Q: When working in a government office, is it proper to call your superior by his or her first name as long as they are not in an appointed position?
A: Some people think informality makes things easier and less stressful at work. So they’re surprised when I explain that, in general, informality actually adds to stress at work and can even lead to rude behavior, albeit unintentionally. Your question is a perfect example of this. Your confusion over how to address a superior causes you to feel stress because you’re wondering what to do. The rudeness then comes into play when you presume to address your superior by her first name, only to discover later that this was an unappreciated choice. In any office, not just a government office, it’s always best to start out addressing your superior by a title plus last name. If the person prefers to be addressed by her first name, she can and should let you know: “Tom, please call me Sally.” You should then feel free to respect her wish.