coworkers message me “hi” with nothing else, younger coworker thinks I’m tech-illiterate, and more

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

1. Coworkers message me “hi” with no indication of what they need

I find myself very frustrated with many of my coworkers. We use Teams, and I often receive messages that just say “Hi Name.” If I’m available, I can respond right away and get to their request. But sometimes when I step away for my lunch hour, I return to see that right after I left, I got a “Hi Name” message. When I respond, they’ve often stepped away and it may take another hour for them to get back to me with their request, two hours from when they originally reached out to me.

To me, it seems that people think that Teams chats follow the social etiquette of walking up to somebody’s desk. You both say a quick hello, then get to whatever they needed. However, I view it more like leaving a Post-It note on somebody’s desk. It’s visible, but if they aren’t there, it might take some time to respond. And to leave me a Post-It note that just says “Hi” on my desk, then to expect me to go to yours to leave one as well before giving any details, frustrates me. When I reach out to people, I generally send them “Hi Name, I’m reaching out to you about X. Do you have Y information?” — closer to how I would write an email.

I’ve been at this company for two years, I like it and feel valued, this is just a big pet peeve of mine, as I feel that it is less efficient, and if somebody messages me when I’m away, I now have to spend time tracking them down for their request. I’m also autistic and there’s a chance that there’s something about social cues and unwritten rules that I’m just not understanding. This is a large company, and this communication style is common between people of all ages, managers, coworkers, and contractors.

I’m sometimes tempted to just not respond until they do send the information over, but I also don’t want to come off as rude or unresponsive. I also have thought about addressing it individually with the people that I work closest with, but I’m not 100% sure how I should say it.

Yeah, this is just a Thing That Happens in almost every office. The people who do it think it’s friendlier, and everyone else thinks it’s inefficient and a little annoying. It’s very unlikely that you will be able to solve it, so it’s easier to decide not to care. Write back “hi” and figure that if their communication style means it takes an extra day for them to get the info that they need, that’s on them; it’s not on you to draw their needs out of them.

That said, if you work frequently with someone who does this, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “By the way, feel free to just launch in with what you need when you first message me. If you just say hi and wait for me to respond, it could be hours before you hear back, depending on what else I’m working on — but if what you need is in the first message, I can often get it to you faster.”

how to respond when coworkers IM me “hi” with no indication of what they need

2. My younger coworker thinks I don’t know anything about computers

I am older (mid 60s) and on my way to at least semi-retirement. We have on our staff a new younger (30-ish) woman who is in a leadership role. I have no issue with that – she’s good and she knows her stuff; I’ve learnt new things from her. But she seems to have it firmly in her mind that I am a sweet little old lady who cannot possibly know anything, especially in the field of computers. When it comes to software, or tech generally, she
is very patronizing towards me and tries to hold my hand through elementary steps. The thing is, I have been working with computers since the mid 1970s and helped design and set up the system we currently use. In this area, I’m good and I know my stuff.

My manager has taken her aside (he tells me) and spoken to her about the way she is treating me, and others on staff have commented as well, so it’s not just me. How can I make her see that I am competent in this area, before the sweet little old lady turns into a cranky old battleaxe on the warpath (which wouldn’t be good)?

The next time she does it: “I’ve been working with computers for decades and helped design the system we use now.” Use an amused-sounding tone.

If it continues: “I’m not sure if you realize you’ve been approaching me like I need remedial help with anything tech-related. So to let you know, I don’t.”

If it continues after that, consider talking to HR about it and using the words “age discrimination.” Or if you want to give your boss one more chance to handle it first, have that conversation with him instead and ask if he wants to do a more serious intervention himself or if it’s time for you to bring in HR.

3. Should I correct students who address me as Mrs.?

I am a faculty member at a major state university where I teach large undergraduate classes in a male-dominated discipline. I have been teaching for quite a while and have achieved the highest faculty rank (Professor). While I am not particularly concerned about being addressed as Professor or Dr., which are correct given my faculty rank and education, I take issue with one way that I am increasingly addressed by students — about half of the hundreds of student emails I receive each semester. Rather than start their emails with Dear Professor Green, Dear Dr. Green, or Dear Ms. Green, students increasingly refer to me as Mrs. Green. To add an irrelevant fact, I am not married.

It has always been my understanding that “Mrs.” is used to refer to a married woman, or a woman who has been married, without a higher or honorific or professional title. And that “Ms.” should be used to refer to a woman of unknown marital status or when marital status is irrelevant. Of course, I believe Mrs. should always be used to address anyone who indicates that preference.

My students will see my name written as Dr. Jane Green on a variety of university and course materials, but that does not seem to change the frequency of emails addressed “Dear Mrs. Green.” I hesitate to correct students for fear that it will be taken as an indicator of self-importance and give me a reputation for being condescending or unapproachable. However, I am sensitive to the misogyny involved. While I don’t think students should call their instructors by their first name, I don’t want to insist that students call me Professor Green or Dr. Green. I would be fine with being called Ms. Green – it’s only “Mrs. Green” that really bothers me.

Do you see this as an important “teachable moment” for college students entering the workforce (in addition to being a personal pet peeve)? My thought is that students should learn not to use Mrs. as the default title for women in the workplace or in addressing professional correspondence since marital status should be irrelevant in these situations (and also that perhaps it is a good idea to avoid offending others like me when trying to be hired for or advance in a position).

I think that if I had confirmation that this reasoning is correct, I would feel more justified including an explanation in my course materials and providing reminders in my responses to student emails. I am willing to take the possible blowback if it will help students in their eventual careers!

Yes, absolutely. Referring to a woman as Mrs. without any indication that she uses or prefers it is a good way to alienate a ton of us — since it’s rooted in the sexist notion that a woman’s marital status is relevant when a man’s is not. It will also hit a lot of ears as old-fashioned.

These students should learn that now so that they don’t address their cover letters that way, greet networking contacts that way, or otherwise annoy and aggravate the many, many women who use Ms. who they’re going to meet in their careers.

I’d say it this way: “It’s Ms. or Dr., please.”

You could add as a parenthetical: “Mrs. is not a title used in professional contexts unless the person has previously indicated she uses it. Default to Ms., or to Dr. when that’s correct.”

4. Can I leverage interest from other employers into a higher salary at my current job?

I’m in an enviable position: I’ve worked my way up to a fairly senior position in a smallish industry, and I have a specialized role that’s currently in high demand. And now—after climbing the ladder and working hard for 20 years—recruiters and hiring managers are calling me nonstop to try to entice me to move. I know, poor me. But I really like my current job! I’ve been here six years, I’ve had some nice success and built a strong program from nothing, and I feel appreciated and—I think—am fairly compensated. I don’t want to leave, but I find myself wondering: Is there anything I should be doing to leverage this interest with my current job? What would I even ask for, assuming I am paid well and well treated?

So far I haven’t even mentioned anything about all this interest to my current manager. But last night a competitive manager took me out to drinks and told me she wanted me to come over to work for her and I should “name my price.” I don’t want to be a cliche of the woman who never negotiates. But I also don’t want to be unfair to my current, very appealing job, where I ultimately want to stay. Any advice?

I’m not a fan of counteroffers, but that’s not what you’d be doing. You’d just be saying, “I really like my work here and want to stay. I want to be up-front that I’m being approached about other jobs that pay more than I’m currently making. I really don’t want to leave, but I wondered if we can take a look at my salary.” You could even use that exact wording.

One thing to note is that it doesn’t sound like you necessarily know what these other jobs would pay; it’s possible some of them would actually pay less well or be less desirable than your current role in other ways. It could be interesting to talk with some of them and progress a little further with them to try to get a better understanding of how they really stack up against your current position.

5. Repeated weekend reminders from a reference-checking company

I want to see if I’m unreasonably annoyed by this situation.

I got a message on Friday after 5 pm from one of the paid student leaders in a program that I help manage. She was letting me know that she had been offered a full-time graduate role that starts next year and they wanted references from managers by the end of that day. She told me she had put me down as a reference and apologized for not being able to ask first.

I was okay with this and was very happy to provide a reference for her. I had seen the message as I often work a later schedule.

I come in on Monday morning and discover four emails from the reference-checking company that has been contracted by the employer. The first email was sent on Friday at 6:41 pm, the second on Saturday at 7:02 pm, a third on Sunday 7:02 am and the fourth on Sunday at 7:01 pm. I’m not in a U.S. timezone, but even in the U.S. all but the initial email would have been on a weekend. I’ve included the text of the reminder emails in a screenshot.

I felt very pressured by this and that if I didn’t get it done quickly I would be hurting the student’s chances of getting this role. It seems to only be giving you three days to respond and those days don’t seem to be business days.

I would expect a system that collects references to account for business days, no matter when the candidate submits their reference request. I completed the reference request (which was 26 questions long and a totally different irritation) but have a lingering irritation about the way this communication occurred. It seems very disrespectful of my time and also unprofessional. Am I wrong to be this irritated?


Those reminders were almost certainly automated messages programmed to go out about 24 hours apart, without anyone thinking to leave space for weekends. That doesn’t make it any less annoying, though, or any less demanding. They’re just asking for people to hit that “decline” link.

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