my coworkers trash people in another language, my boss wants to play Cards Against Humanity, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My coworkers are trashing people in another language — and don’t know I can understand them

I’m in the UK, working in IT projects in a large-ish open plan office. We don’t have cubicles or anything, so it’s really easy to hear other people’s conversations. Sitting near to me are two guys who frequently switch between using English and their own native language (Urdu) when they’re speaking to each other. This isn’t an issue, except … I went to school in a very ethnically diverse area of the UK (Birmingham, for British readers) and several of my very good lifelong friends are of Pakistani origin, and as a result while I’m far from fluent, I definitely understand enough spoken Urdu to know that my two coworkers are being, shall we say, less than complementary about me and some of my team members. They’re calling people in the office things like fat, stupid, slow, or lazy, and making disparaging remarks about people in the remote teams too, while they’re on conference calls, suggesting they’re not pulling their weight on the project or that they must be really thick, ugly, etc. None of it is much beyond grade-school name-calling, but essentially what this comes down to is that two of my colleagues are calling me fatty to my face because they think I don’t understand what they’re saying. I find this at once hilarious and disconcerting, but overall very unprofessional.

What advice would you have to try and stop this without making a huge deal of it? Some of my colleagues would understandably be really very upset by the names they’re being called!

Well, one time-honored approach is to respond in their language, to say “I can understand you” or “wow, that’s rude” or so forth. That has a chance of mortifying them into stopping. Alternately, if hitting them with your own Urdu seems too confrontational (although it’s really not), you could say in English, “I understand some Urdu and what you’ve been saying about people is really rude. Please cut it out.” If it continues after that, you’d be on very solid ground in letting your manager know what’s happening — this kind of highly personal trash-talking of coworkers is incredibly toxic and not okay.

2. My boss wants to play Cards Against Humanity at a work party

I work at a modest size nonprofit (about 50 employees). We’re supposed to be having an employee gathering after hours, to boost morale, build connections, and all of that sort of thing.

Fine, okay, and sure, it’s probably something that we could use. The problem is that our executive director just RSVPed that she’s going to bring Cards Against Humanity, Draw What?! and Drunk Stoned or Stupid as party games.

Am I crazy for thinking these would be hugely inappropriate? It seems obvious to me that nobody would be comfortable playing these games with their bosses and coworkers, but maybe I’m just projecting. If I’m not crazy, how would you mention to your boss that you’re pretty sure people are going to be uncomfortable and lose respect for her professional judgement if she does try to get folks to play these at a work event?

Yeah, all three of these are incredibly inappropriate for work. I only know Cards Against Humanity, but I looked up the other two (and have added links to explanations of all of them for readers) and wow no. Cards Against Humanity is notoriously inappropriate for work (it’s basically X-rated — filled with cards about sex, race, religion, child abuse, and more), and Draw What?! sounds highly sexualized and Drunk Stoned or Stupid sounds incredibly mean and ill-advised.

Your manager has truly terrible judgment. Is this the first sign of that or have there been others? I’m betting there have been others.

I’d write back, “I’d be really uncomfortable playing any of these games with coworkers, and I think a lot of people would feel the same. Plus, there’s actual legal liability with some of these in a work context, given some of the cards in Cards Against Humanity about sex and religion. Can we skip these?” If you don’t feel comfortable saying that to her directly, go to whoever has her ear and will be willing to say it (the org’s second-in-command or so forth).

3. Should I suggest my employee with mobility issues get a different job?

I run a small call center, which is on the second floor of a two story building without an elevator. (It’s actually closer to a third floor due to the first floor being double-height.) Due to the nature of our phone system and the job, we cannot offer employees the option to work from home, nor do we have any other locations.

We have an employee who, from a work standpoint, is a good employee. He has good numbers, he gets good reviews from customers, and he doesn’t miss work.

But, I’m concerned about him from a health and mobility standpoint. He uses two canes and is significantly overweight. When he arrives to work, it takes him a solid 10 minutes to get up the stairs and at least 20 to 30 minutes to catch his breath from walking up the stairs, and he moves extremely slowly around the office and is clearly in pain, particularly during that time. I have found myself more than once stressing that he’s going to have a heart attack or fall down the stairs when he’s moving around.

He has health insurance, so I assume he utilizes his doctor, and he doesn’t outwardly complain about the stairs, so I recognize that this problem is mostly in my head. I keep wanting to recommend that he find a position that doesn’t require him walking up two flights of stairs each day, to help him put less stress on his body. But I also recognize that I’m not his doctor and there are no actual issues for me to address. Should I say something or just let this guy be until he decides it’s an issue?

Say nothing. SAY NOTHING.

This is absolutely not your business. He is an adult and he will manage his own health — and if he doesn’t, you are not his parent, guardian, spouse, or doctor and so you have no standing whatsoever to intervene. Suggesting he find a different job (!) would put you on very dangerous legal ground, because it could look your beliefs about his health played a role in how you managed him, which would be illegal.

I imagine you intend this to be compassionate, but it’s not. There’s no way he’s not aware of the things you want to point out. And again, he’s a grown-up and gets to decide how much it bothers him and whether there’s anything he wants to do differently as a result. He does not need you to point any of this out for him. (Plus, I’m sure you have other employees with their own health conditions that just aren’t as visible. None of them are your business.)

You wrote, “I recognize that this problem is mostly in my head” and “I also recognize that I’m not his doctor and there are no actual issues for me to address.” Go with those instincts and ignore the others you’re having. He’s a good employee, and that’s all you ned to focus on.

4. Will my old job’s awful Glassdoor reviews reflect on me?

I have a job on my resume where I started right out of college and steadily advanced over the years, achieving a couple of managerial positions. Even back then, most of my colleagues disliked the company and the upper management. But since I left, the Glassdoor reviews have just been awful. Some highlights are:

– You will sin freely ever after because Hell will hold no fear for you.
– I needed anxiety medication. I was emotionally scarred.
– Something is wrong with the CEO. I have never met a more unstable, cruel person.
– Free parking and donuts*
*Actual price of said parking and donuts: your journalism career, and your soul. Not necessarily in that order.

I am aware of the types of issues that prompted these reviews, but I did just fine there, didn’t experience any distress, and was able to advance my career. I’m not going to take it off my resume, but I am curious if it will reflect badly on me to have done well at the company if future employees read these reviews. And while people’s problems are mainly with “upper management,” I’m wondering if it will look especially bad to have been part of “the management” at all. I would have had no standing to change any of the things people are referring to, but future employers may not realize that.

Most employers aren’t going to look at Glassdoor reviews for the companies where you used to work (at least not unless you were in upper management, in which case it would be a smart thing to do), so I wouldn’t worry about this too much.

And if anyone does happen to come across it, then assuming your managerial roles weren’t high-level, they’ll know you didn’t have control over the sorts of things people were complaining about. At most they might wonder if you picked up bad habits there, but that’s something a good employer would probe into in an interview, not write you off immediately for. And it’s possible their reaction could be the opposite — that it’s impressive that you achieved what you did despite the culture. (To be honest, I’d be on the side of worrying about possible bad habits — and it’s worth reflecting on whether you inadvertently picked up any bad management lessons there!)

5. Should I let an employer know if I’m not interested after an interview?

I’ve been steeped in my first-ever job search where my immediate well-being does not depend on accepting an offer. I’ve had several interviews — enough to know what a good vs. “meh” interview feels like. If I know I don’t want the job after the initial in-person interview, is it appropriate to let the hiring manager know? Or just let the process work its course and decline a second interview IF they reach out to me again?

Either one is fine. On the employer side, I appreciate it when candidates let know they’ve decided to withdraw, because otherwise I might be mentally planning for them to take an interview slot in the next round and it’s helpful to know not to do that … and some employers might even go so far as to reject someone who they’d otherwise have kept in the mix if they knew you were out (although that’s a risky move since there’s never any guarantee that anyone you advance will accept either the interview or the job). So it can be courteous to proactively let them know, but you’re also not obligated to that. If you prefer, it’s fine to just let them know if they contact you for a second interview.

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