section in the textbook again – what you need to know is right there” and “You got problem 2 right – some of what you need to know for this problem is in the one you already did correctly.” )

        When they got old enough to have jobs, part of my advice was that a lot of times, supervisors are more likely to help you out if you first tell them what you’ve actually tried, unsuccessfully. (This doesn’t apply to actual emergencies, like the restaurant kitchen is on fire.)

        Well before they were born, my job as a computer programmer sometimes involved helping newer programmers figure out what was going on in our legacy systems. We had voluminous documentation available – I was 1000% more receptive to people who came to me with “I tried A, and X happened, so that’s not right; I tried B and that was better, but then Y happened; I tried C and nothing was right, and I’m really baffled” than to people who just came to me with “What should I DOOOO?”

      4. Rebecca*

        Oh, yep. I start training kids as young as 9 to stop telling me they ‘don’t understand’ and start coming to me with a specific question.

        This one is probably specific to kids and won’t work with colleagues, but I started asking them to read the question out loud to me, and 90% of the time they figured out the answer before they finished reading the question.

        1. Clisby*

          Oh, my son was like that. To the point that if I was giving him feedback on a paper he wrote, I didn’t even bother to try to explain what I meant by “This sentence is kind of awkward.” I told him to read it aloud to me, and most of the time he’d say “Oh! It would sound better like XYZ” and he’d be right. I realized he couldn’t read something and hear it in his head. I can, and my older child can, but everybody’s different.

    5. Paulina*

      Yes. “What have you tried so far?” is both a reasonable question to ask, in that it’s based on not wanting to cover the same ground that they’ve already tried, but also sets the expectation that they should have tried something rather than use you as an immediate oracle. It’s also framed somewhat positively, in that surely they’re not asking something simple because they’d know that stuff by now.

    6. Miss Muffett*

      My go-to was always 3-before-me. Check 3 resources/places before asking (obvs sometimes you won’t have 3 but the point still stands) — then when you come to me, you tell me, I’ve checked these places and didn’t see what I needed. Or, I checked and found answer A that seems similar, but my situation is really A1 and I want to ask how we could apply A to this appropriately. It helps them learn where their resources are and how to think critically about the question they have.

    7. LW#1*

      I’m definitely going to give this a shot. I sent in this question in a moment of extreme frustration after the 15th interruption of the day. I think you are right that pointing her to the right place is the best route, as opposed to just answering.

  4. Tinkerbell*

    LW4, that is so odd! I could see this being an issue if you did a lot of work with people in a country where the family name comes first (and it may or may not be swapped back for communication in English), but if everyone involved here is American it definitely does come across as… maybe not racist, but definitely racially clueless! Are you signing your emails with just your first name?

    1. Allonge*

      I don’t have the additional layer of names from different cultures, but my first name is not super common and my last name, if you squint a bit, looks like a common-ish first name.

      I am also from a country where family names go first and given names last, but have been working in a place that does it first name, last name for ages.

      Experience over 40+ years: people everywhere will latch onto any part of a name that looks more like a first name despite signatures, email address conventions and basically the laws of gravity. Some catch themselves, some… don’t.

      With an unusual combination of names like OP has? I would say it’s pretty likely it will keep happening (sorry!) – the best way I found to address it is to 1. learn to live with it as a minor annoyance and 2. have a breezy, ‘It’s Firstname, actually’ response for first offences.

      Now if someone is a repeat offender, that’s a different issue, and worth escalating.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Very much agree. I have a rare first name and a very common middle name. When I have to give a full legal name (happens with phone contracts, school inscriptions, plane tickets,…), sometimes people will latch on to the middle name as a first name. Even though it’s clearly after my first name. Has led to confusion a few times. I now avoid giving it as much as possible.

        1. Sparkle Llama*

          I had a similar issue prior to changing my name when I got married. I have a totally run of the mill first name but my last name was a common first name minus one letter and I was constantly called by the misreading of my last name, including by people who knew me – teacher would still call me that by mistake in May. I was so excited to change my name when I got married (even though I probably wouldn’t have changed it otherwise) and it hasn’t been an issue since.

          I think a lot of people are generally terrible at names, and it only gets worse with unfamiliar names. LW, you have my sympathy, it can be hard to not take frequent mistakes on something as personal as your name personally.

        2. I am Emily's failing memory*

          I work with someone who has two first names (think Southern tradition of names like Sarah Marie or Anne Lynn) and people routinely mistake the second name for being either an optional middle name, or perhaps being the first of two unhyphenated last names.

          Her sender name shows e.g. Sara Rebecca Jones, she’ll sign things off as just “Sara Rebecca,” and others on our team who know her will refer to her as “Sara Rebecca” every time, but vendors and colleagues in other departments meeting her for the first time still default to Sara at a high rate and need a gentle correction that she actually goes by Sara Rebecca.

          I think if people thought about it they’d probably be able to get it from context clues, but people just aren’t accustomed to looking for context clues to someone’s name – gleaning a name from an email and deciding what to call someone in reply is the kind of thing people do automatically without even much conscious thought process into how they’re doing it (unless maybe they’re slowed down and forced to think about it by names from another culture that they don’t recognize).

          She seems to take it fairly well in stride, and a lot of times she won’t bother to correct an external contact who she’s probably never going to need to talk to again, but that could just be a practiced response of concealing frustration because she’s been doing it her whole life. Either way I try to speak up and remind people when I can so it’s not always falling to her because I imagine it has long since gotten old for her.

          1. lyonite*

            I had the opposite problem with a friend’s boyfriend–his last name was a common first name, so I somehow got it into my head that he had a two-part first name. It wasn’t until after they broke up that I realized I had been calling him by his full name the whole time!

          2. Amaryllis*

            I have a coworker who has a name like Sara-Rebecca (as her email signature shows).
            She goes by Sara, BUT because she doesn’t sign her emails, it’s not clear that she goes by Sara (only) and she gets a bunch of emails from external folks who address her as “Sara-Rebecca”. I guess she doesn’t mind either way, but it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when people don’t sign off their emails if I can’t figure out how to address them in my response back.

      2. Awkwardness*

        We have colleagues coming from cultures where the last name comes first and one of them did so in their email signature. The email sender name in Outlook was put differently. To make everything worse, the name had three parts and it was not clear to me if the second was part of the first name or the last name. In the end, I was completely confused how to address this colleague correctly.
        I find that most of the times the way to list names with “lastname, firstname” is least confusing, while there is always an uncertainty according to cultural context if it is listed without comma.

        Long story short, do try to extent people a little bit grace, some might really want to get it right, but are confused nonetheless. Some warm and cheerful correction is fine.
        Repeat offenders are a different topic.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          What can further muddle things is that, while people might be aware that the order of names can differ, they ALSO now that someone living in a different culture than the one their name comes from must be aware of the difference… and might have adapted to it. Or not.
          If you don’t know what the typical first names and last names are in that language, how could you tell?

          OP could try signing emails with either “Ms. Lastname” OR “Firstname” (depending on people are typically addressed) but never both at the same time. (Not sure if she already does this)
          In addition, she could use a standard email signature at the bottom with her full name, title, and contact data to make the difference stand out more.

          and dropping the other half of the name.

          1. Sandi*

            In my large workplace it is convention to have signatures with full names and titles, and then to put the name that people want used (first name, middle name, nickname) above that.



            1. Pizza Rat*

              I used to resent having to use standardized signatures, but now I see the benefit of having that normalized for this kind of understanding. We’re also encouraged to include pronouns, but it isn’t necessary.

              This is especially important for some of our East Asian staff who often choose an Anglo use-name, but their email address might be under their given name.

              1. Annie*

                I don’t like standard signatures, but I do what Sandi does. I have my signature, and before it when I sign off I sign off my “preferred” name.


                Anabeth J. Pigglesworth
                Sr. Pig Catcher
                Pork Department
                Piggys and Chicks, Inc.

                1. Pizza Rat*

                  I do understand the dislike. I’ve worked in places where people would put favorite quotes or Bible verses in their signatures. I found the latter off-putting as I found it pushy and preachy. I also disliked it when Marketing would send us a new logo to use because I was not in marketing or sales.

                  What you have is the standard we use, plus we add phone and email. Straightforward and informative, not unlike a business card, which I can get behind as standard.

          2. Also-ADHD*

            This might depend if it’s a global organization where people use both types of names though. I have worked in that setting, but her location should be clarifying too, so I’m not sure why they at times assume by the name rather than the location.

          3. Anonymosity*

            This. I am new at my job and have several Asian coworkers from different cultural backgrounds whose names don’t always follow the typical conventions. It’s easiest to ask them what they want to be called. Or I go by what my colleagues call them, since they have known them longer than I.

          4. c-*

            In my culture we have 1-2 first names and 2 last names, and I’ve gotten used to using all upper case for my surnames when writing to English-speaking colleagues. It seems to work quite well!

            So, if my usual signature is:

            Reyna Álvarez Ramírez-Arellano
            Camp Jupiter”,
            for an English speaker I’ll use:

            Camp Jupiter”.

            It’s a bit eye-catching, but I figure people are used to it from the Olympics, because they quickly get it.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          In my field the convention is to put the family name in capitals regardless of order:

          John SMITH
          WARBLEWORTH, Tangerina Eglantine
          KIM Jin
          Jean-Paul TREMBLAY DION

          Honestly I love this convention.

          1. Anonym*

            I wish this was more common! I work at a global organization and have made the mistake OP’s colleagues keep making (once! mortifying!) and had it made to me (my surname is a common first name in a different region of the world). Also just so many misspellings – my name has a few versions and people’s brains seem to lock on to whichever version is first in their life/mind.

            The convention where I am is to sign off emails with your preferred name. I always look to the signature if I’m unsure, and have gotten comfortable asking colleagues about their name pronunciation in initial one on one meetings. I feel a little foolish for not knowing, but I want to get it right and people seem to receive that well.

            1. Momma Bear*

              Same. People will have their formal full name/title/contact info in their signatures. If they don’t sign off any other way, I default to what’s in the signature. If they sign off above it with a different name (say Tom vs Thomas), I will default to the name they used. I’ve had to tell people “I prefer xxx, please” and usually only have to say so once. I have a confusing set of names and often people will assume that because I have children I am also married. Teachers make that assumption often, but a gentle correction and we’re fine the rest of the year.

          2. Springtime*

            I was going to suggest the same things. I have had the same problem as OP #4, but in reverse. I’m American, and my names (European in origin) are very parse-able for family name and (correct) gender in the U.S. and many other countries. But not to many people I had to correspond by email with in the Middle East and Asia. The all-caps family name was not recognizable to everyone, but it did help somewhat. Including an indication of correct title of address is also helpful. (First names everywhere is really not the case in my field, and certainly not when it gets international.)

        3. Ess Ess*

          I work with a very large multicultural team so names are in all sorts of order in the emails. Thankfully, many who have lastname/firstname order put their preferred name in parentheses in their signature on their email.

      3. Tio*

        Also agree.

        I have one of those last names that doubles as a first name, so half the time I get called Lastname, and half the time I get called Firstname. I know it can be irritating, but I think this is really the sort of thing you have to learn to let go.

      4. anon24*

        People really do latch onto whatever their eye catches as a first name. I have a first name that is clearly a first name, and an unusual last name, but if you take the first initial from my last name and replace it with the first initial from my first name you get a different first name. So think my name is something like Kathy Marley, you would not believe the sheer amount of times I sign my name “Kathy Marley” and get a response “hi Karley”… I’ve given up at this point, I mean, it’s right there in my signature.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Heh. Re confusing first and last names, a very good friend married a man with two first names, and I am still not 100% sure which is first or last. When a friend of mine gets married and adjusts their name, I’ll add their new name to the name by which I met the friend in the first place, so they stay under the name by which we met. (I save people in my phone by first and last name, which apparently everyone doesn’t do. Apparently a lot of people just do first names?) So if Morgan Smith marries Sutton James, Morgan becomes Morgan [Smith James]. Morgan never moves from the Ss.

          So now my friend Carrie Miller, who married Karl Theodore, is listed as Carrie [Miller Theodore], and I’m REALLY not sure that’s right, ugh. I added what I THINK is his last name to my friend’s name, and I’m crossing my fingers that it’s right. I haven’t met him yet, and it still will be a guessing game what his name is.

          Also note that a few friends have gotten divorced, and I’ve just lopped that second name off and they still didn’t move in the cell phone directory, heh.

          I also encountered a group of ladies who were talking about the name by which their significant other was listed, and a few people had been married to their spouse for, like, years, and he still was listed as something like “Scott from Hinge” or “Weirdo do not answer.” Many of them also had hijacked their spouse’s phone to change their own name to something like “Hottest woman in the world!” I had no idea this level of cell phone gymnastics was happening out there.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Everyone in my phone has their real name unless I don’t know it. I’m aware that my phone might be used on my behalf in an emergency. I do add clarifiers for my own sake.

            So you’ll find:

            John (husband) Smith
            Susan (mother) O’Neill
            Alex Webber (Hayden U10 rugby)
            Sam Grant (plumber)

            1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

              As a parent of a kid too young to have his own phone I have so many names like “Mary (Shane’s Mom)” in my phone!

              1. Anon 4 This One*

                I met my husband on a dating app many moons ago and I saved his number as “Tom from Hinge” because I didn’t know his last name when we were texting and I was dating around, so lots of first dates at the time. Once we were dating I just… never changed it and he thought it was hilarious, so my husband is still listed like that because it makes him laugh.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              I do that too. I added one neighbor from OldCity whose last name I didn’t know because we were dealing with an issue with another neighbor. He’s still in my phone as “Nick from across the street.”

          2. Sandi*

            Jon Richardson is a UK comedian whose friend kept pressuring him to go out on a blind date with her friend whom she claimed was perfect. He jokingly put her number on his phone under “My future wife” and then ignored it. He later met a woman who he really liked, and after chatting for a while they agreed to exchange contact info, and they did so quickly by her calling him. At which point “My future wife” starts ringing on his phone.

            I don’t add last names but I have started to put the context on there because it’s so helpful. Andrew Electrician, Steve Neighbor, and that type of thing.

            1. AMH*

              Wait, was it Lucy Beaumont? Like that’s how they met? Because if so, dang. Adorable! (Her season of taskmaster is my favorite in large part thanks to her — man, do I appreciate bonkers humor).

              1. ticktick*

                It was! And Roisin Conaty was the friend that was telling Jon that Lucy was perfect for him!

          3. Emmy Noether*

            Do you even know if Carrie changed her last name? Seems like you can wait to change it in your phone until you know if she actually did, and if yes to what. Maybe she’s still Carrie Miller. Maybe her husband is Karl Miller or Theodore Miller now, because he’s fed up with people getting confused.

          4. Random Dice*

            I have to keep track of whole families, since I have a young kid and a terrible memory.

            My cell phone convention is:
            “Firstname (& Spouse, Kidname & Kidname)”. If they become besties I put the last name in.

            In the “company name” field I put groups like “Parents Town-name” or “Sports Teams” or “Neighbor Town-name”, so then I just have to look up “neighbor” and a list of applicable people pops up.

        2. AnonForThis*

          Hear, hear. I have a hyphenated surname where the second half looks like it could be a first name if you squint at it, plus a first name that people seem to swap with other similar first names that start with the same letter.

          So (fake name but works for the example) if I’m Suzie Blankton-Dunne, I might get referred to as Sarah or Sasha or Donna.

          (And I don’t even want to go into the alphabetization problems this can cause. My local bookstore allows you to pick up your own special orders off a shelf; they bag your purchase and staple a piece of paper with your name to the outside. It practically broke my heart when a couple times, an employee had misalphabetized my surname by the second half.

          1. Alhe*

            My dad has a last name that is also a first name, and when he married my mom, took her last name hyphenated with his last name (very uncommon for the time). For decades, when he answered the phone with “Paul-Smith here” he would get “Could I speak to your mother please?”

        3. Also Anon Here*

          Yeah… my name is something like “Ann Rogers” and I work in IT. When I had a rogers@company email address and did a lot of customer-facing work, I got SO MANY emails addressed to Roger… always in response to emails I had signed “Ann.”

      5. Janne*

        My organization’s Outlook displays names like “Lastname, F.M. (Firstname)” and I find that many colleagues see Lastname and completely overlook Firstname. In two months of working at this organization, already three colleagues have addressed me with “Hi Lastname”. I do have an uncommon last name but my first name is common enough.

        All in all, it makes one aware of how badly people read details in their e-mails, so I try to make e-mails really clear and concise.

      6. Boring Name*

        I have an extremely common first and last name for the English speaking world, and I get addressed by my last name (a sometimes first name, think Madison, Kennedy, or Parker) in emails sometimes, even when I sent the first email and signed with my very generic and not mistaken for a last name first name. I see the error most frequently when emailing with someone who has default email name as First Last while my company displays as Last, First. It usually marks to me that someone was not careful in reading the initial email. I generally ignore on first response and just sign as usual, and correct with a simple “I go by First Name” if the error persists and that is enough.

        1. La Triviata*

          At an old job, one person’s nickname was the same as my last name. So I got a good deal of his mail, which led to me once opening an email and seeing, “You are nosy as shit.” Never did find out what set that off.

      7. Perihelion*

        Yeah—while unfamiliar names might exacerbate the issue, I have a pair of names that are each fairly common as first or last names. Both are relatively common in the IS, where I live. And, for extra fun, they’re typically used by different genders. I don’t get offended, but it is pretty funny when they call my last name at the Dr’s office and are surprised when it’s actually a woman who responds, etc. Over email, where the gender thing isn’t as obvious, I just do a light correction and it usually works.

      8. umami*

        I had a similar issue with my last name by marriage. My first name is uncommon and somewhat difficult to pronounce, and my Hispanic last name was also a common first name, so I often was called by that name. It happened even more when I began working somewhere where someone actually had that name as a first name. I would just tell people, oh, that’s my last name, my first name is X. Which is when most people defaulted to calling me Dr. LastName because that was still easier lol

      9. That's not my name*

        I have a similar situation where my first name isn’t very common and my last name looks like it could be a spelling variation of a common first name (but it’s pronounced differently).

        I work in a casual environment and I’m a bit petty. So when people call me by my last name, I respond by calling them by their last name. It’s been way more effective than correcting them again for the umpteenth time.

      10. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, I have roughly the same problem – my first name is unusual (and even though I am very white, it reads potentially Latina or Black) and my last name (through marriage) is a shortened Czech name that is also a first name in the Middle East. I have absolutely had people latch on to [Last Name] to address me, especially when my email display name has been Last Name, First Name. Depending on context, sometimes I ignore it, sometimes I correct people.

      11. Bryce*

        I’ve had the same issue with a last name that scans as a first one. Like if it was Peterson people will address me as Peter. Every time my reaction (nonvoiced) is “…my first name is *right there*”.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      My first thought was that LW’s colleagues think their Asian last name is first, so they’re overcorrecting. LW can just say, “please call me [first name]!”

      1. The Valeyard*

        I have a similar issue being called by my last name and that’s my response. People often apologize and use my first name and then promptly forget the next time I hear from them. It is amazing.

      2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        Yeah, I’d lean towards well-meant confusion on this one. It’s annoying to need to go through it with everyone, but a friendly clarification and then moving on should be enough for most people.
        My company has two offices in Japan, and the best I can figure is that IT in one office sets up accounts as Name Familyname and the other as Familyname Name, so it’s a bit of a gamble if you don’t have other context clues.

      3. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

        Yes, 100%. When I started working on a Canada-China collaboration, I learned that our Chinese colleagues put their last names in all caps in our comms, so that we would be able to discern given vs family name (since family names are written first in China). Probably would have the opposite effect for OP though if they just implemented this, since it would draw attention to their surname most.

        Especially if OP’s given name is something her colleagues read as a common surname, I could see why they’re guessing in the wrong direction. Hopefully some gentle corrections will set them straight eventually.

    3. English Rose*

      Maybe it’s not the convention where you are, but in my org we have the full signature at the bottom, but immediately after the end of the email contents we put as below. Wouldn’t that give people a clue?

      Regards (or Best Wishes or whatever)

      Full name and signature goes here.

      1. Carmina Unionizer*

        Agree with this – the way you sign tells people how to address you, very directly! Kinda what it’s for, really!
        For colleagues where I’m not sure (very multi-cultural company, 150+ nationalities), I always look at how they sign off their own emails for guidance. And if I have to email them first I curse, lol. Also very helpful with any sort of nickname, people going by “Junior”… there’s just so much variation in how people prefer to be addressed.

        Another help might be to capitalize the last name in the signature to indicate it’s the last name – Firstname LASTNAME. Outlook/Teams does that by default in our corporate setup and it’s quite helpful. The default thing is not always good for e.g. cultures with 3 names, but then doing it manually yourself in the signature is extra helpful.

        I definitely agree with the colleague that “Please call me Firstname or Mrs./Ms. Lastname” sounds a bit off-putting/haughty/exceedingly formal. If people still get it wrong (cause some people will always not pay attention – see also misspellings etc), “It’s FirstName actually” or any of Alison’s suggestions sound much better to me.

      2. The Valeyard*

        This is exactly the format we use, and no, it does not give people a clue. I have a common feminine first name as my last name (I am a woman) and sign my emails:

        Sincerely, First name

        firstname lastname,
        title, org
        address info

        And I STILL have people respond with Dear Lastname or Hi Lastname! All. The. Time. And I strongly dislike it. They do it in writing. They do it verbally. People I have worked with for years that I consider friends do it! All the time and constantly.

        My mother in law, who shares my last name, has the same issue to the point where she gave in on it and now everyone just calls her by her last name as if it were her first.

        I shall not do this. I generally respond by just starting my email back with,

        Dear Recipient’s Firstname,

        It’s actually Firstname. :) Actual content of email.

        I frequently get apologies and I frequently get people doing it again anyway, and sometimes I get an apology and then they do it again anyway. Why do people do this? Get names right, it’s hard not to when there’s a signature block (and I and all these folks are in a country where 99.9% of people do Firstname Lastname.)

        And while we’re at it, if someone introduces himself or signs his email as Michael, don’t call him Mike! Just don’t!

      3. Annie*

        Right. I kept calling someone Dave when his preferred name was David, and so he kept calling me my full name until I caught on. So I do what you mention and sign off like this:


        Anabeth J. Pigglesworth
        Sr. Pig Catcher
        Pork Department
        Piggys and Chicks, Inc.

        1. The Provisional Republic of A Thousand Eggs*

          The opposite of this happened to me. “My” Dave/David preferred “Dave”, but I had somehow got a bee in my bonnet about that being overly familiar, so I kept calling him “David”.

          I also used the French pronunciation of the very French name of a French coworker’s given name, while everyone else used an anglicized pronunciation (international company, English as lingua franca), until I finally realized that she actually preferred the anglicized pronunciation when speaking English.

    4. MsSolo (UK)*

      My org shows email address with the surname first, for some reason, and even though this is consistent across over 60,000 employees, many of whom have been here since before email even came in, it’s still super common for people to address emails or people in meetings by their surname accidentally, especially if it’s something that looks like a first name, like Gary Neville (or Phil Neville, or Tracey Neville, or Neville Neville). A quick “oh, it’s actually Gary” does the job with the minimum of fuss, because everyone knows it’s an easy mistake to make.

      1. londonedit*

        I’m just here to applaud your mentioning of the Neville family!

        I have a friend with ‘two first names’ (and both are more common than Gary Neville – it’s more like James Charles) and they’re forever having to correct people who call them Charles. It seems the ‘two first names’ thing just confuses people! But definitely, if you’ve corrected someone once then they ought to make the effort to remember. And you can definitely keep on saying ‘My first name is James’ or ‘It’s James, not Charles’.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          I had a student with a surname that could also be a first name and who bore a resemblance to a popular fictional character with it as a first name, think a Gary Neville who was very clumsy and awkward and looked a bit like Neville from Harry Potter or a Luke Harry who was thin with black hair and had a scar on his forehead.

          That was fun to keep straight.

        2. Zephy*

          I’ve known people with first, middle, and last names that are all either more commonly given names (like Michael Christopher Joseph, answers to Chris) or surnames (like Jackson Parker Green, answers to Jack). I also had a female friend in school whose government first name was more common for boys (think “Sam” – legally just “Sam,” not short for Samantha or Samuel), though she had a feminine nickname, and her middle and last names were both family names that were also male first names (think “Marcus Stewart”). So every new teacher would call “Sam Stewart” during roll call and be surprised when a girl raised her hand.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        Mine does that too and I had the worst time learning a couple people’s names, because their last names are also common first names, so my brain wanted to default to “firstname lastname” for them.

      3. DrSalty*

        My company does this order too in Outlook, and people who have ambiguous first/last name combos often get called by their last name. Annoying!

    5. Katie*

      I work in the US but work with people from India daily. I am called by my last name constantly. I take it as then not being rude but not paying attention. It annoys me waaaaay more when they call me Kathy when I have never signed my name as such.

    6. Seashell*

      My husband has a coworker with a last name that is a common nickname and a first name that is a common surname. It’s like Tyler Dave. My husband said that Tyler gets called Dave a lot, and Tyler is a White native-born American working in the US. So sometimes people are just clueless without underlying meaning.

      1. Sales SVP*

        Yeah, I have a common first name as my last name and also a very common first name. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t call me LastName. I just correct them “Oh, I go by Susan”

      2. Miette*

        I have a last name that only resembles a first name, and I’m called this first name all the time. Think having a last name of Stephens and being called Stephanie. It used to bother me, then I got older and realized I’m crap at remembering names as it is, so all are forgiven LOL

      3. LCH*

        i had a new intern once with a first name as last name, and i tried so hard to get it right when meeting her and still messed it up :-/ embarrassing

    7. S*

      I have a very uncommon first name and an Italian last name that’s sort of similar to a common first name. I get emails addressed to my last name all the time. I’m work in the US with primarily US colleagues.

      I just respond with a correction that my first name is X not Y. It can be annoying but it’s not a big deal.

    8. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      The why people are doing it doesn’t really matter that much. OP wants to be called by her first name. the issue is the emphasis on the Mrs. before last name. If its emails among colleagues requesting Mrs. is really formal and a bit offputting. So she needs to follow Alison’s admvice and just say I got by first name. They can figure out then that the other part is the last name.

    9. WantonSeedStitch*

      My thought was that they saw the Japanese first name and, for some reason, thought that LW4 was putting a Japanese family name first as is the tradition in that country, and were trying (cluelessly but with good intent) to call them by what they believed was their given name. But yeah, once corrected, folks should just stick with what you say.

      Good call on the email signature. Even if you include the whole name in your official sig file, you can always use a sign-off with just your first name:


      Akira Khan
      Director of Basket Weaving
      ABC Corp”

    10. Ann Marie*

      It’s not unusual at all. I’m very white bread America. But my last name sounds like a first name. Think Ann Marie. I get many, many, many emails addressed to Marie. Or they ask my last name.

      It catches in people’s minds. There’s 99.9% of the time no negative motivation or intent.

    11. L'étrangère*

      We had a similar situation when we were working with 90+ countries. No racism involved, but people don’t necessarily have the time or resources to learn about the local customs of everyone they could possibly be in touch with. We were regularly working with people whose default was first or last name first, some of whom deliberately changed their own name to match what they thought we expected, most of whom were unaware that it’s common to put the last name first in bureaucratic/ official French. To add to the general confusion, we had a couple people who had last names that could easily have been first names. We also misgendered people for months or even years on end. But do you know what really improved the situation? We started using normal upper+lower case for first names, and ALL UPPER for the last name. Most people got that instantly. And, OP4, if you mildly corrected people with “– is my first name” it would be a lot less stuffy/hostile than “call me Ms –“

    12. Ace in the Hole*

      Oh, I can totally see this happening if everyone involved is American. Heck, I’ve seen it happen even when all the names are typical white/anglo american names if the surname is one that can also be used as a given name.

      For example, I work with a guy whose last name is also a common woman’s name – along the lines of “Donald Kimberly.” People constantly get this mixed up and call him by his last name. Nevermind that he introduces himself as Donald and is very obviously a man, if the last name is visible you bet someone is going to call him Kimberly.

      1. Moonstone*

        I have a name that can either be spelled with an “I” or a “y” in it. Even though I always sign my emails and my first name appears in my email address, there are still so many people who spell my name with a y instead of a I. I try not to take it personally but it can be annoying at times!

  5. Lis*

    On the naming question in some parts of the world the family name is listed first and then the individuals name, I believe Pakistan may be one of those places. So it could be people trying to be culturally sensitive and failing.

    For myself I have my email signature in the automated signature but I always sign off with my given name because it a) tells them what I prefer to go by and b) gives someone being formal permission to address me by my first name (yes I had very formal grandparents, why do you ask?). If I wanted someone to remain formal I’d sign off with Mr/Ms/Dr/Professor/Whatever Lastname so they knew to reply to (relevant honorific) Lastname and not use my other name. But personally I prefer people to call me Lis.

    1. Jopestus*

      At least in japan it is Lastname Firstname. People will see japanese name at the first place and then default into thinking the latter it the first name/the one that is used to actually call that person.
      Date Masamune is called Masamune.
      Oda Nobunaga is called Nobunaga.
      Eiichirō Oda is called Oda.
      It is fairly easy to see why people mistake for example Fumiko Bukhari(in US order, so the reverse. both names googled from most common lists) to be called Bukhari as a first name.

      It is also fairly easy to see why it annoys people who constantly hear people use the wrong callsign.

      /English is not my native, so the text may be clunky but the message should come across.

        1. the ort report ooh ah ort report*

          :) I always remember it by the interviews and extras and such, in which he’s referred to as “Oda-sensei” (same way I remember it’s “Kubo-sensei”)

      1. Myrin*

        Maybe I’m underestimating Westerners but I doubt people who don’t already have some sort of connection, however tenuous, to Japan or other East-Asian cultures are generally aware of how naming orders work there.
        I’ve liked Japanese media since I was a child and nowadays have two friends living there permanently and know a little about the language so I’m personally aware, but that also means that I would be able to tell that OP’s first name is indeed a first name, no questioning of orders required.

        1. Jopestus*

          Given how popular Manga and Anime are and for how long they have been I would not be surprised if people had a bit of an idea. But only a bit. Other east-asian cultures? I really doubt we do. Of course there are people who are interested and therefore do, but most is not common knowledge.

        2. AcademiaNut*

          It would need to be people who know the convention for naming orders in the other language, but aren’t familiar enough with the language to tell which is a given name and which a family name, *and* aren’t aware that people from those languages tend to swap order depending on what language they’re using, which is likely not a lot of people.

          I suspect that they’re randomly latching on to one of the names, and getting the wrong one, and the best approach is to say “actually it’s GivenName”.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I don’t know if it’s so few people, most people I work with are aware that there’s a difference in conventions, but aren’t familiar enough with the languages to reliably identify names. And not everyone swaps order in my experience.

            What is probably rare is people that are culturally sensitive enough to know and remember there are different conventions, but not sensitive enough to make an effort to get it right.

          2. DyneinWalking*

            I’m one of those people! I’m aware of the different convention but know nothing further about the language. I AM aware that people swap to adapt to the different culture… but I’m also sure it isn’t all of them, so the end result of that cultural awareness is utter confusion.

            I’ve mostly encountered this problem when citing papers from Asian scientists, though, not in person. End result was that I used full names for all citations rather than the shorter “Initial Lastname”, to avoid accidentally listing someone by their first name.

          3. Roland*

            It’s pretty normal to know that Japanese often uses Lastname Firstname but not always know what names are first names and what names are last names. One is a fact that’s easy to learn and the other requires being exposed to many names many times over.

            1. kalli*

              And this is why the standard for a lot of Japanese-based international communications, Japanese cultural ambassadors etc. is to use SURNAME Given name or Given name SURNAME, so it is very clear which is which and therefore what to use as a form of address in cultural context. It is by no means a universal approach within and about Japanese names (wikipedia has the Romanised Japanese name in brackets in the first paragraph after the first use of the name, for example) but it is immensely useful where it is used.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              See, I have it backwards: I have to actively remember that Japan uses Lastname Firstname but I can almost always tell which name is the first name and which is the last name even if I haven’t seen them before.

          4. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            I think it’s pretty common for people to know that name order is family-first in a particular culture and not reliably know which is which, so they won’t know if a particular Japanese person has switched the order in an English-speaking context. I know *some* common Japanese names, but there are a lot more I don’t know!

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I’d say there’s a lot higher number of people who may know the Japanese name order than you suspect.

          Japanese business practices have been studied across the globe for decades, and many texts are careful to reference executives properly.

          Jopestus points out anime & manga, and that’s carried into videogames.

          Add the surge in popularity of Asian drama and pop music – Korean Japanese, and Chinese media have an increasingly large presence. Studio Ghibli is practically mainstream, and let’s not forget Bollywood and martial arts.

          With global social media, many of us are chatting with people across the globe or at least following their posts.

          There also could be one confident, talkative co-worker who “knows how names work in Japan” and is trying to be helpful.

          1. DyneinWalking*

            Yeah. My boyfriend, fairly new in the work force, had a couple of trainings already on Asian culture (focused on China, I think).
            My father has had lots and lots of those, and commented that it’s perfectly possible for a German and a Japanese to meet at a conference… and then the German bows and the Japanese extends their hand.

            Mutual cultural awareness can mean that all bets are off so that no one knows which norms apply.

        4. Sharpie*

          It’s not just an Asian thing, Last name First name is the standard order in Hungary, too.

        5. Frieda*

          I have a co-worker who has adopted U.S. naming conventions for his family without changing his birth name (he’s from India). So his spouse and son have as last names the name he uses as his first name.
          He’s Chris Martin (family name Chris per Indian convention), goes by Martin (again per Indian convention) or Dr. Martin – never Dr. Chris, although that would be his Indian-convention title and name. His son is Apple Martin. His wife is Gwyneth Martin although her American-convention first name is actually her Indian-convention second/last name. So I think legally she’s Paltrow Gwyneth Martin now, so also goes by Dr. Martin.

          tl;DR even naming conventions you know might be changed by differing family locales and circumstances.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I’m always extra careful when I correspond with people from east asia. I know just enough to know that the order family name – given name is common, but not enough to reliably tell which is which. And some adapt to the reverse way when corresponding with westerners, so I can’t rely on order either way. I’m always grateful when there’s some sort of clear indication (such as family name in all caps).

        I did learn a useful rule for Korean: family names are one syllable, given names are two. (As I understand it, this is not just a rule of thumb, but a real cultural naming convention). And Kim and Lee are common family names.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Usually but not always — there’s few enough that it’s something Korean reporters have mixed up. (I went digging – Namgung is one of the exceptions.)

        2. Awkwardness*

          I did learn a useful rule for Korean: family names are one syllable, given names are two. (…) And Kim and Lee are common family names.

          That’s helpful!

      1. Blame It On The Weatherman*

        Not if it’s a first-time mistake and they hadn’t been corrected yet! Then it’s just literally a neutral mistake. OP is right to correct them but the sample email they gave is very terse and frosty, so it’s not surprising they got a comment on it. Just saying “that’s my last name actually, I’m Firstname” is all that’s needed.

    2. Testing*

      What I see some people doing in their email footers is write Firstname LASTNAME. It looks a bit clunky in some contexts, such as on LinkedIn, but should blend in well in an email footer.

      1. Lilac*

        I’m more used to seeing this in a hospital setting but it definitely makes it effective in that context in terms of correctly naming patients.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        This is common in France. I thought it looked slightly ridiculous at first, but it’s actually really useful.

      3. whyblue*

        Came here to say this. So helpfulnwoth names where you are not sure what the first name and what the last name is.

        Also, I see more and more people clarifying things like that in their signature and aometimes Teams status message. Be it pronouns or #callmebymyfirstname for the Germans (where that is way more of a cultural topic than in English) or the preferred nickname someone wants to go by. I want to get it right and especially with foreign names that is not always easy, so I am grateful if someone puts this info in their signature or even Teams status message.

    3. Swan*

      It also becomes interesting when you have a lot of people from cultures where mononyms are more common – our systems really aren’t set up for that so we do often have to manually fix things like e-mail addresses to reflect their actual name instead of having x in the space the family name would go.

      Sometimes we can tell they’re slightly annoyed by this but usually they’ve also accepted that this is ultimately a minor annoyance that happens when you go to places with different naming conventions.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, or else given name + patronymic, as in Iceland, where names are alphabetized using given names.

    4. Harriet M. Welsch*

      Pakistan is not a country that uses the naming convention Lastname, Firstname. A great resource on this topic can be found at Asia Media Centre.

    5. prm*

      Pakistan is not one of those places; that’s (mostly) East Asia, not South Asia. A simple Google would have revealed this. I wish we could make space for POC voices in the threads responding to #4. Many of these responses are uninformed or are centering the wrong issue.

      1. those are not the droids we're looking for*

        1. Has someone imposed a hidden quota on posts by POC?
        2. OP is half Japanese and we don’t know what the surname is. East Asia may not be irrelevant.

        1. Starbuck*

          “On the naming question in some parts of the world the family name is listed first and then the individuals name, I believe Pakistan may be one of those places. ”

          The point is why write that if they’re not sure. If it’s a matter of fact in question – either know what you know or look it up or don’t speak on something you actually don’t have knowledge of. Especially as it’s not going to be valuable at all to the LW, who presumably is more informed on this anyway!

  6. PreciousQueen*

    It really depends on the industry. I used my manager who got arrested for embezzlement as a reference, but he really was a math wiz and the company I was applying to wanted a clever business analyst, so I guess they took it?
    They got shut down a few months later though for fraud, so YMMV

    1. LW #3*

      Thank you for this!
      As I mentioned in another comment, some of the details of the situation are found by a Google search, so that added some wariness, but hearing stories like this makes me feel at least a little better about using Paula if I need to.

  7. Electric Sheep*

    Someone I occasionally worked with put a line in their sig block explicitly saying that their first name was [their first name] because people kept getting it wrong. Depending on norms around email signature blocks in your office, that might be an option, LW4.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, “please call me ___” or “known as ____” are useful additions to email signs if your organisation has the flexibility to do that. Links to a sound file with the pronunciation are also getting more common (and appreciated!)

    2. fish*

      Came here to say this! I have a coworker with a name that makes some Americans … nervous. Their signoff explicitly says what their first name is. Like so:

      Marie-Philip Lastname
      (First name: Marie-Philip)
      Oatmeal Supervisor

      (I think it makes people nervous because Philip is a BOY name but she is a GIRL, uh oh! But v. common for Spanish and French I believe.)

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I deal with a lot of customers via email and have been on the other side of this. A number of people have a two-word first name or a two-word last name and it’s not always clear where the middle name belongs. It can make responding correctly difficult. I might get an email signed Beatrice Lee Granger. Is their first name Beatrice Lee or is their last name Lee Granger? There’s no way to know, especially when it’s a non-English name and I’m less likely to be able to tell a first name from a last one.

        I usually just don’t put their name in the response and hope they sign the next email with their first name only so I can note it.

  8. Myrin*

    OP #4, for what it’s worth, I bet that “Please call me Firstname or Mrs./Ms. Lastname”, if that is indeed what you’re literally saying, doesn’t register with many people as your correcting their understanding of what is your first and what is your surname but rather as you stating your preference – which should then actually have the same (and desired) end result, but if people are already flaky with it and not close readers (which is generally the case for people who do this repeatedly), they’ll probably just see your correction and think you’re demanding more formality without catching on that they simply have the order backwards.

    1. fellow unusual firstname*

      I think it also feels a little more “aggressive” if you say that at the start of the email response. I would try ending the email with a “By the way, LastName is my last name, please call me FirstName!”. Then sign off with FirstName to reinforce.

      1. Blame It On The Weatherman*

        Yeah it sounds like it’s coming across as “don’t call me Jane, call me Ms Smith!” which is definitely an archaic/unfriendly/stodgy/pretentious/silly thing to correct people to in most US workplaces. Giving both options helps nothing; OP just needs to more clearly say “Firstname is my first name, actually” – correcting the misinformation, not coming across as correcting the level of formality.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Yeah except she’s saying, “please call me Jane, or Ms Smith”. I don’t necessarily think you’re wrong about how they’re reading it, but they’re definitely misreading it.
          I think what OP’s really trying to say is “Please don’t call me Smith. Call me Jane, or if you want to use my surname, Ms. Smith”.

  9. learnedthehardway*

    OP#3 – unless your former manager was in the news for how horrible a person she was to someone, you’ll be pretty safe to use her as a manager reference. If someone recognizes her name and says something like “didn’t she get fired from XYZ Corp for bullying a direct report?”, you can say that you never experienced that with her and aren’t aware of the situation at the other company.

    Mind you, I would use her as a reference only if she had managed you long enough to really be aware of your performance.

    Also, keep in mind that she may want to ask you to be a subordinate reference for her – sometimes, companies do ask for references from people who were direct reports, in roles where people leadership is an important factor. So, I would think about whether you would be comfortable with that, before asking her to be your reference.

    1. Seashell*

      I think it’s possible that someone could Google a reference for curiosity about their career or past jobs, so it’s not far-fetched that they might find something even if it wasn’t a major news story. OP might want to Google Paula to see what it shows.

      1. LW #3*

        The situation and some related legal fallout does come up on the first page of Google when you search for Paula and her last name, so yeah that was part of my hesitation as well.

        However, when I looked today I saw what appears to be a new role for them in another field, so that and Alison’s response makes me think I might be able to use them in a pinch if I need to.

  10. Ellen Howard, for this*

    #4 – I have a pretty unremarkable American name. Let’s call it Ellen Howard. At least once a month I get an email reply starting “Hi Howard”, despite my email signature clearly saying Ellen Howard. Some of these are even from people who I know fairly well who should be well aware I am not a man named Howard. In my case, I suspect a large part of it is that our company’s email format shows up as LastName, FirstName; is this the case for you? I suspect the format, combined with tinge of sexism, is what results in the errors for me. I can just imagine it’s even more frustrating with an added layer of cultural insensitivity. In addition, about a full third of the emails I get from outside my immediate team refer to me as Hellen, again, including people I know well. I don’t know why, but people merge the names, and this has been happening my whole life. In both the Howard and Hellen scenarios, I just reply and sign off as Ellen. People generally pick up on it, but there are occasional repeat offenders. I try not to take it personally, which I hope it isn’t, in both our cases.

    1. Mangled Metaphor*

      People don’t read well.

      But… I’d say asking to be called Ms Lastname *does* come across as more formal, especially if the culture is usually to stick to a more informal first name basis. Asking to be called FirstName is perfectly polite and reasonable, expresses a preference – if my given name was Sara Nicole Metaphor and I asked to be called Nicole, anyone still calling me Sara is either a twit or on a power trip, either way, no longer worthy of my respect and disdained accordingly (but professionally) – and not at all uncommon.

      Are the bulk of the emails internal or external? Internal emails in theory can be replaced by an alias, so instead of seeing Metaphor.Sara@ company name. you’d actually get Sara Metaphor (and I’d still sign off as Nicole).

      Persistency is key, but at some point you might have to go with the Twit or Power Trip assumption and adjust your expectations accordingly. Be professional, but know they are an idiot.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I think it’s definitely polite, but sometimes (depending on culture), excess formality and politeness is chillier than you want. I think most reasonable people will read OP’s words, and even if it does come over as chilly, will default to the “don’t assume tone in writing” rule and take the correction as factually as it’s intended. But if it were me, I’d probably opt for simpler and more casual than instructing people on how to use my title etc. I would say: “It’s, Firstname actually” or just put my first name as the only sign off on the reply.

      2. Coffee Protein Drink*

        Power trip is definitely the case with some people. The twits will sometimes use diminutives as well, which drives me nuts. I’m (not really) Deb, not Debbie. It’s overly familiar, and I think it’s also trained into some salespeople in the name of developing a rapport. It works in exactly the opposite for me.

    2. EllenD*

      I share your frustration. Despite my e-mail addresses – personal and work – being in first name last name format, I’m amazed how frequently e-mails start Hi Helen, Elaine, Eileen, Aileen, and even Allen. I always check signatures and e-mail addresses to check I’m doing it right for others.

      1. ChurchOfDietCoke*

        Yup. I’m Vicky. So I get all variations of Vickie, Vikki, Vicki, Vickey, Vicka, and sometimes (but more often than you’d think) Becky… *facepalm*

        1. Jay (no, the other one)*

          My given name is an odd spelling of a common name ( think Ginni) and is my full legal name even though it’s usually a nickname. So I get the extended version from people who don’t think they know me well enough to use a nickname (if I had a nickel for every time I said “It’s just Ginni, not Virginia”…) and I get all the misspellings even when they’re replying to an EMail that HAS MY NAME CORRECTLY SPELLED in front of them. And I also get thousands of variations – Jeannie/Jennie/Janny/Jan/Gerry (how???)/Janice. Add in a last name with an easily misheard consonant (is it V or D or B?) and I end up spelling my name every.single.time I give it to someone on the phone, usually with reference to the NATO alphabet.

          1. Jay (no, the other one)*

            And despite that I did not change my name even though – actually because – my husband’s last name is Smith. For real.

          2. those are not the droids we're looking for*

            Why not just “just Ginni, like Clarence Thomas’ wife”?

        2. A girl unlike other girls*

          Small wonder. They are all nicknames for “Victoria.” That’s not the same as Ellen and Eileen.

      2. londonedit*

        Yep, my name is along the lines of something like Alex or Beth, and it’s in my email address, in the ‘From’ line, and in my email signature, and I sign off my emails with it above my automated signature. Yet I still get ‘Hi Alice’, ‘Hi Alexa’, ‘Hi Alison’ etc etc etc.

      3. Petty Betty*

        As a Jessica, I get Jennifer, Jen, Jamie, Jenny, Hannah (WTF?!), Megan, Jenna, Jerry/Jerri, Jessie (oh gods I hate this one), Jess (only close friends are allowed to call me this, not coworkers or acquaintances), Janine, and once… Gretel. Most are standard 80’s baby names, so I fully understand. Except the Gretel. I still don’t understand the Gretel.

    3. AGD*

      Yep, I’m [pseudonymously] Amy Darren, and my work email announces me as “Darren, Amy,” and yes, I even get stuff like Darcy or Davy or (once) Damian.

    4. lunchtime caller*

      I get the last-name-as-first thing multiple times a day, and I too chalk it up to the outlook thing (though it may also be because people think my name is non-white in some way and it throws them off). I either correct them with “it’s First Name, thank you,” ignore it, or call them by their last name depending on how often they repeat the mistake, their standing in the org, and my own patience.

    5. Katie*

      Exactly. People just are being too quick and not paying attention. My very American name is often messed up because well people are not paying attention. I don’t even correct people anymore because it’s not worth the extra second of worry.

      1. a clockwork lemon*

        My manager, who definitely knows my name, fired off an email this morning where he clearly wasn’t paying attention because instead of “Thanks, Lemon” he said “Thanks, Elmo.”

        My actual name has a “y” where an “i” generally goes and I’ve given up correcting people on the spelling because 90% of the time it’s an autocorrect fail.

    6. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I have a common first name but my last name is not common at all. Literally no one would have or want it as their first name. But I regularly get emails at work that start, ‘Hi, UncommonLastName…’

      Current vendors should know better, my signature line is correct on every email exchange. Wannabe vendors can find me on LinkedIn and easily guess my email, our company email format is like most – I’ve also scraped my email from my LinkedIn profile and got the right one, another method wannabe vendors use. It’s funny and also puzzling that so many persist in getting my name wrong.

    7. Sarah George-Smith*

      I’ve had the same thing, even without the surname coming first! It’s less of an issue since I double-barrelled after marriage since the added name is very clearly a surname. Instead I get the issue of anytime I give my surname for a reservation (think, checking in for a hotel) and they decide I’m just giving my husband’s full name and look up ‘Smith’ instead of ‘George’…which in some systems won’t pull anything up. It’s great fun.

    8. nerdgal*

      I have a first name that is very uncommon in the USA (it’s Celtic). AND it’s a unisex name AND it can be either a first or last name, actually in the US it’s slightly more common as a surname. I’m female in a profession that is still male-dominated, and used to be even more so. I also travel internationally for business. Between all of these issues, I get mis-named and/or mis-gendered almost all the time! I feel you so hard.

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

      you make a great point with the last name, first name emails. Especially if the email has the auto feature that when you start typing it recommends the name. So it might think the last name, is the correct name. Regardless people need to stop and read to make sure they are addressing people correctly.

    10. Melon's Sister*

      My sister is named Ellen. When she would answer the phone at work, “Hi, this is Ellen, how can I help you?” apparently people would often respond, “Hi Melon!” We couldn’t figure out why so many people thought her name was Melon.

      1. Emily Byrd Starr*

        Are you sure she said, “Hi, this is Ellen” and not “Hi, I’m Ellen,” which could be misheard as “I’m Melon.”

    11. constable-angua*

      I’m in more or less the same position (woman with a very American/English-sounding name, but whose last name is also a man’s first name) and the real kicker is when they not only call you by your last name, but also assume you go by a nickname (think “Jim” for James). It definitely happened more frequently at my old job where I was in a client-facing role and was often communicating with people I didn’t work with directly. At this point I have concluded that people just don’t often read their emails carefully before responding :)

  11. Overthinking it*

    LW #4, I think a better way to say it is: “It’s Ms. Lastname actually. Or you can just call me Firstname, if you like! (Firstname is my given name, Lastname is my “married name.”)” Instead of a surly correction, the offer of using your given name comes off as a charming gesture of friendliness and equality, but the first statement makes it clear you are perfectly comfortable with being addressed formally by someone who – for whatever reason – might not want to rush into intimacy. Insisting on being called Firstname can come off as a juvenile discomfort with titles (Oh, you’re so funny! Ms Lastname is my Mom! Hee-hee!) or feminine subservience. And both are things you would want to avoid when meeting new people in the workplace.

    1. Tio*

      I think what is throwing me on this letter is that if they’re emailing someone calling them Lastname and then saying “Call me Firstname of Ms. Lastname” it feels a little petty to me to quibble over Ms., and that’s kind of how it reads to me if I would be receiving that. I think that may be where the coworker is reading the rude from. But I love your script because it comes off much more pleasant despite that!

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Breezy and simple makes sense to me.

      “Just call me Seeking. Childhood is my family name.”

    3. FashionablyEvil*

      Insisting on being called Firstname can come off as a juvenile discomfort with titles (Oh, you’re so funny! Ms Lastname is my Mom! Hee-hee!) or feminine subservience.

      This is definitely culturally specific because in my field asking to be called Ms. Lastname would come across as frosty and out of touch. (And Mrs would be even worse.)

      1. Phryne*

        Same here. Being called by a title and last name is a boomer generation thing in my country (and I mean actual baby boom, born before 1960). No one younger than that will expect or even want that except in an actually formal environment, like to a client. Between co-workers would be considered very very weird.

      2. metadata minion*

        Same here! Unless you’re in a *very* formal situation or the person has a title other than the default courtesy title (e.g. Dr. Smith), I’m going to assume it’s a first-name situation. Even Dr. Smith quite likely goes by Laura in most contexts, but if I’m interacting with her in a professional capacity I’m probably going to start with Dr. Smith.

    4. Disgruntled Pelican*

      This does not track *at all* with my experience in the workplace in the U.S. Even when I worked in an admin capacity at an Ivy League school, the only time anyone used last names was students addressing faculty; staff always used first names. It is not rushing intimacy or displaying feminine subservience for a woman to follow convention by using her first name in the workplace. And personally, I’d find it very strange and off-putting if someone asked me to address them by their last name.

    5. Celeste*

      “It’s Ms. Lastname actually” sounds more frosty to me than what she’s saying now. I like the options given in the advice or Seeking Second Childhood’s suggestion.

  12. GythaOgden*

    Former receptionist here — if you’ve been told repeatedly, then you need to put it away. It can be frustrating (and I had a bit more freedom because I was business admin but things dropped off a cliff edge during the pandemic and never recovered) but it’s evidently interfering with things more than you think it is. Don’t worry — I’ve definitely been there and been told when it was affecting my attention — but we’re not always best placed to understand what takes us away from the job we’re being paid to do or what looks like you’re not focused on your job, and that’s what matters here. (I’ve had people outside work tell me dozens of times that they would be ok with me drawing on reception, but when I did it for a while I got told not to do it by my supervisor and whatever others thought, it was her whose opinion counted the most right there and then in the moment she saw me doing it.)

    You’re there to serve patients, though, and yeah, your manager is unequivocally telling you it’s not ok. It only takes a few seconds of inattention to someone needing served for them to complain, and unfortunately you’re employed to focus on that task.

    During 2020 and 2021 my line manager //did// explicitly allow us to have personal things (sketchbook — it came back out from when I’d been told off about it! — small knitting projects etc) and listen to YouTube at the front desk because there really wasn’t much to do apart from keeping the building open and safe from things like legionella. But in early 2022 people started coming back in more numbers and inevitably there came a time when such distractions did /actually/ interfere with the job that needed to be done (both in my perception and in reality, and remember again that your perception doesn’t always match what is really happening, or the perception of people you’re being paid to attend to). Even if it was a huge drag to be idle all day, and my supervisor allowed me to play with my phone, the other stuff was sucking away my attention more than I realised and had to go back home.

    So yeah, sorry, but your supervisor is right. I know it totally sucks and you /think/ you’re being careful, but we all have our blindspots and it’s her job to tell you that the game is actually taking away more of your attention than you think it is.

  13. Irish Teacher.*

    LW2, I don’t think how common it is for bosses to object or take disciplinary action about phones is really the point in your case, because whether most managers would be OK with scrolling or not, it sounds like your manager isn’t.

    How she might react if you continue to do it, I don’t know, but it sounds like you’d be taking a risk.

  14. bat*

    LW 4: Have you tried signing your outgoing emails to new people with just your first name above the signature block? So if this was the email text, it would end


    Email signature

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      I second this as best practice. Your preferred name is right there as the first thing recipients see as your identifier. Then the signature block before has your full name, title, phone number, etc. Bat’s example also includes the dashes below your name to make it even more clear how you signed off.

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        This is what I do. I still get called by my last name occasionally but easy to say ‘actually storm is my first name’

    2. The Valeyard*

      I am in this situation and I sign my e-mails exactly this way. I’m not sure how much it helps because I still get a very significant number of responses addressed to “Hi Lastname!”

    3. Constance Lloyd*

      My last name is also a common first name (not my screen name but a the same format) and this is what I do. Some people still miss it and continue to call me Lloyd even if I verbally introduce myself as Constance, but I have so many fleeting interactions only bother to correct them if we’re going to work together for more than a week.

    4. lunchtime caller*

      I do this and the last name mistake still happens multiple times a day. I’ll even have other people introduce me “looping in Lunchtime to take it from here!” And the person will say “thank Caller!”

    5. Iusemymiddlename*

      Unfortunately, people don’t pay attention to that much either. I have always gone by my middle name, but our email standard display is first name last name. 9 times out of 10, when I send an email, the reply is addressed to my first name, even though I have signed the email with my middle name.

  15. ChurchOfDietCoke*

    As someone who was recently in hospital for three nights and had to help an elderly lady in the next bay out of bed to get to the toilet because she was buzzing and buzzing and no-one came, and then when I walked past the nurse’s station I found three of them chatting and laughing on their phones, get off your damn phone.

    1. Myrin*

      I think you can actually leave the “phone” detail out entirely and just broaden it to “games” – this only occurs to me because a coworker yesterday told me she had to go to the tax office recently, anxious because of the letter she had received from them but also riled up because it had to do with her husband’s death last year, and when she arrived at the designated office and hesitantly opened the door after knocking twice without anybody answering, found four staff members inside playing cards and not even hearing her come in!

      The actual issue she had was resolved without a problem but apparently the workers were quite nonchalant about the whole thing. I don’t begrudge anyone a bit of downtime and fun inbetween customers but I don’t think you should get into a situation where you have to timidly say “I’m sorry for interrupting” when arriving at a state office as a member of the public and being faced with a card game in full swing!

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Something I realized during an unfortunate recent experience with hospitals… Front desk people need to take their breaks away from the front desk.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, my mother went to the ER for a stomach virus a few years back. She’s a kidney transplant patient who a) cannot afford to become dehydrated and b) has to be able to keep her meds down. She was supposed to get X amount of IV fluids and there was a literal sign on the wall promising a nurse would check every x times an hour. I was there with her for four hours and saw a nurse once–she spent most of the time in bed hooked to an empty IV bag. She asked me to go look for someone and they were all hanging out at the nurse’s station. Maybe they were all on break, but all of them at once? I’m skeptical. I told her next time I’d take her to our veterinarian instead.

      I’m sure the review she gave them was fun to read.

  16. Hexiv*

    I feel like it’s not unreasonable for LW#2’s employers to stop them from taking what is essentially a brief unscheduled break to play a game while on the clock, but I do think they’re wrong to think “front desk employee on their phone” is gonna make the top ten list of things making patients feel unappreciated at your average healthcare facility. I’ve never seen a hospital scheduler on the phone because whenever I walk up I’m like the 30th patient waiting for 2 schedulers, and by the time I get to the front of the line I’m going to find out that the doctors are scheduled out until 2028.

    1. Tea*

      “but I do think they’re wrong to think “front desk employee on their phone” is gonna make the top ten list of things making patients feel unappreciated at your average healthcare facility”

      You’re not wrong about the lack of open bookings but I wouldn’t ever underestimate the public’s ability to freak out about that type of thing.

      Also, the letter writer mentioned that when there aren’t any patients at the desk, front desk personnel are supposed to work on “back office” tasks like scheduling requests. Maybe those requests are piling up because LW and their coworkers are instead spending too much time scrolling through social media and playing this dumb NYT game!

      1. Hexiv*

        I mean, LW said they’re only playing it like once a day, so while I think it’s kind of silly that they’re pushing back on this very reasonable request, I don’t imagine they’re losing enough time to seriously impact the patient turnaround. Let’s resist thinking up reasons they “might” be a bigger problem just because the letter is annoying.

        1. Sneaky Squirrel*

          I think it’s silly too but this is one of those “little things that add up”. 5 minutes here to play NYT game, then 5 minutes later just to check your personal email, and then 5 minutes later to quickly browse instagram. Then you hire someone new for the front desk who sees LW on their phone doing games and thinks phones are okay and spends more time on it.

        2. Observer*

          I mean, LW said they’re only playing it like once a day

          No, they are playing THIS game once a day. But they are clearly doing more personal stuff. They say that the all “all check our phones and surf the web at work a bit“, in addition to this “bonding” activity.

          I don’t imagine they’re losing enough time to seriously impact the patient turnaround.

          There is just no way to know that, though. Because even if they are objectively missing a very small number of tasks each day, that can add up. And the LW’s perspective is just skewed enough, and they are missing just enough information (not their fault, but still) that it’s hard to know either way.

          And it can seriously affect patient turnaround because if the whole line got delayed because the person at the front desk was surfing or playing a game, that is a significant issue for all of the people involved.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I wouldn’t particularly care either, but I am lucky enough to be a pretty easy going and low-stakes patient. There are a ton of reasons that other patients reasonably would care about this, and there are even more reasons that would make OP’s boss care more than the patients do, about a having a higher level of vigilance and better optics; not to mention catching up on the back office tasks. For me, it’s just a few seconds of waiting to catch someone’s eye, but for the boss of the facility it will mean other things.

  17. Rosie*

    LW 4: Why not change your email signature so it looks like this

    Thanks, Firstname
    Firstname LASTNAME

    I work in Europe where putting the surname in all caps in your email address isn’t unusual and it makes the point without you having to explain to everyone which name is which.

    1. Cj*

      the thing is, it is unusual in the US, and if I saw that I would think they were trying to highlight the name they wish to be called by putting it in all caps.

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        Yeah, that would be how I’d interpret that. The “Thanks, Firstname” would hopefully be enough to point me in the right direction, but if I read it too fast the bit I’d recall is the bit that’s been emphasized.

      2. metadata minion*

        Yeah, seeing it mentioned here makes me realize I have seen it very occasionally, but it’s not at all intuitive to me that the all-caps name is going to be the surname.

      3. Sneaky Squirrel*

        If someone was using my last name as their first name, I would think it counterintuitive (in the US, at least) to want to put the last name in all-caps because now you’re putting emphasis on the last name part as if you want to be called that.

        Also, as someone who has a frequently misspelled name (think Sammie instead of Sammy), no one reads signatures and thinks to correct themselves.

  18. CityMouse*

    I have two names that are both first names and last names (think something like “Meredith Ashley”) and so people will often just call me by my last name or get mixed up and reverse them. I’ve had this since I was a kid, and my advice is, unless it’s in a context where it will cause issues (like picking up prescriptions or doctor’s offices), I’ll often just let it slide, particularly for short, non repeated interactions at work.

    If this is a repeated interaction or they need to find you again, go ahead and correct them. If the chances of talking to this person again are low and they don’t really need your full name, I don’t think I’d bother correcting them.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      This is how I deal with both my name and my pronouns. If it’s a one-off interaction, I don’t bother with the correction and let the annoyance roll off my back and keep it moving. If it’s not, I correct them. I start off subtle, because my work is largely relationship-building. If my signature said Michelle Smith, above that I still sign something like Best, Michelle. That is a signal to most observant people that I should be referred to as Michelle, instead of my last name. If they get it wrong again, I gently use a script like “Please call me Michelle” or “Please feel free to call me Michelle.” Getting it wrong again is when I start to take it personally, because that is more intentional (or at least so dismissive that they didn’t even bother to try).

      It comes up a lot in my work because I work with a lot of folks outside my organization, many of whom have PhDs. Some people prefer Dr. LastName and some hate that. I just follow their lead and when I don’t know, I default to Dr. LastName until corrected. No one has ever been upset with me upfront, but use a script similar to mine to say that I can call them FirstName – and then I always do!

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        Yup. I’m a doc and when I start working with a new team they invariable call me Dr. Lastname and I immediately say “Please call me Jay!” My current group calls me Dr. Jay because we also have an RN named Jay. Works for me.

  19. Yellow sports car*

    LW4 a few things that can help with getting your name correct.

    1. Sign your name to emails, don’t just use a signature block — I get emails signed with a signature block and unless the names are culturally familiar often can’t tell what name to call them by.
    2. Capitalise/small caps your surname in your signature block with or without a title.
    3. If you have an internal directory with the option to include a nickname add your first name as the nickname.

    It’s the difference between


    Ms Jane ANNE
    Teapot Designer – Ceramic Department


    Jane Anne
    Teapot Designer – Ceramic Department

    1. Which Susan are you?*

      I find that capitalization really confusing. I’d decide that the capitalized one is the name you prefer to be called, because you’re drawing attention to it.

  20. Cabbagepants*

    #4 It’s annoying but and happens to people of all ethnic backgrounds. It doesn’t help that different email clients render names differently. For example, my company’s outlook uses Firstname Last name but a company we work closely with uses Lastname, Firstname. Especially if these people only interact with you occasionally, seeing your name presented in a different order could really trip them up without anytime nefarious going on.

    1. Engineery*

      It’s a normal event when you’re interacting with people from many countries and cultures over the course of the day. Having a signature block with your surname capitalized helps quite a lot. If you’re on a first-name basis, signing off with only your first name usually avoids the problem entirely.

    2. Allonge*


      I am from a culture where first names go last.

      I had a somewhat distant contact (grandboss of people I actually worked with) whose family name was also a common first name. I kept seeing this guy’s name in two different orders for years (our version and in English, turned around).

      I have NO clue what is his first name and what is his last name! He is likely to remain CaseyPaul-or-PaulCasey (example) in my head forever. And we have the same language, same culture. Bah.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I am as white-American as I can be but I have an obscure first name and a last name that is completely phonetic but gets confused with another, more common last name with truly baffling regularity (think I’m Andromache Decker but get called Andie Dexter all the time, which I guess sounds generally more familiar because of the TV show?). It’s pretty obvious which is which, I think, but I still spend a lot of time correcting spelling and pronunciation. And I don’t use a nickname but people keep trying to give me one rather than wrangle my first name.

  21. Carmina Unionizer*

    For LW2 – the LW doesn’t specify if the game is on the phone or on some other device? If it’s on the phone, I think it’s definitely fair for a manager to ask to put the phone away.
    But I suppose a scheduler’s job is done mostly on a computer and thus the LW has continuous access to one? If so far the LW has been doing the game on the phone, perhaps moving it on the computer would help?
    If it was already on the computer and the manager still doesn’t like it, I think she’s being a bit ridiculous, but yeah it’s going to be a bad look if the LW caught again, so probably best avoided, regardless of “disciplinary action” or not: managers have a lot of ways to make people miserable, block raises, badmouth you to other departments if you ever want a transfer, etc etc, without any formal action.
    Personally, I do my daily wordle on the toilet ^^. I do however check askamanager on my work laptop and it’s never been an issue (I send the doozies around the team, to everyone’s appreciation!)

    1. judyjudyjudy*

      I’m not sure the manager cares whether the game is on a phone or the computer. I would be pretty ticked if I asked an employee not to play a game during work time, to find out they continued to play it on a work computer instead, to hide the game playing more effectively.

      LW1, you can decide what is worth the risk here. The most professional thing to do is stop playing the game during work time, and save it for your lunch break.

  22. melissa*

    #4– The request itself isn’t rude, but I think your phrasing is a little odd. I would go with “Oh! Smith is my last name actually. You can call me Jane, my first name.”

    1. Reba*

      I don’t think the request is rude, cool perhaps, but I actually think the issue is it’s a bit indirect–that is, the email reader who we already know isn’t reading closely, has to do a bit more thinking to understand “oh Ms. ____, that must means that is her family name”.

      This suggestion from Melissa clarifies that Firstname *is* your first name, more straightforwardly.

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        This is an excellent point! I was entirely unprepared for being called Ms. Givenname when I moved from the northeastern US, but in my current region that’s the standard convention in some contexts. So now I answer to Givenname, Mrs. Familyname, Ms. Familyname, Ms. Givenname, Miss Givenname, etc…

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I think this misses a detail OP alluded to with the “not on a sports team” comment. The goal is not just to correct them about which name is first and which name is last. Most of the comments are assuming 100% of the issue is people misreading which name is which. But OP’s objection is twofold:
      1) If they’re mixing up which name is which and not retaining it after being corrected, OP’s irked by that
      2) If they know which is which, but are using the surname without honorific, OP’s also irked by that

      So someone saying “Hey Jeter!” – no thanks
      Someone saying “Hey Derek!” – fine
      Someone saying “Hey Mr. Jeter!” – fine

      It’s possible no one is actually doing #2, and OP doesn’t need to be trying to ward it off. But the structure of OP’s response was intending to do just that.

      Something like “It’s FirstName, actually, or if you must, Ms. Lastname”. Makes what she’s getting at more clear.

  23. DJ Abbott*

    #2, it can be an adjustment to put your phone away for work if you’re not used to being without it. I made quite an adjustment when I went from a job where I had my own office and was bored – that’s when I started coming to AAM – to a front desk job in a financial office.
    In my new/current job, I have to answer phones, greet visitors, and do administrative work. If I was seen taking time on my phone it would make a bad impression that I was slacking off the work, which is mostly things that have to be done now, today, or soon.
    IME it’s very important to make a good impression at work. The way things look is almost more important than the way things are. If they get an impression of you as a slacker or someone who doesn’t want to follow the rules, things will go downhill from there. It’s worth the adjustment to put your phone away and find work-related things to do when you’re bored. We have regulations and guidelines we can read when we have downtime, to keep them fresh in our minds. Maybe you could find work-related things to do when you’re bored. But only if you can see patients waiting while you’re doing it. If you don’t know of any such things, ask your supervisor. That might make a good impression. :)

  24. Anon for This*

    RE: OP 1 – my go to in such cases, particularly if it is something they’ve asked before, is to walk with them back to their desk, have them get onto the computer, navigate to where I want them to go, then shoulder surf to talk them through it. All with a very positive, cheerful, helpful attitude. Takes more time than my just answering their question, but it gets the point across that they need to do this themselves, and usually shuts down the behavior. I rarely have to do this more than once.

  25. You Can't Pronounce It*

    LW 1 – When she asks questions, are you showing her where she can get the answers herself? I have been in positions where I ask for help and even have to ask where they found the answer because they don’t show me how they came about the answer so I can better research the system myself next time.

    LW 2 – I have worked public facing positions where we were allowed the use of our phones, as long as there were not any customers in the lobby. However, colleagues didn’t listen to this and would still use theirs when they were not the ones actively assisting a customer. The customers could still see them using it though, so we all lost the privilege of being allowed to have our phones out at all during work hours.

    LW 4 – Personally, I appreciate when someone corrects me on their name. I have a unique, though not foreign name, and it gets misspelled/mispronounced all the time. I am aware that some cultures even put their last name first, which always makes me nervous when addressing someone I haven’t met in person for them to tell me what to call them. However, I do agree, depending on the situation, requesting the formality of the Ms./Mrs. LastName could make me worry I offended them.

  26. Willowrain*

    My dad was an executive director and well-liked, and he called a lot of people by their last name. No one ever objected, it was kind of a friendly “you are one of us,” kind of thing.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I definitely worked at a place where that was the common culture and I got very used to being called by my last name only, no honorific, by most colleagues. I still think it’s weird for people to do that to LW4 without that kind of specific context and think it’s more likely that they are either confused or being ignorant (whether maliciously or not is not for me to say).

    2. Chriama*

      Could also be that no one ever objected *because* he was the executive director, though. And regardless, OP in this case is obviously objecting and I think she has the right to decide what she wants to be called, regardless of other people’s reasons for calling her something else.

    3. Yo, Bro*

      “No one ever objected” to the Executive Director, their boss? This speaks more to the power differential than to their actual feelings about it.

      1. Ginger Cat Lady*

        EXACTLY. I had a grandboss who did this, and I hated it but never said so because he was so invested in this “everyone loves me and it’s a buddy-buddy thing” persona. He absolutely LOVED thinking he was “well liked”
        Similarly, a city employee in my area recently lost his job over hugging people who didn’t want to be hugged, and his entire defense was “but no one ever complained and I’ve been doing it for years!” but once ONE brave soul filed a complaint, there were dozens more who came forward, too.
        When you are in power over other people, you CANNOT rely on the “no one has complained” as evidence that people are okay with it. Period.

    4. Irish Teacher.*

      I wouldn’t necessarily assume that not objecting meant that they saw it as a friendly “you are one of us” thing, though. They might have, but it’s also true that most people don’t correct others for stuff like that. I hate being called certain shortened versions of my name, but I rarely correct those who do because it sounds kinda petty to be like, “it’s Elizabeth, not Betty.” Add on the fact that he was an executive director and I think it’s unlikely anybody would complain regardless of how they felt about it.

    5. Waffles*

      I have a long and difficult (and ethnic) last name. While many people on our team call each other by last name they absolutely never do for me. Which definitely gives me the “you are not one of us” feeling.

      I think this practice, in addition to being a bit of a boys club thing in general, also stems from the fact that we have multiple Andrew, Alex, Dave, Mike, etcs on our team. There are few women so the overlapping first name thing isn’t really a problem.

      So yeah, please don’t do this for some people but not all. It feels very exclusionary.

  27. Angstrom*

    #2: When an employee pushes back against an established policy, a good manager will ask: Who does this benefit? Is it good for the company, or just good for the person asking?
    In your case, the answer is obvious.

    Play during your breaks.

  28. JSPA*

    #4, In some cases the problem could be of the “a little knowledge is dangerous” variety. Someone sees your japanese last name.

    They know that the standard name order in Japan is family name first, given name second.

    They are so pleased with remembering that (sometimes-relevant) factoid that their logic shorts out.

    (Logic should tell them that if your family name were first…then the family name wouldn’t be Japanese…and that the Japanese naming convention wouldn’t hold.)

    “Hi James, if we’re on first name basis, please do call me Sumita. If we’re on a formal basis, you can call me Ms. Suzuki, and I’ll call you Mr. Bond.”

  29. I should really pick a name*


    Unfortunately, this is just something you have to deal with. Especially with new people.
    I don’t understand why, but some people’s brains go on auto-pilot when they address emails.

    I have what would be considered an “ethnic” first name, and an extremely common last name.
    Emails to me have opened with:
    My first name
    My last name
    A misspelling of my first name from people who have only every encountered my name in emails.
    The first name of the person who was in my position 5 years ago (and this is in reply to an email from me).

    Seconding the advice to say “Please call me Firstname” instead of “Please call me Firstname or Mrs./Ms. Lastname”.

  30. woops*

    gamer – you’re entitled to breaks. that’s the time for playing games. very few customer facing jobs are going to like it if you’re playing on your phone when you’re supposed to be working.

  31. CV*

    In 2010, Patrick McKenzie wrote out a bunch of rules about names that programmers assumed to be accurate, but were not. Many of these are extremely applicable to non-programming situations (ie, in-person interactions with others.).

    Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names (a selection; there are 40 in the original list.)

    -People have exactly one canonical full name.
    -People’s names fit within a certain defined amount of space.
    -People’s names change, but only at a certain enumerated set of events.
    -People’s names are case sensitive.
    -People’s names are case insensitive.
    -People’s names sometimes have prefixes or suffixes, but you can safely ignore those.
    -People’s names do not contain numbers.
    -People’s names are not written in ALL CAPS.
    -People’s names have an order to them. Picking any ordering scheme will automatically result in consistent ordering among all systems, as long as both use the same ordering scheme for the same name.
    -My system will never have to deal with names from [Asian country.]
    -Or Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad, Haiti, France, or the Klingon Empire, all of which have “weird” naming schemes in common use.
    -That Klingon Empire thing was a joke, right?
    -Confound your cultural relativism! People in my society, at least, agree on one commonly accepted standard for names.

    1. I edit everything*

      There are also people with the last name “Null,” which really fouls up name programming.

      1. fish*

        We once had a real! Perfectly valid! Full of good points! customer who left frequent feedback named Ms. Bogus.

      2. Tesuji*

        I mean, that’ll just teach them to sanitize their inputs.

        Like the story of Little Bobby Tables…

    2. Texan In Exile*

      I’m still ticked off at Blue Cross of Michigan, which, in the Year of Our Lord 2014, did not have enough space in the first name field for Mr T’s first name – let’s call him “Allejandroo” – but I didn’t know that and when I tried to register us each at the BC portal, they had no idea who he was and I was in a huge panic that somehow, he had not been added to my insurance and he did not have insurance.

      Turns out they did have him: As “Allejandr.”

      Blue Cross – you had decades to fix this problem. DECADES.

    3. Texan In Exile*

      “My system will never have to deal with names from [Asian country.]
      -Or Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad, Haiti, France, or the Klingon Empire, all of which have “weird” naming schemes in common use.”

      I do voter registration and have gotten to where I give the paper form to almost anyone with a Middle Eastern/Hispanic/Not Anglo name. The online form ( is easy to use but it hits against the WI DMV and there is huge disagreement between the two systems as to what is a middle name and what’s part of a first name. On a WI DL or ID, it shows the last name on one line and then any first and middle names on the next line, but the voter registration online form has a field each for first, middle, and last.

      I registered several Hmong people last Saturday and three of them were easy because they had one first name and one last name and no middle name, but the other two had either two first names or a first name and a middle name. I had to input one of them as two first names and the other as a first plus a middle to get it to match the DMV.

      1. not owen wilson*

        Oh wild, I think I grew up in the exact part of WI you mean. Catch the cheese drop last year? Excited to see how many people get arrested at Brat Days this year?

    4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      “People’s names do not contain punctuation.”

      When a friend of mine thought about changing his name when he got married, it was partly because he was tired of computer systems that couldn’t handle a name like “O’Brian,” including computers in Ireland.

    5. cktc*

      Less than five years ago, a state agency asked me to submit a file which included an identifier composed of first four letters of client last name plus other information. First question out of my mouth was: what about people whose last names are less than four letters long? Dead silence on the conference call for about 2 seconds, as they had clearly not even thought of this scenario. Me and my counterparts from other institutions politely refrained from laughing.

      1. Orv*

        I knew someone whose last name was three letters. In our state driver’s license numbers started with the first four letters of your last name, so his driver’s license number contained an asterisk to pad it out to the required length. This would occasionally cause problems for badly designed forms.

    6. Orv*

      I remember that piece. It caused me to design all future systems with just a single “full name” blank, unless there was a really good reason not to, and make sure it accepted Unicode characters properly.

  32. I edit everything*

    The entire world should just go back to Givenname Job, and for kids, Givenname Parentschild until they’re employed (or a moment of their choice).

    1. bamcheeks*

      Not really going to help with work communication if everyone’s surname is Llamagroomer though…

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Bob Of The Printer Llamagroomer
        Elaine Who Is The Second Elaine Llamagroomer
        Grant Tall Llamagroomer
        Hannah Who Sits At Barb’s Old Desk Llamagroomer

        1. Angstrom*

          Bob The Fastidious Llamagroomer
          Elaine The Exuberant Llamagroomer
          Grant The Often Kicked Llamagroomer
          Hannah Of The Braids Llamagroomer

            1. Orv*

              They’d probably wind up naming me after my car or something silly like that. I’d end up being called Tommy Targa Top.

        2. Bee*

          Sounds like you’re naming Nac Mac Feegles.

          “No’-As-Big-As-Medium-Sized-Jock-But-Bigger-than-Wee-Jock Jock”

    2. Angstrom*

      One has to wonder what happened when all the Millers or Smiths went to a trade show. :-)

    3. I should really pick a name*

      I feel like further tying peoples jobs to their identities is moving in the wrong direction.

    4. Nightengale*

      I have long thought we should use online handles, which seem to serve a similar purpose that occupation based or trait based names did in the past as a distinguishing marker.

      I would be Realfirstname Nightengale of Samarkand

    5. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I just read a terrific trilogy set in a post-apocalyptic Britain (starts with The Book of Koli) where people in the title character’s culture had profession or location names for last names, but all names could be changed as appropriate or desired. At her adulting ceremony, one character changed her first name for a beloved nickname. Another time, someone who only used a single name was given a profession-name by others, which stuck.

      1. Which Susan are you?*

        Thanks for the book recommendation! I liked Girl with All the Gifts, so will check out these also.

    6. Anne*

      I like it, because no stranger would ever voluntarily speak to me again.

      Anne Nuclear Physicist.

    7. Taffia Assemble!*

      I’m from Wales, where for historical reasons which would take too long to go into there are a fairly small number of traditional surnames. As a result, the nicknaming culture is long and inventive, often (though not always) relating to the person’s occupation.

      Examples include:
      Evans the Death (Mr Evans the undertaker)
      Pat the Box (Patrick, ditto)
      Jones the Voice (a certain singer named Tom…)
      Dai Dividend (insurance salesman)
      Nicky Mouse (pest control guy named Nicholas)
      Billy Twice (Full name: William Williams)
      Flower (actual surname Fowler, but legendary for his poor spelling)
      Dewi Bungalow (nothing upstairs)
      Tommy Clock (…infamous for, ah, having one hand larger than the other)

      You get the gist.

  33. umami*

    On the last name issue, it sounds like OP hasn’t explicitly said not to use the last name, just to use Mrs. before it. Just tell them what your first name actually is if that’s what you want them to use, not an either/or when you don’t want really mean for them to use your last name.

  34. Iusemymiddlename*

    Unfortunately, people don’t pay attention to that much either. I have always gone by my middle name, but our email standard display is first name last name. 9 times out of 10, when I send an email, the reply is addressed to my first name, even though I have signed the email with my middle name.

  35. What's My Name Again*

    #4: My fist name is a fairly common first name in the US/Europe/Latin America and my last name is very American. I occasionally have people email me with “Hi Last Name!”. I don’t get offended because it’s not a big deal. The same thing happens to a friend of mine. Who cares?

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      I mean, obviously LW cares, hence the letter. Also, if names aren’t a big deal, it’s shouldn’t be hard to call someone by the correct one.

  36. Synaptically Unique*

    If you have any leeway in how your signature blocks appears, I’ve been successful with including my first/preferred name above my “official” signature block. It’s configured as my default signature and attached to everything whether it’s an original email or a reply (which I would highly recommend since you’re seeing this problem frequently).

    Laura Dean, MBA
    Division Supervisor
    Department of Clinical Research

  37. umami*

    On the game thing, just came here to say today’s was extremely unsatisfying and took about 10 seconds to solve :(

  38. HonorBox*

    OP2 – As part of my job, I teach some customer service training courses, and something I discuss is how much body language impacts communication. Just 7% of communication is the words we say. 38% is the tone of our voice, and 55% is body language. Phones can be a huge part of body language and how customers perceive us. Even if you’re putting your phone down if a patient comes up to the desk, the patient could read that as they’re pulling you away from something you feel is more important.

    I’ve run into situations when I’m checking out at a store where the employee has one or both earbuds in. They’re clearly not totally focused on their work. Even if there’s no sound coming through at the time, their ability to hear and pay attention to the customer is diminished. And if the customer is left wondering whether they have the full attention of the employee, that’s a bad look for the business.

    You indicate that the manager who said something to you has reminded the team “again and again” to put your phones away. Clearly there’s an issue that they’re trying to rectify. Patients may have made a complaint. Or maybe the manager is just very interested in ensuring that the patient experience is the best possible experience. That they’ve said “again and again” should be a strong clue here. And while being on one’s phone isn’t a MAJOR offense, clearly violating rules that have been strongly communicated multiple times is likely to be something that is taken more seriously.

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

      For what its worth, there are some stores that require employees to wear headsets and they can look like earbuds. So if someone has 1 earbud in, it could be a requirement of the store. Even cashiers have to wear them.

      1. HonorBox*

        The situation I was referencing was a grocery store. One time the cashier actually told the person she was talking to on the phone “hold on a second…”

    2. Orv*

      People are getting excited that Apple’s next Airpods model might be a useful substitute for hearing aids, and I forsee a lot of conflicts around people using them to hear better vs. people who find it rude to have them in.

      1. Broadway Duchess*

        I think you’re right and thanks for bringing that up. My brother is hard of hearing and wears hearing aids like what you’re describing. I’ve run into what HonorBox is referring to many times, so I would assume rudeness, too. I get annoyed, so it’s important to remember that there could be other reasons for earbuds (even if in HonorBox’s example, the cashier didn’t need them as a hearing aid).

  39. PotsPansTeapots*

    LW1 – I used to have an extremely toxic FT office job and after a long break of freelancing, I’m finally back at an FT job (albeit WFH). I have to remind myself most days that no one at this job is waiting for me to screw up, no one will bite my head off if I ask a question, people generally want me to succeed bc someone decent in my role makes their lives easier. I know it intellectually, but working it into my muscle memory takes effort.

    It sounds like your co-worker may be having some of the same issues. I agree with Allison’s suggestions to make it less satisfying or redirect to someone who’s role it is to help her. Your co-worker may think of you as a “safe” person to talk to and she needs to understand that most people at this job are “safe” people.

  40. Nathan*

    LW1: In addition to Alison’s suggestion, have you considered strategic incompetence?

    “You know, I don’t remember the answer to that myself…haha I’m so forgetful these days. Have you tried asking your mentor?”

    “I’m not sure about that one…if I were you I’d try checking X and Y first to see if you can figure it out from there”

    Hopefully she picks up the hint that you didn’t just have a stroke in the part of your brain that stores work knowledge and starts bugging you less :)

  41. Me*

    I work in a clinic where the front desk manager is invisible and ineffective, and a LOT of patients complain about the front desk not paying attention to whether there are patients waiting to be checked in. There is a rule against phone use while working at the front desk, but it’s not enforced at all. So the LW may not be aware that patients are complaining about it. They’re not saying anything to the front desk, but they are saying something once they go in the back. Even if the phone use has little true impact, it is a bad look for the clinic, and it makes patients think they’re not the first priority.

    I was once on the other end as a patient, and a medical assistant checking my vital signs had her phone propped up so that we could both see it, and she kept glancing at it. She actually wrote a one-word response text while waiting for the blood pressure machine to pump up and give the reading! Although she got some points for efficiency, and it didn’t actually slow the visit down, that was terrible optics.

  42. MrsPookie*

    For the poster who has their coworker search them out to answer questions? Ask that she put them in email. And then take a bit to respond-asking first if she found the answer by searching.
    If she has to take the time to write them down she may realize she can find the info herself. Good luck!

  43. Yup*

    LW#2: I’m not sure when exactly it became acceptable for people in public-facing jobs to be on their phones. We’re not talking about answering a personal call, of course–we’re talking browsing online, answering emails, social media, games, all things that are for breaks times and lunches. You end up having to interrupt the person in order to be seen and get service, and in a medical profession it looks like medical care is being ignored or at the very least not prioritized.

    I do think it’s a cultural shift, however, that’s allowing this kind of usage to supersede responsibility. It’s why we see store workers taking multiple small breaks throughout their shift, phone in hand–or, worse, drivers sneaking peeks at the screen while driving. We need to stop normalizing this.

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

      I think this is a hard take.
      If you are talking about the OP where do you get that patient care is being ignored. They specifically say during down time when there are no patients at the desk. As someone who works at a front desk, if I’m on my phone (which occasionally I do for both personal things or work) if someone comes up I immediately put my phone down.

      “This is why we see store workers taking multiple small breaks throughout their shift, phone in hand” this is completely different than working in a hospital. for one, how do you know that the store worker is not on their scheduled break? And why does it bother you as long as someone is able to help you?

      1. Texan In Exile*

        “store worker is not on their scheduled break”

        Which is why the first thing I did went I went on break when I was working at Macy’s was remove my name tag. I didn’t want anyone to know I worked there while I was trying to enjoy my tiny tiny break.

  44. morethantired*

    LW2 — It sounds to me like your concern is less about not using your phone at the desk but that you and your coworker have a thing you enjoy and bond over, and you don’t want to lose it over this rule. But realize you can still play the game either before work or on your break and still discuss the results and such with your coworker. Just talk to your coworker about it and agree on a new way to enjoy the game together that doesn’t involve playing it at the desk. You both clearly enjoy solving puzzles. Think about this as a puzzle where you need to come up with a creative way to comply with the work policy of no phones but still get to play this game together.

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

      I agree. I wonder, would they be allowed to have a puzzle book at the front desk? That would be a puzzle that they could work together as a bonding thing.

      Also, you can print out the NY Times crosswords.

      1. GythaOgden*

        It would look just as bad. I got into more trouble on reception for having my sketchbook out than I did for having my phone out. At least when reading from a computer screen I looked a bit better and my eyes were pointing in roughly the right direction.

  45. kalli*

    LW#4, if you’re allowed to change your signature, it might be worth including your honorific, capitalising your surname, or altering it so that you sign off with just what you want to be called.

    If you can’t change your signature due to style rules or lack of access to do so, it might help to sign off with what you want to be called above your signature.

    Some organisations do give user permission to change the display name, but a lot have that set by IT and you’d need to ask, but that might also be worth looking into.

    If you don’t mind if they call you your last name with the honorific, it might be worth altering how you point it out to highlight the difference in how they’re addressing you vs other people, instead of just adding your honorific – something like “If you must use my last name, it’s Ms LW.” I can’t help but imagine any of the ‘That’s Mrs to you’ or ‘They call me Mr Pig’ scenes from movies where it’s normally a gotcha or screw you statement, so adding the difference in address differentiates the context and may make people realise in a way ‘It’s Ms LW’ isn’t – especially as that acts only to reinforce the difference being okay.

    I do echo the sense that people are seeing what they think is a Japanese name and are trying to be sensitive but are failing, but honestly, if they see what they think is a Japanese name in a Western business context and aren’t assuming Western norms, they should be asking first because there’s a whole other bunch of things going on that they’re messing up and assuming isn’t helpful here. Some people have already shown you they don’t care, but it might be worth a stock explainer for new people if nothing else can be done and the above approach doesn’t feel right to you. ‘Oh, you must have thought I use Japanese name order! I don’t; it’s either Given name or Honorific. Lastname’.

  46. Anon for this one*

    No. 4 – I am female. My first name is a couple of letters off the male version of my name. I have people who constantly call me and address me as the male name. I simply say “I’m female name, not male name” in a cheerful voice. Believe it or not, I’ve had pushback for not wanting to be addressed by the incorrect name. People just don’t pay attention!

    1. Pikachu*

      Ah, I too am a woman with a traditionally male name. Same pronunciation, but different spelling. Really really tired of being addressed as “sir” in emails.

      1. Orv*

        This is why I wish including pronouns in email signatures wasn’t seen as so politicized. I routinely deal with Chinese names where I have no clue what gender they reflect, and if no one indicates what pronouns I should be using it gets awkward.

  47. DivergentStitches*

    #5 perhaps OP could set up their email signature so that the first name is in a pretty font so that it’s like

    First Name (larger and in different font)

    Firstname Lastname, Job Title, Phone #

  48. You want stories, I got stories*

    I have the same problem as #4. People will use my last name all of the time as a part of the greeting. What I used to do, was always greet them by their last name in any responses. Most people caught in within an e-mail or two why I was doing that and would send a quick e-mail of apology.

  49. JLC*

    LW1 — One thing I’ve found helpful in situations like this is the “teach a man to fish” strategy. If they are not complicated as you mentioned, perhaps they simply don’t know these previous example exist and/or how to interpret them?

    LW2 – Disciplinary action is vast as there are “offenses” that don’t get you fired but also don’t get you promoted seemingly silently. It’s easier to say that disobeying a manager will result in a negative out come for you of varying size but never 0. I had a difficult time learning that doing what managers tell you, so long as it’s legal/ethical, is usually in the best interest for your current position. You need to decide what position is in your best interest.

    LW4 – I can speak a tiny bit of Japanese and often struggle identifying the order a Japanese name is written in. In the mistake maker’s shoes I’d simply want to know I’ve made a common mistake like, “this happens all the time, Yukiko is my first name and Khan is my last name.” As a learner, I’m interested in knowing more about names but as your colleague showed, interpretation of language is tough to predict. While I’d love to know “Yukiko can be written with either the kanji for snow or happiness,” I guarantee someone out there will feel that’s too familiar or not serious enough

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      Yeah, with regard to letter 2, I was thinking even if it didn’t lead to disciplinary action, it could still be a mark against the LW. You generally don’t want your manager irritated with you.

  50. llamasandteapots*

    For LW #4, is it an option to include that information in your email signature? I work with doctors, and some of them have a similar mix of names from different cultures. One in particular has in his signature “First Name = X, Last Name = Y” to help cut down on any confusion. Probably not a perfect fix and you’ll still have some issues (I have a very Western first name, but people I’ve worked with for years still misspell it all the time), but it might help a little bit.

  51. Anne Shirley Blythe*

    Without more context as to the location of the job and the demographics of most staff, I’m confused as to why the situation is happening in Letter 4. I wonder if the last name looks like it could be a first name, and people are locking in on that? I was guilty of this with a remote coworker, and it was an honest mistake. (even though our email convention was First Name Last Name) Her last name looked like it could be a first name and I had to retrain my brain. I did slip up a few times before getting it straight.

  52. Kate*

    #4–I would also suggest having your name appear in your signature as Ms. Firstname Lastname, as an extra cue. Email clients can be confusing as some are set to display Lastname Firstname and other times the reverse.

  53. Fluffy Fish*

    OP4 – If you’re colleague thinks that’s rude, then they would be horrified at my response.

    I have a very uncomplicated English name and I often get addressed by my last name. I simply respond. “June is my last name.” and then go on with the email.

  54. thomas the tank engine*

    #4: I get this a lot, but my reason is that my last name is a common first name, ex: James Charles. When it’s in email, I tend to respond with a light correction as the first line of the response, something like “I go by James, not Charles”.

    When it repeats, I admit, I once got annoyed enough that when someone sent an email to a bunch of people, and then clearly was addressing me in the salutation, I said “hi, I think you forgot to add Charles to the email” (I got away with this because there was actually someone with the first name of Charles who we sometimes worked with)

  55. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    OP2 it’s great to bond with colleagues. But sharing results of a game is strictly for break time. Yes, I’d think you were unprofessional if I saw you on a game on your phone when I came up to ask you a question.

  56. Observer*

    #2 – Playing games at work –

    This jumped out at me “especially in this day and age“. Because you have it exactly backwards.

    *ESPECIALLY* in “this day and age”, smart managers are worried about personal device and internet use. Because the potential liabilities are ever growing and stark.

    “This day and age” includes events like the Change Healthcare hack, which has cost United Health Group $billions, and will probably cost them even more by the time all the dust settles. And which also probably lead to a lot of adverse medical events as people couldn’t get their medications or get to their appointments. And definitely pushed multiple medical practices to the brink of closure.

    It also includes multiple hacks of hospitals, healthcare networks and healthcare support services providers that we know have had massive negative effects (and in some cases deaths as medical services could not be provided.) Also, stronger enforcement of HIPAA’s privacy provisions, local regulations around these issues, and the move to create even more rules around how client information is handled.

    And, it also includes a greater likelihood that someone will go after the hospital is anything happens due to someone being distracted, *appearing to be* distracted, or a patient / patient advocate feeling like the can’t approach staff because they are “busy” with personal stuff.

    That’s all an enormous risk for the hospital, even if it’s only a “faction of your shift”.

    Your supervisor is drawing

    1. Observer*

      I somehow posted this without the ending.

      Your supervisor is drawing a clear line here. Even if you think she’s being unreasonable, it will have a negative effect on your job. And the reality is that she’s almost certainly not being ridiculous.

      Do what she says.

  57. tabloidtained*

    #4, I have an Arabic first name, Urdu/Hindi last name, and although my email uses only my first name and my signature is First Name, Last Name, and I sign off all my emails with my first name, I regularly receive correspondence from people who call me by my last name. Things is–I most often get it from other South Asians! I chalk it up to general confusion, differences in email address formats, and differences in how emails display names (“Last Name, First Name,” etc.). I do get irritated when they don’t switch to my first name after multiple emails where I clearly sign off with my name (are you reading these emails or not?!), but it’s generally not worth my time to address directly or to get too annoyed by it. Sometimes they only realize their mistake when we have a phone call and I introduce myself!

  58. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #2 – To me it’s a silly policy but I’ve worked in retail where the same rules apply. People will raise a stink about anything you do if they don’t think it’s work related. Case in point, I’ve had customers complain about me because I was talking casually to another retail worker when it was slow instead of looking attentive and waiting to greet customers.

    There are also managers who believe that you’re getting paid to work, not sit around, so you should always be asking for more work if your work is slow and there is never ‘no work’ to be done. Everyone’s job has an ‘other duties as assigned’ line in their job description. In retail that meant we were supposed to go beyond our customer service duties to help organize shelves, do a deeper cleaning of the store, update papers that hadn’t been updated in awhile, or help out with tasks that we could pick up/put down as it got busier.

    1. those are not the droids we're looking for*

      There are also managers who believe that you’re getting paid to work, not sit around,

      The horror of it all.

    2. tetsuo*

      That’s why the best way to fill up the time with work is to work slowly. If working hard and fast does not result in any down time to relax, then the remaining option is to relax as much as possible while performing tasks.

  59. theletter*

    #4 – in the us at least, there’s a old cliche where someone calls someone else by their last name. That person then laughs and says ‘Mr. Crampleshire is my father. Please, call me Bob.” (there’s a great example in ‘Finding Nemo’.)

    As I did not take my husband’s last name, I expect at some point I’ll have to do a variation of this, by stating that Mrs. Hubbyname is my mother-in-law.

    I think it’s a fun and casual way to point out how you want to be addressed without putting the other person on guard. It’s easily recognizable as an invitation to drop formalities and just communicate on a first-name basis.

  60. Csethiro Ceredin*

    #4 – Ideally people would be more observant, but since they’re apparently not, maybe if you added a middle initial to the email signature people would read your name correctly?

    I think if it said Rose L. Violet people would register that Rose was the first name and Violet the surname.

  61. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    #4 – it is not just an ethnic name thing. I have an extremely common American first name and last name. My work email is firstname.lastname@company and my work signature is Firstname Lastname and I still get about 20% of my emails that say “Hello Lastname”

  62. Dido*

    I sign my emails as “Best, Firstname” and my official email signature with my full name is below this. Many people do this as they often go by a nickname/shortened form of their first name, and it’s convention to call someone what they call themselves

  63. Fluffy Fish*

    #2 cmon now – it’s not about whether the policy is right or fair. bottom line is it is policy, one that you’ve been warned about at that.

    your letter seems to be its not a big deal. so if its not a big deal then why is it such an issue to not be on your phone?

    your options are:
    – follow the policy
    – disregard the policy and risk formal discipline at worst and demonstrating you’ll flagrantly disregard your managers instruction at best
    -find a new job that allows you to be on your phone during down times.

  64. Linda not Lisa*

    LW4, people are just really bad at names, even names from their own culture. My name is Linda and I have an email account that is Linda@ and I send my emails signed Linda. It is not uncommon for me to get a reply where the person addresses me as Lisa. In your case at least they’re picking a name that’s actually one of the two names in front of them – but these people are ignoring the *three* instances of my name in the email and using a totally different name out of nowhere!

    So while yes, some people are racist and resent dealing with “foreign” names, I think it’s much more likely here that it’s just another instance of people being really really bad with names.

    1. Lisa not Linda*

      Linda! I’m a Lisa and I have all your emails! I get Linda from time to time, and also I have an Anglo last name that could be a first name (like Avery) and a fair number of people call me Avery, even though Lisa is basically impossible as a last name. I sometimes get this from people I’ve worked with (via email) for years. They’re just not thinking.

      1. Linda not Lisa*

        this is hilarious. people! proofread the names in your emails! don’t make yourself part of a story in the comments of Ask a Manager!

  65. sara*

    For OP 2 – can you just play Connections on your computer? That way there is no issue of a client coming in and seeing you on your phone, but you can still take the 2 minute mental break. Or do it on a bathroom break, in the lunch room, etc. I don’t think the issue is taking a couple of minutes to play the game but just that if a client happens to come in during those 2 minutes, they don’t know what the rest of your day looked like.

    1. judyjudyjudy*

      Don’t play the game on the work computer. You know that’s against the spirit of the directive, and risking an even greater negative response from your supervisor.

  66. Orv*

    When I’m unsure of what name to use for someone I often crib from how they sign off their email. Is it acceptable where you work to sign off the message with just your first name? For example,


    Thank you for the recent teapot order. You will receive a shipment notification in 2 to 3 days.

    Thanks for your business,

    This gets me around issues where someone doesn’t go by their official name or where they put their family name first for cultural reasons but want to be called by their given name.

  67. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

    For 1, coworker should keep a personal FAQ doc and write down the answers each time she has a question (or someone else asks a question in group chat and it’s answered, or she finds an answer in documentation)

    For 5, I’ve seen a similar thing happen when a company with their systems configured to display Last, First has calls with a company that’s First, Last and someone has an ambiguous name. They should listen when you correct them

  68. Throwaway Account*

    I have a very short name, 3 letters for the first name, 2 letters for the last name. When we lived in the UK, folks there called me my whole name. They often told me they were “too British” and felt very formal compared to my American informality. So I assumed they were calling me FirstName LastName out of formality. It was only at the end of my three years there that we all realized the error! They thought my FirstName LastName combo was my first name!

  69. AltOrca*

    #4 reminds me of an interview I saw with Patrick Stewart saying that after being knighted, he often gets called Sir Stewart when it should be Sir Patrick. People probably get mixed up because Stewart is also a first name so it doesn’t sound wrong. I can definitely imagine myself seeing an email that says “Stewart, Patrick” and accidentally getting the names mixed up. It happens unfortunately. I think Allison’s advice is solid.

  70. Mango Freak*

    For Connections, just write all the words down on a piece of paper and do it that way.

    Yes it’ll take longer because you won’t be able to submit groupings as you go…but you’re trying to pass the time, right?

    1. judyjudyjudy*

      C’mon, that’s not in the spirit of the directive. Maybe just work on the backlog in your slow periods, and play the game during your tea or lunch break. You still get to play your game and bond with your work friend, *and* follow your supervisor’s instructions. Win-win!

  71. RamonaThePest*

    As a caregiver and spouse to someone who has stage 4 cancer, (hopeful waiting to hear results of CT scan after four chemo treatments next week) I have to say, the waiting room and chemo clinic is hard to handle. I would be pretty upset if you were not scanning the waiting room for patients who might need assistance. You have down time? Walk over and greet the patients who are waiting for treatment. You’re unhappy you can’t bond with with your coworker with an online game? Jaysus Crominy.

  72. Babycakes*

    I’m so glad to hear that the Ms. Lastname thing comes off as rude. I’ve been wondering that for years. I used to work for a school, but my job was working with employees who wanted to use the education benefits. So my students were also my coworkers, and 90% of the time we were peers.

    I have a very young voice, so I was used to people referring to me as younger, but I was in my very late 30s. On a first meeting with one of my students, she said to me “you will address me as Mrs. Jones.” I was totally offended – rank wise, I was at her level or maybe slightly higher. We weren’t in the same office, but company culture had us calling the VPs by their first names. I pretended I didn’t hear her and continued to call her by my first name, but always kept it in my back pocket that I was two years older than she was in case she brought it up.

    But I did always wonder if it was rude of me to not call her what she asked me to call her.

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