In This Episode
On this show, we talk a lot about systemic workplace problems, with roots in rapid-growth capitalism, the gender and racial wage gap, etc. Today, we’re doing something a little different– we’re talking about the little things coworkers do that are just plain annoying. Writer Lyz Lenz joins host Anne Helen Petersen about how to cope when your colleagues are on your last nerve.
Got a workplace quandary you need help solving? Head to www.workappropriate.com and let us know!
Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. This is Work Appropriate. And I’m your host, Anne Helen Petersen. [music break] Here on the show, we try and grapple with a lot of problems whose roots are pretty systemic. Like the vast majority of stuff we talk about can be traced back to the gender and racial wage gap and all the things that feed that and or rapid growth capitalism. Today’s episode is a little bit different. We’re talking about all the things your coworkers do that just really get on your nerves. They may seem small, but even dripping water can wear down a rock. And yes, some of these things definitely have to do with race and class and rapid growth capitalism. And then some of them, as you’ll see, involve weekly emails written in the voice of a dog named Fenway. For our co-host, I’ve asked someone who is very, very good at recognizing absurd behavior and calling it what it is.
Lyz Lenz: My name is Lyz Lenz, and I am a journalist and author, and I live in Iowa and I write the newsletter. Men Yell at Me.
Anne Helen Petersen: So one of the recurring features, one of my favorite recurring features in your newsletter is The Dingus of the Week. So please tell me the genesis of the dingus and how do you qualify for Dingus of the Week?
Lyz Lenz: That’s such a great question. So back when I was an opinion columnist for my local newspaper, I got in trouble for telling people that they were dumb on the Internet and I wasn’t using such foul language, although I have been known to, you know, have like a fishmonger’s wife kind of a vocabulary. What happened was, is anybody who lives in a state and has paid attention to their state legislature knows that it’s just filled with chuckleheads. And so, you know part of my—
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah we call them, we call them wackadoodles in The Northwest.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: Chuckleheads, wackadoodles, yes.
Lyz Lenz: Chuckleheads—
Anne Helen Petersen: Totally, yes.
Lyz Lenz: And so, like, part of my job then at the paper was to just kind of like, call out some of these things. And I had gotten some pushback, you know, being the only female columnist, people were like, how dare she? And so kind of like as a joke, I was like, oh, you want me to tone it down? Okay, I’ll just call y’all dinguses. You know, like, trying to think of just like, a silly nonsense word that still gets the point across without being accused of being foul mouthed. And although I am foul mouthed and that at the time, the head of the Iowa GOP literally was putting my face in an attack ad for or against a senator being like she’s endorsed by foul mouthed crude women. [laughter] And I was like, oh my God, that’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever said. So it kind of started as this joke. And then when the GOP eventually got me fired from my job [laughs] it turned into this way of kind of like reclaiming that.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Lyz Lenz: And and one of my favorite writers and I know she’s so many people’s favorite writers is Molly Ivins, the late columnist from Texas. And I’m a Texas lady myself. I kind of like took inspiration from her. She talks about like fighting the good fight and how you always have to, like, kind of find joy and humor even in the darkness. And so when I was fired, I was pretty depressed. And somebody suggested that as a way of kind of like using humor to kind of cope with all the dark forces at play that, you know, I started a little weekly dingus feature and I did. And some weeks it feels pretty silly, but I think people have really grown fond of it in a way where it’s it’s it feels in some ways like the steam release valve on a pressure cooker and just being able to laugh at stuff. So the way you become a dingus is, you just do something really stupid. And we always try to punch up. One of my favorite things in the beginning when I started it was people would get into my DMs and I don’t know, like what people think the dingus is like if they think like, Jeff Bezos is reading the newsletter and is like, this is like, oh no, Lyz Lenz doesn’t like me. Shucks. You know, I don’t think anybody gives a crap. But like, people get really into it. And like, often, especially in the beginning, people would DM me and be like, you should pick my coworker as the dingus. And I’m like, well, I’m sure Cheryl is annoying as hell, but I am not going to write a whole letter dedicated, email dedicated to Cheryl in accounting. [laughter] Like, I just don’t. It just doesn’t feel right.
Anne Helen Petersen: Everyone has their personal dingus to bear. [laughter] So I guess our questions today are not as heavy as our, as our usual episodes. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not as important because work is filled with everyday problems. Sometimes those problems are very systemic and difficult to grapple with and like sometimes annoying coworkers just generally can wear you down. So if we can help you deal with them, if Lyz and I can help you deal with them, we’re going to do our best. Our first question is from Z.
Z: My employer used to run annual elections for the office mascot, employees were encouraged to submit pictures of their pets and write a small blurb about their personalities, quirks, etc. and the staff would vote on which pet would rep the company for the following year. Well, they haven’t organized the campaign in several years, and the last winner was a sweet puppy named Fenway. Since Fenway’s win his owner sends emails every Friday morning to the entire staff, dubbed appropriately as Fenway Friday. The messages are sent as if Fenway the dog, has composed them herself. Not only that, these emails are full of cringey dog puns, some of which are massive failures in their structure. Some examples are yappy hour, pup-tastic, paw-cation, and most cursed of them all un-paw-fortunately. This has gone on for years now. What’s worse, this is a coworker, so I can’t simply block her from sending them to me. Am I right in thinking that these emails are useless and have long since run their course? Or am I being a joyless, unreasonable stick in the mud? Your thoughts no matter what are appreciated.
Anne Helen Petersen: [laughter] So I just have to say that when this question came in, Melody, our producer, sent it to me immediately, knowing that I am a dog person—
Lyz Lenz: Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: —and I love dog content. Melody is also a dog person. You are a dog person, right?
Lyz Lenz: Yeah, I am a dog person. I’ve got two dogs in this room with me right now. Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: Wow. That’s like way braver recording style than I am. But I have, I have two two minds about this. So I would like to hear your reaction first, though.
Lyz Lenz: [laughs] So one of my jobs for a long time was running the social media accounts of a as unnamed, very large pet food brand [laughter] where I would have to write tweets in the voice [laughs] of both a dog and a cat. So I am a pet person, but I have to I have to empathize with Z here in knowing that there is truly nothing more baffling [laughs] than like a grown adult like really committing to this bit in such a way that is like, do you do you have friends? Do you do you go to yappy hour? Like do you like [laughs] and so but I also question like maybe there’s other stuff going on at work that’s really putting Z on edge—
Anne Helen Petersen: Right.
Lyz Lenz: —and maybe this is just the straw that’s breaking the camel’s back because Z cannot do anything about this. You cannot. No—
Anne Helen Petersen: No, no no.
Lyz Lenz: —no, you can’t stop it. You can’t it. And also, like, do not become the person who then suggests the new mascot thing, because if you become that person to like, say, oh, maybe we can pick a new mascot, then you will run it and everybody will hate you and you will take on a whole new you will open up the portals to a whole new hell you haven’t even been able to imagine yet. So what Z has to do is find a way to cope. My suggestion would be just. Just save these emails and then give their friends a dramatic reading at a happy hour in a safe space later. Like turn this into an inside joke with friends. Find a way to cope. But you can’t sing anything. You can’t blink. You just have to delete those emails. [laughter]
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. I—
Lyz Lenz: And move on.
Anne Helen Petersen: My impulse as well is that I am not a pun person, just generally. And this, this style of dog appreciation is not my style of dog appreciation, but like, I just feel like probably this person who’s sending these for Fenway, they’re getting real pleasure out of it, don’t you think?
Lyz Lenz: Oh it means so much to this person.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, yes, 100%.
Lyz Lenz: And the fact that it’s going on continuously means that this is like part of the office culture. I empathize with it being annoying, but I think this is just a way where it’s like you have to find a humorous way to cope.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, well, and even I am sure that writing this question to us [laughter] was probably also very therapeutic because sometimes you just want to be like, here is this thing, it’s driving me up the wall and. No one gets it. But now so many people are going to know about Fenway.
Lyz Lenz: The other way is like just to, is to die a little on the inside and to just kind of like accept that this is a completely harmless, annoying thing that happens. Just lean in.
Anne Helen Petersen: But then but then if they ever leave this workplace, they’re going to like, forward the Fenway emails [laughs] to them. Like, oh, yeah, remember how you were really into this? [laughter] It’s going to be a problem. Okay, so our advice, just to recap, is acknowledge that this has given the sender a lot of joy and it’s part of the company culture and there’s no way that you can actually do anything about it. And then you could either you could make a folder that it automatically goes into like anything that has Fenway in it goes somewhere, right? Like you could do that, or you can just really use it as a way for like an inside joke with yourself, your partner, a friend, that sort of thing too, to find your own joy in the ridiculousness of Fenway.
Lyz Lenz: And it might also be like worth examining what is underneath that irritation like is there’s other stuff going on at work. Like is the person who sends this email doing some other thing? Like, why is this the straw that feels like it’s breaking the camel’s back? And, you know, maybe there’s some underlying issues that you could handle and then Fenway gets to just keep being Fenway. Who, has— [both speaking]
Anne Helen Petersen: Who is blameless in this scenario.
Lyz Lenz: Blameless, yes.
Anne Helen Petersen: All right. Our next question is one that I think a lot of women of a certain age will relate to. This is from someone named Diane, and our producer, Melody is going to read it.
Diane: How can you be an effective office manager without being seen as the office mom? I love what I do, but I find sometimes my colleagues struggle to understand that I do high level work, like vetting vendors and making purchasing decisions and not just watering the plants and ordering more toner. It’s frustrating when I’m on a big important call or in a 1 to 1 meeting with my boss, and Slack is blowing up with messages about the coffee machine acting up, or how they just realized there’s a conference in three days they haven’t booked a hotel for. Is there a polite way to say, can you take 5 minutes to try and fix this yourself first?
Anne Helen Petersen: Okay, this is so frustrating. And my friend has a tactic for this. When similar scenarios come up in like a group chat, like we just have some roles of like some people being the people who take care of things and some people being the people who don’t take care of things. And she used to just send a link and you click it and it’s like, can I Google this for you essentially?
Lyz Lenz: Yes.
Anne Helen Petersen: And that’s kind of hostile [laughter] we try not to do that anymore. But how can an office manager who is a woman not be seen as also a mom who is a caretaker and picks up other people’s slack and does things that other people refuse to take the time to figure out themselves? Like, how can she figure this out?
Lyz Lenz: I mean, I think it’s important to note that most women get treated like this in the office. Like there have been studies done that show that, you know, even if this isn’t their assigned job, that women are the ones cleaning the coffee pot, making sure, you know, that the mugs are washed—
Anne Helen Petersen: Taking notes.
Lyz Lenz: Taking notes.
Anne Helen Petersen: Cleaning the refrigerator [both speaking] making sure that someone’s birthday is celebrated.
Lyz Lenz: Yes.
Anne Helen Petersen: All of the noticing things, you know, like that is they are the noticers.
Lyz Lenz: It sounds to me like the the things that this person is being asked to do are perhaps still part of her job description, but just not always the most important things on her job description. And maybe I’m misunderstanding, but I think the thing is like she just wants more respect.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Lyz Lenz: And there’s a couple of ways you can go about it. One thing that I, I tend to do is I tend to put things on ice, like, you know, if I have more important things to do. Right, because then I’ll say, you know what? I’m actually dealing with this other issue right now. I’m going to need a couple of hours before I can come to this. So just like set expectations clearly or take a moment not to respond to the email, because something that I think I’ve learned as a human being and as a woman walking through this world is that, like people always expect you to jump when they say jump and when you you have to train them not to treat you like that, which is frustrating. And, you know, people should be good people in the world, but they’re not. And so, you know, one of the I call it like putting people on ice thing where I sit down and I’ll say, okay, what’s the most important thing for me to do to do my job? And then I have to communicate to others and say, I hear your frustration. I’m dealing with these five other issues right now. I will get to this by the end of the day or by the end of the day tomorrow. But if that’s not soon enough for you, here’s some other things you can do and just start. Training people. I’m constantly telling people I can only do one thing at a time, and this is not the thing I’m doing at the moment. And just finding like some of those like phrases that you can use that kind of like push back on people because, I mean, you can’t be too hostile in that role because of the flipside of being seen as a caretaker is then being seen as the bitch. If you say—
Anne Helen Petersen: Or you’re not, quote unquote “good at your job,” one that you’re actually doing is like—
Lyz Lenz: Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: —prioritizing within your job.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah. But I think it’s okay to say, like, I am in a meeting with picking vendors, I will get to this when I have time. And I always, like also buffer that time. Like, don’t be honest about it. Like at least throw in a 3 to 4 [laughs] free hours.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, like, I am happy [both speaking] and you can like use some of that language that like, makes you seem more approachable. Like I’m happy to help you with this in the afternoon. Or like, right now I’m busy with this meeting or I have this other obligation, but I’m happy to help you with this in three or four hours and they will probably take care of it themselves.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. So the one thing I will say not to be too academic about it, but I do think that this people behaving this way is a symptom of a real change in office culture that’s happened over the course of the last 50, 60, 70 years, which, you know, before [laughs] men in an office like a you know, I’m not talking about a factory floor, but men in an office would all have their own secretaries, right? Like so they would have these personalized assistants who, if they needed something, they could just ask for it and someone would refill the coffee. They would make an appointment for their dinner with their wife. They would pick out a present like they were concierges as well. And then they also had their wives at home. So there was this understanding that like you could have all of this assistance and all the men would be left to do is like their just their job. And I think as we have changed, for better and for worse, the way that offices work that labor has been, instead of every person having one secretary, it’s been consolidated into one office manager who essentially functions as an assistant for the entire office. And people still treat that office manager as if they are their personal assistants. I also think, though, that part of the reason why people are asking this particular office manager to do these things that they could figure out right, that they could Google themselves, that they could facilitate, or they’re like scheduling conference travel three days before. The reason why that happens is because they themselves are so overworked.
Lyz Lenz: Mmm.
Anne Helen Petersen: Companies have so few redundancies now that not only do they not have, you know, maybe there are three people who should be doing this office manager’s job, but then also the other workers are trying to do more work than they probably should be doing. And when you’re overworked, you make I don’t know, I find myself doing this right. Like you don’t read closely enough and you respond to the email and you don’t answer two of the three questions that they’ve asked you. You’re just a more careless coworker. And so I don’t think that’s an excuse. I think it’s an explanation. But I think that your advice about like trying to explain, like, here’s what I am doing now and pushing it down the road, that that is that is something that this particular person can do. If this person also trusts their manager in any sort of way, they can be like, here are a lot of the requests that I’m getting and I wonder if it’s worth a conversation with the company at large about like, here is what our office manager does and here is what they do not do.
Lyz Lenz: I wonder if there’d also be a way to like put together a master document of frequently asked questions where, you know, this person could say, hey, I’m busy doing this other thing right now, but here is this master document of like—
Anne Helen Petersen: The internet—
Lyz Lenz: —ways, ways, yes, yes, the ways you can handle this problem. If you can’t fix it.
Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm.
Lyz Lenz: In the next 12 hours before I can get to it, then I can help you.
Anne Helen Petersen: Right.
Lyz Lenz: But in the meantime, if you need it addressed like here’s a little flow chart of how to order your own frickin coffee.
Anne Helen Petersen: And I have all of these like templates in my email for very frequently asked questions like If someone’s having problems with—
Lyz Lenz: Yes.
Anne Helen Petersen: —this discord, here’s how you troubleshoot it.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: And coming up with those templates just makes me resent those questions far, far, far less, right?
Lyz Lenz: Yes.
Anne Helen Petersen: Because I’m not retyping the answer each time.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: So it’s almost like you turn into a chat bot for a second and send the answers that way.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah, it’s so interesting. I was just reading an article this morning about the ways that secretarial work has been devalued and replaced because it’s largely seen as quote unquote “women’s work.” And so you’re right, we had like there there was this culture, secretarial culture, which in downsizing and consolidating, of course, those were seen as the most disposable jobs. Right. But they’re also super essential. And so it’s this like push and pull of devaluing work while also continuing to make this work another woman’s problem. And it just becomes—
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Lyz Lenz: —like you said, this like really intense cycle. And so it sounds like this person is just like managing the expectations and failures of corporate culture individually. [laughs]
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, yes.
Lyz Lenz: And it sounds really, it sounds really frustrating and all my empathy. But yeah, I do. I love the strategy of just like on ice, on ice.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yep.
Lyz Lenz: Because it helps protect me and my feelings, too.
Anne Helen Petersen: Okay, so our strategy our advice for this person is pause, right? Like just kind of kick the ball slightly down the day’s court, but then also develop either automatic replies or an Internet or an FAQ that is helpful in terms of pushing that person to advice that is already there instead of them having to deal with it every single time. And then if they need to, dealing with it in the future.
Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is about a default expectation of parenthood in your office. This is from Ally.
Ally: I’m a woman in my early thirties in a straight relationship. I don’t have kids and don’t have plans to. Some of my women coworkers will make comments about parenthood. A subordinate colleague has said things like, you’ll understand when you have kids. I’ve been with a peer and if we see a cute baby, she’ll ask don’t you want one of those? I think this woman may feel threatened by me and says things like, well, I’m a mom to explain away her checking in on people are worrying about things in ways that don’t prioritize professional relationships and responsibilities. Any advice for navigating assumptions around parenthood at work? Especially when it feels condescending?
Anne Helen Petersen: Okay, so I am hearing two different problems, both of them serious in this question. The first is people butting into Ally’s reproductive life. Clearly none of their business. The second is people using parenthood as an excuse for what Ally thinks is unprofessional or boundary crossing behavior. So let’s start with that first one. What is a line that we could give Ally to use when people make those comments about like you’ll understand when you’re a mom?
Lyz Lenz: My advice to Ally is, again, like, use a pressure cooker like steam valve release thing, like it might be good and we’re going to do this in a second. But I would also encourage Ally to do this with like some of her like minded friends and a group chat, be like, okay, let’s come up with some sassy replies so that they that Ally has those replies ready to go. Because women are socialized to have parenthood be that thing and like often in awkward social situations. I was raised in Texas. I live in the middle of the country. Right.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yep.
Lyz Lenz: Like parenthood is just like one of those things that’s like the weather.
Anne Helen Petersen: It’s like talking about the weather. Yes.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah. And that and people don’t even like women don’t especially women of a certain generation. Maybe I’m making assumptions, but there’s also that Loretta Lynn song about, you know, the places the women’s movement didn’t hit. And that’s so real.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yep.
Lyz Lenz: Like and so like these these women might not even be aware that they’re being offensive, But that’s not an excuse because these conversations have been happening and they choose not to participate. So I would say like come up with some like quippy little replies that you can say to like, you know, like in the, like you’ll understand when you’re parent and then you can be like, well, then I guess I never will never understand, you know [laughter] and thank God for that. Or you know what I do understand. [both speaking] You know what I do understand, a good night’s sleep. You know, like [laughter] I don’t know. I’m just coming off the top of my head, hot and fresh here. They’re terrible.
Anne Helen Petersen: Well and even I feel like sometimes you don’t have to. It depends on how comfortable she is with those coworkers. But like, I find that whenever I’m just honest and you, like, don’t feel weird about it.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: It just nips the conversation in the bud that you’re just like, oh, I don’t think I’m going to have kids.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: And then people will just be like and then they won’t say it again, I guess they’re going to feel awkward that they don’t want to revisit that awkwardness.
Lyz Lenz: That’s but I think that that’s totally fine because they’re like, they’re making these assumptions about you and your reproductive choices that make Ally feel awkward. So it’s totally fine for Ally to flip it back and like, say something quick, quippy and makes them feel awkward and they’ll learn, you know, like you said, like they’re they’re going to be like, oh. Okay.
Anne Helen Petersen: Right. And she shouldn’t. And Ally doesn’t say this in the question, but she shouldn’t feel like it’s being rude because.
Lyz Lenz: Right.
Anne Helen Petersen: In truth. They’re being rude by making this assumption about you. Right. So it’s not being rude to say that.
Lyz Lenz: They might just be saying because they’re just socialized to say it this way and like and then all you got to do is just, you know, flip it back and just be real quippy and let her. You know, it does. I’m sure Ally deals with this in every facet of their life. So it’s got to just be one of those things. It’s just like here again, like I can’t just do my work now. I got to talk about my fricking uterus, you know, like.
Anne Helen Petersen: Well, and especially if she’s in her early thirties, she’s going to get this more. So it’s a good practice.
Lyz Lenz: You know, I did it like, especially when I’m no longer married. But when I first got married I moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you know, people would be like, well what do you do? And if I said, you know, I’m a writer, they’d be like, well, that’s such a great career to have with children. [laughter] And and so I just learned to either say I was an accountant, which I did, you know, people like, what do you do accountant? No follow up questions. [laughter] Absolutely. Or they’d be like, that’s such a great career to have with children. And I’d be like, whose, whose children? [laughter] With whose children? Like just it just like it’s stupid thing to say.
Anne Helen Petersen: It’s actually not. It’s actually a horrible career to have with children. [laughter]
Lyz Lenz: It’s so bad. I mean, there’s no good career to have with kids.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Lyz Lenz: It’s but like but yeah. So just like and then you know, and then at some point people just stop asking because they learn.
Anne Helen Petersen: I, you know, as I think about this. It’s not Ally’s responsibility to share what her choices are.
Lyz Lenz: No.
Anne Helen Petersen: But I also think that if she doesn’t say anything, they’re just going to keep saying these things.
Lyz Lenz: Right.
Anne Helen Petersen: So the second part of the question, though, I think is a more difficult needle to thread, which is this person is using their status as a mother to excuse unprofessional behavior. How do you grapple with that?
Lyz Lenz: That’s so tricky because, again, it seems like the previous question in a way that like this might be a person who has been socialized or who has functioned or survived in a corporate setting by taking on some of these boundary crossing roles. Right. Like by stepping in, by doing some of the emotional labor that can be really inappropriate sometimes, right? Like then they’re using that phrase like their motherhood as a protective shield.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yep, yep.
Lyz Lenz: So it might be Ally can’t address this when it comes to other coworkers. Ally only has to address it when it comes to her. But, you know, it might be a situation where Ally is like, you know, I hear your concern and I appreciate maybe that you’re looking out for me. Even if you don’t, you just got to lie and and say, however, this is a boundary I’d prefer not to cross in a work situation. Thank you so much for understanding.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yep.
Lyz Lenz: And just like or, you know, say thank you for your concern, you are actually not my mother. And so I will be you know, I will be when I need a mother, I have one or, you know, or people who fill that role, which again, you don’t have to be personal about your mother’s and mother figures in your life. But you just to say like, thank you but you’re not actually my mom.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah it doesn’t have to actually be a real statement about your mother, and I think that actually if she feels comfortable saying, just, you know, thank you so much for your concern, but, you know, just like with my own mom trying to have boundaries and like, figure out my own life or my own work, I think that that would also have the secondary effect of probably helping with the questions about when she’s going to have kids.
Lyz Lenz: Right. Right.
Anne Helen Petersen: Because it would cool the relationship in some way, which is okay. I think sometimes people are like, what happens if I hurt my coworkers feelings slightly? This person does not have to be your best friend. You just have to have a professional relationship with them.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah, you just have to get along. So it’s okay to push back in the sense where you say like, yeah, thank you for your concern. But here at work I’m concerned about the task at hand. So let’s talk about whatever issue—
Anne Helen Petersen: It’s easy for us to give that advice. I know that it’s hard sometimes to say that, especially if you like both of us are people pleasers who sometimes have difficult times saying difficult things. But it’s really good practice for all of our lives and practicing scripts, rehearsing with a friend. All of those things can make it easier to actually implement in practice.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah. [music plays]
Anne Helen Petersen: So our next question is we’re going to do it somewhat differently. We’re going to do a rapid fire round. Are you ready for this?
Lyz Lenz: I’m going to give the worst advice. Let’s go.
Anne Helen Petersen: Okay. And it’s going to be easy when we’re going to have like 90 seconds to do and we’re not going to do any setup for them. We’re just going to, like, do the question and get to it. So, Melody, do you want to read this?
Melody: Yeah. Here’s the first one. My supervisor wears strong perfume that lingers after she leaves the room and makes me nauseated. It feels insubordinate to talk to her about it, but it’s affecting my interactions with her. Do I talk to her supervisor? Just suck it up? I know my coworkers hate it, too.
Anne Helen Petersen: Okay, I’m going to barge in here because I actually know the answer to this one.
Lyz Lenz: Go for it.
Anne Helen Petersen: I have a friend who works in H.R., and she works for a very large company. And there are many men who work for this company, and a lot of them have body odor. And so people when there’s body odor problem on a team, they talk to H.R., and then H.R. is the person who can convey the complaint anonymously. And in a way that is there are some sensory issues. And we would prefer that, you know, at at the company, this is our ask. It does not have to come from you. It does not have to come from their manager. It should not come from you or their manager. It should come from H.R.. What, any other takes there other than just like plugging their nose every time they come close? [laughter]
Lyz Lenz: Fight fire with fire. Like. [laughter] Like get some Axe body spray. Just, just. [laughter] I want to reiterate, I am not somebody to take advice from. No, I would have said just, you know, like just maybe talk to H.R. and just say, like, I have a sensory issue or like I’m allergic to some smells and like, you know, this one is bothering me and I’ve tried to find some ways of coping, but it doesn’t seem to be working and it’s affecting my work. Is there something and like, yeah, H.R. deals with odor issues. [laughs] I think it’s probably like—
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes.
Lyz Lenz: —you know, like number two on their list of things they have protocols for. So.
Anne Helen Petersen: All right, Melody number two.
Melody: In corporate white collar type office settings, is it generally acceptable to paint or clip your fingernails? I’ve always associated with personal and not public grooming, so I wanted to understand if that’s normal because I have seen it a few times.
Anne Helen Petersen: All right, Lyz, what’s what’s your hot take here? [laughs]
Lyz Lenz: I don’t understand this question. I mean, with all due respect to the question asker, like, are they saying like to clip them in the office?
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Lyz Lenz: Oh. Oh. [laughter]
Anne Helen Petersen: So this is, like people clip them on the subway in New York. It’s a very common thing.
Lyz Lenz: I mean like. Maybe. Maybe I’m just a little sheltered Iowa baby, but in all my jobs and I have seen something, I’ve never seen somebody clip in the office that is revolting. [laughter] Like getting their little fingernail clippings everywhere. First of all, that’s DNA evidence. They should just keep their shit tight is what we need. But oh, yeah. I wonder if that’s a situation where you’re also like, hey, this person’s like clip because it’s a smell thing too. Like with the fumes and the—
Anne Helen Petersen: There’s no fumes when you’re clipping your fingernails.
Lyz Lenz: But what about painting? But painting?
Anne Helen Petersen: Well painting is different. No, we’re talking about clipping like just your normal clip— This is I’ve almost exclusively seen men do this as well. So I think that there’s just kind of like a a disconnect there because there’s probably not a lot of other grooming that’s going on.
Lyz Lenz: Do you think it’s just you got to suck up and take or like, if it’s your cube mate? Ugh, can you imagine? Gross.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. I don’t know if you could complain to H.R. about this because it would be like I mean, I have I have misophonia, which is an actual condition where especially around your menstrual cycle, certain sounds feel like nails on a chalkboard to you like that you cannot concentrate. You feel like you want to throttle something. And for me, the big one is people making ice go back and forth in a drink. I think I will be on a plane and I will have to be clenching my fist, resisting going to the person in front of me with their ice just going back in their cup. I can’t like say to H.R., I can’t be around that. I have to remove myself from a situation. So that would be the thing. Like if you can if you see someone starting to cut their fingernails, I would just like, okay, it’s time for me to take a walk around the block. But generally, no.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah, I’ve never seen that. And that is awful. And time to get some noise canceling headphones or.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah that too, that too.
Lyz Lenz: Take a lap take a lap.
Anne Helen Petersen: Okay. Number three, Melody.
Melody: We don’t have trash bins in two of the women’s restroom stalls. None of the men, my boss, facilities, etc. seem to get why this is an important and timely issue. I’ve been asking them for over a year now. What the hell am I supposed to do about equality and DEAI when I can’t even get a tampon trash can?
Lyz Lenz: You steal trash cans from the men’s bathroom and put them in the women’s bathroom? [laughter] That’s it. Like it’s like you are going to get fired. No. Just grab a trash can. Put it in.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. I also think that depending on how empowered this person feels in their workplace, they say very clearly this is so that we do not have to carry our bloody menstrual objects from the toilets to the sink area. Like you make them uncomfortable by it by emphasizing what it is.
Lyz Lenz: Right. Or like flush them down the toilet and cause like, a bigger facilities issue.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes be like, do you want to, [laughter] do you want to deal with plugged toilets all the time? This is like, okay, very quickly. We were in a temporary office at BuzzFeed and they had brand new toilets that were like the low flush toilets. Right. And something about the design was off. And so not from people flushing in tampons, but from flushing poop, they were always overflowing. And we would get these angry stern emails that said, you guys need to flush the toilets. And we’re like, we are flushing the toilet. Like, this is not a personal problem. This is a systems problem. [laughter] They were like, we have guests come into the office. We don’t want them to see poop on the ground. Like again, not our problem. So this is not this woman’s problem. I am just livid that they have to deal with it so they can either do what Lyz suggests, which is steal the other person’s trashcans or be very clear about it. So. All right, Melody.
Melody: I work in nonprofit, and a few years ago I received my first promotion and a small raise. Afterwards, my boss insisted I write a thank you note to our director for the promotion and raise, which I did. Though I was confused and reluctant to do so, I left it in her mailbox and at one point my boss said, our director has even asked about it as if she had not received it. So I know she was expecting it. I always thought that promotions and raises were the company saying thank you to an employee for their hard work. Am I off base to think this was weird and kind of inappropriate?
Anne Helen Petersen: Who, who sends a thank you note for a raise? Lyz, what do we do here?
Lyz Lenz: Yes, it is weird. It is inappropriate. But I think it’s one of those things where it’s just like you just got to do it, especially in like, I think there’s four nonprofits, you know, finding extra money, like, often involves like, you know, fundraising for it or finding a new grant or something like that. So, yes, like this person is clearly entitled to their raise has clearly earned that. But it’s also like one of those things where it’s like you work in a low compensated field where everybody probably feels like you’re holding the world on your shoulders. And so yeah, but I also think it’s like you just gotta do it, you know what I mean? Like, it’s, well, yeah, you can’t just what are you going to do? The boss is helping you out here saying, like, you probably need to do this, this person expects it does—
Anne Helen Petersen: Right.
Lyz Lenz: –so just get it done. And it’s just one of those things you got to suck up and do. But it does seem wrong.
Anne Helen Petersen: So two things. I think that the manager did a lot of convincing work, right, to get this director on board with the raise right. And I probably had to like sell the case really hard and also probably talked a lot about like this person will be so grateful for this raise, blah, blah, blah. So writing the thank you note is like finishing the circle. It sucks though, and I think it is actually indicative of all of the problems with nonprofit work culture. Do it in this situation while also understanding that this is not a normal thing. This is not okay like your feelings about this are absolutely correct. Make the thank you card really ugly. That would just be my advice. Just like— [laughs]
Lyz Lenz: Yeah, yeah. Make like one with like the little weird cat cartoons on the front [laughter] like, hang in there. Thank you so much for my raise, just really incongruous with the message.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes.
Lyz Lenz: But benignly so.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, perfect.
Lyz Lenz: Yeah.
Anne Helen Petersen: So, Lyz, just as a general last question, your advice, when people are acting in the way that we have discussed today [laughs] I mean, you said it before, like its humor, but underneath that humor, what is your posture when you’re dealing with people doing these things?
Lyz Lenz: You know, I turned 40 in December. Congratulations to me for living for so long. But I think my response in my early twenties was a lot different, right? Like, I really tried hard to make people feel comfortable. And so like my response was always like, okay, how do I deal with this? How do I, you know, how do I handle this? Or like I’m going to be the ones like leaving the signs in the kitchen, like, please wash your own mugs or whatever. And like, now my posture is more one of like, you come to me, you come to me on the day of my daughter’s wedding [laughter] like I am more inclined to put things on ice to prioritize my own work and to just be really forthright and not feel so obligated to kowtow. And I also understand that that is a little bit of a place of privilege. Like I, I didn’t if I had done that from the beginning—
Anne Helen Petersen: Yup.
Lyz Lenz: —it might not have gotten there. But I’ve also learned, too, that when I stopped, like when I stopped trying to be something or someone else, that’s when my career really took off. And also just realizing that other people’s feelings are not my problem.
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, other people’s feelings about you are none of your business sometimes—
Lyz Lenz: And they’re allowed to have them. You’ve had Josh Gondelman on—
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah.
Lyz Lenz: —and he said thing thing to me once when I was complaining about somebody’s treatment of me to him, and he said, you know, they’re allowed not to like you. And I was like, oh, what a freeing thing. Like, it’s just it’s so, like, levelheaded. Yeah, People are allowed not to like me. And Lord knows I hate most people too, so. [laughter] But like, it’s just so freeing that you don’t. You can just let that go, you know?
Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.
Lyz Lenz: And of course, Josh, the nicest human on planet Earth would be the one who gives me that advice. So.
Anne Helen Petersen: Lyz, this has been such a pleasure. I thank you so much for joining me today. Where can people find you if they want to hear more from you?
Lyz Lenz: My newsletter is the best place and it is Lyz.Substack.com. I also have a website LyzLenz.com. I’m sort of on Twitter. I guess I tried all the other social things, but they all feel empty and meaningless. [laughter] And it’s also January in Iowa, so everything feels empty and meaningless. On that note, I hope everybody has a great day. [laughter]
Anne Helen Petersen: Thanks so much to Lyz Lenz for joining me today. And thanks to you for listening to Work Appropriate. If you’ve got a workplace quandary, you want help figuring out. Get in touch. You can find submission guidelines at WorkAppropriate.com or send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Crooked.com. Your questions help us figure out what to plan our episodes around and who to invite as guest hosts. So keep them coming. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producers are Kendra James and Sandy Girard. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. You can follow me on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen. You can sign up for my newsletter at AnneHelen.substack.com. Next week, what do you do when it feels like your ambition has just died or when your ambition rules everything around you? Be sure to subscribe to Work Appropriate in your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss it.