3 updates from readers

Here are three more updates from people who had their questions answered here this year.

1. My boss is infesting our office with fruit flies

Shortly after the fruit fly incident, our offices were moved from the auxillary building into the main corporate building, which provided a new environment. Part of this move involved the boss losing his private office, and being partially demoted (his job duties were restructured and although he retains the title of “manager” for now, he no longer has any actual manager duties). That move for him was due to many factors which had been brewing for a while.

I on the other hand, have been promoted, and with the company structure my new position has me under the wide HR umbrella (all of our training is under the HR division) as the LMS (Learning Management System) Administrator/Training Coordinator. I no longer work for the fruit fly breeding boss, but I do still have to interact with him. He is rarely actually at his desk, which cuts down on the amount of time he has to make food messes.

Also as part of the move, I was able to have a sincere chat with the VP (his VP and my former VP) about a lot of things, and some other issues involving that boss have begun being resolved.

I love my new position though, and I am still an avid reader of Ask A Manager, although I haven’t had anything strange happen lately to contribute to it!

2. My coworker was arrested for a horrifying crime and is returning to work

You and your readers were insightful and helpful and I wish I could provide a better update, but the man involved never did come back to work, he was completely deleted from the company email address book, all traces of him were removed from all work projects and documents and he was never spoken of again by anyone, ever. It’s like he was vanished.

I hear he still lives in the very small town the company operates out of and he keeps in touch with one of my coworkers (who doesn’t talk about him or answer questions about him), but at work no one speaks his name.

Probably for the best.

3. Giving gifts to my team when one person can’t accept gifts (#2 at the link)

Just a follow-up that I took my team out to lunch. Everyone was excited to go out to eat again (and actually, they seemed pleasantly surprised that we were doing so), and it was a very pleasant experience. Conversation was not as stilted or awkward as I feared, and everyone helped carry the conversation when there was a lull.

Otherwise, my big take-away’s from this are:

a) to be cautious when looking to other departments for examples. As a new manager, I find myself often looking to see what everyone else is doing, in an attempt to match campus culture. However, just because other departments are doing something one way, doesn’t mean it is a good idea or a good fit for my team.

b) to be less possessive about my manager bonus. When I finally started getting my manager stipend ($70/ month) in September, I excitedly started docking it away in my savings, thinking of it as my reward for the extra work I was putting in. I have since realized that I need to be prepared to spend a lot of that on things to support my team (whether it be supplies or thank-you lunches). It is hard to phrase that without sounding like I am whining, but I am not. I have realized that is just the expectation of this position.

c) to be gracious with gifting. I realized that if I was going to be a sourpuss about spending money to take the team out for lunch, that would come across to the team no matter how hard I tried to hide it. I made the conscious decision that I was doing this to sincerely thank them for their hard work, not because I “had to.” When the end of lunch came around, I sincerely encouraged everyone to get dessert, and everyone seemed delighted & surprised to do so. One teammate pulled on my sleeve and asked if I or the college was paying for lunch (because she didn’t want to order dessert if I was paying). The kindness of that gesture blew away my last reserves of selfishness, and I quickly explained that I got a small raise for being department head, and that is what I was using to pay for lunch. I told her to think of it as the college paying for it, just via their raise to me.

In the end, I did end up spending several month’s worth of my manager’s bonus on lunch, but it was very much worth it.

I want to thank you and all of the commentators for their helpful advice. This experience of asking for advice has taught me to have a great deal more empathy when people do something that seems completely villainous (because they probably just weren’t thinking!). I really, really appreciate the patient, constructive help that people offered in the comments section.

Just a note from me here: It’s very much not normal to be expected to spend your own money on gifts, lunches, and supplies for your team (especially when your pay only increased by $70/month for taking on management responsibilities). If that’s the culture of your organization, just know that it’s very, very weird — not something you should normally expect to find, and it’s absolutely reasonable to be annoyed/disgusted by it, as well as to choose not to play along.

{ 70 comments… read them below }

  1. Crow

    “One, two, four!” “Three, sir!” “Three!”

    In other words, you’ve got questions 1, 2, and 4.

    And the no more fruit flies update is awesome.

  2. Lillie Lane

    #1: A mental image of “Pig-pen” from Peanuts always comes up with that fruit fly manager. OP, do you know if the former offices are still infested?

  3. Frances

    Is the OP in the last question sure their college won’t pay for an occasional team building thank you lunch? I used to work for a college with incredibly strict reimbursement policies, and they absolutely would have reimbursed for this as long as the director of the school or division signed off on it.

    If the management bonus is supposed to be covering supplies/activities for the team that shouldn’t be compensation given directly to the manager (and thus being counted against the OP on taxes!), it should be a completely separate budget. OP, you should really speak with your boss about this and make sure there hasn’t been a misunderstanding, because something is not right here.

    1. OP#3

      This campus unit never has reimbursed for those meals before (I checked with the previous department head). Our campus is very weird about what they will and won’t pay for, and this campus unit even more so.

      1. LawBee

        That is such a shame, because it really should be covered by the campus. Also, I’m curious – is the $70 that you’ve called a bonus truly a bonus on top of a raise, or is that the sum total of your increased compensation for the increased responsibility?

        If it’s your entire raise, then it’s truly unfair that you’re spending it on a lunch appreciation instead of being able to enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

        1. OP#3

          I received a annual salary bump that works out to ~$70 a month (after taxes, etc), so that the sum total of my increased compensation. Sorry I made it sound so confusing! :)

  4. AdAgencyChick

    “When I finally started getting my manager stipend ($70/ month) in September, I excitedly started docking it away in my savings, thinking of it as my reward for the extra work I was putting in. I have since realized that I need to be prepared to spend a lot of that on things to support my team…”

    OP #3/4: How did you realize this? Did your manager come out and say it? If yes, what *is* your reward for taking on extra work? $70/month isn’t very much to give someone for taking on additional responsibilities, and if the expectation is that you actually aren’t going to be compensated for those responsibilities (i.e., that your “raise” is actually an allowance for perks for your direct reports), I’d be questioning my own willingness to do more work for free.

    If, though, it’s simply that you’re feeling pressure (from either direction — up or down) to provide perks for your employees and aren’t being told where the funds for that are supposed to come from, I’d make an issue out of it. If the pressure is coming from your direct reports, you can say, “I would love to give you that if I had the budget.” If it’s coming from above, I say put it out in the open with a direct question — “That sounds awesome. Is there a pool of funds I can draw from for that?” Either the answer will be yes, or your superiors will have to make the uncomfortable admission that they expect you to fund employee perks with your own money (and they may even back off).

    1. OP#3

      I never spoke to my manager about this issue, but I (after writing in before) found out that when another department got a new head, our manager took her aside and strongly encouraged her to take her team out for a December lunch. Meanwhile, my predecessor advised me to take my team (his old) out for lunch, and even offered to pay for it if that was needed… he gave the impression that I did not want to cause trouble by skipping this.

      Adding to that, when I was negotiating to get a department head bonus (originally, the campus did not want to pay me any extra) last semester, my manager commented that it was upsetting to her how focused I was on money (and it got a little uglier than that at times before it was over).

      So, while I was never ordered to do a december lunch from my manager, I could tell from peers that it was expected and would be noted if missed. And, I knew from experience that my manager would get angry if I was selfish with my money. All that added up to “don’t rock the boat your first year.” Maybe next year (if I’m still here), but this first year I decided to keep my head low.

      1. Crow T. Robot

        Ugh, I hate this, “my manager commented that it was upsetting to her how focused I was on money.” Yeah, it turns out that people like to receive money in return for their work.

        1. Ann Furthermore

          I know, this annoys me too. At my company your review and salary adjustment are done separately, ostensibly so that your review focuses on your work during the past year and isn’t all about money. It’s an idiotic rule, because your rating drives how much your raise is. So yes, your review does have something to do with how much of a raise you’re going to get, and it’s silly to pretend that it doesn’t.

      2. Chriama

        It’s good to know the culture where you work, but overall this seems *really* inappropriate. Department heads are expected to incur extra personal costs but paid the same as their supervisees? Even if there was absolutely no extra work involved in being a department head, that fact would be a major red flag to me. It sounds like you like your job in other aspects, so I’m glad for you overall, but this is really disappointing to hear (I’m disappointed in the company, not you!).

        1. Kerry (Like The County in Ireland)

          And you mentioned you were a librarian, right? There’s a particular strain in the profession (and I have a MLIS and work as one, so I know) that vibes, oh no money doesn’t matter and you are so crass to be concerned about it, and really only what we do for our user base is important. And for them we should lay on the floor and let us walk on us.

          All I can say is try to fight it and stand up for yourself, and realize that if you spent $200+ this time you have bought yourself some capital as a boss with your team. And maybe next year shift it to breakfast…

          1. OP#3

            Yehp, I am a librarian, good recall!

            When I read your first paragraph, I was sipping a Coke. Big mistake. I laughed so hard Coke came out of my nose, and now I have to clean it up. But seriously, you nailed the tone. :)

            Thanks for the positive way of thinking of it (buying capital), and who doesn’t love breakfast?! Good idea.

          2. ginger ale for all

            I work in a university library and this is the first year with a new department manager. I have not gotten a token gift from this one and I do not mind it in the least. Others have done it in the past and this one hasn’t. No skin off of my nose.

            What I do appreciate from the new manager is her thoughtfulness in making the office a warm and inviting place to come to work day after day. Lunch would be nice but not if it came out her her own pocket.

      3. Academic Counselor

        OP#3, I am upset on your behalf. I have spent my career working in public higher education and while yes, financial resources are both scarce and difficult to access, I have never heard of a supervisor/manager being expected to take on business expenses like this. For that matter, I’ve also never heard of one being asked to take on management responsibilities without additional compensation. And expecting to keep the money you earn is not “selfish”! The standards and expectations at your university are wildly out of sync with the rest of the world, even within academia.

        In my experience, either the office has the funding to pay for a nice end-of-semester lunch, or you explain to your employees that it isn’t in the budget this year and you do something festive and inexpensive, like a potluck in the office conference room.

      4. Sadsack

        It must be great for your manager’s budget to have you do extra work for free. Putting you down for suggesting that you should be fairly compensated is quite a maneuver.

      5. Mike C.

        F*ck your manager. It’s your paycheck, why is it selfish to keep it?

        I understand you have to do what you have to do, but it’s your compensation. That’s incredibly out of line!

      6. AcademicAnon

        Yet another way academia sometimes doesn’t live in the real world, as it’s not uncommon that asking for money can be considered crass. Or having money to pay for perks and not using it, because there isn’t a “need” for those perks (and h*ll yes I do need caffeine, that’s not a perk!). Example: my department has a keurig where people pay for the k-cups, literally next department over has a keurig and hot tea and hot chocolate you don’t need to pay for. And the uni I work for has the money to pay for a keurig or something similar in every department, but they it will pay for something that people “need” we just finally got water fountains in most of the buildings that has an extra tap you can refill bottles from.

  5. Mena

    #3: why are you spending your bonus on business-related expenses? Business expenses are reimbursed by the employer. Your bonus is part of your compensation plan. I think you need to clarify my assumptions with your manager but these are widely held expectations in today’s business world.

    1. TotesMaGoats

      Not in higher education they aren’t. Most of us, unless at the VP level, don’t have any sort of budget line for these sorts of activities. Especially at state institutions.

      1. Beebs

        Yep. I can pay for “working lunches” sometimes, but that’s very specific and would not include anything celebratory with my office staff. If I want to take everyone out once a year, it’s on me. Funny, I thought that was normal . . . the things I learn here! (I should point out that I make a whole lot more than $70/month more than my staff, so it’s really a very different situation. I can afford the lunch.)

      2. Academic Counselor

        I also work in higher ed and, while I agree that most offices don’t have funding for parties and lunches in their budget, they also don’t pressure their managers to pay for it out of pocket. I posted this above, but almost every office I’ve worked for just hosts potluck-style gatherings around the end of semester. Managers will often take a new employee out to lunch on their first day and that does come out of pocket, but it’s perfectly acceptable to take them somewhere inexpensive for a $10-15 meal. AND that is acceptable because it is a very small percentage of the yearly salary increase that they’ve received for taking on management responsibilities.

        1. fposte

          Yup, I take my staff out sometimes, but I’ve never even had it hinted to me that it’s an obligation (and I’m talking at student lunch places, so it’s not like corporate entertaining). It’s totally my choice. The notion that the OP is being guilted into spending part of her compensation on entertaining is really abhorrent.

          1. Beebs

            Yes, completely agree. The only pressure I feel to pay for stuff for my staff is what I bring on myself. Some posters above seemed to be surprised that it’s ever the case that a manager would pay for lunch for staff and not get reimbursed, and I just wanted to make the point that at least where I am, it’s part of the culture. But not in a pressure way . . . that sounds contradictory but I swear in practice it’s not.

      3. Anna

        It depends on your department. The uni policy were I work has a no holiday lunch policy, so as the new admin putting in a request for a $1,500 “business lunch” I was kind of worried. But then all the decision makers from the level above us came to the event, so clearly it was okay.

        1. Anna

          Still kind of feel weird about it though. There’s a lot of things that were very different at the last small liberal arts college I worked at compared to the very large southern university I’m now at. Has anyone else navigated this?

          1. Anna

            I should mention that the money isn’t student or endowment funds, now that I’ve read below. The dean convinced the department to do some work for a corporation and a small percentage of the money they pay us is put in a separate account. That money is used for events like the lunch. It’s how he got the buy-in for the department to do this extra work without getting paid extra. So the students are actually getting a good deal, because now part of a bunch of people’s salaries are being paid by the corporation instead of student tuition.

  6. kozinskey

    OP#3: I think it’s normal for a manager to buy the occasional treat or soda for people you manage, but multiple dinners with dessert seems excessive to me, and buying supplies definitely seems like something that your organization should do itself. $70/mo is really not very much at all. While I’m sure your team is grateful, I’m inclined to say you can take it a step back in the future.

  7. Chriama

    I remember the comments generated by OP #3. I’m glad you skipped the homemade gift idea, but I think you have every right to be possessive of the manager stipend. How does that even work. Do you get paid the same as everyone else plus $70/month for being a manager? That seems really odd, unless management duties are limited to something really specific like approving timesheets. If you’re doing any sort of people management (performance reviews, etc) then you should get paid like a manager is your full-time job, not an ancilliary task (it’s not like you’re a teacher and getting extra pay for coaching a sports team).

    Anyway — my point is, the manager stipend is your pay for being a manager — whether or not its adequete compensation is beside the point. If it was meant to be spent on your team you’d have a budget for it. Are all other managers also using their pay in this way? That might be something worth looking to other departments for advice on.

    1. OP#3

      Hi, Thanks for the support! No, I am a full manager (performance reviews, etc), and, yes, I just got an annual salary bump that works out to ~$70 a month after taxes, etc. All the other manager are in the same boat regarding paying for thank-you meals, etc out of pocket. Just the expectation of this position (though don’t get me wrong, it is weighing in on my thoughts of how long I want to stay her).

      1. AdAgencyChick

        Ugh. Reading this and your response to my post above…ouch, it sounds like there IS an expectation that you do extra work for free. The fact that your boss is upset that you have an interest in getting paid more for taking on more responsibilities is not good, and somehow I think that even if you had not gotten the small raise, you would have been expected to take on the additional expenses.

        I bet if this person ever hires freelance writers, she wants to pay them in “exposure.”

        Anyway, I’m with you in thinking that this would make me reconsider wanting to stay, or at least wanting to stay in the department head position. But in any case, the tone of your original update makes me think you’re feeling beat down and like you’re being “selfish” for wanting to keep the $ you’re *earning* by doing more work. I say keep it in your mind that, even if you have to do this stupid thing in order to keep your job, you should always have it in mind that it’s an unreasonable request and that it shouldn’t *cost you money* to take on additional work. Otherwise you might have workplace PTSD and think that that’s how it’s supposed to be by the time you’re at your next job!

      2. Sharon

        Even if you weren’t pressured to spend that $70 on your employees, that’s a pretty chintzy bump for a manager. This place sounds like a real winner (not).

      3. Jamie

        So you got management responsibilities with no additional money?

        Your company sucks and I hate them.

        PSA to management – Do you want to lose good employees? Because this is how you lose good employees (and end up with a team of people without options.)

      4. Katie the Fed

        That’s….not really a stipend. That’s your pay. It’s expected you make more money when you’re a manager. You’re not expected to share that.

        I mean, I drop maybe $100 a year on pizzas or whatever for my team, but I also make a fair bit more money. And that’s my money, not a stipend.

        1. KarenT

          And your choice, not an expectation coming from your employer.

          I treat my team to the occasional meal at my expense, but I would be pretty damn mad if my company expected me to do so. As far as I’m concerned, as soon as my employer expects it of me, it’s a business expense.

  8. Fee

    OP#3 – I commented on the original post and I remember being a little puzzled by why the lunch was a big deal. Now I realise I didn’t get from the post at all that this was something that would be coming out of your own pocket (maybe it was clarified in the comments). As others have said, that seems an excessive expectation. I have been in a situation where a manager treated a team to lunch or drinks, at what I’m almost positive was her own expense, but I’d say she made at least $70 an hour!

    1. OP#3

      My big hesitation with lunch was the awkwardness, and that didn’t happen (yay!). While I was always a little frustrated at having to spend my own money on lunch, it was mostly that I resented spending my money on something that I feared would be unpleasant for me and everyone else. It was nice to at least spend my money on something that we all enjoyed. :)

  9. TotesMaGoats

    I’m going to chime in on #3 as well, I would say that in higher ed it’s actually the norm to have to pay for team lunches out of your own pocket. This is especially true if you work for a state institution and are supported by taxes. The reimbursement rules we have to follow are a nightmare. Having my college pay for my team to go to lunch would not happen. Any of the nice things I try to do like bringing in bagels or donuts, I do out of my own pocket. Non-profit but private institutions might have a little more leeway but only at certain levels.

    1. OP#3

      I think that at some state-funded colleges you can find those particular Deans & Provosts who have mastered the art of the reimbursement expense form, and so everyone under them gets to benefit. :) Glad to hear that is the norm at other state schools as well.

    2. Katie the Fed

      Yeah…no.

      I work for government. Not one taxpayer dime goes to anything like a team lunch or gifts or anything like that. That would be ridiculous and we’d have the inspector general and congress all up on us before the check came.

      But we’re also not expected to take the team out for lunch of buy gifts. It’s not part of the office culture anywhere I know in government. Some of us will buy pizzas or something from time to time, but it’s not expected at all.

      1. Miss L. Toe

        This is probably not going to go over well, but here goes. Chiming in on your first paragraph…as someone who is knee-deep in financial aid/scholarship research preparing to send a child to a state university in 8 months to the tune of $20,000/year (tuition, meals, room & board), I would not want to hear that part of this money is going towards team building lunches. It’s going to put a huge strain on our finances, so I don’t feel too terrible that staff aren’t getting free lunches on me. However, I also don’t think the OP (or anyone else for that matter) should be footing the bill either. So no solutions to offer other than everyone pay for themselves. I hope I’m not upsetting anyone, or coming off as a scrooge, maybe I am just too close to it, and feeling rather stressed out about the whole daunting process!

        1. OP#3

          I think you have a very valid point about much university funding coming from tuition and tax-payers, and of course private donors who have their own expectations.

          No matter where the money comes from, any state university employee has the ethical responsibility to be a good stewards of that money. I kinda feel the same way you do when I see a university spend a lot of money for inflatable obstacle courses for “spring festivals” or the like…. not exactly educationally necessary.

        2. Katie the Fed

          No, I don’t think you’re being a srooge at all. It’s incumbent upon public servants to be good stewards of the money they’re entrusted with (time spent on AAM notwithstanding, cough cough…).

          It’s so normal here that people pay for their own lunches I can’t even imagine doing it a different way!

  10. Jamie

    I excitedly started docking it away in my savings, thinking of it as my reward for the extra work I was putting in. I have since realized that I need to be prepared to spend a lot of that on things to support my team (whether it be supplies or thank-you lunches). It is hard to phrase that without sounding like I am whining, but I am not. I have realized that is just the expectation of this position.

    If this is a stated expectation and they require you to spend that $70 on your team for supplies and rewards then why is it going through your payroll where you are paying taxes on it? They would have more money for this expensing it through the business.

    Alison is right and if this is the expectation this is very weird. And not professional. If my boss increased my salary and expected me to pick up business expenses with the extra cash I’d tell them to stop filtering it through my tax return thank you very much.

    Seriously – there is something really off about this.

    1. Lillie Lane

      “If this is a stated expectation and they require you to spend that $70 on your team for supplies and rewards then why is it going through your payroll where you are paying taxes on it? They would have more money for this expensing it through the business. ”

      Great point. And it’s not a bonus if you are strong-armed into funneling the money back into the university.

      1. Incognito

        Yeah – if it’s an actual requirement where she’s in trouble if she doesn’t filter that amount back into the company they are committing fraud by funneling it like this.

        If it’s social pressure to do it and it’s an unspoken thing which will hurt her – not illegal but I’d run fast and far – because imo if you have career damage for not turning your own money over to your employer it’s extortion – but impossible to prove and no one will put in writing the reason someone is held back of fired.

        Unless they are morons like the managers in the other letter who put their fraud in writing which makes them a labor lawyers dream…but that kind of stupidity is thankfully rare.

  11. LisaV2

    I am a librarian manager at a state university. Just came back from a staff lunch that I paid for. My thinking is that this doesn’t have to happen very often. I usually pay for granola bars, coffee on occasion, fill the candy jar and a box of pastry treats now and then. It doesn’t seem to be the expectation here (2 years for me now) but I do know that the increase in quality of work-life and worker satisfaction payback is well worth my own out of pocket expense. $64 plus $7 tip. My expenses are closely scrutinized and there is no way I would ever be able to get reimbursed.

    I appreciate the poster’s comments about coming to terms personally with positive feeling of generosity with the situation. And yes if the differential between her pay and the reports is only $70 it is time to make a case for pay increase (not to cover lunch) but as a fair wage for managerial duties.

    1. OP#3

      You are right about it not happening very often. The fact that I just started getting the raise four month prior (a a flurry of obligatory retirement & student-worker graduation gifts) was bad timing. Once a year isn’t too bad, and happy teammates = a better workplace.

      1. Chriama

        I’m really impressed by your attitude, but the one thing I’d like you to remember is that this isn’t normal. If you ever decide to move on from here, don’t take that baggage with you. Stewarding funds is important, but the solution isn’t to push the burden onto employees (with after-tax money, as Jamie pointed out!) unless it’s truly voluntary (e.g. everyone pays for themselves). Working for non-profits can be hard, but you’re not selfish for not being on board with this.

  12. NurseB

    #3 – this definitely isn’t normal. I used to be a secretary in a department at the University in my town. It is a state university but the department had multiple budget lines, one of which could be used for food. It didn’t matter if it was for doctoral presentations or staff birthdays as long as the chairperson signed off on it. The chairperson took the 5 secretaries in our department to a nice lunch around Christmas and for administrative professionals day. Of course he handed me the receipt when we got back to the office to be reimbursed. It was all above board and ok, and really it was expected. He spent his budget the way he felt proper.

    It’s ridiculous that you don’t have a budget for this and are expected to pay out of what small increase you received to become a manager. I hope you’re able to negotiate a raise and work something else out to show your staff your appreciation for their hard work. Good luck and thanks for the update!

  13. Layla

    To OP #3 – I’m glad you didn’t go with the gifts. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, (you didn’t say her faith, but judging by some comments you stated, I believe she is), I think the appreciation lunch was the right call. However, you are a generous person and that is appreciated by all, I’m sure. I know she appreciates you wanting to give her a gift to show your thanks.

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