Meet 'Ask Zelda,' the Advice Column for NSA Workers

The Agency? Or The Office?
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This is not an NSA worker, as far as we know. (Shutterstock/baranq)

The NSA is, on top of everything else, a workplace. Which means that NSA workers have to deal with things like: that supervisor who doesn't respond to emails. And that guy down the hall who's a disruptively loud phone-talker. And that unopened box of Ham & Cheese Hot Pockets that's been taking up valuable freezer space for months now because no one wants to admit that it's theirs.

In 2010, to help its staff deal with these everyday workplace annoyances, the NSA launched an advice column—available on the agency's intranet, and accessible only to employees with the proper security clearance. (We know about it now via The Intercept: It was one of the documents leaked by Edward Snowden.) The column was called "Dear Zelda," and it was a mechanism through which NSA workers could (anonymously) seek advice about the tricky business of dealing with fellow NSA workers. 

The first column involved a sartorial conundrum. "Dear Zelda," it begins, 

Now that the warm weather is here, some of the newer Agency employees in my office are dressing in ways that are less than professional. How do I, as their supervisor, get them to stop dressing like they're going to the beach when the NSA doesn't have a formal dress code? 

Signed, 
Prudish Prudence

Zelda's reply is long and thoughtful and, at times, witty. (You can see the whole thing here, under the headline "Is Bain de Soleil a Bane on NSA?") It comes down to this: Communicate expectations. Explain why those expectations exist in the first place. Answer any questions employees may have about those expectations. Thank them for their cooperation. And enforce the expectations systematically.

Or, as Zelda summed it up

As with most things, communication is the key to a happy and productive workplace. With a little proactive discussion on your part, your staff can look professional during the summer months. So the next time one of your employees looks like they work at the National Snorkeling Academy instead of the National Security Agency, try these tups and let me know how it turns out. 

National Snorkeling Agency! Oh, Zelda. 

There are many more like this—good advice about everyday problems that is presented, occasionally, quite delightfully. If you do not happen to work at the NSA, you could still, probably, apply much of Zelda's advice to your own office environment. Well, except, maybe, for the wisdom she imparted to "Silenced in SID." Who wanted tips about dealing with a boss who was caught spying on employees

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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