my team is flipping out over a lunch, correcting coworkers who use the wrong words, and more — Ask a Manager

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My team is flipping out and thinks a colleague didn’t deserve to attend a thank-you lunch

My workplace holds an annual conference/event for all of the employees (250+ people). There is a committee in charge of planning and all the logistics. A few people who were on the committee had retired or left for jobs at other places, and the committee was a bit short-staffed. One of the employees in my division, “Meghan,” was asked to join and she accepted (being on the committee is completely voluntary).

Meghan was only on the committee for one month before the event. Everyone else had been on the committee for a full 12 months before the event. The event was a success. Everyone enjoyed it and the directors and members of the C-suite were especially impressed. The CEO held a lunch for the committee to thank them and celebrate the success at a very exclusive restaurant (all paid for by the company).

Meghan went to each of the committee members individually and said that if they weren’t comfortable with her attending the lunch because she was only on the committee for one month prior, she would understand. She was clear she didn’t want to seem like she was stealing the glory from all the work they did before her. Every member individually confirmed it was fine for her to attend. They also confirmed it again at the debriefing meeting they had after the event.

However, after the meeting the committee members (for reasons unknown) are shunning and talking badly of Meghan. They think she should have declined the lunch anyway. The manager of our division is included in this. He has called Meghan delusional for not realizing she “overstepped” after he himself told her to attend. She deferred praise at the lunch because she was only on the committee for a month. There are emails where people told her to come. The committee members saying all kinds of nasty things about her. The majority of the members work in my division. I’m not a manager or supervisor, I’m a lead so I have no authority to tell people to stop. They all think she should have known they were being polite when they told her to go.

It has gotten really bad here. The snipping and vitriol is out of control. I don’t know what to do or where to go since my manager is in on it and he leads our division. Meghan is confused and upset by all this negativity directed at her.

You work with really petty people, and your manager in particular sucks. Even if Meghan hadn’t asked people if she could attend, it would be ridiculous for them to be sniping at her like this — she was on the committee, and it’s reasonable that she attended. And it’s not like she’s taking anything away from them by being there — it’s a lunch, not a pile of money that she’s grabbing an unfair share of. And then throw in that she asked them if it would be appropriate to attend (thus displaying some sensitivity to her shorter tenure) and they all told her yes, and they’re still sniping at her? Over a lunch? They’re being remarkably small-minded and unpleasant.

But it doesn’t sound like you’re in a position to do a lot here since your manager is part of the problem. You can tell your manager and others that you think the reaction to Meghan is unwarranted and point out that she specifically checked with people before attending (and point out that it’s just a lunch — she didn’t steal part of their Grammy or something), and you can push back when you hear people say unkind things, and you can make a point of being kind and supportive to Meghan … and you can take note that you work with people with terrible judgment, and factor that into future decisions. But I think your question is about how to stop this, and it doesn’t sound like you have the power to do that.


2. Is it rude to shush someone?

Is it generally considered rude or disrespectful to “shhhhh” someone? Context is that there is a small break room pretty close to patient care areas. Anytime lunchtime talk or other loud conversations can be heard outside the door, the manager from that department comes in and shhhh’s everyone — as in literally “shhhh-shing” us.

One of my coworker gets triggered and low-key pissed off every time. I don’t see the big deal personally because sometimes we do get rather loud when catching up at work. But because its always the same manager/person doing the shhhh-shing, my coworker thinks she is being personally targeted and disrespected regardless of who else is in the kitchen at the time.

“Can you please keep it down in here?” isn’t rude. Literally shushing you is … well, kind of scoldy and unnecessary when she could use actual words. But since it sounds like this happens a lot, she may just be frustrated that she has to keep asking you to be quiet over and over again.

Your coworker who’s getting pissed off about it is being unreasonable. The manager is on solid ground in asking you to stop letting noise carry to patient care areas, and the fact that she’s had to ask repeatedly isn’t good. You might try pointing out to your coworker that you’re risking losing access to the break room altogether if the noise problems continue, and she’s not doing any of you any favors with her stance.


3. My interviewer asked me what I admired most and least about my parents

I had two phone interviews this week with the same company, and things are heading in an exciting direction! I thoroughly prepared, and felt comfortable with all of the questions asked and with all of my answers … except for one question. It was a two-parter during the interview with HR: (1) “Tell me the trait you most admire about your parents.” (Ummmm – why? But okay, I tied this in to what we had been talking about.) (2) “And what about least?” That was actually what she said. I asked her to rephrase – she had to think about it, and said, “What traits about your parents do you like the least?”

In my mind, I laughed and thought: well, definitely that they are dead. I happen to HATE that about them. But I BS’d an answer, and we moved on.

I can think of 50 reasons why you shouldn’t ask someone you are talking to for the first time / you don’t know about their parents! Have you ever heard of such questions for an interview? What could the reason be for asking? The interviewer had no way of knowing of my relatively recent loss. I love my parents more than anything. But what if they had just passed and I reacted very emotionally to this question? What if I never knew my parents? What if my parents abused me? What if I had answered the way I truly feel: I hate that they are dead? What if, what if, WHAT IF?

I have posed this to several friends, and everyone thinks this is a very strange line of questioning – mostly because what I have been through, but also for all of the possible what-if’s you could imagine. The interviewer is in a position where she’s been interviewing people for a long time. I just can’t imagine this being a standard question she uses each time she interviews someone.

If the company wants to proceed with the application process, should I bring this up with someone? If I end up being offered the position and accepting, is this something I can talk to the interviewer about once I have hit the ground running? The question will have no impact on my decision to accept an offer should we get to that point – the more I heard about the job, the more I really see myself being the perfect fit.

Yeah, this is just bad interviewing. It’s overly personal and invasive and there’s no job-related reason for asking it. She probably heard or decided at some point that this is a brilliant way to learn about your values, but there are far more effective ways of doing that, and ones that won’t turn off candidates.

I don’t think there’s any benefit to bringing it up at this stage, but if you’re offered and accept the job, you can definitely mention it after you’ve been there a bit, framing it as something that you found off-putting and that they should re-think asking.


4. Correcting coworkers when they use the wrong words

I’m seeking advice on how to correct coworkers when they misuse words. Whenever I notice this, it’s often in a group setting, and I don’t want to come across as obnoxious and rude if I speak up. Precision of language is very important to me, and I internally cringe whenever this happens. Plus, I think it can negatively impact a person’s professional persona, however subtly. Examples, from colleagues senior, peer-level, and junior to me, include: “treasury” instead of “tertiary,” “exuberant” instead of “exorbitant,” and “weary” instead of “wary” (this is a common one). One of the culprits is my direct report, but there are others beyond my purview. Help me help them!

It’s not really your place to address this except with your direct report. With her, you can certainly correct her language — although unless polished communication is a key part of her role, I’d let occasional mistakes go and just focus on the times when you hear the wrong word more than once (or if it’s a word she’s going to be using a lot in her work). Do it in private, and say something like: “A quick thing I noticed in that meeting earlier — you said exuberant a couple of times when I think you meant exorbitant. Exuberant means enthusiastic or abundant, so I wanted to flag it in case you’d confused the two words.”

With everyone else though, it’s not your place to correct people’s language (assuming it’s not in a written document you’re reviewing). If you were talking one-on-one, you could possibly do an on-the-spot “wait, do you mean exorbitant?” — but in a group setting, it’s not going to come across well. (Written documents that you’re reviewing are different; you can definitely flag it there.)


5. I don’t want to participate in my office’s weight loss competition

HR sent an email out this morning that they want each individual office to hold wellness competitions. Any office who partakes will get $150 in prizes to hand out to the winners. The challenges can be as mundane as 10k Steps a Day (whoever gets closest/goes over for the time period wins) up to The Biggest Loser (whoever loses the most weight wins).

There’s already an odd obsession with food here. If we all go out to eat, my choices are usually commented on by a few of the women here. (I can’t help it, a cup of soup is not going to be enough for me, I need at least a sandwich.) My office has done The Biggest Loser independently and it’s always A Big Thing if I don’t participate. Call me crazy, but I don’t exactly cherish the idea of having a weekly weigh-in with coworkers, especially when it’s pushed by my two male bosses. The first year we did it, we all had to sign up to cook healthy meals and then all eat together.

I know my office fairly well, so I know the odds of it being the more mundane activities are next to zero. Seeing as we do The Biggest Loser on our own twice a year, I’m pretty sure they’ll jump at the chance to do that one. Any advice on how to bow out as gracefully as possible?

“I’m not interested in competing over weight loss.” That’s it! But the trick probably isn’t in what initial wording you use, but in dealing with any pressure afterwards. You’ll just need to hold firm — “I’m really not interested,” “Please don’t keep asking me — this is not for me,” etc. And if your bosses get in on the pressure, which it sounds like they do, you may need to say something to them specifically like, “I’m really not interested in discussing my weight or diet at work, so please assume I’m sitting this stuff out.”

Any chance you’re up for pointing out — either to your bosses or to HR — that this kind of thing is out of place at work? You’d be doing the world a service if you pointed out that workplace weight loss competions are dangerous for people with eating disorders, overlook people who are trying to gain weight or maintain it rather than lose it, and can promote really unhealthy habits.


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