employee keeps asking coworkers for food and money

A reader writes:

I have been managing a small department of four for two years. Everyone who I supervise is at the same level and paygrade. I was promoted after seven years in the position that they are in. We’ve gone through a lot of change as a department. In the last year, we’ve moved locations twice and began using new equipment and new software. We are also developing departmental standards. It has been a struggle to keep my team motivated.

In the middle of all this, there is an issue that keeps coming up. One employee keeps asking her teammates for food and money. Sometimes it is change for the vending machines and sometimes it’s more. She doesn’t pay them back. With food, sometimes she crosses boundaries — for example, asking for food that someone is still eating, taking handfulls from candy jars on desks, asking for some chips and eating the entire bag. She brings her own food too so it doesn’t seem like she is going hungry. I spoke to her about borrowing money during my first few months as her manager. She was asking one of our new temps and they were very uncomfortable. It seemed to get better. Then a few months later, I started getting complaints about the food and heard that the money thing was still an issue. My first response to the complaints was to tell them to say no and be firm and if she continues to ask to involve me. A few months after that, all three of her coworkers approached me separately with complaints, so I spoke with her about our employee assistance programs and recommended that stop asking for food and wait until it is offered. She was deeply offended and later had an emotional outburst where she confronted a coworker about it. They denied that there was a problem and later apologized to me in private. I told them that I can’t enforce this if they continue to enable it.

Fast forward to today. She is still asking. The three are giving her food but making fun of her behind her back. Two of the three are still complaining about her. I do not really know what to do from here. I spoke with my manager about it and he says we have two problems and that I need to handle it (the 3 making fun of her, and the one asking for food and money).

I think it’s time for a group meeting, but I don’t want to the first to be embarrassed. I also don’t want her to know they have been making fun of her either. Do you have any advice?

I’m not a fan of group meetings for this kind of thing. I’d rather see you talk individually with each person.

The first person to talk to is the employee who keeps asking for food and money. It sounds like it’s not really clear whether this is happening because she’s truly in distress and needs real assistance or not, so that’s the first thing to figure out, because the way you handle it should depend on that.

If she’s paid a reasonable wage, you might think food scarcity can’t really be the issue — but without knowing her home situation, it’s difficult to say for sure.

I’d compile a list of local resources to help her if she is dealing with food scarcity, and then meet with her. Tell her that the issues you spoke about previously are continuing, and you’re concerned. Tell her that if she’s in a situation where she’s not able to get enough food, the company is committed to helping to connect her with the resources she needs and offer her the list of local help you’ve put together. Then, tell her that you do need her to stop asking coworkers for food or money because it’s putting them in an unfair position — but that you also want to ensure she’s getting the food she needs. Ask her if she’s confident she can provide herself with enough food if she’s not asking her coworkers for theirs.

At this point, if it’s not sounding like a food scarcity issue, tell her that you need her to commit to stopping the requests of her coworkers. Tell her that if it continues to happen, you’re going to need to have a more serious conversation because it’s important that the rest of your team not feel pressured to give up their food or money.

If it is sounding like a scarcity issue, you should still ask her to stop making these requests of coworkers, but you’d want to do it from a stance of empathy and compassion. For example, you wouldn’t be at the “if it happens again, we’ll be having a serious conversation” stage — and ideally you’d help ensure she gets the assistance she needs.

Then, talk to the other people on your team. Tell them that you’ve addressed the issue with the first employee, but that you need them to stop making fun of her, immediately. I’d say this: “I understand how frustrating this behavior has been, and I’m committed to putting a stop to it. But complaining about Jane and making fun of her is just as distracting and harmful to our ability to work together as what she’s doing, and I need you to stop. If this comes up in the future, I want you to come to me and I’ll address it — but I need you to stop complaining to people who can’t solve the problem. Can you commit to doing that?”

{ 307 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Katie the Fed

    I wonder if she’s on a diet and gets the munchies during the day. When I’m trying to cut down I have a hellish time resisting the goodies, but I also don’t ask people for the food they’re eating – that’s weird.

    I agree though – approach this from the standpoint of “What is going on that this is continuing to be an issue” and be prepared to listen and respond to that answer.

    Reply
    1. IndieGir

      I have the flip side of this — when I’m trying to cut down, I want every single bite of food I’ve brought in with me. There is NO room for sharing! If she tried to take any of my food she’d lose a hand in the process . . .

      That said, if I thought it was a true food scarcity issue I’d be happy to bring extra for her or just give her money. But this situation sounds so weird. The part that makes me think it may not be a case of food scarcity (and the resulting shame) is that she went off on her co-workers. If it were food scarcity, you’d think she’d want to lay low after being reprimanded rather than making a scene.

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    2. Laurel Gray

      I work in a small “what’s mine is ours” environment when it comes to snacks stored in public spaces. Man oh man when I am strict calorie counting and those chocolates or chips are in the pantry, I sometimes want to dial the EAP hotline just to hear someone say “DON’T DO IT!” but then I open my container of plain nonfat Greek yogurt and weep salted caramel tears into it and pretend it’s bread pudding. :/

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      1. Katie the Fed

        Ha! I was worried this letter was about me at first – we work LONG hours but also have a lot of communal snacks out, and occasionally I’ll hit the snack table a few times (especially those delicious salty snacks). But I make sure to bring in lots of goodies to balance it out.

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      2. Q

        A little bit of vanilla extract will make that yogurt taste so much better and it only has 38 calories in an entire tablespoon. You only need a couple of drops.

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          1. Laurel Gray

            honey chile…you just gave me my post workout dinner idea for tonight! I’m going to have the savory yogurt with a piece of grilled chicken breast. I eat the Fage 0% – that stuff has texture, it should be awesome. Thanks!

            And Q, I been doing the vanilla extract thing for a while now and you’re right it definitely helps. It also comes in handy when I accidentally buy unsweetened regular almond milk.

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            1. AnonEMoose

              Did you know that if you put cottage cheese (the low fat works fine) on a baked potato, and then add onion powder, it tastes exactly like sour cream?

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              1. Koko

                My friends on low-fat always tell me that greek yogurt tastes exactly like sour cream, but they’ve been dieting too long to remember what sour cream really tastes like. Nothing tastes like fat except for fat!

                I eat LCHF myself. I’m more satisfied by one tablespoon of real fat than I am by 10 tablespoons of low-fat food. The calories work out the same, I eat less because I’m satiated.

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                1. Renee

                  I don’t eat LC but I do eat a reasonable amount of fat. Full fat yogurt is nonnegotiable, and full fat plain yogurt is sweet and creamy. I figure it’s balanced out by the things I might add to nonfat plain yogurt to make it palatable. I agree that I am able to eat much less when I allow fat, and it all magically fits within my calorie guidelines anyway (I track).

          2. Kelly White

            I add a little agave syrup- It’s so tasty and I probably use about a teaspoon, maybe a tablespoon, and its only 60 calories per tablespoon. (I keep a small bottle of agave in my bag, and I just re-fill it from the bigger bottle at home).

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        1. Chameleon

          I also like adding a bunch of cinnamon, or a few doors of lemon juice and powdered ginger. Almost no extra calories but the flavor makes eating plain yogurt so much easier.

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    3. Bwmn

      This was the first thing that came to my mind. Trying to reduce calories/go on a diet – and then crazy munchies hit at awkward times so you’re hitting up the snack machine/getting extras. Though food insecurity is a genuine concern, I can also see this as the result of bizarre thinking about dieting (i.e. I only eat yogurt for breakfast and lunch because that’s all the food I bring/buy).

      That being said, I do think that this appears to be an issue where a lot more listening will be required. Sharing food and giving the occasional quarter/dollar to a coworker is pretty standard. At one job, I borrowed fifty cents from a (same level) coworker, and when I tried to pay it back he looked at me like I was weird and declined the money. So I see how in some ways having to set that boundary on some level may feel petty or bothersome – particularly for someone who doesn’t like confrontation. But it clearly needs to be addressed.

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    4. Brookfielder

      I was immediately reminded of a former coworker who had bulimia – she would regularly raid people’s lunches, take all the candy in public dishes, badger others to share whatever they were eating… then eat it all and sneak off to a different floor in the building to purge. Our managers were compassionate about her struggle and helped her get into treatment several times, but she was ultimately fired when she was caught stealing snacks from the lobby convenience store.

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      1. Chicken

        Yeah, I wonder if there’s an eating disorder or some type of disordered eating going on there. I’m sorry to say that I had some similar behaviors going on for a while when I was very sick. Deprivation / starvation can really affect your brain – I did a lot of stuff that I would never consider now that I’m better – stealing food from a store, eating roommate’s food, going to work without food or money/credit cards so I couldn’t buy any, then trying to scrounge food from around the office :/

        I definitely wouldn’t say or imply anything to her about a possible eating disorder, but it does seem like a possibility.

        Reply
      2. Megan A.

        I was thinking the same thing. I had a roommate in college whose behavior was similar. I think more questioning and listening is required on the part of the OP rather than throwing a list of resources at her.

        Reply
  2. The IT Manager

    Don’t have a group meeting with everyone. Perhaps a group meeting with the three making fun of her, but even then one-on-one might be better.

    Assuming it’s not a food scarcity issue, how much power your manager has given you to fix this? Can you fire her if she continues to ignore your instructions? It does sound like you had the first difficult conversation with her and she stopped for a bit or just hid it better. You’re getting to the “or else” part and in this case it seems like the “or else” is “you’re fired.”

    I’ll also add it could be some kind of mental health issue with food, but if it is it is up to the employee to bring it up to you. And I do not think a reasonable accommodation would be to allow her to continue to pressure her co-workers for food and money for food.

    Reply
    1. NickelandDime

      Agreed. I think the one-on-one with the three subordinates is better, because the OP can look them directly in the eye and let them know that they may be endangering their jobs if they don’t stop being childish and unprofessional and let her handle this.

      Remember the letter a few months about the guy that was having problems getting to work because gas money was short? And everything worked out well in the end and we all felt good about it? Well…I’m not sure this will turn out the same way. Mainly because the OP spoke to the person about the begging for food and money and she didn’t stop. Even if she is having food scarcity problems, she had to know by that conversation that if she continued, she could endanger her job. I didn’t get the sense anyone had spoken to the guy in the previous letter other than the OP. And when they did finally talk to him, he explained the problem. In this letter, she wasn’t forthcoming. This is just odd. I hope there’s an update.

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      1. KT

        So that was my coworker…I think the big difference was that he was my peer, I wasn’t his boss. When my boss had asked him about prior issues, he panicked and said everything was fine–he didn’t want his boss to know “he didn’t have it all together”. That power differential can make a huge impact and that may be at play here.

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        1. NickelandDime

          Gotcha! And you’re right – there are some things I might be more comfortable telling a colleague than my manager. Well, now the OP is going to talk to this woman again, and this sounds like it will be the more serious conversation. I hope this gets sorted out if she’s having problems, because losing her job will add to them.

          And I hope things are still okay for your colleague. I felt bad for him.

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            1. PontoonPirate

              I wish I’d known this was you! I believe I live in the same geo area as you and I would have definitely dug in and done more localized research about resources for him.

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            2. Charlotte Collins

              That’s great to hear! And I think the reason everyone was so worried about him was that he seemed to be trying to solve a difficult situation all on his own. If he had been going around borrowing (and not repaying) money for gas, or even siphoning gas from his co-workers cars, I doubt if people would be as compassionate about his situation.

              I do think the manager should be as empathetic as possible in the meeting with the worker, but I can’t help but feel that this issue in this case will not turn out to be food scarcity.

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      2. TootsNYC

        hey may be endangering their jobs if they don’t stop being childish and unprofessional and let her handle this.

        Then she needs to handle this.

        Effectively.

        It shouldn’t be on them to make her stop. The OP needs to deal with this really effectively.

        I think it could be a food scarcity thing; it could be an anxiety-driven need for control. But the OP needs to make sure something changes.

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        1. Chalupa Batman

          Agreed, with a caveat: it seems to me like the OP is putting a good faith effort here, but the employees are refusing to let her help. It’s still the OP’s job to deal with it effectively, but I can’t help but be sympathetic to the fact that it’s really difficult to make her stop when the other employees refuse to tell the coworker no as she’s asked them to. She said “I’ll talk to her,” and she did. She said “tell her no from now on” and they didn’t. Can they really be surprised that the woman continues to ask? They’re telling her with actions and words that it’s ok (the coworker confronted them and they said it wasn’t a problem, after complaining to the OP!), so why should she care what OP has to say? Right now to her, it looks like OP has a problem with it, not the people she’s asking, and may even be thinking OP needs to MYOB. It’s still the OP’s job to deal with it, but I think OP handled it well up until now, and has to escalate because everyone else involved is not holding up their end of the deal, not because she’s been refusing to manage the situation.

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          1. neverjaunty

            Pushing a problem back on your employees and blaming them when a direct report is wildly inappropriate is not really a good faith effort. When the behavior continued after OP told her to stop, then OP was on notice to do something about it.

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            1. fposte

              Agreed. I disagree with the OP’s “I can’t enforce this if they continue to enable it.” Sure you can, by intervening with the person doing the asking.

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            2. Brandy in TN

              And no boss should ever point out the complainer to the employee. If she didn’t know who complained she couldn’t have had her tantrum. That’s just unprofessional.

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          2. Ad Astra

            This is ultimately the OP’s responsibility, but the other employees will be a lot happier if they learn to tell this coworker no. Every time they agree to give her food or money, they’re teaching this coworker that her actions will lead to her desired results, and that’s why it continues. Yes, the OP needs to be firmer with Snackina and institute some real consequences, but the employees need to be assertive.* Telling people no and setting boundaries are two very important life skills, and situations that require them will continue to pop up even if Snackina goes away.

            *If the coworkers are truly afraid of Snackina, and not just squeamish about delivering less-than-perfect news to someone, then I don’t blame them for their reluctance. I don’t think that’s the case here, but maybe I’m wrong.

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            1. Collarbone High

              I worked with a woman who did this exact thing (I would think this letter was about her, but she has to be pushing 80 by now). She took genuine umbrage when people prevented her from helping herself to their food, and punished people by refusing to speak to them or give them information. It was a small office and it was so ridiculous to have to explain to bosses that “I haven’t finished the monthly sales reports because Rita refuses to give me her portion of the data because she’s furious that I brought a turkey sandwich for lunch when she doesn’t like turkey” that people just gave in.

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        2. AnotherOneGoes

          It shouldn’t be on the other employees to make her stop asking (although they should stop responding in the affirmative); however, it is absolutely on the other employees to act like adults and stop making fun of a colleague behind her back.

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      3. The IT Manager

        I was also thinking that in the group of three dealing with the issue by laughing at her behind her back will feel more validated in a group or may feel pressured to stick together as team especially if one of them is very outspoken about defending the teasing. One-on-one, hopefully, most adults will realize what they’re doing wrong, feel some guilt, and decide to stop.

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        1. Charlotte Collins

          Also, instead of getting defensive, they’re more likely to tell the manager what’s going on. Making fun of the CW isn’t the solution, but if they’re feeling really pressured by her or if she’s showing other behaviors that bother them, this is the time for them to tell their manager.

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  3. Snarkus Aurelius

    Please stop asking people to say no to her.  It’s obviously not working, and it sounds like those other coworkers already tried that.  After the emotional outburst and confrontation with the employee who complained, well, you can bet your sweet bippy that everyone else will not want to tell her no from now on too.  That’s not the employees’ fault; that’s the unenviable situation they’re in, and they don’t have any wiggleroom.

    Not only that, but think of it from the temp’s point of view: she’s in a new office full of strangers, she may need the temp job to go permanent, she doesn’t make a lot of money, and one of the unknown coworkers is asking her for something.  Of course she’s going to feel uncomfortable but also pressured to say yes because of the power differential.  (I can’t tell if you’re telling temps to also tell her no or not, but I thought I’d say something.)  

    Temps and other low paid staff need even more protection because of that vulnerability.

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    1. Mena

      I kindly disagree. It is because the co-works have enabled the problem that it continues; it isn’t because she was told “No” that the outburst occured – she’s just expecting her demands to be met and mad when they are not. Manager needs to coach the employee’s co-workers:
      “Sorry! I don’t have any change just now.” Repeat-repeat
      “Sorry but I need to save some for later or my blood sugar will be too low.” Repeat-repeat.

      The colleagues need to handle the situation more directly in the moment (not agree and then run to you to complain or agree and then make fun of her behind her back), displaying maturity and professionalism, along with sensitivity.

      And I would try one more direct conversation with the offender: “You’re requests are putting your co-workers on the spot, which isn’t fair. Do you need food assistance? I can help you research options but you need to stop asking colleagues for their food, or for money.”

      No group discussion though – I can’t think of how that might be beneficial.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        The outburst occurred because Snackina found out somebody told the manager. And no, the problem is not “enabling” by the co-workers.

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        1. fposte

          Yup.

          I mean sure, if nobody ever gave her food the problem of her getting food would be solved. But that doesn’t mean that would solve the problem of her *asking* for food and money, and it doesn’t mean that it’s the co-workers’ responsibility to manage their co-worker’s behavior.

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    2. IndieGir

      I agree and I disagree at the same time. The issue for me is that the OP has already told her to stop asking for food/money, and she hasn’t done so. So the OP tried to back up her team, but when confronted by her the co-workers disavowed having a problem with her behavior. This puts the OP in an impossible situation. What is OP going to do — just tell her to knock it off again? If she does, chances are good she’ll just say “Well, I spoke to everyone and they say it’s not a problem.”

      What has to happen is that the co-workers and the OP need to back each other up. Right now, the OP is backing up her staff, but the staff is caving under pressure and not backing up the OP.

      Reply
      1. OhNo

        That’s the big problem here – the fact that the OP really has to buckle down on this behavior and focus on the reason that it just needs to stop, not because her coworkers are complaining. If OP lays the blame for the talk on the coworkers (which it sounds like has already happened once), then you’re right: the employee in question is just going to come back and say, “well I asked everyone and they said they don’t mind.”

        OP, please stop justifying, stop explaining, stop giving her any kind of an out where she can wave away your reasons for her to change. If it’s genuinely a food scarcity issue, then of course be as helpful as you can with resources, suggestions, what have you. But even then, it’s not your job to solve that problem, and it’s not your job to keep someone on who is making the rest of the team uncomfortable just because she is going hungry. Put some steel behind the edict, and say that you need it to stop, now, or there will be consequences.

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        1. Cassie

          This. Even if the other coworkers are totally fine with being asked for money and food, the OP feels it’s inappropriate and has the authority to make Snackina stop (with disciplinary actions if she doesn’t?). You don’t need someone to make a complaint first in order to take action.

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      2. neverjaunty

        No, the OP is not in an impossible situation. This is a direct report behaving inappropriately in multiple ways. OP needs to make it crystal clear that the behavior stops, immediately, and that she will have the back of anyone who comes to her with complaints about it.

        And of course the employees caved. OP made it clear that the employee could have a consequence-free “emotional outburst” in response to others coming to OP with concerns. It’s a no-win situation for them.

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        1. IndieGir

          Ok, I see your point. I think we need to know more about what OP did and what OP is empowered to do about that outburst. Assuming OP wasn’t around when Hungry Harriet flipped out, OP should impose discipline for that.

          But I guess my frustration with the co-workers stems from the thought of them making it seem like they are not on the same page with OP, as if OP took it into her head to just hassle HH for no reason. They need to be a team.

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      3. Kyrielle

        Yeah, OP still has a lot of strength here – because OP shouldn’t be looking to their direct reports (the other employees) to back up their decision.

        “This is not appropriate behavior in the office because X, Y, and Z. Even if the current staff is currently fine with it, this is not okay and needs to stop.”

        X/Y/Z – it’s unprofessional, it can be hard for people to say no, it distracts from working, or even just leave out the because X/Y/Z and just say no.

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      4. Shell

        Only one person retracted their complaint (the one who the food-asking employee blew up at). The OP can certainly still address this ongoing problem with the food-asking employee, even if one of the coworkers have retracted their complaint. The other two certainly haven’t retracted their complaints.

        I disagree that the coworkers are more at fault for “enabling” the behaviour. Is it a degree of enabling? Yeah, probably. But the real problem is that a direct no resulted in an “emotional outburst”, which is unbecoming for grown-up professional adults. And unless the OP is with her team all day every day policing their behaviour, this kind of animosity is probably bad for the team’s collaboration. So it puts the coworkers in a hard spot: direct confrontation could make their work life difficult.

        OP should put a hard stop to this regardless of whether or not her team is “backing her up.” She’s the one with authority, she doesn’t need backup. Begging people for food constantly isn’t professional behaviour even if there were no complaints logged, and there were three complaints logged (and only one complaint has been retracted).

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        1. INTP

          Yeah, I think OP needs to consider this from her employees’ point of view. If reporting the offender is going to result in emotional outbursts (and who knows what kind of petty day-to-day stuff for the coworker she’s mad at this week), then it’s only worth it if it solves the problem. And from their POV, many complaints have been lodged and the problem has not been solved. Of course they’re going to lose their resolve to say “no” and their faith that the OP will handle it. And feeling powerless, of course they’ll vent their frustrations in the way they can without negative consequences – mocking the woman behind her back. The next time someone steps up to report her, the problem needs to end. Period. Whether that’s firing, separation of the offender from the other employees, or whatever the OP can do.

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          1. Shell

            I think the problem needs to end before another complaint is lodged. Given past history, it’s likely that there won’t be more complaints lodged since from the employees’ point of view, nothing has been done.

            OP needs to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with the food asker and figure out what the root of the problem is, while also emphasizing in no uncertain terms that the food begging has to stop. Period. Doesn’t matter if she protests that “other people don’t have a problem with it!” OP is the manager, OP has the authority, and even if no one else has a problem with it (or a “secret” problem with it), OP has a problem with it. No backup required.

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            1. fposte

              Yup. It doesn’t matter if every complaint ever gets withdrawn! The OP isn’t a complaints desk, she’s a manager, and a problem doesn’t have to get officially complained about for it to be something she needs to solve.

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            2. INTP

              You are right, it needs to end before the next complaint. I guess I was thinking it would be okay to give her one more chance, but the coworkers may not believe that their next complaint will be handled any more effectively than the past ones. (I don’t mean that to be harsh to OP, with a reasonable person the conversations would have either ended it or brought out some information about a food addiction or hunger situation, but they haven’t been effective, so the next step has to be.)

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      5. TootsNYC

        What is OP going to do — just tell her to knock it off again? If she does, chances are good she’ll just say “Well, I spoke to everyone and they say it’s not a problem.”

        That’s when you say, “I don’t care what anybody else says. I don’t care if they -like- it. I am the manager, and *I* don’t want this happening on my team. I have directly observed this, I have pondered it, and I have decided that *I* don’t want this happening. This is -my- problem with you; not theirs.
        “I don’t have to give you the reasons–though I could explain it if I wanted to. And you don’t have to agree with me, or with my reasons. You just have to follow my directives. Can you do that? If not, then this is not the job for you.”

        I have directly told people to not do something that all their colleagues think is fine (delegating some part of their workload). I don’t care what their colleagues think. *I* am deciding this.

        And if someone brings me a problem, I investigate it before I act, and then I decide that it is a problem -to me-, which makes it -my- problem now, not theirs. When I speak, as a manager, I am speaking on [i]my[/i] behalf. It might be that the complaining employees benefit, but I am speaking for myself, not for them.

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        1. neverjaunty

          THIS.

          And, setting aside the question of whether people are being honest about saying it’s “fin”, it may not be when somebody new comes in, like the temp who clearly didn’t sign on to hand over her money and food.

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      6. Koko

        Yes, this is why HR will often let you know that they can’t guarantee to keep your complaints confidential. Because they can’t solve the problem if you turn around and insist there is no problem anytime someone other than HR/management asks you about it. If the offender thinks that no one other than HR cares, they’re only going to behave when HR is watching.

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    3. Meg Murry

      I think there is a difference between saying “tell her no” and saying “it’s ok to tell her no, and if she gives you any grief about it or continues to ask please come tell me so I can deal with it”. You can also offer to role play with the employees if you think that would help them develop a script, so they can feel confident in saying “no, I’m not going to lend you money for the vending machine, please stop asking”.

      There was a posting about an issue like this in the past, and I’ve experienced it somewhere as well – not related to food, but related to someone who was constantly asking to borrow money (from $1 for the vending machine to $200 to pay his child support) from his co-workers that he never paid back, and also spent a ton of time and money asking people to participate in lottery pools. It turned out this guy was addicted to gambling/lottery tickets, and he was eventually let go because it interferred with him doing work and coworkers were tired of him harrassing them for money. I’d say he probably owed $1000, all told, and it’s also likely he was skimming from the lottery pools he was collecting money for (collect money from 30 people, buy 20 tickets for the pool and 10 scratch offs for himself, tell the pool he bought 20 tickets because that’s who gave him money that week).

      The bosses were able to say “there have been instances of people asking to borrow money, and not pay it back. No one here is under obligation to give or lend anyone money, and if anyone harasses you about it, come talk to us.” It brought to light how many people this person was hitting up for “just $5, man” over the course of a day/week/month.

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    4. Marzipan

      Mmm, I somewhat disagree. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people to take ownership of concerns that are bothering them by acknowledging that those things are, in fact, bothering them. That can be a tricky thing to do – as evidenced by the fact that the co-worker denied that it was actually a problem – but it’s not inherently a dreadful thing to ask. The idea that, if the co-workers don’t want to give her food or money, then they shouldn’t give her food or money and should say no to her requests, seems pretty reasonable to me. (Particularly because, what’s the alternative? If the OP doesn’t suggest they say no when asked to give things they don’t want to give, the only other option is for them to… say yes?)

      I’m not suggesting that the ball should sit entirely in their court – things have progressed well beyond that – but this situation will not be completely resolved unless and until the group of co-workers can see their way to calmly, politely saying no when they don’t want to give food/money. Any actions the OP takes (short of actually firing the employee) will be entirely undermined if they can’t agree to do this, because the message that her behaviour is a problem is muddied by their actions (and their actual words) telling her that it actually isn’t.

      Reply
      1. Koko

        Yes, this. I appreciate how hard it is to have direct conversations with a coworker who is being obnoxious. And as the team’s manager, OP has a greater responsibility than her reports to. But that responsibility includes coaching them in strategies to handle their own conflict and supporting them when they do so. Not giving them cover to pretend they never complained and she’s the ogre with stupid rules that nobody else agrees with. She doesn’t have to martyr herself to save them from awkwardness. They need to have good working relationships with each other, but they also need to have good working relationships with her.

        Reply
    5. INTP

      I do think asking people to say “no” to her was an appropriate first step – not an appropriate ONLY step, of course the OP should speak with the offending employee (I can’t tell from the letter whether she did speak with her immediately after getting the complaints about the food or only after a few months when the complaints had continued).

      But now I do think it’s more complicated than “stop enabling her.” It sounds like there might be some bullying going on by the employee that asks for food and money or some other type of emotional manipulation. There’s a reason that it takes them months to start reporting again after each incident and that they are afraid to deal with her even with their boss’ support. The outburst makes me think she’s been demanding that they not tell on her for awhile, so she was surprised when one did. It might be time for a no tolerance policy here – the next time she gets a complaint about a demand for food or money, the employee is fired. Speaking with her hasn’t worked, so of course your employees are not going to keep reporting to the boss and getting yelled at by the employee if reporting doesn’t solve anything.

      If I’m right, that she is bullying or manipulating them somehow, the teasing behind her back is pretty much an inevitable release of pressure. It’s not like they can take concerns directly to her face if they are afraid of her outbursts and there’s going to be a lot of pent up pressure that they need to vent to each other. I’d address this as a “negativity in the workplace breeds more negativity” issue but not harp too much on it – they presumably didn’t start teasing her until she’d been manipulating them for awhile, so they are not the problem.

      Reply
    6. LawBee

      She didn’t outburst because a co-worker told her no, she went dramatic because she was called on the carpet by her boss. Totally a different situation.

      As to your other concern, the OP needs to tell Snackina that she is NOT to ask temp employees for food, money, or anything that is not directly related to their job. Period.

      Reply
    7. Observer

      If you read what the OP writes, she actually told the moocher not to ask for money when she saw what happened to the temp. That’s not where the issue is. While I do believe that the OP needs to handle this, I also think that the co-workers have some responsibility. It’s not just that they are still saying yes. It’s that they threw their manager under the bus when she tried to do something about it.

      Reply
  4. KT

    No group meeting, please. This is a straight forward convo. With the other 3, tell them they need to behave as professionals. They need to be civil and snarking on employees is a distraction. Ensure that’s the end of it. Address it one on one if it continues.

    For the employee–please ensure it’s not a food scarcity issue before disciplining. There’s such shame and stigma associated with it, she may have acted offended because she was ashamed. It happens at every income and level, depending on family needs and issues.

    Reply
  5. Jen S. 2.0

    It sounds like she is one who just doesn’t think this is a big deal — in her head, it’s a few chips and a couple bucks — and it needs to be made clear that yes, people mind, and yes, this is a big deal.

    Likewise, the other employees should be doing a better job of refusing her if they mind this much. There are a lot of people who — in some ways, correctly — feel that as long as the other person didn’t say no, there’s no problem (ask vs guess culture). Everyone else needs to say, “Sorry, I can’t spare any,” or “Unfortunately, I really can’t help you out,” or “I don’t think so,” or “I don’t have any extra,”or y’know, “No.” If you agree to something that you don’t want to do and that wasn’t obligatory, the blame is partly on you.

    Reply
    1. Jen S. 2.0

      (Clarifying: I’m assuming this is not a food-scarcity issue or mental-health issue around food. Alison addressed that, so I skipped over it.)

      Reply
      1. AndersonDarling

        Yeah, it could be a food scarcity issue, but I got the feeling that this is a chronological moocher situation. We had one at an old job and they were eventually fired for mooching from the catering kitchen. That crossed the line into stealing. It wasn’t that they couldn’t buy their own food, it was “why should I pay for it when I can get someone else to pay for it.”

        Reply
        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          a chronological moocher situation

          That one wins Autocorrect Funny of the Day! (Or was that a Freudian slip, because the OP is wasting so much time on this person’s issues?)

          Reply
        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          I too (likely based on past experience) took it as a chronic moocher situation.

          I used to work with someone like you describe above, though the incident that stands out in my mind was when we were all eating a catered staff lunch before a holiday. He started packing up the serving dishes to take home while others were still eating.

          Reply
        3. Shan

          I’ve dealt with a chronic moochers before, twice. Both had the same issue: they had poor money management but wanted the same lifestyle as me and my other friends. I think this is exactly how they saw it. If you can get what you want just by asking, why wouldn’t you? Someone was always willing to pay for them or give them food.

          Reply
          1. Applesauced

            UGH this is my old roommate. One year he invited me (“Invited” – I still lived with him) to his Thanksgiving diner – and then said it would be $75 to attend.
            Champagne dreams on a boxed wine budget.

            Reply
            1. Traveler

              Ugh. I had friends like this once. I used to have everyone over at my house and paid for all the food and alcohol. I finally quit, because the expense was out of hand and people expected it. Then, someone else volunteered their house but started charging everyone, including me, money to attend. All the nopes.

              Reply
    2. OhNo

      I definitely agree that the other employees need to learn the value of saying no. I get that they don’t want her to cause a scene (since it sounds like that’s a distinct possibility), or piss her off, or whatever reaction it is they’re afraid of.

      But at some point, the OP is right: she can’t enforce this if the rest of her team is cutting her knees out from under her by enabling the bad behavior.

      Reply
      1. LawBee

        But she can – she is the boss, and if she needs to discipline the rest of the team as well for disobeying her instructions to stop providing food, then there you have it. That’s where the one-on-one meetings come in. “This is a problem, I have addressed it with Snackina [I love that nickname from upstream], and now I’m addressing it with everyone individually. This behavior is not going to be tolerated on either end. I need you to commit to telling her no, and I need you to commit to stop talking about her behind her back. This is disruptive and taking focus away from the work, and it needs to stop now.”

        the OP is not powerless in this situation, not by a long shot.

        Reply
        1. OhNo

          I’m not saying she’s powerless. You’re 100% right that she has (or should have) the authority to follow through with this even if there were no complaints. The problem is that the OP is leaning on these complaints as a justification for nixing the behavior. So if the other employees renege on their complaints, or just keep giving in, then the OP’s whole basis for the changes becomes shaky at best.

          So if the OP separates the complaints from the reasoning for changes, then no problem. She can say “make these changes because that’s what I’m requiring you to do”, and that should be enough. But the way the need for changes has been presented so far means that the other employees have way to much control over whether or not the OP can reinforce the changes that she needs to see.

          Reply
      2. Katie the Fed

        I wish I had a boss to coach me on saying no when I was in my 20s. I was REALLY bad at setting boundaries. Much better now.

        Reply
    3. Ad Astra

      If this isn’t a food-scarcity issue or a mental health/eating disorder issue, it’s got to be a deep misunderstanding of social norms, right? It’s like she’s taking her coworkers at their word when they say “Sure, have some chips, I don’t mind” and then feeling betrayed when they tell the manager about it.

      Reply
      1. INTP

        Or calculated bullying/manipulation. Flip out at the person who reports to the boss, and the next person will be afraid to. My gut feeling is that she’s been attempting to intimidate or manipulate them out of reporting for awhile, and that’s why she flipped when one did. Maybe she has a sob story she uses to justify it to them, maybe she just uses her emotional outbursts to control their behavior. It seems like a schoolyard bullying situation to me. Bully takes student’s lunch daily for awhile, student finally reports to teacher, ineffective teacher does not stop the behavior and student just gets bullied worse for having tried to make it stop.

        Reply
        1. Ad Astra

          That wasn’t my read on the situation at all, but based on the information in the letter, I suppose both explanations are possible. I would love to know more about this employee’s tone when she approaches her coworkers. Is she asking nicely and then taking more than a polite amount? Do her coworkers feel intimidated by her, or just bound by conventional manners? Did this start out as an amicable thing and then get out of hand?

          Reply
      2. hjc24

        Yes, what this sounds like to me is someone who has a serious misunderstanding or lack of social skills and social norms. Someone offered their chips to share, so what’s the problem with eating the whole rest of the bag? Or, mom always gives me a couple of bucks for a snack when I ask, so it must be okay to ask that of other people I see every day. The emotional outburst when challenged, combined with the apparent difficulty in understanding appropriate workplace behavior and reading coworkers’ nonverbal cues, makes me wonder if the employee has Aspberger’s or mild autism. Of course it’s easy for anyone to be an armchair psychologist. Perhaps the OP could talk to her EAP or look up information on managing staff on the autism spectrum and see if there are other behavioral matches?

        Reply
    4. Jennifer

      People mind if they are hearing it all. the. time. Also, nobody should have to put up with what boils down to constant panhandling at work where they can’t escape it.

      Reply
      1. Koko

        I legitimately walk out of my way to certain places I get lunch during my workday because the shortest route involves running a gauntlet through nonprofit street canvassers who want “just a minute of your time!” I am always in a hurry when I’m running out to get food on my lunch and I hate having to choose between wasting my time politely explaining to 4 people in a 2-block stretch why I can’t start a monthly pledge to their worthy cause, or feeling like a Class A heartless bitch just walking past them like I don’t hear them. Then compound that by the fact that they’re out there EVERY. DAY. You’re right, it’s a nightmare and I can’t imagine if it was happening inside my office and I couldn’t avoid it.

        Reply
        1. INTP

          Normally I use my best body language efforts I learned from French women – no acknowledgement of their existence whatsoever, conscious or subconscious. Don’t tilt your head, don’t slow down walking, and for the love of god do not make eye contact or say “No thank you.” But California farmer’s markets have been crawling with anti-vaccine people lately, and the other day I was just too fed up to ignore and yelled at the one accosting people at the entrance “I don’t believe in anti-science propaganda!” I didn’t get approached a second time despite the others milling about the booths and at the exit. So maybe try that :)

          Also, if it helps you to not feel guilty about ignoring them, many of those people get paid per signature. It’s not some labor of passion. I know because they’ve told me. “I don’t agree with it either, just sign it so I get five bucks!” Especially lovely are the ones that rope you in with a liberal petition and then try to guilt you into signing up with the Republican party by talking about how they need the money. Just think of them as annoying salespeople, like the dead sea kiosk people at the mall.

          Reply
          1. I'm Not Phyllis

            I don’t make eye contact, sometimes I pretend I’m on the phone, and I make a deliberate show of walking around them. But here, they’ll walk right in front of you and stop to try and get your attention. Which, for me, is a sure way to guarantee that I won’t want to participate in whatever it is you’re doing.

            Reply
            1. RootBeer

              I noticed some of these guys attempting to interrupt a woman’s phone conversation to get her to sign something. So I called my husband and said, “Don’t pay attention to what I’m saying, just stay on the line” and then proceeded to have a very heated one-sided fight with him while he laughed. The petitioners did not bother me and in fact, they were the ones trying not to make eye contact.

              Reply
          2. Cupcake

            @INTP: to be fair, I broke down one day and bought one of those Dead Sea nail kits at the mall. It actually worked and gave me fantastic looking fingernails!

            Reply
        2. Beth

          I’ve had some luck with making eye contact, smiling a little, and shaking my head quickly without slowing down. I have no idea why that works on canvassers since I live in a friendly town where all sorts of other strangers ask me questions all the time – for directions, about my hair – or otherwise just stopping to chat while picking out groceries etc., it’s weird.

          Reply
          1. Rana

            I also get good results with saying in a cheerful voice, “Sorry! Not interested!” while walking briskly past them. They’re hoping you’ll feel guilty for ignoring them, so this sort of “Hi, I see you, but I don’t care if you hate me, ta!” cheerfulness works weirdly well.

            Reply
            1. Melissa

              This is my MO, too, developed through years of living in NYC (they liked to hang out on the block by my university all. the. time.) I just smile cheerfully, walk quickly and say “Sorry, no thanks!” The key is to keep walking and don’t even give them any time to protest (or if they do, just ignore them). I wasn’t really sorry, but the “sorry” makes it sound less rude and made me feel less guilty.

              Maybe that’s the go-to with this person here: “Sorry, but no!” I feel like adding explanations on the back (I’m going to eat it later, I don’t have any change, yada yada) opens the door for her to keep asking on different days in the hopes that the answer will change or she’ll break you down or something (maybe on Tuesday she had no change but it’s Thursday so she does now). Since she’s a chronic moocher it sounds like she needs a more terse “Nope.”

              Reply
        3. Bun

          I outright lie to these folks without any twinge of conscience. A cheerful “I’m already a donor!” or “I already signed!” and I breeze right on past. It’s worked every time for me!

          Reply
  6. AcidMeFlux

    I dont’t think the food is the issue so much as the need to manipulate people. It reminds me of a co-worker at a place I was teaching at who would make over the top requests of people (hey, I’m going out for coffee with a friend on my break, so could you plan my next class for me?) and get huffy and put-upon when rejected. After a few months of these weird “do my job for me” requests, food started disappearing from people’s cubbyholes in the teacher’s room (an entire jar of peanut butter consumed and left empty in the space of a few hours, ALL the chocolate in the Advent calendar in one fell swoop.)not just sampling but eating all of something and leaving the empty container behind. She didn’t last at that job long.

    Reply
    1. Venus In Furs

      I concur.

      Oh, for sure, do what you can to investigate and make sure that this person isn’t starving. But I get a strong sense that this is some kind of mental issue. I don’t understand it, but she appears to be getting *something* out of “mooching” all the time. Maybe she’s got some kind of “hoarder / miser” thing going on? Or perhaps she just gets off on manipulating people? (the fact that she seems to be able to talk people into giving her stuff even when those people are consciously aware that they shouldn’t / don’t want to seems relevant).

      I’m curious : how does this person react when someone asks *her* for food or money?

      Having said all that: I don’t think she is poor or starving. I think she is a toxic employee. I know I’m being harsh, but – If it were me, I think that I would either fire her or get her some kind of psychiatric help.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        I agree. I think it’s totally *possible* that either she’s dealing with an illness or addiction that’s sapping her finances and leaving her with barely enough money for food, or she has a friend, partner, or family member who really needs help and she’s been giving a chunk of her paycheck to them, leaving her with barely enough for food – BUT it does seem more likely that she just enjoys mooching for some reason. Could be manipulation or a power tactic, could be hoarding, or I wonder if mooching makes some people feel taken care of and they like that feeling?

        Reply
        1. simonthegrey

          This. There is an adult student I work with occasionally who plays that game. For him it’s, “can you type this paper, I got most of it but my hands hurt” and “can I borrow $5 for lunch because I forgot to bring food.” The problem is, it is every day. It is definitely for him about manipulating and hustling; he has said as much (not in front of me or the other staff, but to other students). He likes seeing what he can get away with and how far he can push before we shut him down.

          Reply
  7. Allison

    I’d also vote against having a team meeting about her, only because she’s probably not stupid; she’d notice everyone going into a room together and she might not *know* it’s about her, but she may (correctly) assume that to be the case. Especially when she notices people either looking at her or purposefully trying not to look at her. So yeah, one-on-one meetings are probably best, and much more discreet.

    Reply
  8. K

    I agree that you need to approach this like it’s a food scarcity issue with the employee, because really there’s no other reason they should be doing that. Even if they’re dieting and get hungry throughout the day, they are asking a lot and taking much more food than would be reasonably expected (as opposed to a small taste).
    There is also an issue with the three employees making fun of her. They can’t resent her for asking for food and make fun of her for it if they are reinforcing the behavior. The next time someone complains about the behavior, I would advise them to stop giving in and give them some lines kind of like AAM gives for refusing (“I really didn’t bring enough food to share today, sorry!” “I didn’t buy enough food to share this week, sorry!” “I only bring enough food for myself throughout the day, so please stop asking!” “I don’t have any change for you for the vending machine, but something that works well for me is bringing a snack in the morning so I don’t have to worry about change.” “I don’t carry change on me regularly, so please stop asking!” ). That way it’s easier for them to refuse.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I don’t think this situation calls for those sort of polite fictions.

      I think the coworkers should say, “No, don’t ask me again” or “Don’t ever ask me for food or money again.” And stop right there. No “sorry”; they’ve been trying that for a while.

      They should just be blunt. I personally wouldn’t worry in this situation if the other employees know or indicate that they know the Moocher has been spoken to about this by the boss. So even if they said, “I know the manager told you not to ask us for food and money ever again,” I’d be OK.

      Reply
      1. km

        I’m with you. There’s no “sorry” needed for the Mooch, even if she is having a food scarcity problem. She was told not to do this and was offered assistance but continues to ask and even had an outburst. Unacceptable and the only person who should be apologizing is the Mooch. I do think OP should approach carefully just in case the Mooch really does need help, but if she’s just borrowing to borrow – time to lay down the law and let her know the next step is her firing.

        Reply
      2. Ad Astra

        Snackina is in the wrong here, but I think responding with something as harsh as “Don’t ever ask me for food or money again” is going to make the working relationship even more difficult. Saying, “Sorry, I can’t” or “Sorry, no,” or even “Sorry, but I can’t keep giving you money and I need you to stop asking” are all going to go over better. It’s not that they’re apologizing for doing something wrong; it’s that they’re expressing polite regret that they have to refuse the request. If it were me, I’d be genuinely sorry that she’s in a bad spot, even if I can’t or don’t want to help. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I don’t think the polite “Sorry, no” is too deferential when you’re dealing with someone you have to work with.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          It’s already a crappy working dynamic–and Snackina is the one who created it.

          So if the employees feel more comfortable saying “Please don’t ask me for money anymore,” or “don’t ever ask me again” or “Sorry, no”–they should do what makes them feel empowered and effective.

          Reply
          1. Dynamic Beige

            If three people are making fun of a fourth behind their back due to their constant mooching… how much worse can this working relationship get?

            Seriously, I would be having a conversation with my coworkers about not bringing any food or money to work one day, waiting for Snackina to get her food out and then staring at her like a starving dog. “Can I have that?” “Are you done yet?” “That looks so good, you should share it with me because I don’t have a lunch.” Whatever phrases she usually says. FWIW, when I was younger and much more broke, this kind of thing did happen to me, sort of. I was travelling, the grocery stores were closed and all I could afford was McDonald’s. Fortunately I was with a group of people in the same straits because as we sat there eating our food, some guy came up to us and asked if he could have it. When we told him to get lost, he stood there and stared at the food on the tables. If it had been just me, I’m sure he would have grabbed it and ran.

            Oh and BTW, and I don’t know if anyone else is having this problem but the site is painfully slow today. I get that we all need to make money and advertising is a necessary evil but I have had my computer freeze up for minutes at a time while some script was doing whatever on this page. I have had 6 “this script may no longer be functioning” pop up boxes in the past 10 minutes… scripts like
            Script: http://cdn.doubleverify.com/avs484.js:48 and it’s driving me batty.

            Reply
            1. Ad Astra

              Well now I’m working under the assumption that Snackina’s behavior isn’t malicious, and it sounds like you’re working under the assumption that it is. Either way, responding to bad behavior with your own bad behavior makes for a lousy, unprofessional environment. So yeah, I’d argue that it could totally get worse.

              Reply
              1. Dynamic Beige

                Sometimes, people need a taste of their own medicine. Snackina’s been asked not to do, told not to do it, has blown up over it. I would put money on it that if someone asked her for money or to finish off her food, she would pitch a fit or otherwise refuse. I honestly would go up to someone like that and ask to borrow five bucks for lunch and when I got the “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t lend money to coworkers/I’m tapped out/I don’t have any money/what do I look like, an ATM?” I would say back to them. “Huh, that’s funny, you’re always putting the touch on me for your lunch money and then never paying me back. I’ve heard you do the same thing to Jacinta and Wakeen, as well. I just figured that was how we operate around here and it was my turn.” But then again, I would lend someone money once… and if they never paid me back, I would bring it up the next time they asked and never lend to them again. And, I would tell new people to not lend money to This Person because they are constantly on the mooch and never pay it back. Change the time I ate at to avoid The Moocher. Whatever. They would have to push me pretty far before I would go for the taste of their own medicine, that’s pretty much the last resort. At some point, words no longer make an impact.

                Reply
            2. Special Snowflake

              It’s definitely not just you, Dynamic Beige. I feel like AAM has temporarily thrown me back into dial-up days! I’ve had those same freeze-ups too – the site is definitely not functioning as it should.

              Reply
          2. AnotherOneGoes

            So is the argument that the work environment is already terrible, so why even bother trying to be polite? It’s possible to be both firm and polite, and I think that’s the correct option in a work environment. The atmosphere will never improve if everyone is dedicated to being hostile.

            Reply
    2. OhNo

      See, I think there are quite a few reasons why someone would do this that aren’t related to food scarcity – but most of those are related to psychological issues (compulsive eating, enjoy manipulating people, etc.), so you might run into problems either way.

      Much as I’d like to second TootsNYC about being blunt, I think the other employees would generally be more comfortable with the lines you suggest. I know I would be. Maybe the OP can talk to the other employees individually, suggest some of these lines to use, and offer to stand as back-up in case the problem employee throws a fit/makes a scene/tries to retaliate in any way (which I can only assume is what the other employees expect to happen – otherwise why would they complain about the behavior so much and yet keep enabling it?).

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        And if that’s what makes them comfortable, absolutely they should use those phrases.

        But it may be that blunt and blanket statements are the only thing that might make her actually stop. Niceness won’t.

        Reply
    3. LawBee

      “I agree that you need to approach this like it’s a food scarcity issue with the employee, because really there’s no other reason they should be doing that.”

      Kind of disagree – don’t approach it assuming it’s a scarcity issue, but find out if it is. If it’s not (because yes, there is no rational reason to do this), then it’s a completely different approach than if it is. But either way, the mooching has to stop.

      Reply
  9. TootsNYC

    You need to enforce this! No wonder they’re making fun of her; it’s their only weapon, because your efforts are simply hot air. OK, sure, they should be saying no. But she shouldn’t be asking, and that’s going unaddressed. And, if they do say no, she probably pushes and pushes, and it doesn’t stop her.
    Plus–were I in your office, my problem would be that she even asked. Ever. I wouldn’t believe that she wouldn’t keep asking, and then that’s a whole “thing.” And it probably means the topic goes on for a long time.

    What leverage do you have? You can say all the words you want, and she can say all the words she thinks you want to hear. And then she will go ask for food and money all over again.

    Are you willing to fire her over this? Can you dock her pay? Give her a bad shift? Cut her hours? What negative consequences are there? None, apparently.
    (If you can cut her hours, you might ask people to alert you the moment she asks, and then you come out and send her home immediately.)

    And you need to give your other team members the tools they need. They don’t have the spine or the skill to say no. If I were going to have a group meeting, it would be with all of them but not her.
    I’d be listening to them talk about why they DON’T just say no, about how the interactions with her go, and what’s difficult there.
    I’d be pointing out that when someone is annoying, it’s not always appropriate to just fire their butt; I want to treat Moocher Mary the way they’d want me to treat them if they burped too much or talked too much about their dog or something. What do they think?
    And, if I ask them to alert me every time it happens, do we run the risk of them just “tattling” on her simply because it gives them power, or because they just don’t like her, or something? That kind of immediate acceptance of the “intel” can become a source of abuse.
    And then, I’d be trying to work out a unified “script” or response to her. Should I print out cards that say, “You aren’t supposed to be asking your coworkers for money or food. We talking about this. Sincerely, ManagerToots” and have them silently hand them to her when she brings it up–when 15 of them have been handed out, she’s fired? Should I ask them to loudly say, “You aren’t supposed to be asking for food or money”?
    What are they supposed to do?

    Because they shouldn’t be responsible for making her stop asking. And them saying, “No, leave me alone” each time is probably not actually going to stop her.

    Reply
    1. Chameleon

      I know it’s not the best way to handle it, but I kind love the idea of the cards. A quiet, easy rebuke that includes authority.

      Reply
    2. Venus In Furs

      > No wonder they’re making fun of her …

      I agree. It may seem ‘wrong’. But from the POV of the other employees, banding together against a ‘common enemy’ is arguably a rational and logical response to the situation.

      Reply
    3. The Cosmic Avenger

      I think the problem is that, while mooching is really obnoxious, it isn’t clear and obvious that it is a firing offense. Sometimes people ask each other for food — sometimes that’s OK, but it depends on the context.

      The coworkers should be telling her to stop asking at least a couple of times, because THEN it becomes a harassment issue. Not legally, but asking for food in and of itself is obviously not wrong, the issue in this case is that Snackarella is harassing her coworkers about it. But in order for the OP to feel justified in taking action, Snackarella has to know that she is harassing her coworkers, and they’ve backpedaled already. The OP has said something, but the coworkers should also be telling her “No, stop asking”, then “please stop asking me, I have asked you to stop”, etc. Then it’s not so much about the food, it’s about her clear violation of her coworkers’ boundaries.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        She already knows. OP told her once not to do it, and she blew up at somebody who complained. This really isn’t a situation where she has no idea her behavior is a problem.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          She already knows, as neverjaunty points out.

          And now it’s not about her clear violation of her coworkers’ boundaries.

          It’s now about her flauting of a clear and unequivocal directive from her boss.

          That would be my approach. Id on’t want to get into whether it’s fair, or gith, or anybody minds, or there are boundaries, or it’s rude.
          I started with that, and it didn’t work. No more; I’m not hanging on to a rhetorical/logical argument that isn’t effective.

          I said so. I’m the boss. There isn’t anything more to say.
          I’m actually pretty open–my team comes to me all the time to say, “I think you made a bad decision here.” But I tell everyone who works for me–“I want to hear from you; I regard you as my asset, and I want you to tell me if I’m screwing up. I truly value your input. That said, there will come a time when I will decide, and then I don’t want to have to argue with you about it. Don’t ever push me so far that I feel I have to say, ‘I’m the boss.’ ”

          It seems to work; I rarely end up feeling that I have to say it. Probably once every 3 or 4 years.

          But any attempt to say, “they don’t mind” will have me saying “Because I said so.”

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I’m on your side here; for non-managers reading, though, I will expand “Because I said so” to mean this: “Because as the manager I have knowledge about what the team needs that makes this necessary.”

            Reply
          2. AnonAnalyst

            It’s now about her flauting of a clear and unequivocal directive from her boss.

            This. Repeatedly asking the coworkers was annoying and inappropriate, but she’s been told directly to stop by her manager and is still doing it. I’m all for taking a compassionate approach and providing some resources as Alison suggested in case there really is a food scarcity issue, but this behavior needs to stop at work and if she continues doing it, there need to be consequences like there would be for any other performance problem.

            Reply
    4. A Bug!

      Not their only weapon. Not a weapon at all – where is the benefit to anyone of making fun of Moochy behind her back? Certainly, the OP can take further steps to stop this behavior. But it likely could have stopped after the first discussion if the coworkers hadn’t been speaking out both sides of their mouths, instead of assuring her that they didn’t have a problem with it. Moochy put them in an awkward position, so there’s no blaming them for responding the way they did, but there’s no excuse for making fun of anyone behind their back. It’s gross.

      Reply
      1. Charby

        I agree 100% that it’s not OK, but I don’t think that their behavior is as surprising or inexplicable as you’re making it sound. This is a pretty bizarre situation, and while the manager is doing her best to resolve it there have been some missteps and I can totally see why someone might be frustrated and start venting about this behind that other coworker’s back. Yes, part of it is their fault for not backing up the manager, but part of it is also the manager’s fault for needing “backup” from the complainants in order to enforce her policies. I’m not trying to rip on the manager here; I’m sure I would have made the exact same decision in her place, but that doesn’t mean that it was a good idea and the other people’s frustration is perfectly normal and unsurprising (though I agree the mockery needs to stop).

        Reply
  10. NickelandDime

    I have to agree that the employees should say no, but that has to be draining having that battle several times a week. Even for people that have no problem saying no, that’s annoying, much less people who would be more sensitive to that type of thing. The OP has to do something.

    Reply
    1. caryatid

      i agree with you but isn’t it just as draining to have her beg constantly and then mock her to each other? the (huge) problem is still there. i feel like i would want to try something that may have the result of getting her to stop.

      Reply
  11. some1

    “She was deeply offended and later had an emotional outburst where she confronted a coworker about it. They denied that there was a problem and later apologized to me in private. I told them that I can’t enforce this if they continue to enable it.”

    Given this, I would make it clear to the employee in your conversation that she is NOT to confront any of her teammates for coming to you about this, and let your employees know you will enforce consequences with her if she does.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      Yeah, I hope you landed the Moocher over this confrontation. I would–that’s not cool at all, to then go attack someone else when you’ve gotten in trouble.

      And, the employee denied there was a problem, just to get out of the situation, which of course undermined your discipline. I can’t blame the employee–but the manager needed to have pulled Moocher back in and say, “I told you this was a problem–and therefore it’s a problem no matter what any other person in the office says or thinks. and boy were you out of line to confront your colleague.
      “First, it’s incredibly disrespectful to me. I’m the boss; I don’t call people in and tell them to modify their behavior just become someone ‘tattled’ to me. If I think it’s serious enough to talk to you about, it’s because *I* made the effort to gather information, evaluate it, and decide that it is not -my- problem.
      “Second, it’s really rude to Wakeen. If Wakeen had been the one to bring the problem to me, he wouldn’t deserve to have you attacking him over it–any employee here can bring problems to me, that’s what they’re for. I wouldn’t allow someone else to confront you if -you- had been the one to bring me a problem. And if Wakeen -wasn’t- the one with the problem, now you’ve made him really uncomfortable.”

      Reply
      1. some1

        This is good wording for these conversations. For the coworkers getting asked for food & money, you could say, “I have spoken to Jane and made two things clear: she is not to ask you for food or money anymore, and she is not to confront you or punish you in any way for bringing this issue to me. If she says anything to you about it, I want you to let me know right away.”

        Reply
    2. TootsNYC

      you will enforce consequences with her if she does.
      This is the nut of this problem, in my eyes.

      How -can- the OP enforce consequences? What consequences exist?

      Of course, we don’t know enough about her workplace, but is there leverage for her?

      Reply
    3. The Cosmic Avenger

      That’s true, Snackarella basically intimidated/bullied her coworker into recanting by confronting them, which in and of itself should have been grounds to fire her if not reprimand her.

      Reply
  12. F.

    We had an employee from a different culture where (I was told) the company fed you like family and meals were community affairs with everyone sharing and freely taking what everyone else brought in. She would even take from our lunch bags in the office refrigerator. I put away the office candy dish and locked my lunch bag in my filing cabinet, and she quit taking food from me. Is there a cultural difference going on?
    Years ago, I had another coworker who kept begging food from me. He was married with three kids, so I felt somewhat sorry for him and shared my snacks when he asked, since I thought money might be tight. However, I also happened to see him making short, five-minute visits to the known drug dealer who lives across the street from me. That’s when I quit feeling so sorry for him and quit feeding him! He was fired for performance issues within months.
    My point is there could be many reasons for the food issue. I think the manager should address each involved employee individually to avoid the perception of ganging up on the food beggar by having a group meeting of the three gossips. Once it has been ascertained that there is not a food scarcity issue, health issue, or other legitimate reason for this behavior, make it clear to the beggar that this behavior will not be tolerated. Then make it clear to the others that enabling the beggar and complaining/gossiping about her is equally not tolerated. Then enforce it.

    Reply
    1. librarianna

      I was also wondering if there is a cultural issue at play here. The OP needs to make it clear that in THIS office and THIS culture, we do not ask or expect people to share their food.

      Reply
      1. AnnieNonymous

        Are there workplace cultures where people ask for food without being expected to return the favor or contribute in some other way? At my old job, we were always asking each other if we could try everyone’s new tea or coffee, but the point was that we were all passing around our teabags and sharing.

        Reply
          1. Charlotte Collins

            Sharing food is often a cultural norm, but I’m not sure if I know of any cultural practice that includes basically taking everyone else’s food and not reciprocating. (I mean, unless you’re a Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt or something. Then it’s tribute.) Sharing is a way of promoting societal bonds. (Very important in the ethnic group my mother was raised in.) However, mooching is definitely looked down upon in these cultures, because you aren’t being a full participant in the group. (Unless you are seen as someone who can’t provide for yourself for some reason, but that does not sound like the case here.)

            Reply
            1. fposte

              This reminds me of the OP a few years back who worked for a boss who took advantage of cultural norms (can’t remember where they were–the Philippines?) to keep making her subordinate lend/give her money.

              Reply
        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          I have worked in places where we share coffee and tea pretty openly, and will have designated days where we bringing in group snacks to share. Or places where people take turns bringing in donuts.

          But I have never worked in a place where it was okay to go into someone’s lunch bag!

          Reply
      2. neverjaunty

        I really doubt there is any culture where sharing food translates into hitting up your co-workers for change for the vending machines.

        Reply
    2. NickelandDime

      That doesn’t sound like a cultural difference; that sounds like someone that’s a Mooch. Did she see you guys freely sharing lunches in the break room? Did you offer her any food? Did the employer provide free meals on a regular basis? Better yet, did she ask if these are common practices at this workplace, or should she just pack a lunch bag? Probably not.

      Reply
      1. F.

        No, we didn’t share lunches, there is no break room (we ate at our desks), no one offered her any food, and there were no regular employer-provided free lunches. She did not ask about the norms, either. She frequently brought her own ethnic food. I don’t know if she offered to share with anyone or not, but she didn’t offer to share with me.

        Reply
    3. Laurel Gray

      I wonder what particular culture(s) could be at play here. I have worked with people who come from different cultures with large families. The types that do the large family style eating at least once a week and surprisingly they were the ones that brought in the “help yourselves” foods and snacks. I worked with a guy whose homemaker wife baked bread and once a week in the kitchen there would be some type of foccaccia-like bread, grated cheese, oil, marinara and good olive oil. Everyone gained 20 lbs in one fall/winter.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        I had coworkers like that, I still do but since we moved the office doesn’t have one central kitchen, so if someone does bring in baked goods or leftovers they’ll naturally only put them in whatever kitchen is closest to them. But even people who are used to that kind of office culture generally understand that not all food is, or should be expected to be, communal.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth West

          Yes, we leave food out on a particular table and it’s understood that whatever is there is for everybody. I’ve even put a sticky note on stuff–“Help yourself!” But since we had a lunch thief, we all know not to go in each others’ bags or packages. I take my stuff home every night.

          Reply
          1. Cupcake

            @Elizabeth W: exactly! Although I saw a funny cartoon the other day with the caption “Strange new office trend: people putting names on food. Today I had a tuna sandwich named Kevin.” and the guy in the clip was genuinely confused about what was happening.

            Reply
    4. Nina

      If that is the case, Moocher had the chance to tell the OP if it was a cultural thing and hasn’t done so. But frankly, it doesn’t matter. She’s been told to stop by numerous people (including the OP) and she’s ignoring that.

      Reply
    5. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      When I read this, all I could think of was the scene in Kindergarten Cop when Arnold Schwarzenegger is holding the little kid up in the air saying, “You mean you eat other people’s lunches?”

      Reply
  13. anonanonanon

    These issues are always tricky, especially when you don’t really know what’s going on.

    On one hand, she could be having serious money or food scarcity issues in her home life. Some people become offended when someone suggests this out of embarrassment. A lot of people assume that anyone paid a decent wage can afford food, but food is expensive. A lot of people feel too ashamed to go to a food shelter or have food subsidies. Furthermore, some people who have experienced homelessness, poverty, or food scarcity issues get in the habit of asking for food other people are eating or might not want.

    On the other hand, she could be one of those people who hates spending money on herself and would rather mooch off people (I used to have a friend who was so stingy with her own money and would do the “I’m only ordering a small side at this restaurant because I’m not that hungry” spiel and when the food came she would always lapse into a “oh my food didn’t fill me up, can I have some of your food?” spiel. Or at a group event, she’d say she didn’t want any pizza when we were deciding on what to order and then would eat slices when it was delivered. It was annoying.)

    That being said, I agree with the comments about individual group meetings. Have a serious talk with the coworker asking for money or food. Like Alison suggested, make sure it’s definitely not a food scarcity issue first. The people making fun of her also need to be talked to individually. Being constantly asked for money or food by a coworker is annoying, but they’re not making matters better by being cruel about it. That’s just going to make the office environment worse, especially if their comments can be overheard by other employees.

    Reply
    1. Sadsack

      I suspect that it is not a scarcity issue since the person blew up at her coworker. I just can’t imagine someone who is having that problem reacting that way. Maybe I am not understanding what took place, but I cannot understand why the manager did not immediately talk to her again after that incident. It should not be ok to treat coworkers that way.

      Reply
      1. INTP

        Yeah, I feel like if there’s a food scarcity problem, it must be accompanied by some attitude/mental complication too, like feeling entitled to people’s food because they haven’t had as many difficulties in their lives. If a person is considerate, kind, and just having some personal problems, I would expect them to ask nicely, accept “no” for an answer, and be more apologetic than pushy. However, I thankfully haven’t had anyone close enough to tell me about it deal with food scarcity, and I know that when people are in survival mode their moral systems understandably change, so maybe I am completely wrong.

        Reply
      2. catsAreCool

        “I cannot understand why the manager did not immediately talk to her again after that incident.” This bothers me, too. Maybe the manager did and didn’t mention it?

        Reply
  14. caryatid

    i once worked with a guy super wildly inappropriate like this – his first week on the job, he asked a new temp to borrow their car. in this case, i felt like he just had zero understanding of boundaries. he was always asking weird things, like if i could “show him how to take out the trash” (i am not the office manager), or if my coworker would help him get his motorcycle gear on. i know this sounds skeevy but it was really cluelessness. he always reacted emotionally and offended when confronted.

    the one time he asked to borrow MY car, i just looked him in the eye and said no. he didn’t ask again, although he complained to everyone that i didn’t like him, etc.

    i don’t understand why the coworkers just don’t say no? clearly they don’t want to give her things. if it’s gotten to the point where they make fun of her, surely saying no can’t be that much harder.

    Reply
    1. LisaLee

      The coworkers don’t want to say “no” because doing that would mean several or more confrontations a week, and tat’s draining and bad for their working relationship with her. They also probably don’t have much faith that the OP will back them up, because when they did take their complaints to her, one of them got an “emotional outburst” from the coworker that apparently there was no consequences for. It shouldn’t be their job to constantly police their coworker’s behavior.

      Reply
      1. caryatid

        totally agree that it is on the OP to back this up, and actually proactively head this off before happening again.
        i realize that i felt able to say no because i know my managers would have agreed with me, even though i didn’t have to take it to them.

        Reply
    2. INTP

      My take is that the coworkers aren’t saying “no” because the coworker is making it difficult for them. If she blew up at one for complaining about it, I could see her blowing up when they won’t give her the food. Or maybe she uses other tactics, like a sob story or guilt, to make it very uncomfortable for them to say no. I just don’t think this has progressed to this point because the coworkers somehow feel uncomfortable saying “No” to someone who asks nicely and graciously accepts “no” for an answer, yet they do feel comfortable complaining to their boss and making a whole Thing of it.

      Personally, I’m pretty good at saying “no” to a sob story, and don’t really understand coworkers who feel obligated to help out people that were clearly irresponsible, but I’ve learned that I’m in the minority. (Not that everyone who needs help is “clearly irresponsible,” but every office beggar I’ve dealt with would brag about their shopping trips and nights out one week and beg for help the next.) I don’t understand not being able to say no, but it’s so common I can’t fault people for it either.

      Reply
  15. super anon

    “I spoke with my manager about it and he says we have two problems and that I need to handle it”

    Just curious, did your manager give you any guidance or advice on how to handle it? Or did he just say “deal with this” and nothing more? I’ve never managed anyone, let alone someone who manages people below them, but in the future if I get to that level and a manager under me came to with their concerns, do you give them advice? Or are those kinds of conversations more of a “fyi this is happening in my dept” kind of deal?

    Reply
    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      I wondered if the OP had gone to her boss with this is hopes of hearing, “if Mooching Co-worker doesn’t stop you are empowered to discipline/write-up/fire her.”

      Reply
  16. neverjaunty

    OP, this is excellent advice. Please consider that the reason your employees are making fun of this person is that you have all but told them you are very uncomfortable handling this situation, and would prefer not to have to exercise your authority as a manager here. When employees feel like they are not being listened to and cannot get assistance from a manager when it is needed, you can’t really expect them to be happy and content, or to come to you with their concerns.

    From your letter you’ve actually told this employee straight-out once not to ask for food and money; the second time you “recommended” she not do so. This is in the face of highly inappropriate behavior (asking a temp, an emotional outburst) that should have brought immediate action by you, and apparently was so intimidating that your team does not feel like they can simply tell her no! You incorrectly put the responsibility for managing this on the co-workers, and now want to have a group meeting – which will further shame the problem employee, and put them back in the position of facing this woman’s negative reactions to their complaints. Especially since you have already made it clear to the employees that if she has an inappropriate outburst, you’re not going to do anything about it.

    Please listen to the advice from AAM and others her about how to stop her behavior – and it needs to stop now – compassionately. But you need to MANAGE it. Not shift the burden to your employees by calling them enablers, not by complaining to your boss, not by looking for solutions that spread your discomfort around.

    Reply
    1. Not So Sunny

      I agree completely.

      To the Mooch:
      “This is inappropriate behavior and must stop now. One more situation will result in termination.”

      To the coworkers:
      “If she asks you again, tell her “no” without elaborating and send me an email with details.”

      Reply
    2. AnonAnalyst

      Yes, thanks for saying this. As I was reading this, I was thinking that if I were one of the other employees on this team I would feel really powerless to stop this, and I would be very frustrated to learn that my manager was putting the blame on me for enabling the coworker and allowing the behavior to continue. Honestly, if after I complained and saw this person have an outburst that it sounds like was never addressed, I would be pretty annoyed if my manager told me that this was still happening because I was enabling it.

      Ultimately, it’s not the coworkers’ job to manage this problem employee; it’s the manager’s job.

      Reply
  17. AnnieNonymous

    The coworkers are talking about her behind her back because the problem isn’t being solved. As lousy as this version of bonding behavior is, it’s fairly normal for things to shake out this way. Yes, they need to feel fully empowered to tell her no, but as their manager, it’s really on you to make sure that they’re not going to be put in this position anymore. IMO, turning it into a group thing (ie blaming them for reacting to a problem that only you have the authority to solve) is passing the buck; these people don’t have any responsibility or authority to put an end to this situation. I wholeheartedly disagree with the manager’s view of the situation; I HATE it when two sides in a conflict are handed equal shares of blame. The other employees are reacting to being blamed for something that their coworker is doing. They are likely growing very resentful, and they know that even when a show is made of dealing with the bad employee, they’re going to be made to feel like they screwed up too, even though they didn’t.

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      blaming them for reacting to a problem that only you have the authority to solve

      Exactly. It doesn’t matter what the co workers are or aren’t doing. This person has been told by her manager to cut it out; she is not cutting it out; that is the manager’s problem to address.

      Reply
  18. Katie the Fed

    BTW, if it IS a case of getting the munchies or being on a diet – OP might want to work with her to strategize how to deal. Is it a matter of stocking filling snacks at her own desk? Yes – this might be beyond OPs scope but if you want the behavior to stop it might work better to address the “how”

    Reply
    1. Charby

      True. These are things that the OP can get into after confronting the person again if the person does express interest in working to solve the problem. I’m not sure how open the person would be to this but hopefully they will find some way to work through it — either on their own or with the OP’s help.

      Reply
    1. Scotty_Smalls

      That’s what I was wondering. Shouldn’t the manager try to observe the problem herself? Not that I don’t believe the complaints, just that it would help deter the requests.

      Reply
      1. caryatid

        exactly. is Moochy going to have an emotional blowup at her BOSS if her boss observes this?

        or maybe she intentionally does this out of the boss’s view.

        Reply
  19. sunny-dee

    “She was deeply offended and later had an emotional outburst where she confronted a coworker about it. They denied that there was a problem and later apologized to me in private. I told them that I can’t enforce this if they continue to enable it.”

    Was this troubling to anyone else? Why were you blaming the coworker who got attacked and not the woman who did the attacking? She is obviously unstable (I don’t mean in the mental sense, I mean in the “difficult to deal with” sense). She attacked a coworker because they went to you, and instead of punishing her, you blamed the coworker for enabling her bad behavior!

    Look, I can see why they’re making fun of her and I don’t really blame them. It’s their only outlet. Every person in the office has come to you repeatedly about this issue. It hasn’t stopped, she has verbally and publicly attacked one of them over it, and you didn’t have their back. I’m not certain I’d try to address the mockery until you have very aggressively started working with her bad behavior.

    Also, I’d look at the person who stopped complaining. If that’s the coworker who got yelled at, then they’re probably not not-complaining because they’re not upset by the behavior, but because they don’t trust you to deal with it. Losing the trust in that relationship is a lot more important, I think, than whether they’re making fun of that woman. (Assuming that’s a good worker.)

    Reply
    1. AnnieNonymous

      EXACTLY. This weirdo employee has figured out that she is able to get away with essentially stealing from her coworkers, and also that those coworkers will be the ones who get in trouble for it. It is not always appropriate to tell employees to “solve it among yourselves.” They came to OP because they needed help.

      Reply
    2. TootsNYC

      I would really love to know if the employee who stopped complaining is the one who got yelled at by her and then scolded by you.

      Reply
      1. Courtney

        I’d venture a guess it was. I’m glad the OP wrote to AAM to get advice on resolving this.

        It’s got to be frustrating for the other employees to deal with being asked for money and food constantly then to be yelled at by her when they talk to the boss. I can almost guarantee she’s not taking no for an answer and is badgering them “come one! It’s only $2”.

        Reply
  20. Q

    My work place has a strict policy again borrowing/lending money among coworkers. Not even fifty cents for bus fare is allowed. Someone actually got fired because she borrowed $250 and then didn’t pay it back. The workplace does not want to be in the middle of that and shut it down completely because of that issue.

    We do have a guy that works here and he is in a bad place financially. He never asks for money or food but we are a compassionate group and often it seems that several of us have just packed too much for our lunch so we have some to share. Or we buy things that it just so happens we don’t like and then offer the package to him. Even when we buy pizza and he says he can’t participate, he always ends up getting some anyway. At least one or more people will say, oh we were allowed 4 pieces each but I only wanted three so you can have my extra piece.

    But I can see how annoying it would be to have a person who was always asking for or mooching food. That could real old real fast.

    Reply
    1. Laurel Gray

      I think this is a great workplace policy. The NY Jets lost their starting QB in the pre-season when he was sucker punched in the locker room by another player over a $600 plane ticket. The player purchased a plane ticket for the QB to come to his charity event, the QB didn’t make it and was supposed to reimburse him for the ticket and never did and things escalated. Sure this example is about millionaires, but the outcome can happen in everyday work environments and for a lot less.

      Reply
    2. Anony-Moose

      I really like that policy. Borrowing/lending money is such a potential landmine that taking it off the table completely seems wise.

      You are also awesome to look out for your coworker like that.

      It’s all about healthy boundaries, right? I keep tons of snacks and coffee pods in my desk and am happy to share them when asked. I’m close with one coworker and she has carte blanche to raid my desk without asking. Sometimes if she’s on the phone/flustered/late she’ll swing by, grab coffee, give me a thumbs up, and leave. But she also buys me drinks, etc. If anyone else grabbed coffee without asking I’d be irritated. Luckily we all have good boundaries. I’m really appreciating that this morning!

      Reply
    3. Ad Astra

      I’m not sure I like this policy, but if it works for your office, that’s great. I’d be more comfortable in an office that trusted the employees to act like adults and avoid doing things (including borrowing large sums of money) that could complicate professional relationships. But then, any regular AAM reader has plenty of examples of employees who can’t seem to do that.

      Reply
  21. Bostonian

    My first thought when I read the letter wasn’t food scarcity, it was a mental health issue. Being offended when it was brought up, the outburst, and asking for food people are still eating all sound more like someone who isn’t really in control of her actions around food or has a distorted perception of her own behavior in this arena. That makes this really hard, because if it is a mental health issue you want to respond with compassion, but it also needs to stop. Maybe when you talk to her, after you suss out whether it’s a food scarcity problem, mention the EAP again as a source of help if she’s finding that it’s difficult to follow your instructions to stop bugging her coworkers? You can mention that you’ve asked her to change her behavior and she hasn’t, and she had a disproportionate reaction in her outburst to her coworker, doesn’t seem to understand normal boundaries about food, and is behaving oddly, so you’re concerned and want her to know that the resources are there.

    But you also have to make clear that this needs to stop and follow up with consequences.

    Reply
    1. alter_ego

      It reminded me a lot of my freshman roommate who had compulsive eating issues. She wouldn’t buy food in an attempt to stop herself from binging, but of course, the compulsions were still there, so she would eat our food instead. Then because she was ashamed, she would put the empty packaging back in the pantry, and if it was a bag rather than a box, she would put crumpled paper or something in it to make it look like it was still full. So you wouldn’t even know you were out of pop tarts/chocolate chips/popcorn/etc until you went to take some for yourself. Unfortunately, our solution (live with it because it’s only 9 months and we’re all 18 and don’t yet have the interpersonal skills to deal with something like this) doesn’t really work in this situation.

      Reply
    2. Ad Astra

      My first thought was some kind of mental health issue or eating disorder where she’s having a hard time controlling her impulses around food. Somewhere in her brain she knows that “Can I have a chip?” means take one or two, not the whole bag, but she’s struggling to rein herself in. Maybe she knows it’s rude to constantly ask for money but she can’t get her mind off that Twix bar and she finally gives in. The emotional outburst made me suspect she feels a lot of shame related to this behavior.

      Or maybe she’s just a jerk. We really don’t know.

      Reply
    3. Accountant

      +1 to mental health issue– we have a woman in our office who has been a food moocher for YEARS. My entire department cant stand her and have a mean nick name for her (which is terrible, I know, but its the sort of situation where higher-ups know what is going on and wont do anything about it). This woman is completely capable of affording food, considering she comes in wearing nice new clothes frequently, but she steals food at a level that is just so far beyond anything I have ever seen. An entire catering tray of chicken. Two heaping platefuls of broccoli. Food with someone’s name on it out of the office fridge. She comes up from another floor to go through the kitchen on our floor and see what there is to take.

      It has to be a mental health problem, because it is so incredibly flagrant and boundary crossing and shameless. It’s terrible that the employees in the OP’s letter are making fun of the woman, but from the perspective of someone whose food has been repeatedly mooched, it is so enraging both to have that experience and to have higher-ups do nothing about it. And I’m not saying “fire her”, I’m saying “she needs help, clearly. Help her get help”

      Reply
      1. Coffee Ninja

        It has to be a mental health problem, because it is so incredibly flagrant and boundary crossing and shameless.

        No, it doesn’t “have to be” a mental health problem. Shameless, boundary-free behavior belongs to all types of people.

        Reply
        1. Nina

          +1. Yes, there could be a mental health issue going on, but I’m not convinced. Some people are always trying to get over, and they know full well that they’re doing it.

          Reply
      2. LawBee

        it could be, but it could also very well be that she’s an entitled jerk. Bad behavior isn’t always a sign of mental illness, sometimes people just suck.

        Reply
      3. Accountant

        Okay, yall are right. She may just be a selfish asshat. I think that with my particular co-worker it’s hard to imagine that someone could be that brazen without there being something behind it, so I struggle and try to come up with a reason.

        Reply
  22. Colorado

    This post makes me sad and I feel for the person who this letter is about. Please don’t have a group meeting. Meet with said person first and show compassion. Whether it be food scarcity, issues/anxiety with food or just a blatant disregard for social norms and boundaries, something is going on with this person. Find out, show compassion, then use your best judgment to address the situation. Meet with others one on one too. I like Alison’s wording for them. Good luck! Send an update if you can.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      But let’s not either/or it. It’s important to have compassion for workers–like temps hoping for permanent positions and who probably aren’t getting paid much–who are getting hit up for money and food on a regular basis and are therefore daily uncomfortable in their jobs.

      Reply
      1. Kate M

        Exactly – you can feel compassionate for a person, without letting them disrupt professional norms. If the person doesn’t have a grasp on social norms, they’ve been told at this point, and if they continue to flaunt them then you can’t allow that to continue.

        Even for people with medical/mental health issues, it’s their responsibility to bring it up to a workplace if they need special accommodations, right? I understand that it is hard, but you can’t continually use conditions as an excuse to inappropriately impose on other people. (An appropriate way to impose on other people in work is if you have a broken arm, you get someone else to lift the box for you. If you have a mental health problem and need to stay home one day because of it, maybe a coworker can cover for you that day. But it’s never appropriate to ask another coworker for food or money, especially when you’ve been told no.)

        Reply
    1. Ad Astra

      I think this could reasonably end in termination, but the OP needs to be clear that this is a potential consequence for not changing the behavior, and so far it sounds like the OP hasn’t made that clear. Typically, asking your coworkers to share their food or loan you money for the vending machine isn’t a fire-able offense; this employee needs to know the severity of the situation.

      Reply
    2. Katie the Fed

      I really don’t think she realizes she’s doing anything wrong though. Some people are just blissfully unaware of social norms.

      Reply
        1. Katie the Fed

          I don’t know – the OP says she told her not to ask for food unless it’s offered, but a lot depends on how that was conveyed. A lot of times managers couch things in lots of softening language and the overall message gets lost. This needs a very blunt “Do not do this anymore.” After it’s been REALLY clearly conveyed, then you can get on with disciplinary action. But a lot of time the message sent is not the same as the message received.

          Reply
          1. neverjaunty

            Come on now. Snackina was offended when OP told her not to ask for food – so she clearly understood what was being asked – to the point of having a tantrum at the employee who was upset. The OP pointed her to an employee assistance program. Her pattern of behavior is way, way beyond “blissfully unaware of social norms”, and her violation of social norms is way, way beyond a little clueless. This is somebody regularly hitting up coworkers for money she never pays back. The idea that she is well-meaning but simply has no idea her behavior is a problem is… I don’t even see how you get there.

            And you know, maybe the coworkers she is mugging are themselves a little socially awkward and not aware of good strategies to tell her to eff off.

            Reply
            1. Katie the Fed

              I don’t know – I’ve seen some clueless people. And often the most problematic ones are the last to realize there’s a problem.

              I’m not saying she SHOULDN’T be fired, but this needs to be a really, really direct conversation. A lot of the time the problem people are the least self-aware.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                This could be a place for Jamie’s “I told you that you were to never to ask your coworkers for money or food. Last week you asked Jane for food. Can you tell me what your thinking was?”

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  You forgot the most important part: after you ask the question, stop speaking. Wait for them to respond, even if they don’t do it right away.

                2. Windchime

                  That’s good. I like the way Alison has framed it in the past also. “I’ve t0ld you to stop asking your coworkers for food and money. Is this something you are able to do?” This makes the coworker answer either “Yes” (making them responsible in the future for sticking to that answer) or “No” (meaning that they are directly refusing to do what their supervisor is telling them to do.

              2. Ad Astra

                Basically, if the OP wants to fire her for this behavior, she should follow Alison’s standard advice for firing by making it crystal clear that this could cost her the job. And yes, I love Jamie’s script about “Can you tell me what your thinking was?”

                Reply
              3. neverjaunty

                Except that it has been made clear to her that her behavior is a problem, and she persists, to the point of bullying a coworker who brought it to the manager’s attention. I’ve seen some clueless people, too. Sometimes they’re very deliberately obtuse.

                Reply
                1. I'm a Little Teapot

                  Exactly, and I think that’s actually the worst part of her behavior and the real firing offense. Someone whose response to a report of her repeated obnoxious behavior is witness intimidation, so to speak, is not someone you want to have around.

    3. LCL

      I don’t think we could fire someone for this and make it stick. But I would make notes on all this weirdness, because it sounds like if pushed eventually she will react in a way that is fireable.

      Reply
  23. AnotherAlison

    When I read the OP’s post, I thought of this girl who I briefly went to middle school with. She was in a foster family and had some really weird food issues like this, and she would buy a ton of food and eat it all, but it seemed to be more about having and hoarding the food than being a person with a big appetite. I’m wondering if while the OP’s employee may not be experiencing food scarcity now, if she’s had some sort of loss experience earlier in life that has triggered this. It seems beyond normal mooching to me.

    Reply
    1. anonanonanon

      I had similar thoughts too. My mum teaches in a school district with a lot of poor children or children who have come over to the States for refuge and she finds a lot of them hoard food and ask others for their food because they’re worried about not having enough.

      Coincidentally, both sets of my grandparents have displayed similar issues. One of them because they grew up during the Depression and another because they had severe food scarcity in Eastern Europe during WWII and then again when the came to the States.

      I don’t know if this is the case with OP’s employee, but some people do develop weird food habits when they have experienced food scarcity.

      Reply
      1. Brandy in TN

        my grandmother was a depression survivor, it hit when she was an adult, and until she moved in with us, she got commoditys delivered, she didn’t like them, but kept them in case. When she lived in her senior center, Id raid her pantry and put food back out for others to take. It would just go bad in her pantry.

        Reply
        1. anonanonanon

          Yeah. When my grandmother started getting dementia, she would hoard loaves upon loaves of bread and stock her fridge full of eggs, milk, and butter. The family always had to go clean out her pantry because food would go bad. It probably didn’t help that she got dementia right around 9/11 & the Iraq War and would only watch the news, so she kept thinking she was back in her home country during the war and had to hoard food again. It was really sad.

          Reply
    2. Ad Astra

      The one time I was invited to my rich friend’s house in middle school, he brought down a bag of those waxy chocolate Hostess donuts. At the time I was dealing with some food issues and I know I had quite a few of those addictive little donuts. At one point, he notices the bag is empty and throws it at me (?), accusing me of eating all the donuts. I honestly don’t know if I ate all of them or just some of them, but I was mortified then and I still feel some weird shame about it now. And for some reason this letter reminded me of that.

      All of this is to say that yeah, my gut tells me something’s going on here.

      Reply
  24. neverjaunty

    While we are all being concerned (and rightly so) whether this coworker has difficult circumstances, keep in mind that for all we know, so do the other members of OP’s team, whose pay is presumably in line with the coworker’s.

    Imagine having food scarcity issues, or being on such a tight budget that you are counting expenditures to the penny, and then one of your coworkers is constantly mooching food or demanding money. And when you try to get your manager involved, the response is the moocher blowing up at you and your manager doing nothing to stop it.

    Reply
    1. AnnieNonymous

      I agree. While it’s important to look at every angle of a situation and have compassion for people who might be in tough situations (for all we know, this might be the one-in-a-million scenario where the bad employee really is going through something bizarre and terrible), I’m starting to see people lay pressure on low-key individuals to just deal with poor treatment or to always allow their needs to come last. There’s a fine line between “accommodating someone with different needs” and “it’s still not right to treat others this way.”

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        Yes, this. Mostly, I think the possibility of issues on the part of the mooching coworker means that OP should feel out whether that might be the case and offer resources that could help with them if it might be. But it should still be shut down, and the other people on the team shouldn’t be subject to the requests any longer.

        If it’s a mental issue and/or food scarcity and costs the moocher their job, I would feel a little bad for them. But I would not feel like they should have kept the job, not if after being given resources they still didn’t stop the requests in the office. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.

        Reply
        1. AnnieNonymous

          It’s always rough when a mental health issue causes someone to act in ways that would be fireable if the person were normative. it’s even worse when the people on the receiving end of those behaviors aren’t entitled to know about a disability status.

          Reply
          1. Kyrielle

            I don’t see that “let one employee continue to mooch from and harrass other employees” is a reasonable accomodation. There may be one that can be found, or there may not, but I don’t think that’s one.

            Reply
    2. Not me

      +1

      The idea that the mooching coworker has mental health issues related to food has been brought up. But on the other side, imagine having those issues and having someone take your food.

      Reply
    3. Meg Murry

      Yes, this is important too. Did anyone else catch the part where OP says they have moved locations twice in the past year? I imagine this isn’t helping anyone feel like they have much job security, and may have caused employees to have longer or more expensive or more inconvenient commutes, which could cut into already tight budgets. The employees sound like they may all be more than a little stressed and frazzled, and OP needs to use compassion with them all, but let everyone know that:
      -mooching food and money is not ok
      -harassing or confronting your coworkers is not ok
      -emotional outbursts are not ok
      -making fun of another co-worker behind her back (or to her face) is not ok
      -all employees can come to OP if they are having an issue with a coworker
      -retaliating against a coworker for talking to OP or other management is really not ok

      OP also need clarification from her manager or HR as to what authority she has to crack down on this behavior. Can she put someone on a PIP? Send them home for the day? Fire them immediately? It sounds like OP was given no help from her manager other than “deal with it” – what tools does she have to deal with it? Because talking isn’t working so far.

      Reply
    4. AndersonDarling

      I was thinking something similar, but it was that the co-workers could have kids at home that constantly bug them for candy, money, toys… and then they come to work and their co-worker has the same behavior. It would drive me bananas to deal with the begging at home and at work.

      Reply
    5. anon this time

      While we are all being concerned (and rightly so) whether this coworker has difficult circumstances, keep in mind that for all we know, so do the other members of OP’s team

      This. The Mooch in my social circle in high school was from a well-off family. Her parents were not sending her to school hungry. Yet she was constantly begging for other people’s food. Her version of “hello” was “does anyone have a dollar?” She would ask and ask and ask, much like is sounds Snakerella is doing. If you told her no, she’d pout, whine, wheedle, ask whhyyyyy in a childish voice, and insist that it was ‘rude’ not to share (she never, ever reciprocated).

      Everyone found it annoying, but it made me furious. I actually was experiencing food insecurity, and here was this rich girl trying to make me feel guilty for not feeding her because she wanted to save her lunch money to add to her allowance.

      Food insecurity is awful, but it does not drive people to bully their coworkers for potato chips. In fact, in my experience, food-insecure people get really good at not incurring social obligations to reciprocate food. They’re ‘on a diet,’ or they ‘just ate,’ or they’re happy to volunteer to stay and cover the phones while the team goes out for lunch. Acting entitled to other people’s food and money (to the point where you’re blowing up at coworkers, like Snakerella did) isn’t a sign of food insecurity. It’s a sign of someone who thinks of a dollar as ‘no big deal,’ because they’ve never had to budget like every dollar matters.

      Reply
    6. Anon in MA

      +1

      I am actually in a similar situation to the co-workers. I work with a woman (who admittedly has mental health issues, which she freely admits) who ask(ed) us, not for food, but for money on a fairly regular basis. She started off by asking me to “lend” her money from the office petty cash. We have moved to a company credit card system, so we no longer have petty cash. She then moved on to asking us to personally lend her money, throwing down guilt trips about how she wouldn’t be able to afford food that week if we didn’t or wouldn’t be able to afford her medication. And, I feel bad, I really do, but I am also on a very tight budget. I know that this woman makes more than me – we are in the same position, and she has been employed with my company for 30+ years, whereas I have been there for only a few. Can I afford to lend her $10 or $20 when she asks? Probably. Will it mess up my budget? Honestly? Yes. I don’t have a lot of leeway, and what I do, I need to save in case an unexpected bill comes up. I live paycheck to paycheck like so many others nowadays.

      This is my experience on how it was handled. There were several complaints to my boss. She had several meetings with this woman about it. It didn’t stop. We were all told to tell her no, and while the pushback worked for some people (including me. I just started telling her, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money I can lend you”), some were too softhearted to say no. It ended up escalating to the point where my boss, my boss’ boss, the head of mental health services (I do not work in a corporate setting), and the GENERAL COUNSEL had to sit down with this woman to tell her 1. it was not appropriate for her to be asking people for money/she cannot ask people for money OR for company money and 2. that she could not have crying outbusts at her desk or yell at people (so, clearly the money thing was not the only thing going on, but it was really the catalyst for the big meeting.) We are now instructed to tell her that she needs to go see my boss or, if my boss is not around/she is having outbursts, tell her she will need to go home for the rest of the day (and we are empowered to call security if need be).

      Another thing that started happening was that my boss started asking us to e-mail details when incidents were occurring. It takes quite a lot of get someone fired from here, but I know that my boss is collecting everything in this woman’s HR file so there is a long paper trail.

      Reply
      1. Not So Sunny

        Oh my gosh to all of this.

        You know, it doesn’t matter ONE BIT whether a person can or cannot afford to lend even $1. The point is that the workplace should be off-limits for this sort of pushy behavior.

        Reply
        1. Anon in MA

          Oh, I agree – even if you have a lot of disposable income you should NEVER have to feel pressured into lending/giving someone money in the workplace. I was just agreeing with neverjaunty who said, “While we are all being concerned (and rightly so) whether this coworker has difficult circumstances, keep in mind that for all we know, so do the other members of OP’s team, whose pay is presumably in line with the coworker’s.” and explaining my own anecdotal experience about why I agree so much with that statement.

          Reply
  25. Amy

    You need to meet with each employee individually. For the coworker who is defying your instructions and badgering her coworkers, you need to tell her that it is now a performance issue that threatens her job. She is to stop making these requests immediately. She is not to discuss either the requests or complain about your instruction to stop the requests with anyone. If you find out from any source that she is making requests or complaining about your handling of the requests, she will be terminated. If she has a problem with that, she is to discuss it with you or with your manager, in private. End of story. No “suggesting” or “recommending” that she stop. You need to let her know that her job is on the line. If she needs help, you will gladly provide it. But all conversation about this is to come through you, not through coworkers.

    As for the other three, meet with each of them individually. Tell them that the issue has been handled. If there are any further problems, they should come to you directly, and you will deal with them. Ask them to please not discuss the issue with others because it is an HR issue and because everyone involved has a right to privacy. But make sure they know that you are the conduit through which all discussion of this should flow, and that it would be wrong to gossip or tease about it.

    Basically, your staff right now are being harassed, and they have no recourse. They tried to go through official channels, and as far as they can tell, you’ve done nothing. (I understand that you actually did try to do something, but from their perspective, nothing has changed other than that the harassment has gotten worse and now they’ve been berated for tattling, so from their perspective, you haven’t helped them.) So they’re frustrated, because they’re trapped and no one is helping them. The way to stop the gossip is to make sure they understand that the official channels are working, and that they do have recourse there. But it’s understandable that they would react this way in the face of what’s happened.

    Reply
    1. Workfromhome

      Your response is very much what I would say.

      The main concern here needs to be for the 3 coworkers. I understand that the food asker may have other issues and they need empathy and help. BUT the fact is that the OP is their manger. The manager told the 3 coworkers to come to her if there are complaints and that she will have the behavior stop. They did as they were asked and went to the manger. the behavior did not stop. They complained again went to the manger and the result is the behavior didn’t stop.

      It doesn’t matter that the manager tried to stop it. All the coworkers see is that that when they follow proper channels its ineffective and their manger can’t protect them. The manager is unfortunately on very shaky ground in terms of keeping employee respect.

      Lets say the manager says to the co workers “you need to stop making fun of X”. Well what are the consequences. The manger told X to stop asking us for money and food. What happened when she did it again? Nothing. So if I continue to make fun of X what will happen…apparently nothing.

      The manager needs to get the trust of the employees back. They either need to uncover any mental issues very quickly and put X into treatment or write X up and say “You are warned that asking for $ and or food is not allowed. If it occurs again the consequences can be (whatever it is firing, suspension etc).

      Point is that empoyees need to see something happen NOW.

      Reply
  26. Apostrophina

    Was the outburst the result of the coworkers complaining per se or of the OP going over the assistance options (which I took to be suggestions in case of a food-scarcity problem, which might have hit the lady in her pride)?

    I’m not sure it matters much as regards advice for solving the problem—though obviously, it would change the emphasis on some parts of that conversation—but I feel like I interpreted that part of the letter differently than most of the other commenters.

    Reply
  27. Jane, the world's worst employee

    A couple of thoughts…

    Some people (like my mom, for instance) simply can’t have people upset with them and crumble under outbursts. Obviously, we don’t know what the personality types the other employees are, but they could fall into this category. In my opinion, the employees needs to be strong enough to stand up to the food hog (or Snackina, as she is referred to above) and say that magic two-letter word that’s so hard for most of us to say – “No.” It’s not going to be easy, but they should use the good ol’ ‘broken record technique’ – it works. It drives me batty when adults resort to emotional outbursts, because I feel like it’s nothing more than a manipulation tactic, and Snackina shouldn’t get rewarded when she acts like a toddler. Just from the information we know, it sounds like Snackina is still getting rewarded, so threats or not, she’s probably not going to stop.

    I once worked with a man who never packed a lunch. Why? Because he was scavenge during his lunch break and find whatever food he could. If others would order in lunch, he would walk up to them mid-meal and ask if he could have some. He would circle the room when other groups were having celebrations (a.k.a cake and treats) and swoop in as soon as a few of them left the room to snag some food for himself. This man wasn’t an entry-level employee making a meager salary – he was a manager/director at the time. He also used to bully his employees on a daily basis (i.e. yelling at them in our open floor plan, opening criticizing them, etc.), but that’s another story. I believe that he used to his power to get what he wanted, which was free food. Our team started telling him “no” and other teams did the same. It helped tremendously.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      Another tactic that wimpy folks could try is to say, “I don’t want to give you food or money because I’m afraid you’ll get in trouble for it.”

      But right as I typed that, I’m thinking, “Wait–why should anybody have to come up with weird things to say in this situation? They shouldn’t ever BE in this situation!”

      And that’s the problem. If the mooching goes away, so does the ridicule. (Well, at least the worst of it; she’s created such a strong reputation that it won’t ever go away completely.)

      Reply
    2. neverjaunty

      Snackina has already been told not to do this BY HER MANAGER. If she ignores a direct instructions from her boss, why blame her coworkers and out in on them to keep saying no?

      Reply
    3. Brandy in TN

      I had a co-worker like this. He worked with my mom and a better job came open at my company so my mom typed him a resume up, btw he always hinted when my mom brought her lunch he needed her to fix him one too. He claimed he didn’t know how to cook. She didn’t do it, and I didn’t either. Long story short others brought him lunch at my work and he got promoted over me and was a real jerk. Always was. Everyone did everything for him. Im sure hes somewhere now being taken care of still.

      Reply
  28. Mean Something

    I don’t think I’ve seen this raised upthread–is there some management-related reason that OP can’t give the coworkers a script along the lines of “OP told me that going forward, you weren’t going to make these requests, and if you did, we should say no. I’m sorry, but I can’t help you with this.” It sounds weird and awkward, but it’s already a bizarre situation, so this might be as un-bizarre as it gets.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      This is what I’d want to have them do.

      Partly because, I want -my- authority to be supreme here. This is a my decision, not the colleagues’ preference.

      Reply
    2. Amy

      I really like this. It allows the employees, who (rightfully) feel bullied, to direct the issue back to you, and to say no without having to take on the responses themselves.

      Reply
    3. Annalee

      Yes! Rather than telling them to deal with it themselves, OP, tell your employees that they need to direct Snackina back to you every time. Make this your directive. Your employees should be giving the message that their hands are tied here because they’ll get in trouble if they help the rogue snacker out.

      Reply
  29. C Average

    There are parts of my city I rarely visit because I know I’ll encounter numerous panhandlers. Clearly, these people are having a hard time. I’m sure many of them have legitimate needs. Many of them probably face mental-health challenges. And some are opportunistic dirtbags. I pity them, of course. I give to local homeless charities that I know help people like these folks. But I studiously avoid the places they frequent because they make me uncomfortable and sad and guilty.

    By allowing this person to panhandle in the workplace, you’re thrusting your direct reports into a situation most reasonable people go out of their way to avoid. Think of how much energy they expend dealing with this–appropriately or otherwise–that they could be directing to their work. A panhandler-free workplace should be a given. You need to be firm about this.

    Reply
    1. Allison

      In Boston there are a few well-known scam artists who will approach you with a sob story and ask for money, and then gradually get more aggressive and belligerent if you say no. There’s one guy who always needs money for fix-a-flat and accuses you of being racist if you don’t help him. Then there’s “sob story guy” who sometimes needs bus money to go to Springfield or Worcester to see his mom, aunt, grandmother, or to get to a rehab clinic, other times he needs to get to the Pine Street Inn before sundown, sometimes he claims to have interview clothes on hold at Goodwill and just needs a few more dollars, and if he’s on the subway he’ll start to have a meltdown to convince people he really, really needs help. No doubt he does need help, but he’s clearly scamming money for drugs, and of course I’m not giving him my money, but I’m often terrified of how these people will react if I say “no.”

      Not to mention we also have canvassers trying to raise money for this and that organization. Poor kids were promised jobs to change the world, then told they have to meet ridiculous donation quotas or be let go. I know they’re not holding a gun to my head but I also feel bad saying “no,” and they’re so aggressive I will go far out of my way to avoid them whenever I see a bunch of them up ahead.

      Being put in a situation where someone’s asking you for stuff you don’t want to give or share is super awkward. We were all expected to share stuff when we were growing up, and if you didn’t want to share some adult would tell us we weren’t being “nice,” but now that we’re adults we’re told we don’t actually need to give/share every single time someone asks, but we’re encouraged to help how and when we can, so there’s a constant moral conflict and you never know how someone will react when they don’t get what they’re asking for.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer

        I just got told that in Chicago a girl I know would get chased down the street if she didn’t give out money. (Though I later verified with someone else I know who lived there once and she said it never happened to her.)

        Reply
        1. Allison

          If you say you don’t have cash, they try to coerce you into getting some from an ATM, so people advise against that response.

          I might try saying “je ne parle pas anglais” and see if that works, and hope they don’t know how to spot a fake French accent.

          Reply
          1. Talvi

            A friend and I have actually done exactly that – we switched our conversation into French to avoid a panhandler and it worked. That said, there’s always the risk that they also know French. If you can memorise a couple phrases in a more uncommon language like Ukrainian or Gaelic or something, your chances might be better.

            Reply
          1. Lizabeth

            NYC teaches you a lot of things about panhandlers: no direct eye contact, keep walking and don’t answer them. And they would rather have $ than food, so buying or giving them something to eat usually will backfire.

            Reply
      2. Kay73

        Oh, I’ve met the “sob story guy” in South Station. I offered to buy him a ticket to Worcester. He didn’t take me up on the offer. Funny that.

        Reply
    2. Lizabeth

      There’s a guy that used to work on corner saying he had 10 kids to feed, ten years ago. Imagine my surprise to be at that same corner, and he’s still there using the same line! I almost ask him if he was putting the kids through college now….

      Reply
      1. Charby

        He’s lying, of course, but if he has ten kids it’s likely that not all of them are old enough to go to college ten years later. Even the ones who are could still be living off of him.

        I definitely think he overshot it with the “ten kids” things. If you have ten kids today you could make some serious cash selling your story to ‘TLC’. He could have gotten the same amount of sympathy with just two children.

        Reply
  30. I'm Not Phyllis

    I would also advise against a group meeting. I’d probably be likely to meet with the three coworkers (individually) to have a chat … to find out if there was anything else going on (bullying, reasons they might feel uncomfortable saying no, etc.). Asking probing questions but don’t lead the answers – and I would do this because it may help you if you need to further discipline down the road. At the same time, go with Alison’s suggestion and tell them that making fun of her needs to stop and needs to stop now.

    I also agree with a few other posters above. Tell her that it needs to stop because it’s distracting, it’s uncomfortable, etc. But don’t make it about people complaining to you. The bottom line is that it’s creating a toxic work environment and it isn’t acceptable. You may also need to go back to your boss to see what recourse you have if she continues to ignore you.

    I’m back and forth on the food scarcity issue. Yes, of course as a human being you want to offer help. But she may not admit if there’s an issue, or there may be another (psychological) issue that doesn’t involve food scarcity. No matter what, though, her behaviour needs to stop.

    Reply
  31. Golden Yeti

    I don’t really know what to say that hasn’t already been said. The situation strikes me as very weird, though. I’ve known “starving students” in the past, and they weren’t so bold as to snatch somebody else’s food right out of their hands or finish a bag of chips when they just wanted “a few.” That’s just rude. What I saw was people embarrassed by their circumstances who didn’t mention it to anyone (though everyone picked up on it and did what they could to help).

    That’s what has me wondering if this is a mental issue or a bullying/manipulation issue. I know some have mentioned firing Moocher, and I’m torn about that. On one hand, is her work otherwise up to par? And if so, is a relational issue a good enough reason to fire her? On the other hand, this isn’t just a matter of “fit,” it’s someone abusing the generosity of her coworkers. So unless she actually follows through and stops this behaviour, keeping her around will actually hurt the team (financially, morale-wise, etc.).

    I would be inclined to put Moocher on a PIP, with this and any other issues explicitly listed as things that must change for her to continue working there. Far as the 3 victims/teasers, I can understand why they would do that–when you feel powerless, lashing out with thinly veiled humour can give a temporary feeling of mild empowerment–but it still shouldn’t continue. I think the others have given great advice on dealing with that.

    Reply
    1. Manders

      I think you’re absolutely right about the complainers–people use that kind of coping mechanism when they don’t believe they have any power to change the situation. It seems like they’re not making fun of Moocher to her face, just venting about this extremely weird situation to blow off some steam.

      In addition to the other conversations that need to be had with Moocher, it might be a good idea for OP to spell out very clearly that this kind of behavior (the mooching, but much more importantly, the emotional outbursts) can tank her professional reputation, even if her work is otherwise excellent. Some people honestly do not realize that being a jerk in the office can have major repercussions.

      Reply
  32. xarcady

    This has been my experience as well–people who are truly suffering from food scarcity don’t tend to make that fact public. Where I’m temping, there are other temps who are on food stamps, who use food banks and food pantries, who are just plain hungry, especially the first two weeks of a project, before the first payday.

    They drink a lot of the free hot chocolate. They may have friends among the other temps who will bring in extra food for them. But even with 150 temps on a large project, you can put your lunch in the communal fridges–and it will all be there at lunch time. No one steals food.

    So I suspect there is some other issue with this woman. But unless the OP has the authority to impose serious consequences, nothing is going to change her behavior. She needs the threat of a write-up, of a PIP, of being fired, to make her stop and think if loosing her job is worth a bag of chips.

    It’s not firing an employee for mooching. It’s firing an employee for stealing from other employees. It’s firing an employee for harassing other employees for food and money.

    Reply
  33. Setsuko

    My first impression was eating disorder, not food scarcity, or lack of understanding about appropriate boundaries. I know I have lacked the willpower to stop eating (my own) bag of chips. I can see that lack of control spilling over into finishing someone else’s bag of chips, no matter how much you knew that was inappropriate behavior and wanted to stop. Hell, I have tried to cut down on workplace binges by not bringing any money to buy extra snacks and ended up borrowing money for a soda (I paid it back, obviously). Maybe OP could have a list of health resources to go with the list of food scarcity resources, in case it turns out to be relevant?

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I think it’s fine to note that there’s an EAP and that a doctor’s visit is always something to be considered, but I would vote against going to the point of rounding up a list of resources. The desire for food and money is the employee’s problem to be solved, not the manager’s; all the manager needs to solve is the disruption of the workplace. I wouldn’t want, especially with somebody who’s clearly inclined to be blamey already, to give somebody the idea that it was the manager’s job to solve the employee’s problem.

      Reply
    2. Annalee

      It sounds like the OP has already offered to get the employee in touch with the Employee Assistance Program. Beyond that, they should tread very lightly in making suggestions about the employee’s finances or health–EAP counselors are trained in how to ask these questions in a constructive, sensitive way.

      Even if the employee does have an eating disorder or mental health problem, they may not want to discuss it with their boss (and it’s not the OP’s business. The behavior needs to stop, and cannot be reasonably accommodated).

      Reply
  34. Malissa

    The one thing I know that stops a moocher in their tracks is keeping a tally. If Snackina wants to borrow a quarter for the vending machine I would quite calmly point out that I gave her a total of $1.35 last week and haven’t seen any of it back. But I might be an incurable accountant.

    Reply
  35. SunnyLibrarian

    I had a coworker that did a lot of weird stuff; cooking odd foods in the break room and not cleaning up after himself, leaving said gross foods in the fridge with no lid, just open, leaving huge messes in the breakroom, shaving half of his head and coming in to work. Not really dire stuff, but stuff that we would joke about and we were sometimes mean about his oddness. He kept trying to get a professional position and this kept holding him back.

    We learned that his mother died when he was young and he had an absentee father. So he never learned to clean up after himself or how to behave around others. Maybe this woman has a history of getting away with this weird behavior in the past, and has not been taught otherwise?

    Reply
  36. JGray

    I think that the OP needs to do what Allison said and have the conversation with the employee about food. It could be a weird quirk of the employee or something else is going on. I would also reinforce to the other 3 employees that 1) if they give food & money, they do so willingly because they can say no, 2) they have to stop making fun of her, and 3) if they continue to give money & food they can’t complain about it. It seems to me that the situation has blown up to a point where it shouldn’t be with the blowup and then now the fact that the 3 people make fun of her. Best of luck because I think it might take some time for this one to get worked out.

    Reply
  37. schnapps

    So my org had a similar problem with a worker. She’d ask coworkers to loan her large sums of money and be very effective in cajoling them into it. And then she wouldn’t pay them back.

    Eventually, she was transferred to a posting in my department where she had contact with very few employees, and the ones she had the most contact with were security. She was put in that position as a medical accommodation. Turns out she had a mental illness.

    So the asking for food/money/emotional outbursts may be some sort of mental illness and telling the employee that it’s not appropriate may not help. And the other employees making fun of her certainly doesn’t help.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Sure, but the manager can’t cure her employee’s mental illness, so it’s not like there’s an option that *would* help in that situation. In that case, drawing a firm line after which the employee would be terminated may be the only way to help the *rest* of the employees, who are currently being harassed by their co-worker.

      Reply
  38. Matt

    When I show up to work I clock in on my time are and then have to get stuff ready for the day. I am an exterminator. But they do not start paying me until I leave the parking lot! Is that legal??

    Reply
    1. Violetta

      Hey Matt,
      Since you are probably non-exempt, I don’t think that would be legal. I remember a similar post to yours, I will try to find it and link it separately.
      For a better answer, try emailing Alison or posting your question in the open thread on Friday – no one is likely to see it at the bottom of an old post like this.

      Reply
  39. CH

    I totally agree with what is posted above – it’s very inappropriate for the employee to be bugging coworkers for food (regardless of the underlying issue/ reason why), the coworkers need to be spoken to about how to effectively deal with an awkward situation, the OP needs to find a way to supervise the situation.

    That being said, what if this scenario is related to social acceptance? You are doing your own tasks at work, perhaps its a quiet office, work hard all day. The employee needs a break, wants to get to know her co workers better – perhaps employee is thinking this is a good ice breaker to being social at work. With the emotional outburst, perhaps the employee was overwhelmed that this social theory is not working.

    Like I said, the employee should not be doing this. I am just putting the above as a possible theory, but personally I think it is more rude behavior not a social situation.

    Reply
  40. Mr. Engineer

    The moocher seems extremely similar to my department’s admin., who is in her mid-40’s, here in Southern California. She boldly asks various coworkers to go out to lunch, with the expectation they would be paying for her, unbeknownst to them, until they arrive at the restaurant. Even during the times she indicates she has brought lunch from home, she unashamedly asks coworkers if she can sample even their plain boring sandwich. I’ve heard her ask female coworkers for their clothes and shoes that they are wearing at that very moment. I don’t hear anyone ridiculing her, instead, many feel sorry and extremely embarrassed for her. She frequently asks for snacks, money, etc. and owes various coworkers long over due money. It seems as if she gets off on any freebie she can acquire. One of the other engineers encouraged her to seek free employee assistance provided by our company, however, she gets defensive and shuts down and walks away. If she sees you eating chips, she begs for some, eventually eating the entire bag. Many of us are a little shocked of her immature and “welfarish” behavior. One of the guys questioned her and addressed her actions, but she just deflects his confrontation with laughs and walks away. I believe her supervisor tried persuading her to seek employee assistance, but she resists. It appears management feels sorry for her which may be why they are not holding her accountable for her unprofessional behavior.

    Reply
  41. Amber

    This happens frequently in the office where I work (which is how I ended up on this website in the first place). I still haven’t found an efficient way of dealing with it, other than lying and saying I have no money. You’d think the girl would get the hint after being denied so many times, but she just doesn’t. The worst part is, she spends her money on idiotic things she doesn’t need (cigarettes, alcohol, new shoes, purses) and then claims she has no money for gas or food. She also hoards any type of food in the office, and even plastic silverware and some complimentary tampons that were on a shelf in the bathroom! We can’t keep anything out on shelves, because she takes it all! Then if someone goes to buy their own lunch and comes back with food, she actually attacks them for purchasing the food without first notifying HER, in case she wanted something. It’s so insane! She has her own car – perfectly capable of driving to buy her own food – I think she just is waiting to mooch off someone and see if they will buy it for her. I have to hide everything I bring to work, and not discuss any weekend plans, because then it will *gasp* make it look like I have money. Money that I, of course, should be giving to her! It’s beyond frustrating. Our boss will do nothing, as she’s passive aggressive and also doesn’t see it as a problem, because the girl never asks her for money – only other coworkers.

    Reply

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