my employee is too buddy-buddy with me

A reader writes:

I manage a team of 10 in a hybrid (mostly virtual) environment; we’re part of a larger team that we interact with on a daily basis. I have very good, friendly relationships with everyone on the broader team, but I do try to keep it more professional with my direct reports (still friendly and pleasant, but not to the point of being work BFFs).

However, one of my newer reports wants to be very buddy-buddy with me and I’m struggling with how to address it. She sends frequent non-project-related communication over Slack (funny gifs, random musings about the world, just checking in to say hi, etc.). Even her work-related Slack communication seems extremely casual with me (“oh man, this project is fire, I’m about to destroy it”) and occasionally concerning (“I cannot stay focused in this meeting!”), but I’ve addressed those issues directly and corrected when the casual communication causes work problems (e.g., “Frank won’t know what you meant by that, please be more clear about the needs of this project”).

But the non-work-related stuff is challenging. I would never dream of communicating with my own boss on such a buddy level, but maybe it’s a generational thing. So far I’ve just been trying not to engage too much with it and, truthfully, it doesn’t impact our work, so there really is no “correction.” Should I just keep up a cordial distance and hope she gets the point, or be more explicit about the type of relationship we have? I should note that when we are actually in person or over the phone, she is pretty shy and quiet … it’s just over Slack that she communicates this way.

I wrote back and asked, “Is she young/new to the work world? And are the frequent Slack messages interrupting your focus/worth approaching from that angle?”

She is on the younger side but not totally new to the professional world (this is her second job in this field). I would say her behavior/personality aligns pretty closely with our younger hires, regardless of her age.

The messages are not really a disruption, fortunately. In fact, I chat with my peers in a similar way throughout the day. The issue that concerns me more is the manager-employee dynamic and how it seems to be pushing some sort of a boundary in that relationship. There is a good chance my personality just tends to invite this type of casual communication, though, because I do tend to get more intimate communications from others on my team (who do not report to me) … confiding in me with frustrations, sharing personal information, etc.

Often — not always, but often — you can reset this sort of boundary simply by modeling on your side what you consider appropriate. In this case, that would probably mean not responding to a lot of the non-work communications and keeping a warm but professional tone — things that it sounds like you’ve already been doing. Your hope would be that within a few months, she’d pick up on your cues and recalibrate.

But it also sounds like it would be useful to find opportunities to coach her on professional communication in general. For instance, if she’s going to need to communicate with clients or higher-ups, talk with her beforehand about how that requires a different tone than more casual interactions do and what that should (and shouldn’t) look like. Those are useful things to teach regardless, and it sounds like it would have multiple applications here.

Another thing you can try since she’s early in her career is pairing her with a mentor (and maybe suggesting that person include professional boundaries with higher-ups in their discussions).

Or, of course, you could have a more explicit conversation. But it doesn’t sound like it’s strictly necessary since the messages aren’t disrupting you, just more … off in tone. You could do it anyway, but this particular conversation has a high risk of embarrassing her or making her feel bad. Normally I think it’s a kindness to be willing to have awkward conversations with employees, even if it’s momentarily embarrassing, in the interest of people’s professional development … but in this case doing the three things above (or at least the first two) has a strong enough chance of working that I’d start there. You can always reassess down the road if you need to.

{ 149 comments… read them below }

  1. Addison DeWitt*

    People on Slack are too casual? I’ve never heard of such a thing!

    Years ago I worked for a media company that wanted us all on Slack. I went on ONE day and it was all talking about Beyonce’s new album (so exactly the same as right now). What a galactic waste of my time (on a half-time job, I should add). I simply refused to log in after that.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      I can’t help but read your posts in George Sanders’ voice. Imagining him saying “Beyonce” brightened up a really crummy day so thanks for that :D

    2. Ann on a Moose*

      I volunteer with an organization that uses Slack for much of its communication. There’s a bunch of channels that are set aside for social/fun communication, and then many more working channels. With a very clear naming convention to distinguish social from non-social (as well as various working groups from each other), it seems to work for us. It could be that your company wasn’t organizing its channels effectively enough.

      It doesn’t stop us from having weird debates on esoterica in the working channels, but at least it’s esoterica that’s generally related to what we’re doing there.

      1. Peon*

        My work slack is similar; it’s kinda casual, sure, but we communicate important stuff, including code snippets or queries. More immediate than email, more lasting than chats, easy to pin important things retroactively.

        Probably helps that we have a separate channel just for sharing cute animal pictures.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        My last job was like this – the work-based channels (usually separated by client, task, or skill) were all very professional and strictly business, and were also limited to only the people who were involved. The more casual communications were limited to the non-work channels (like for pets, different hobbies or interests, etc) and were open to anyone to join. If a topic didn’t interest you, you just didn’t have to join that channel.

        A well-organized slack is an amazing tool!

        1. AcademiaNut*

          All my slack work spaces (there are four of them) are strictly project based, channels are arranged around sub-components of the project, only involve people in that particular project, and the closest they come to casual communication is a “general” channel for announcements.

          The style of communication, particularly at busy times, is a little more casual than a structured email, but for the most part they are in complete, highly technical sentences. But with emojis.

      3. JHunz*

        Same here. There are an absolute ton of channels available, and most of them (including all of the chat-focused ones) are opt-in rather than being added to every user automatically. Good organization really helps.

      4. Kyrielle*

        Yup. You hang out in #watercooler you are going to get…just whatever. But #general is going to give you broadly important working announcements and not much else, product-specific channels will be talking about what they say, and yep, #cute-photos will be full of cute photos, just like it says on the label.

        I have a *massive* pile of channels (work-related to things I don’t work on, and social-related that I’m not interested in) that I’m not in and don’t look at or listen to. It works well.

        1. JustaTech*

          We tried to do this in Teams at the beginning of the pandemic, but either Teams doesn’t work that way, or at least not with the cheapest-possible-version that my company bought. After about a year I managed to convince one person with the ability to set up channels to make a watercooler, which was pretty dead until someone put in a link to Wordle. And now it’s just the Wordle channel.

          (I do not understand why my coworkers are so adverse to a fun things channel, most of us are digital natives, or nearly.)

    3. Anonymous Source*

      I also work in media and was initially skeptical about Slack but I honestly cannot imagine doing my job nearly as efficiently without it, especially when folks are working remotely. (In terms of tone, tolerance for sidechat, etc, I think a lot just depends on workplace or even team norms.)

    4. I Have RBF*

      Channels are a thing. Not logging in to a work Slack can mean that you miss things. Just ask that they keep the social stuff in the social channels.

      1. allathian*

        We do, although I do keep my team’s fun channel muted and only post very occasionally, but it can be done.

      2. hobbydragon*

        We added a pets channel and it has a few heavy users. (I suspect a lot of lurkers too). I also customize the emoji I am responding to anything with every. single. time. Because some of those options deserve to see the light of day even if they make no sense.

    5. Reluctant Mezzo*

      We worked with Slack at the tax office, but only one ‘casual’ channel (the rest were Fun With Schedule C’s, Care and Feeding of Day Traders, and Real Estate Trades: Threat or Menace).

  2. …username pending*

    This is part of why I mildly dislike internal message apps like Slack, Teams, etc. as it can get some to fall into the “too casual” conversational style. I personally don’t mind it as much, but I do have concerns when team members do it with other higher-ups as it may cause issues on perception of them. I’ll let them know to be careful, but that’s all I really do currently.

    I’ve seen this behavior from all over the age spectrum, so it doesn’t seem to only be younger people, either.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “I’ve seen this behavior from all over the age spectrum, so it doesn’t seem to only be younger people, either.”

      Yes, me too! I had a friend at work who did this. It was so cringe-y! She would send work-related emails to a whole department that had the tone of something you’d only send to your pal – emojis, slang, and a jokey tone that was so inappropriate. I think her supervisor did tell her to stop, but I don’t think she knew how…And she was middle-aged. ;D

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Yes, age doesn’t always factor into this kind of thing! There’s an AAM column in which the OP described a new colleague who was a former kindergarten teacher and hadn’t grasped that she shouldn’t treat her co-workers as if they were kindergarteners. It didn’t sound as if she was terribly young, and she’d clearly had at least one other job (possibly for quite a while) before she took the position in OP’s office.

        Sometimes people of ALL ages just blunder into behavior that isn’t bigoted or sexual in nature, but that just isn’t appropriate for the workplace. It sounds as if that may be the case in today’s letter.

      2. allathian*

        Ugh, this made me cringe, but that’s because I don’t think email is the appropriate medium for a jokey tone. Slack/Zoom/Teams etc. are much better suited to that.

    2. Nebula*

      Yes, and it’s highly dependent on the culture of the place. LW says this is the employee’s second job in the field – I wonder whether her previous job had more of a casual culture on Slack and that’s what she’s calibrated towards. It can even vary between different departments in the same workplace: one of my colleagues told me the other day that in her previous position in another department, people were much more active and jokey on Teams, whereas we pretty much just use it for work stuff.

      I’ve never worked somewhere that uses Slack, but it seems like a nightmare. A friend of mine uses it at work, and it seems like it’s constantly descending into overly personal, messy, bitchy stuff. Which is due to the particular dysfunction of their workplace, but it certainly seems like Slack is exacerbating the issues.

      1. Alright Alright Alright*

        Slack is just a messaging platform. This sounds like a workplace culture issue. We use Slack at my entirely remote company and everyone manages to be professional while still having fun (in our food, pets, kids, and random channels).

        1. Baunilha*

          Same. All the companies I’ve worked for that used Slack had specific channels for the fun stuff, and others that were strictly for work topics. (And even IM were very professional if you were talking to a higher up)

  3. Fyrecracker*

    It also depends on the industry. I work in a field where we often share memes, pet pics, random observations, etc. both among our teams and with the partners we work with. It’s a way of establishing relationships with people we may only see in person a few times a year, if that. It would be see as weird if I wasn’t friendly in that way. We have a range of ages on the team.

    There are limits — you’re not going to tell your boss or a partner “dang, this meeting is BORING” but my cat appearing on Zoom has broken ice in some frosty meetings before. Well worth it.

    1. MsM*

      Yeah, in my experience, the more remote the working environment, the more people rely on Slack for team-building, social engagement, and just plain making sure their existence doesn’t go unnoticed. It sounds like LW’s already trying to make sure people feel supported, but a bit of proactive “I’m here, and I know you are, too” might not hurt if there’s any chance the buddy-buddy vibe is actually just this employee thinking they need to be extra-communicative.

    2. Peon*

      For us, some Slack channels have taken the place of our office bulletin boards for sharing funny cartoons and such, or the place of our desk photos for pictures of our pets, or sharing recipes instead of actual baked goods.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, the part where the employee told her boss that she couldn’t pay attention in the mtg wasn’t a smooth move, IMO. My colleagues and I do this all the time (we have some spectacularly boring meetings, y’all) but even though I have a truly excellent relationship with my boss, I would never message something like that to her during a mtg. Would I say, “I agree!” if she messaged to me that a mtg was boring? Absolutely! But I wouldn’t initiate it myself. Not a bad idea to mention to the employee that she might want to stop saying stuff like that to her boss, I should think.

      And I agree that I don’t think it’s an age thing necessarily. In this case you could excuse it more b/c of her being newer to the workforce than an older employee, but we all know that people of any age can be oversharers.

      1. selena81*

        Complaining about a boring meeting isn’t a huge faux-pas if everyone is relaxed about it. But it sound like the employee doesn’t understand there is a time and place for such sentiments, so it’d be a kindness to at least make clear to her that there are less understanding managers who would be very nonplussed about such sentiments.

    4. fidget spinner*

      I agree! She probably just has a work history in a more informal environment. The LW even says they themselves talk in that informal way on Slack with their peers, and they’re only uncomfortable with this woman doing it because she’s their subordinate.

      I’ve only worked in places that are relatively non-hierarchical. At my current job, I don’t talk to my boss any differently than I talk to my coworkers.

    5. Original Letter Writer*

      You make a great point here Fyrecracker – this same employee often feels a need to check in with me so I know she’s working (not at all expected) on days she is remote. So perhaps I’m reading into it too much and those are just casual ways of reminding me, “hey, I’m here working and available if you need me.” She may be over-emphasizing the fact that she’s not slacking off somewhere.
      Thanks for the input!

      1. Smithy*

        I just want to give you two thumbs up with working on concrete ways to address a soft skill. I used to work with a colleague where English wasn’t his first language, and his first language and country of birth has a far more direct style that in the US often comes across as unfriendly, rude or abrupt. He was told to work on improving it without being directed on the concrete areas where it most impacted his work.

        As a peer I ended up working with him (after he asked) some on his written work, and it was so obvious how frustrated he was at feeling such a high need to double check internal emails. It wasn’t until a few months later where I was in a meeting with him where it was clear that while his writing style was a bit more abrupt than typical US English professional communications, the sharpness of his communication style was far more apparent in how he spoke in professional meetings (vs casual conversations).

        All to say, I think had he receive more coaching on his weakest area as opposed to being directed to change everything all at once in a vague manner – that could have only helped. If the time been spent more so working on the verbal communication in meetings, then maybe his own written style would have adapted along with it over time? Who knows, but compared to how he spoke in meetings, it was far easier to see his writing as a cultural difference that might be worth changing over time vs a problem.

  4. Oryx*

    I am curious what her work culture was like at her previous job in the field. Gifs and Emojis are not unusual at my company, regardless of position in the hierarchy. That is, it’s not at all generational or age related. I mean, we have entire Slack channels dedicated to pet pictures and trivia and all sorts of non-work-related things.

    Of course, we also know who it’s not appropriate to communicate with in that way (and that things like “this meeting is so boring” are better reserved for text message groups with people who aren’t our manager). I am wondering if she just came from an environment that was more casual than the current one.

    1. Hush42*

      I was wondering this too. We don’t use Slack so I don’t know exactly what that’s like but we do use Teams. I have definitely been known to send a gif or 3 to my boss (the CFO) and my team sends GIFs to me all the time. They also share personal things and what they’re up to on the weekends or whatever. During all company meetings they have been known to send commentary via IM to our team chat. Most of it is “I didn’t know that” or clarifying questions that they don’t want to ask in front of the whole company. Some of it is sillier stuff. If they thought the meeting was boring I wouldn’t be too surprised to have them tell me.
      Company culture here says that if you need to vent you should “vent up” not down. I.e. if something annoying is happening and I need to complain about it I tell my boss not my direct reports or even those on the same level as me. It sounds like OP doesn’t want as open a relationship with their direct reports, which is completely fine, but if one of my employees left and went to work for OP they might not realize that our culture isn’t the norm everywhere. All that to say, if AAMs advice doesn’t work talk directly to her and let her know the culture. Not everyone is as aware of entering a new culture as they should be.

    2. Ahnon4Thisss*

      Yeah, this is what I was wondering. This isn’t necessarily a communication failure on the employee’s part if she can quickly change to be more formal to the appropriate audience. Like someone said below, you have to know who you can be this casual with and clearly OP isn’t the correct audience. Sounds like she just needs to readjust to the new culture.

      I guess I’m used to the informality with higher ups though. I texted my boss the other day to ask her permission for something (common at my workplace) and she sent back a thumbs up GIF, lol.

    3. fidget spinner*

      Yeah, my current job is fairly non-hierarchical. I don’t talk to my boss any differently than I talk to other coworkers. I don’t really use GIFs anyway but I send my boss emojis all the time. It wouldn’t occur to me to be like, oh, I can’t joke with him because he’s my boss. I think the LW might just need to be explicit with their expectations.

    4. Original Letter Writer*

      That could be, good question. I get the sense she had a very close relationship with her previous manager and may just be transferring that to the new role. It does seem as the weeks go on, the inappropriate comments (e.g., “this meeting is boring”) have stopped, so because of that, I don’t have an issue with the gifs/jokes/etc.

      1. A Heckin' Good Pupper*

        It definitely sounds like you may be more formal/hierarchical than her previous manager. I’ve had managers who would straight up tell me “yeah, that meeting was awful, it could have been an email” and it never bothered me. I appreciated them being that straight-forward with me. Another manager I had would never say things like that and was extremely buttoned up.

        I’m curious if one of you is newer to the organization or team – could it be that someone is coming from a different work culture and there’s some adjustment pains?

    5. wordswords*

      Yes, that was my thought too. At my workplace, some of this would be a bit much (and I wouldn’t complain to my boss about a meeting being boring unless I knew we were on the same page about it), but a lot of it would fit right in.

      That doesn’t mean that OP can’t still model conversational styles more in line with her workplace’s norms, and maybe have a conversation about it if needed. But it means the conversation may be more “pay attention to office norms, and be judicious about using much more casual style than everyone else is doing, because it may make you seem inexperienced or unprofessional if your style isn’t calibrated to the right level of formality” rather than “none of this is ever appropriate to say in a work Slack.”

    6. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      heh, my immediate office slack is very casual with a mix of work stuff and gifs and we would not hesitate to tell our boss that we are finding a meeting boring. That is how we roll. Now if you get outside the office we keep it more formal.

    7. AthenaC*

      FWIW, at my company, the woman in charge of a national Significant Service Line uses GIFs and a very casual conversational style. At the same time she is very protective of her time and very efficient.

      That is to say, you can have both GIFs and high-achieving professionalism. Just depends on the environment and the people involved.

    8. I know Joe*

      I agree. As a manager, I encourage this behavior maybe not the this meeting is boring but even then, it’s likely honest and I’d probably laugh and warn them not to say that to certain other managers. I find at my work place meetings are boring rituals of people jostling to make their presence known and not saying anything interesting.

      If it was my meeting the employee told me was boring, I’d gladly step aside and let them run it maybe learn a thing or two.

  5. Katrine Fonsmark*

    I feel like her real problem is that she doesn’t know her audience. I would 100% chat things that casual to my manager, including “this meeting is so boring” but that’s because I KNOW her and know how she’ll react – she says the same kinds of stuff to me.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Yep – I get stuff like that from some of my reports and it doesn’t bother me at all.

    2. alanna*

      I used to have a relationship like this with my boss, and as we both moved up the hierarchy we’ve both buttoned it up — we do a lot less gossiping because he now oversees the entire department. (We’re also just way busier and have way less time to chat.) From experience with being the person shut down, I’d say just not responding to a message like that can go a long way. We never had to have a big “OK we’re going to be more formal” conversation, he just quit responding to my more distracting overtures and that was enough. (And to be clear, it’s fine, we still have a great working relationship that is appropriate for our new roles!)

    3. Ella*

      my directs send me things like this all the time. My current manager and I don’t have this kind of relationship, but I’ve had it with previous managers – it’s just like anything else – you might be friendlier with some people than with others.

    4. Original Letter Writer*

      Yeah – very true, and perhaps that was the real issue… felt to me that she didn’t KNOW me yet, only a couple days into the role, to be so casual. It seemed she was still learning the ropes and the culture to be treating work issues with such flippancy. I took it as a sign of disrespect, and in hindsight that doesn’t seem true. I have other direct reports that send casual communications like that, but we’ve established the relationship over time.

      1. allathian*

        Yup, I thought that might be it.

        I have a great relationship with my current manager, who until a year ago was my peer (I’m a senior IC with no interest in people management). I’m 15 years older and we’ve always had a great working relationship. I have a lot of social capital as I’ve been here for nearly 17 years and she’s been here for 10, we work for a governmental agency and people tend to stay more than a year or two.

        While we were peers we joked around and talked about a lot of non-work things as well as work. I considered her a work friend. When she was promoted, both of us instinctively pulled back a bit, and we’re still friendly but no longer work friends because it wouldn’t be appropriate. Both of us use plenty of emojis in our communications when the situation calls for it, and I’ve been pretty frank with her when some of the projects I’ve been assigned have sucked, and so far she’s always had my back. Sometimes it’s only commiseration but when she can, she’ll use her authority to reset unrealistic expectations on my behalf.

        How long has it been since you wrote in? How do you feel about your employee’s communications now? If your banter with more established employees was visible to her, as in a shared convo, she may have simply modeled her style after theirs.

        1. Original Letter Writer*

          It has been over a month (maybe two) since I originally wrote in, and thankfully, this is no longer an issue. Some real, problematic performance issues came up that we had to work through together, and through that process we ultimately hit a nice stride of friendly, casual conversation and a strong relationship — but one that still provides the appropriate guardrails for coaching serious issues. She’s also developed friendships with her peers, so that helped her establish more of the personal/social connections she was looking for.

    5. Caliente Papillon*

      Excellent point re know your audience – my last supervisor, yes we would text the entire meeting about how ridiculous her boss is and how we have to have all these meetings because he’s a blowhard who doesn’t even know how to do his work. Actually all the directors, vps across the country – yep!- would do this during our weekly’s because we don’t need to listen to that guy, trust.
      Have had bosses I would NEVER do this with.
      Someone should clue this person in that her boss isn’t into it. I actually do wonder how boss responds that isn’t getting the point across although some people can be clueless. But I have seen people grin and chat with someone they don’t want to entertain that way and then complain to others later about it, so I hope this LW isn’t actively making her feel comfortable to do this.

  6. Uh Oh HR*

    Is this an industry-standard thing when it comes to behavioral norms? I ask because I work in a pretty ‘liberal arts’ setting, and those messages absolutely wouldn’t bother me, either from my direct reports or from me up to my boss.

    (Okay, maybe not the one about not being able to focus unless I knew the meeting was excruciating for us all, but…)

    It feels like you’re pretty emotionally disconnected from your direct reports, which is a valid choice to make as their boss, but if she’s coming from a different dynamic it probably hasn’t even occurred to her that you might not like the occasional ‘haha look at this cat using a keyboard’ gif.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is my question too. This isn’t necessarily *my* communication style at work – but I just try to be a little more careful because I work in HR and feel like my boundaries need to be clearer. I assume other people are communicating this way, regardless of age and job title. And I know some people have more casual relationships with their managers and some are a little more formal, but that’s down to individual dynamics more than anything.

      I’d want to establish if this is a problem or a preference before addressing it, personally. It could even be serving her well in different professional relationships.

    2. fidget spinner*

      I certainly hope it’s just an industry-standard because I have never worked a job where I felt like I had to speak to my boss differently or more formally than I speak to other coworkers! I send my current boss emojis all the time. I mean, they’re relevant to what I’m saying, of course. Some texts just need the “crying with laughter” emoji in order to be complete!

    3. Original Letter Writer*

      I think my point was that it was only a couple days/weeks into her job. I can totally understand that in many industries and manager-employee relationships, casual communication is totally acceptable and normal…..but do you even feel that was the case when you FIRST started the job, hadn’t gotten to know your coworkers, had no idea what you were doing on your day-to-day assignments, didn’t know the team dynamics, and didn’t know your boss’s work style? I’m talking Day One, how you interacted. I just feel like I’d be a little more on the cautious/professional side my first couple weeks before I learn the ropes and feel out the vibe of the office.

      1. Uh Oh HR*

        I think that also depends! Which is such a nothing burger answer, I know. I definitely wouldn’t have made the meeting comments as a newer person, but if I came in and saw cat pics being merrily shared in the Slack, I wouldn’t hesitate to participate.

        There’s work culture and external culture factors to consider. Where I work, we are also surrounded by a very casual, small-talk driven culture, where the danger might be in appearing too stand-offish to your boss, peers, etc. I had that issue myself when I moved here! I hopped from a title-last-name, highly buttoned up, big city corporation, to a more small town, artsy place in the world. I probably came off as very snobbish and reserved before I adapted.

        I imagine with virtual teams where everyone is surrounded by different cultural norms, layered on top of ye olde netiquette and varying workplace expectations, these difficulties are amplified.

        1. Original Letter Writer*

          See now that’s the part that really intrigued me….there’s very little casual chat, small talk, joking, etc., from her during the times when we’re all doing it! The first couple minutes of every virtual meeting are always just general friendly banter, a great time to connect on a personal/causal level with teammates, and this employee is radio silent. Very little engagement and hesitant to come off mute to answer questions. Just seems like such an odd dichotomy, given how chatty she is over Slack.

          1. Also-ADHD*

            I’m way more chatty in text than in small talk times personally (in group or individual channels). If everyone is chatting, I generally feel no need to interrupt and I process information more comfortably via texts anyway. I’m not that young (middle aged older Millennial) but I have always been this way—I was in chats and on AIM back in high school/college, met my husband online, etc. I know other introverts that are this way too—I’m a social person but live small talk isn’t my thing. I love the active Slack at my last job (current one is a smaller group and on Teams, just started new job, but have professional group chats and Slacks and even plenty of small talk with folks at the new place in text). It’s not a formal/informal thing for me (I probably use less memes and emojis than average, check my grammar, etc) but I feel I can be way more authentic and connected in text.

            1. Also-ADHD*

              Oh and I’ll add, I don’t personally feel any need to be less authentic at my new job or with my new boss (who isn’t you, I can tell) or his boss etc even. But I particularly took this job because they wowed me with their plans to create psychological safety and improve employee experience (which is a component of what I do—I’m a performance consultant and HR/L&D analyst), and I feel super psychologically safe.

            2. I Have RBF*

              Yeah, I’m less chatty in meetings than I am in text. I’ve been online but text based since the 90s, so text chat is more comfortable for me. I can’t seem to get into making videos and such – too much work to do it right, IMO, and it’s only one wawy.

          2. Honoria Lucasta*

            I was just comiserating with some friends about a organization-wide group conversation channel that has been overrun with side discussusions, and they pointed out that people who are normally very shy and quiet (even, e.g., on video calls) can get LOQUACIOUS in the chat. I think there really is a personality type that is like that.

          3. allathian*

            I’m pretty chatty both in person and in text, but there are people on my team who generally make their voices heard in chat rather than in a meeting, especially on camera. Some people feel put on the spot if asked to contribute in a meeting, but will do so in writing, either by email after an in-person meeting or in the meeting chat if it’s available.

            I’m introverted in the sense that being surrounded by and interacting with people drains me even if I generally enjoy it because I don’t get anxious in social situations. I have to keep myself in check to ensure that others get their word in and I don’t monopolize the conversation, which I tend to do in any group where I feel comfortable.

            Regardless of the reason, at least you know that her silence doesn’t mean that she’s uncomfortable in your team, just that she prefers to interact over text. If you can let her personality shine over text, she’ll probably appreciate it and may even be more willing to speak up once she feels more comfortable in her newish job.

            I think that there’s an interesting dichotomy in your viewpoints because it seems like you think that she should be as reserved in text as she is in her other interactions, whereas she’s willing to engage in text while she’s still new but not so willing to speak up. Of course, some people never become entirely comfortable with speaking up in a meeting, and that should be okay, too, as long as she’s willing to contribute to the meetings in some way.

            1. Original Letter Writer*

              Yeah, really great point here! And I’m trying to be much more conscious as a leader of different communication styles, making sure EVERYONE’s opinions get heard and thoughts shared, regardless of them being more introvert/extrovert/whatever else, comfortable speaking up on the spot or writing it down later.

          4. AngryOwl*

            That’s very normal for folks who might have anxiety/inability to break in in group settings, and part of why communication tools like Slack are so important for general accessibility and providing space for all.

        2. WellRed*

          I’m not a formal person but I’m definitely more reserved in a new setting, no emojis or “boring meeting” to my new boss or even coworkers. Best Behavior!

      2. Broadway Duchess*

        OP, I totally get where you’re coming from. I just onboarded a new employee and she is very casual, which wasn’t the case in her interview. Her emails to me are very buddy-buddy (is really the best way to describe it) and it’s off-putting. I feel like she’s lowering her credibility because I have so little to evaluate her on and what I do have is, well she likes to lol, lurrrrrves her pets, and responds to assignments with, “Bet.”

        1. Original Letter Writer*

          Ha! Totally agree! To make matters worse…some actual performance issues bubbled up soon after her hire, which made the flippant communication style more irritating. Like she wasn’t taking any of this seriously. I corrected a mistake and her response was “sique.” (which I then had to urban dictionary)

  7. hypoglycemic rage*

    This sounds like something I did when I was younger and way less experienced in the workplace. Younger!Me would have appreciated higher-ups telling me to watch my tone from bosses to clients to team coworkers, and how I could and should talk to them differently.

    But also, what’s her other work experience like? Because I’ve worked in kitchens as BOH, and that dynamic is pretty casual (at least in the restaurant I was at). I’ve also worked at places that were pretty casual in general and where I was pretty buddy-buddy with a lot of my coworkers and we’d talk about our personal lives a lot; so again, I would have appreciated my boss telling me what Alison suggested, if I were in a less-casual environment now.

  8. reject187*

    I’ll say that, although she’s crossing the line with her professionalism, I often do a similar thing where I try to interact regularly with my higher-ups, so that when it comes to serious meetings I’m not as intimidated. I would never send a gif or how I’m really feeling to a boss, though. That stuff is for coworkers.

  9. HonorBox*

    My boss and I have worked together for a long time. And we have a great relationship on and off the field. We can be casual (I’ve definitely texted “this meeting sucks” at least twice, and he’s texted me countless Michael Scott gifs) but we also know where and when we need to be more professional. I think LW modeling the behavior they expect is good, and I’d also suggest that leaning in on some of the casual conversation from time to time is what can build a good working relationship, too.

  10. WorkerDrone*

    I think I would be much, much more embarrassed to realize that I’ve spent god-knows-how-long at my job being overly casual and familiar with my boss than I would be if my boss just asked me to stop in a nice way.

    Honestly, even if it isn’t disruptive to OP, she could easily use a polite fiction: “Could you please stop sending non-work related stuff to me through Slack? I get distracted by cat pictures pretty easily. Thanks so much!”

    1. Bes*

      Agreed! I would absolutely die of mortification at being told to knock it off, but that would still be better than the mortification if I figured it out for myself further down the line!

  11. mcm*

    None of this strikes me as particularly inappropriate, other than the not paying attention in a meeting comment. “This project is fire, I’m about to destroy it!” honestly seems like an entirely appropriate message to send to an internal manager re: your enthusiasm about a project. On the whole, this strikes me as more like a difference in preference than a true breach of professionalism.

    1. Goldenrod*

      I agree about the “this project is fire” comment…But “this meeting is so boring” sent to your MANAGER? That definitely is unprofessional.

      1. Language Lover*

        I’ve made references to a boring meeting before to my manager but only about meetings she felt the same way about. They’re meetings our department is invited to and we do for political reasons to make sure we’re not forgotten for other meetings where we do offer value.

        But it took a while before I could feel that out.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Same. My manager has sent ME “this meeting is boring/pointless/killing me” IMs more than once during a meeting. I haven’t done the same but that’s my personal style, I don’t think she’d care. My manager is in her 60s and in the c-suite. I’m c-suite adjacent.

          I don’t personally find this all that egregious.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          I’ve definitely had managers who I would exchange “this meeting should have been an email” messages with. Especially in virtual meetings. Especially in virtual meetings back when I was client-facing and was stuck in many, many hours a week of client meetings that should have been emails but emails didn’t make the client fEeL hEaRd enough and apparently one of the services we provided was listening to them say the same thing, slightly reworded, over and over for 30 minutes.

          …in totally unrelated news I’m sure, I only pursue non-client-facing work now.

        3. Sneaky Squirrel*

          I think my boss would be the more likely of the two of us to send a “this meeting sucks” message, but I’ve sent my manager the “this meeting should have been an email” message before when I could tell we were both feeling it. We talk regularly every day because of the job we do so we’re usually on the same wavelength when it comes to meetings that we were invited to attend.

      2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        I wouldn’t say “this meeting is so boring” to my manager about a small team meeting, and I try to be a little less judgy when I do provide feedback, but I have absolutely sent things like “I don’t understand why this is a topic worth the time of 80% of the thousand people on this call” to my manager. Ditto “When we’re inviting the entirety of Engineering to a vendor presentation, can we please ensure that the vendor understands that it’s a user-focused presentation, not a sales pitch for the three decision-makers?”

        I try not to be overly complain-y, but I figure if I think it’s a waste of time, I’m not the only one thinking that, and that’s useful feedback for my manager to have.

      3. Also-ADHD*

        A few months ago, I was in a bananas meeting and my boss and reports were sending me private chats about how ridiculous the meeting was as we all sat in the meeting—and none of us are particularly young or inexperienced. I just got a new job, to move up in my career, as my old org ran out of room after a few promotions in my three years there, but nothing wrong with the team or company culture. But what’s odd here is the new employee misread this boss on that, I guess. I really find the LW a little confusing (sounds like she acts different with her reports but in ways I think are uncommon—it’s common to not complain down etc too often or act differently in some ways but I’ve not seen a boss who has more casual communication with folks than their immediate reports so intentionally as LW states).

      4. PleaseNo*

        I agree. the meeting comment amongst subordinates is bad enough, as it seems like gossip, but to have management also knocking down the meeting TO the subordinates could be really hurtful to those involved and have repercussions down the road

      5. mcm*

        I agree, but I think that was the only example that was really unprofessional, so it seems like a lot to determine that it’s a pattern with the employee from just the examples provided.

    2. Allonge*

      I lol-ed about your comment on ‘This project is fire’. I would need to google if this is a good thing or a bad thing in the first place!

      Maybe waiting a few weeks before we are sure this language is used at a new workplace is not that much of a hardship?

  12. EA*

    Your comment about how she’s different in person is interesting! I feel like some people come off totally different through chat/social media platforms, and I’m not sure why. One of my best friends is a super bubbly person in person, but through texts she comes off so clipped and harsh (including periods at the end of sentences, but not just that, haha). I’ve also seen people who are serious professionals go way overboard with informal chatting and emojis.

    I don’t think any of these people have self awareness about how they come off digitally, and your colleague probably doesn’t either. I do think you could directly tell her not to send memes and gifs, but it might come off very harshly. And I’m not sure if “digital tone” is something that can be taught!

    1. anon_sighing*

      It’s the the age-old internet issue, but amplified by a generation raised on it. Some people are *completely* different people when it’s not a face-to-face conversation. They say phrases online that if they said it in person, it would sound awkward and “you don’t normally say that”-style of stilted/emphasized use. Using GIFs and emojis helps put across the emotion better than someone who isn’t expressive IRL ever could. A lot of people have very vibrant online social lives, which is in contrast to their real lives. What is weird to me about her being shy and quiet IRL vs like this online, is that I (personally) would be really embarrassed about the contrast but probably couldn’t help adjusting since how you communicate via IM becomes a habit.

      However, I notice that it’s the opposite for older people…they tend to be very stilted in written communication. The use of “Ok” as a reply sends a “are you mad/annoyed?” response through me because unfortunately, I am online too much these days and have internalized a simple “Ok” as passive aggressive, but many of my older coworkers use it. Truly, it just means “ok” to some people. Also a lack of exclamation points is noticeable, so everything. Sounds. So. Harsh. Lol… (yes, purposeful use of ominous ellipses which are not ominous but just…something…people…seem…to…do…that…has…different…generational…meaning…)

      1. metadata minion*

        Fun fact — the ellipses may have started as a convention on postcards! (See the book “Because Internet”) Why they were a thing in the postcard era, though, I do not know.

      2. fidget spinner*

        I probably rely too much on emojis because I like to communicate directly by text… but it often seems like it’s aggressive or passive aggressive… so I just slap a smiley face or an unnecessary exclamation point in there to soften it.

      3. The Prettiest Curse*

        A lot of older folks were taught that using a lot of exclamation marks was too informal or that they should be used sparingly and only to indicate surprise, hence their lack of use in that age group.

        I don’t mind them in casual writing (and use them a fair amount myself when writing in an informal style for work) – but if! you read! an! exclamation! point! after! almost every! word!, it’s like! being! jumped! on and! licked by! a! golden retriever! puppy!!
        That is to say, very sweet, but also you wish they would dial back the enthusiasm about 50% or so, because there’s no real need to be that excited.

        As a Gen X’er, I love ellipses precisely because nobody agrees on what they actually mean now, so it’s fun to be mysterious. I generally don’t use them when I’m posting on here to avoid confusion, but I do miss them when I can’t use them.

      4. I Have RBF*


        Seriously, I resemble that remark! I use full, grammatical sentences, and I try to check my spelling and eliminate typos. I still boggle why people act like using f’ing periods is somehow “curt” or “aggressive”. I mean really? A period indicates the sentence has stopped, that’s it in 99% of the uses. But sometimes it’s. Used. For. Emphasis!

        1. BikeWalkBarb*

          I love punctuation marks and use them freely. Just wish my phone would autoconvert two hyphens to an em-dash, but then I used to work for a publishing company so I also long for en-dashes to be used in date and number ranges. Long live the Chicago Manual of Style!

          I’ve gone back and forth on using exclamation points. At one point I tried to avoid them because I was a young woman who wanted to be taken seriously and a feminist who called BS on needing to be “friendly and approachable” to be accepted. Women were coached to not be so enthusiastic, as if there’s something wrong with enthusiasm.

          I’m old enough now to embrace my inner jazz hands because if I’m talking to you the exclamation-point energy will be evident in my voice and nonverbal communications. I’m me in my communications, appropriate to the audience. (I’m in a public agency; unlikely that I’ll put exclamation points into an email to legislative staff.)

          I do try to save them for a big thank-you or whatever–more like decorative sprinkles than a full coat of frosting, definitely not golden retriever puppy energy.

          1. Original Letter Writer*

            I relate to this so much! I seriously avoided exclamation points as a woman earlier in my career, and found myself forcing myself to mimic the curt, straight-to-the-point communication style of the men in my organization. But as a I grew in my role, gained confidence, and gained my own reputation, I realized I didn’t need to fit in that box! I could be a competent, kick-ass, well-respected employee who also uses a friendlier tone and exclamation points.

      5. GythaOgden*

        The internet has amplified my general confidence when part of a broader conversation but my reluctance to lead off. I do a bit of presenting now I’m working with people who need to be held responsible for stuff they’re working on, but usually just as an adjunct to my boss going round the virtual table asking people to show her what they’ve been working on (as a kind of group check-in, important for a team spread out across three UK counties, more substantial parts of the country than US counties AFAICT) rather than something I’ve initiated directly. However, I am getting more chatty when meetings start — partly because I spent some time in more collective based cultures when I was younger which tempered my introversion with a need for that kind of small talk when I left and came back to the UK, and partly because I genuinely want to get to know my colleagues as people. Two of them raise dogs and cats as well so puppy and kitten photos are never in short supply. (And yeah, they do it responsibly — one is actually a stud farmer for working dogs, and the other I believe fosters kitties; I had mentally put myself in the running for two of her precious little boy floofs but pulled out because I don’t yet have surplus income to avoid them devouring my savings; I’m finally breaking even, but want to pull ahead even if only by a few hundred quid. No Greebo for me just yet :(.)

        But I’m much happier when someone else starts things off. Even online my top-level posts or thread-starters to forums tend to be brief and very specific questions that get direct answers rather than more detailed discussion starters. Try as I might to start conversations I seem to be the person who ends up doing a virtual mic drop instead. (I actually deleted my Reddit account because I was killing interesting conversations stone dead and I wanted to just be a fly on the wall and avoid warping that metagame. Not being /able/ to participate has made me more able to just enjoy the discussion rather than, unfortunately, trying too hard to have the last word.)

      6. EmF*

        This is where I recommend Gretchen McCulloch’s “Because Internet”, which has whole chapters about this! I love it so much.

    2. Anonynon*

      My SIL, in person, is obviously super high-anxiety and takes things seriously. She rarely seems like she’s enjoying herself. Over text, she is warm and bubbly and uses slang and emojis. It confuses me every time.

      1. allathian*

        Live and let live and try to get past the confusion.

        Some people have crippling social anxiety to the point that any in-person interaction is literally painful for them, but they don’t feel the same way about communicating over text. It’s entirely possible that your SIL feels that her personality over text is what she’d like to be in person but can’t.

        People show different sides of their personalities in text and speech.

    3. M2RB*

      I could be your best friend! I often think that the way I come across digitally is very different than my in-person demeanor. I started a new job recently and have made certain to speak in person to the people that I message frequently on Teams so that they can get a better sense of my personality and speaking habits. I also have to remind myself not to read my own emotions into other people’s emails/messages.

    4. Tiger Snake*

      Text speech has become its complete own dialect, separate to verbal speech. I really think there’s value in people being taught to view it that way: just like how you’d switch languages when speaking to your parents and your friends, people switch when sending emails and when sending chat messages.
      We’re not being taught that, and the result is that you have people like the OP who are frustrated that different people have different levels of awareness and self-reflection, and I think that ends up being unfair to both parties.

  13. The Real Fran Fine*

    I have a pretty laidback personality and so my direct reports occasionally slip into “too casual” mode with me as well, OP. In addition to what Alison said about just not responding to certain things (it works and they don’t send me Teams chats with those things anymore fyi), I also have no problem just calling out the times where I feel the lines are being blurred.

    For example, one direct report kept asking me to look over her work as a “second pair of eyes,” and I had to let her know that unless I’ve told her ahead of time to send me what she’s working on for review, she really should be getting these gut checks from her own peers on the team (my other two directs). I don’t have the bandwidth to do my job (which is managerial and I still have individual comms projects I have to plan and execute myself) and hers.

    She’s young (this is only her second full time job after graduating from college), so I always coach her on when/where it’s appropriate to speak with people like a friend or peer and when she needs to be more formal. She doesn’t take offense, none of my team does really, and so I think just being direct when these things happen will go a long way with your direct, OP.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I’m curious why you think this? I tell my reports the same; if they need something proofed before they bring it to me, someone besides me should do it and they submit the final product to me. If they have taken it as far as they can and are submitting their final project plan or article, I then give feedback or tweak if necessary, but it rarely is.

  14. Hiring Mgr*

    Alot of this comes down to your individual workplace and the culture. I’ve had jobs where communication like this was extremely common, and others where it was much more formal.

  15. Irish Teacher.*

    My guess would be that she was in a more casual environment previously. I don’t really think any of this in inherently inappropriate, just out of step with the norms of their workplace.

    And I wouldn’t really consider any of it to be what I would consider being “buddy-buddy.” It seems more like normal, casual interaction between workmates. I don’t mean this as nitpicking the LW’s language, just to point out that the employee is probably not thinking in terms of “I want to be close workplace friends with the LW.” It’s more likely she sees this as an ordinary way to interact with workmates on your team, even if you’re not particularly close to them.

    And in some workplaces, it would be. At one point, when our deputy principal said he hadn’t been invited along with a group of staff who were going for drinks after work, one of them replied “yes, you were. Shut the f up.” (I’ve censored the actual phrase.) And that was perfectly acceptable banter and while I think they are friendly, I don’t think they are particularly close or anything like workplace BFFs.

    I thought from the title it was going to be a case of the employee telling the LW all about her boyfriend or girlfriend and where she was going drinking and asking the LW personal things about her life and inviting her along on nights out, whereas this just seems like the sort of interactions one would have with a friendly acquaintance.

    My guess is that she previously worked somewhere that used Slack for team-building/casual conversation and she thinks this is how she is meant to use it. It’s possible that just not responding to her casual messages might give her the message.

  16. TotesMaGoats*

    I work in higher ed. I’m a senior leader. I’m 41. We use teams all the time to send funny memes as responses to questions. To chat during virtual meetings. Complaining about how it’s a waste to time to be at such and such meeting. And my boss is easily 25 years my senior. My team and I do the same, so it’s consistent at all levels.

    Now, would I do this with the Provost or President? No. I would with the other deans? Of course

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      Hit submit too early. Do I think I could if my provost and president were other people? Yes. Have I teased both of them in person about things? Also, yes.

  17. tree frog*

    Sounds like this is her default mode of text communication, and she hasn’t made the connection that it’s not a great fit for this workplace/relationship. This kind of nuance is hard to figure out early in your career, particularly because casual messaging is normal in a lot of workplaces as well. I think it would be a kindness to have a direct conversation about it.

  18. Language Lover*

    I think a conversation is the best approach. Given that you are casual with peers and people who might be lower in the hierarchy than you but whom you don’t supervise, I fear there are too many nuances to successfully model to results.

    Especially since, as many have stated here, this really sounds like a corporate culture or even personal preference issue. I’d recommend you starting by acknowledging she might have had a more casual communication relationship with managers in previous roles but you prefer something more formal. And then lay out what that means.

    We’re pretty casual where I work but I’ve had someone I supervise say things that were a bit too casual, job related, and I’ve addressed it right away.

    1. Blue*

      This is where I land as well. I don’t think the DR is doing anything wrong and I also don’t think LW is wrong to be put off. Just address it matter of factly and specifically. I’d suggest framing it in terms of how you (lw) prefer to communicate across levels on your team, rather than implying that your DR is being objectively unprofessional – hopefully comments here will illuminate how subjective this really is and how it shifts across workplaces and contexts.

      1. Original Letter Writer*

        Yes – you’re absolutely right….and the comments here have definitely made me rethink this whole thing! Appreciate the advice.

        1. Banana Pyjamas*

          The most important part was in your reply to Allison’s follow up, “I would say her behavior/personality aligns pretty closely with our younger hires, regardless of her age.”

          In other words she’s acting in a culturally normal/appropriate way. You even say that you speak the same way and allow others at her level to speak to you that way, as Language Lover also pointed out.

          If you want to “be more explicit about the type of relationship [you] have” then that needs to happen in a broader context. You should be interacting with everyone at her level with the same formality regardless of whether or not they report to you. If this isn’t a change you’re willing to make at large, it’s not something you should seek to change with this report.

          Right now it sounds like you are holding her to different social standards than anyone else on your team. Based on your response here, I definitely don’t think that’s on purpose. It’s worth examining though, especially because holding one person to different standards is an excellent way to sew the seeds of discontent.

          Regarding specific language “ oh man, this project is fire, I’m about to destroy it” for people in their late teens and early 20s this seems pretty socially normal, at least from what I see. For someone my age or a bit younger, so late 20s early 30s, this type of language was pretty reflective of social class, at least in my very small personal experience. In junior year of high school I went from an upper middle class school district to an inner city district. People really didn’t speak like that at all in the upper middle class school, but when I changed districts every thing was fire, on point, on fleek etc.

          1. allathian*

            In addition, the LW has specified that the employee is very reserved and hesitates to unmute herself in meetings while everyone else is seemingly engaging in casual, informal banter.

            But what I’m trying to get the LW to understand is that many people are more reserved in person/on camera/speaking than in text, and that’s okay. Telling the employee to be more formal in chats while expecting her to speak up in virtual meetings, whether the talk is work-related or not won’t work if she has social anxiety. Sure, she may clam up in text as well, but she absolutely won’t engage more in virtual meetings and I don’t think that would be a good outcome for her. I don’t want to armchair diagnose here, but I’ve seen exactly that behavior (reserved when expected to speak, chatty and informal in text) from some people who’ve told me they prefer to use the chat function rather than talk because they have social anxiety.

  19. scotsgal*

    My team, including my manager, communicate in gifs and funny messages every day. It obviously depends on team/workspace, so if she’s used to chatting to a manager this way I can understand why she’s continuing here. Setting the expectations is important, otherwise how can she know?

    Not sure what’s wrong with saying hi, but of course it could be in the tone/frequency. If you’re not in an office, saying hi over Teams/Slack may seem more of an imposition, but some people need check-ins and to feel less isolated in that environment.

  20. Lucia Pacciola*

    “In fact, I chat with my peers in a similar way throughout the day.”

    Sometimes there’s an insubordination problem, or a serious liability if insubordination does occur, that is best mitigated by a formal superior/inferior interaction. You see this in the military.

    But I think in most cases, in most workplaces, it’s better if we treat everyone we work with as a peer, not just those at the same level of the hierarchy. We’re all human beings. We’re all in this work to live grind together. Don’t treat your team members as underlings. One of the most important things a good manager can do is be there to help their team members get things done. Be their servant, instead of expecting them to treat you like their master.

    If “your” employee isn’t having trouble accepting assignments from you, or reporting their status to you when asked, then you should probably welcome the fact that they still see you as a human being and a peer in society.

  21. daffodil*

    I like tiktokker CorporateNatalie’s series of “giving GenZ feedback” for some of this stuff “I don’t know if ‘flex on em Jerry’ is the best way to give your team those kudos…”

  22. Looper*

    Just have a conversation about it because from your letter this seems like a personal preference for the most part. I don’t think just acting the way you prefer her to act will come across as effectively as you’d like as it seems by your letter that you DO have casual relationships with colleagues, just not your direct reports. This is different enough from many other workplaces that I think just naming what you want/your expectations will be the most effective.

    1. Caliente Papillon*

      I think this is true too, just tell her.
      I’ll be honest – I kinda hate the “some people can be cool with me but they have to be on a certain level”vibe I get from this LW, but if that’s who you are just tell a person instead of having bad feelings about someone because they don’t know they can’t talk to you like some other people can.

      1. Original Letter Writer*

        So if you hired a new employee, and two weeks into the job they told casually joked with you that they were totally unfocused in a meeting where they probably should’ve been listening closely to learn, you would be ok with that because people can be “cool with you” at any level? It seems perfectly reasonable to me to have a closer relationship with people I’ve worked with for 5 years than someone I just hired and am still actively training; and to take it differently when you get that kind of joke from a newbie vs a proven team member.

        1. WellRed*

          I posted above but I agree that for such a be employee, complaining about anything in the first few weeks is bad form, even to coworkers, let alone the boss!

        2. Also-ADHD*

          I think that context is key and not quite in the level. Some meetings are boring and pointless and whole teams may agree—from your letter I wasn’t sure at all that the meeting wasn’t boring and terrible, for instance (though telling a new boss may be a stretch still, depends on a lot of factors).

          Though I think the “closeness” thing may be a little more you specifically, I can see if it’s colored by stuff like not paying attention in useful meetings.

        3. allathian*

          I get where you’re coming from, but as a new employee who’s still learning the ropes I wouldn’t be comfortable joking around about a “useless” meeting with my peers or any interns that’d be lower than me (senior IC) in the org chart, let alone my manager.

          That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be happy to contribute a funny gif, use emojis, or engage in casual chat with anyone on my team if I saw them doing the same thing.

        4. Allonge*

          Hi LW, just to say I totally agree – in context, this is an issue, even if the tone is not out of line in the org.

          And recognising context impacts is a professionalism issue, everywhere.

  23. Llama Llama*

    This makes me sad for the employee. I work from home and would feel enraged if they ever made me ever go back to office on a semi regular basis. But it has cut me off from basic socialization. And this sounds so overly unfriendly.

    It’s too buddy buddy to say ‘hi’, ‘I am going to do great on this project!’, give basic jokes (ie memes).??
    The only questionable one was the the not being able to focus during the meeting. But goodness some meetings are terrible and if that’s why she said that, then it’s a fair comment.
    If my manager ever said because I was too buddy buddy for this basic friendly stuff, I would run.

    (also to note my grand boss just sent me a meme …,)

    1. Original Letter Writer*

      True, but to be fair….the questionable messages make it harder to laugh along with the regular friendly “hello!” and funny gifs. (those were just a couple examples of the questionable ones, there have been plenty of others mixed with the friendly ones…and it was NOT the type of meeting most of us would put in the terrible/long/boring category that warranted a joke — especially one week into her time there)

    2. Karo*

      Yeah I’m on the same page. I currently working a very informal office/industry which may be coloring my visceral reaction here but that’s not always been the case…and I think I’d start looking for a new job if I said “hey how’s it going?!” and got a talking to for being too informal. If your office doesn’t do memes or gifs or whatever, fine, that’s an office norm that should be identified. But “just checking in to say hi” is such a basic function of working with people.

  24. Keyboard Cowboy*

    Lots of people are wondering why she’d send the boring meeting message. But I wanted to add that my recent ex-manager and I often would exchange frank messages about meetings becoming boring, not to commiserate, but to learn how to structure the meeting better to avoid them turning into antipatterns (like “a two-person technical conversation with an expensive audience of 20” or “everyone gives a status update that could have been an email”). Could it be that she’s trying to express “the format of this meeting sucks” but saying it ineffectively?

    Either way, honestly, if you interrogate those comments like they’re suggestions for improvement, it could reinforce for her that chats to her manager aren’t messages into the void. That could result in them becoming more useful, or the useless ones becoming less frequent.

    For example:
    DR: “this meeting is so boring, i can’t focus at all!”
    OP: “interesting! what part lost you? could we execute it differently?”
    and then you have something like:
    DR: “yeah, actually, when everyone talks about which bug they finished in detail it’s super boring and not relevant to me or anyone else here, i wish we just did an email with all of the accomplishments at once instead”
    DR: “no, the meeting is fine, next time i’ll have an extra coffee first, you’re right”

    1. elodieunderglass*

      Agreed – when I saw this message, I asked, “Well, IS the meeting boring?” While everyone has a different normal meter for calibrating work formality, and this is a mildly rude and immature way of putting this across – we don’t always crush colleagues for being mildly rude and immature.

      Unrelatedly, I remember a post someone made in a group where a person was very angry that their children liked one kind of breakfast cereal, and they were annoyed that the children complained when the parent switched to a cheaper generic alternative. The parent asked what to do, in a post where she was clearly upset about spiralling food costs. There were dozens of suggestions about lying to the children, forcing them to eat, putting the cereal into the more expensive box to trick them, withholding food until they ate, guilting them into being grateful, scolding them for being spoiled, gaslighting them with claims that they taste exactly the same, etc. – plus lots of commentary about how the parent should correct the bratty and entitled behaviour of the children, for their own good.

      I remember being the first voice to ask “Are the children right, though?” and as people started to get defensive, I pointed out the massive differences in ingredients between the two cereals – which I’ve noticed myself! – which are clearly laid out on the boxes. Externally, the cereals look pretty similar to a purchaser – but taste completely different to the person eating them. In addition to being made with cheaper ingredients that affected the texture, the cheaper cereal was coloured with beetroot, which DOES have a distinctive (and mildly weird) taste. Even adults might struggle to eat beetroot-flavored sawdust for breakfast – and we wouldn’t think it was very respectful for an adult to be forced to do so, while being told that it’s delicious, and that it’s the exact same food they normally like.

      Suddenly it reframed the discussion… here were all of these grown adults advocating for a very bad-faith, mean-spirited punishment for little children, simply for reporting something that was perfectly undeniably true – because children aren’t supposed to SAY such things. And if they do say them, it should be in a certain way. And if they don’t say it properly, they should be punished.

      I suppose my response is – well, firstly, are they wrong?

  25. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

    To me, LW is asking for two separate things: they want their employee to be more circumspect about what information they share with LW, and they also want their employee to speak to them in a more formal tone.

    I think it’s totally reasonable to tell them that you prefer to maintain social distance with your staff because you manage best with those boundaries. Give them an idea of what topics are no-go’s and what thoughts are better shared with their friends than with you. As their manager, you get to set the parameters of that relationship and you’re doing them a kindness to tell them explicitly what they are instead of being quietly irritated that they aren’t getting the cues. You might also talk to them about the cues they missed and explore how important a skill that is to develop for their current role and future plans.

    I think asking them to use a more formal tone is stickier. Telling someone the level of formality they should use to address you isn’t setting a healthy boundary so much as exercising authority. You can tell your employee they need to do that, but it’s worth reflecting about how policing the way people speak, even if the content of their speech is appropriate, is one of the sneaky ways we reinforce systems of oppression.

    That said, you absolutely should tell them how their tone is/will be received by you, their colleagues, leadership, clients, and your industry more broadly. You have a responsibility to help them make an informed choice about how they want to proceed.

  26. Sneaky Squirrel*

    I work in a rigidly formal hierarchal structure but I myself prefer to treat all colleagues more casually as I would if they were my peers because the level of respect we offer and receive shouldn’t depend on title or reporting relationship. It seems to me that she trusts you enough to be open with you on slack, even if it is a little on the personal side. If you trust that your employee is using the right level of professionalism when it comes to interactions outside of your manager-employee relationship, I may suggest continuing to simply model the behaviors you’d like to see from her. Paired with that she’s still young, she may develop a more professional stance over time as she navigates the working world. If it starts to become an issue or if she seems to be taking advantage of her buddy-buddy relationship, then that may be the point where you want to escalate and draw some stronger boundaries.

  27. Also-ADHD*

    With memes etc is how everyone, including 50+ year old VP level folks with an PhD act on Slack in my last workplace, and definitely my bosses and reports. The only generational differences I noticed were the reference points. Most of the language was maybe older/slightly more formal than the line given about the project being “fire” because we skew older.

    I imagine the boss dynamic thing varies by field, industry, company, and boss, but it’s less about the communication itself it seems like to OP, so I’m wondering about norms. But I’m still friends with my last two bosses and have a pretty peer level relationship overall (digging in and doing a lot of projects together, being given a large amount of autonomy and authority) with them, so that may factor in. I’m sure there’s a lot of variation in environments with more supervision.

  28. Nom*

    Based only on the content of this letter, I am not clear what the issue is here. I don’t really see the direct report as doing anything objectively wrong. No coaching is needed on professional norms, although LW could certainly say they’d prefer a different kind of communication style

  29. Not A Manager*

    Oh man, I would be MORTIFIED if after a few months of cool communication from my manager, I suddenly realized that she had been sending me a message and waiting for me to receive it. I would much rather have her say matter-of-factly upfront, “you know, these communications are just too informal for the office and they’re pretty irrelevant to our job.” Or even, “under other circumstances I’d love to exchange fun texts with you, but as your manager it just doesn’t work.”

    But then I’m not great at non-verbal communication and I always appreciate people spelling things out for me.

  30. AhJustMe*

    “Often — not always, but often — you can reset this sort of boundary simply by modeling on your side what you consider appropriate. In this case, that would probably mean not responding to a lot of the non-work communications and keeping a warm but professional tone — things that it sounds like you’ve already been doing. Your hope would be that within a few months, she’d pick up on your cues and recalibrate.”

    Hi Alison, and have been reading your column for over a decade. With much respect, I must gently suggest that it’s time for the thinking on this to shift. As a neurodivergent person whose career has suffered greatly for it despite my strong performance in terms of the work I am doing, PLEASE stop asking managers to model behavior and hope the person will just get it. For many of us, we need clear communication to understand what is expected of us. If someone is showing that they are oblivious to what you view as basic professional etiquette, you should be gently and kindly direct and clear, since there’s a high chance they will also miss your social cues.

    For the people who will respond and say that this person isn’t necessarily neurodivergent: that is completely irrelevant. It’s time to start expecting direct communication in professional offices that make an office truly accessible to everyone, instead of expecting everyone to be fluent in an undercurrent of professional norms that many of us do not understand intuitively. There are a lot of people on the autism spectrum, and a lot of autistic people in the workforce. Let’s work toward real inclusivity.

    1. Wolf on eggshells*

      I agree from a completely different perspective. I’m a recovering people pleaser and due to childhood trauma I’m hyper sensitive to whether I should be taking things as cues, trying to mirror to avoid confrontation, and can get quite tangled up and resentful when it seems like other coworkers are at liberty not to contort themselves. Being able to trust that I’ll receive direct communication and not the “perhaps they’ll notice if I just act a certain way” is super helpful for my mental health and work performance. It’s not that I don’t notice things, it’s that I can’t tell if EVERYTHING is a cue, and it turns up the embarrassment to 11 if I later learn that something (that I’d quite possibly worked on in therapy to not stress about) was actually supposed to be an instruction.

    2. Allonge*

      Hm – it’s not that I disagree in general that clear communication is important.

      The thing to balance it with here is that a lot of people will feel, rightly or wrongly, that addressing this at all is nitpicking. Many will not appreciate that at all: look at everyone commenting here not seeing any issue, or, for that matter, look at LW being uncertain whether there is an actual problem or not.

      So in this context, where the problem at most is a low-key annoyance, it’s also reasonable for OP to decide they can live with this for a while and see if there is any progress. Especially as OP has been addressing the parts where there is a genuine issue.

      1. NotYourMom*

        I mean, maybe that’s a sign that the letter writer may need to let some of this go? If it would be too nitpicky to say directly it’s probably not a meaningful problem.

        From what I’m reading of the LW’s comments, there may be some need to address professionalism with this employee, but also some of it might be personalities not meshing well or personal preferences, which aren’t worth a confrontation.

    3. McMilkMoney*

      Thank you. I struggle with this myself and I know my career has suffered because of managers/coworkers not being willing to give me direct feedback. What’s extra frustrating is that I’ve learned to communicate my need for direct feedback and I’ll let people know that if they need me to pick up on a norm or social cue that they’ll need to be explicit about it and they still will tiptoe around providing me with any sort of direct feedback.

      In the past I would try to observe how my coworkers/managers interact with others and try to model this behavior when interacting with them and I’d still find out months down the line that I’ve been annoying them (memes are okay when Rhonda sends them but not when I send them, etc.). So I’ve stopped trying to model others behaviors and will only change the way I’m doing things/behaving when I get explicit feedback that I need to adjust something about myself. I’m sure I still annoy my coworkers/manager but I don’t know what to do about it.

      Work feels like this impossible game that I’m incapable of winning and I’m stuck trying to play it until I die because my bills have to be paid just like everyone else.

  31. Distractable Golem*

    The context I’d find relevant, less than whether that was the norm in her former position, etc, is whether she is being like this with other co-workers, or only with you. If she chat-banters with everyone, then it’s just different workplace cultural norms, that can be raised in a neutral, nonjudgmental way: “In some places, Slack is also a place for informal office chat, and some people here are like that, but I mostly just use it for work. I don’t mind the stuff you send, but I probably won’t respond, nothing personal.”

    The situation where it may be a little “boundary-exploring” is if you get the sense that she is trying to cultivate you, specifically, as a particular friend. If it’s a charming banter, following up on previous conversations, making little jokes, “I thought you’d like this video,” appreciating the traits you secretly also admire about yourself—I’d nip that in the bud.

    If it’s the second one, that’s a specialized case. It can be managed, but I’ve had to learn the hard way.

    1. allathian*

      I don’t get that feeling at all. I get the feeling that the LW is just as informal with other people, including other direct reports who she knows mean no disrespect because they’ve worked together for a while already.

      Most people would be more circumspect in a new job until they learn the office culture because it’s much easier to go from a more formal relationship to an informal one than vice versa. For whatever reason, this particular employee hasn’t done that, and it’s confusing and annoying the LW.

  32. She’s just a girl*

    One of my first office jobs, my manager actually had a tutorial on how to write slack messages. Things like “use bullet points, bold the most important information, keep it all to one message and not multiple in a row etc”. Maybe something like this across the whole team could help with communication too? At least for important work messages/emails

  33. It's Me. Hi.*

    Well…these comments took a turn I wasn’t expecting. While I don’t think one should send their boss a note that says “this meeting is boring”, the rest is…fine? Or are we all statues at work? I mean, that’s kind of the American culture: work at all costs, everything else is secondary besides the JoB. I’m not saying treat coworkers like family, but these comments above seem extreme, for the most part.

    Granted, I manage only 3 people, 2 directly, so being available to my staff is important and I’m happy if they feel comfortable enough with me to also be friendly.

    1. Sam*

      Yeah I don’t know I would hate to work somewhere where I am only allowed to speak about work-related items and in certain tones. I am a manager of a team and would hate it if my team were this rigid… and I work for the govt!

    2. That’s Fire*

      Yeah I agree. I wouldn’t tell my manager I was bored in a meeting. But literally everything else sounds like the person being authentic. Well within the realm of acceptable at work.

      Sometimes things are fire.

  34. not nice, don't care*

    This is so sad!
    I had no idea folks are still so invested in enforcing hierarchies at work. My boss is hilarious and loves to banter & joke with us. It doesn’t undermine anything, but it sure af does build solid working relationships.
    There are a few people in my workplace who are the opposite and it’s totally cringey to hear them perform obsequiousness with higher ups. They are the ones damaging their reputations, not the casual folks.

  35. That’s Fire*

    I refuse to work anywhere that I can’t describe something as fire in a slack channel lest I be deemed unprofessional.

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