This seems to be the default structure of workplace questions. From the current front page:

  1. Dealing with co-workers intentionally working slower to milk their work hours?
  2. How to not let co-worker's incompetence affect my productivity?
  3. Should I confront a colleague who uses another co-worker to air grievances with me? [closed]
  4. How to deal with a coworker who is a troll? [closed]
  5. How to get a peer to stop giving me orders?
  6. Is it discrimination when my boss treats me differently after finding out that I'm looking for a new job? [closed]
  7. How to ask software team for basic yet important tasks without lowering morale?

Actually, not as bad as I suspected, though I didn't look under some of the more vaguely worded questions that may be of this form under the covers.

Now, obviously dealing with difficult bosses and co-workers is a legitimate workplace topics. And various advice columnists have built most of their content answering questions like the above in the domain of family and marriage?

Still, it seems that this is not quite what we're looking for.

As noted some of these questions are closed. In other cases, sometimes the question can be re-worded to make them more general.

Still, I wonder if we need to write that the purpose of this board is not to provide a place for you to vent about your bosses and co-workers. That, in describing a situation you should describe others' behavior using as neutral language at possible, even erring on the side of being too generous. (e.g. rather than say your boss is "micromanaging", describe the types of requests your are given). This is more likely to be generally useful.

Or maybe, it's not such a big deal...

  • I think this should be added to this question on meta in a different form.
    – jmac
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 1:09
  • Absolutely! I just posted this start to a guide to specifically address the rant/complaining questions as I think you are absolutely correct!
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 13:54
  • Also, unrelated, but I think some answers to questions about the workplace can definitely be family/marriage domain types of answers (and validly). This question is a great example in my opinion of one such question.
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 13:55
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    Try slapping them
    – Zelda
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 20:34
  • I'm not sure I see the problem as long as we edit the question to be "there is this problem in the workplace, how can I address it?" without ranting; close the ones that are too rant-y, unanswerable, or duplicate. I mean if it weren't a problem people wouldn't want to rant about it...
    – Telastyn
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 11:43
  • 1
    You could also use the title "The Dunning-Kruger Effect" Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 19:54
  • 1
    Well, nothing like a tweet from @codinghorror twitter.com/codinghorror/status/329313475438460928 to up the ol' view count.
    – JohnMcG
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 15:56
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    Just close and delete rants, and allow reopening if sanitised Commented May 6, 2013 at 10:34
  • Since it's a work-PLACE Q&A site, of course a lot of questions are going to be about externalized problems: "I'm okay, whereas something/someone in the workplace is not."
    – Kaz
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 19:57
  • My guess is that if one is motivated to post a question here, usually the hardship involves others. If I recognize a mistake of mine, there is plenty advice on the web on how to apologize, or I can just live with the damage I've done. When someone needs a solution, very likely he/she is going through hardship that involves others. If others were perfect, that would not be a problem, but since they aren't, a question could lead to a solution. Of course the asker flaws have influence on their workplace, but unless they're relevant to the solution, they need not be a part of the question.
    – Mefitico
    Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 2:49
  • Additionally, if questions of such type are so common, maybe there should be a few example questions that can be pointed by comments, such that OP should read similar but to duplicate questions and have some enlightenment. Maybe find a few cases where it's simple to conclude that OP was arrogant and not so competent to begin with, and he's failing to deal with flawed people, and failing to recognize his shortcomings as well.
    – Mefitico
    Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 2:51

3 Answers 3


No Magic Bullets - Editing the FAQ won't solve the problem:

While I agree these posts are problematic, I'm not entirely convinced editing the FAQ -- adding in lists of things to not do on the Workplace SE -- is the solution. I speak from experience as a moderator on Project Management, where we sometimes get a lot of shopping-style questions, the ones where askers are merely looking for software that does X.

These aren't really good questions on any SE site, and the PMSE community decided it was time to revisit the FAQ. In the end, our FAQ looked a little... unwelcoming. What's more, dropping links to our FAQ on the posts themselves just came off as passive aggressive, even though that isn't what any of us intended. Long story short, we rewrote the FAQ to make it sound both a little more welcoming and concise. This involved removing most, if not all, of the list of things not to do on PMSE.

Think Bold!

Bold Editing and Constructive Commenting to the rescue:

In short, we can't solve a site's content problems through the FAQ and About pages. However, we can make a huge difference by editing and leaving constructive, helpful comments -- comments which accompany close votes yet are as nice and encouraging as possible. To salvage these posts, we'll have to be a little more forceful in our edits and take some risks.

If we can guess what someone is really asking, and reword the post to focus on specifics, then one of three things will likely happen:

  • The asker will say we changed the main idea of the question, and he/she will use the existing edits to refine the question even further. If the question is closed, he/she will have some time to correct any editing errors while also ensuring that the post remains constructive. If the community reopens the post, everybody wins.

  • The asker won't edit the question, but we'll still have great content for thousands of visitors per day to find through Google searches. While there's just one asker, there are thousands of people who view the content on our site everyday who didn't author the post.

  • The asker won't edit the question, and we discover through editing that the post is simply not constructive. These posts will of course remain closed, but we would have closed them anyway.

The world is full of Agonized Aunts, Drama Queens, and Narcissistic Personalities, and many of those people are going to post questionable content on our site. But by closing early, then editing with extreme prejudice, I'm confident we can not only salvage more content, but we can also grow our site at a sustainable, healthy pace.


I think updating our opening line about the site would help more than burying another bullet point somewhere in the Don't Ask section

Our FAQ and About pages both begin with

What kind of questions can I ask here?

The Workplace - Stack Exchange is for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting.

That's just begging for these kinds of questions, as all of them are by members of the workforce who are trying to navigate the professional setting.

I'm sure many people read the starting line of the site description, and then realize the rest is a big wall of text and just skip past it.

If we want a site for questions about the topic of the workplace, and not full of questions about your situation at the workplace, then we need to make that clear to the users asking questions.

The wording I proposed here is

What kind of questions can I ask here?

The Workplace Stack Exchange is a Q&A site about the workplace and other career-related topics. It is for members of the workforce to get answers on topics such as the job hunting process, interviewing, salary negotiation, and professionalism within the Workplace.

I'm fine with some variation of that too, but I think we definitely need to change our opening description of the site to being about the topic of the workplace, and not have it only focus on the type of person this site is for. That's just begging for these kinds of questions.

  • Hi Rachel, do you remember the "elevator pitch" from "The 7 Essential Questions of Every Beta"?. Do you think you could summarize the elevator pitch into one sentence, as suggested in the blog article? Keep in mind, most of what you wrote I already bulleted in the FAQ.
    – jmort253
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 3:56
  • 4
    @jmort253 Hrrmmm that's tough, but I would simply go with the first sentence there: "The Workplace Stack Exchange is a Q&A site about the workplace and other career-related topics." It explains what the site is about in a single sentence. Who the site is for could easily be added in the 2nd paragraph, although the site is really for more than just members of the workforce - it could also be for job seekers, retirees, students, etc. I suppose if you really wanted to put an audience in the first sentence, I would tack on "for members of the workforce" at the end of the first sentence.
    – Rachel
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 11:24
  • 5
    this is a great change and should go in! Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 19:17
  • I agree it's a good change in general, but it's unclear to me how it would decrease the number of "undesirable" questions received. All of the questions above could easily qualify under this new FAQ. @JohnMcG states that these question are "not quite what we're looking for" but I've yet to see a definition of what we ARE looking for in questions to this SE, if these are not it. We need a welcoming way to request questions, as Rachel says, "about the topic of the workplace, and not...questions about your situation at the workplace." I'll sleep on that. Commented May 1, 2013 at 5:26

According to the FAQ about which questions people should ask:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

These all seem to qualify, especially from the POV of the questioner. Yes, they're somewhat situational but the FAQ says nothing about that. We cannot fault people for doing what the FAQ tells them to.

That people feel the need to ask these things shows that they never had the chance to learn how to operate within their organization. Perhaps there's poor training. Perhaps their manager is abysmal. Perhaps the questioner simply never knew before that it's something which should be asked. Regardless, this is a problem which needs to be resolved.

Unfortunately, not enough people feel comfortable discussing these matters directly with their managers (for whatever reason) but they do feel comfortable posing the issue to their peers on StackExchange.

If you change the purpose of this board to disallow people from asking these questions about how to function in the workplace then where will they turn for reliable answers?

While the idea of better focusing the description of the board purpose is a great one, that will not stop this sort of question from arising. People are confused and frustrated and need somewhere they can turn for help.

Instead of closing the door to this avenue of assistance, if we as a community would like the questions to be more general in nature then we should commit to commenting on them to help the questioner better craft the question they've posed. We're all managers/leaders/etc. We should always prefer helping people solve their problems to just shutting them down.

TL;DR: The problem isn't with the questioners. It's with us.

  • 2
    "where will they turn for reliable answers?" the whole of the Internet comes to mind? Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 21:40
  • 1
    I am amazed this is not the accepted answer. What is this SE site for if not for questions like these? Commented May 1, 2013 at 0:37
  • What, you really find "the whole Internet" to be reliable, @jeff-atwood? Is that why y'all founded StackExchange, because everyone else out there was already doing such a great job of giving good advice and recommendations? No, this is a place where people have learned to trust the opinions of their peers. Folks give meaning, weight and authority to up-votes. Where your job in concerned, why would you seek answers somewhere you don't know you can trust? Commented May 1, 2013 at 0:37
  • 4
    Hi VM, I think the point Jeff was trying to make is that places for advice and discussion already exist elsewhere on the Internet, and advice and discussion isn't what Stack Exchange is about. Instead, Q&A is why SE is so successful. However, I think your point -- from reading your final paragraph -- is we should try to help people as much as we can. I agree! If we can comment on or edit questions to make them fit the model, then great! But if they don't fit, if there's no question to be answered, then they should be closed pending further edits. Hope this helps.
    – jmort253
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 3:54
  • 1
    Hi, @jmort253. Thanks for the insights. Still, I think the problem lays with us rather than on the questioners. The issue here may stem from the nebulous definition of Q&A from the POV of the questioners. Where is the line between advice and question? It's not apparent in the FAQ that there's a distinction being drawn there. These people are looking for help. From their point of view they have a Question, Practical and Answerable. What they hope to receive in response is an Answer which carries Actionable Advice. Commented May 1, 2013 at 5:09
  • 3
    @VMBrasseur - You've asked an important question. The answer, unfortunately, is that there really isn't a line. It's quite blurry. The best we can do is to boldly edit posts to help make them as constructive as possible. Many times, the tone of the post can make a difference. This is why I emphasize editing as a first step towards helping.
    – jmort253
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 6:38

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